Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Revisiting the Quran’s affirmation of Jesus’ Eternal Existence Pt. 4

Sam Shamoun

We continue with our discussion.

Jesus Christ – The Divine Spirit from Allah

Calling Jesus a Spirit that proceeded from Allah further confirms Christ’s divine prehuman existence, since this phrase suggests that Jesus was dwelling alongside Allah as a Spirit Being long before he was sent to be conceived by his blessed mother Mary. This can be seen from the following narration:

Narrated Ubayy ibn Ka'b

In regard to the words of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, "Your Lord brought forth their offspring from the loins of the children of Adam." (7:172)… Adam was raised above them so that he would see them and he saw the rich and the poor, those having handsome faces and even those inferior to them and he said: My Lord, why is it that Thou hast not made Thy servants alike? He said: I wish that I should be thanked. And he also saw the Prophets, some amongst them like lamps with light in them, distinguished by another covenant regarding messengership and prophethood, viz. the words of the Blessed and the High: And when We made covenant with the prophets - up to His words: Jesus son of Mary (33:7). He was among those spirits and He sent him to Mary (peace be upon both of them). And it is narrated by Ubayy that he entered by her mouth.

Transmitted by Ahmad. (Tirmidhi Hadith, Number 41– ALIM Online Version; bold emphasis ours)

Notice carefully that Jesus is said to be one of those preexistent spirits that was sent to Mary, an explicit affirmation of Christ’s prehuman existence.

Now a Muslim will obviously say that the above narration doesn’t just support Jesus’ preexistence, but the preexistence of all human beings. The problem with that explanation is that the Quran does not support the prehuman existence of anyone besides Jesus. Q. 7:172 doesn’t support it since this text only shows that humanity was created in Adam, e.g., when Adam was created all his seed was created alongside him since he is the progenitor of the human race. That is why the surah itself expressly says that mankind was drawn from Adam’s loins.

Jesus, however, is different seeing that he is the Word and Spirit that sprung forth from Allah and entered into Mary, something said of no one else, since the rest of mankind sprung forth from the very loins of Adam.

In fact, this precise Arabic phrase rooh minhu (“a Spirit from him”) that is used of Christ appears only one other time in a context which clearly points to the absolute divinity of the one thus called:

Thou wilt not find any people who believe in God and the Last Day, loving those who resist God and His Apostle, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred. For such He has written Faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with a spirit from Himself (biroohin minhu). And He will admit them to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow, to dwell therein (for ever). God will be well pleased with them, and they with Him. They are the Party of God. Truly it is the Party of God that will achieve Felicity. S. 58:22 Y. Ali

Here is what the late Muslim scholar and Quranic translator Abdullah Yusuf Ali wrote concerning the nature of this Spirit from Allah:

5365. Cf. ii 87 and 253, where it is said that God strengthened the Prophet Jesus with the holy spirit. Here we learn that all good and righteous men are strengthened by God with the holy spirit. If anything, the phrase used here is stronger, ‘a spirit from Himself’. Whenever any one offers his heart in faith and purity to God, God accepts it, engraves that faith on the seeker's heart, and further fortifies him with the Divine Spirit, which we can no more define adequately than we can define in human language the nature of God. (Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Quran, p. 1518, fn. 5365; bold emphasis ours)

Noted Christian scholar and apologist John Gilchrist helps bring out the implications of Ali’s statements, specifically as they relate to Christ being described as a Spirit from Allah:

This is a remarkable comment which clearly contains a veiled implication that the ruhun minhu is the very Spirit of the living God, uncreated and eternal in essence. Yusuf Ali says it is "the divine spirit" and that it is as incomprehensible as God himself. The language he uses is unambiguousthe Spirit from God is clearly believed by him to be from the realm of deity and not from the created order. He is, according to this interpretation, practically synonymous with the Holy Spirit in the Christian Bible.

Now this is the very title that the Qur'an gives to Jesus in Surah 4.171. The exact same words are used – he is the ruhun minhu, "a Spirit from God". If we merely apply Yusuf Ali's interpretation of the expression in Surah 58.22 to the very same expression given as a title to Jesus in Surah 4.171, we can only conclude that Jesus is the "divine spirit", which we can no more adequately define than we can define in human language "the nature and attributes of God". He is, therefore, God in essence and nature. Because of the simultaneous denial in Surah 4.171 that Jesus is the Son of God, Yusuf Ali is constrained to deny that the title ruhun minhu when applied to Jesus implies deity, but he is hardly consistent in his exposition of the Qur'an when he teaches in another place that ruhun minhu is indeed a divine spirit possessing the nature and attributes of God and is as incomprehensible as God as well. Once again we find the dogmas of the Qur'an somewhat contradicted by its own teachings regarding the uniqueness of Jesus over all the other prophets.

For our part we believe that, as with the titles Messiah and Word of God, this title Spirit of God also strongly supports the Christian belief that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and that, not in any metaphorical sense, but in an eternal one which is based on the fact that he is very deity himself. The only way Yusuf Ali could avoid this admission when commenting on Surah 4.171 was to frankly contradict what he said in his commentary on Surah 58.22. (In his comments on Surah 4.171 he denies the divinity of Jesus, his sonship, and his unity with the Father).

There can be little doubt that the title here applied to Jesus, like the titles Messiah and Word of God, contains a special meaning not immediately apparent in the Qur'an which fails to attempt any explanation of it, but which nevertheless must place him above the prophets. Ultimately all three titles are only consistent with Christian belief in him as the Son of God and this title "Spirit of God" therefore also gives Christians an open door in their witness to Muslims.

As Goldsack says in his excellent booklet on Jesus in Islam, "When we see that to Jesus alone Muslims give this high title 'Spirit of God', then it is evident that he is the Spirit of God in a special sense, and it is only a step from this to the fuller teaching of the Injil that He is the eternal Son of God" (Goldsack, Christ in Islam, p. 23). The same author fitly concludes: "Thus we re-affirm that the term 'Spirit of God', applied to Christ by Muslims, places Him high above all other prophets, and hints at the great doctrine of His divinity which is so clearly taught in the Injil" (Goldsack, Christ in Islam, p. 24). Another writer also does not hesitate to see in this title clear evidence that Jesus was unique among men and above them all, and not merely one of the prophets of God:

Apart from this, moreover, it is a most significant fact that Jesus is so intimately connected with the Spirit in the Qur'an. This one fact puts Christ above the level of all other prophets and brings us very near to the Christian conception about the nature of Christ. (Mylrea, The Holy Spirit in Qur'an and Bible, p. 6). (Gilchrist, The Christian Witness to the Muslims, 5. The Uniqueness and Titles of Jesus in Islam, C. The Titles Word and Spirit of God; bold emphasis ours)

With the foregoing in perspective we can now move to the final segment of our examination where we will address a potential objection that Abualrub may raise.