I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Bahá’í).
Is Jesus the Son of God?
There have been debates in my interfaith group between Christians and Muslims as to whether Jesus is or is not the Son of God. Here is a Bahá’í perspective on this intriguing question.
Exploring Christian Beliefs From Opposite Perspectives
The Biblical and Qur’anic Standpoints
Bahá’ís believe in the divine source of the Holy Bible, yet they do also accept the authenticity of the Qur’an as the Word of God. This means that when Jesus is acclaimed in the Bible as the Son of God, Bahá’ís unreservedly accept it and do not have any issue even when Christians go beyond this to contend that Jesus is God. At the same time, though, they are equally in agreement with Muslims when they quote their scriptures in support of a different standpoint, that Jesus is not the Son of God, let alone God Himself. So how can Bahá’ís reconcile these two seemingly contradictory positions?
The Spirit of the Word
There are two main reasons why the followers of any two religions might struggle to reconcile seemingly contradictory statements in their respective holy books. The first derives from too much focus on the literal reading of scripture, whereby the letter of the Word (as against the spirit) is allowed to take centre stage in the universe of the believer’s mind. Invariably, this has the effect of obscuring the intended meaning of the Word. It is not for nothing that the Apostle Paul wrote in II Corinthians 3:6 that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
The second reason, which is related to the first, is an inadequate understanding of the relative nature of religious truth. More on this later.
The Holy Scriptures
Titles of the Manifestations
It might surprise Christians to know that while Muslims strongly object to any notion of Jesus being the Son of God, they do often refer to him as Ruhullah—meaning “the Spirit of God”—which some might say is an even higher station than Son of God.
In his writings, Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, does also refer to Jesus sometimes as “the Spirit of God” but at other times simply as “the Son”. Yet Bahá’ís see these terms more as titles than anything else. Thus, Moses is often referred to in Bahá’í writings as “He Who held converse with God”. Prophet Muhammad is sometimes referred to as “the Friend of God” or “the Seal of the Prophets,” while Bahá’u’lláh himself is “the Glory of God”. And these are all titles.
It might also surprise some to know that some of Bahá’u’lláh’s pronouncements about himself go even further than the claims of Jesus. To the uninitiated, such pronouncements would appear as if he was ascribing divinity to himself—specifically, that he was claiming to be God Almighty Himself. Bahá’u’lláh, after all, claims for himself the stations of “The mighty God” and “The everlasting Father” mentioned in Isaiah 9:6 of the Old Testament Bible, titles that Bahá’ís say are more applicable to the latter-day Christ than to the Christ of the First Coming.
Religious truth is not absolute but relative; divine revelation is not final but progressive.
— Paraphrased from Bahá’í text
The Relative Nature of Religious Truth
And although Bahá’u’lláh has claimed the above-mentioned, highly exalted stations for himself, as can be noted in his writings, he has also clarified what all that means. Thankfully, what he has written helps to explain why Jesus can be God at one time, the Son of God at another, and none of these at other times. It is based on a fundamental concept outlined in the Bahá’í authoritative texts that states that “religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is not final but progressive.”
Based on this concept, Bahá’ís do not see the Qur’an as contradicting the message of the Bible but rather clarifying and complementing it. Receptive Christians might obtain a deeper appreciation of what the reality of “Son of God” could entail should they at least acknowledge the Qur’anic position on the matter, particularly the point that God’s transcendental nature is above procreation. In truth, God does not procreate; He only creates.
Bahá’u’lláh does offer a clarification of the seeming contradictions in the pronouncements and claims of the Chosen Ones of God concerning their divine stations. Three very different situations are addressed:
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Religious Truth Is Relative
1. The Manifestation as God
In his Book of Certitude, Bahá’u’lláh explains that were any of the Manifestations of God to declare: “I am God!” he would be speaking the truth without any shadow of a doubt. And the reason the Manifestation can say that is because it is through his words, his lifestyle, and his deeds that “the Revelation of God, His name and His attributes, are made manifest in the world.” Simply put, the Manifestation it is who, through his interactions with his followers, makes God known to the world. He represents God in relation to man and has full authority to speak on His behalf.
We see an example of this reality in the response Jesus gave when Philip, one of the disciples, asked to be shown “the Father”. Jesus’ response, in John 14:9, was: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father….”
And do you remember what God told Moses in Exodus 7:1-2, that: “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh…”? In this case, Moses becomes God to both Pharaoh and Aaron.
2. The Manifestation as Messenger of God
Furthermore, Bahá’u’lláh makes clear that should any of the Manifestations proclaim: “I am the Messenger of God,” he again speaks the truth, for the simple reason that the Manifestations “are all but Messengers of that ideal King, that unchangeable Essence.”
Despite what some Christians might say, the reality is that on no occasion did Jesus deny that he was a Prophet. His words and those of his Apostles bear ample testimony to his prophetic station. As an example, in explaining away his intention not to be fully engaged in his home region, as he had been doing elsewhere in terms of his divine mission, he averred in Mark 6:4 that “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house,” implying that he saw himself as a Prophet.
And in Acts 3:20-22, the Apostle Peter made it clear that the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15 regarding the raising up of a future Prophet like Moses was a reference to Jesus.
3. The Manifestation as Servant of God
And finally, Bahá’u’lláh affirms that should all the Manifestations assert instead that, “We are the servants of God,” this also is an indisputable fact. “For they have been made manifest in the uttermost state of servitude, a servitude the like of which no man can possibly attain.”
Let us look at one example in the Bible. In the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1, God reveals the following: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.” The identity of this “servant” of God is only disclosed later, in Matthew 12:17-18. In those two gospel verses, we discover that the “servant” of that prophecy of Isaiah refers to no other personage than Jesus the Christ.
The Station of Divinity
From these three different situations, we can conclude that when a Manifestation of God declares himself to be God, that is a truth that cannot be challenged; and if he asserts instead that he is the Messenger or Prophet of God, that is also true; but should he state, on the other hand, that he is merely the Servant of God, that is equally true and indisputable.
Bahá’u’lláh highlights the condition under which a Chosen One or Manifestation of God like him can say he is God: “This station,” he writes in his Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, “is the station in which one dieth to himself and liveth in God. Divinity, whenever I mention it, indicateth My complete and absolute self-effacement. This is the station in which I have no control over mine own weal or woe nor over my life nor over my resurrection.”
So, the Manifestation of God ceases to exist as a person when claiming divinity. In that instance, it is God who speaks and acts, the Manifestation only serving as His channel.
God is, and has from everlasting been, one and alone, without peer or equal. He has assigned no associate unto Himself in His Kingdom.
— Paraphrased from Bahá’í text
The One and Only God
Finally, let us reflect on the true nature of God Almighty as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh in the Gleanings from his writings. He writes:
“Beware, beware, lest thou be led to join partners with the Lord, thy God. He is, and hath from everlasting been, one and alone, without peer or equal, eternal in the past, eternal in the future, detached from all things, ever-abiding, unchangeable, and self-subsisting. He hath assigned no associate unto Himself in His Kingdom, no counsellor to counsel Him, none to compare unto Him, none to rival His glory.”
The divine Manifestations and Messengers of God—like Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and Bahá’u’lláh—are our only link to the Almighty. Without them, we have no way of knowing God. It is for this reason they can claim to be God. But while they are highly exalted Beings, they are in reality a creation of God and hence cannot be the Supreme Godhead itself. Consequently, when Christians declare that Jesus is God, they are not in error; but when Muslims counter by saying he is not God, they are in effect telling Christians not to forget that Jesus is also a Prophet and a Servant of God, as attested in the verses of the Gospel itself.
Adjoining Muslim-Christian Edifice
Related Articles and Links
- All biblical references are from the Authorized King James Version.
- For an outline of the Bahá’í Faith, you might wish to read this article on the HubPages network.
- The principal works of Bahá’u’lláh and many other authoritative texts of the Bahá’í Faith, in English and some other major languages, are available here for free downloading.
© 2021 Kobina Amissah-Fynn