Very good content by David Wood. See also my article below on this issue.
Bad Witness: Praying to and bowing down to Mary
Witnessing to Muslims: Explaining why we call Jesus “the Son of God”
Someone recently (around September of 2009) called into the Dividing Line Pod-cast Program (Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries; see www.aomin.org) and asked for help on witnessing to Muslims. He told of his experience in a Muslim area in Africa (Uganda) and that the Muslims kept saying, “God cannot reproduce!”; How many times have I heard this over the last 26 years in witnessing to Muslims?!: “God cannot have a wife!” “God cannot have a son!” “God did not lust after Mary and marry her and have sex with her!”
To our Roman Catholic and Orthodox readers – see, here we have a living example of recent history of Muslims who still believe the Trinity is “Father, Son, and Mother”. (Surah 5:116) This is very common all over the Muslim world. I know from experience also. So, the Marian dogmas and practices and praying to her and having statues and icons and exalting her too much are still contributing to that mis-understanding. The Qur’an defines for them what we believe – Surah 6:101 – they don’t really care what the official doctrine of the Trinity is.
“Wonderful Originator of the heavens and the earth; How can He have a son when He hath no consort [spouse, mate, sexual partner]?” He created all things, and hath full knowledge of all things.” ( Qur’an 6:101, with my own parenthetical comments)
Pictures of John Paul 2 (and other Popes and other Roman Catholics) bowing down before a giant statue of Mary just confirms in their minds and hearts what the Christians really believe.
Only very educated Muslims who take the time to read and study find out what the doctrineof the Trinity is; and it is usually their “apologists” who are trained to come to the west to seek to win westerners to Islam.
I would like to suggest that believers in Jesus Christ slow things down a bit for the Muslims and, to use a mathematical learning analogy, instead of trying to teach them Calculus (the eternal Sonship of Christ and the Trinity); we should begin with simple math: like addition, subtraction and multiplication. We will get to Calculus, don’t worry, but don’t move there too quickly.
1. With passion and conviction, agree with your Muslim friend that it is Blasphemy to think God took a wife !! Get worked up over this and show them with passion that we do not believe this. There is a fun Arabic phrase that many Muslims know and use when someone says something wrong, “Estaqfr’ullah !” استغفرالله (Literally in Arabic, this means “I seek the forgiveness/pardon of Allah”, but it seems to be saying to the person who said something like “Jesus is the Son of God” as a response to that – ie, “May God forgive you!”; “May it never be!”) I have used this and it is effective to show how strongly the Bible is against their idea of what “the Son of God” or the Trinity means. Focus like a laser beam and spend time on this with your Muslim friend before you try and explain the “eternal Sonship” of Christ and “eternally begotten” language, or the Trinity. Most Muslims are so strong in their belief in monotheism, that if you move too fast and try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, they will not hear what you are saying, because you have not convinced them first of your own monotheism, that there is only one God. As it is, only the Spirit of God can open people’s hearts, whether they are an atheist or Muslim or a teenager American who is the son of a Turkish father and Swedish mother. (see John 6:44, 65; Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 3:1-8; Acts 16:14; Luke 24:45; 2 Timothy 2:24-26) Even so, that does not give an excuse for being rude or short with people and for not sincerely trying to explain things to them. God works through the means of patience, explaining, teaching, suffering, praying, hospitality, non-verbal communication, tone, attitude, etc. You have to work on these truths first – and show them verses from the Bible – 1. You don’t believe God got married or had sex with Mary; and 2. You don’t believe in three gods. It is also effective to stay on monotheism for a while and quote and use Mark 12:29 (Jesus quoting the Shema in Deut. 6:4).
Muslims are fun people to witness to! They are willing to talk about God and spiritual things. They believe in right and wrong and heaven and hell, and judgment day. I have had many Muslims say to me, “I respect you Mr. Ken, because you believe in your book as the truth.” “Most of the other Christians we meet don’t really believe they have the truth.”
They are incredibly hospitable and we need to learn how to reach out in friendship evangelism, along with apologetics and debate; and one time “contact” evangelism. Jesus was the friend of sinners and tax-collectors, eating with them. We need to show Christ’s love by being willing to have meals of shish kebab and hummus and drink strong Arabic/Turkish coffee with them.
Trying to explain the Trinity and the eternal Sonship of Christ too soon for Muslims is like trying to explain Calculus before addition, subtraction, and multiplication. You can and should eventually get to those truths; but it is better to start on the basic issues to help the Muslim overcome them; all the while praying that God will open their eyes and heart to understand and believe. ( John 6:44; Acts 16:14) It may not happen in one setting either. Many missionaries to Muslims have said that the average Muslim usually needs to hear the gospel 100 times over a period of 1 year in friendship with a true Christian. Obviously God can open the heart and draw in only one hearing of the gospel. We are only saying that this is the experience of many missionaries who have spent lots of time with Muslims; including this writer.
2. Point out that the Qur’an also uses metaphoric language of filial terms, “son” and “mother”.The Arabic phrase, “son of the road” ( Ibn ol sabeel ) = “traveler”, “wayfarer”; “mother of the book” ( um ol kitab ) = source of revelation; “Mother of villages” = Mecca. (Surah 6:93, 42:7, Pickthall’s footnote) In Egypt, the Arabic expression, “son of the Nile” – “one who lives on the Nile River.
“Son of the Road” (Qur’an 2:177; 4:36; 8:41; 9:60), “Mother of Book” (Qur’an 13:39; 43:3-4; 3:7) “Mother of Villages” – (Qur’an – 6:92; 28:59; 42:7)
Can roads, villages, rivers, or books have sex or get married? Asking this question will confound and silence the Muslim for his attacks and lack of listening to our explanations of “the Son of God”.
This proves that metaphoric language is used by the Qur’an, and the Muslims should then give respect and a ear to us when we are also using the term metaphorically.
This proves that is not blasphemous to call Jesus, “the Son of God”, because the Bible does not mean it in the way that Muslims think when they hear the phrase.
The Qur’an affirms the virgin birth of Christ. (Surah 3:47; 19:19-22) Affirm that Jesus had no human father; therefore, in this sense, God was His Father.
Luke 1:34-35 sounds very similar to the Qur’anic passages on the Virgin Birth of Jesus. It is powerful to use passages in the Bible that are similar to verses in the Qur’an to begin with to establish understanding, and then go forward.
3. Show them some specific Scripture. If possible have them read it in their heart language, whether it is Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Urdu, Pushtun, Kazakh, Malaysian, or Fulani.
I have found that Luke 1:34-35 along with Hebrews 10:5 to be very effective in answering the “Son of God” terminology.
Luke 1:35 – “ . . . for this reason, the Holy offspring will be called the Son of God”
For what reason? Because Jesus had no human father; and because of the “power of the Most High” and “the Holy Spirit” who conceived, unified, joined spiritually inside the womb of Mary – so, it is NOT from marriage and sex; that is blasphemy (and what Mormons and Greek mythology believed). Rather, the phrase “Son of God” describes the close eternal spiritual relationship that the Father and Son have always had from all eternity past, being of the same nature, but in personal relationship. God is personal, not an impersonal force or principle. God is Spirit (John 4:24), so there can be no physical sex or marriage. This is what Surah 112 and 6:101 and 5:72-73 and 5:116 are speaking against, they are speaking against understanding God and terms like “father”, “son”, and “begotten” in a physical, sexual way.
I have found that Hebrews 10:5 is very effective. – “a body You have prepared for Me”. This shows that Jesus existed before He was born and that God the Father prepared a body for Him.
4. Then you can go to John 1:1 and 1:14 and proceed from there. John 1:1, 14 are powerful for the Muslims because they clearly are calling Jesus “the Word”. In the Qur’an, Isa (the Arabic Islamic word for “Jesus”) Al Masih is called “the word” in Arabic. (Kalimat’allah) (Qur’an 4:171; 3:45) This is a powerful tool. Focus on “the Word” of God before you focus on the “Son of God”. “Allah’s word was with Him from all eternity, right?” You can ask your Muslim friend these kinds of questions: “Did Allah ever exist without His word (His mind expressing itself)? And what about Allah’s Spirit? Was there ever a time where Allah was without His Spirit?” Jesus is also called “a spirit from Allah”. (Ruh min Allah) in Qur’an 4:171. That verse denies the Islamic understanding of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ and the Sonship of Christ; but it does call him, Al Massih (the Messiah), the son of Mary, the Word, and a spirit from Allah; so it is useful to begin with Muslims from where they are coming from; and then go to Scriptures in the New Testament that we emphasized above. We can communicate the “eternal Son of God” (into the past in relationship with the Father) by focusing on the eternalness of the Word of God in eternity past.