Imam al-Shawkani on the Gospels

Allah says in surah al-Nisaa’:

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّـهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْ‌يَمَ رَ‌سُولُ اللَّـهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْ‌يَمَ وَرُ‌وحٌ مِّنْهُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرُ‌سُلِهِ ۖ وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ انتَهُوا خَيْرً‌ا لَّكُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا اللَّـهُ إِلَـٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ ۘ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْ‌ضِ ۗ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّـهِ وَكِيلًا

“O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion and do not say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, ‘Eesaa (Jesus) , the son of Maryam, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Maryam and a ruh from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, ‘Three’; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.” [4:171]

Imam al-Shawkani, in his book tafsir, writes the following in part of his explanation for this ayah, :

قوله: {يأَهْلَ الكتاب لاَ تَغْلُواْ فِى دِينِكُمْ} الغلو: هو التجاوز في الحدّ، ومنه غلا السعر يغلو غلاء، وغلا الرجل في الأمر غلواً، وغلا بالجارية لحمها وعظمها إذا أسرعت الشباب فجاوزت لداتها. والمراد بالآية: النهي لهم عن الإفراط تارة والتفريط أخرى، فمن الإفراط غلوّ النصارى في عيسى حتى جعلوه ربا، ومن التفريط غلو اليهود فيه عليه السلام حتى جعلوه لغير رشدة، وما أحسن قول الشاعر

ولا تغل في شيء من الأمر واقتصد *** كلا طرفي قصد الأمور ذميم

His statement, “O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion” – ‘Excess’ is exceeding the limits. … And the meaning of the ayah: a prohibition to them from exaggeration on the one hand and negligence on the other, for from the excess of exaggeration are the Christians concerning’ Eesaa (Jesus) to the extent that they made him a lord, and from the excess of negligence are the Jews concerning him (‘alaihis salaam) to the extent that they made him other than rightly guided. And what is better that the speech of the poet:

Do not go to extremes in any affairs, nor be negligent,

Both of these groups have achieved lowly affairs

{وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ عَلَى الله إِلاَّ الحق} وهو ما وصف به نفسه ووصفته به رسله، ولا تقولوا الباطل كقول اليهود عزير ابن الله، وقول النصارى المسيح ابن الله . ـ

And do not say about Allah except the truth” and [the truth] is that with which He has described Himself and what His messengers have described Him with. And do not say falsehood, such as the statement of the Jews that ‘Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah, or the statement of the Christians that ‘Eesaa is the son of Allah.

قوله: {وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ ثلاثة} ارتفاع ثلاثة على أنه خبر مبتدأ محذوف قال الزجاج: أي: لا تقولوا آلهتنا ثلاثة، وقال الفراء، وأبو عبيد: أي: لا تقولوا هم ثلاثة كقوله: {سَيَقُولُونَ ثلاثة} [الكهف: 22] وقال أبو علي الفارسي: لا تقولوا هو ثالث ثلاثة، فحذف المبتدأ والمضاف، والنصارى مع تفريق مذاهبهم متفقون على التثليث، ويعنون بالثلاثة: الثلاثة الأقانيم، فيجعلونه سبحانه جوهراً واحداً، وله ثلاثة أقانيم، ويعنون بالأقانيم أقنوم الوجود، وأقنوم الحياة، وأقنوم العلم، وربما يعبرون عن الأقانيم بالأب والابن وروح القدس، فيعنون بالأب: الوجود، وبالروح: الحياة، وبالابن: المسيح. وقيل: المراد بالآلهة الثلاثة: الله سبحانه وتعالى، ومريم، والمسيح.

His statement, “And do not say ‘three'” – al-Zujaaj said: meaning, do not say our god is three. And al-Firaa’ and Abu ‘Ubayd said: meaning, do not say they are three, such as His statement, “They will say there were three” [18:22]. And Abu ‘Ali al-Farsi said: do not say He is the third of three. And the Christians along with all their divergent sects are in agreement upon the trinity, and they mean by ‘three’: the three persons, so they make Him – exalted is He – one essence, and three persons. And they mean by ‘persons’ the person of presence, the person of life, and the person of knowledge, and perhaps they express these persons as the father and the son and the holy spirit. So by ‘the father’ they mean ‘the presence’, and by ‘the spirit’ they mean ‘the life’, and by ‘the son’ they mean ‘the messiah’. And it is [also] said: the meaning of three gods is Allah – High and Exalted is He, Maryam, and ‘Eesaa.

وقد اختبط النصارى في هذا اختباطاً طويلاً.

And the Christians have been lost, wandering in this straying for a long time.

ووقفنا في الأناجيل الأربعة التي يطل عليها عندهم اسم الإنجيل على اختلاف كثير في عيسى: فتارة يوصف بأنه ابن الإنسان، وتارة يوصف بأنه ابن الله، وتارة يوصف بأنه ابن الربّ، وهذا تناقض ظاهر وتلاعب بالدين. والحق ما أخبرنا الله به في القرآن، وما خالفه في التوراة، أو الإنجيل، أو الزبور، فهو من تحريف المحرّفين، وتلاعب المتلاعبين. ومن أعجب ما رأيناه أن الأناجيل الأربعة كل واحد منها منسوب إلى واحد من أصحاب عيسى عليه السلام.

And we have doubts concerning the four Gospels which exceed that which bears the the name ‘Injeel’ with much differing concerning ‘Eesaa. For sometimes it describes him as the son of man, and other times it describes him as the son of God, and other times it describes him as the son of the Lord. And this is clear contradiction and making a game of the religion. And the truth is what Allah informed us of in the Qur’an. And what differs from it in the Tawrah or the Injeel or the Zaboor, then it is from the distortions of the distorters, and the games of those make make a game out of the religion. And from the most astounding things that we have seen is that the four Gospels – each one of them is ascribed to one of the companions of ‘Eesaa (‘alaihis salaam).

وحاصل ما فيها جميعاً أن كل واحد من هؤلاء الأربعة ذكر سيرة عيسى من عند أن بعثه الله إلى أن رفعه إليه، وذكر ما جرى له من المعجزات، والمراجعات لليهود ونحوهم، فاختلفت ألفاظهم، واتفقت معانيها، وقد يزيد بعضهم على بعض بحسب ما يقتضيه الحفظ، والضبط، وذكر ما قاله عيسى، وما قيل له، وليس فيها من كلام الله سبحانه شيء، ولا أنزل على عيسى من عنده كتاباً، بل كان عيسى عليه السلام يحتج عليهم بما في التوراة، ويذكر أنه لم يأت بما يخالفها، وهكذا الزبور، فإنه من أوّله إلى آخره من كلام داود عليه السلام. وكلام الله أصدق، وكتابه أحق، وقد أخبرنا أن الانجيل كتابه أنزله على عبده ورسوله عيسى ابن مريم، وأن الزبور كتابه آتاه داود وأنزله عليه.

And all of what is held inside each one of these four is mention of the biography of ‘Eesaa, from Allah giving him life until He raised him up to Him, and it mentions what occurred of miracles from him, and his repeated encounters with the Jews and such. So they differ in their wordings, and agree in their meanings, and some of them have added some parts according to the degree of their memory and accuracy. And they mention what ‘Eesaa said, and what was said to him, but they do not have any of the speech of Allah – Exalted is He, nor what was revealed to ‘Eesaa from his (divinely revealed) book. Rather it was ‘Eesaa (‘alaihis salaam) arguing with them with what was in the Tawrah, and it was mentioned that he did not give things that conflicted with that, and similarly with the Zaboor [as it is currently found in the Christian and Jewish scriptures, i.e. the book of Psalms], for it is from beginning to end from the speech of Dawood (‘alaihis salaam). And the Speech of Allah is more truthful, and His Book is more truthful. And He has informed us that the Injeel is His Book which He revealed upon His slave and His messenger ‘Eesaa, the son of Maryam*. And that the Zaboor is His Book which He gave to Dawood, and He revealed it to him.

قوله: {انتهوا خَيْراً لَّكُمْ} أي: انتهوا عن التثليث، وانتصاب {خيراً} هنا فيه الوجوه الثلاثة التي تقدمت في قوله: {فآمنوا خيراً لكم}. {إِنَّمَا الله إله واحد} لا شريك له ولا صاحبة ولا ولداً: {سبحانه أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ} أي: أسبحه تسبيحاً عن أن يكون له ولد: {لَّهُ مَا فِي السموات وَمَا فِي الأرض} وما جعلتموه له شريكاً، أو ولداً هو من جملة ذلك، والمملوك المخلوق لا يكون شريكاً، ولا ولداً: {وكفى بالله وَكِيلاً} فكل الخلق أمورهم إليه، ولا يملكون لأنفسهم ضراً ولا نفعاً

His statement, “desist – it is better for you” – meaning desist from the trinity and idolatry. “It is better” – here this is referring to the the matter of the trinity which have preceded in His statement, “So believe, it is better for you“. “Indeed, Allah is but one God” with no partner for Him no consort nor offspring. “Exalted is He above having a son” – meaning He is exalted with praise above having an offspring. “To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth” and whatever they make for him of a partner or an offspring, then it is just phrase (without real meaning), and the ownership of the creation does not have any partners or offspring. “And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs”  so all the things of creation belong to Him, and they are not able to (even) harm of benefit themselves.

[Fath al-Qadeer 1/346-347]

*Translator’s Note: in the Qur’an, Allaah describes the Injeel as a revelation that was given to ‘Eesaa:

وَقَفَّيْنَا عَلَىٰ آثَارِ‌هِم بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْ‌يَمَ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَ‌اةِ ۖ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنجِيلَ فِيهِ هُدًى وَنُورٌ‌ وَمُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَ‌اةِ وَهُدًى وَمَوْعِظَةً لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ

And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Injeel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. [5:46]

And also:

ثُمَّ قَفَّيْنَا عَلَىٰ آثَارِ‌هِم بِرُ‌سُلِنَا وَقَفَّيْنَا بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْ‌يَمَ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنجِيلَ

Then We sent following their footsteps Our messengers and followed [them] with Jesus, the son of Mary, and gave him the Injeel…

This description of the Injeel is in clear distinction to what the Christians believe and openly admit about their four Gospels; that they were composed and written by men, and that none of them were a revelation given to ‘Eesaa or a divinely-revealed book directly from Allaah. Hence it is misleading to use the words ‘Injeel’ and ‘Gospel’ synonymously or interchangeably, as the former refers to a direct revelation from Allaah to His servant and messenger ‘Eesaa, and the latter does not.

Published: 10 Safar, 1435 (13 December, 2013)

See also: The story of ‘Eesaa, his mother, Zakariyyah and Yahya – Imam al-Sa’di

See also: The Messiah was only a Messenger and his mother was a ṣiddīqah: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: “Had Allah willed to take a son…” : Tafsir al-Sa’di and Tafsir ibn Kathir

See also: A reply to those who say, “If God can do anything, why can He not have a son?”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: A response to those who say “We are the children of Allah”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: The Preservation of the Qur’an and the Preservation of the Tawrah: Imam al-Shinqitee

See also: The Qur’an Addresses Multiple Christian Creeds: Tafsir ibn Kathir

See also: The Meaning of the Title “Al-Maseeh”

7 thoughts on “Imam al-Shawkani on the Gospels

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  3. Pingback: The Preservation of the Qur’an and the Preservation of the Tawrah: Imam al-Shinqitee | Tulayhah

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