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

Allah says in part of 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 Book, do not go to extremes in your religion! And do not say anything about Allah other than the truth! The Messiah, ‘Eesaa the son of Maryam is nothing other than a Messenger of Allah, and a word of His which He sent to Maryam, and a soul from Him. So believe in Allah and in His Messengers. And do not say “three”. Stop! That is better for you! Allah is only one god; exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. And Allah is sufficient as a disposer of affairs [4:171]

In his famous book of commentary on the Qur’an, al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir mentioned the following words in the midst of his explanation of this ayah. These words should serve to rebut the notion spread by some Christians that the Qur’an is confused about Christian beliefs. On the contrary, this passage demonstrates that the Qur’an addresses different beliefs of different Christian sects in different places:

وقوله : ( فآمنوا بالله ورسله ) أي : فصدقوا بأن الله واحد أحد ، لا صاحبة له ولا ولد ، واعلموا وتيقنوا بأن عيسى عبد الله ورسوله ; ولهذا قال : ( ولا تقولوا ثلاثة ) أي : لا تجعلوا عيسى وأمه مع الله شريكين ، تعالى الله عن ذلك علوا كبيرا . ـ

Allah’s statement:

فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرُسُلِهِ

So have eemaan in Allah and His messengers

meaning: believe that Allah is One, singular with neither partner nor offspring, and know and have certainty that ‘Eesaa is a slave of Allah and His messenger. And so Allah says:

وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ

And do not say “three”

meaning: Do not make ‘Eesaa and his mother as two partners alongside Allah – high and exalted is Allah above such a thing.

وهذه الآية والتي تأتي في سورة المائدة حيث يقول تعالى : ( لقد كفر الذين قالوا إن الله ثالث ثلاثة وما من إله إلا إله واحد ) [ المائدة : 73 ] . وكما قال في آخر السورة المذكورة : ( وإذ قال الله يا عيسى ابن مريم أأنت قلت للناس اتخذوني [ وأمي إلهين من دون الله قال سبحانك ] ) الآية [ المائدة : 116 ] ، وقال في أولها : ( لقد كفر الذين قالوا إن الله هو المسيح ابن مريم ) الآية [ المائدة : 72 ] ، فالنصارى – عليهم لعنة الله – من جهلهم ليس لهم ضابط ، ولا لكفرهم حد ، بل أقوالهم وضلالهم منتشر ، فمنهم من يعتقده إلها ، ومنهم من يعتقده شريكا ، ومنهم من يعتقده ولدا . وهم طوائف كثيرة لهم آراء مختلفة ، وأقوال غير مؤتلفة ، ولقد أحسن بعض المتكلمين حيث قال : لو اجتمع عشرة من النصارى لافترقوا على أحد عشر قولا . ـ

Consider this ayah as well as what has comes in surah al-Ma’idah where Allah says:

لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلَاثَةٍ ۘ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَـٰهٍ إِلَّا إِلَـٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ

Those who say “Allah is the third of three” have certainly disbelieved, and there is no deity worthy of worship except One [5:73]

And likewise what Allah said in the end of that surah:

وَإِذْ قَالَ اللَّـهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلْتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَـٰهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ ۖ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أَقُولَ مَا لَيْسَ لِي بِحَقٍّ ۚ إِن كُنتُ قُلْتُهُ فَقَدْ عَلِمْتَهُ ۚ تَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِي وَلَا أَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِكَ ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ

And on that Day when Allah will say, “O ‘Eesaa son of Maryam, did you tell the people, ‘take me and my mother as objects of worship besides Allah’?” He will say, “Exalted are you! It was not for me to say that which I have no right to say! If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.” [5:116]

And also in an earlier part of that surah:

لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ هُوَ الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ

Those who say, “the Messiah, the son of Maryam is Allah” have certainly disbelieved. [5:72]

For the Christians – may Allah’s curse be on them – have no limits to their ignorance, nor are there any bounds on their disbelief. On the contrary, their misguided views are quite varied!

Some of them believe ‘Eesaa to be a god in his own right, while others believe him to be a co-equal to god, and still others believe him to be a son to god.

The Christians are many different sects with differing views, and their creeds are not unified. And one of the ahl al-kalaam scholars captured it well when he said, “If ten Christians were to meet together, they would end up splitting into eleven different opinions!”

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 2/480]

And then ibn Kathir proceeded to discuss some of the history of the early church councils in which Christian leaders tried to determine issues of their beliefs before finishing his explanation of the ayah.

See also: Imam al-Shawkani on the Gospels

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

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One thought on “The Qur’an Addresses Multiple Christian Creeds: Tafsir ibn Kathir

  1. Pingback: Imam al-Shawkani on the Gospels | Tulayhah

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