Islamic Apologists Use John 17:3 to Prove Jesus
Was a Muslim, But Does the Chapter and the
Entire Gospel of John Really Support This Claim?
by Mark Mountjoy
The number of conversations, debates, and interactions between Muslims and Christians has significantly increased due to the introduction of the Internet. As a result of this exchange and comparison of ideas from the New Testament and the Qurʾān, it is surprising that there has been a tremendous rise in the number of Muslim Background Believers deciding to convert to Christianity, rather than the opposite occurring.1
AAnd now, when there is opposition to Christianity, Muslims commonly argue that Jesus never explicitly states in the Bible, "I am God, worship me." When asked to directly communicate with Jesus through prayer, Muslims firmly believe they should not, cannot, and must not do so because it is considered ‘haram’ (sinful and forbidden).
They ask, "How can I pray to Jesus when Jesus himself was a Muslim and said, “And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”? Islamic apologists interpret John 17:3 to mean that eternal life is only in the one true God, and Jesus, in this verse, does not claim himself to be God but rather emphasizes the Father as the only God. However, this interpretation is biased and assumes more than what the the entire chapter actually implies. So let’s read it again . . .
Jesus, in his priestly prayer to God the Father said,
“Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
TThe verse states that eternal life is obtained through knowing the only true God AND the Son whom he sent. This includes both God the Father and Jesus Christ, contrary to what Muslims claim. In simple terms, the interpretation is that one must have knowledge of both the Father and the Son, as stated in verses one and two. Can Muslims argue that Jesus was a Muslim when his prayer equates eternal life with knowing not only God, but also Jesus?2 To believe otherwise is to intentionally deviate from the clear message of the passage. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that the correct belief system requires faith in Allah and Muhammad as his prophet, forming the foundation of Islam. By doing so, Jesus is effectively sidelined as God's counterpart and replaced by Muhammad as an essential figure.3 However, in what manner is Islam distinct from Christianity, considering that in one system of faith, it involves God and Jesus, while in the other, it involves Allah and Muhammad?
And this is the promise of everlasting life: To have knowledge of the one and only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have been sent. In the Brit Chadashah, the Injeel, the New Testament, Jesus is acknowledged as God’s associate.
There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. In the Shahada Muhammad is Allah’s associate.
There are two important points to highlight here. Firstly, both Christianity and Islam acknowledge the existence of a higher power. In Christianity, this is exemplified through Jesus, while in Islam, it is Muhammad who is seen as the associate of God. The second point to note is that Jesus cannot be considered a Muslim due to a fundamental fact - Muhammad came into existence more than 700 years after Jesus' birth.
Furthermore, neither Jesus nor anyone else in the first century made the declaration of faith known as the Shahada, which is central to Islam.
Now, let's delve into the seventeenth chapter of the Book of John, considering it from two perspectives. We will explore whether it reflects Islamic beliefs or if it aligns with the Gospel of John's assertion of Christ's supremacy as God, the Son of God, who took on human form.
The entirety of John 17:1-14 and 17:15-26 does not contradict the longstanding beliefs that Christians have held regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ. In fact, this chapter fully aligns with those beliefs and does not support any attempts from the Islamic community to imply that Jesus was a follower of Islam.
It is important to thoroughly read and analyze this chapter, considering its contents, and always keeping in mind that God does not share his glory with any of his prophets:
"I am Yahweh: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images" (Isaiah 42:8).
God does not share His glory; it belongs to Him alone. This implies that either Jesus is part of God's identity or John's account of our Lord's prayer as a priest was clearly blasphemous.4 Take note of the appeals and assertions Jesus makes in the rest of His prayer, and question whether these are things an ordinary man, even a prophet, would ask of God. Note the requests and claims Jesus makes in the remainder of his prayer and ask yourself if these are expressions a mere man, though a prophet, would ask of God?
Jesus Could Pray to God
Because God is Not One ‘Self’
Muslims often question, "If Jesus was praying to God, how could he be praying to himself?" However, what they fail to understand is the belief that God is composed of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (which is adamantly rejected in Islam).
This aligns with the entirety of the book of John, if we begin from John 1:1 and systematically gather all that is mentioned about the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. The inevitable conclusion is that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. They exist as three distinct individuals but share the same essence and substance. Within this understanding of God, intercommunication is not a problem, and neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit are considered to be second or third gods. Instead, they are recognized as separate beings within the beingness of God (Micah 5:1; 1 Corinthians 2:10; Colossians 1:15-16; and Hebrews 9:14 and 13:1).
Please take a moment to step back and re-read verse 5 from the given text. This particular verse poses a significant challenge to Islamic theology, as does verse 8, which provides information about Jesus' origin (as mentioned in John 1:18).
Additionally, verse 10 raises a concern about the mutual ownership of Christians by God and Jesus. This concept raises a question: How can God and Jesus claim ownership of Christians without it being a cause for concern?5
Pay attention to verses 20-23, which demonstrate an intricate unity among the Father, the Son, and Christians.6 This unity seems illogical and impossible unless Jesus is somehow transcendent and more than just a prophet. In other words, Jesus cannot simply be included in this unity unless he is also a part of the divine existence.7 8
The text implies that in John 17:26, the prayer is concluded with a restatement of a shared love and the presence of the Son, linking back to what Jesus mentioned in John 14:23. However, it suggests that none of this would make sense unless we embrace and recognize the overarching message depicted throughout the entire Gospel of John: Jesus is included in the Deity.9
According to John 17:3, the only way to attain eternal life is by knowing the true God and Jesus Christ, and no one else. If you accept and receive Christ as he is presented in John 1:1-3, then God's promise in John 1:9-13 belongs to you. Additionally, Jesus, as God's agent of salvation, is responsible for judging every individual according to John 5:22-23, not God the Father.
Christians honor both the Son and the Father, while Muslims do not. Therefore, it is baseless to claim that anything in the Gospel of John is 'Islamic' based on these statements. Furthermore, in John 14:6, Jesus proclaims that he is the only way to God the Father when he states,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father except by me.”
It is crucial to interpret John 17:3 while considering all preceding verses in John, without making assumptions, weakening the meaning, or making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the text. The Islamic insistence that 'Jesus was a Muslim' is unsupported by not only the rest of the Gospel of John but also the entire New Testament. Therefore, we can conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate for the sake of our eternal salvation, but he was certainly not a Muslim.10
1 See, Organiser.org
2 Consider, for instance, the verses from the Bible passage: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well” (1 John 2:23). Additionally, it states: ". . . we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).
3 The idea of including others alongside God is present in both Christianity and Islam, but there is a distinction between the two: In Christianity, according to the New Testament, Jesus is believed to originate from within God himself, being neither a creation nor a separate entity.
On the other hand, in Islam, Muhammad is seen as a human being and is considered to hold the second-highest authority under God. However, the question arises as to why the Shahada – the Islamic declaration of faith – allows for this role, which can be seen as a mediating function not entirely different from that of an associate?
4 Two ideas are present in John 17 that can also be found in other parts of the New Testament. These are known as the Carmen Christi, found in Philippians 2:5-11, and the Agnus Dei, found in Revelation 5:8-14.
In the Carmen Christi, Jesus is seen as being equal to God but chose to humble himself and become a human. He endured the shame of dying on the cross. However, as a result, God the Father exalted him greatly and bestowed upon him a name that surpasses all others. It is through the name of JESUS that every individual, whether in heaven, on earth, or beneath the earth, must bow their knees and confess that Jesus is the Lord, thus bringing glory to God the Father.
In the Agnus Dei passage, Jesus is alone worthy to open the seals of judgment because by his blood he redeemed every kindred, language, people, and nation and made us to God both kings and priests. Then glory and honor and power and all praise are directed to the Father and the Son, and thus we see that the Bible presents a stable understanding of who Jesus is from Matthew to the Book of Revelation.
6 The conjugal implications of Christ's relationship with the Church reflect God's marital relationship with Jerusalem and the Second Jewish Commonwealth in ancient times, and it is something unique. This ownership is not intended for bondage and slavery, but rather represents Christ's covenant to his people, as a husband to his wife. This concept suggests that Jesus is God, as stated in 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:22-23, and Revelation 19:7-9. These references can be compared to Isaiah 54:5-8 and Ezekiel 16:8-21.
7 Note that the concept of Jesus being transcendent and residing within believers is not exclusive to Johannine theology. It is actually mentioned earlier in Matthew 18:19-20.
8 Without any reservations, the Bible presents Jesus as the creator of everything in John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:14-18, Hebrews 1:3-10, and Revelation 4:11.
9 Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus' claim to be God is emphasized at regular intervals in various ways. These instances lead to defections, protests, explosive outbursts, and even worship from the Jews. These occurrences can be found in John 6:41-69, John 8:23-59, John 9:1-38, John 10:32-39, John 14:26*, and John 16:13-15*. The verses marked with asterisks indicate moments where the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit interact together. Moreover, Jesus, our Lord, is portrayed as part of the Deity from the beginning to the end of the Gospel, as seen in John 1:1-3 and John 20:24-29.
10 “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, ‘Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body thou hast prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou has had no pleasure. ‘Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 cf. ERV).
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