Is the Qur’an in stark contrast to the Gospels in its depiction of Jesus? Answering Dr. Michael Licona.

The Qur’an’s Low Christology Compared to the Gospels

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

I was asked by a brother named Kaleef Karim on 9th February 2016 to give some comments on what Dr. Michael Licona wrote about Mark and his low Christology. The following is my feedback to what Dr. Licona said and you can check the attached image below to see his original statements that the following responds to.

Licona

Many scholars maintain that the Gospel of Thomas has a rather low Christology and depicts Jesus truly flesh and blood. The sparse instances where allusions to divinity may be attributed to him have been understood in the framework of Jesus being God’s “Shaliach”. The Didache, which may well preserve the teachings of Die Jerusalemer Urgemeinde (that was led by the earliest followers of Jesus and headed by James) which is an equally ancient witness has an even more pronounced low Christological conception of Jesus, identifying him only as the “servant of God”. Though the Qur’an maintains a fairly low Christology, emphasising time and again the humanity of Jesus Christ, the Gospel according to Mark does not entirely depart from this strand of thought. Granted that there are instances where traditional conservative scholars have interpreted some very isolated instances of the “Son of Man” quotations from Jesus as instances of his claim to divinity (e.g. Mark 14:62), the overall schema of Jesus as found in Mark seem to strongly indicate a low Christological conception: “Compared with the other Gospels, it is often said that Mark has a relatively ‘low Christology’ – meaning that, generally speaking, in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is relatively more ‘human’ than in the other Gospels, his divinity is more subtly and reticently conveyed.’ [1]

Echoing the same sentiment, Associate Professor of Ethics at the School of Theology, Claremont, California, Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher tell us that, “Mark’s Christology is considered low Christology, emphasizing Jesus’ humanity, and the title “Son of Man,” spending more time on that aspect of Jesus than on His divinity.” [2] And when one takes into consideration the stark absence of Patristic commentaries and interpretations on the Gospel of Mark, this point takes even greater root in studies on Mark’s Christology and this good point is no better observed than in the following:
“The many commentaries on Matthew, Luke, and John employing the range of patristic methods of interpretation demonstrate the relationship between the interests of the Fathers and the document being interpreted. The absence of commentaries on Mark, on the other hand, suggests that neither the interpretive nor ecclesiastical interests of the Fathers were excited by Mark.”[3]


To Schildgen, the loud silence on the part of patristic sources on Mark is attributable to its presentation of a starkly low Christological view of Jesus.
“If, as I have suggested, ecclesiastical concerns – particularly those connected to sacraments, church consolidation, dogmatic formulations, and a coherent theology – were their primary preoccupations in the period, Mark offers little help in these areas, especially when compared to Matthew and John. Mark’s incompletely of information and lack of articulateness on specific theological and ecclesiastical concerns of the time as well as his “low” Christology (as was clear in Irenaeus’ remarks”) may have contributed to the gospel’s exclusion from attention. The gospel lacks the necessary data found in Matthew and John useful to the Fathers in clarifying liturgical, ecclesiastical, doctrinal, or sacramental practices.”[4]
Note: As for Mark’s quotation of “the Son of Man” in Daniel 7 and its attribution to Jesus, two observations can be made:
1. Jesus does not actually claim in any of the verses in Mark 14 to be that “Son of Man”. Verse 62 is structured in such a way (in the third person) that it may well refer to someone else other than him. In essence, there is no unequivocal declaration on Jesus’ part that he is that “Son of Man” of Mark 14:62.
2. Even if Jesus is proven, or for the sake of argument, one accepts the attribution of the “Son of Man” to Jesus, that does not in any way deify him and promote him to a position worthy on a pedestal next to and equal with YHWH, or the Father. This very pertinent point is made clear by J. Barr:
“13-14 One like a Son of Man – The word ‘man’ in Heb. and Aram. is generic in sense and means ‘mankind’. ’Son of Man’ is therefore a normal expression for a single human being. The first point is therefore the contrast between this figure and the bestial figures preceding. It is commonly held that here he is a human figure representing Israel as the beasts represented the other empires. But the fact that he comes with the clouds of heaven, i.e that he is a celestial being, unlike the other beings who arise from the earth or sea, is also important. The appearance or likeness of a man is in fact a normal expression for an angelic manifestation (Ezek. I). The ‘son of man’ or rather the One like a Man is then what we would call an angel, one of the holy ones or their representative. He has a relation to Israel, for he serves the God of Israel; but is more than a figure for Israel. In the interpretations following he merges back into the host of the holy ones. The further comprehension of his significance depends on the question why what we call ‘angels’ are so often described as ‘man’ and why on the other hand ‘man’ is sometimes brought so close to God, especially in his capacity as a ruler( Gen. 1-2; Ps. 8 ); and with this place of man as ruler hangs together the question of the relation of the ‘Man’ here to the Messiah. There is no specific reference here to the Messiah as such, but there is a certain overlapping and community of expression; the Messiah is the king, and the king is also ben’adham, ’man’, in PS. 80:17, cf. 146:3. Nor can we neglect the use of ‘son of man’ for Daniel himself (see on 8:17).But what we have here in essence is an eschatological appearance of an angelic being as man in heaven.” [5]

 

Notes:

[1] John, J. (2001). The Meaning in the Miracles. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 76

[2] Baker-Fletcher, G. K. (2009). Bible Witness in Black Churches. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. P. 49

[3] Schildgen, B. D. (1998). Power and Prejudice: The Reception of the Gospel of Mark. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press. p. 60

[4] Ibid. pp. 60-61

[5] Barr, J. (1962). The Book of Daniel. In Matthew Black & H. H. Rowley (Eds.), Peake’s Commentary on the Bible. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 597-598

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