One of the most important issues concerning the Christian belief in Jesus (Peace be upon him) is the belief that he is the only begotten son of God before all ages, which we as Muslims don’t accept. To understand this issue more, we need to know what it means.
What does the word “Son of God” mean?
First of all, the word “son of God” in itself is not a proof of that this sonship is literal, as it was used extensively in both the Old and New Testaments in a figurative meaning, i.e. that this sonship means adoption as can be seen here:
Exodus 4:22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith Jehovah, Israel is my son, my first-born:
Psalms 82:6 I said, Ye are gods, And all of you sons of the Most High.
2Samuel 7:14 I(God) will be his father, and he(Solomon) shall be my son
Luke 3:38… the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Matthew 5:9 blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:16 Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
The above verses clearly show that the word “son of God” has been used for different people, and doesn’t mean real sonship but adoptive sonship as we all agree; now Christians will say that this is not the case of Jesus as he is the son of God by begetting not by adoption:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Actually according to the Bible, if we say that the word “beget” means literal sonship, this will mean that many others are begotten God’s sons:
1John 3:9 Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.
1John 5:18 We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not.
There is also another verse in the Bible proving that sonship of Jesus is not a literal one:
John 8:38 I speak the things which I have seen with my Father: and ye also do the things which ye heard from your father.
As we see here, Jesus compares his sonship to the father to the sonship of the Jews where he said in verse 44 that their father is Satan, who is of course a metaphorical father. If Jesus really meant that he is literally son of God, he wouldn’t have compared his sonship to God with the sonship of the Jews to Satan.
How did Jesus understand the meaning of the word “Son of God”?
Also another situation when he said to the Jews:”I and the Father are one”, and the Jews accused him of blasphemy, as I said before when discussing if Jesus said that he is God, the verse he quoted here tells that he didn’t mean a literal divinity or literal sonship, but rather an inferior one, let’s look again at what he said:
John 10:34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods? John 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came (and the scripture cannot be broken), John 10:36 say ye of him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
So he tells again that as the judges meant in Psalms 82:6 are called gods figuratively, why do you consider me blaspheming if I said that I am the son of God? This clearly means that his sonship of God goes with the same logic of the judges being gods. Jesus used Psalm 82:6 to justify calling him as son of God and to prove to the Jews that he is not blaspheming. This clearly means that Jesus is not literally son of God.
How did Christians understand the meaning of the word “Son of God”?
Next, if we really considered that he was really the literally begotten son of God, what does this word mean? Christians will say it is not a real sonship, but they may say that “begotten” means “come from”, if this was the case, what is the difference between begetting the Son and proceeding of the Holy Spirit? Another interpretation is made by Theophilus of Antioch, where he says:
“Not as the poets and writers of myths talk of the sons of gods begotten from intercourse [with women], but as truth expounds, the Word, that always exists, residing within the heart of God. For before anything came into being He had Him as a counsellor, being His own mind and thought. But when God wished to make all that He determined on, He begot this Word, uttered,61 the first-born of all creation, not Himself being emptied of the Word [Reason], but having begotten Reason, and always conversing with His Reason. And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,” (Joh_1:1) showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. Then he says, “The Word was God; all things came into existence through Him; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence.” The Word, then, being God, and being naturally62 produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place.” (Source here)
We as Muslims don’t agree with that meaning, it looks as if God needs to beget another person to be an attribute of Him so as to create, or that when he wills something, God doesn’t need when he wants to create something to beget a word from his heart, to be a new person whom he takes as a chancellor, or that He needs to beget the word so as to send it anywhere He wants, when God wills something, He only says “be”, and it becomes as God wills. Also if God wasn’t emptied from reason or word when he begat it, what is the need for begetting the word to be His Son who will be God’s chancellor? Does God really need a chancellor? This looks like a discrepancy in the belief itself.
On the other hand, Theophilus said that the word was in God’s bowels:
“God made all things out of nothing; for nothing was coeval with God: but He being His own place, and wanting nothing, and existing before the ages, willed to make man by whom He might be known; for him, therefore, He prepared the world. For he that is created is also needy; but he that is uncreated stands in need of nothing. God, then, having His own Word internal within His own bowels, begat Him, emitting Him along with His own wisdom before all things” (Source here)
Tertullian also says:
” Chap. XIX. – Christ, as to His Divine Nature, as the Word of God, Became Flesh, Not by Carnal Conception, nor by the Will of the Flesh and of Man, but by the Will of God. Christ’s Divine Nature, of Its Own Accord, Descended into the Virgin’s Womb.” (Source here)
From a Muslim point of view this is considered as a blasphemy. How would God descend into a woman’s womb? So the embryo will be God, and then the baby is God, who cries, suckles….etc. How can these acts come from God Almighty? Look also here Tertullian is talking about the divine nature, which means that all this was by the divine nature, and no comment. Some Christians would say that God can do anything, which is true, however God does what suits His mighty nature not what suits human beings. If God can do anything He could be evil, but would He? Of course He won’t because this is against His divine nature, same as the belief above. The Old Testament itself exclaims:
1Kings 8:27 But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you ; how much less this house that I have builded!
Holy Quran says:
88. And they say, `The Gracious God has taken unto Himself a son.’ 89. Assuredly, you have indeed uttered a most hideous thing. 90. The heavens might well-nigh burst thereat, and the earth cleave asunder, and the mountains fall down in pieces. 91. Because they ascribe a son to the Gracious God. 92. It becomes not the Gracious God that HE should take unto Himself a son. 93. There is none in the heavens and the earth but he shall come to the Gracious God as a bondman. (Holy Quran 19)