Introduction to Sura Ale Imran – The Family of Imran

Surah Baqarah and this surah are closely related. Both of these deal with the People of the Book. Surah Baqarah mostly talked about the Jews and this chapter is focused on Christianity. In the very beginning of this surah, Allah defines the Quran as a continuation of the Torah and the Gospels: “He has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book containing the truth and fulfilling that which precedes it; and He sent down the Torah and the Gospel, before this, as a guidance to the people.” (3:3-4) In other words Islam is not a new religion, rather a continuation of the Abrahamic faiths and belief in One God and and human accountability to Him.

Among the events of the history described in this surah are the birth of Jesus and the early life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, his miracles and his relationship with his apostles.

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

It is said that the first part of this chapter (between thirty to eighty verses according to various opinions) was revealed on the occasion of the visit to Madinah of a delegation of Christians from Najran, one of whom was said to be honored by the Byzantines for his knowledge of religion (R). According to the traditional accounts, it was reported that in the course of the debate with the Prophet they said that Jesus was God, because he revived the dead, healed lepers, and spoke of unseen realities; that he was the son of God, because he had no human father; and that he was the third of three, because in scripture God says, “We did/ made,” and so on, whereas if He were not three, He would have said, “I did/made.” The account also reports that the Prophet asked the following set of questions, which were followed by the Christians’ responses:

“Do you not know that there is no child who does not resemble his father?”

“Yes.”

“Do you not know that our Lord is Living and does not die, and that Jesus is subject to passing away (ya’ti Alayhi’ l-fana’)?”

“Yes.”

“Do you not know that our Lord sustains all things, preserving them, guarding them, providing for them?”  “Yes.”  “Was Jesus able to do any of those things?”

“No.”

“Do you not know that nothing on earth or in heaven is hidden from God most high?”  “Yes.”

“Did Jesus know aught of it save what he was taught?”

“No.”

“Do you know not that God formed Jesus in the womb as He willed, and that our Lord does not eat food, nor consume drink, nor defecate?”

“Yes.”

“Do you not know that [in the case of] Jesus his mother bore him as women do, then gave birth to him as women do, then fed him as children are fed, after which he ate food, drank, and defecated?”

“Yes.”

“So how can it be as you allege?”

According to the account, it was after this that the first part of the chapter was revealed (Al, T)

To get the most benefit from this dialogue and the on going debate between the Muslims and the Christians about Trinity and the alleged divinity of Jesus by the Christians, one has to stay focused on the dual nature of Jesus as described in the official doctrine of Christianity, in the Ecumenical Councils of early Christianity, since the First Council of Nicaea, in 325 CE.

According to the official doctrine ‘Jesus is perfect man and fully divine.’ In our experience, talking to devout Christians, we find that they intermingle the two natures and suitably jump from one nature to the other, as they apologize for the Triune mystery, until discussion becomes futile and nonsensical. But, if they can be urged to focus on his ‘perfect human nature’ for a short period of time, then the above dialogue can begin to make sense and we can benefit from the wisdom contained in there. Here, what is most important to stress is that human part of Jesus did not exist before his birth to mother Mary, so he is not eternal if we don’t lose sight of human aspect of his person.

For understanding Trinity from a Muslim perspective one needs to study the history of the Ecumenical Councils and also the history of all the heresies in this regard. Here, we propose to share only a few ideas and then link a comprehensive recent book on this subject.

Hypostatic union (from the Greek: ὑπόστασις hypóstasis, “sediment, foundation, substance, subsistence”) is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity in one hypostasis, or individual existence.[3]

The First Council of Ephesus in 431 AD recognized this doctrine and affirmed its importance, stating that the humanity and divinity of Christ are made one according to nature and hypostasis in the Logos.

The Greek term hypostasis had come into use as a technical term prior to the Christological debates of the late fourth and fifth centuries. In pre-Christian times, Greek philosophy (primarily Stoicism) used the word.[4][5] Some occurrences of the term hypostasis in the New Testament foreshadow the later, technical understanding of the word. Although it can translate literally as “substance”, this has been a cause of some confusion;[6] accordingly the New American Standard Bible translates it as “subsistence”. Hypostasis denotes an actual, concrete existence, in contrast with abstract categories such as Platonic ideals.

In Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, the dual nature of Christ is explored as a paradox, as “the ultimate paradox”, because God, understood as a perfectly good, perfectly wise, perfectly powerful being, fully became a human, in the Christian understanding of the term: burdened by sin, limited in goodness, knowledge, and understanding.[7] This paradox can only be resolved, Kierkegaard believed, by a leap of faith away from one’s understanding and reason towards belief in God; thus the paradox of the hypostatic union was crucial to an abiding faith in the Christian God.

As the precise nature of this union is held to defy finite human comprehension, the hypostatic union is also referred to by the alternative term “mystical union.”

Bart Denton Ehrman (/bɑːrt ˈərmən/; born October 5, 1955) is an American professor and scholar, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is one of North America’s leading scholars in his field, having written and edited 30 books, including three college textbooks. He has also achieved acclaim at the popular level, authoring five New York Times bestsellers. Ehrman’s work focuses on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christianity.

Here we want to link his book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, as a comprehensive source on this issue.

This book could be considered as the modern day commentary of the following and several other verses of the holy Quran about Jesus, may peace be on him:

People of the Book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth. Indeed, the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was but a Messenger of Allah and the fulfillment of glad tidings, which He conveyed to Mary and a mercy from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers and say not: ‘There are three.’  Desist, that will be better for you. Indeed, Allah is the only one God. He is far above having a son, every thing in the heaven and the earth belongs to Him and He is the best one to trust. (4:171)

Another way to approach Trinity from a critical perspective is to understand and discuss the schism between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Church and their Christology.

The preeminent Antiochene theologian Theodore of Mopsuestia, contending against the monophysite heresy of Apollinarism, is believed to have taught that in Christ there are two natures (dyophysite), human and divine, and two corresponding hypostases (in the sense of “subject”, “essence”, or “person”) which co-existed.[10] However, in Theodore’s time the word hypostasis could be used in a sense synonymous with ousia (which clearly means “essence” rather than “person”) as it had been used by Tatian and Origen. The Greek and Latin interpretations of Theodore’s Christology have come under scrutiny since the recovery of his Catechetical Orations in the Syriac language.

In 451, the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon promulgated the Chalcedonian Definition. It agreed with Theodore that there were two natures in the Incarnation. However, the Council of Chalcedon also insisted that hypostasis be used as it was in the Trinitarian definition: to indicate the person (prosopon) and not the nature as with Apollinaris. Thus, the Council declared that in Christ there are two natures; each retaining its own properties, and together united in one person and in one single subsistence (εἰς ἓν πρόσωπον καὶ μίαν ὑπόστασινeis hèn prósōpon kaì mían hypóstasin).[11]

The Oriental Orthodox Churches, having rejected the Chalcedonian Creed, were known as Miaphysites because they maintain Cyrilian definition that characterized the incarnate Son as having one nature. The Chalcedonian “in two natures” formula (based, at least partially, on Colossians 2:9) was seen as derived from and akin to a Nestorian Christology.[12] Contrariwise, the Chalcedonians saw the Oriental Orthodox as tending towards Eutychian Monophysitism. However, the Oriental Orthodox persistently specified that they have never believed in the doctrines of Eutyches, that they have always affirmed that Christ’s humanity is consubstantial with our own, and they thus prefer the term Miaphysite to be referred to as, a reference to Cyrillian Christology, which used the phrase “μία φύσις τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη“, “mía phýsis toû theoû lógou sesarkōménē“. The term miaphysis means one united nature as opposed to one singular nature (monophysis). Thus the Miaphysite position maintains that although the nature of Christ is from two, it may only be referred to as one in its incarnate state because the natures always act in unity.

In recent times, leaders from the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches have signed joint statements in an attempt to work towards reunification. Likewise the leaders of the Assyrian Church of the East, which venerates Nestorius and Theodore, have in recent times signed a joint agreement with leaders of the Roman Catholic Church acknowledging that their historical differences were over terminology rather than the actual intended meaning.  However, the historical debate and argumentation can help demystify the mystery of Trinity.

The section 13 onwards deals with the battle of Uhud and represents the constant struggle of the Truth against Falsehood, through the lens of events happening in Uhud in the third year after the prophet Muhammad’s, may peace be on him, migration to Madinah.

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