How do we understand the Qur’anic verse of Sura V; The Table, 116:

“Remember when God said to Jesus son of Mary: ‘Did you really say to people: “Take me and my mother as two gods, instead of God?”’ He (Jesus) said: ‘Glory be to You! What right have I to assert what does in truth belong to me? If I had said it, You would have known it; You know what is in my mind and I know not what is in Your mind, for it is you Who are the All-Knower of the Unseen.”

Is the verse “I know not what is in Yours”, a negation of Christ’s divinity?

This verse is not a negation of Christ’s divinity. In order to understand it, one should:
a) Place it in its historical context in relation to the polytheist Arabs of the VIIth century.
b) Compare it with the Gospel’s text.

Historical context

It has been difficult to demonstrate to the polytheist Arabs that the unique God who, furthermore, incarnated in the person of Christ. It is clear that they understood Jesus and Mary as two separate gods, comparable to the multiple gods they worshiped. This verse comes to contradict that.

To compare with the Gospel’s text

The words of Christ, addressing himself to God: “I know not what is in Yours” are interpreted by some as a negation of the Christ’s Divinity, since He is unaware of what is in God. We demonstrate -in comparing it to the Gospel’s text- that this hasty interpretation is false, especially that the Qur’an in Sura IV; The Women 47 presents itself as a confirmation of the Gospel and invites us, moreover, to find the “best of arguments” (Qur’an XXIX; Spider, 46), to follow the “straight path” towards God (Qur’an I; Fatiha, 6-7).

The Qur’an confirms Christ’s words who when addressing himself to his Apostles in the Gospels. They asked him about the end of times and of the moment of his return:

“‘Tell us, when is this going to happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?’” (Matthew 24,3). He answered them: “But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father only” (Matthew 24,36).

This means that the Christ did not declare “what he had no right to say” as expressed by this Qur’anic verse. Because the Apostles were incapable of understanding the immensity of the divine Plan, these are the “Unseen” according to the Qur’an.

Besides, the Christ “can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing: and whatever the Father does the Son does too” (John 5,19). And also: “I do nothing of myself: what the Father has taught me is what I say” (John 8,28). Some would like to see in these evangelical verses, a negation of the Divinity of Christ. This is not so! We explain why below.

Jesus addressing himself to the Jews says: “Before Abraham ever was, I am” (John 8,58). This so irritated the Jews, made them want to stone him to death, understanding that He presented himself as God incarnate. How can the Christ already exist before Abraham? Certainly not by his body that was created by God in the womb of Mary, eighteen centuries after Abraham. It is therefore the Spirit of Christ, as God, which existed before Abraham and which incarnated itself in Mary. Besides, Jesus says: “I came from the Father and have come into the world” (John 16,28). This is the reason for which Jesus adds: “Now, Father, it is time for you to glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world was” (John 17,5), and also: “I came from the Father and have come into the world” (John 16,28).

So, one must discern the physical aspect, the created body, and the divine dimension in the Christ. It is this eternal divine dimension which animates and instructs this created body, which takes its information from the Father. It is why Jesus had said: “I do nothing of myself. What the Father has taught me is what I preach”, which corresponds to this verse in the Qur’anic language: “You know what is in my mind, but I know not (as a human body) what is in Yours”. And in the Gospel’s verse: “I do nothing of myself. What the Father has taught me is what I preach; he who sent me is with me” (John 8,28). The corporal part of the Christ only knows what was revealed to him by the Divine Will. And “the Father loves the Son and shows him everything He does himself” (John 5,20).

However, because of the limit of human intelligence, which is incapable of grasping “what is unseen (indescribable)” (Qur’an V, The table, 116), the Son cannot reveal, all at once, to a restricted human mentality, closed to the divine plans and the divine Essence (The Trinity, The Messiah’s Divinity, The Eucharist, The Crucifixion). In the same verse of the Table, Jesus, addressing himself to God, says: “You Who are the All-Knower of the Unseen“. These are such truths that Jesus in this same Qur’anic verse “has no right to tell” to people of limited intelligence.

So then, this answer of Christ is not a negation of his divinity, but a limit to what he could reveal at that moment. It is in a spirit of fatherly pedagogy and divine wisdom, that the Christ also says:

“I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now” (John 16,12).

This will be the Holy Spirit’s mission to reveal, later on, the plenitude of the mysterious divine plan to those who welcome it:

“The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything” (John 14,26).

And also:

“When the Spirit of Truth comes he will lead you to the complete Truth” (John 16,13).

Paul picks up this teaching again when addressing himself to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 3,1-3: “Brothers, I myself was unable to speak to you as people of the Spirit: I treated you as sensual men, still infants in Christ. What I fed you with was milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it; and indeed, you are still not for it since you are still not spiritual…”

One must have received the Holy Spirit to understand God and judge:

“The spiritual person, on the other hand, is able to judge the value of everything, and their own value is not to be judged by other persons.” (1 Corinthians 2,15)

The Holy Spirit is given to us men so that “our minds are to be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that we can put on the New Self that has been created on God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4,23). “For the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God…” (1 Corinthians 2,10-15)

How many people of Christ’s time, Muhammad’s time in Arabia, were disposed to believe in the divine truths? How many people, still today, twenty centuries after the Christ, are disposed to believe in the truths revealed by the Holy Spirit, whose principals are:

  1. The Divine Trinity
  2. Jesus is the Christ announced by the prophets (Many do not believe in this amongst the so-called Jews, Christians or Muslims).
  3. Jesus is the divine incarnation on earth.
  4. The Kingdom of God as well as his Temple is IN US; this Kingdom being spiritual, not political. They are not a geographical location: Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, etc…
  5. The bread and the wine taken around Christ’s Holy Table are really his Body and his Blood.
  6. Monogamy and marital fidelity.
  7. The uselessness of animal sacrifices, geographical pilgrimages, pure and impure dishes, etc… for the salvation of the soul.

All these truths -which the Christ revealed through the Holy Spirit after him- could not have been understood by his Apostles and the Arabs at their times… and are still not today by the great majority of men. The Christ, who acts pedagogically according to the principles of God, could not clash with the men of his time and reveal them all these truths frankly, and all at once. It is why he often spoke in parables, knowing that He was addressing himself to hearts hardened by pleasure, materialism and worldly irregularities. The Apostles themselves did not understand it. In speaking of monogamy and condemning divorce, they responded to him: “‘If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is advisable not to marry.’ But he replied: ‘It is not everyone who can accept what I have said…’” The divine pedagogy appears in these words of Christ: “‘It was because you were so unteachable, that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning’” (Matthew 19,1-12). The Qur’an too, reveals this pedagogy on the matter of marriage, passing from capricious polygamy and anarchic divorce to monogamy, in passing through the reduction of marriages to four wives, then recommending monogamy for salvation (See “A Look of faith at the Qur’an”).

Neither the Apostles at the time of Christ, nor the Arabs at the time of Muhammad had received the plenitude of the Holy Spirit to understand the immensity of the divine plan at the service of man, drowned with stubbornness in his ignorance. St Paul himself declares that he received but “the first-fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8,23).

Jesus followed the divine plan, entrusting what is incommunicable to the Holy Spirit. He respected, humbling himself up till the cross, the fragile human condition. God lowered himself through Christ to speak to man face to face. St Paul expressed himself as follows:

“His (Jesus) state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. But God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2,6-11).

So Christ was the Father’s instrument to talk to the heart of man, deaf and blind to the divine truths. He incarnated himself then, “to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are”, to talk to man face to face, then send them his Holy Spirit.

This is why nowadays, the Christ, Him still, to achieve his work “will manifest himself a second time (but outside the body) to those who are waiting for him (the wise virgins: Matthew 25), to bring them salvation” (Hebrews 9,28 / 2 Timothy 4,8). He will no longer manifest himself in the body, but by the Holy Spirit.

The Christ who had said to his Apostles of not knowing the hour of his Return (Matthew 24,36) and who, in the Qur’an, said to the Father of not knowing his secrets, knew very well the hour and the day, and the divine secrets. But it was not the moment to reveal the salutary truths, which only the Holy Spirit has as a mission, to reveal to those who welcome it in our epoch.

Happy are the pure hearts capable of hearing and understanding the murmurs of the Holy Spirit.

(See the text “The Divinity of Jesus”).

Pierre (29.06.2006)