The New Testament Portrait of Jesus for Muslim Theologians

Mary's House, Ephesus, Turkey. John W. Martens, January 16, 2006.

In January 2014, I and some of my colleagues will be going to Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, Turkey to speak about Jesus in the Christian tradition with Muslim theologians. This is not the first foray of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue center of the University of St. Thomas with symposia and conferences engaging Muslim scholars overseas. Terry Nichols, Mike Hollerich and Bernie Brady met with Muslim theologians in Qom, Iran this past summer and they had met previously with the Iranian theologians in Rome. The Turkish theologians have also visited St. Paul, Minnesota to discuss theological issues in the past.

My task for this upcoming conference is to present a paper on the New Testament picture(s) of Jesus, which I am busily working on right now so that it can be translated into Turkish for January.  My approach is going to be threefold. I will first present aspects of Jesus’ humanity from the Gospels, based on a certain number of passages so that we have concrete texts to discuss and not just ideas. Second, I will focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. I will contend that it was the actual experience of the risen Lord that lead first-century Jews who were monotheists to reconsider the nature of Jesus as not just human but divine, though the actual nature of the relationship of Jesus to God the Father is not worked out systematically in the New Testament. Finally, I will concentrate on some passages which indicate that Jesus is not just spoken of as divine, but that Christian prayer and worship even in the New Testament is being offered to Jesus as divine being.


Here is a question for you: are there certain passages that you think are essential to consider? I will be choosing passages from throughout the New Testament, so the Gospels, Paul’s letters, the general epistles, Hebrews, Acts, Revelation, are all in the discussion. I must limit the number of passages I discuss, however, both in terms of presentation of my paper and the subsequent discussion. The passages will fall into one of these three categories: Jesus’ humanity; the resurrection as the turning point in consideration of Jesus as divine; Jesus’ divinity as seen in prayer and worship of the earliest Christians. What passages do you think are essential and must be considered in this conversation with Muslim theologians? I will not mention any passages that I am using or considering right now (though I admit it will be hard to skip John 1 or Philippians 2:5-11) because I would love to hear from you.


John W. Martens

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @Biblejunkies

I encourage you to “Like” Biblejunkies on Facebook.

This entry is cross-posted at Biblejunkies

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
5 years 11 months ago
Mr. Martens, I know nothing about Twitter, Biblejunkies, Facebook, as ways to venture a NT teaching of Jesus re: your visit with Muslim theologians in January as you asked your readers to do. So I use the only way with which I am familiar - posting on your site. I hope this is acceptable. The passage is Mt. 19 vs 10-12. You mentioned you're going to Izmir for the discussion which I find interesting in that before he was Archbishop of Izmir years ago, I knew Cuthberth Gumbinger, OFM Cap.when he was personal theologian to the Capuchin Minister General, Clement Neubauer. They stopped where I lived at St. John Friary 210 W. 31 ST NYC, enroute to Rome for Vat II Council and while in NYC Cuthbert asked me to go with him to Coney Island for a swim. While on the beach in his words there was "flesh" everywhere and protectively (I guess) the future Archbishop said in hushed tone but smiling, "All this flesh, Brother! Cast your eyes down!" Thus my choice of Mt 19 vs.10-12 which deals with those who try to live a celibate life with focus on Jesus' wise words in effect saying, "If you can't do it, don't try it!" May I ask you while in Izmir to visit Archbishop Gumbinger's grave if possible and say a prayer for my wife, our children, grand children and for me. Cuthberth wasn't long in ministry there, maybe only two years. Thank you!
John Martens
5 years 11 months ago


Of course this is an acceptable format. I will do my best in Izmir to visit Archbishop Gumbinger's grave! As to your passage, do you see this as a passage that particularly speaks to Jesus' unique nature or that points his disciples to the world to come? Just trying to make sense of where you see this passage fitting in a discussion of Jesus as human and divine. Thank you by the way for your faithful commenting. It is much appreciated.

Bruce Snowden
5 years 11 months ago
Mr. Martens, Thanks for your quick and challenging response. I think that Mt. 19 vs10-12 speaks to Jesus’ unique nature as God, as it directs all to a realm of reality that moves beyond materiality, as noble as materiality is being a gift from God, to another level of the inner- Godly as is Jesus himself in his Divine Nature, where sexuality as blessed as it is, is no longer an imperative to, or of, life. Thus Jesus in Mt. 19 vs. 10-12 invites us to move beyond the transient, to the intransient, not in forced compliance but in freedom to accept, or not accept based on one’s endurance. This invitation in turn has the capacity to point Jesus’ disciples to the world to come, which is the whole purpose why Jesus assumed a human nature redemptively in the first place. I hope this explanation makes sense in service to your up-and-coming mission, but no doubt could use some refining. – I’m very please you appreciate my postings and know your works are always uplifting and leave me in better touch with our loving but often elusive God. And they teach!
Tom Acemoglu
5 years 11 months ago
Good luck! Once concern is that you're not necessarily on a level playing field, hermeneutically speaking. The relationship between the Qur'an and the Bible is a bit different from the Hebrew Bible/New Testament divide in that the New Testament doesn't regard the Hebrew Bible as a corruption as the Muslim tradition does the entire Bible. Some of the Muslim New Testament treatments I've seen have treated St Paul with great contempt, viewing him as the great perverter of the story of Jesus (see Jay R Crook's series "The Bible: An Islamic Perspective" where he uses historical critical exegesis as a way of undermining the biblical record without applying the same method to the Qur'an). The traditional centers for Qur'anic studies haven't experienced what Judaism and Christianity have experienced in biblical studies. I think that presenting key texts within the context of the historical milieu of the New Testament would be most beneficial. I know that almost seems besides the point, but it's a big difference from starting from the text as a given. Which texts reflect the Christological outlook of the earliest Christians? 1 Corinthians 8:6 would be useful because it deals with the relationship between creed and practice and the authority of Jesus regarding his special relationship with the Father. Also, 1 Corinthians 12:3 expresses the earliest creed of the Church as an expression of its earliest conviction, as a special revelation by the Holy Spirit who is guarantor of the apostolic preaching and who is experienced concretely in the community, who also unites the community of faith.
John Martens
5 years 11 months ago


Thank you! I knew this was a good idea. 1 Cor 12:3 was indeed on my radar, but I had overlooked 1 Cor 8:6! This is a terrific passage to examine. I do agree that a starting point from the historical milieu is significant; my other focus, following Luke Timothy Johnson, Larry Hurtado and others, will be a focus on the religious experience of the first followers of Jesus.

In general, you are correct about the difficulties and the uneven playing field (hermeneutically), but we are thankful for this opportunity to present an academic case for the Christian understanding of Jesus.

Thanks again. Much appreciated.




The latest from america

A podium is seen in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Oct. 2, 2019, prior to the start of a DACA demonstration. On Nov. 12, the court will hear arguments in a challenge to the Trump administration's termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The case will affect the lives of more than 700,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. as minors without documentation. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
“Our nation made a promise to these ‘Dreamers,’” Archbishop Gomez wrote. “We have a moral obligation. It is time for the president and Congress to honor that promise and live up to this obligation.”
J.D. Long-GarcíaNovember 11, 2019
Proposed changes to a bishops’ letter introducing “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” reveal concerns that segments of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are not fully on board with Francis’ now six-year-old papacy.
Michael J. O’LoughlinNovember 11, 2019
As the U.S. bishops begin their meetings with Pope Francis, held every five years, here are some of the topics that need to be discussed.
The EditorsNovember 11, 2019
What were the results of the Amazon synod?
Luke Hansen, S.J.November 11, 2019