Was Jesus the Messiah?
A Journey into the New Testament, the Quran, and the Gospel of Barnabas
I first became aware of the widespread nature of Muslim awareness of the alleged Gospel of Barnabas when preaching at a church for Iranians. Many of those present had an Islamic background before becoming Christians, while others were Muslims (followers of Islam) interested in knowing more about Jesus. It was during an open question time during the church service that someone asked me about this manuscript. I have since learnt that many Muslims from other countries, such as Turkey, refer favourably to the Gospel of Barnabas believing that it was originally written by a disciple of Jesus called Barnabas. There appears to be several reasons why hundreds of thousands of Muslims are aware of the Gospel of Barnabas, including the fact that it mentions several times the name of Muhammad (also spelt Mohammed). For example chapter 39 of the book has Jesus Christ teaching that as soon as Adam was created and sprung up on his feet, he saw bright writing in the sky which said ‘There is only one God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.’ Adam then asks God to write those words onto the nails of his thumbs.
The sermon I gave looked at how the Bible describes Jesus, and how much Jesus loves all of us. It also responded to questions concerning the accuracy and reliability of the New Testament as a record of Jesus’ life and teachings. I presented evidence showing that the New Testament manuscripts have been copied accurately over the centuries (the formal study of this copying is called textual criticism). The sermon drew on some of the content found in Echoes of Jesus: Does the New Testament Reflect What He Said? – available in paperback and digital formats. This Christian apologetic book provides strong historical evidence that we can know what Jesus said and did by reading the New Testament.
Many Muslims, not just those who were listening to my sermon, who are even a little familiar with the New Testament have a host of questions as to how it compares to the Gospel of Barnabas , including whether Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah is something that Islam teaches. I have talked with some Muslims who accept that Jesus was the Messiah – in some sense of the word – but I am aware that other Muslims are not certain of what to believe about Jesus.
As Jesus’ identity is set out clearly in the four New Testament gospels – which have been shown to be historically reliable in Echoes of Jesus – then if the Gospel of Barnabas was also a book compiled by a first century disciple of Jesus it should agree with the four gospels. This agreement should be particularly strong when it comes to the question of whether Jesus was the Messiah.
The other agreement that should reasonably exist concerning the identity of Jesus, is that between the Gospel of Barnabas and the Islamic book called the Quran (also spelt Qur’an and Koran). This is because those Muslim scholars who heavily promote this debatable gospel also believe that the Quran provides a truthful account of Jesus’ life and teachings. It is unlikely that someone who believes the Quran to be a book from Allah, would also be encouraging fellow Muslims to believe in a book that opposes its teachings in major ways.
Here is what I discovered when exploring the original sources:
- Christian scriptures emphasise that Jesus is the Messiah
In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to in a number of ways, including the Messiah and the Christ. The title Messiah stems from the Hebrew, and the term Christ comes from the Greek. Both terms refer to someone who is anointed or chosen, and so are interchangeable. The anointing was originally carried out by the chosen person having oil ceremoniously rubbed or daubed onto their body. In the Greek language of the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as Messiah – transliterated as Messias in the Greek New Testament manuscripts – only twice: John 1: 41 and John 4:45. Elsewhere the New Testament uses Christ (Christos in the Greek) very frequently. All the New Testament gospels record Jesus being called the Messiah or Christ:
The account written by the disciple John records that John the Baptist announced Jesus as the Christ (John 1:19-30);
The disciple Simon Peter had his knowledge of who Jesus was brought to light when Jesus questioned him:
“But what about you?” he (Jesus) asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-20);
The high priest of Judaism confronted Jesus with the question that many people are still grappling with:
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”. (Mark 14:61-62);
Most importantly, Jesus referred to himself as the Christ immediately after his resurrection:
He said to them (his disciples), “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations … (Luke 24:44-48).
• Muslim scriptures call Jesus the Messiah
The most important book in Islam is the Quran, which was written in Arabic nearly 600 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is mentioned in the Quran a number of times, but in Arabic (and often in English) by the name Isa. The author of the Quran gave this Isa a story that has some similarities to the Jesus Christ of history – that is the Jesus of the New Testament – but also many differences. Isa in the Quran performs miracles such as the healing of people with leprosy and those who were born blind, and bringing dead people back to life (Chapter/Sura 5:110). In all these ways Isa is the same as the historical Jesus of the four original gospels. But in opposition to these reliable accounts , the Quran’s Isa isn’t tortured to death on the cross so that he can be the ransom of those that ask for forgiveness. The following words from the Quran refer to Jesus/Isa as the Messiah. Because English translations of the Quran differ, I have included two translations of the following verse from the Quran:
“Behold,” the angels told Mary, “God has given you the glad news of the coming birth of a son whom He calls His Word, whose name will be Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be a man of honor in this life and the life to come, and who will be one of the ones nearest to God. (Chapter/Sura 3:45, Muhammad Sarwar)
When the angels said: ‘O Maryam (Mary), surely, Allah gives you glad tidings of a (particular) Word from Him named the Messiah, ‘Isa, the son of Maryam (Jesus, the son of Mary), who would be eminent and exalted, (both) in this world and in the Hereafter, and would be of those who are exceptionally intimate servants of Allah blessed with His nearness. (Chapter/Sura 3:45, Dr Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri)
I have also read that the Quran never calls Muhammad – who Muslims believe to be a prophet, and who began Islam – the Messiah.
Another integral part of the Islamic scriptures are the Hadith. This voluminous collection refers to the ‘Messiah, the son of Mary’ (Al-Bukhari Book 7, Volume 72 ‘Dress’, hadith 789)
- Gospel of Barnabas denies that Jesus is the Messiah, but confirms he is the Christ
Many scholars consider that the Gospel of Barnabas was fraudulently written in about the 1300s AD.,, The 14th century author appears to have copied large amounts of written material from a version of the Bible called the Latin Vulgate, and from a book harmonising all four gospels into one account. He or she distorted these texts by fabricating new sayings of Jesus, editing out some of the original teachings, and inventing new scenarios. The aim was to produce a story that supported Islamic beliefs. As the Latin Vulgate was completed in 400 AD, and as the harmonisation may not have come into being until around the 1300s, then it is clear that the Gospel of Barnabas was not compiled by one of Jesus’ original disciples. As there is an abundance of evidence indicating that it is fictitious, one Muslim scholar stated that:
The vast majority of Muslim academics and scholars of comparative religion have deemed the so-called Gospel of Barnabas as pseudepigraphical, meaning that it is a forgery…
Despite this view of many Islamic academics, extremely popular Islamic websites continue to promote the Gospel of Barnabas as as a reliable source of information about Jesus.
The Gospel of Barnabas declares that Jesus was not the Messiah:
Then the disciples wept after this conversation with Jesus, and Jesus was too, when they then saw many coming to find him, for the chiefs of the priests decided among themselves to catch him (Jesus) in his talk. Therefore they sent the Levites and some of the scribes to question him, saying: ‘Who are you?’
Jesus confessed, and said the truth: ‘I am not the Messiah.’
They said: ‘Are you Elijah or Jeremiah, or any of the ancient prophets?’
Jesus answered: ‘No.’
Then said they: ‘Who are you? Tell us clearly, in order that we may tell those who sent us.’
Then said Jesus: ‘I am a voice that speaks out all through Judea, saying: “Prepare the way for the messenger of the Lord,” even as it is written in Esaias.’
As the above quote is a greatly adulterated version of a New Testament account, then it is apparent that the author was intentionally purporting that Jesus was not the Messiah. However the next quote demonstrates that the same writer didn’t realise that the words Messiah and Christ are synonymous:
[Introduction: The] True Gospel of Jesus, called Christ, a new Prophet sent by God to the world: according to the description of Barnabas his apostle.
Barnabas, apostle of Jesus the Nazarene, called Christ, to all who dwell upon the earth desiring peace and consolation.
Dearly beloved, the great and wonderful God has during these past days visited us by his prophet Jesus Christ with great mercy and the provision of teaching and miracles…
I have written the above in the hope that all those interested in knowing more about Jesus will see that the earliest and most reliable documents, namely the four New Testament gospels, make it clear that Jesus is the Messiah. It is also clear that Muslims can agree that Jesus is the Messiah based on their own scriptures. Muslims need not be in doubt about Jesus being the Messiah, as the misleading Gospel of Barnabas is not part of their group of sacred texts. It seems ironic that although the Gospel of Barnabas contradicts the Quran and the Hadith on the identity of Jesus, many Muslim missionaries and preachers speak highly of it as a historically accurate account of Jesus .
The big question remaining is: What does it mean that Jesus is the Messiah? Here is part of what Jesus had to say about himself being the Christ:
(Jesus) looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:1-4)
Like so many of Jesus’ words, these sentences are rich with meaning. Jesus spoke these words just before he was arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion. He begins this prayer by saying that he knows he will soon die (‘the hour has come’). He then describes his unique relationship with God the Father, wherein he is the Son. Christians understand that whenever Jesus called himself the Son, he was not saying he was the offspring of God – as if God the Father had a wife, an abhorrent idea – but rather that he had a one-of-a-kind relationship with God. Jesus goes on to explain that based on this relationship he is able to give eternal life to ‘all people’. He states that this eternal life involves knowing ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ’. But how is it that we can know Jesus the Messiah? How can we know him when all of us start off in life as his enemies? Jesus gave the answer a short time after his arrest and death by crucifixion, when he had come back to life and was talking with his disciples. In fact, from the time of Jesus’ arrest, there is only one other time that Jesus is quoted using the word Christ:
The Christ (Messiah) will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem…(Luke 24:46-47)
So in order to know Jesus the Messiah – that is to change from being his enemies to his friends – we can ask him to forgive us by taking our punishment. I hope that everyone seriously considers this indescribably wonderful offer that he gives everyone.
 WD Mounce, Interlinear for the Rest of Us: The Reverse Interlinear for New Testament Word Studies, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, US, 2005, p. 859, entry 3549.
 For online translations of these verses from the Quran, refer to the Islamic website www.islamawakened.com/ and click Qur’an link for an index to suras in the Quran, accessed 20/03/2016.
 J Joosten, ‘The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron’, The Harvard Theological Review, 95(1), Jan 2002, pp. 73-96
 S Green, The Gospel of Barnabas, http://www.answering-islam.org/Green/barnabas.htm, accessed 24/03/2016
 NL Geisler & A Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross,http://www.answering-islam.org/Barnabas/saleeb.html, accessed 24/03/2016
 UA Ataie, What is the Islamic View on the Gospel of Barnabas?, 15 July, 2013, http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2013/07/15/what-is-the-islamic-view-on-the-gospel-of-barnabas/, accessed 24/03/2016.
 This is my own modern English translation of: The Gospel of Barnabas, trans. Lonsdale & L Ragg, London, 1907, digital copy available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/gbar/gbar042.htm, accessed 20/03/2016. Jesus’ denial of being the Messiah is written into the Gospel of Barnabas in several places, incuding chapter 96.
 This is my own modern English translation of: The Gospel of Barnabas, trans. Lonsdale & L Ragg, London, 1907, digital copy available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/gbar/gbar000.htm, accessed 20/03/2016.