Jesus in the Qur’an and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

I’ve been to some of the Islam Awareness Week events at Nottingham University this week – including a talk about Jesus and Muhammed. I was surprised to hear that Jesus (or “‘Isa”) is mentioned much more frequently in the Qur’an than Muhammed is, and that several things are said about him in the Qur’an which, to my mind at least, suggest that he is more than a prophet.

One of them is the well-known verse (5:110) where several (possibly apocryphal) events from the life of Jesus are recounted: 

Then God will say, ‘Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour to you and to your mother: how I strengthened you with the holy spirit, so that you spoke to people in your infancy and as a grown man; how I taught you the Scripture and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel; how, by My leave, you fashioned the shape of a bird out of clay, breathed into it, and it became, by My leave, a bird; how, by My leave, you healed the blind person and the leper; how, by My leave, you brought the dead back to life; how I restrained the Children of Israel from [harming] you when you brought them clear signs, and those of them who disbelieved said, “This is clearly nothing but sorcery”

Quite often people point out that this verse has parallels (and is probably dependent upon) the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” (and also the “Proto-Evangel of James” for the talking baby Jesus story). There are also allusions to things in the Canonical gospels, such as healing the blind and the leper, and raising the dead. But rather than doing a “source criticism of the Qur’an”, perhaps we should consider also the theological implications of this story.

1 1 When the boy Jesus was five years old, he was playing at the ford of a rushing stream. And he gathered the disturbed water into pools and made them pure and excellent, commanding them by the character of his word alone and not by means of a deed.
   2 Then, taking soft clay from the mud, he formed twelve sparrows. It was the Sabbath when he did these things, and many children were with him.
  3 And a certain Jew, seeing the boy Jesus with the other children doing these things, went to his father Joseph and falsely accused the boy Jesus, saying that, on the Sabbath he made clay, which is not lawful, and fashioned twelve sparrows.
  4 And Joseph came and rebuked him, saying, “Why are you doing these things on the Sabbath?” But Jesus, clapping his hands, commanded the birds with a shout in front of everyone and said, “Go, take flight, and remember me, living ones.” And the sparrows, taking flight, went away squawking.
  5 When the Pharisee saw this he was amazed and reported it to all his friends.”

Following Oscar Cullmann (in his translation of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in Hennecke and Schneemelcher (eds), N.T. Apocrypha, I:363-417), scholars have tended to see the stories about Jesus in the apocryphal gospels rather as gratuitous miracle stories – or “‘theologically mute’ stories of marvels”  when actually they have a purpose and theological significance (Stephen Gero, “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: A Study of the Textual and Literary Problems” Novum Testamentum 13 (1971), p.47), much as the “nature miracles” of the canonical gospels have a theological (Christological) significance. In the case of the “animation of the birds” story in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, there is both a point about observing the Sabbath (Jesus is rebuked for making clay birds on the Sabbath) but also a Christological point: it is no accident that Jesus makes these birds out of clay before giving them life. This is parallel to what God does in Genesis 2:7:

“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

The version of the story in the Qur’an is even more closely parallel to God’s creative activity in Genesis 2:7, with the added detail that Jesus breathed into the bird so that it became a living being:

Genesis 2:7 Qur’an 5:110 (excerpt) Infancy Gospel of Thomas 1:2-4(excerpt)
then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. how, by My leave, you fashioned the shape of a bird out of clay, breathed into it, and it became, by My leave, a bird Then, taking soft clay from the mud, he formed twelve sparrows.[…]

But Jesus, clapping his hands, commanded the birds with a shout in front of everyone and said, “Go, take flight, and remember me, living ones.”

It seems to be bizarre that the Qur’an (usually an advocate of a low Christology!) should include this tale, given the high Christology implied by the story and the details of phrasing in the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, God created Adam out of clay (7:11-12) which makes it even more clear that Jesus is doing a divine, creative thing. To be sure, the text inserts (by my leave) to a number of Jesus’ miraculous signs out of monotheistic embarassment, but the problem seems to remain. How can it be that Jesus is doing something which the Qur’an ascribes to God, if he is merely a prophet?

To this might be added the Qur’anic claim that Jesus, alone of all the prophets, is sinless; and that (arguably) he did not die. This is in tension with the normally low Christology of the Qur’an. Even from the Qur’an there are suggestions that Jesus is more than a human prophet.


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29 Responses to “Jesus in the Qur’an and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas”

  1. anon Says:

    How can it be that Jesus is doing something which the Qur’an ascribes to God, if he is merely a prophet?—-Precisely the point when the Quran says “by my leave”—meaning that the human being Jesus Christ(pbuh) only has those powers that God’s will have blessed him with. Without God’s will—Jesus Christ(pbuh) would not be able to do anything—neatly countering the argument of Chrtistians that Jesus Christ(pbuh) is divne BECAUSE of these miracles. (Prophet Abraham(pbuh) also did something similar with birds—with God’s help)

    Basically what these stories are about is that God is omnipotent and not bound by the “laws” that govern everything in creation (laws of biology, chemistry…etc)….Because God is Uncreated, …..outside of creation, yet intimately involved with it.

    • Katriel Says:

      The following will show that the quran teaches YESHUA is more than a prophet and is far and away superior to mohammad.

      Jesus did the Messiah’s work (opening heaven) 550 years before Islam’s Prophet was born.

      As God’s messenger, Jesus explained, simplified, and demonstrated God’s will and message, although the Jews did not believe in him. Jesus’ “Good News” – the Gospel – is about God’s love and forgiveness for all mankind. Muhammad’s revelations, recorded in the Koran/Qur’an teach that:

      1. Jesus was sent by Allah, who supported him with the Holy Spirit to tell the world Allah’s will (2: 87; 5: 110-117*).

      2. Allah gave to the world Jesus, exalted him above all others, and supported him with the Holy Spirit as proof of his sovereignty (2: 253*).

      3. Allah caused the miracle birth of John the Baptist to the aged Zechariah and his barren wife so John could be the messenger to announce Jesus as the Messiah (3: 33-41*).

      4. Allah appointed Mary to be the virgin mother of Jesus, the Messiah (3: 42-45; 19: 12-22; 21: 90*).

      5. Jesus would be righteous [sinless] all his life (3: 46; 6: 86; 19: 19*).

      6. Jesus would be raised from the dead (19: 33,34*).

      7. Jesus, Messiah and son of Mary, crucified, appeared dead and was taken up my Allah himself (4: 157,158; 3: 55*). He did not “appear to be alive” because he was dead. Crucifixion was the Roman method of execution similar to hanging. No one survived being crucified. See # 6. above.

      8. Jesus was a messenger of Allah, who is to be believed (4: 171*).

      9. Allah taught Jesus his religion and commanded Jesus to establish it (42: 13; 43: 63*).

      10. Allah caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow [the prophets], gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him (57: 27*).

      11. Allah strengthened the group of Jews who believed Jesus and his message, so they overcame those who disbelieved (61: 14*).

      12. The true message of Jesus and the prophets was perverted by religious leaders who were condemned by Allah (9: 31*).

      13. Long before the Prophet Muhammad, Allah revealed the Torah and the Gospel for mankind’s guidance (3: 3, 4, 48, 65*).

      14. Allah taught Jesus the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel. Allah would do miracles through Jesus and make him a messenger to Israel (3: 48, 49*).

      15. Allah gathered Jesus and caused him to be resurrected and ascended to Allah himself (3: 55; 4:158*).

      16. Allah bestowed the Gospel on Jesus to be a light (5: 46*).

      17. Observing the Torah and the Gospel brings nourishment from above (5: 66*).

      18. Those who went astray from Allah’s commands were cursed by both David and Jesus (5: 78*).

      19. Allah inspired Jesus’ Disciples to believe in Jesus and his message (5: 110*).

      20. Jesus and his Disciples were Allah’s helpers (61: 6,14*).

      21. Believe in all that was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received (2: 136*).

      22. The Surrender, al-Islam, is Islam and Muslims are to be surrendered to Allah’s will and guidance (3: 19*), as had been revealed to Abraham by God and explained by Jesus. (See

      YESHUA HA MASHIYACH was more than a prophet, He was sinless, (mohammad wasnt sinless

    • Agadir Says:

      Exactly, the Quran does also mention that when Abraham asked God how he gives life/resurrect the dead, God instructed Abraham to bring a couple of birds, slaughter them and mix the mean and then put a portion in every mountain of those around him. Then God told him to command the command the birds to come to him, and the he witnessed the flesh coming to him and becoming birds again. Does this make Abraham divine,?? No of course

  2. Minnie Calica Says:

    Would certainly come back again acquiring you feeds also, Gives thanks.

  3. Katriel Says:

    Muslims repeatedly claim that the Bible has been corrupted and that the Qu’ran is the only trustworthy scripture in existence. This is why Muslims often attack the Bible. But this cannot be acording to the Quran. The Quran says that the books of Moses, the Psalms, and the gospel were all given by God.

    •Torah – “We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers,” (Sura 2:87).1
    •Psalms – “We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: we sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms,” (4:163).
    •Gospel – “It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong),” (3:3).
    Also, “And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah,” (5:46).
    We see that the Qu’ran states that the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel were all given by God. With this we Christians heartily agree. But, the Muslims claim that the Bible is corrupted and full of contradictions. If that is so, then it would seem they do not believe the Qu’ran since the Qu’ran says that the Word of God cannot be altered:

    •”Rejected were the messengers before thee: with patience and constancy they bore their rejection and their wrongs, until Our aid did reach them: there is none that can alter the words (and decrees) of Allah. Already hast thou received some account of those messengers,” (6:34).
    •”The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfillment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all,” (6:115).
    •”For them are glad tidings, in the life of the present and in the Hereafter; no change can there be in the words of Allah. This is indeed the supreme felicity,” (10:64).

  4. Katriel Says:

    Mohammad died and is buried in medina awaiting the judgment, YESHUA was taken to be with GOD after living a sinless Life, muhamet didnt know what would happen to him and the quran says muhammad was a sinner…who is Greater the ONE who is SINLESS or the Sinner…Obviously the Greater is the ONE without SIN


    YESHUA SAYS in the Gospel that cant be altered. > I AM the WAY, The Truth and The Life, NO man comes to the Father EXCEPT by ME. Yochanan 14:6

    muhammet borrowed from the talmud, the Gospels of Jesus and the Torah while mixing all into a discombobulated mess.

    There is only ONE Mediator /MESSIAH between man and GOD and it is YESHUA of Nazareth

  5. Ismaaeel Says:

    Christian engagement with Islam is predominantly Christology-oriented because Christological controversies have dominated Christian history.Proving the superiority of Catholic or Protestant Christology over Islam’s cannot answer the question why should Muslims become Christian when they love Jesus Christ by keeping the commandments, for example, not looking at a Ghayr Mahram-a woman who is not your wife(Soorah An-Noor doesn’t include the conditional-“with lust” like the one in Gospel according to Mathew perhaps because it makes the distinction between lustful gaze and non-lustful gaze very subjective).

    Another important question is why secularization emerged specifically in Christendom?Islam treats religion as the greatest factor responsible for the course of history the civilisation of its adherents undertakes.Secularization is a Judaeo-Christian phenomenon because Judaism and Christianity ceased to maintain the pristine state of religion as expounded by Moosaa ‘alaihis salaam and ‘Eesaa ‘alaihis salaam respectively. If all Muslims become Christians, the only last remaining fortress of spirituality of Moosaa ‘alaihis salaam and ‘Eesaa ‘alaihis salaam on this planet would fade into the oblivion of history as erroneously portended by Godless secularist narratives of history.

  6. kryon Says:

    If any christian has any questions about Islam and christ in Islam please contact Islamic Reseach Foundation(IRF) and specially Dr. Zakir Naik of India.All your doubts should be cleared.

    @Katriel did Jesus give reference to Jonah and the whale when he said My miracle will be the miracle of Jonah. Just like Jonah was ‘three days and three nights’ in the belly of the whale so shall the son of man be inside the belly of the Earth’.My question is was Jonah “Alive” in the belly of the whale?

    2nd question is did Jesus die on a Friday and appear on Sunday?If that is so how many days and nights it is.Friday night,Sat day,sat night,Sun day.

  7. miftah Says:

    iisa and Muhammad are both the prophets of plz dont use the velger mouth.and offcourse Muhammad is the gretest of all.its not mean other are less.

  8. Bala Bafoofkit Says:

    Muslims claim that their holy book comes from god is just so much baloney. This article clearly shows the origin of just on of the stories in the Koran. Many others have similar origin stories

    • Muna Says:

      The gospel of Thomas was lost during constantines time and found in the 1800s so theres no way Muhammad (pbuh) got the story except from Allah.

    • The White Horse Says:

      Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have the same Creation story, as well as the same prohpetical stories. from Adam to Moses, to Jesus Revelation did not just stop at the Torah, Just as it did not stop at the Gospel of Jesus, It stopped only with the Quran. If you educate yourself you will see the truth. God works in 3s my friend, The Quran is the 3rd and Final.

  9. professionelle Lebensberater Ausbildung Says:

    professionelle Lebensberater Ausbildung…

    […]Jesus in the Qur’an and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas « Phil Whitehead[…]…

  10. Says:

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing a little
    research on that. And he actually bought me lunch since I found it for him smile
    So let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

    • Muna Says:

      The gospel of Thomas was lost during constantines time and found in the 1800s so theres no way Muhammad (pbuh) got the story except from Allah.

  11. Muna Says:

    The gospel of Thomas was lost during constantines time and found in the 1800s so theres no way Muhammad (pbuh) got the story except from Allah.

  12. The White Horse Says:

    LOL, The Quran also mentions Prophet Ibhraeem 3 times that of Jesus. Does this make IBraheem God? NO! Moses Parted the Seas, does this make Moses God? NO! Jesus brought the bird too life through the will of God. Just as you breath and each breath is a blessing of God. Did you know Jesus Did not bring the Bible? Did you know he did bring a Gospel! Even in Christian beliefs The Bible is not the true word of God. You people are hopeless.

  13. michael bello Says:

    Jesus was sinless, he came to die for you and I. He carried all our sins. He washed our sins away.
    John 3:16 for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that who so ever believed in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

    Read your Quran and see that Jesus is truely the son of God. He came and give us what is greater than Law. He gave us Grace…

    God is good…

  14. Clairsentient1 Says:

    Reblogged this on Clairsentient1.

  15. 'Ahmad Joshua Oswald Says:

    In regard to “sons of god”

    I also want to point out the word: “god” = idol / something that is worshiped. La ‘illah ‘illa Allah = there is no God except Allah! Sunhannallah he is the ONLY ONE worthy of worship, christians ignorantly are blasphemous while we Muslims are more christian than the christians themselves!


  16. hana66 Says:

    No my dear, Quran confirms that Jesus was given special powers and he is the much debated Messiah and that he was a human who needs sleep and food just like everyone. Peace 🙂

  17. Peter Says:

    You missed a quote from Jesus in the Quran which states Jesus will die in his second coming and get resurrected at that time. This is why Muslims believe he’s merely a prophet.
    “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”

  18. Ashraf Says:

    Qur’an is the final revelation from God to mankind. Qur’an do speak about jesus with many miraculous powers, but that doesn’t mean jesus is God himself, as God gave him the power to do such, like rising/ giving life to someone from dead. And yes jesus is one of the great prophet of God

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