Isa = Jesus revisited, with a correction

Yesterday I posted about Praying in the name of Isa = Jesus, including a correction of some bad information which I found at other blogs. Unfortunately in the process I managed to introduce and propagate some errors of my own. My purpose in blogging again in this post is first to correct my error, and then to offer some further observations on this matter.

I wrote yesterday (but will correct shortly in the original post):

I checked with a Palestinian Arab Christian, from a Roman Catholic background stretching back centuries. He confirmed my understanding (see also this comment) that “Isa” is the form of the name of Jesus which has been used by Arab Christians, or at least the great majority of them, since time immemorial. There may be some non-traditional Arab Christians who use “Yesua” but this form is never used in mainstream churches or Bible translations.

Unfortunately I mis-remembered the information from my friend. As I now understand it, the form of the name of Jesus used by Arab Christians in traditional churches is neither Yesua nor Isa, but Yasu, يسوع, as in the apparently correct information here and here.

The -ua ending, characteristic of Hebrew (as in the Hebrew Yeshua for “Jesus”), and the e vowel, not found in Arabic at least in standard transliteration, show that the form Yesua is not a genuine Arabic one. It may be that Yasu is in some places pronounced more like Yesu or possibly even Yesua. But it is certainly not true that, as claimed, “the Arab Christian communities only refer to Jesus as `Yesua´”.

The form Isa, عيسى, used by Muslims worldwide, is also used by Christians and in Bible translations in many non-Arabic Muslim majority countries, including Iran, Turkey and former Soviet Central Asia. This is the only form of the name known in the national languages of these countries.

Meanwhile I can confirm that Arab Christians and Muslims, and indeed Christians and Muslims in most Muslim majority countries, use only one word for the one true God: Allah, الله. This is not a Muslim word but an Arabic word, related to the Hebrew Elohim, which has been borrowed into many other languages.

Even though Arab Christians and Muslims use different names for Jesus, this does not imply that they are referring to different people. “Simplicity in Christ” has claimed in a comment that

It doesn’t matter what word the Muslims use, the bottom line is that Isa is not Jesus. … Praying in the name of anyone other than Jesus Christ is unscriptural.

But this claim that “Isa is not Jesus” is preposterous. Consider what Islam teaches, and denies, about the one called Isa in the Qur’an

The Qur’an, believed by Muslims to be God’s final revelation, states that Jesus was born to Mary (Arabic: Maryam) as the result of virginal conception, a miraculous event which occurred by the decree of God (Arabic: Allah). To aid him in his quest, Jesus was given the ability to perform miracles, all by the permission of God. According to Islamic texts, Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but rather he was raised alive up to heaven. Islamic traditions narrate that he will return to earth near the day of judgment to restore justice and defeat al-Masīḥ ad-Dajjāl (lit. “the false messiah”, also known as the Antichrist).Islam rejects that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God, stating that he was an ordinary man who, like other prophets, had been divinely chosen to spread God’s message. … Numerous titles are given to Jesus in the Qur’an, such as al-Masīḥ (“the messiah; the anointed one” i.e. by means of blessings) …

Much of this agrees with the biblical account. Of course “Jesus was neither killed nor crucified” and “Islam rejects that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God” go against biblical and Christian teaching. But the very texts in the Qur’an where the Christian teaching is explicitly contradicted demonstrate that the Islamic Isa is the same person as the Christian Jesus (Qur’an passages quoted from here):

And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger — they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them

O followers of the Book! [The Bible] do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium [Jesus son of Mary] is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Marium and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His apostles, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be It from His glory that He should have a son …

Apparently the uneducated Muhammad, or whoever actually compiled the Qur’an, knew corrupted versions of Bible stories (as in their time there was no Arabic Bible to read), and put them together in a sometimes confused way. The early Muslims may have made further changes to the stories to serve their religious and nationalistic purposes, for example making Abraham nearly sacrifice Ishmael, ancestor of the Arabs, rather than Isaac, ancestor of the Jews, and omitting stories that put those they consider prophets in a bad light. It was probably for this reason, as well as because they had no understanding of Christian teaching on the atonement, that they denied the crucifixion of Jesus. Then, probably after the move to Medina, the early Muslims became more familiar with Christian and Jewish teaching and so added to their proto-Qur’an explicit denials of this teaching.

So, what we have in the Qur’an is not teaching about a person Isa who is different from the Jesus Christ whom Christians know and love. Rather, we have corrupted and false teaching about the true Jesus. This teaching is, I would suppose, so seriously wrong that it cannot in itself lead anyone to saving faith. Nevertheless there have been many testimonies of Muslims who have come to Christian faith by starting with an interest in Jesus as presented in Islam and then finding out more about him through the Bible or from Christians.

So I applaud Rick Warren for making it clear, in his prayer at the presidential inauguration, that Isa is simply another form of the name of Jesus.

0 thoughts on “Isa = Jesus revisited, with a correction

  1. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Praying in the name of Isa = Jesus

  2. Peter,

    You keep beating me to the punch. I decided last night I was going to post on this, dealing with some of what you bring up here that I didn’t mention in my previous comment.

    From what I’ve been told by folks who know Arabic and are involved in missions, “Isa” is a pretty poor Arabic derivation of the Hebrew/Aramaic “Yeshua.” I’ve been told that “Yesu” (though I’ll note that vowels are always tricky in these languages) is a better rendering. So, it doesn’t surprise me that there are Arab speaking Christians who use this term. Not being an Arabic scholar, I can’t comment on the validity. I’ll also point out that you can make the case that “Jesus” is a poor rendering, and we should go with “Joshua” instead. That seems analogous to the Isa/Yesu problem.

    I, too, am greatly concerned with the notion that Isa and Jesus are the same person. As someone who works in missions, I’m amazed at how clueless Christians are when it comes to this stuff. In the end, we come across as ignorant at best, and downright disrepectful or potentially blasphemous in the eyes of Muslims.

    Okay, I’ll quit now. Thanks for posting on this.

  3. Oops, realized I forgot a “not.” I meant to say, “I, too, am greatly concerned with the notion that Isa and Jesus are not the same person.” I need to learn to proofread.

  4. Thanks, Danny. You are welcome to post your own thought too. Quote me if you like.

    The name “Jesus” is indeed also a corruption of the original. Here is something I wrote in a comment elsewhere:

    The problem with your argument that “praying in that name yields that prayer to that purpose”, and WB’s “one speaks lies while the other speaks truth”, is that they also apply to the name “Jesus”, also a corruption of the original Hebrew/Aramaic name and also used by many followers of false religions and cults. Through the mouth of a Mormon or JW “Jesus” speaks lies (in the judgment of an orthodox Christian), whereas through the mouth of an Iranian Christian “Isa” speaks truth. The difference is not in which name form is used, but in the belief and intention of the person using the name.

  5. In the south Jesus is pronounced Jay-sus and up here we say Jee-sus. Potato, potato if you are old enough for the reference. Lord when will we stop picking Christians apart over minutiae or perceived wrongs.

  6. Pingback: MetaCatholic » Unholy alliance?

  7. Peter, I think it was you who already tried to make a very long comment here – 18 screenfuls! Because of its length and the number of links it was held for moderation. I’m afraid that is too long to be appropriate here, so I will not approve it. It looked like text copied from a website. If so, you are welcome to make a short comment, with perhaps a brief summary of the text and a link to where we can find and read the whole document. Or you could set up your own blog (free of charge at, post this text there, and send me a link.

  8. Pingback: Once more to the brink - Jesus, Isa, and the Golden Calf « The Church of Jesus Christ

  9. I am muslim and don’t believe Esa was Jesus/Yeshu
    I believe in the crucifixion of Jesus (for political reasons, not to absolve humanity from its sins), but not of Esa.
    I also don’t believe in the second coming of Jesus or the Anti-Christ and give zero rat posteriors about Islamic tradition that is influenced by Christian teachings and rife with falsehood.

    Why do muslims try to conform the Qur’an with the biblical narrative? Islam can be completely autonomous but the stupid clergy want to keep us in the shadows of the Judeo-Christian faith. As if the biblical narrative is the epitome of accuracy.
    If it aggravates you that muslims try to pander to christians, it aggravates me even more.

  10. I’m sorry if my last response sounded harsh.
    It’s frustrating to be associated with the majority of muslims whom I share little in common with.

  11. “Someone”, thank you for your comments. Yours is an interesting perspective. But as I think you realize, it is not the mainstream Muslim one, which I was describing in my post. As a Christian, I would argue that the stories of Isa in the Qur’an are derived, with some distortions, from the biblical narratives and Christian tradition about Jesus. I guess you would have a different view on this.

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