Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is there Only One Savior God?

Roland Clarke

In an article entitled "A Dialogue about the One True God" the author shows how God’s oneness and his saving power are seamlessly woven together through the writings of the prophets. Many Muslims agree with this. However, some have objected to any implied criticism of the way Ulema compiled the 99 beautiful names of Allah (omitting the attribute Savior which had been honored by the early prophets).

They have tried to explain this away as a misunderstanding. They argue that there are two other names among the 99 which have a similar meaning to Savior, i.e. Protector or Sustainer. Their explanation goes like this: Suppose God protects you from danger, sickness or enemies; is that not ‘saving’ you?

Admittedly there are similarities between protect and save but the terms protect(or) and sustain(er) are not so near in meaning to save as are the terms deliver or rescue. A simple way of verifying this is to look at the rescue stories of Noah, Lot, Moses and Jonah as recorded in the Qur'an. One might ask, "What words are used at the pivotal point – the moment of rescue?" "Does the Qur'an use the word ‘protect’ or ‘sustain’?" No they aren’t. Instead we find other synonyms used, for example, ‘deliver’ (najja). One may conclude that ‘deliver’ (deliverer) is a near synonym of ‘save’ (saviour) but the term ‘protect’ (protector) is not used in these rescue stories because it does not have quite as close a meaning. It seems that Muslims are going to extraordinary lengths in order to maintain that Islam upholds the honorable name Savior.

It will be worth while for us to take a look at the various terms in the Qur'an which have a similar meaning to save/rescue. An examination of these terms shows that there was no real reason why the Ulema could not have included one or more of these attributes of Allah in the original compilation of Divine names.

For example, they could have included the name Inqaath based on the idea of being saved from the "Pit of Fire" i.e. ‘hell’ as in surah 3:103. Choosing this name would have been appropriate. Also it would have been similar to the biblical concept. Unfortunately they missed this opportunity to show continuity between the Islamic names of God and the Divine attributes as recorded in the earlier prophets.

An alternative Divine title that the Ulema could have chosen is the name Al Munjiya. This is based on the epic rescue story where Moses and his people were "saved" from the overwhelming military might of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea (surah 2:50). The term najja is also used in the rescue of Jonah – a story in which the Bible quotes the prophet as saying, "My salvation comes from the Lord alone." (Jonah 2:9)

We should note that the title, Al Munjiya (a derivative of najja) is not only used in the Qur'an in relation to deliverance from physical harm, it also has reference to the hereafter (i.e. the metaphysical) This title Al Munjiya would have been a suitable choice to include in the 99 names of God because it also has similarities with the biblical term save/salvation. If Muslim scholars had chosen this name it would have helped to confirm their claim that Islam is merely a continuation of what was revealed through the earlier prophets. But once again, the Ulema missed another golden opportunity.

However, that is not all: there is another name the Ulema could have chosen which is very similar to Savior, the name Redeemer (Al Fadi). According to surah 37:107, the Almighty said, "And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice." Once again, the name Savior/Redeemer stands out conspicuously by its absence – indeed, we see a persistent pattern of omission.

Qur'anically speaking, all three of these names would have been valid choices but the compilers selected, instead, four similar names clustered around the theme of power – names like, Mighty and Almighty, Powerful and All-Powerful. One or two of these names would have been sufficient. This would have left ‘room’ to include the Divine names Savior and Redeemer.

The close correlation between God’s saving and redeeming actions is evident throughout the Bible but let me quote one example which corresponds with the epic Exodus rescue story as recorded in the Qur'an. We read in Psalm 106:7-12 how the Israelites "rebelled against the Lord at the Red Sea. Even so he saved them – to defend the honor of his name and to demonstrate his mighty power. He commanded the Red Sea to dry up. He led Israel across the sea as if it were a desert. So he rescued them from their enemies and redeemed them from their foes. Then the water returned and covered their enemies; not one of them survived. Then his people believed his promises. Then they sang his praise." (bold lettering added for emphasis)

Glimpsing the Full Spectrum of God’s Attributes

If you think about it: The task of compiling Allah’s attributes, afforded these spiritual leaders a wonderful opportunity to portray something of the vast array of magnificent Divine perfections, giving Godfearing people a glimpse of the manifold greatness of God. Because these compilers were highly intelligent men we would have expected them to include names, such as, Savior or Redeemer. It would not have been difficult to include these names which would certainly have given a fuller spectrum of God’s perfections. Tragically, however, the Ulema overlooked these attributes – whether deliberately or not, God knows.

But someone may ask, Is all this necessary? Is it really such a major issue? Shouldn’t Christians just overlook these minor ‘semantic’ differences with due consideration for tolerance and harmonious relations?

I don’t think so. This is not a peripheral matter. According to Jesus Christ it touches the core issue of "knowing God" and "worshiping God in spirit and truth". Let me explain what I mean. I have italicized these two phrases because they are highlighted in an interfaith dialogue between Jesus and Samaritans as recorded in the Gospel according to John, chapter 4. Here we see Jesus focusing on these very issues. The Samaritans, like Muslims, were ‘half-brothers’ of the Jews. They also believed in one creator God who revealed the Torah through Moses. Interestingly, they too, believed in the coming Messiah.

Jesus said, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." (John 4:22-23)

Some readers might assume Jesus’ statement implies he was speaking from an ethnocentric bias. This implication is not justified at all. Jesus was simply stating a fact that was widely known: the coming Messiah would be Jewish. It was he who would "bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6) It is interesting to see that at the end of his two-day visit in Samaria, Jesus was acclaimed by the villagers as "the Savior of the world." (John 4:42) Not only did others recognize Jesus as the Savior, he also stated this himself. We read Jesus’ words in John 12:47, "I have come to save the world." Then again we read in John 3:17, "God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him."

The fact that God’s salvation would come through the Messiah was also imprinted in the name revealed from heaven – the name Jesus, (Isa, Yeshua) meaning "God is salvation" (cf. The true name of Jesus).

The question arises, "Is Jesus Christ another Savior besides God? Is he equal in authority to God? Is he God himself?" This brings us back again to the original question we asked in the title:

Is there one Divine Savior or are there two?

Moreover, it is important to answer these questions in a way that is consistent with the core truth of the Old Testament prophets. "I alone am God ... I am the Lord and there is no other Savior." (Isaiah 43:10,11) If God is (strictly speaking) the only God and Savior, how can Jesus also be Savior?

A brief answer to these questions can be glimpsed in Matthew 1:21-23, where the angel said, "she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: "Look the virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’."

Forgiveness of sins came to be regarded in Jewish theology as a Divine prerogative (see also surah 3:135). Yet Jesus Christ plainly claimed to have this authority. (Mark 2:1-11) This fact, among many others, leads us to conclude that Jesus Christ was Divine – ‘God with us’.

A fuller examination of these questions is available in the article, Is the Savior necessarily God?

Point to Ponder

From the foregoing discussion we have seen that among the many perfections of God, one stands out: Savior. In essence, we can say it is his signature. This name is conspicuously absent in the Qur'an. But there is another significant observation.

The Bible teaches that one of the distinguishing marks of Satan – his signature if you will –, is the denial of Jesus’ saving work through his sacrificial death on the cross.

On one occasion we read how Jesus foretold his death and Peter contradicted his master, saying, "Heaven forbid. This will never happen to you!" Jesus turned to Peter and said, "Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me." (Matthew 16:22,23)

Like Peter, Muslims try to deny Jesus’ death. Islam teaches that Isa will break the cross when he returns in the end times, thus reinforcing the denial of the cross as taught in the Qur'an. I urge you, therefore, to beware of the Devil’s trap. Pray and carefully search the Scripture to find forgiveness and salvation through "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

If I can be of any assistance, please contact me.