Why Was Jesus Referred To As Kalimah (Word)?

Imam Tabari(d.310/888) has stated, "The Quran has cited Jesus as Kalimah (The Word). This is a title given to him for a special reason, unique to him only."

The two verses in the Quran referring to Jesus as Kalimah are as follows:

"The angels said, "O Maryam (Mary)! God is giving you glad tidings of a WORD from Him, his name will be Masih, I`sa (Jesus) alayhis salam, Son of Maryam (Mary), Honoured in this world and in the hereafter and amongst the rank of those who are close to God." 3/46.

"O People of the Book! Do not commit any excesses in your religion, and say naught of Allah but the truth. Surely Masih, I`sa (Jesus) alayhis salam, Son of Maryam (Mary) is the prophet of Allah and His WORD which He has bestowed upon Maryam (Mary) and a spirit proceeding from Him." 4/171.

The word Kalimah literally carries many meanings associated with word; speech, address; utterance, remark, saying; aphorism, maxim; brief announcement, a few introductory words; short treatise; importance, weight, influence, authority, ascendancy and powerful position.

There are different views on the reason for the implementation of this title. Some scholars, have defined the word Kalimah as Al RI`salah meaning apostleship and message, as Jesus was chosen to convey the message of God.

Some scholars, have defined the word Kalimah as Al-Khabar, meaning news, as Jesus brought news from God to the people, but other scholars have limited and restricted the definition of the word Kalimah to glad tidings only. This is due to the fact that in the first verse 3/46, the word Kalimah is the explanation of the glad tidings mentioned by the word Yubashshiruki, which carries the meaning that God has given you a word of glad tidings and this same interpretation can be given for the second verse (4/171).

Having considered the various interpretations accorded to the word Kalimah, the conclusion which can be reached is that the most common definition of Kalimah is word and that this is the denotation upheld by the majority of the scholars, as it is more close to its literal meaning. Also many verses of the Quran explain one another, this is one of the tools and methods of the exegetes - explaining one part of the Quran, by using another part of it; i.e. some verses expound upon a subject only touched upon in other verses. This calls for a depth of knowledge concerning all the Quranic verses related to a certain topic or issue, before the step of explaining or deriving any kind of ruling, can be undertaken. It is upon the basis of this principle, that great exegetes like Imam Qatadah(d.117/695) etc. have equated some other verses to the verse, in order to explain the meaning of Kalimah. It is by comparing and matching the text of the Quran that the definition for the word Kalimah has been arrived at, and concluded to be the word ‘Kun’. This is from God when He ordered Jesus to BE, as the word Kun means Be.

This exegesis (tafsir) is supported by the following two verses :

"She said, "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has \ever touched me?" He replied, "Even so God creates what He wills, when He decrees a plan He says to it "BE" and it is." 3/47.

"The similitude of Jesus before God, is that of Adam, He created him from dust and then said to him "BE" so he was." 3/59.

These verses clearly indicate that the birth of Jesus was an extraordinary, miraculous event. It is the word "BE" mentioned in these two verses with which Jesus was created and it is this "BE" referred to as Kalimah i.e. WORD.

This exegesis is the most common and based upon one of the strongest sources. It is for this reason that concerning this verse, many commentators give this explanation only and give no further interpretations.

Another view is that kalimah is not a noun or Jesus’ title, but an adjective describing his special relationship with words for two reasons. Firstly, Jesus used to bring the dead back to life and cure the leper by using certain words. Thus, he is given the attribute of kalimah (word). Secondly, it is because Jesus spoke and uttered words at an age when it is normally impossible to do so, that he was awarded the attribute ‘word’.

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