The Quran affirms that Jesus is the Word of God and God’s Spirit that was sent down to Mary so as to become incarnate:
O People of the Book! Go not beyond the limits in your way of life and say not about God but The Truth: That the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was a Messenger of God and His Word that He CAST TO Mary and a Spirit FROM HIM. So believe in God and His Messengers. And say not: Three. To refrain yourselves from it is better for you. There is only One God. Glory be to Him that He have a son! To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in and on the earth and God sufficed as a Trustee. S. 4:171 Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar http://islamawakened.com/quran/4/st46.htm
Note the wording carefully. God cast down Jesus to Mary, language which proves that Christ doesn’t originate from the earth but from God himself. This is further brought out by Jesus being identified as a Spirit from him, meaning from God. This shows that Jesus existed as an immaterial, incorporeal Spirit Being who then became flesh when he came down into the blessed womb of his blessed mother who conceived and gave birth to his human nature and physical body while she was still a sexual virgin:
‘Lord,’ said Mary, ‘how shall I have a son seeing no mortal has touched me?’ ‘Even so,’ God said, ‘God creates what He will. When He decrees a thing He does but say to it “Be,” and it is. S. 3:47 Arberry
He said, ‘I am but a messenger come from thy Lord, to give thee a boy most pure. She said, ‘How shall I have a son whom no mortal has touched, neither have I been unchaste?’ He said, ‘Even so thy Lord has said: “Easy is that for Me; and that We may appoint him a sign unto men and a mercy from Us; it is a thing decreed.”‘ S. 19:19-21 Arberry
This is why Jesus is called the Word of God (Kalimatullah/Kalimat-Allah) and the Spirit of God (Ruhullah/Ruh-Allah) in Islamic tradition:
4435. It is related that Abu Hurayra said, “The Messenger of Allah was given some meat and was offered the leg, which he liked, and ate some of it. Then he said, ‘I will be the master of people on the Day of Rising. Do you know what that will entail? Allah will gather people, the first and the last on the same plain so that an observer will be able to see them and a speaker make them hear. The sun will be brought near to them and people will experience such sorrow and distress that they will not be able to bear or endure it. The people will say, ‘Do you not see what has come to you? Why do you not look for someone to intercede with your Lord on your behalf?’ People will say to one another, ‘You must have Adam!’ They will come to Adam, peace be upon him, and say, ‘You are the father of mankind. Allah created you with His hand and breathed some of His spirit into you and He ordered the angels to prostrate to you. He made you dwell in the Garden. Will you not intercede with your Lord on our behalf? Do you not see what we are suffering?’ Adam will say, ‘My Lord is angry today with such anger as has never existed before nor will again. He forbade me the Tree and I disobeyed. O my soul! My soul! My soul! Go to someone else. Go to Nuh.’… They will go to ‘Isa and say, ‘O ‘Isa! You are the Messenger of Allah and HIS WORD which He cast to Maryam and a spirit from Him. You spoke to people while in the cradle. Intercede with your Lord on our behalf. Do you not see what we are suffering?’ ‘Isa will say, ‘My Lord is angry today with such anger as has never existed before nor will again,’ and he did not mention a sin. ‘O my soul! My soul! My soul! Go to someone else. Go to Muhammad.’ (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, Chapter 68. Book of Tafsir https://bewley.virtualave.net/bukhari31.html)
Anas b Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah said: Allah would gather people on the Day of Resurrection and they would be concerned about it, and Ibn Ubaid said. They would get a Divine inspiration about it, and would say: If we could seek intercession with our Lord, we may be relieved from this predicament of ours. He (the Holy Prophet) said: They would come to Adam and say, Thou art Adam, the father of mankind. Allah created thee with His own hand and breathed unto thee of His Spirit and commanded the angels and they prostrated before thee. So intercede for us with thy Lord, that He may relieve us from this position of ours. He would say: I am not in a position to do this, and would recall his error, and would feel shy of his Lord on account of that… You better go to Jesus, THE SPIRIT OF ALLAH and His word… (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0373 http://searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=001&translator=2&start=0&number=0373)
It should be pointed out that these lofty titles are ascribed to no one else but Christ.
Therefore, in light of Jesus being expressly called the Spirit of God it seems reasonably certain that the following verses are describing the act of Allah sending forth Christ into the physical body of Mary in order to take on a human nature from her:
And she who guarded her private parts, then, We breathed into her Our Spirit and We made her and her son a sign for the worlds. S. 21:91 Bakhtiar http://islamawakened.com/quran/21/st46.htm
And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her private parts, so We breathed INTO IT of Our Spirit and she established as true the Words of her Lord and His Books and she had been among the ones who are morally obligated. S. 66:12 Bakhtiar http://islamawakened.com/quran/66/st46.htm
Here we have God breathing his Spirit into Christ’s blessed mother. And since Jesus is explicitly said to be the Spirit of God, the conclusion seems inescapable that these verses are referring to God actually breathing the very Spirit of Jesus into his honorable mother.
Lest we be accused of misinterpreting these texts we will allow the Muslim scholars that produced the first scholarly Study Quran speak on our behalf:
“In the present verse, the uniqueness of Jesus among the messengers is affirmed in several ways, including his title Ruh Allah (‘Spirit of God’). He is referred to here and in certain places, however, as the Messiah (al-Masih), a term that in Arabic is understood to refer to his having been purified by God of sin (T). This is not unrelated to the concept of being ‘anointed,’ the root meaning of the word in Hebrew.
“He is also identified as God’s Word (see also 3:45; 19:34), an idea that has clear resonance with the Gospel tradition, where Jesus is identified as the ‘Word’ of God (see John 1). Christian and Islamic tradition, however, derive different theological conclusions from this appellation. In the Islamic context, the identification of Jesus as God’s Word does not preclude or overshadow his function as the bringer of the Gospel, which, like the Torah and the Quran, represents God’s Word and message to humanity. Some commentators interpret His Word here as the tidings Mary received of his miraculous conception in her womb or as an allusion to the Divine Creative Command Be! by which Christ was formed in Mary’s womb (see 3:45, 59; R, T). However, while all created beings are brought into existence through God’s Word, Christ ALONE is specifically identified as ‘a Word from God.’ Some might argue, therefore, that Jesus, by virtue of being identified as God’s Word, somehow participates (uniquely) in the divine Creative Command, although this is not the traditional Islamic understanding of Jesus’ identification as a Word from Him (3:45).
“The miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth is also alluded to here in that he is identified as God’s Word committed to Mary (alqaha ila Maryam), which could also be rendered ‘cast upon Mary.’ Cf. 66:12, where it is said that God breathed His Spirit into Mary. Consistent wit the implicit representation in 66:12 of Jesus being God’s ‘Spirit’ breathed into Mary, in the present verse Jesus is also identified as a Spirit from God (Cf. 2:87, 253; 5:110, where Jesus is strengthened … with the Holy Spirit). It is on this basis that Jesus is given the honorific title ‘Spirit of God’ (Ruh Allah) in the Islamic tradition. Some commentators, however, understand Jesus’ description as a Spirit from God metaphorically and consider Spirit here to be either a reference to Jesus’ purity or a metaphor for God’s Mercy (rahmah; R).
“In addition to reaffirming the full humanity of Jesus, the present verse commands Christians to say not ‘Three.’ This is understood as a command to abandon this doctrine, as it is better for them. In 5:73, Christians who call God ‘Three’ are more seriously criticized, but this verse is embedded in a larger discussion that seems to be addressing those Christians who tool not only Jesus, but also his mother, Mary, to be divine (see 5:73c). In both the present verse and 5:73, however, the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as three ‘persons,’ or hypostases, ‘within’ the One God IS NOT EXPLICITLY REFERENCED, and the criticism seems directed to those who assert the existence OF THREE DISTINCT ‘GODS,’ AN IDEA THAT CHRISTIANS THEMSELVES REJECT…
“Despite these strong criticisms of Christian trinitarian doctrine as well as the implication through juxtaposition in 5:72-73 that Christian beliefs in the divinity of Jesus, and in God as the third of three can be understood as a kind of shirk (ascribing partners unto God), Islamic Law never considered Christians to be ‘idolaters’ (mushrikun) and accepted Christians’ own assertions of monotheistic belief, maintaining the clear distinction the Quran itself makes between idolaters (mushrikun) and the People of the Book.” (The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary [HarperOne, 2015], pp. 267-268; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)
What makes this all the more interesting is that noted Muslim author Neal Robinson mentions a particular interpretation of Q. 19:16-21 which also supports our exegesis. According to Robinson, one of Muhammad’s closest companions and the best Quranic reciter Ubayy bin Kab stated that the Spirit who appeared to Mary in human form was actually Christ!
“Alternatively it might be thought (on the basis of 4:171) that the Spirit who presented himself to Mary was none other than the Messiah to whom she subsequently gave birth. At first this seems improbable because of the way in which the Spirit refers to himself as a messenger. There is, however, an apocryphal writing which furnishes a precedent for identifying the agent of the annunciation with the Word who became flesh. This is the so-called Epistula Apostolorum which purports to be a letter addressed to the worldwide Church by the 11 disciples recording a conversation which they had with Christ after the resurrection. In the course of the conversation he told them:
At that time I appeared in the form of the archangel Gabriel to [the virgin] Mary and spoke with her, and her heart received [me]; she believed and laughed and I, the Word, went into her and became flesh; and I myself was servant FOR MYSELF, and in the form of the image of an angel.” (Robinson, Christ In Islam and Christianity [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1991], Chapter 15. The Virginal Conception, p. 157; bold and capital emphasis ours)
“Tabari assumes that the Spirit who was sent to Mary was Gabriel. He reports that this was the view of Qatada, Ibn Jurayj and Wahb. The other commentators agree that this is the correct interpretation but none the less mention THE ALTERNATIVE VIEW, namely that the Spirit was the Messiah. Ibn Kathir gives the following report traced back by a single isnad TO THE COMPANION UBAIY:
The spirit of Jesus is one of the group of spirits with whom [God] took a pact in the time of Adam [cf. 33:7 and 7:172]. It is he, that is to say the spirit of Jesus, who presented himself to her in the form of a perfect human being. So she conceived the one who addressed her AND HE BECAME INCARNATE IN HER [entering her through her mouth].
“DESPITE ITS PEDIGREE, Ibn Kathir dismisses this interpretation as reprehensible and supposes it to have been derived from the People of the Scripture.” (Ibid. p. 161; bold and capital emphasis ours)
Here is the narration that Robinson had in mind:
Tirmidhi Hadith – Number 41
Narrated Ubayy ibn Ka’b
In regard to the words of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, “Your Lord brought forth their offspring from the loins of the children of Adam.” (7:172)… And when We made covenant with the prophets – up to His words: Jesus son of Mary (33:7). He was among those spirits and He sent him to Mary. And it is narrated by Ubayy that he entered by her mouth.
Transmitted by Ahmad. (ALIM online version http://www.alim.org/library/hadith/TIR/41)
The following Muslim commentator also admits that this was an interpretation held by some of Islam’s greatest scholars:
“A majority of scholars hold the view that … (Spirit) refers to Sayyidna Jibra’il but some say that it refers to Sayyidna ‘Isa himself. Allah Ta‘ala had placed before Sayyidah Maryam the likeness of the son to be born to her. But the former version is more appropriate and is confirmed by the statement that follows…” (Maariful Quran, by Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘, translated by Muhammad Tahsrat Husain, revised by Maulana Muhammad Taqi ‘Usmani, Volume 6, p. 34 https://ia802707.us.archive.org/2/items/maarifulquran-english-pdf/MaarifulquranEnglishPdf-Vol6-Page001-780ByMuftiShafiUsmaniRah.pdf; bold and underline emphasis ours)
Even the Study Quran acknowledges this fact in its note to Q. 19:17:
“… Alternately, the Companion and early Quran reciter and commentator Ubayy ibn Ka‘b (d. 29/649) considered the Spirit and the perfect man references to the Spirit of Jesus (IK, Rb; see also R, Ts for a similar interpretation that is not attributed to Ubayy ibn Ka‘b), who is described in 4:171 as a Spirit from God.” (Ibid., p. 768)
Now this raises some serious problems for Muslims since not only does this confirm that Jesus preexisted as an immaterial Spirit before becoming flesh, it also proves that he is uncreated by nature. This is because the Quran says that God breathed out Jesus into Mary, showing that Jesus proceeded from God and must therefore be intrinsic to God’s very own Being. And since there is no aspect of God’s Being that is created, Jesus cannot be a mere creature but must be an eternal divine Person who became flesh.
The Quran at this point is simply echoing what the prologue of John’s Gospel proclaimed centuries before the birth of Muhammad, namely, Jesus is the eternal Word of God and the Agent of creation who came forth from the Father for the purpose of becoming flesh (cf. John 1:1-18).