Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Continued Response to Shabir Ally (pt. 3)
10/31/2007 - James White
But now, of course, we know that such doubts once existed. James seems satisfied that when he had asked me if the New Testament writings had asserted that Jesus actually died on the cross I answered in the affirmative. He is working with only a partial recall, for my presentation and arguments throughout show that there were tell-tale signs that Jesus had not died on the cross despite this assertion.
Surely there are no "tell-tale signs" in the New Testament, nor are there any in history, for that matter. Though Shabir anachronistically inserts some great conflict into the early church from his Islamic background that simply did not exist at the time. Gnostic docetists would start denying the crucifixion due to theological concerns about an embodied savior, but for the vast majority of those living under Roman rule, the great question of the day was not "do the Romans often fail at executing folks by crucifixion?"
One of the ironies of debating Shabir's unusual, minority Islamic opinion on this topic has to do with the fact that he grants the very thing that repulses the majority of Muslims: the crucifixion of Jesus. That is, most Muslims do not believe Allah would ever allow one of his prophets to be treated in such a manner. Yet, Ally does allow for this, though, somehow, he then places Jesus in the tiny, tiny minority, basically unknown to history, of people who not only survive a Roman crucifixion, but do so right under the eyes of the Romans themselves. Men who had killed many other men, experts in the subject, so to speak, looked at him and said, "He's dead." But somehow, Jesus was able to fool them all, survive, and miraculously extract himself from the tomb! Or...so it was made to appear to them? In essence, Shabir Ally claims we just don't know the mechanics of what happened, as Surah 4:157 doesn't tell us. But my question remains why any set of 40 Arabic words written without the slightest connection to the events in Jerusalem should carry the slightest weight for us in the first place.
I added further that the Jews, according to Matthew’s Gospel, felt deceived. In keeping with the requirements of their Sabbath observance, they had left the crucifixion scene on that Friday evening with the assurance that the legs of the crucified victims would be broken. But they must have found out by morning that the legs of Jesus were not broken. They hurried into Pilate’s court to request that the tomb of Jesus should be sealed up. They were apprehensive lest the disciples of Jesus should steal his body and then proclaim that he had risen from the dead. According to Matthew’s Gospel, they claimed that in case “the second deception would be worse than the first.” I asked what the first deception was, and suggested that they felt deceived in the first place because while they had the reasonable assurance that the legs of the victims would be broken, those of all the victims were broken except those of Jesus.I must say that this is a most imaginative reading of the text. Let's look at it:
Matthew 27:57-66 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. 62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, "Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver (evkei/noj o` pla,noj) said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' 64 "Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last deception (pla,nh) will be worse than the first." 65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how." 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.
I had never heard anyone suggest Shabir's reading until the night of the debate, and the reason is fairly simple: the "first deception" was the idea that Jesus was the Messiah; the second would be that His own prophecy of His own resurrection would be fulfilled. "The first fraud was belief in the Messiahship of Jesus, the second belief in his resurrection" (A.T. Robertson). There is nothing in the text to even begin to substantiate insinuating into the Jews' words anything other than a fear of grave robbery. The idea that they thought he was still alive in the grave is simply gratuitous! This is more Islamic anachronistic eisegesis, based upon a text six hundred years removed from the original context. The irony is that if you were to answer Shabir's question by reference to the NT text, he would dismiss your answer. For example,
John 19:31-35 31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.How does Shabir respond to this? He follows the line of the liberal mind-reading critic who discerns that this is a "later addition." And how do scholars know this? They start with a theoretical reconstruction of what they think Jesus must have been like, and, using that as a filter, dismiss everything that disagrees. Simple! And once again, when Shabir encounters this kind of argumentation used in reference to the Qur'an, he dismisses it out of hand. The use of two differing standards is telling indeed.
Further Response to Shabir Ally (Part 2)
10/29/2007 - James White
The earliest Muslims such as Ibn Abbas used the sources at their disposal. They looked at the literal text of a part of that verse, but only a part, and concluded that two things were being denied: first, that Jesus was killed by his enemies; and second, that he was hung on a cross.We can see that Shabir's position requires us to believe that you could be crucified, but not killed, and that this is the specific meaning of the text. One cannot simply make such an assertion as this without providing some substantiation. Where does he get the idea that salaba means merely to hang upon a cross without the attendant and obvious component of being a means of execution? Salaba is defined as "To put to death by crucifixion." The massive Lane Arabic Lexicon has as one definition, "he put him to death in a certain well-known manner." Wehr as well as Penrice simply has "to crucify." One interesting, and seemingly conflicted, source is 'Omar's Dictionary of the Holy Qur'an. It has, "To put to death by crucifixion, extract marrow from the bones." Then, "A well known way of killing: Crucifying." Then the source seems to try to work with the obscure problems raised by Surah 4:157, but in a very confusing, and self-contradictory, fashion: "Put to death in a certain well known manner. It is not mere hanging on a cross. Jesus was hanged on a cross but not put to death, in other words his death did not occur while he was hanging on the cross." Then when specific forms used in the Qur'an are mentioned, each is defined "till death," except for the negation of the term, as found in 4:157, "They did not cause (his) death by crucification."
Assuming that crucified means merely being hung on a cross, they then enquired of Jews and Christians as to what scenario could possibly explain the Quran’s statement that Jesus was neither killed nor crucified. Eventually they arrived at the basic interpretation that someone else was made to look like Jesus and that that person was crucified instead, whereas God raised Jesus into heaven. On all other aspects of the scenario that would get this other person onto the cross, even who this other person was, the commentators differed widely, revealing the paucity of their sources and the degree of speculation that went into the commentary.Once again, "they did not kill him, they did not crucify him" does not mean "they did not kill him, they did, however, crucify him, sorta." Mr. Ally's explanation, while interesting, does not take into account the fact that if it were not for Surah 4:157, other texts, such as Surah 3:55 and 19:33, would be plainly understandable as referring to the death of Jesus. All of this proves another point I made: for all the claims of Muslims regarding the clarity and perspecuity of the Qur'an, Surah 4:157 is not clear, it is not perspicuous. And yet, since it is the only text in the Qur'an on this subject, it's lack of clarity is foundational to the incoherence of the Islamic position on the death of Jesus.
The best reconstruction of the meaning is what has been mentioned by Tarif Khalidi in the introduction to his book: The Muslim Jesus. The Quran seems to mean no more than to deny that the Jews killed Jesus.They did not kill him, they did not crucify him. This is the literal reading of the text, given in the previous entry. It is the hardest reading to break these two statements apart and assign completely different meanings: they did not kill him goes with the boast mentioned in the previous verse (same terminology as well); so how can the second statement, "they did not crucify him" take on a different meaning, almost a concessive meaning, "they did not kill but, and they did not crucify him to death (but they did, in fact, crucify him)"?
I fully sympathize with the attempt to make Surah 4:157 say as little as is humanly possible. Given that it is not clear, but confusing, muddled, and without context, it is far easier to defend a minimalist view than the view dogmatically expounded in much of Islam today. But if that is all the text is saying, then would Shabir agree that in fact the text might simply mean that the Jews did not kill Jesus, instead, the Romans did? It is hard to say (he has mentioned this possibility in the past).
I explained all of this in the debate, adding that the Indian scholar Abdul Majid Daryabadi in his four-volume exegesis: Tafsir-ul-Quran, while following the classical interpretation of the verse in his translation nevertheless in his notes defined crucifixion in a way that supports Khalidi’s interpretation. Daryabadi defined crucifixion as ‘the act of putting to death by nailing to a cross’. Keeping this definition in mind, we notice that the verse says: “They killed him not, nor crucified him.” Substituting Daryabadi’s definition of crucifixion, the verse would mean: “They killed him not, nor put him to death by nailing him to a cross.” I argued that this means in essence that the Quran is first denying in a general manner that they killed Jesus, and immediately following up with a parallel denial that they killed Jesus by the specific means of crucifixion.This is one of the reasons I would like to debate an Islamic apologist who would defend the classical, and mainline view of Surah 4:157, for it would be rare for Christians to encounter someone holding Shabir's position. But in any case, if Shabir Ally allows for Surah 4:157 to carry a very non-classical meaning, then one wonders why he does not go the rest of the way and accept the normative translations of 3:55 and 19:33 and hence accept that Jesus did in fact die at the hands of the Romans in the first century, as he agreed that all the historical sources with any meaningful claim to originating in the first century assert? We are still left with no reason why Shabir applies a very odd, unusual set of criteria to all of those historical sources and hence denies the crucifixion of Jesus.
James in his presentation allowed that the Quran could mean that the Jews did not kill Jesus, since the Romans did. Therefore James did not really have a problem with the Quran as such, but only with the classical interpretation. And since I was not determined to defend the classical interpretation in this debate he was really barking up the wrong tree. Much of what he said in this respect was irrelevant as far as proving his case goes. He had to prove, in response to my specific objections, that Jesus actually died on the cross. This he failed to do.
As to my failing to prove that Jesus died on the cross, I was the one who gave all the unanimous first century testimony. Shabir gave none. I was the one who gave materials that were all far closer to the events of Jesus' life than anything Shabir Ally can provide for anything in Muhammad's life. If Shabir Ally were consistent, he would have to either throw out all similar evidence related to Muhammad (resulting in his throwing out the vast majority of Islamic piety and practice), or, he would have to admit that the evidence in support of the crucifixion of Jesus is overwhelmingly superior to anything he has for Muhammad, hence, he would have to accept the thesis. No matter which way he goes, Shabir is left without a way of establishing his position.
I made reference to Raymond Brown who, in his two-volume work: The Death of the Messiah, writes that since crucifixion pierces no vital organ, we must therefore wonder: what was the physiological cause of the death of Jesus? Moreover, Brown notes that Mark’s Gospel, the earliest of the four, indicated that there was some doubt on the part of the Roman Governor Pilate that Jesus could have died at the time when the Gospels indicate to be his time of death. Brown points out that Matthew and Luke both rewrite the episode in their own Gospels in such a way as to omit mention that Pilate had this doubt. The obvious reason for this rewriting, according to Brown, is that readers of Mark’s Gospel would start entertaining the same doubt which Pilate had. Matthew and Luke wanted that their own Gospels should not encourage such doubts.And as I pointed out in my rebuttal, none of these observations carry any weight against the thesis. Asking for Gill Grissom to be cross-side to provide a medical examination before accepting the rather obvious fact that Jesus was dead is hardly cogent, and again, is not a standard Ally would ever demand for anything in his own religious faith. Jesus gave up His life: does Ally deny Jesus would have had the power and authority to do so? Ally takes Markan priority not as the current majority theory but instead as a given fact despite how often he has been corrected on the topic. Note the commitment to a slavish "copying" mode on the part of Matthew and Luke, along with the implicit insinuation of dishonesty on their parts. There is also a rather expansive use of Brown's own words here (The Death of the Messiah I: 1219-1222). Brown's comments are far more nuanced than "Matthew and Luke both rewrite the episode...in such a way as to omit mention that Pilate had this doubt." This is going well beyond even Brown's comments (p. 1222). Brown does not make the case Ally does here at all. In fact, some of his comments are:
Overall, then, it was not impossible that Jesus died relatively quickly, and there is nothing egregiously unlikely about Pilate's reaction to Jesus' reported death in 15:44-45. (1222)In fact, when he then raises the question of what the "later Evangelists" thought of Mark's inclusion of this material, he refers to the idea that they had concerns about the apologetic impact of its inclusion as "not a perfect solution." Again, I refer the reader to Brown's own words, for Ally is putting far too much weight upon these comments.
But may I likewise point out another problem here. Look at the text:
Mark 15:44-45 44 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.First, there is every reason for Pilate to make this inquiry, for Joseph of Arimathea had made request for it. Evidently, Pilate had not yet received word from the crucifixion site of the death of Jesus (possibly because the other two who were crucified were not yet dead). Secondly, though Shabir does not mention it, if he is going to put weight upon this text to use against the crucifixion, he can't pick and choose: Pilate calls a centurion to verify that Jesus is dead. Pilate does not merely get a second-hand answer. He calls an expert. An eye witness. The centurion, not just any centurion, but the one, evidently, who was in charge of the crucifixions themselves. This only makes the chances that Jesus was not, in fact, dead, drop off the probability scale. This man is not going to risk his life letting a man who was condemned by the governor fake death! He had seen many men die. He knew what a corpse looked like. Pilate specifically questions this expert eye witness. He does not just casually inquire, he demands an answer (evphrw,thsen). He is specific in asking if Jesus was already dead. Verse 45 gives us the answer: the phrase "and ascertaining from the centurion" can only mean the centurion provided a positive response to Pilate's question. The expert eye witness, whose life depended upon giving Pilate an accurate response, said "Yes, he's dead." So what do we have here? Shabir Ally has brought this text into play. Evidently he accepts it as a historically valid text. So he can hardly complain that we allow it to speak, and when we do, we see it is a devastatingly strong testimony. The only way out of this is to argue that Mark is lying, and, of course, we have seen many times that any text that opposes Mr. Ally's thesis will in fact be dismissed as erroneous or a late redaction or something. But most of my readers have already come to recognize that this is not a valid form of argumentation.
Further Response to Shabir Ally (Part 1)
10/26/2007 - James WhiteShabir Ally has posted a brief article in response to my equally brief review and announcement that I would be going over our debate on The Dividing Line. I would like to offer my response here.
James had to prove three things. First, that Jesus was crucified. Second, that he was crucified as a sacrifice for the sins of God’s people. Third, that he was willing to be this sacrifice. As for the term ‘crucified’, it is clear that in this context it does not mean merely to be hung on a cross, but actually to die on the cross. This is because no Christian doctrine of the cross allows for Jesus to come down from the cross alive and still be a sacrifice for anyone’s sins. It is only by proving all three of these points that James can come out successful.And may I add that it is truly stretching the meaning of language to posit any meaning of "crucify" in almost any context that does not, in fact, include the meaning of death? I had hoped this would come up, but we might as well address it here. Shabir Ally does not hold the mainstream Islamic view of Surah 4:157 and the death of Jesus. He holds a minority viewpoint that allows Jesus to have been crucified, but, to have survived the crucifixion. Now, let's think about this for just a moment. How many people survived crucifixion at the hands of the Romans? Or, to put it more directly, what percentage of those the Romans tried to kill on a cross actually died? I know history records a few folks who were purposefully taken down to try to save their lives at the request of a person of influence and power (which is not the case with Jesus), and even then, the majority of them died. But even if someone managed to fool the Romans and fake death upon a cross, tell me, what would the percentage be? Would it not be fair to say that in 99.999% of the cases the Romans proved themselves to be excellent executioners? So, if Shabir is willing to say Jesus was crucified (something the vast majority of Muslims reject), does it not follow that he is then relying upon a tiny fraction of a percentile as the realm of his possible argumentation?
Further, if language and context mean anything, would it not follow that the claims of the Jews would be defined by history itself? That is, if Surah 4:157 is responding to a boast by the Jews, as it says, who can possibly argue that the term as they would be using it would mean "hung on a cross but not killed"? The boast the text is attempting to respond to (rather poorly, to be sure) is that they slew Jesus, the messenger of Allah. But the text says they did not do this, but it was made to appear to them. Here is the text:
So even these words, over half a millennium removed from the time of Christ, are hardly supportive of the idea that in reality Jesus was, in fact, crucified, but, He just wasn't killed. You don't say "Yes, he was crucified, but was not killed" by saying "they neither killed him nor crucified him." The repeated phraseology is far more likely to be a form of strong negation than it is anything else.
As for the first point, James in his report simply concentrates on what he presented in his opening statement and follows that with the incredible assertion that I did not respond to his points.
What I actually said was,
The concensus opinion of those with whom I spoke after the debate (hardly an unbiased group, obviously), was that Mr. Ally never even tried to mount a response to my presentation. In essence, at one point in cross-examination I asked Mr. Ally if he would not agree that all of the genuinely first century sources agree in proclaiming that Jesus died upon the cross, and he agreed that this is the case. Ally's approach was to go back to his primary argument: he quotes from liberal "Christian" scholars (whether Roman Catholic, Open Theist, you name it) and hammers away on his attack upon the Bible. He even spent a tremendous amount of time, in cross-examination, closing statement, and audience questions, going back to the very same Synoptic issue about Jairus' daughter that we discussed at Biola! A number of people were very disappointed that he wandered so far from the topic in that way.Please note I said this was the concensus opinion of those with whom I spoke, and I identified them as a biased group, obviously. So I don't see how Shabir comes up with "incredible assertion" when I was plainly, in context, speaking of the conclusions of those who observed the debate. But the fact of the matter is, Mr. Ally never argued that the first century evidence was not unanimously in favor of the conclusion that Jesus was crucified. He did not dispute the citations I gave. His response was not to present any counter citations of first century evidence, since there is none. All he could do was present a conspiracy theory, blaming Paul for hi-jacking Christianity, and on that basis present the amazing hyopthesis that somehow Jesus survived crucifixion. How, what Jesus did later, etc., he cannot say. But without a scintilla of evidence (outside of his own minority reading of 40 Arabic words written over a quarter of a million days after the events), Shabir opts for the 0.001% probability that the Romans missed one--a real important one at that. Then he combines this with the assertion that Paul and all the NT writers were simply dishonest (they kept making things up---in fact, anything that doesn't agree with the Qur'an they made up), and, what is more, the original followers of Jesus, unlike the followers of Muhammad, were illiterate and therefore incapable of fending off the likes of Paul (wait, wasn't Muhammad illiterate?), so they did not even manage to write a book or warn the world that Paul had taken over! Instead, Paul managed to take a crucified Jewish Messiah and create a world religion. Evidence offered from the first century? Nothing but the fact that naturalistic scholars don't believe in things like revelation and prophecy.
I hope that reviewers will find that I did in fact respond as follows. I explained that the Quranic verse 4:157 does not require the interpretation that someone else was put on the cross instead of Jesus. Although this has been a widely circulated classical interpretation, I agreed with James that there is no report attributed to the Prophet, on whom be peace, to verify this. In sum, although this is an early interpretation it is not binding on Muslims to hold it. What precisely happened at the cross is not spelled out in the Quran, and it is up to Muslims to investigate the question using credible or available historical sources.
This is indeed Shabir's position, and as he admits, it is not the majority opinion of classical Islamic theology, nor is it the majority position today amongst Muslims. That is fine. I'm not one to find the majority viewpoint overly comforting. But the fact remains that simply noting this viewpoint does not, in and of itself, constitute a meaningful rebuttal to my presentation that the first century sources are all supportive of the thesis I was defending in the debate. Nor is an attack on the reliability of the NT documents a sufficient argument for a Muslim who in the debate affirmed the perfection of the Qur'an as divine revelation. Shabir may think he can adopt the role of the agnostic and get away with the use of a double-standard. Given his own complaint to Robert Morey in his debate with him wherein he not only demanded (properly) that the Qur'an be read in context (and his appropriate assertion that the hadith likewise needs to be read in context), but he also insisted that one cannot use naturalistic scholarship to attack the Qur'an! The old saying is surely true, you can't have your cake and eat it too!
( continued )
Opening and Closing Statements: Shabir Ally Debate
10/25/2007 - James WhiteShabir Ally has written a response to my brief comments posted a few days ago here on my blog. I will be replying to him, but I wanted to start out by providing my two written statements from the debate. When I am going first, I will often have a written statement for my opening. I realize that "schmoozing" the audience would get me more brownie points with the postmodernists in the audience, but this is a debate, and the point is to communicate truth with clarity. A written statement allows you to do so. I go "live" in the rebuttal and cross-ex. This time I had a closing statement as well, which was very unusual. But, despite Shabir's objection to it, the fact is it was exactly on topic, provided a summary of my case, and fit perfectly. I had timed it at 8 minutes of my twelve minute closing statement, so I was able to break out of it a couple of times and expand upon it. Evidently Shabir did not notice when I did this. In any case, here is my opening statement, followed immediately by the closing statement as well.
Just over two years ago I stood in this very room and debated a man identified by many as the leading historical Jesus scholar in the world, John Dominic Crossan. We debated the historical reliability of the Gospels. It is ironic that tonight, in essence, I defend the Gospels again, but in a completely different context. You see, Dr. Crossan does not believe in an afterlife, in judgment, or in miracles. Shabir Ally does. Crossan does not believe God has given special revelation. Shabir Ally along with all faithful Muslims does. While not an atheist, neither is Dr. Crossan a classical theist. He dismisses the vast majority of the biblical accounts as nothing but parables, and all prophecy is nothing but wish fulfillment.
And yet, ironically, if Dr. Crossan were here this evening, he would be...on my side of this debate, at least in reference to the historical reality of Christs death. Despite his great skepticism about all things supernatural, he accepts the historical fact that Jesus of Galilee was crucified at the beginning of the fourth decade of the first century in Jerusalem. He would not view his death as a purposeful one, and would surely not view it as a sacrifice for sin, but even the highly skeptical Dr. Crossan accepts as a historical fact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
And yet this evening we debate the question, "Was Jesus Christ crucified as a willing sacrifice for the sins of God's people?" The question has two parts, one historical, one theological. On both there is dispute between Christians and Muslims. The historical question is that of the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah; the theological question turns upon the Christian insistence that God forgives sin only in and through faith in Jesus Christ due to His giving Himself as a sacrifice for sins, or in the words of Scripture, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24).
This is a debate involving two men committed to two of the world's major religions. I am an elder in a Reformed Baptist Church, representing the Christian faith's historic proclamation that Jesus Christ was the Lamb of God whose death on Calvary's cross propitiated the wrath of God against all who trust in Christ. Shabir Ally is a believing Muslim, the head of the Islamic Dawa Center in Toronto, and as a believing Muslim, he rejects the idea that Jesus was crucified and died on Calvary's cross as an atonement for sin. Both of us accept that God is our Creator, and that God has spoken. Even the Qur'an says that Allah "revealed the Torah and the Gospel" "for a guidance to mankind," so we both believe that at the time of Jesus, God was engaged in supernatural revelation. Neither of us can consistently join Dr. Crossan in viewing all divine revelation with skepticism. So what brings us here tonight to debate?
We are not here this evening due to any lack of clarity on the New Testament's part regarding our thesis. If we leave aside second century Gnostic sources that have no meaningful historical pedigree in the first century and that suffer from incurable theological precommitments to dualism, resulting in their rejection of Jesus as a true human being, we are left with the unanimous testimony of the Christian Scriptures, the Apostles, disciples, and even the few secular sources that have come down through history, that Jesus died at the hands of Pontius Pilate at the instigation of the Jews around the beginning of the fourth decade of the first century. The gospels, Paul's epistles, and Luke's history of the early church, the Acts of the Apostles, all have solid credentials as originating within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses themselves. In fact, if, as I believe, Luke is providing documentation to be presented in the trial of Paul in Rome, then this puts its date within three decades of the crucifixion. Likewise, if one were to postulate that Mark came before Luke, as surely my opponent this evening does quite often in his talks, this would put Mark no later than twenty or twenty five years after the events of the ministry of Jesus, and perhaps even less. In any case, the New Testament is plain in its affirmation of the historical event of the crucifixion. We will look at its consistent theological teaching in a moment.
While we would hardly expect a great deal of information about an itinerant Jewish rabbi and teacher to find its way into secular historical records of the day, there are two sources outside the New Testament that should be mentioned this evening. The first is found in Josephus (Antiquities XVIII. 63-64), the Jewish historian writing less than half a century after the events of Christ's ministry. There is much dispute about the text, and many feel portions of it are a later Christian interpolation. But this does not need to detain us, for what is important is that Josephus not only mentions Jesus, but likewise makes reference to Pilate, and to crucifixion. It is highly probable that this portion of the reference is original with Josephus himself.
Likewise, eighty five years after Jesus' ministry, the Roman historian Tacitus (Annals XV.44) made derogatory reference to the Christian movement, and in doing so likewise notes that the founder had been executed during the reign of Tiberius, and he even mentions the specific name of Pontius Pilate. While some might suggest Tacitus is just reporting what he had heard from Christians, it is significant that if there was any controversy over the fact that Jesus had been executed under Pontius Pilate, there simply is no evidence of it from the first century documents. What we find from every source that has any legitimate claim to coming from the first hundred years after Jesus echoes the words that most scholars, conservative and liberal alike, believe to be some of the earliest in the New Testament:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.This is the core teaching of the Christian faith, and anyone who wishes to suggest otherwise has a very, very tall challenge ahead of them.
But I doubt Shabir Ally will argue that the New Testament as we possess it today teaches anything other than this very truth. So why are we here this evening? I submit to you that the only reason we are here this evening is because of 40 Arabic words written in a book that can be dated no earlier than 625 years after the ministry of Jesus. These 40 words were written in a different culture, 765 miles away from Jerusalem, over half a millennium removed, without any direct or firsthand connection historically, to the events in Jerusalem. Indeed, these 40 words find no literary connection to the first century at all, for they were written by a man who had no firsthand knowledge of the New Testament, for it had not yet been translated into the Arabic language. I refer, of course, to Surah 4:157 of the Qur'an, which reads,
And because of their saying: "We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger (rasool)." They slew him not nor crucified him, but it was made to appear to them, and those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain.Shabir Ally has admitted, in a debate in 2004, that this text is, in fact, key to his understanding of the issue of the crucifixion of Jesus. I shall, of course, leave it to Shabir to explicate his own views on this text, but for the moment I wish to make sure my assertion here is fully understood. I realize the Muslims in the audience do not believe these to be the words of Muhammad, but that they are the words of Allah. The Muslims in the audience this evening may even be tempted to be offended when I disagree with these words, and in fact assert that these words are false, erroneous, and that they are based upon ignorance of the Scriptural teaching. It cannot be any secret that a Christian who understands Islamic teaching and yet remains a Christian does not believe Muhammad was a prophet. There is nothing to be accomplished in glossing over our differences. May I point out that if Shabir Ally is right, then those I honor as apostles and prophets are actually false teachers and promoters of idolatry. Shabir has made it plain that he blames the Apostle Paul for in essence hi-jacking Jesus (who, according to Muslims, was himself a Muslim), supplanting the original followers of Jesus, and replacing the simple message of Jesus, found today only in the Qur'an, with the false and blasphemous teaching that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for the sins of the world. We should not minimize the fact that we are asked by our Muslim friends to believe that the New Testament is hopelessly corrupt, the gospel is false, and the worship of Jesus amounts to the unforgivable sin of shirk. If the Muslim is tempted to be offended at the assertion that Muhammad was ignorant of the biblical record, written in a language he could not understand, and that hence he made errors in his teachings, the Christian has significantly more reason to experience temptation to offense at the necessary results of Islamic teachings. But I, for one, did not come here this evening to feign offense at the Islamic denials of my own faith. I am here to lay these issues out on the table and to shine the bright light of truth upon them, a light available only when both sides come to the table and honestly lay out their differences.
I am asserting that the reason Shabir Ally sits here this evening in denial of the thesis is due to these 40 Arabic words, traceable, at their earliest, to the revision done of the Qur'anic texts ordered by Uthman and undertaken by a committee chosen by him sometime after the middle of the seventh century according to the tradition recorded in Al-Bukhari. There truly is no other reason. And what is more, though the Qur'an claims to be a clear book, written in the perspicuous Arabic tongue, the fact is this text is nowhere near clear, let alone perspicuous. Many have pointed out that if it were not for Surah 4:157, the Qur'an's teachings in such texts as Surah 3:55 and 19:33, where the death of Jesus is mentioned, would be easily understood without prompting very obtuse explanations that require us to believe the text is referring to a future death of Jesus that has not even taken place as yet. What is more, the text as it is written is very unclear, prompting, as Shabir Ally himself has noted, any number of contradictory interpretations by Islamic scholars over the centuries. And what is truly amazing to me is this: when the Qur'an contradicts the Christian teaching of the deity of Christ, it does so repeatedly, and forcefully. We likewise find references to this in the hadith. But when it comes to this one single ayah, these 40 lonely Arabic words that pop into the Qur'an out of nowhere, we likewise cannot find any meaningful commentary on these words in the hadith literature. Think of it. Muslims for two hundred years could not think of any commentary by Muhammad on this ayah. And yet, I, as a Christian, am to believe these 40 Arabic words, written over half a millennium after the Christ event, in a different language from far away are to be taken to be sufficient to overthrow the entirety of the New Testament and the testimony of eye witnesses and martyrs.
But as it is my job to defend the thesis this evening, allow me to read into the record the ancient testimony of the gospels regarding Jesus' own words about His death. If these words are to be contradicted, I assert the one doing so needs to do more than point out that liberal secular scholars tend to disagree with words that claim to be inspired. That is a given. If we are to believe these words are falsely attributed to Jesus, then I suggest that proof of the dishonesty of the writers needs to be provided; documentary evidence of later tampering with the text must be submitted. Without such evidence, the words of Jesus must stand. And so we start with these words recorded by Mark during the time when the eyewitnesses to these events were alive and well and very active in preaching Jesus message:
Mark 8:31-34And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." 34¶ And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.Likewise in Mark 10:45 we read, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." This New Testament witness to the centrality of the purpose of Christ in the cross is given prophetic authority in the words of the angel recorded in Matthew 1:21, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. "The Apostle John often refers to the self-giving of Christ as the means of salvation, but one summary statement that is particularly striking is found in Revelation 5:9-10:
9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."And Paul's testimony is ubiquitous on this subject, so I simply read into the record these words from Titus 2:
Titus 2:13-14 13looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.Many other texts from Peter, and the writer to the Hebrews, could be included. But we do not need to belabor the point. The evidence of the New Testament on the issue is overwhelming, consistent, and clear. ...
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Anonymous Books and Inspiration
10/24/2007 - James WhiteFriday evening an important difference between Muslims and Christians came to light in the debate in Seattle. It is a difference I highlighted in the Biola debate as well. Muslims and Christians have very different views of what inspiration means, and how it manifests itself in Scripture.
Of course, I am speaking only about Christians here in the historical sense, those who believe the same thing about Scripture that Jesus did. Yes, I know I just cut my audience down by like 90%. That's fine. It's a necessary limitation.
During the cross-examination Shabir Ally asked me about the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. He asked if we know who wrote it, and I said we do not. He took this as clear evidence that it cannot possibly be inspired, since it is anonymous. This is related to the Islamic insistence that we must know the character of a prophet, and that the character of that prophet is directly related to the authority of the word he proclaims.
One is immediately struck by the irony of the Qur'an's frequent references to the Torah and the Injil, and what those terms would have meant to Muhammad in his context. Muhammad did not argue as modern Muslims, nor did he have to: he was ignorant of the actual content of the Christian Scriptures, so he did not have to concern himself about the fact that the Christian canon has always contained books without attributed authors. That did not seem to stop Muhammad from saying he believed in these books. Only with the passing of time has the problem of the inherent contradiction between Muhammad's teachings and understandings come to light, becoming a problem for later generations of his followers.
The contrast in belief that is illustrated by this point from Friday's debate is this: the Christian focus when speaking of inspiration is on the nature of the written record; that is, as Paul expressed it, it is Scripture itself, not the instrument used in producing it, that is God-breathed. In the same way, Peter said that men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Peter places "men" in this text (2 Peter 1:21) at the very end, locating all the activities of God before the instrument, man. Scripture nowhere presents itself as some magical book that just floats down out of heaven. God has revealed Himself by means. Those means include man's language, man's experiences, man's interaction with God Himself. But it is not the mechanism that is "inspired," but the result. God is so powerful and so wise that He is able to use His creatures as the mechanism whereby His Word comes without compromising the nature of the final product. This is why the specific name of the writer is not the issue. God knows who He carries along by the Holy Spirit, and He will exert just as much effort to let His people know as He does in the actual work of inspiration itself. Plainly books that do not bear today, and did not bear in the days of Christ, a particular author are quoted by Jesus as "Scripture."
It is hard to see how the Muslim can consistently argue against this position, for the simple reason that there is no direct Qur'anic knowledge of the Old and New Testaments that would allow it to even acknowledge the situation, let alone address it. Only later generations of Islamic scholars have had to struggle with the issue and come to conclusions that are more or less consistent. In any case, if the Muslim wishes to argue that the name of the writer of a book of Scripture must be known, upon what basis is this to be argued? The Qur'an, in Islamic orthodoxy, claims only one passive channel through which it allegedly came: Muhammad. Muhammad may have believed all the biblical books had known and verified authors, we don't know. But in any case, for Islam to come along six hundred years after Christ and erect a new standard that must be followed that, in essence, is irrelevant to itself but only relevant to Christianity and Judaism is just a bit odd. And that is exactly what later generations of Islamic theologians have done, even though their own sacred text is immune to the standard they employ!
This likewise touches upon the Islamic insistence that prophets must be particularly holy, and why the biblical, historical accounts of the fact that prophets themselves were sinners like the rest of us are rejected by Islam (and the Qur'an).
So as I said to Shabir during the debate, we have very different views of inspiration, and many of Islam's objections are actually based upon transferring an anachronistic and unbiblical view back onto the texts that Muhammad simply did not know or understand.
A Stormy Night in Seattle
10/20/2007 - James WhiteIt turned out that the huge storm we sailed right into the middle of on Thursday (resulting in my adopting a new last name, "Green," along with just about everyone else on board) swept on into Seattle before us and produced wind gusts near 80 mph, even knocking out power in some areas. And that was just the leading edge. A few hours before the debate began (or so I am told---I was a bit pre-occupied) the heavens opened and the rain began. Not your regular Seattle rain, according to Mike O'Fallon, but more like your Tampa style down-pour thunderstorm kind of rain. As a result, one hundred thirty folks who had purchased tickets were no-shows. That was a bit disappointing, but certainly understandable. I guess you could hear the thunder inside the ballroom but I was oblivious to it.
In any case, the debate went on with a good crowd of folks, though not as many Islamic participants as we had hoped for. I will be going over the debate on the Dividing Line on Tuesday. I can't guarantee that I'll have audio that soon, but I will have my notes from the debate, and that would surely be enough to hit the high points. For now, I will summarize.
I opened the debate with the assertion that the only reason a Muslim like Shabir Ally would deny that Jesus died upon the cross as a willing sacrifice for the sins of God's people is due to 40 Arabic words, specifically, Surah 4:157. I quote from my opening statement:
I am asserting that the reason Shabir Ally sits here this evening in denial of the thesis is due to these 40Arabic words, traceable, at their earliest, to the revision done of the Qur'anic texts ordered by Uthman and undertaken by a committee chosen by him sometime after the middle of the seventh century according to the tradition recorded in Al-Bukhari. There truly is no other reason. And what is more, though the Qur'an claims to be a clear book, written in the perspicuous Arabic tongue, the fact is this text is nowhere near clear, let alone perspicuous. Many have pointed out that if it were not for Surah 4:157, the Qur'an's teachings in such texts as Surah 3:55 and 19:33, where the death of Jesus is mentioned, would be easily understood without prompting very obtuse explanations that require us to believe the text is referring to a future death of Jesus that has not even taken place as yet. What is more, the text as it is written is very unclear, prompting, as Shabir Ally himself has noted, any number of contradictory interpretations by Islamic scholars over the centuries. And what is truly amazing to me is this: when the Qur'an contradicts the Christian teaching of the deity of Christ, it does so repeatedly, and forcefully. We likewise find references to this in the hadith. But when it comes to this one single ayah, these 40 lonely Arabic words that pop into the Qur'an out of nowhere, we likewise cannot find any meaningful commentary on these words in the hadith literature. Think of it. Muslims for two hundred years could not think of any commentary by Muhammad on this ayah. And yet, I, as a Christian, am to believe these 40Arabic words, written over half a millennium after the Christ event, in a different language from far away are to be taken to be sufficient to overthrow the entirety of the New Testament and the testimony of eye witnesses and martyrs.I provided all sorts of evidence from the first hundred years after Christ---the New Testament, Christian writings such as Clement and Ignatius, and even Josephus and Tacitus---that demonstrated that there truly was no dispute about the fact that Jesus had died upon the cross. I likewise pointed out that the gnostic fantasies of the second century, so often the darlings of the modern "anything to debunk Christianity" academy of scholars, have little evidentiary weight. I emphasized to the Muslims who were listening (both last night, as well as in the future) that the evidence I was presenting is closer to the events of Christ's life than almost anything the Muslim can document relating to Muhammad's life and teachings. For example, quoting again from my opening statement,
About 77 years after the crucifixion, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was traveling to Rome to die as a martyr. In the letters he wrote as he traveled are repetitive references to the cross and the death of Christ. Remember, this documentation is still about seventy years closer to the events of Jesus life than the best documentation that exists for any of the events in Muhammad's life. Remember, hadith collections like Al-Bukhari date from over two centuries after the death of Muhammad, so Ignatius was three times closer to the sources than Al-Bukhari was.The concensus opinion of those with whom I spoke after the debate (hardly an unbiased group, obviously), was that Mr. Ally never even tried to mount a response to my presentation. In essence, at one point in cross-examination I asked Mr. Ally if he would not agree that all of the genuinely first century sources agree in proclaiming that Jesus died upon the cross, and he agreed that this is the case. Ally's approach was to go back to his primary argument: he quotes from liberal "Christian" scholars (whether Roman Catholic, Open Theist, you name it) and hammers away on his attack upon the Bible. He even spent a tremendous amount of time, in cross-examination, closing statement, and audience questions, going back to the very same Synoptic issue about Jairus' daughter that we discussed at Biola! A number of people were very disappointed that he wandered so far from the topic in that way.
As I said, I will be going over the debate on the DL, so I will simply say that I felt it went very well, and I look forward to future debates with Shabir, and with other credible Islamic apologists.
Let me hasten to add a tremendous word of thanks. I can't begin to tell you how blessed I was by the group that was with me up in Seattle. We had a wonderful time on the cruise, and having the debate at the end truly was a blessing for the entire group. Here is a picture of just some of the folks who gathered late in the night after the debate in my hotel room to discuss the events of the evening, almost all of whom had gone on the cruise as well. These folks not only prayed and studied, they worked as well! Volunteers were helping Rich with the set up and doing security and helping folks find the ball room and all sorts of things. We could not have done it without them, to be sure! Rich tells me special thanks goes to Dave Hewitt who, when Rich was having some real set up struggles, threw himself into the work, doing difficult physical labor that was vital in getting things done. Many kudos to Dave Hewitt! I would like to mention Daniel Figueroa, aka Figgy (proud father of Figglet, our official 2007 Baby Cruiser), who likewise was a great help to me. We simply couldn't do things this large and complicated without the help of God's people.
Likewise, I wish to say thank you to those who supported our ministry last week while we were gone, and after the distraction of another break-in as well. One gentleman in particular gave very sacrificially, and we thank the Lord for that.
Finally, my special thanks to those involved in the debate itself. Here is a picture of the group from before the debate. I do thank Shabir Ally for flying to Seattle for the debate and for always conducting himself as a gentleman. I look forward to future debates. Thanks to Thor Tolo of KGNW Radio in Seattle who moderated the debate and did a great job. And of course, to the two guys who make it all happen: the indefatigable Mike O'Fallon of Sovereign Cruises who, along with dear little Cathy, make cruising enjoyable, and of course, the man behind it all, the guy who gets it all done, the fellow who gets you your orders and keeps this ministry going, and the disembodied voice on the DL who keeps me humble, Rich Pierce.
Can Paul Be Trusted? Ali Ataie vs. Sound Christian Scholarship (#6)
10/01/2007 - James WhiteWe have been working through an article posted by Islamic apologist Ali Ataie attacking the credibility of Saul of Tarsus, i.e., Paul the Apostle. So far we have found Ataie's article lacking in any substance whatsoever, and have found each and every point to demonstrate only that Ataie's exegetical skills are missing-in-action. Context, and any kind of fair-minded reading of the text, have no place in his mean-spirited attack upon a martyr-apostle of Jesus Christ. This kind of action would be similar to a Christian posting a grossly misleading, unfair, mean-spirited, a-contextual, inaccurate attack upon one of the Companions of the Prophet, say, Abdullah ibn Umar, or Zayd ibn Thabit.It needs to be remembered that while Muslims express great offense when they perceive an attack upon their Prophet or upon Islam, Islamic apologists are quick to launch attacks against the entirety of the early generations of Christians, accusing them either of falsehood, as in the case of the Apostle Paul, or of abject cowardice, in the case of the "original followers of Jesus" who, if their theories are correct, capitulated to the upstart Paul and allowed him to completely hi-jack the faith of Jesus! In any case, the battleground must be level: just as any Christian must, by definition, say Muhammad is not a prophet of God, so too the Muslim must say the apostles Paul, John, Matthew and Peter, along with men like Luke and Jude, were deceivers who should not be honored, for they led people away from the "true religion" of Islam and into the worship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. There is nothing to be gained by ignoring the conflict that exists: true progress of understanding demands that the issues be clear before our eyes. No man shows love for the truth who hides the real issues that cause the conflict in the name of peace.
Mr. Ataie continues:
Paul is believed by Christians to be the author of fourteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament and the only historical author of the New Testament who is also a major character WITHIN the New Testament. Paul bridged the gap between Jew and Gentile by abrogating the sacred Torah of Moses and demanding from Christians absolute faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.Of course, historic Christian faith has affirmed the authorship by Paul of thirteen NT Epistles. The fourteenth to which Ataie refers is Hebrews, which may, or may not, be Pauline. In any case, it is an interesting observation that Paul is the only NT author who is also a major character within the NT, which is basically true. However, his actions and travels are central not in his own writings, but in the major book of Acts, written by Luke. We are truly left wondering, however, what Mr. Ataie means when he says that Paul "bridged the gap" between Jew and Gentile. While Paul was key in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles, as Acts makes clear, he was not the first. Peter is used in this task first, though his role is that of ground-breaker. He remains "Apostle to the Jews" while Paul is "apostle to the Gentiles." But the assertion that Paul does this by "abrogating the sacred Torah of Moses" is the same absurd charge that Paul refuted repeatedly in his own ministry. Here Ataie joins the scribes and Pharisees in their false allegations against Paul. No texts are provided, for none could be. Instead, Ataie joins this allegation together with the odd statement that Paul "demanded from Christians absolute faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ." Is this meant to be the corollary to the alleged abrogation of God's law, which Paul so clearly teaches points to one's own sin, and hence to the need of a Savior? Is it an assertion that before Paul there had been no focus upon faith in the crucified and risen Savior? Such would be the logical extension, and is, of course, the Islamic position, all based upon the anachronistic reading back into the first century of the necessary implications drawn from one particular reading of Surah 4:157.
But such is not the conclusion one comes to when faced with the facts of the matter. The message of the cross is clearly pre-Pauline, and all the attempts by Islam's apologists to say otherwise fall flat in the face of the most basic examination. The only possible means by which they can promote such a theory is by first vilifying Paul, without basis, and attributing to him the basest possible motives. What is more, they have to ascribe to him nearly supernatural powers of persuasion, for he comes along after the beginning of the Christian movement and, starting as a persecutor thereof, somehow manages to take the whole thing over in a matter of less than two decades! At the same time they have to ascribe to the original followers of Jesus the most serious forms of cowardice and failure! If, as Muslim authors assert, Jesus and the Apostles were themselves Muslims, and Jesus only taught about Himself what is found in the Qur'an, then every single one of the New Testament books was written by an enemy of the true Muslim Jesus. So how did the original followers of Jesus fail so completely to produce even a single work of literature in contradiction to the corrupted New Testament? Some try to say they did, and point to either Gnostic groups, or others, to the Ebionites. But neither group has any meaningful claim to originality when it comes to the disciples of Jesus. The Gnostic worldview is clearly Eastern, and surely no one can argue successfully that the Jewish Messiah in the first century in Judea was running about spouting Gnostic proverbs. The Ebionites at least have a similar worldview to that which would have prevailed in Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee, but the Jesus they espouse would not have created the conflict with the Jewish leaders that led to His death in Jerusalem--indeed, that Jesus looks suspiciously like a Pharisee. In any case, the Muslim runs directly into the stone wall of the statements of his own sacred text when he tries to make the Ebionites into the original followers of Jesus, for while the Qur'an promises success to those followers of Christ (3:55, 61:14), the Ebionites clearly never experienced that promised success against the "false" followers of Jesus (from the Islamic viewpoint), i.e., the actual disciples of Jesus, Peter, James, John, Paul, Luke, etc. So no matter which direction we go, the allegation that the Muslim is forced to make against the early Christians falls upon examination. The New Testament does represent what the original followers of Jesus taught; Paul did not come along and wipe out the original disciples; instead, he joined those he once persecuted, and the message he taught was not some foreign teaching, but was the same message, for he was indwelt by the same Spirit. The message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the primitive confession of faith of the church itself (1 Cor. 15:1-6), became Paul's message as well. But it did not originate with him.
However, unlike Jesus, Paul almost never mentions the impending Kingdom of God and seems to know next to nothing about the historical Jesus' ministry experiences in Galilee and Jerusalem. He only quotes Jesus once in his fourteen letters and knows nothing about the virgin birth. Can you imagine a Christian missionary of today going into the Middle East and NEVER uttering the Lord's Prayer, or one of the Beatitudes, or even a SINGLE parable that Christ gave?Evidently, the argumentation found in this kind of presentation goes along these lines, "Each of Paul's letters must be a re-statement of everything found in the Gospels; each must repeat what is said in the others, for if there is any divergence, or if there are different subjects to be addressed (as would naturally be the case in epistles written to churches or church leaders) then this means Paul was ignorant of the material in the Gospels." But such reasoning is fallacious from the start. Paul is not providing a comprehensive re-statement of everything found in the Gospels, and speculation as to the full extent of his knowledge based upon such reasoning, especially when it ignores his interaction with Peter, James, etc., is obviously fallacious. Paul does speak of the kingdom, obviously; he has no reason to repeat the events of Jesus' ministry in his epistles, either. The proclamation of Jesus' life and ministry was part and parcel of the church's life. Eyewitnesses continued that testimony for decades, all during Paul's ministry. Why should he fill his epistles with that which is the general possession of the church at large? An obvious example is at hand: why didn't Ali Ataie tell us about the hijrain this article? Why didn't he mention anything at all about Muhammad? Does this not prove that Ali Ataie is ignorant of the life of Muhammad? No, of course not! It was not his purpose to speak of Muhammad in this article, so why should we expect him to repeat everything he knows about Muhammad or Islam as a whole? In the same way, when writing, say, to Corinth, why should he repeat everything he knows about the life and ministry of Jesus? When it is appropriate, Paul does so: when speaking of the resurrection he reminds the believers of the common confession of all believers, specifically, the gospel found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6. But just because he does not repeat every miracle story, every parable, is slim foundation for assuming that when Paul sat in the fellowship of believers, listening to the same preaching by eyewitnesses everyone else did, that he must have fallen asleep!
Ataie continues with this amazing assertion:
Rather than assimilating himself into the first century Jesus tradition, Paul instead invents a religion ABOUT Jesus and declares himself the Apostle of the Lord. His main sales pitch: Jesus died for yours sins so it's okay to act irresponsibly.Note the anachronistic assumption derived not from a fair reading of the sources but from his own Muslim background: who gets to define the first century Jesus tradition? Paul is smack dab in the middle of that first century tradition, and is one of the most vital, and in fact, unquestionablebearers of that tradition! We can date Paul, identify when he was in particular cities, even tie his letters to archaeology and history so as to identify individuals within the churches to which we wrote! Unlike the wild-eyed theories of many today that get all the press and media attention that seeks to take documents written a century or more later and invest them with great authority and meaning, believers can rely upon solid and sound documentation in Paul and Luke that ties directly to the first century context. Ataie assumes the first century Jesus tradition would present us with a Muslim Jesus, the Jesus he finds in the seventh century Arabic document known as the Qur'an. But there is not the slightest historical reason whatsoever to invest the Qur'an with an iota of historical validity in its claims regarding first century Judea and Jerusalem, to be certain. Ataie cannot escape the historical anachronism forced upon him by his Islamic confession, however. So Ataie does not have any foundation at all upon which to base his assertion that Paul "invented" a religion. The modern skeptics who echo his ideas do so for reasons that he, as a Muslim, cannot borrow. They do so out of a natural revulsion to the supernatural and a rejection of anything related to the idea of "revelation." No Muslim can follow them into such an arena, and hence, cannot cite them as supportive of the Islamic position. So upon what basis does Ataie assert Paul invented a religion? Where is his first-century documentation? We have already seen that his attempts at dealing with the biblical text have failed at every point, so to what can he turn? We fully understand why he attacks Paul and his authority: he does so because a member of the Quraysh clan in distant Arabia six hundred years in the future did not know the Bible, and in particular, the New Testament, and hence, in his ignorance, contradicted Paul. Ataie, following this man implicitly, therefore rejects Paul's authority. This is the only reason.
But when Paul faced his enemies in the first century, he reported that, as is so often the case, those who oppose the truth abandon all sense of honesty and integrity in their zeal. Paul reported that some of those who opposed him lied about his teachings just to seek to impugn him and damage his ministry. In fact, some even lied about him in saying that he taught people that they could go on sinning because they were saved by grace. For example, in Romans 3:8, Paul notes such people, "And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come "? Their condemnation is just." The entirety of Romans 6 provides a further refutation of this false calumny used by Paul's enemies. One would think that with the distribution of Paul's writings all over the known earth for nearly 2,000 years no one would have the temerity to continue to lie about him with such accusations. But, that is clearly not the case, as we see in these words of Ali Ataie! The very falsehood that Paul refuted in writing to the Romans in the middle of the first century Ali Ataie repeats brazenly at the beginning of the 21st century! It is truly beyond me how anyone can make a statement like this, for it stands in opposition to the entire corpus of Paul's writings. Possibly his intended audience will never check his statements for accuracy? It is hard to say, but I can only rebuke Mr. Ataie for such rhetoric, and exhort him to aspire to a higher level of apologetic in his future writings.