Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
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.