I have begun reviewing Ali Ataie’s article, Can Paul Be Trusted? I provided his conclusions first just to give the reader a good taste of the kind of conclusions arrived at by Islamic writers. We continue examining Mr. Ataie’s assertions and arguments.
Paul’s revolutionary view of Jesus’ crucifixion and its redemptive value as well as his doctrine of original and inherent sin, salvation, and justification through faith alone superseded all Mosaic obedience and established a new covenant between mankind and the divine.
First we encounter the (unsubstantiated, at least at this point) assertion that the Apostle Paul evidently introduced a “revolutionary view of Jesus’ crucifixion and its redemptive value.” Surely Islamic writers are not alone in making this claim, but again we are faced with the irony of Islamic writers buying stock in the theories of those who reject supernaturalism while themselves confessing it, at least in the revelation of the Qur’an and the ministry of Muhammad. But what evidence exists that Paul’s theology was so utterly revolutionary in the sense of being fundamentally contrary to the views of the other apostles? We already addressed the contradiction in Ataie’s comments at this point in our previous article. It is very clear that the reason Muslims borrow the skepticism of modern secular scholarship is not due to anything other than the fact that while Muhammad thought he was speaking in concert with the preceding “prophets,” including Jesus, he was, in fact, ignorant of the text of the Christian scriptures, and therefore, once Islam became established as a world religion and its adherents began the inevitable process of apologetic interaction with others, this reality came to light. Rather than abandoning faith in Muhammad’s divine calling, the Islamic response was to attack the evidence for the biblical teachings that run so clearly contrary to Muhammad’s ideas. This anachronistic approach is forced upon Islamic apologists to this day, and I honestly see no means by which a believing Muslim can avoid the inevitable circularity and inconsistency of their position. Islam cannot remove Muhammad’s claims to stand in harmony with the line of prophets that came before him. Nor can Islam remove the fundamental contradictions that exist between Muhammad’s teachings and those of Jesus and His apostles.
Paul asserts, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second” (Hebrews 8:7).
What established a new covenant was not Paul, but Jesus’ own teachings. Few concepts are more clearly to be traced to Jesus Himself than that of the New Covenant, seen in the Supper and in the teachings of Christ relating to His own mission and purpose. It was not a matter of superseding the Old, but of fulfillment, as Jesus Himself taught. It is good to see Ataie admitting the fundamental nature of Paul’s gospel (centrality of the cross, the depravity of man, justification, sola fide, etc.), for some have even erred here in misrepresenting his teachings. But Ataie cannot see the harmony that exists between the various streams of New Testament revelation due to his over-riding commitment to an errant seer removed from Paul’s time by over half a millennium.
Ataie evidently assumes Pauline authorship of Hebrews in his citation of Hebrews 8:7. In any case, he confuses the topic of Hebrews 8, the supremacy of the new covenant in its bringing forgiveness of sins to all those within its borders (in contrast to the old covenant), with that of obedience in the Mosaic covenant. He does not give us any reason to accept his citation, or interpretation, as having any validity. (For much more on the exegesis of Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant, see my articles in the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, I:2, 2:1).
Go into a church at random and you may or may not hear the words of Christ as recorded in the Gospels, but rest assured, you could bank on hearing Pauline teaching 100% of the time.
One thing is for certain, Mr. Ataie’s experience in Christian churches is not only lacking, but surely he should be aware that arguing from hearsay as he does in the above assertion about what one will find in Christian churches is inherently dangerous and almost never worthwhile. He is simply in error, of course, for any solid church is going to preach from, and teach from, the entirety of the inspired text. In my own fellowship, such a statement is clearly false. For example, I have been teaching a Synoptic Gospel study on Sunday mornings for over four years now. Are some churches imbalanced? Of course, but in Western culture, the balance will be exactly backwards to that suggested by Ataie: it is Paul that is in “decline” in many churches, not the other way around.
While Jesus terrified demons from afar and exorcised power over them, the Apostle Paul tells us that “a messenger of Satan” regularly beats him over the head from time to time (2 Cor. 12:7). This stunning admission lends us a vital clue as to where exactly Paul was receiving his “revelations” from. Even Paul himself is not sure as to the source of his teaching.
I am glad to see Mr. Ataie accepts the historical validity of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ healings and His authority over demons. I would remind him that those same demons testified that Jesus was the Son of God (Matt. 8:29, Mark 3:11) just as Paul did.
How Mr. Ataie can come up with an interpretation that Paul’s discussion of his thorn in the flesh is equivalent to a demon “beating him over the head from time to time,” I cannot tell; and that he would then go so far as to think this has the slightest relevance to the origin of Paul’s revelations once again leaves one stunned as to how cavalier he is in his comments. The nature of Paul’s affliction has been the topic of many inquiries by Christian scholars over the years, but one thing is obvious: it has to do with teaching Paul to trust in God’s grace. Note:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9)
Paul sees this situation, most probably a physical affliction (some evidence exists that it had to do with his eyes, or possibly something like migraine headaches), as a means by which Christ’s power might be perfected in his own weakness, a spiritual truth experienced by every follower of Christ. The idea that this means Paul had some kind of demonic problem, or that he was beaten over the head from time to time, etc., is utterly without merit, and truly makes one wonder at Mr. Ataie’s fairness and ability to handle the material in a meaningful fashion. Such wild conclusions normally flow from a deep prejudice on the part of the reviewer presenting them.
There is nothing “stunning” in Paul’s words, neither are they an “admission” of anything. Further, the topic here is how God was working in Paul to conform him to the image of Christ. The surrounding context could not lead any honest reader to think that Paul was here saying his revelations came from Satan himself. Further, there is nothing in the text that even begins to suggest that “Paul himself is not sure as to the source of his teaching.” It is admittedly frustrating for someone such as myself to read this kind of cavalier, careless commentary, when I invest so much effort to seek to place the statements of the Qur’an in a meaningful historical context, one that accurately reflects the language and culture of the text itself. Please note, I am not saying that I expect Mr. Ataie to agree with Paul, or to not express disagreement. When I read the Qur’an, I well know that a believing Muslim rejects my analysis of its text as having come from Muhammad—they believe it came directly from God. But the point is that this kind of reading into Paul’s words of concepts utterly outside his own context and purpose is without merit and is detrimental to Mr. Ataie’s credibility. It indicates that he is not writing to convince a sound, believing Christian of his position, but is instead only seeking to “rally the troops” so to speak, and that kind of religious rhetoric is always unworthy of anyone who claims to love and proclaim the truth.
Mr. Ataie continues to undermine his abilities as an exegete with this statement:
He says hesitantly, “I THINK that I have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:40). Think again.
How does Mr. Ataie determine that Paul says this hesitantly? It is a common error of Islamic writers to completely miss the context of Paul’s discussion here in 1 Corinthians, and as we will see, Mr. Ataie joins them shortly after this citation in these words:
Yet in a different epistle he tells us regarding Christian men who are married to non-believing women: “But to the rest speak I, NOT the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:10).
Furthermore, in 2 Cor. 8:10, Paul decides to give his “own advice” on matters of religious significance. Does this constitute divine inspiration? This evidence is damning enough for us to reject Paul’s mission as an “apostle of Jesus Christ.”
A small amount of basic study and review of the passage would lead those who are so opposed to Paul to admit that he is in no way denying the inspiration and authority of his own Apostolic letters to the churches. Surely, Christians do not hold the Islamic view of what might be called an “automatic writing” style of revelation where God is incapable of using men in their own situations, in their own languages, to bring His Word to His people. In the Islamic theory, men are little more than the mailbox is when it receives a letter. In Christian theology, God’s Word, like God Himself, comes to God’s people in a far more personal, experiential way. God uses His creation, and He speaks in language His people can understand. “Holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” is how Peter expressed it (2 Peter 1:21). The “speaking as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” part is what is missing in Islamic theology, for this speaks of God’s intimate involvement in the actual lives of these men and the process of bringing prophecy into existence in and through their own experiences encountered in His providence. As such, by definition, Islamic theories preclude the very mechanism by which God brought much of the New Testament into existence. Obviously, Muhammad had no knowledge of such things and, in his ignorance, assumed much about the nature of God’s dealings in the past that were simply in error. Ataie follows Muhammad in assuming these things and, as a result, attacking the New Testament, and Paul in particular as a result.
Paul is not denying the inspiration of his writings for he would not have held the view of inspiration assumed by Muslims today. Further, his words are really not that difficult to understand. When he says “I speak, not the Lord,” he is simply saying that on the topic he is addressing he has no direct teaching from Christ during His earthly ministry. The tradition he had received did not include Christ addressing the question that had been asked of him, so, as an Apostle, he is providing an answer, but he is not claiming that the answer comes from the teachings of Jesus when He was on earth. It is a testimony to the fact that the gospels give us an accurate portrayal of the ministry of Christ that they do not, in fact, address the same points to which Paul speaks here. That is, Paul could not claim that Jesus taught on these topics, and the gospels confirm his statement. Only by missing this context do Islamic writers misrepresent Paul at this point. So when Paul says, “I think that I too have the Spirit of God” in 1 Cor. 7:40, he is summarizing his previous instructions on marriage (issues that would be unique to the church as it expanded into Gentile areas and hence would not even come up in the ministry of Jesus decades before) and is doing exactly what Islamic writers are trying to deny: he is saying that the Spirit of God is behind his instructions, and therefore, as an apostle of Christ, the churches are bound thereby.
Finally, in reference to 2 Cor. 8:10, the Greek term used here is gnw,mhn which can be translated “purpose, opinion, consent, decision.” Paul is here addressing the sensitive issue of collecting funds for the support of the saints in the infant church. Again, in an Islamic context, where God cannot use men in the giving of His Word, any and all expressions of Paul’s personality (or John’s or Peter’s or Luke’s) will automatically exclude these writings from Scripture. But ironically, any reading of the Psalter, written long before, would reveal that for Jews and Christians, the Islamic idea of what Scripture is is indeed completely foreign and unnatural. And it is a simple fact that the problem here is not Paul’s, it is Muhammad’s. Muhammad had no access to the Christian and Jewish Scriptures in their original languages or even in translation, and hence, in his ignorance, he erred. Modern Islamic apologists continue to err in his defense as a result.
—in the defense and confirmation of the gospel