I have been shocked over the past few weeks to realize that the best Mecca has to offer apologetically, particularly in reference to their attacks upon the Deity of Christ, fall far short of even that presented by our home-grown “Christian cults” like Jehovah’s Witnesses. This has been particularly clearly demonstrated in the comments I have been hearing and reading regarding the Islamic explanation of John 20:28.
As I began working on what I thought would be a short little article, I began to realize that I had stumbled onto a subject that demonstrates, with more clarity than I had expected, the thesis I had in mind. That is, as I began following certain quotations and sources, I was able to see that everything I was finding had one of two sources, and one of those sources has become quite well known to all of us lately: none other than Bart Ehrman himself. The utterly uncritical acceptance shown by leading Islamic apologists for anything Ehrman has to say is amazing, especially given the fact that he would, if even slightly consistent, dismiss the Qur’an as a revelation from God just as he dismisses the New Testament, and for the same basic reasons. Be that as it may, I am still gathering some sources, but wanted to provide to you at least a start to this discussion of John 20:28
The text is well known. Note the context before and after the key words:
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
I noted in passing, I believe, last week that I was shocked to hear Ahmed Deedat use the amazingly silly excuse that John 20:28 is a (profane) exclamation of surprise or shock, as if seeing Jesus resulted in his crying out, “Oh my God!” Such an excuse, used often by less prepared Jehovah’s Witnesses, can only be described as “desperate.” Here are Deedat’s words in written form:
It is often claimed that since Thomas referred to Jesus as “My God, my Lord (John 20:28),” that Jesus was God. An ignorance of the context of the verse and of Christian doctrine prompts this claim. The context of the verse talks about an unbelieving Thomas being surprised when Jesus offers him evidence.
The exclamation, “My God,” on his part was just astonishment. We use such exclamations everyday while talking to people. This doesn’t mean that the person we are talking to is God. For example, I see John cutting his wrist with a Rambo knife. I say: “My God, John what are you doing?” Do I mean that John is God? Of course not. Similar is the use of the expression by Thomas. If you go into Jewish or Muslim societies even today, you’ll hear people exclaim “My God, my Lord,” at every situation which surprises them or causes them anguish or is astonishing. In the verse above Thomas says: “My God, my Lord.” He was not claiming that Jesus was his (1) God and (2) Lord. If he did then the church and the disciples should have stamped him as a heretic right there and then. Because claiming that Jesus is Lord and God is a violation of Christian doctrine, which asserts that there is One God, the Father and One Lord, Jesus. Jesus can’t be God and Lord. “…yet for us there is but one God, the Father…and one Lord, Jesus Christ …(I Corinthians 8:6)”. Believing the above (i.e Jesus is Lord and God) would leave a person with unorthodox doctrine branded by the church as Sabellianism, Patripassianism, Monarchianism.
I will correct Deedat’s gross errors in time. Yesterday as I was riding I heard Jamal Badawi use the very same response. So when I got back to my office I decided to check some written resources. I looked at Shabir Ally’s little book, Is Jesus God? The Bible Says No, and had to chuckle that in an entire book dedicated to denying the deity of Christ there is not a single citation of, reference to, or response to, John 20:28. So I looked to see if the largest printed resource I have found as yet, Micha’al ibn Abdullah’s What Did Jesus Really Say? (Islamic Assembly of North America, 2001: some of which is found here), would provide a better discussion. Here’s what I found:
This verse is at best an example of an “implicit” affirmation of a “Duality.” This is because this verse appears to imply that Thomas thought that Jesus was God Almighty. The words are those of Thomas and not Jesus. However, there are a number of problems with interpreting this verse to mean that Jesus is God.
Firstly, the phrase “Thomas answered” is somewhat misleading since nowhere before this verses [sic] was Thomas asked a question. Thomas’ words could more appropriately be referred to as an “outburst” or an “exclamation.” This is indeed why most translations of the Bible (excluding the King James Version) follow this exclamation with an “exclamation mark” as follows: “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God ! “
Christian scholars such as Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428), the Bishop of Mopsuestia, interpreted this verse to not be directed to Jesus but at God “the Father.” Thus, it is similar in meaning to our modern exclamations of surprise “My God!” or “My Lord!.” In other words, this was an outburst designed to display surprise and disbelief rather than an affirmation that Jesus was in fact God “the Father.”
The other piece of evidence that tends to suggest that Thomas’ intention was other than to admit that he was looking at God Almighty in the person of Jesus is quite a powerful one. We find it in the following two verses:
“No man hath seen God at any time,” (John 1:18)
“No Man hath seen God at any time,” (1 John 4:12)
So, in this case, if we are to accept the official Christian “Creed of Nicea” and its definition of God being three personalities of ONE God, then that means that anyone who ever gazed upon Jesus was looking at the one and only triune “God.” The verses do not say “no one has seen the Father” … in which case it might be possible to inply [sic] that they had not seen “the Father” but had seen “god” [sic] in His second “form” as “the Son.” However, the verses do not say that, they say “no man has seen GOD” [sic]
What this means is that if someone is sincere in his claim that he worships only “one” God, and that God is essentially three personalities with one essence, then saying that thousands upon thousands of people saw Jesus, and Jesus is God, and God is One, flies directly in the face of all of the verses of the Bible which declare that no one has ever seen God, like the above two. [sic] In that case we have to wonder what then was the intent of Thomas? Did he really mean “I am now looking at God Himself”? Far from it.
Secondly, the word translated in this verse as “God” is indeed the Greek “Ho theos” (The God), and not “theos” (divine). However, when studying the history of this verse in the ancient Biblical manuscripts from which our modern Bibles have been compiled we find an interesting fact, specifically, that the ancient Biblical manuscripts themselves are not in agreement as to the correct form of this word. For example, the codex Bezae (or codex D) is a fifth century manuscript containing Greek and Latin texts of the Gospels and Acts, which was discovered in the 16th century by Theodore Beza in a monastery in Lyon. The predecessor of the codex Bezae and other church manuscripts do not contain the article “Ho” (“THE”) in their text (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart D. Ehrman, p. 266). What this means is that this verse in it’s original form, if it is to be understood to be addressing Jesus (pbuh) himself, only addresses him as “divine” and not as the “Almighty God.” Thus, it is similar in meaning to the meaning conveyed when prophet Moses is described as being a “god” in Exodus 7:1 (or when all Jews are described as being “gods” in Psalms 82:6, or when the devil is described as god in 2 Corinthians 4:4), effectively reducing the exclamation of Thomas, if it were indeed directed to Jesus, to “My lord the divine!,” or “my divine lord!” (pp. 64-67)
How would you respond to such a presentation if you found yourself, for example, sitting upon a train for an hour and the conversation came up with a Muslim? Yes, some of the argumentation above is so clearly illogical that the tendency is to just chuckle and dismiss it as irrelevant. No, our writer has not done his homework on the doctrine he is denying. But there are more than a billion people on our planet who think this way. I am reminded of the questions asked by the Muslims at the debate in 1999 on Long Island. Odd? You bet. But common, and therefore, we must be prepared to answer clearly and in such a fashion as to promote understanding.