We will put our explanation regarding the main issue (I AM) in steps so that it shall be easily followed by those unfamiliar with issues involved.
The focus of the paper is to examine whether the use of the word “I am” in John 8:58 has something to do with “I AM” in Exodus 3:14. We will give the complete verses of John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14 later on in this paper.
A) First, we would like to introduce to the reader the Septuagint, which shall be the main reference in this discussion other than the Bible itself. Let us delve into the explanation about the Septuagint: The word “Septuagint” is taken from the Latin word septuaginta which means “70”. Therefore, this book is also known as “LXX”, which simply means “70”. We wish to refer to The Hutchinson Educational Encyclopedia (HEE) about the Septuagint:
Septuagint n. a Greek version of the Old Testament including the Apocrypha (c.3rd cent. Before Christ), so called because, according to tradition, about 70 persons were employed on the translation. [Latin: septuaginta 70]
Note 1: The reader may also refer to any other encyclopedia as well as any other Bible dictionary under the same topic, which is “Septuagint”.
From the citation above, we can conclude that)
1. Septuagint is a Greek version of the Old Tes)ament.
2. It (Septuagint) has already existed three centuries before Christ was born, and therefore it is authentic.
The question arises, why are we focusing our attention on the LXX in our discussion?
The answer is because it would make it easier for us to compare the original phrase of the relevant verses (like John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14) in Greek, since both the New Testament and LXX (Septuagint) were written in Greek.
B) In this section, we will make a comparison between the Greek phrase which was used in John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14.
“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”
Note 2 : In Figure 1 the original Greek word for “I AM” in John 8:58 is ‘egoo eimi’ or in Greek ‘egw eimi’. You can refer this to any of the Greek NT such as The New Testament in the Original Greek by B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort (1881) or from any interlinear Greek/English translation.
Figure 2 (refer to Note 4 below)
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. Transliteration: Kai eipen ho Theos pros Moouseen Egoo Eimi Ho Oon kai eipen outoos ereis tois uiois Israeel Ho Oon apestalken me pros umas
Note 3: Please refer to the highlighted words in theFigure 2 above, we have marked ‘A’ for ‘egoo eimi ho oon’ (egw eimi o wn ) , while ‘B’ is for ‘ho oon’ (o wn).
Analysis of ‘B’ Mark
LXX (the last part of Exodus 3:14):
|ho oon = o wn| I AM
|apestalken = apestalken| hath sent me
|metros umas = me proV umaV| unto you.
Compare this with John 8:58:
|prin = prin| before
|Abraam = Abraam| Abraham
|genethai = genesQai| was (or ‘came into being’)
|egoo eimi = egw eimi| I AM.
It is clear that the Greek word that has been used by LXX for “I AM” in “I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:14) is ‘ho oon’ and not ‘egoo eimi’ as in John 8:58. So they are two different words and have two different meanings, and thus there is no connection between Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58.
‘I Am What I Am’ or ‘I Am The Being’?
Exodus 3:14 (LXX) uses egw eimi o wn (egoo eimi ho oon) which means “I AM THE BEING”, or, “I AM THE EXISTING ONE”. The Greek word ‘oon’ (wn) is translated several times in the New Testament as ‘being’, we refer to:
And Jesus himself, when he began to teach, was about thirty years of age, being (wn) the son…..
Nicodemus saith unto them (he that came to him before, being (wn) one of them)
…and because that thou, being (wn) a man, makest thyself God.
So egw eimi o wn (egoo eimi ho oon) should be translated as “I am the being”, and not “I am what I am”. This attempt (evidence of divinity of Jesus Christ) cannot be sustained because the expression in Exodus 3:14 is different from the expression used in John 8:58. This is another proof that throughout the Christian Greek scriptures, God and Jesus(P) are never identified as being the same person.
Note 4: The Septuaginta that we have used is from A. Rahlfs (Stuttgart: W?rttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1935; repr. in 9th ed., 1971), alternatively the reader can get it from http://www.blueletterbible.org
C) From the above conclusion, we know that the expression at John 8:58 is quite different from the one used in Exodus 3:14. That is why the various translators of the New Testament had translated John 8:58 into many ways and had not stick to merely translating it into “I AM”:
1869: “From before Abraham was, I have been.” The New Testament, by G. R. Noyes.
1935: “I existed before Abraham was born!” The Complete Bible: An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed.
1965: “Before Abraham was born, I was already the one that I am.” Das Neue Testament, by J?rg Zink.
1981: “I was alive before Abraham was born!” The Simple English Bible.
1984: “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
1999: “The truth is, I existed before Abraham was even born!” New Living Translation by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
This is the same with translations from the ancient New Testament manuscripts:
Fourth/Fifth Century (Syriac-Edition): ?Before Abraham was born, I have been.” A Translation of the Four Gospels From the Syriac of the Sinaitic Palimpsest, by Agnes Smith Lewis, London, 1894.
Fifth Century (Curetonian Syriac-Edition): ?Before ever Abraham come to be, I was.” The Curetonian Version of the Four Gospels, by F. Crawford Burkitt, Vol. 1, Cambridge, England, 1904.
Fifth Century (Syriac Peshitta-Edition): ?Before Abraham existed, I was.” The Syriac New Testament Translated Into English From the Peshitto Version, by James Murdock seventh ed., Boston and London, 1896.
Fifth Century (Georgian-Edition): ?Before ever Abraham come to be, I was.” The Old Georgian Version of the Gospel of John, by Robert P. Blake and Maurice Briere, published in Patrologia Orientalis, Vol. XXVI, fascicle 4, Paris, 1950.
Sixth Century (Ethiopic-Edition): ?Before Abraham was born, I was.” Novum Testamentum Aethiopice (The New Testament in Ethiopic), by Thomas Pell Platt, revised by F. Praetorius, Leipzig, 1899.
The theory of divinity of Jesus through the word “I AM” has not been supported by convincing evidence, so it cannot stand to the scrutiny. Even many of the Gospels as well as the most ancient manuscripts did not use “I AM” in John 8:58, and therefore the word “I AM” in John 8:58 cannot be used as a proof of divinity for Jesus, it is without foundation and a very shaky one at best.
Moreover, existing before existence cannot make somebody to be God. The Bible tell us that not only Jesus was in existence before his time, but also Jeremiah as well:
God said: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and I appointed you as my spokesmen to the world. (Jeremiah 1:5)
So the verse “Before Abraham was, I am” could not make someone become God (including Jesus), otherwise Jeremiah was also God since he had existed before God had formed him in his mother’s womb. As for the existence of Jesus(P) before his birth, we should remember that Jesus was anointed by God even before he was born (John 17:24). Hence, he was called ‘the Christ’ (Messiah).
We would like to ask the missionary how they would explain this ensuing statement?
Jesus said to Jews; “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad. (John 8:56)
So, is Abraham(P) also God since he can see something in the future or something in advance? Of course not, and the same goes for Jesus(P).
“I AM …..”
On the use of the words “I AM” by Jesus as in:
“I AM” the Way, the Truth and the Life
“I AM” the Door
“I AM” the Light of the World
“I AM” the Good Shepherd
“I AM” the Bread of Life
“I AM” the Resurrection and the Life
“I AM” the True Vine
“I AM” the Alpha and Omega
“I AM” the Almighty God
“I AM” the First and the Last
“I AM” He who searches the Minds and Hearts
“I AM” Coming Quickly
“I AM” the Root and Offspring of David
“I AM” Giver of the Living Water
or the reader can refer to the missionary argument here.
We wonder why the missionary had left out the following “I AM” verse:
Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. (John 8:28)
This verse says that Jesus(P) himself could not do anything, so if he was God does it mean that God could not do anything?
Let us analyse the Greek equivalent of the phrase used by Jesus(P) in the above verse:
We can see that the Greek word used by Jesus(P) in John 8:28 is also ‘egw eimi’ or “I am”. So again the use of “I am” cannot prove that Jesus was God, otherwise he was a weak God who had limitations.
If the missionary still believes that the use of the phrase “I am” makes Jesus God, they should also take David as God since David(P) was also using this “I am”:
And David said to God, “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued. NKJV (1 Chron. 21:17)
So we see here that David(P) had also used the word “I am”. To be sure, let us see in the LXX for the equivalent Greek word that he had used in 1 Chron. 21:17:
Clearly, it is “egw eimi” or “I am”, so do these words make David God? If the answer is no, what evidence can the missionary show that makes Jesus God, simply by using the phrase, “I am”?
It is clear that saying “I am” is not evidence that the person is God. When the Jews were doubtful about the identity of a particular blind beggar who had been healed by Jesus, the blind beggar – who was no more blind, kept saying; “I am (he)” (John 9:9, KJV), please refer to Figure 5 below:
Does “I am” or “Egw eimi” make the blind beggar God? Of course not! The same applies for Jesus(P).
It is interesting to note that the referred beggar, when questioned about Jesus who had healed him, replied to Jews as follows:
And he said, “He is a prophet”. (John 9:17)
This is no doubt in accordance with what Qur’?n has said:
“Christ the son of Mary was no more than an Apostle; many were the Apostles that passed away before him…” (Qur’?n, 5:75)
In short, everyone at the time of Jesus knew that he was only a prophet and not God.
Many Christians have misunderstood about the saying “I AM the Alpha and Omega” in the book of Revelation 1:8. They believe that these were the words of Jesus, when this is actually not true, because it was said by the Lord God and not Jesus himself. The New American Bible has proven this:
Figure 6 is showing the passage from the book of Revelation, verse 8. So Jesus(P) never claimed to be “the Alpha and Omega” at all, rather that was said by Lord God Himself – please refer to the underlined words in red in Figure 6 above. Almost all the versions have supported this point, please refer to New Revised Standard Version, The Amplified Bible, The New Jerusalem Bible, New International Version and New American Standard Version.
The source of misunderstanding for this verse by Christians is actually due to the King James Version (KJV) which has wrongly translated the Greek words “legei kurios ho Theos” or in Greek “legei kurioV o QeoV”. The KJV only translated “legei kurios” or “says the lord” and left out “ho Theos” which means “the God”, this can be easily be understood by referring to Figure 7 below:
Figure 7 (refer to Note 5 below)
So it is obvious that the KJV had thrown out “The God” and had only considered “says the Lord” or “says the Master” that implies that it being Jesus, and this is incorrect. Please be informed that the Greek word “kurios” can be translated as either “lord” or “master”. So the correct translation for these Greek words is given by the New American Bible as in Figure 6 above.
Note 5: The image in Figure 7 is taken from ‘Word Study Greek-English New Testament” by Paul R. McReynolds, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois, 1998.
In short, we have given the facts which is supported by visual proofs to show that the words “I am” cannot make Jesus(P) as God, and the idea does not stand to the scrutiny, as the missionaries would like us to believe.
Instead of writing a full-scale biography of Jesus of Nazareth, I want to focus on some aspects of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth that are commonly overlooked by most Christians. Any attempt to reconstruct the historical Jesus (as distinct from the incarnate deity of ecclesiastical faith) needs to take into account all the recoverable data about Jesus, much of which has been ignored by many Christians because of its’ embarrassment to Christian orthodoxy. Jesus’ reported sayings in the Gospels are frequently subjected to tortuous exegesis by fundamentalist Christians to make them fit later church tradition. Paradoxically, the data has been critically examined by none other than Christian scholars themselves.
It is the time-honoured Christian practice to read the New Testament gospels through the perspective of centuries of later church tradition. This later tradition developed in a very different environment to the milieu of Second Temple Judaism. Certain titles and expressions which had been used of or by Jesus underwent a radical semantic shift, resulting (to give but one example) in a title such as ‘son of God‘ acquiring a totally new and non-Jewish meaning in the Hellenistic world of the third and fourth centuries. The Catholic Church came to redefine the ontology of the man from Nazareth into categories of Greek philosophy and metaphysics. Thus, the charismatic healer and prophet from Nazareth became a God. The doctrine of the Incarnation of God in Jesus has always scandalised Jews and, later, Muslims would also find it blasphemous, an unacceptable Christian dogma.
Western biblical scholarship since the Enlightenment has tried to strip away these ideological accretions and uncover, as much as possible, the real Jesus of history: Jesus the Messiah, a prophet of God. There is an extraordinary resemblance between the historical picture produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. This convergence has not gone unnoticed in recent works by New Testament scholars who see in it an exciting opportunity for rapprochement between the two Abrahamic faiths (I cite two examples in my conclusion below).
I want to explore four key issues that reveal crucial aspects of the teaching and life of Jesus that are commonly obscured or even suppressed by traditional Christian apologetics and piety – whether Evangelical or Roman Catholic.
N.B. There is a Glossary of unfamiliar terms at the end of this essay and Suggestions for Further Reading if you wish to explore the subject further.
The Key Issues
The key issues I will explore come under four chapter headings:
Chapter 1: The Jewish Law: Jesus did not declare all foods clean
Chapter 2: What Jesus taught about ‘being saved’, or inheriting eternal life (and what St Paul wrote)
Chapter 3: Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as predicting his own death: difficulties with taking this at face value
Chapter 4: Jesus did not claim to be the Creator of the universe
We will be covering these issues in the following sections.
Chapter 1: The Jewish Law — Jesus did not declare all foods clean
It is widely believed that Jesus taught and declared that all foods are clean, that is, it is permissible for his followers to consume every kind of meat. However, purported sayings of Jesus in Matthews’ gospel suggest otherwise.
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus is reported to have taught his disciples this crucial teaching:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven1
(All quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible)
Towards the end of his teaching ministry, eighteen chapters later, we are told Jesus said:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach2
When Jesus said this, he must have known that any Rabbi would say you could not eat pork, as it says in Leviticus 11:7-8:
And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
If you look at another New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles you will read that at a council held in Jerusalem, the disciples ruled that all believers must stay away from
Food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals (Acts 15:29)
Incidentally, St Paul is reported to have agreed with this decision. Blood is not to be eaten, nor the meat of strangled animals because they would have the blood still in them (see Leviticus 17:10-12)
For the meat to be fit for eating the blood must be properly drained out of the animal (see v 13). The disciples knew their Bible and acted accordingly.
Nevertheless, many Christians think that in the book of Acts the disciples were told to give up obeying the Law on unclean foods. To support this assumption they refer to Acts 10 where Peter has a vision, in which a voice tells him,
do not call anything impure that God has made clean (verse 15)
It is important to read this verse in its complete context. If you have a copy of the New Testament to hand, I recommend you read the book of Acts, chapter 10, verses 1-35.
If you have read the whole passage, you will see that this vision was not about clean and unclean foods, but about clean and unclean people. The voice from heaven told Peter that human beings should not be called ‘unclean’ just because they did not belong to Israel. Peter wondered about the meaning of the vision (vv. 17, 19). Then he explains what he understood to be the import of the vision:
He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. (Acts 10:28)
I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts: 10:34)
So it is evident that, contrary to what many Christians assume, Peter did not proclaim that all foods were now clean. Indeed, if we look at Acts 15 again, at the council of Jerusalem the disciples ruled that all believers must stay away from,
Food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals (Acts 15:29)
It may be of interest to note that these prohibitions are mentioned in the Qur’an too,
You are forbidden to eat carrion; blood; pig’s meat; any animal over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; any animal strangled, or anything sacrificed on idolatrous altars3
(All quotations are from The Qur’an: a new translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem published by Oxford University Press, 2004)
A Very Curious Phenomenon
I have not mentioned a very curious phenomenon so far. According to Mark’s Gospel 7:18-19, Jesus supposedly said this:
Don’t you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? For it doesn’t go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body. (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)
The words in parenthesis were added by Mark and were not spoken by Jesus.
An alert reader would have noticed that this statement directly contradicts the passages quoted above (Matthew, 5:17-20; 23:1-2; Acts, Chapters 10 and 15).
In these passages it is evident that the disciples were not told to abandon kosher food laws by Jesus and that they had to struggle with the difficult question of whether or not the Torah laws could be relaxed for converts (it is crucial to note that the issue was how the gentile converts should live, and not the disciples themselves who continued to observe the Torah).
Christian scholars have faced this problem with commendable honesty. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (ed. R. Brown et al, Prentice Hall, 1990) is a prestigious work of Roman Catholic biblical scholarship with contributions from top scholars in America and the UK.
Again the problem: If Jesus had been so explicit about the observance of Jewish food laws, why were there so many debates on this matter in the early church? (p. 612)
In historical fact Jesus did not abolish the ceremonial law as such since otherwise the struggles of the early church recorded in Galatians, Acts 10 and 15 would be unintelligible (p. 658)
Therefore, I would conclude that Mark has probably read the attitude of the church of his time and place back into the original sayings of Jesus. Mark is usually believed to have written his Gospel about 65-70AD for a non-Jewish audience, a generation after Jesus. The Hellenization of Jesus is already well underway!
The Plot Thickens!
Now this is not the end of the matter. There is a further complication to consider.
Three different positions are possible to adopt concerning Jesus’ real teaching about the Old Testament Law. They are:
i. Jesus completely abolished the OT law.
ul>In the light of the discussion so far we might be forgiven if we are tempted to dismiss this possibility straight away. But it is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:15. Paul says that Jesus,
Set aside in his flesh the law with its commands and its regulations
In Paul’s letter to the Romans 14:20 he says unequivocally:
All food is clean
In 1 Timothy 4:1-3 Paul (though most scholars do not think the apostle Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles, I assume Pauline authorship for arguments sakes) even condemns those people (James and the other apostles?) who order people to abstain from certain foods, and accuses them of abandoning the true faith and following demons!
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods.
Finally, as if it were not clear enough already, Paul in his letter to the Colossians 2:14 claims that Jesus
cancelled the written code, with its regulations…
ii. Jesus taught that the Torah was still to be followed in its entirety.
The Letter of James, to be found towards the end of the New Testament, assumes the continuing normativity of the law,
For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you become a law-breaker. 2:10-11
As we have seen even Jesus is quoted as saying that no one should think he came to abolish the law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). Furthermore, Jesus continues,
Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven Matthew (5:19)
So even the smallest command in the Torah should be adhered to.
However, paradoxically, even in Matthew’s Gospel we read of Jesus cancelling some Old Testament Laws.
The Law of Moses states in Deuteronomy 24:1,
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…
In Mathew 5:31 Jesus clearly cancels the Law about divorce and issues a new commandment to replace it,
It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery
iii. Jesus confirmed the continuing validity of Torah Law in general but abrogated some specific laws.
This view is a mediating position between positions i and ii above and makes best sense of all the evidence. Confirmation of the correctness of this interpretation is found in Holy Qur’an, a book sent by God to discern what is true and what is false in previous books. Jesus says,
I have come to confirm the truth of the Torah which preceded me, and to make some things lawful to you which used to be forbidden…(3:50)
Now, some readers might think this argument is a tendentious ploy to prove the Qur’an right. So it is instructive to reflect on the findings of Christian scholars who have wrestled with this problem:
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary makes the following observations:
The problem arises because the plain sense of the words is that Jesus affirms the abiding validity of the Torah; but this contradicts Paul (e.g. Gal 2:5, 16; Rom 3:21-31). Moreover no major Christian church requires observance of all 613 precepts of the OT law, (p.641)
If Matthew is right about Jesus in chapters 5 and 23 then:
There is a gap between the teaching here and the teaching and practice of the churches p.641
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 641) suggests that even if we deny the genuineness of Matthew 5:17-20,
The denial of the authenticity of 17, 19, and 20 does not make Jesus hold the same view as Paul.
The Commentary suggests that these verses,
Reflect the outlook of Jewish Christianity, which, as a separate movement, was eventually defeated by Paulinism [churches influenced by Paul] and died out, perhaps to be reborn in a different form as Islam. (Emphasis added) – p. 641.
This quotation is an acknowledgement from top biblical scholars that Islam has much in common with the practice of the earliest followers of Jesus.
Paul, as we know, had very different views.
As far as modern Christians are concerned, Paul won his fight and they follow him p.641
The authors of the Commentary hold the view that neither Matthew nor Paul is entirely correct. They admit,
There are contradictions within the New Testament on penultimate matters p.641
As we have seen, the Qur’an has provided us with the key to finding the authentic teaching of Jesus on the Law. As I discuss in the conclusion, recent studies have demonstrated the extraordinary resemblance between the historical picture of Jesus produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. How is this so? Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad via the archangel Gabriel, and intended as a guide for all times and places. Unlike the Bible we have today which contains Jesus’ words in an often corrupted and altered state, God has given mankind a book free from any errors, contradictions or alterations by man.
That said, I would like to reiterate that my discussion of the food laws in the Gospels has not been ‘tainted’ or derived through Qur’anic lenses. Putting the Qur’an aside and studying the Gospels according to the methodologies of historical enquiry – we would end up with a Jesus who has an uncanny resemblance with the Jesus presented by the Qur’an. Thus in the case of clean and unclean food, most scholars believe that the historical Jesus did not nullify the OT food laws. I recommend the discussion of this issue in The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders, pp. 218-223 (see my suggestions for further reading below).
(I am indebted to Shabir Ally, President of the Islamic Information and Da’wah Centre International, Canada, for various suggestions contained in his excellent pamphlet What God said about Eating Pork, Al-Attique Publishers Inc. Canada, Second Edition 2003).
Chapter 2: What Jesus taught about ‘being saved’, or inheriting eternal life; what St Paul later wrote about salvation
If the reader has followed the discussion thus far he or she will have some idea of the difficulties facing the student in attempting to uncover Jesus’ true message from the many retrospective changes made to Jesus’ teaching.
Here I will simply put side-by-side two answers to the following question: How is a human being to attain eternal life, that is, how are we saved? The first answer is given by Jesus and the second answer by St Paul. Fundamentalist Christians often put this vital question to Muslims. They tell Muslims that if they want to be saved they need only put their ‘faith in Jesus’. The reader can judge for himself if these Christians are being faithful to Jesus’ teaching or not.
In Mark’s Gospel 10:17-19 we read,
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher’, he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No-one is good – except God alone.
You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother
Here is St Paul’s answer to the same question in Romans 10:9.
If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved
The differences are startling. Jesus’ answer to the question about salvation focuses on obedience to the Torah. As a Prophet to the Jewish people, Jesus sees his faithfulness to God expressed in adherence to the Creator’s commands and precepts in the Torah.
For Paul, however, writing decades later, the Law itself has been abolished, and in place of faithfulness to the Creator, we are asked to put our trust in an event no human being witnessed – the alleged resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the ‘Lordship’ of Jesus.
Chapter 3: Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as predicting his own death: difficulties with taking this at face value
Did Jesus clearly announce his suffering and death to his disciples? Or did his arrest, crucifixion and reported resurrection take them completely by surprise? We will briefly survey these questions in this chapter.
The synoptic gospels contain six separate instances in which Jesus predicts his suffering and death, and four times he predicts his resurrection. Here are three examples from Mark and one from Luke.
And he charged them to tell no one about him. And 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 Mark 8:30-31
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the son of man should have risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant…And he said to them,…How is it written of the son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? Mark 9:9-10
But while they were all marvelling at everything he did, he said to his disciples, Let these words sink into your ears; for the son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men. But they did not understand this saying…and they were afraid to ask him about this saying. Luke 9:43-45
And they were on the road, going to Jerusalem…And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him saving, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise. Mark 10:32-34
Note the detailed prediction in Mark 10:32-34 (in bold) and how clear and unambiguous it is.
I wish to make the following observations on these passages:
1. According to the evangelists (with one exception, Matt. 12:40), all of the predictions were made during the final period of his life. They are all solemn in tone: ‘Let these words sink into your ears…’ They are not mysterious but expressed in plain language. There is no doubt that Jesus had put the disciples in the picture about soon to transpire events, at least six times.
2. Yet how did these same disciples react when the recently foretold events started to occur? At the critical time between his arrest and execution, absolutely no one seems to have remembered the repeated warnings concerning the events leading to the cross. All Jesus’ disciples fled when he was arrested (Mark 14:50). When Peter was confronted he denied having anything to do with Jesus or that he even knew him (Mark 14:66-71). None of the apostles (or his family) went with him to Golgotha, according to the Synoptic Gospels.
3. Jesus would certainly have had good grounds for believing that an attempt would be made on his life and that he may get killed. However, at the same time he prayed that God would save him from death. ‘Father, everything is possible with you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will‘ Mark 14:36
4. All the apostles were initially extremely reluctant to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Amazingly, after the death of Jesus and the women had returned from the tomb, the disciples ‘did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense’ Luke 24:11. The Greek word for nonsense is leros which literally means ‘silly nonsense’.
5. Would a group of people who had been assured in advance by their charismatic and prophetic teacher that the tragic events would be followed promptly by a happy ending have shown such deep disbelief? Even if we allow for the initial shock and fear caused by the arrest of Jesus at night, the apostles should surely have remembered the chain of events so often and so recently rehearsed before them by Jesus.
6. The evangelists had to provide some explanation for this curious phenomenon to ensure the credibility of their stories.
7. All the Gospels end up by laying the blame on the disciples themselves for failing to grasp or simply forgetting (!) the predictions of Jesus.
So we are faced with something of a historical dilemma:
Either Jesus did not, in fact, predict the events, and the weakness and disbelief of the disciples are quite natural and understandable.
Or he did, in fact, warn them, and the ignominious behaviour of every single one of the disciples is quite inexplicable!
Weighing up the pros and cons, at a distance of 2000 years, leads me to think that it is much more likely that the Evangelists invented the predictions and inserted them into their story (or it could also be that the predictions were fabricated prior to the composition of the Gospels and came to the authors though tradition), than all concerned should suddenly forget those clear, detailed and repeated warnings. Fabricated prophecies after the event are known to exist elsewhere in the Gospels. Matthew even went so far as to invent a prophecy about Jesus from the Old Testament: ‘he shall be called a Nazarene‘, see Matthew 2:23. There is no such passage anywhere in the Old Testament! Scholars call this genre of ‘creative’ writing pesher interpretation, and it was widely used by the teachers of the Qumran community in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We have seen that the final form of the Gospels is self-contradictory and occasionally bizarre. The apostles are portrayed as having no idea what rising from the dead meant (Mark 9:10), though historians are aware that the idea of resurrection was widely understood amongst 1st century Jews. The evangelists tried to excuse the disciples by saying that not only did they not understand Jesus, but also the meaning of his words was hidden from them.
In the attempt to give the Gospels some coherence and sense the evangelists make the apostles look extremely dense and dim-witted, hardly the reliable people Jesus would have chosen to continue his mission!
(I am indebted to Professor Geza Vermes, Director of the Forum for Qumran Research at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, for various suggestions contained in his book The Authentic Gospel of Jesus)
Chapter 4: Did Jesus claim to be the Creator of the universe?
The short and incontrovertible answer is No! The fact that later generations of Christians came to believe that Jesus is ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God’ (as stated in the Nicene Creed) is therefore in need of some explanation.
In this chapter, I will look at two historical phenomena which I hope will give us some understanding of this development. They are:
i) the traditional Christian belief that to confess Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ is to confess his deity, and to say that ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ means and always meant that Jesus is the pre-existent, second person of the Trinity, who ‘for us men and our salvation became incarnate’.
ii) An illuminating historical parallel to the divinization of Jesus: the divinization of the Buddha
i) The New Testament (NT) calls Jesus ‘the Son of God’. But what does this mean? It is important, if we wish to adopt a historical approach (and most Christians do not), to discover the significance of words and ideas in their original language, as the original speakers meant the original listeners to understand them. Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew, and spoken by most Palestinian Jews. Jesus’ Aramaic teaching (except for a dozen words that are still found in the gospels) has not been preserved.
In the years after Jesus was taken up to God, the early church spread quickly in the Greek-speaking (i.e. non-Jewish) world, and the gospels and letters that came to comprise the NT were all written down in Greek. It is important to grasp that this Greek NT is a ‘translation’ of the original thoughts and ideas of the Aramaic thinking and speaking Jesus, a translation not just into a totally different language but also a transplantation of the thought of the gospels into an utterly alien cultural and religious environment of the pagan Graeco-Roman world.
To discover the authentic teaching of Jesus, and what others believed about him, it is, therefore, necessary to be alert to any changes or developments in meaning arising from the transmission of ideas through the channel of Hellenistic culture.
Therefore, when we examine the term “son of God” in its original ‘context of meaning’ we make an interesting discovery. In Hebrew or Aramaic “son of God” is always used figuratively as a metaphor for a child of God, whereas in Greek addressed to Gentile Christians, brought up in a religious culture filled with gods, sons of gods and demigods, the NT expression tended to be understood literally as ‘Son of God’ (with a capital letter): in other words as someone possessing the same nature as God.
In the fourth century, the Catholic Church officially endorsed this new pagan idea at the Council of Nicea: Jesus was declared to be of the same ‘substance’ or ‘nature’ (the Greek word used was ousia) as the Deity. Pagan philosophy triumphed over the Jewish understanding of God.
The same transformation, or rather deformation of meaning occurred to another key term: ‘Lord‘. According to the gospels, the title ‘lord’ was regularly used as an address to Jesus during his ministry. In its Aramaic context, it was synonymous with ‘teacher’.
Later generations of Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians would completely alter this meaning: the Aramaic definition of ‘Lord’ = teacher became synonymous with the title of God himself: the Lord Jesus = the Lord your God. As noted NT scholar James Dunn comments, expressing the consensus view of New Testament scholars (including NT Wright who is much beloved of evangelicals),
The history of this confession of Jesus as Lord in earliest Christianity largely revolves around the question, How significant is the application of this title to Jesus? What role or status does this confession attribute to Jesus or recognises as belonging to Jesus?…The problem is that ‘lord’ can denote a whole range of dignity – from a respectful form of address as to a teacher or judge to a full title for God. Where do the early Christian references to the lordship of Jesus come within this spectrum? The answer seems to be that over the first few decades of Christianity the confession of Jesus as ‘Lord’ moved in overt significance from the lower end of the ‘spectrum of dignity’ towards the upper end steadily gathering to itself increasing overtones of deity.
We need not doubt that the Aramaic mari underlies the Greek kyrie (vocative)…Mar was used of the first century BC holy man Abba Hilkiah, presumably in recognition of the charismatic powers attributed to him. Moreover, ‘lord’ was largely synonymous with ‘teacher’ at the time of Jesus, and Jesus was certainly recognised to have the authority of a rabbi or teacher (Mark 9:5 etc). We can, therefore, say that the confession of Jesus as Lord was rooted in the ministry of Jesus to the extent that he was widely acknowledged to exercise the authority of a (charismatic) teacher and healer (cf. Mark 1:22,27).
Whether ‘Lord’ already had a higher significance for Jesus himself during his ministry depends on how we evaluate Mark 12:35-37:
‘While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:
‘ “The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
Until I put your enemies
Under your feet.”‘
David himself calls him “Lord”. How then can he be his son?’
Even if it contains an authentic word of the historical Jesus (as is quite possible) it needs only mean that he understood Messiah to be a figure superior to David in significance and especially favoured by Yahweh. It does not necessarily imply that he thought the Messiah was a divine figure (Psalm 110 after all probably referred to the king).
From: Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (emphasis in the original) pp.53-54.
So Dunn recognises that the title ‘lord’ originally denoted a human being. As the term began to be used in pagan contexts as the Gentile mission spread, where it was well established as a title for the cult deity in the mystery religions (especially Isis and Serapis), and also in Emperor worship – ‘Caesar is Lord’- a radical alteration of the meaning of the term occurred. Above all, St Paul advanced this change in meaning quite deliberately. He uses Old Testament texts that speak of Yahweh and applies them to Jesus (e.g. Romans 10:13). For Paul, ‘Lord Jesus’ had become a title of divinity. In a profound sense, Paul founded the religion of Christianity we know today.
(It is of interest to note that evangelical fundamentalists are bitterly resistant to these historical facts. Typically, they are simply ignored, perhaps in the hope that the evidence will just go away. I have noticed this reluctance to discuss these key issues in my debates with Christians. One of the most articulate spokesmen of Evangelicalism, Andy Bannister, is on record expressing his willingness to debate the historical Jesus, as the reader can see on my blog. However, and I regret to say this is quite typical of Evangelicals, he repeatedly refuses to engage the historical questions I survey in this paper. In reality, Bannister and his colleagues demonstrate no interest in serious debate at all. They advocate what they call a “confrontational” approach to Islam and Muslims, and are a serious menace to harmonious relations between people of different faiths.)
As time passed the title used exclusively by Jesus to describe himself, the ‘Son of man’, came to denote Jesus’ humanity in contrast to his divinity. So in the thought of second-century Catholic theologian Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons), the term ‘Son of God’ is interchangeable with ‘God the Son’. Most Christians today, in total ignorance of the historical transmutation of the meaning of these words, still think this way.
The term ‘son of man’ is a storm centre of New Testament scholarship, and the debate is quite technical. There is no consensus as to its meaning for Jesus or the Judaism of his day. James D.G. Dunn in his magisterial survey of the issue in Christology in the Making gives his considered view: the ‘thought of the Son of Man as a pre-existent heavenly figure [Dunn has Daniel chapter 7 in mind] does not seem to have emerged in Jewish or Christian circles before the last decades of the first century AD'(p 96). I refer readers to the discussion in Dunn’s book and The Authentic Gospel of Jesus by Geza Vermes, chapter 7, ‘Son of Man sayings’.
A popular new evangelistic course in the UK called Christianity Explored provides participants with an introductory book about Jesus. It runs courses all over the English speaking world. The course is unashamedly conservative evangelical in theology and adopts a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. It repeats the claim that the terms ‘son of God’ and ‘God the Son’ are simply interchangeable titles. It saddens me that sincere seekers after spiritual truth are being misled into an uncritical fundamentalism, or far worse, the blasphemous worship of the Messiah. It is salutary to recall that Jesus is reported to have said in Mark’s Gospel, Why do you call me good? No-one is good – except God alone.
The perils of failing to ask the following simple question are incalculable: what would those who first used this language about Jesus expect their hearers and readers to understand by the phrase? (Dunn, Christology, p.13). The answers, detailed in this paper, will show that Christians need to re-evaluate their understanding of who Jesus was. If Christians would undertake this difficult but necessary task, they will find that the results will bear a striking resemblance to the Jesus of the Qur’an, and that the two great faiths would be in substantial agreement.
ii) We can see a comparable religious impulse behind this startling divinization of Jesus by looking at some developments in India at about the same time. The Buddha had died at the end of the sixth century BCE. A deep love developed for him and a need to contemplate his enlightened humanity became so strong that in the first century BCE the first statues of the Buddha appeared in NW India. Buddhist spirituality became focused on the image of the Buddha, enshrined in statues, despite devotion to a being outside of the self being quite different to the interior discipline advocated by Gautama.
Devotion to Jesus arose in a similar way, in disregard of his clear teaching about wholehearted love of God and neighbour. As the Gospels unmistakably demonstrate, Jesus invited people to turn in heartfelt repentance and obedience to God, never to himself. Later Christians inverted Jesus’ message by announcing the worship of the proclaimer rather than the God he proclaimed.
As I mentioned in my introduction, recent studies have demonstrated the extraordinary convergence between the historical picture of Jesus produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. This similarity has not gone unnoticed in two significant recent works by New Testament scholars which were published in the last twelve months. Both celebrate this remarkable correspondence. Jeffrey J. Butz is Professor of World Religions at Penn State University and an ordained Lutheran Minister. His book is entitled The Brother of Jesus & the Lost Teachings of Christianity. I highly recommend this book. The other work is by James D Tabor, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. His book The Jesus Dynasty (published by HarperElement 2006) is a study of Jesus and the New Testament. His comments are a fitting conclusion to my study:
Muslims do not worship Jesus, who is known as Isa in Arabic, nor do they consider him divine, but they do believe that he was a prophet or messenger of God and he is called the Messiah in the Qur’an. However, by affirming Jesus as Messiah they are attesting to his messianic message, not his mission as a heavenly Christ.
There are some rather striking connections between the research I have presented in The Jesus Dynasty and the traditional beliefs of Islam. The Muslim emphasis on Jesus as messianic prophet and teacher is quite parallel to what we find in the Q source, in the book of James, and in the Didache. To be the Messiah is to proclaim a message, but it is the same message as that proclaimed by Abraham, Moses and all the Prophets.
Islam insists that neither Jesus nor Muhammad brought a new religion. Both sought to call people back to what might be called “Abrahamic faith.” This is precisely what we find emphasised in the book of James. Like Islam, the book of James, and the teaching of Jesus in Q, emphasise doing the will of God as a demonstration of one’s faith. Also, the dietary laws of Islam, as quoted in the Qur’an, echo the teaching of James in Acts 15 almost word for word: “Abstain from swine flesh, blood, things offered to idols, and carrion” (Qur’an 2:172).
The Christianity we know from the Q source, from the letter of James, from the Didache, and some of our other surviving Jewish-Christian sources represent a version of the Jesus faith that can actually unite, rather than divide, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. If nothing else, the insights revealed through an understanding of the Jesus dynasty can open wide new and fruitful doors of dialogue and understanding among these three great traditions that have in the past considered their views of Jesus to be so sharply contradictory as to close off the discussion. (pp. 287-288)
And only God knows best!
Appendix: What the Qur’an says about Jesus
The Qur’an describes the state of Christianity and its doctrines as they were in the seventh century, a thousand years before the Protestant Reformation. Mostly, the Qur’an accepts and promulgates many teachings that are accepted in Christianity. Jesus holds a particularly high place in Islam. Muslims accept the virgin birth but do not see it as a sign of his divinity (after all Adam and Eve did not have a human father either). Jesus did many miraculous signs, raising the dead, curing blindness and healing lepers. But these are not attributed in the Qur’an to Jesus as God, but as powers given to Jesus from God. The Bible confirms this important distinction, ‘People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.’ Acts 2:22.
(Incidentally, Muslims do not accept Paul as an authentic interpreter of the teaching of Jesus).
The Holy Qur’an says:
People of the book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God, His word, directed to Mary, a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’ – stop this, that is better for you – God is only one God, He is far above having a son, everything in the heavens and earth belongs to Him and He is the best one to trust. (Qur’an, 4:171)
Suggestions For Further Reading
A History of God by Karen Armstrong, published by Vintage 1999.
From Abraham to the present day: the 4000-year quest for God. An enlightening and intellectually challenging book, Armstrong offers many valuable insights. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, various editions.
Though James focuses mainly on Western spiritual experiences, this classic work reminds us of the staggering diversity of religious experience. A useful antidote to exclusivist conceptions of the Divine.
The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders, published by Penguin Books 1995. America’s most distinguished scholar in the field of Jesus-research, he provides a generally convincing picture of the real Jesus, set within the world of Palestinian Judaism.
The Changing Faces of Jesus by Geza Vermes, published by Penguin Books 2001. Vermes gives an equal voice to both the New Testament and non-biblical Jewish writings to uncover the historical figure of Jesus hidden beneath the oldest gospels, showing how and why a charismatic holy man was elevated into the divine figure of Christ. Essential reading.
The Authentic Gospel of Jesus by Geza Vermes, published by Penguin Books 2004. The first Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford, he almost single-handedly brought to the attention of New Testament scholarship the significance of Jesus as a Jew.
Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation by James D.G.Dunn, Second Edition, published by SCM Press 1989. This classic text is crucial reading for scholars and public alike. An advanced work, but it repays the effort.
Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity by James D.G.Dunn, Third Edition, published by SCM Press 2006. Dunn is an author who simply must be read by all serious students of early Christianity. Like his other work on Christology mentioned above, it assumes the reader is familiar with the basic critical issues of NT scholarship.
The Brother of Jesus & the Lost Teachings of Christianity by Jeffrey J. Butz
Escaping from Fundamentalism by James Barr, published by SCM Press 1990.
Barr is vital reading for those trapped in the rigid world of fundamentalism. I owe him a personal debt of gratitude. Sadly, Professor Barr passed away a few months ago.
What God said about Eating Pork, & Issues for Muslim/Christian Dialogue, by Shabir Ali, published by Al-Attique Publishers Inc, 2003. A short work (32 pages) written with clarity and intelligence, and unusually for a Muslim apologist, Ali has a firm grasp of the New Testament material.
Understanding The Qur’an, Themes and Style by Muhammad Abdel Haleem, published by I.B. Tauris 2005. The tenets of Islam cannot be understood without a proper understanding of the Qur’an. This new book by a professor of Islamic Studies at London University is accessible and erudite.
The Messenger, The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad by Tariq Ramadan, published by Allen Lane 2007. The latest biography of the Prophet Muhammad in English, this book is destined, in my opinion, to become the standard popular work about this astonishing and much-misunderstood man. Highly recommended.
Apologetics a branch of theology devoted to the rational defence of Christianity.
Buddha (Hindi) The enlightened one. The title applies to the numerous men and women who have attained nirvana, but it is often used of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism
Enlightenment, the an 18th century European movement marked by a belief in universal human progress and the importance of reason and the sciences.
Incarnation the embodiment of God in human form, especially of Jesus.
Islam self-surrender to God. The surrender of heart and will and mind to God is a basic principle of every authentic religion.
Ontology a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being
Second Temple Judaism
Synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke
Torah the law of Moses as outlined in the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy
“Does the Bible use language not fitting for God?”
This was the question that a missionary rhetorically posed to his readers in an amusing but vain attempt to “defend” the inappropriate and unnatural language of Ezekiel 23. The funny thing that this author have noticed about his whole “defense” (and which also prompted this author to write this short commentary) is that even though he openly accuse Muslims of being “ignorant” about the matter, he reduced the whole passage of Ezekiel 23 to a link and a short summary. Is the missionary acting “prudish” in trying to dismiss the whole issue away so casually? It certainly seems so to this author.
Ezekiel 23 And Its Problems
We wish to settle the matter once and for all by publishing in full the scans from the whole chapter of Ezekiel 23 so as readers may understand the Muslim objection to this passage. Please be advised that we do not recommend anyone who have not yet reached the age of puberty to read this disgusting and sordid passage.
The missionary has also made the accusation that:
“[i]t is only ignorance of the inspired scriptures that results in such outragious [sic] claim.”
On the contrary, we object to the passage not because of its main message, but because of its erotic imagery and inappropriate language. Furthermore, it is described as a historical event and the reader would unconsciously form imagery which is unworthy of being attributed to God Almighty.
We would like to ask the reader: would it be appropriate for a parent to rent a pornographic video and show it to his children below 8 years old, while all the time saying, “Do not commit fornication, it is an evil and a sin to do so”? Would anyone in their right mind do such a thing? This is what the missionary ignorantly expects us to believe.
Missionary Objections And The Response
He also expects us to swallow the idea that the so-called “strong imagery” of the following verse of the Qur’an is as objectionable as the erotic passage of Ezekiel 23:
“And do not spy, neither backbite one another; would any of you like to eat the flesh of his brother dead?” (Qur’an, 49:12)
The Qur’an in this verse does not give a detailed imagery of how one eats the flesh of another. Rather, it simply analogises backbiting to the act of cannibalism. It does not contain any objectionable language, it does not describe how cannibalism is attempted in detail and most certainly it does not emit erotic imagery not befitting of God Almighty.
In conclusion, the Muslim objection to Ezekiel 23 is a valid one. The Christian missionary should explain to his readers what benefit does the language of Ezekiel 23 offer, apart from inciting its readers to submit to their erotic feelings to commit rape and fornication?
Our Challenge To The Missionary
It is also amusing that the missionary decided to quote the Prophet(P) and then “conveniently” disparage the late Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, the doyen of Muslim responses to Christian missionary attacks, of blasphemy. Our response to his allegation is that we challenge this missionary to educate his own children on the evils of fornication by asking them to act out the event live in a play or school drama, word for word as per recorded in Ezekiel 23. I would be most happy to lend a hand in writing out such a script and will allow to let his own children to be the principal actors in such a play or school drama for Sunday school. Certainly, this is not an “outrageous” demand if the missionary himself does not consider this to be “blasphemy” or find any problems with the text of Ezekiel 23. This challenge is also open to his fellow missionaries.
Until the missionary or his cohorts have the courage to meet our above challenge, we as Muslims will continue to criticise the inappropriate and steamy language of Ezekiel 23, and object to its unnatural imagery. Such a passage is most certainly not “inspired” from God Almighty.
And only God knows best!
The author would like to take this opportunity to thank Brother Shah Kirit bin Kakulal Govinji for his input on the Christian missionary response to the Muslim criticism of Ezekiel 23.
In the first chapter of Matthew we come across the following text:
“Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying: Behold, a virgin shall be with a child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)
According to the Christian authors, the prophet stating this was Isaiah as in his book he has been quoted as saying:
“Thus, the Lord Himself shall give thou a sign: the virgin shall be with a child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.“(Isaiah 7:14)
The authors of the New Testament have often quoted passages from the Old Testament, claiming such statements to be prophecies fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The number of such quoted passages is actually very high. Among the evangelists, Matthew is the one having made this phenomenon characteristic to his Gospel.
The prophecy of Immanuel (sometimes romanised as Emmanuel) carries a very important place in Christian theology. Every Christian knows about the prophecies of the books of Psalms, Isaiah, and Daniel related to the childhood, life, mission, and death of Jesus. To every Christian, these prophecies are the clear evidence of the truth of Gospels and mission of Jesus in general.
The problem is that according to the Bible, there exists true prophecies as well as false ones. Hence the question arises on the necessary criteria to distinguish a false prophecy from a true one.
Criterion For Prophecy
Some of the criteria that we shall use to examine the “prophecy” mentioned above are as follows:
For a passage to be considered a prophecy, it must have the form of a prophecy. In general, the prophecies have a characteristic introductory part, distinguishing them from any other non-prophetic passage. The most frequent forms are as follows: “And it will come to pass that…”; “And when the promise and will of the Lord comes…”; “It won’t get long and…”. If one quotes as being a prophecy fulfilled centuries later in Jesus the words, “Amon was twenty two years when he began to reign and he kept his throne for two years in Jerusalem…” (2 Kings 21:19), his claim would properly be considered ungrounded, simply because of the fact that the quoted passage does not constitute a prophecy, as its form does not lead us to accept it as such.
If any author quotes a passage from the Old Testament and during its citation he changes the text, thereby alienating its original meaning to adapt it to a prearranged aim, we would then be able to affirm that this author is not divinely-inspired and that the passage quoted by him is not a prophecy foretelling the person or the event claimed by the author.
If the quoted passage is inaccurately extrapolated from the context, gaining a meaning that differs from its original, we would be able to affirm this to be a manipulation accomplished by the author and for this reason, the so-called prophecy cannot be true. Related to this matter, the theologian Mike Brown in one of the subjects treated in his work “Interpretation and Exegesis”, says:
The issue of Biblical interpretation is very important. Sometimes it is very easy to find in the Bible a base to support a special teaching simply by taking a verse out of the context and connecting it with another verse found somewhere else in the Bible, and uniting both these passages one can create a new doctrine having nothing to do with the verses if they were taken in the appropriate contexts. As someone has said, “it is easy to make the Bible say anything we want it to say.1
Now let us examine whether the above-mentioned criteria have been respected in the issue of the Immanuel prophecy.
Has The Immanuel Prophecy Been Fulfilled?
In respect of the first criterion, the text applies it completely. Whoever reading the passage of Isaiah 7:14 will agree to be able to see a prophecy in it.
But the second criterion has not been respected. As we shall notice in continuation, the evangelist has changed the text of Isaiah 7:14, adapting it to his personal aims. The Hebrew word, used in the passage of Isaiah, is ‘almah, meaning “young woman”, while the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as Septuagint (LXX), offers the erroneous term parthenos, meaning “virgin”. The evangelist, using the Septuagint in his quoting of Isaiah, translates the Hebrew word almah as “virgin”. Thus, he gains a prophecy on Maria’s giving birth to Jesus while being virgin. In fact, the word “virgin” in the Hebrew language is bethulah and not almah. For this reason, the translation of Septuagint is false.
According to tradition, Matthew was knowledgeable in Hebrew. However, he does not refer to the Hebrew text but instead supports his claim on the Greek text, because the Hebrew does not agree with his pre-conceived intentions. In fact, the variation of the young woman mentioned in the Hebrew text and that of the virgin mentioned in the Greek text of Septuagint and Mathew have stimulated sharp exegetic debates beginning since the second century between Justin Martyr and the Hebrews of his time, until the debates provoked by the publishing of the biblical translation named RSV in the year 1952, which brought in the passage of Isaiah 7:14 the use of the word “young woman”. This caused a harsh reaction from the Christian fundamentalists in the United States, where they publicly burned copies of this translation, claiming that this work denied the virgin conception of Jesus.2
Hebrews and Christians alike believed that Biblical prophets had foretold and prophesied events of a distant future. Christians especially hade made the idea that the Biblical prophets had foreseen everything about the life of Jesus as an important part of their belief. An example of this is the prophecy of Immanuel, written almost 700 years before the birth of Jesus. But related to this, the renowned theologian Raymond Brown warns that “this conception of prophecy as a prediction of the distant future has disappeared from most serious scholarship today, and it is widely recognized that the NT “fulfilment” of the OT involved much that the OT writers did not foresee at all. The OT prophets were primarily concerned with addressing God’s challenge to their own times. If they spoke about the future, it was in broad terms of what would happen if the challenge was accepted or rejected. While they sometimes preached a “messianic” deliverance (i.e. deliverance through one anointed as God’s representative, thus a reigning king or even a priest), there is no evidence they foresaw with precision even a single detail in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.”3
Was It “Virgin” Or “Young Woman”?
A large number of Christian and Jewish theologians involved in the study of Semitic languages have affirmed that the exact translation of the text of Isaiah 7:14 is not “virgin”, but “young woman”. To prove this, we shall mention some of their statements.
The well-known theologian Bruce Metzger, in a Biblical commentary prepared by him in co-authorship with E. Murphy, states:
Young woman, Hebrew ‘almah, feminine of ‘elem, young man (1 Sam 17:56; 20:22); the word appears in Gen 24:43; Ex 2:8; Ps 68:25, and elsewhere, where is translated “young woman,” “girl,” “maiden”.4
Samuel Davidson writes in one of his works:
Almah is not the proper term for the Virgin Mary, according to the opinion of those who believe in her real and true virginity; because it simply means a young, marriageable woman.Bethulah denotes a virgin properly so called. Prov. XXX.19 shows that almah refers to others than virgins. There is no reason for restricting it to an unmarried woman. Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, rightly render it neanis. Had the Messiah’s birth been intended, surely the true term for virgin would have been employed.5
Another Biblical commentary on Matthew 1:23 states:
A virgin: Hebrew ‘alma does not normally mean anything more than a young woman.6
According to a notorious Biblical commentary, Isaiah 7:14 must be translated as follows:
Behold, a [or “the”] young woman shall conceive and [or “has conceived and shall”] bear a son. Young woman, “maiden,” is the only correct translation of the Hebrew ‘almah, as is recognized by Aq., Symm., and Theod., who render it by neanis. Virgin is taken from the Greek word parthenos, found in the LXX [the Greek Old Testament Septuagint], although this corresponds rather to the Hebrew word bethulah. The quotation in Matthew 1:23 is taken from the LXX, not from the Hebrew, and is one of a number of such quotations used by the author of that Gospel [Matthew] to show that the O.T.[Old Testament] foreshadowed the life of Jesus Christ. That he uses these without particular regard to their meaning in their original context is clear from the quotation of Hos. 11:1 in Matt. 2:15. This later “messianic interpretation” is derived from the conviction that the messianic hope had been fulfilled in Jesus. This conviction we may firmly retain, while recognizing that the N.T.’s use of Isa. 7:14 is based on an inaccurate translation of the Hebrew text, which must not prejudice our interpretation of this verse in its original setting. The word ‘almah means “a young woman of a marriageable age”, possibly a virgin (cf. Gen. 24:43; Exod. 2:8; Prov. 30:19); if Isaiah had wished to make clear that he had in mind a miraculous virgin birth, he would have had to use the specific term bethûlah.7
Ch. Guignebert, professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Sorbonne, affirms:
Orthodox theologians have made every effort to prove that ha-almah might mean virgin, but without success.8
Based on the above-mentioned statements, we can reach the conclusion that Mathew, in his citation of Isaiah 7:14, has not been loyal to the text in Hebrew, but has transformed the latter to suit to his personal intentions.
The exact translation of Isaiah 7:14 is thus the following:
“Thus, the Lord Himself shall give thou a sign: a young woman shall be with a child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”9
As it can be clearly seen, the correctly translated text does not mention any supernatural birth by a virgin, while the Septuagint text seems to lead exactly to such a conclusion. For this reason, the evangelist prefers to follow the Greek translation, skipping the original Hebrew.
But various theologians argue that the Septuagint translators, in spite of this erroneous translation, did not aim to prove the virgin birth of Messiah. Among them, we may mention Raymond Brown, who argues that the Septuagint translators, by the words “the virgin shall be with a child” understood an actually virgin woman that, in completely natural ways, after the male intervention of her legal husband, will give birth to Immanuel. These translators, according to Brown, thought that the sign to be given to Ahaz was not related to a woman already pregnant during the articulation of this prophecy, but to a virgin woman that would give birth to Immanuel in a normal way. Thus, Immanuel would be her first-born son.
Brown continues reasoning that for the Hebrew text (Masoretic MT) and for the Septuagint (LXX) alike, the sign given by Isaiah is not concentrated in the way (how) of Immanuel’s birth, but in the providential timing whereby a child who would be a sign of God’s presence with His people was to be born precisely when that people’s fortunes had reached their nadir.
The following is an undeniable truth stated by Raymond Brown:
Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek of Isaiah 7:14 referred to the type of virginal conception of which Mathew writes, and his Christian use of the passage has added a great deal to the literal meaning.10
Thus, Matthew has transformed and interpreted arbitrarily the Hebrew and the Greek text alike.
This prophecy doesn’t fulfil the third criterion also. Matthew, as we shall see, has extrapolated from its context the passage of Isaiah 7:14 and in a forced and arbitrary way have wished to apply it to Mary and Jesus.
Examining The Immanuel Prophecy
Let us now examine the passage in brief. The Aramean King Rezin of Damascus (Syria) and the king Pekah of Izrael (Ephraim: the Northern Kingdom) organized a revolt against the superpower of the time: Assyria. The king Ahaz refused to unite with them and for this reason, they turned against him, invested Jerusalem and tried to dethrone him and bring a vassal in the throne of Judah. To save himself, King Ahaz decided to ask the support of the King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. At this point, Isaiah forbade him to do this, because he knew quite well that after the Assyrian king’s routing the enemies of Judah, they would also reduce Judah to vassalage. The king acted this way, but the danger of being routed by his enemies was still great.
All this was happening during the years 735-734 B.C., and King Ahaz with his people was very afraid. God then sent Isaiah to ensure them that these “two kings” would not bring to the end of their invasion. The most interesting part of this account, at least for us, comes when God wishes to give a “sign” to calm the king Ahaz. But Ahaz doesn’t wish to provoke God and thus he refuses to ask for any sign by Him. God then insists on making Isaiah say:
“Thus, the Lord Himself shall give thou a SIGN: a YOUNG WOMAN shall be with a child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat cream and honey until he learns to reject the evil and to choose the good. But before the child learns to reject the evil and choose the good, the country through fear because of his two kings, shall be abandoned.” (Isaia 7:14-16)
As we can clearly see, this prophecy has been fulfilled during the life of Ahaz and not centuries later, as Mathew wishes to make us believe, because the given sign aimed to calm the king Ahaz and his people by their fearing of their enemies. After God said to Ahaz to ask for a sign showing that He was with him and his people and after the king’s refusing to provoke God, then God Himself took the initiative and promised to Ahaz the birth of Immanuel. Before this child reached his maturity, the kings terrorising the people of Ahaz would get ruined. And the kings fearing Ahaz were routed many centuries before the birth of Jesus.
The information that this child would be fed with cream and honey until learning to reject the evil and prefer the good, is another element identifying this child with the situation that Judah was actually undergoing; cream and honey instead of the common food of an agricultural population formed the subsistence of the people whose land was waste. Such human forms put the child in the period when this prophecy was fulfilled. “Applied to the Messiah, it is superfluous and unsuitable.”11
This means that the prophecy was fulfilled many times before the birth of Jesus.12 Thus, there is no place in this prophecy for Jesus and his revered mother.
CH. Guignebert affirms that:
The prediction has a much more immediate bearing, and it is precisely for the purpose of indicating its speedy fulfilment that the author makes his comparison. It is required only the time necessary for a child to be conceived, born, and brought to the beginning of understanding before Jahveh will crush the enemies of Judah. It is not the birth of the child which is emphasized by the prophet, but the happy issue for which the king is waiting, and of which he may now, relying upon the comparison given him, confidently-estimate the approaching date. The child in question is probably the same one referred to again by Isaiah in VIII.3: “Then I went in unto the prophetess, and she conceived and bare a son.”13
Another reality clearly demonstrating that the inhabitants of Israel of the time expected this prophecy to be fulfilled soon, during the period of troubles, is related to the fact that many women of that time named their children Immanuel.14 And of course none of them had given birth to her child in a state of virginity and without any male intervention.
Samuel Davidson states:
A prophecy of Christ’s birth seven hundred years afterwards, could have been no sign of the promise made to Ahaz. That promise was one of encouragement. It announced the speedy deliverance of Judah from her enemies. The confidence of Ahaz and his people depended on the sign or pledge. Hence it must have been something immediate, preceding the event or thing signified. Or, if it followed the deliverance or event itself, which formed the subject of the promise, it could not have fulfilled its purpose as a sign, unless it happened not long after, certainly in the time of the person to whom it was given. The promise of immediate deliverance to Ahaz might thus be confirmed by an appeal to a posterior event, but not to one long posterior as Alexander affirms. Sign to be verified by future events were given, as we know from Ex. Iii. 12 and Is. XXXVII.30; but there is a dissimilarity in them and the present case. They happened very soon, and so the signs were verified to Moses and Hezekiah respectively -the persons for whom they were intended. But here, the sign was not verified till centuries after Ahaz and his contemporaries. It was, therefore, no sign, in reality, to the person to whom it was given. The remoteness of the sign divests it of its use as such; for it is absurd to say, with Alexander, that it was better in proportion to its distance. How could it be good or better to Ahaz, long after he was dead? The danger from which he feared destruction, was impending, and he needed something to meet it immediately.15
Being faced with such impassable difficulties, some Christian theologians have tried to save at any cost this prophecy, conjecturing absurdly and arbitrarily that it has a double fulfilment. The first fulfilment occurred within the period of Ahaz, as mentioned above, and the second happened in the time of Jesus, with his miraculous birth.16
Samuel Davidson, commenting on this hypothesis, says:
The hypothesis of a double sense should be very cautiously assumed, if assumed at all. It is one that is still sub judice. The best interpreters are against its admission as unauthorized, or contrary to the true principles of grammatical interpretation. And we are now inclined to agree with them, perceiving the peculiar theory of inspiration out of which it has arisen to be unfounded. One sense alone seems to have been intended by the sacred writers, though their words may admit of many applications. We refuse assent therefore to this interpretation of the verse because its basis is precarious.17
We will not dwell on analysing such an absurd theory created by desperate apologists, but we will mention the affirmation of a well-known Biblical dictionary, where is stated as follows:
In Mt. 1:23, Is. 7:14 is quoted as a foreshadowing of the virgin birth of Jesus. The question has been raised whether this identification of Immanuel with Jesus was in the mind of Isaiah himself, or made by the evangelist either erroneously, or by way of appropriating the words of an ancient oracle as suitable to his purpose, but not with the intention of committing their original author to his interpretation of them. The difficulties in the way of taking it to be the primary intention of Isaiah to foretell the virgin birth of Jesus are inseparable. The meaning of his phraseology is so palpably fulfilled in the circumstances of his own day that as remote a reference as this to the birth of Jesus seems exegetically impossible. On the other hand, all interpretations, which find in the reference to Immanuel a double sense i.e. a first intention to speak of a child that might be borne in his own days and secondary one to predict the virgin birth of Jesus, are artificial and arbitrary. They have the appearance of ingenious devices to escape a difficulty rather than natural explanations of the fact of the case.18
This may lead to the following question: if the child that would be called Immanuel was not Jesus, then who was he?
Who Was The Real Immanuel?
On this issue, the Christian theologians have offered various answers. We shall mention some of them here.
Who, than, was the maiden referred to? “The maiden” may be general-“a certain maiden”-but since the sign would have to be one which would come to the attention of Ahaz, either this means that young women will be bearing children and calling them “Immanuel”, or it refers to a young women well known to both king and prophet, the wife of either (perhaps a new wife of Ahaz, since the LXX, Aq., Symm., and Theod. read here “thou shalt call his name”)19
An Italian translation of the Bible containing many commentaries, the result of a work of more than 90 experts in various Biblical fields, answers this question as follows:
A young woman: the Hebrew word translated this way means a woman having reached the age of marriage; most probably the question is related to the young woman of Ahaz, the mother of the future king Hezchia.20
This is also affirmed by one of the most famous Catholic Biblical commentaries in the world, that is related to the identity of the woman giving birth to Immanuel relates in the page 235:
This is best understood as a wife of Ahaz; the child promised will guarantee the dynasty’s future (note again “the house of David” in v 13; cf. v 2) and for this reason can be called Immanuel (“with us is God”).21
Another renowned Biblical commentary states:
In the contest of the quotation in Isaiah (Is. 7:10-17), it seems that the woman referred to may have been a wife of King Ahaz. Lxx translated the word by the Greek parthenos (‘virgin’) for reasons which are uncertain. There was no expectation of a virgin birth in Israel, and it is clear that for Matthew the fact leads on to the prophecy rather than vice versa.22
We conclude this passage by quoting Raymond Brown, who has summarised the interpretations of modern theologians related to the text of Isaiah in the following points:
It was to the wicked King Ahaz (c.a. 735-715 B.C.) that Isaiah spoke of the oracle as mentioned in 7:14. It was intended as a sign to this disbelieving monarch during the Syro-Ephraimite war of 734 and must refer to something that took place during that year or shortly thereafter.
The child to be born was not the Messiah, for messianism had not yet developed to the point of expecting a single future king (footnote 9, §3). Scholars are not agreed on the identity of the child, but at most, it may refer to the birth of a Davidic prince who would deliver Judah from its enemies. An ancient Jewish interpretation, known to Justin (Dialogue Lxvii 1) identified the child as Hezekiah, Ahaz’s son and successor, one of the few truly religious monarchs of the House of David.
The word ‘almâ, used to describe the woman, normally describes a young girl who has reached the age of puberty and it is thus marriageable. It puts no stress on her virginity, although de facto, in the light of Israelite ethical and social standards, most girls covered by the range of this term would be virgins.23
See Bratcher, “Study”, for an accurate summary of the immense literature on this question. ‘Almâ is used only nine times in the Hebrew OT, and two passages demonstrate how poorly it would underline virginity: In Cant 6:8 it refers to a woman of the king’s harem, and in Prov. 30:19 an ‘almâ is an object of a young man’s sexual attention. We have no clear instance in the OT of ‘almâ being applied to a woman already married so that Martin Luther could still win the bet of 100 florins he was willing to make on that point. However, there is a Ugaritic text (Keret 128, II, 21-22) that puts the cognate word ġlmt in poetic parallelism (and thus rough equivalence) with ’att, wife. The closeness of the two languages raises the possibility that in the Hebrew as well, a young wife might be called an ’almâ. Although it does not have the clinical precision of virgo intacta, the Hebrew word betûla is the normal word for a virgin (Ezek. 23:1-8 and Joel 1:8 are debatable). The reference to a betûla giving birth in the “Hymn to Nikkal” (Ugaritic text 77, line 5) is now generally discounted as an incorrect reading, although line 7 still has the interesting: (“Behold, the ‘alma will give birth to a son”).
For similar statements see also CH. Guignebert, Jesus, University Books, New York, 1956; p. 123.)
4. The presence of the definite article, “the young girl”, makes it likely that Isaiah was referring to someone definite whose identity was known to him and to King Ahaz, perhaps someone whom the king had recently married and brought into the harem. The proposal that the ‘almâ was Isaiah’s own wife, “the prophetess” mentioned in 8:3, is most unlikely; for the fact that she had already borne Isaiah a son old enough to walk with him (7:3) makes such a designation for her implausible.
5. From the Hebrew participle construction, it is not possible to know whether Isaiah meant that the ‘almâ was already pregnant or would become pregnant. The birth, however, was almost certainly future; yet even in that judgment, we are hampered by the temporal vagueness of the Hebrew conjugations.
Raymond Brown, concluding his presentation of the above-mentioned points, wrote:
The Masoretic Text (MT) of Isa.7:14 does not refer to a virginal conception in distant future. The sign offered by the prophet was the imminent birth of a child, probably Davidic, but naturally conceived, who would illustrate God’s providential care for his people. The child would help to preserve the House of Davidic and would thus signify that God was still “with us.24
We can state with certainty that the text of Isaiah does not contain any prophecy of a virgin birth to be fulfilled centuries later. Matthew, taking arbitrarily and in a forced way the passage of Isaiah out of its true context, has misused it trying to gain a prophecy on Mary’s giving miraculously birth to Jesus. Our analysis is aimed at showing the dishonest methods used by the evangelist and we believe that we have reached our goal.
What forbids then to the Christian theologians and simple professors of Christianity to accept such a reality? What hinders them from accepting such clear truth? In normal circumstances, the only factor hindering this is dogmatism. The phenomenon of dogmatism does not allow one to look at the facts clearly, it blinds the eyes and hardens the hearts. After all what we have shown above, look how ridiculous their claims now sound in a Protestant Biblical commentary:
It is clear, however, that in the judgement of most exegetes the translation given in the KJV is inexact, and has been made the basis for views which the Hebrew text cannot support. Modern criticism may protest against the use of this verse in support of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth; it may deny that this is a prophecy of the Messiah: but nothing can dissociate it in the minds of devout believers from the birth of our Lord, and the beautiful and beloved name Immanuel is forever the title of Jesus Christ to his disciples.25
And only God knows best!
The author is the director of “Erasmus”, Centre for Studies on Comparative Religion, Albania.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 876 [↩]
An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Samuel Davidson, Vol. III, 1863, p. 77-78; see also The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990, p. 235 [↩]
The New Bible Commentary Revised, Edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer, A.M. Stibbs, D.J. Wiseman, Eerdmans Publishing, Michigan 1970, p. 818 [↩]
The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, edited by George Arthur Buttrick, Nashville, NT: Abingdon, 1956, p. 218 [↩]
CH. Guignebert, Jesus, University Books, New York, 1956, p. 123; see also “The Text of the Old Testament, Second Edition, by Ernst Wurthwein, translated by Erroll F. Rhodes, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995, p. 54 [↩]
For this translation, see: La Bibbia:Traduzione Interconfessionale in Lingua Corrente, quoted work, p. 468; “Holy Bible”, Today English Version, published by The Bible Societies 1982, p. 628; “The Jerusalem Bible” — Readers Edition, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York 1968, p. 981; “La Bible”- Ancien et Nouveau Testament, Alliance Biblique Universelle, Paris 1991, p. 324; “The Bible”, Revised Standard Version 1947 in CD-ROM; “The Interpreter’s Bible”, vol. 5, edited by George Arthur Buttrick, Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1956, f. 218; S.R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 261 etc.) [↩]
Samuel Davidson, An Introduction to the Old Testament, Vol. III, 1863, p. 78 [↩]
See 2 Kings 15: 27-29; 16: 1 et passim; 2 Chronicles 28:1 et passim). [↩]
“Jesus” CH. Guignebert, University Books, New York, 1956, p. 123 [↩]
J.D. Douglas & Merrill C. Tenney, NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible, Zondervan Publisher 1989, p. 268 [↩]
An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Samuel Davidson, Vol III, 1863, p. 77; see also The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, edited by George Arthur Buttrick, Nashville, NT: Abingdon, 1956, p. 218-19 [↩]
See: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Matthew R.T. France, Intervarsity Press 1990, p. 78-80; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of Matthew, Loizeaux Brtohers, 1982, p. 36; The Mac Arthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7, 1985, p. 20; The New Bible Commentary Revised, edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer, A.M. Stibbs, D.J. Wiseman, Eerdmans Publishing, Michigan 1970, p. 596; La Bibbia di Gerusalemme, Edizioni Dehoniane Bologna, 2002, p. 1566. [↩]
An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Samuel Davidson, Vol. III, 1863, p. 79 [↩]
New Standard Bible Dictionary, Funk and Wagnalls Company, INC, New York 1936. p. 368 [↩]
The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, edited by George Arthur Buttrick, Nashville, NT: Abingdon, 1956, p. 218-19 [↩]
La Bibbia: Traduzione Interconfessionale in Lingua Corrente, Torino 1986, p. 468 [↩]
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990, p. 235 [↩]
The New Bible Commentary Revised, edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer, A.M. Stibbs, D.J. Wiseman, Eerdmans Publishing, Michigan 1970, p. 818; despite the above-mentioned statement, the dogmatism of the authors of this work doesn’t allow them to accept the non-fulfilment of this prophecy. Hereinafter, in a strange way, they seem to affirm the theory of the double sense of this prophecy. For the rejection of this absurd theory, see the quotations no. 16-17. [↩]
Raymond Brown, at this point, has put a footnote stating: [↩]
The story of Creation is located in the first Book of the Old Testament, i.e. in the early chapters of Genesis. The Old Testament narrative is almost like a storybook; hence it starts off with the story of Creation as the beginning of the story of mankind. The Qur’an gives a different presentation to its idea and message with regard to the story of Creation. The story of Creation is located in various places within the Qur’an, such as in Sura’ Al-Baqarah, Sura’ As-Sajdah, Sura’ Yassin and so on.
The Old Testament relates the story about God creating the earth and man in six days (Genesis, 1) and that God took a rest on the seventh day (Genesis, 1-3). The Qur’an also mentions that the Creation takes place within “six days”1 but never says that God had to take a rest on the seventh day. (Al-Sajdah: 4, Al-A’raf: 54).
The Old Testament creation story relates specifically to what God created on each day of Creation. On the first day, God created the heaven and the earth with light and darkness, which is mentioned as the day and the night. This happened even before God created the sun and the moon! On the second day, God created the sky and the oceans. On the third day, God gave the earth life. Then, in the following days, God created the sun and the moon, followed by the fishes and birds and the wild animals, reptiles and cattle. Finally, God created man (Genesis, 1).
This sequence of the creation story in the Bible certainly has several scientific problems with it; the most glaring being the account of the creation of plants before the creation of the sun, which is contrary with what we know about science today.
In contrast to the Bible, the Qur’an does not have any contradiction with established sciences and common human sense. What appears to be fundamental importance in the matter is that the Holy Qur’an does not mention specifically the sequence of Creation or the manner in how God created the world. In Sura’ Yassin, verse 33, we are told that God gave life to the earth that is dead, without mentioning on which day it had happened.
“A sign for them is the earth that is dead: We do give it life, and produce grain therefrom, of which ye do eat.” (Qur’an, 36:33)
There is also absolutely fundamental data concerning the existence of an initial gaseous mass (dukhan) which is unique and whose elements, although at first fused together (ratq) subsequently became separated (fatq).
This is expressed in Sura’ Fussilat:
“Then turned He to the heavens when it was smoke.” (Qur’an, 41:11)
And the same is expressed in Sura’ al-Anbiya’:
“Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together [as one unit of creation] before We clove them asunder?” (Qur’an, 21:30)
All this is in perfect agreement with modern ideas on the existence of primary nebula and the process of secondary events that have formed the initial unique mass; this separation (known as the Big Bang) resulted in the formation of galaxies and then, when these divided, of stars from which the planets were to be born.
All these information are distinguishable from the creation story in the Bible in reference to the Biblical text with its successive phases that are totally unacceptable.2
Regarding the creation of Adam(P), the Old Testament informs us that God invited the angels to join Him in creating man. In fact, God was quoted to have said:
“Let us make a man, someone like ourselves…” (Genesis, 1:26)
However, in the Qur’an God Almighty informed the angels that He would create man without asking for the angels’ approval to join him. And further, there is a conversation between God and His angels where the angels questioned why would God want to create man and He answered:
“I know what you do not know.” (Qur’an, 2:30)
Furthermore, the Old Testament says that God made Adam(P) in His image or “like his Maker” (Genesis, 1:27). The Qur’an is in agreement with the Jewish and Christian views in this aspect (Qur’an, 15:29), but also stresses that Adam(P) was made from clay (Ar-Rahman: 14, Al-Hijr: 28). Only later in the Old Testament do we see that this is mentioned,
“God formed a man’s body from the dust of the ground.” (Genesis, 2:7)
The Qur’an and the Old Testament creation stories are similar in the case of God appointing Adam(P) as His representative on the earth. But the Qur’an has made clearer this statement than the Old Testament, more so when God said to His angels that He wants to create a vicegerent (khalifah) on the earth (Al-Baqarah: 30, Genesis, 1:26). This status did not change even when Adam(P) committed a misdeed, repented and was forgiven for it. (Qur’an, 2:37). Man is not “fallen” from the Qur’anic perspective and hence there is no need to “save” or ransom him. In the Christian view, however, Adam’s(P) misdeed is the basis for the doctrine of Original Sin, the beginning of mankind’s fall into a state of sin, a flowing from faith in a salvic drama that happened in the past.3
In conclusion, the Old Testament contains a collection of literary works produced over the centuries by unknown authors who had considerable influence in the actual composition of the text.
The Qur’anic revelation has a history that is in total contrast to the Bible and was preserved both orally and in writing during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad(P) himself. Therefore the Qur’an does not pose any problem of authenticity as a Revelation from God Almighty and this is why its story of Creation remains consistent with modern scientific knowledge.
We must point out here that modern commentators stress the interpretation of ‘ayyam, one translation of which is “days”, as meaning ‘long periods’ or ‘ages’ rather than a period of twenty-four hour days. [↩]
It should be interesting to note that the Qur’an was right in stating that it is the “Unbelievers” who will first observe this phenomenon, as the astronomers who were involved in the observation of universe were made up of atheists, Jews and Christians. [↩]
See Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, Al Tawhid: Its Implications for Thought and Life (IIIT:1992), pp. 70-74 [↩]
The whole of Christianity rests on the question of the resurrection as its founder, Paul of Tarsus writes: “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NLT) But the first of the four gospels, i.e., the Gospel according to Mark, apparently did not receive Paul’s memo.
There is no resurrection in Mark’s gospel. And this is a very important point as we keep in mind that each of the gospels was initially divorced from each other and were written in different localities for different audiences. There was no canon of the New Testament as we know it today in the first 70 years of Christianity in the first century.
No Resurrection In Mark?
The first person to canonise scripture was the heretic Marcion and this was, according to most biblical critics, the impetus behind the orthodox canonisation process.1
The Gospel of Mark seems to support the Islamic worldview as it starkly keeps silent or omits any mention of the resurrection. The gospel ends in verse eight with the women, in utter confusion, fleeing the scene of the tomb, which was empty:
“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8, NIV)
The late Catholic Jesuit scholar John McKenzie writes:
“…for Mark really has no resurrection and no apparitions, just the empty tomb.”2
Lightfoot Professor of Divinity and New Testament scholar, James Dunn writes:
“… the earliest Gospel (Mark) ends without any record of a ‘resurrection appearance’,…”Dunn, J. D. G. (1985), The Evidence for Jesus (Louisville, Kentucky: The Westminster Press), p. 66
Dean at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University, Dr Brian Shmisek writes:
“For our purposes, let us note that the earliest gospel has no appearance narrative and leaves many questions unanswered.”3
Chair of the Department and Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, Prof. John S. Kloppenborg writes:
“Mark, famously, has no resurrection appearance stories, only the discovery of an empty tomb.”4
Mark’s Faith Is “Futile”?
Essentially, the gospel according to Mark has zero resurrection narrative and so those — the initial recipients — that read this gospel soon after it was written and put into circulation, would not have had much belief in the resurrection as they were not made aware of it by the gospel that they were relying upon.
The gospels according to Matthew and Luke, which would eventually supply such information would only come years later.
This would have been utterly antithetical to the gospel preached by Paul, which specifies the fundamental importance of the resurrection; according to the words of Paul, the gospel according to Mark, without the resurrection, is in fact “useless”.
The original ending of Mark proved very disturbing to the early scribes of the Bible and it really did not sit too well with them. So perturbed was their theological sensibilities, that they sought to smoothen the ending with their own version of an ending by appending to verse 8 the longer ending of Mark that extends from verse 9 to 20 and that currently remains part of the main text in the New King James Version. In fact, more creative scribes added two other versions of the ending, i.e., the Freer Logion and the Shorter Ending.
North America’s most eminent textual critic — the protege of Bruce Metzger — Professor Bart Ehrman, writes:
“Obviously, scribes thought the ending was too abrupt. The women told no one? Then, did the disciples never learn of the resurrection? And didn’t Jesus himself ever appear to them? How could that be the ending! To resolve the problem, scribes added an ending.”5
And that was how easy it was to mint the so-called “words of God” in Christianity.
In short, the gospel according to Mark — according to the gospel of Paul — is nothing but a useless gospel, because without the resurrection the faith of Christianity is useless and the resurrection simply does not exist in Mark’s gospel.
Perhaps it is also pertinent to note that a gospel that predates Mark, the so-called Sayings Gospel or Q (quelle, which means “source” in German), which has been reconstructed by scholars through the Synoptic Problem, has absolutely no crucifixion or resurrection narratives in it. Professor James Robinson writes: “…the Sayings Gospel has no passion narrative or resurrection stories…” (Robinson, J. M. (n.d.). The Real Jesus of the Sayings “Q” Gospel. Retrieved from http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=542). Professor Bart Ehrman writes: “Most striking was the circumstance that in none of the Q materials (that is, in none of the passages found in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark) is there an account of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” (Ehrman, B. D. (2003), Lost Christianities (New York: Oxford University Press) p. 57) [↩]
McKenzie, J. L. (2009), The New Testament Without Illusion (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock), p. 198 [↩]
Schmisek, B. (2013), Resurrection of the Flesh or Resurrection from the Dead: Implications for Theology (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press), p. 61 [↩]
Kloppenborg, J. S. (2008). Q, the Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press), p. 84 [↩]
Ehrman, B. D. (2006). Whose Word is it?: The Story Behind Who Changed the New Testament and Why (London: The Continuum International Publishing Group), p. 67 [↩]