Monday 27th of May 2024
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A concise reply to Christianity

Divinity of Jesus
A concise reply to Christianity

A Muslim believes in the religion of Jesus, but sees mainline Christianity as a religion constructed about Jesus. Our protest is against two particular excesses. The apotheosis of Jesus. That is, the deification of a man, and the most frequent missionary tactics which are directed towards Muslims.

To deal with the first item, and much later on the second, Christians and Muslims who learn something of one another's religion, find that a crucial issue is the nature of Jesus. The majority of Christians make Jesus divine, while Muslims say that he was no more than a prophet of God, a faultless human being. The doctrine of the Trinity avows that three distinct co-equals are God. In particular, Jesus is said to be God, the son, or the son of God, and equal to God.

As the Muslim questions details of this arrangement, the Christian usually forms a common explanation for our differences. He complains that Muslims do not really understand the Trinity, that all our complaints are actually accusing Christians of tritheism and other heresies, things that Christians don't really believe. So, the Muslim seeks clarification of the teaching, and as it is explained to him he asks at every step, "How could that be so?" For example, we insist that the term son of God cannot have a literal interpretation. Sonship and divine nature would be necessary attributes. But these are incompatible. The first, sonship, describes someone who has received life, while the second, divine nature, describes someone who received his life from no one. These are mutually exclusive requirements. To be a son is to be less than divine, and to divine is to be no one's son. As the discussion proceeds it is the Christian who will eventually take refuge in the response, " These are things that we cannot understand". That is, his assessment of the muslim's problem becomes something he admits to himself. He started by saying, " Muslims don't understand the Trinity", and finishes by saying, " NOBODY CAN". So he changes his tactics. Now he complains that Muslims refuse to accept what cannot be understood. But the modified approach is a diversion. Now the concepts of verification and understanding are confused. To illustrate: Chemical reactions may be verified, but the atom is not understood. I can verify that hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water, that doesn't mean I understand the atom.

This distinction between verifying and understanding is the key to our concise reply. It is the Muslim who must redirect the discussion. Our primary issue is more basic than resolving the difficulties of Trinitarian doctrine. Rather than ask how the Trinity can be so, we should ask why it must be so. We ask, "Why must Jesus be divine?"

A few centuries ago, European philosophers used to feel that a conjecture was proven if it could be shown that the conjecture was similar to something already stated by Aristotle. Unfortunately, that approach stopped short of challenging Aristotle in discovering truth. In the same way, if we rest the Trinitarian case on what people have said about Jesus, we stop short of establishing the truth of the matter, and our purpose here is no more than the illustration that belief in the Trinity can only be based on Church authority. Many Christians admit that this is the case. But there are others that insist that the teaching was explained by Jesus himself. " Let them produce their proof" is the repeated phrase in the Qur'an. That is, provide the documentation that Jesus himself claimed unqualified deity. Unless this evidence can be produced, authorities are subject to challenge. And then the Christian may not evade the Muslim's questions concerning understanding. The Christian will have no justification for maintaining an illogical position, unless he is content to rely on the opinions of men.

Now, for Christians, the only documents accepted as reporting the words of Jesus are the accounts given in the Bible. Now, we leave the Muslim attitude towards the Bible for later in this talk. Right now our motivation comes from the Qur'anic verse which says, "Say! Oh people of the Book! You have no ground to stand upon unless you stand fast by the law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord." In this place, Christians are advised to support their claims by citing their books. Thus, Muslims believe that no saying of Jesus can be produced which shows him grasping at equality with God. The primary issue is not whether Jesus is God. The most important question is whether he said that he was equal to God.

The Bible record of sayings credited to Jesus is quite small. After allowing for duplication in the four Gospel accounts, these sayings could be printed in two columns of a newspaper. And none of this handful of texts is an explicit claim of deity. All quotations are implicit. That is, they require interpretation. An explicit statement is a statement like a sign on a store window that says "closed". An implicit statement is a statement where the meaning is hidden beneath the words, it requires some interpretation. These are the statements that are quoted by Jesus. In other words, we are told what Jesus said, and then told what he meant.

And so, our method takes an obvious form. It is not our intention, or our obligation, to re-interpret the Bible. We are satisfied to merely verify that Christian interpretations are insufficient, ambiguous, or impossible. That is, we mean to argue three things: That in some places where the meaning of a quotation is clear, it is still insufficient to prove that Jesus claimed equality with God. Or that in other places quotations cited are open to different interpretations, they are ambiguous. Or, still other quotations of Jesus have been given interpretations which are impossible. In these three cases it means the evidence is either inadequate, inconclusive, or unacceptable.

Let's begin with insufficient evidence. The virgin birth of Jesus and the miracles he demonstrated are cited by some as proof of his divinity. The insufficiency of the premises is obvious. We need only read the Biblical account of Adam's creation without father or mother, and the accounts of miracles associated with the Prophet Elisha. In the case of these two men, no Christian asserts their divinity. Yet each has a qualification in common with Jesus. Some maintain that Jesus was God because the Hebrew scriptures predicted his coming. The inadequacy here is only slightly less apparent becasue the ancient Hebrew scriptures are also cited as predicting the role of John the Baptist. These three arguments are mentioned to show that the ready claims of Christians betray a selective, or forgetful recall of scripture. They know the fact of virgin birth as well as they know the account of Adam's origins. Yet they interpret the first and overlook the second.

Now, to pursue our case directly, does the Bible quote Jesus as claiming equality with God? Bible texts are produced to show that Jesus used the terms, son of man, son of God, messiah and saviour. But each of these terms is applied to other individuals in the Bible. Ezekiel was addressed as son of man. Jesus himself spoke of the peacemakers as sons of God. Cyrus the Persian is called messiah, and in this case, the deceit of translators is apparent. For they inevitably render only the meaning of the word messiah in this passage of Isaiah 45:1. The meaning of messiah is anointed, someone who is specially chosen and put in charge of a particular duty. Where there are other Bible verses that seem to refer to Jesus, they write "messiah" instead of translating the word as anointed. Or they put the Greek word which is equivalent to messiah, Christ. In this way, they hope to give the impression that there is only one messiah.

As for saviour, the word is applied to other than Jesus. At 2 Kings 13:5, for example. But Christians choose to cite the 43rd chap. of Isaiah as proof that there is only one saviour. Again, translators have tried to obscure the fact that God is the only saviour is the same ultimate sense that He is our only Nourisher, and our only Protector, though men also have these assigned tasks. By overspecifying this statement in Isaiah about God being the only Saviour, they hope to have us believe that God equals saviour, and Jesus equals saviour, therefore Jesus equals God. The conspiracy of modern translation is easily demonstrated.

The King James Bible of 1611 is available everywhere. Compare it to a more recent translation, say, in the New American Bible of this century. In the earlier version, we find at 2 Kings 13:5 the word, saviour. But in the newer version, the word deliverer has been substituted. The two words mean the same thing, but by substituting deliverer, in this case, they hide the fact that other people besides Jesus were called by the title saviour. In fact, saviours, the plural, will be found at Obadiah verse 21, and Nehemiah 9:27. Here, again, by substituting a different word in the modern translations the connotation of divinity which is tied to this word has been guarded in modern versions by less than honest translation. Once more, we have shown the insufficient warrant of arguments that have been offered. Those terms which are said to imply divinity are used of individuals other than Jesus.

There is a quotation that should be mentioned here also. At John 8:58, it is reported that Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am." Even if Jesus meant to claim by these words that he was alive before Abraham was, is this sufficient ground to say that he is divine? If Jesus lived in Heaven then came to Earth it might mean something remarkable, but it would not be enough to establish him as God in the flesh. In addition, it should also be noted that these words are open to other interpretation. Christians do not imagine that the Prophet Jeremiah had a pre-human existence, but this is one way of interpreting the words in the book of Jeremiah 1:5. They portray a pre-human existence for Jeremiah if taken literally, but Christians find another explanation. Why not a similar understanding in the case of John 8:58?

Now to ambiguous evidence. Some scholars have insisted that in the statement just discussed, Jesus appropriated for himself a divine title. Because in Exodus chap. 3 it is reported that God told Moses, "I am what I am", as most english Bibles translate the Hebrew text. At John 8:58 Jesus says, "Before Abraham was, I am", as most english Bibles translate the Greek text. But here is the key to another deception. The original of the first text is in Hebrew, while the original of the second is in Greek. All but a few of the words of Jesus were recorded in Greek. For 200 years before the time of Jesus the Jews used a Greek translation of their Hebrew scriptures.

The Septuagint- This work translated the key phrase, "I am" , of Exodus, as ho on. However, the words of Jesus, "I am", have been given to us in Greek as ago ami. If the gospel writer of this passage wanted to tell his Greek speaking audience that Jesus had imitated God, he would have used the familiar words of the Septuagint, otherwise the point would be lost. The evidence of this verse is far from conclusive.

There is another Greek word to consider which betrays suppression or neglect of evidence. At John 10:30 Jesus is quoted as saying, " I and the Father are one." The Greek word translated "one" is hen. Certain scholars have insisted that th eonly possible understanding of this word is "one" in essence or nature. Now, a person does not have to be a Greek scholar to refute this claim. A counter example is sufficient. We find the same word, hen, used by Jesus in John 17:11, 21, 22, 23, and in these places he includes his disciples in this oneness with God, whatever its meaning.

The most widely translated sentence on earth is said to be Jesus' statement of John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son...." Now Christians wish to say that the word, "only begotten", gives Jesus special status among all the sons of God, but again there is a problem of ambiguity. The same word translated as only begotten is found at Hebrews 11: 17. In this verse, the word refers to Isaac. Now, the Bible itself shows that Isaac's older brother Ishmael outlived his father. Therefore, at no time was Isaac, strictly speaking, the only begotten son of Abraham. Because Christian scholars recognize this fact, they qualify the meaning of the word only begotten in this case. They give it a less than literal interpretation. But if the meaning of that word is subject to interpretation here, why not also in the passage of John 3:16? Once more, the possibility of ambiguity means that John 3:16 is inconclusive.

Whether or not Jesus really used the term "Father" when speaking of God is another controversy. But our point here is again that such use is inconclusive evidence that God was literally Father to Jesus. All Christians use the term when addressing God. The Jews themselves use the term. Jesus told them the devil was their father, and of course he was not speaking literally. Certain scholars have stressed the verse of Mark 14:36 where Jesus speaks the Aramaic word for father, "Abba". They insist that this implies a very unique relationship between Jesus and God. But this shows forgetfulness on their part because some of the favorite verses of the Bible are Romans 8:14, and Galatians chap. 4 verse 6, where every Christian is said to call God Abba.

As to impossible evidence. An episode is recorded in the 20th chap. of John, and a certain Thomas is quoted as saying, "My Lord and my God". In interpreting this, Christians maintain that Thomas was addressing Jesus by both of these titles. Now, Muslims would have no objection to the term, "lord", as the Bible explains that the word means master, and Sarah is said to have called her husband Abraham by this title. 1 Peter 3:6 tells us this. The suggestion that Thomas addressed Jesus as literally being God is a different matter. Jesus had already pointed out that the Hebrew scriptures themselves address men as gods. This would allow for Thomas' use of the term. However, Christians prefer to use the explanation given by Paul in 1 Corinthians chap. 8. In this place Paul said that there are many lords and many gods, and in his words, "Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ." But the difficulty with applying this verse to what Thomas said should be obvious. We are left with an unorthodox doctrine. Namely, that Jesus is the Father. Paul has said, there is for us one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ. And yet the Christian wants to insist that when Thomas said, "my Lord and my God", he spoke them both directly to Jesus. This an ancient heresy. The Church calls this patri-passionism or monarchianism sibellianism. The distinction between Father and son is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity.

This distinction is blurred again when John chap. 14 verse 9 is pressed into service. Here Jesus replied to man named Phillip who said to Jesus, "show us God." Jesus said " He who has seen me has seen the Father." Now if we take that strictly literally it would mean an unacceptable doctrine even to Christians that Jesus is the Father. So interpreters say that, no, in this place Father is equivalent to God, and Jesus was saying, if you've seen me you've seen God because I am God and you're looking at him. However, we cannot possibly be obliged to understand that Jesus meant to say that. And our reason is found just a few pages earlier at John chap. 5 and verse 37. Here Jesus told a crowd of people about the Father, or God, saying, "You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form."

Surprisingly enough, it is often conceded that individual verses insufficient, inconclusive, or even unusable in the case made for the divinity of Jesus. However, there are those that will insist that while any given verse may be deficient, it is the total collection of all such verses that proves the case. This betrays a misunderstanding of the reasoning process. Each verse must prove something or it is dispensable. When we're given a verse, we must demand to know exactly what it does prove, and why?

The traditional explanation of scripture has been exposed within the Church itself as being uncertain. In many cases, the premises and the conclusions are not clearly stated. Even to this date, there is still debate about what is meant by the term, the redemption of man. Whether we probe the roots or the outgrowth of the system, the structure of Christian doctrine becomes vague.

A final argument has been offered based on the understanding of the Jews. Christians have said that any rebuttal which a Muslim might give is unimportant, because the fact remains that the Jews understood Jesus to claim that he was equal to God. For example, they cite John chap. 5 and verse 18. In this place, the gospel writer reports that the Jews were upset with Jesus quote, because he was calling God his own father making himself equal with God, unquote. They pass over the verses which follow immediately after this verse. Verses where Jesus subjected himself to God. He proceeded to name all those things which God gave him. They cite the tenth chap. of John. Here the Jews tried to stone Jesus for blasphemy. They missed the point of the reply Jesus made to them as they picked up their rocks. He demonstrated to those Jews by quoting their own scripture that they had no grounds for their accusation.

Curiously enough, in their hurry to put claims on the lips of Jesus, part of the Christian Church has constructed a very confused story. The Hebrew scriptures made reference to a messiah, and the Church says, this can only mean an incarnate God, God in the flesh. And so, when Jesus spoke of himself as the messiah, he was blaspheming because no man can be God according to the Hebrew scriptures, or so the reasoning all seems to flow together in confusion. Once more, they are saying, look how angry the Jews were with Jesus when he said he was the messiah? They said he was blaspheming. That must mean that messiah equals God and that's why the Jews were upset with him. While there is a legal point to be made here, if the Jews understood that the messiah was supposed to be a man who was equal to God, then a man who claimed to be the messiah could only be condemned as a false messiah. He could not be condemned on the grounds that he said something which, in itself, is a blasphemy. Because at some future time the true messiah would have to speak the very same words. He would have to say, " I am the messiah" and no one would condemn him. When certain Jews said that Jesus was blaspheming, they could only have meant to say that Jesus was a false messiah. Their anger would be over the fact that he claimed to be the messiah when he was not. Any connection between the word messiah and the attribute of divinity has no bearing on this matter. The fact is, Jews have never believed that the promised messiah would be a man who was equal to God.

In the second chap. of Mark Jesus told a man, "Your sins are forgiven." The usual interpretation takes the side of the Jews who were present then who asked themselves, " Who can forgive sins except God?" But the verse at John 12:49, among others, explains very well how a man could make such a statement. In this verse, Jesus any personal initiative. He said, "I only spoke what God told me to say". The argument which is based on Jewish understanding makes the assumption that the Jews understood Jesus. A better hypothesis is simply that the enemies of Jesus misunderstood him. In fact, Jesus repeatedly used to mention that problem - the fourth chap. of Mark, for example. It is interesting to know that today, Jewish scholars find virtually no objections anything Jesus said.

Now to conclude this first matter, that is the deification of Jesus, we have not merely used the Bible to suit ourselves. Verses have been cited from the Bible without any commitment as to whether or not they are accurate. It has been our intention only to show the defects in the Christians stand which says Jesus used to walk around claiming to be equal to God. If we analyze the mixture of things said to establish that position, we find inferior ingredients. We find weak evidence, and empty reasoning. Our position has been narrowed enough to make almost any Christian response a step toward the Muslim's position. We have cited the most quoted and clear scriptures. So if any others are brought forward, the Christian admits the deficiency of his previous arguments, and this makes a short list even shorter, the list of quotations which are said to prove his case. Or, if the Christian builds a case on something other than the words attributed to Jesus, he repeats exactly what we first protested. Mainline Christianity is based on what people have said about Jesus.

Another point should be mentioned; we asked earlier, " Why must Jesus be divine?" By this, we meant to ask why does a Christian believe it must be so. If this question is asked without reference to what we've been discussing, a Christian will answer, " Jesus must be divine if his death is to be sufficient redemption for the sins of mankind. In the Christian scheme of redeeming man, it is believed that a sacrificial death was necessary that men could be saved. Now if we ask why the death of any man would not satisfy the requirements, the Christian replies that all men are imperfect. If we ask why men are imperfect, we are told that this is something that we inherit from our father. Jesus had no father. By their own scheme, he would have been a perfect sacrificial victim. Nevertheless, they still require that he be divine in order to suit the role of redeemer. And so we ask, " Did God die?" And he quickly replies, no, only the man Jesus died. Jesus is said to a God-man, and it was the human component that died. But now, the Christian has said that the death of a man has saved us from our sins. The infinite is required for this ritual of sacrifice, but at the last moment the infinite is not actually sacrificed.

The second part of this talk concerns missionary tactics, and one in particular. There are many missionary tactics directed by Christians toward Muslims. Most of these stand immediately condemned by the Bible itself, because the Bible talks about their master's path being straight. Missionary strategies have included enticing Muslims with money, women, alcohol, and social status. These methods may lead people, but do they lead by a straight path? A complete exposure of such activities is a worthwhile investigation, but this is not our concern here. Christian authors who deal with the Qur'an and the Bible in order to win converts are the subject now.

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