Sunday, March 18, 2018

What is the Significance of Easter in Christianity? Why is It the Most Important Date in the Christian Calendar?

In this video, we discuss the importance and significance of Easter in Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus would only make sense if Jesus died on the cross as the New Testament records and teaches. The only place where the Qur'an deals with the crucifixion of Jesus is in surah 4:157 where it claims they did not crucify Jesus or kill him. The major problem with this text is that it is notoriously vague and unclear, and is subject to many conflicting interpretations. The New Testament on the other hand, came from the first century A.D., and contains eyewitness testimony. This is why all scholars who study Jesus go to the New Testament. It is the earliest accounts we have for Jesus. The Qur'an on the other hand, came 600 years later, was written in a different country, written by a writer or writers who were not eyewitnesses to he life and words of Jesus. The Qur'an was composed in a land far removed from the land that Jesus and the apostles ministered and preached in. The Qur'an was also written in another language, foreign to first century Christians, and is filled with stories that come from apocryphal and historically worthless and dubious sources. Therefore, all who want to learn about the historical Jesus should go to the New Testament.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Is Easter a Pagan Name or the Name of a Pagan Spring Goddess?

As we enter into the Easter season there are a lot of questions that many people about this time of year. While this season is the most important time period in the Christian calendar many Christians feel that we should not use the word 'Easter' because it has pagan connotations. Some Christians prefer to refer to Easter Sunday as 'Resurrection Sunday' instead because in so doing they think they are avoiding a pagan word. Some of our Muslim friends have also argued that Easter evolved from paganism in an effort to refute the Christian faith. In this video we answer these often repeated claims and demonstrate that they are in fact baseless.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Is Muhammad Prophesied in the Bible? Part 1

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Pastor Thabet to discuss the question of whether Muhammad is prophesied in the Bible. We addressed Deuteronomy 18:18-19 and touched a bit on Song of Solomon 5:16. We will discuss this text further in a follow up video and then address John 14-16.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Did Christianity Borrow From Paganism?

Some of our Muslim friends frequently use the old and worn out argument that Christianity borrowed from paganism. Is this claim true? In this short video clip I address this question.

In the video below I further address this question with my friend Pastor Sule. I also deal with Tom Harper (1929-2017) who wrote the book 'The Pagan Christ' and respond to some of his arguments.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Is Muhammad Prophesied in the Bible?

I will be joining Pastor Thabet Megaly on March 5, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. on his program to discuss the question 'Is Muhammad Prophesied in the Bible?'. You can join the program through the web link provided in the poster above. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Amazon Echo Calls Muhammad a Hypocrite!

Vocab Malone and I were setting up for a video about a Sharia-compliant version of the Amazon Echo, when we realized that Alexa was completely willing to accuse Muhammad of hypocrisy for marrying more women than his own revelations allow!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Paul vs. Muhammad (Complete Video Playlist)

When Muhammad gets things wrong about Jesus, Muslims typically blame the Apostle Paul for corrupting Christianity. But what happens when we compare Paul and Muhammad, and we realize that Paul is far more reliable than Muhammad? Let's find out in this video series.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Jesus vs. Mithra: Did Christians Copy from the Mithra Cult when it came to the Birth of Jesus?

In this next video, my good friend Pastor Sule and I answer the oft-repeated and debunked claim that Christians were copy cats and that they borrowed the birth story of Mithra in December and applied it to Jesus. This is a claim many of our Muslim friends are prone to make including many well meaning Christians. Watch and learn and please share the video.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Does the Qur'an Have the True Insight Into the Crucifixion? A Response to Abu Zakariya

In previous posts, I have been reviewing a book by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya (in particular, chapter 5 of the book). So far, we have seen that Zakariya's objections to the gospels as inspired Scripture and eyewitness testimony, to Messianic prophecy, and to the reliable passing on of stories about Jesus have fallen far short of convincing. Here are links to my four previous rebuttals to Zakariya:

In this fifth installment, I am going to address Abu Zakariya's contention that the Qur'an has the true insight into the crucifixion.

Problems with the Substitution View

Zakariya begins by quoting from Surah 4:157-158:
They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition; they certainly did not kill him. God raised him up to Himself. God is almighty and wise.
Zakariya takes the classical interpretation of this text, which is that someone was made to resemble Jesus and was put on the cross in His stead. He finds support for this interpretation in the narrations of Ibn Abbas, one of the companions of Muhammad (Al-Nasa'i, Al-Kubra, 6:489):
Just before God raised Jesus to the Heavens, Jesus went to his disciples, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping with water (as if he had just had a bath) and he said, 'There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after you had believed in me.' He then asked, 'Who among you will volunteer for his appearance to be transformed into mine, and be killed in my place? Whoever volunteers for that, he will be with me (in Heaven.' One of the youngest ones among them volunteered, but Jesus asked him to sit down. Jesus asked again for a volunteer, and the same young man volunteered and Jesus asked him to sit down again. Then the young man volunteered a third time and Jesus said, 'You will be that man,' and the resemblance of Jesus was cast over that man while Jesus ascended to Heaven from a hole in the roof the house. When the Jews came looking for Jesus, they found that young man and crucified him.
Zakariya concludes from this, 
From an observational perspective, would anyone be able to tell the difference between Jesus being crucified, and it being made to appear like he was? Whether it was the real Jesus, or someone who looked, sounded and acted in an identical manner to Jesus, or even an illusion of it being Jesus that tricks the eyes, most casual observers would not be able to distinguish between them. If you think about it, these various scenarios would appear identical for all intents and purposes and would end up being recorded the same way.
The problem is that, if the narration from Ibn Abbas is the correct way things went down, then the twelve disciples of Jesus knew that someone had been made to resemble Jesus and had been crucified in His stead. This is problematic since we know that the disciples themselves believed Jesus to have been killed by crucifixion. There can be absolutely no question about this. This, then, is an oddity on the thesis being here put forth.

On the other hand, if the disciples themselves were duped into believing Jesus had been killed by crucifixion, this means that Allah deceived his own followers, since the Qur'an asserts twice that Jesus' disciples were Muslims (Surah 3:52, 61:14). 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Were the Stories About Jesus Passed on Reliably? A Response to Abu Zakariya

In previous posts, I have been reviewing a book by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya (in particular, chapter 5 of the book). So far, we have seen that Zakariya's objections to the gospels as inspired Scripture and eyewitness testimony, and to Messianic prophecy, have fallen far short of convincing. Here are links to my three previous rebuttals to Zakariya:

In this fourth installment, I am going to interact with Zakariya's fourth wave of attack, which is against the premise that the stories about Jesus were passed on reliably.

A Note About Differences and Reconcilable Variations

Before I begin to assess Abu Zakariya's arguments, first a word about the implications of variations between the gospel accounts. In eyewitness testimony, it is not at all surprising that there would exist variations in minor detail while maintaining consistency about the core narrative. The existence of variations does not in itself entail that the narrative does not derive from the testimony of eyewitnesses, or that the core events did not happen. By pushing for the existence of actual (as opposed to apparent) discrepancies between the gospel accounts, at best the skeptic can cause us to revise our understanding of inspiration or inerrancy. It does not necessarily call into question the truth of Christianity, a proposition which rests on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.

What minor variations do often suggest, however, is independence between accounts. In his book Horae Evangelicae or The Internal Evidence of the Gospel History, Rev T.R. Birks pioneered a category of argument, a somewhat less dramatic cousin of undesigned coincidences, called reconcilable variations. What is a reconcilable variation? It is when you have two accounts of the same event, or at least two accounts that appear to cross over the same territory at some point, and at first blush they seem so divergent that it's almost awkward; but then, on further thought, they turn out to be reconcilable in some natural fashion after all. When two accounts appear at first so divergent that one is not sure they can be reconciled, that is significant evidence for their independence. When they turn out, upon closer inspection or upon learning more information, to be reconcilable without forcing after all, one has almost certainly independent accounts that dovetail. Thus, identifying plausible harmonizations for apparent discrepancies between the gospels has not only the effect of neutralizing the objection to the gospels' veracity, but also it can, by establishing independence, provide positive evidence for their truth.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Are the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony? A Response to Abu Zakariya

In previous posts, I have been reviewing a book by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya (in particular, chapter 5 of the book). So far, we have seen that Zakariya's objections to the gospels as inspired Scripture and to Messianic prophecy have fallen far short of convincing. Here are links to my two previous rebuttals to Zakariya:

In this third installment, I am going to be reviewing Zakariya's third wave of attack, which is against the gospels as eyewitness testimony.

The External Attestation of Authorship

Zakariya begins,
When we scrutinise the Gospel authors in the light of their identities and content and date of their writings, we will find that they are not credible eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. To begin with, it's important to recognise that the Gospels themselves are, strictly speaking, anonymous. While today in the New Testament you see the headings "The Gospel according to..." at the start of each of the Gospels, it's important to note that none of the authors identify themselves by name within the texts. They were quoted anonymously by Church Fathers in the first half of the second century (i.e. 100-150 CE) and the names by which they are currently known appeared suddenly around the year 180 CE, nearly 150 years after Jesus. We find this in the writings of early church apologists such as Justin Martyr who was writing in the middle of the second century. Justin quotes from the gospels on numerous occasions, but the striking ting is that he does not call the Gospels by their names. Instead, he regularly calls them "Memoirs of the Apostles." He does not say that he thinks the disciples themselves wrote the books, only that these books preserve their "memoirs" (meaning, their recollections of the life and teachings of Jesus). These are some of the reasons that have led scholars to believe that the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were assigned to the Gospels long after they were first authored.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Was the Crucifixion of Jesus Foretold in the Old Testament? A Response to Abu Zakariya

In a previous article, I began a series of critical reviews of a book I obtained on Saturday at an Islamic exhibition on the person of Jesus by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya, Jesus: Man, Messenger, Messiah. In this article, I continue my analysis of the book. I have been reviewing Zakariya's claim that Jesus was not in fact crucified, as per the Qur'an (4:157), which is defended in chapter 5 of the book. So far we have examined his objections to the gospel authors having written under divine inspiration. In this article, I turn to his next wave of attack, which is against the claim that the crucifixion is foretold in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 53 -- The Suffering Servant

The only Messianic text that Zakariya engages with is Isaiah 53, which he quotes in full. Zakariya writes concerning this text,
In Isaiah, statements such as "for the transgression of my people he was punished" and "he bore the sin of many" do, at face value, seem to bear a striking resemblance to the theology of the crucifixion. However, when we analyse this chapter in its entirety, we will see that it cannot be a prophecy about Jesus. When it comes to prophecies in Scripture, you can think of each detail that the prophecy provides as a criterion that must be satisfied. So, if we consider Isaiah 53 to be a prophecy about the future, then in order for it to be fulfilled by Jesus, every detail provided in the prophecy has to be satisfied by the life of Jesus as he is portrayed in the New Testament. If not, then Jesus fails as a candidate and the prophecy remains unfulfilled.
This statement is in a sense both right and wrong. It is certainly true that every detail of predictive prophecy must be fulfilled and not fail. However, some Messianic texts in the Hebrew Scriptures predict both Jesus' first and second advent. In such cases, parts of certain prophecies may as yet still lie unfulfilled, awaiting their final fulfillment in the second coming of Jesus.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Were the Gospels Written Under Divine Inspiration? A Response to Abu Zakariya

Image result for jesus man messenger messiahThis past weekend I attended an Islamic exhibition at the city library in Newcastle, England. The subject of the exhibition was the Islamic perspective on Jesus. During the course of the day, I was given a copy of a new book by Muslim apologist/polemicist Abu Zakariya. The book is entitled Jesus: Man, Messenger, Messiah. I have now had the opportunity to read through the book, and so I thought it fitting for me to write a detailed review of some of the material and argumentation presented in the book. Although Zakariya, to his credit, pursues more depth in his discussion than most Muslim treatments of this subject (although that isn't very hard to do), the book still engages in a significant level of mangling of the Biblical text. Over the course of this and subsequent blog posts, I want to interact with some of the central claims of Abu Zakariya's book, since I thought it a good opportunity to explore some popular fallacies of thought that occur when people study the Scriptures. I will not be interacting with the book in order, but dipping into various parts of the book that I took a particular interest in. Readers will recognize that I have addressed much of the material in various blog posts and talks/interviews/debates before. Nonetheless, it is always valuable to repeat material and so I will be reiterating some material I have touched on in the past, and perhaps on occasion delving into more detail than I did previously -- but a lot of what I want to write about I have not covered before in my writings. If Abu Zakariya is interested in a public engagement regarding his book (in the form of a moderated debate), I will be only too happy to oblige.

One chapter I found to be particularly interesting in the book was chapter 5, in which Zakariya makes a valiant attempt to defend the indefensible -- namely, the Qur'an's claim in Surah 4:157 that Jesus did not die by crucifixion. In this and subsequent articles, I aim to examine how well he does in this undertaking.

Monday, January 22, 2018

When Was Jesus Born? Was it on December 25?

Many of our Muslim friends and even other Christians contend that December 25 was a pagan holiday taken over by Constantine or the Roman Catholic Church and transformed into the birth day of Jesus. Is this true? Do we know when Jesus was born and why the date of December 25 was chosen? Watch and find out!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Did Christmas Come From Paganism?

I know we are past the holiday season, but here is the next video in the series on Christmas. In this video I answer the question of whether Christmas came from paganism or non-Christian sources.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them): Dr. Lydia McGrew

Here is the recording of Saturday's Apologetics Academy webinar featuring analytic philosopher Dr. Lydia McGrew (you can find her website here). Her subject was "Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)". I regret that some people seem to be rather upset that I have sided with Lydia in regards to this topic over Michael Licona, Craig Evans, et al. I have even lost Facebook friends as a result. May I emphasize that this is scholarship and there is no ill-intent towards any of the people whose views I and Lydia depart from. If you put scholarly argumentation into the public realm, then you need to learn not to take it personally when others disagree and publicly voice their dissent. I invite you to watch the webinar for yourself and make up your own mind.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

What Does Christmas Mean?

In this video series on Christmas, Pastor Sule and I deal with the question of the meaning of Christmas and its etymological origins in Christianity.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Psalm 2, and its Messianic Implications

Image result for psalm 2Psalm 2 is a well-known Psalm that is often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. Until recently, I had always understood this Psalm to be an inauguration hymn whose primary application is David, but which then is applied secondarily to the Messiah by the New Testament authors as they communicate Christ's reign as the re-establishment of the Davidic monarchy. More recently, however, I have come to understand this Psalm's primary application to be the Messiah.

As always, the text of this Psalm is worth reproducing in full. I have taken the liberty to replace "LORD" and "Lord" in the English translation with the tetragrammaton "YHWH" ("Yahweh") and "Adonai" respectively, since these two Hebrew words appear in the original text:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against YHWH and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; Adonai holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: YHWH said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve YHWH with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
It is often understood that verse 7-9 is King David speaking. But observe who the speaker is in verse 5-6. It says "Then he [i.e. Adonai referred to in verse 4] will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying 'As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.'" There is no indication in the text that the speaker changes between verse 6 and 7 from Adonai to David (note that the quotation marks are not in the original Hebrew text). In verse 7a, we read, "I will tell of the decree: YWHW said to me..." Thus, here we see a conversation taking place between Yahweh and Adonai. This should remind us of another Psalm which reports a conversation that we see taking place between Yahweh and Adonai -- Psalm 110, a Psalm which speaks of the divine-human Messiah (yes, I am aware that Psalm 110:1 says Adoni instead of Adonai, but see my article here on why this doesn't put a dent in the argument for interpreting the individual at Yahweh's right hand as Adonai).

Consider the parallels between what follows in Psalm 2, and the text of Psalm 110.
Psalm 2:9a: "You shall break them with a rod of iron."
Psalm 110:2: YHWH sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 
Psalm 2:9b-12: "...and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the YHWH with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Psalm 110:5b-6 he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
As you can see, there are striking parallels between those two texts. This suggests that there is a unity between Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. Given that Psalm 110:5 identifies the one seated at Yahweh's right hand (and the one to whom Yahweh speaks) as Adonai, the most natural interpretation of Psalm 2 is also that Yahweh is speaking to Adonai. Note that, although Yahweh and Adonai are equivalent titles that denote absolute deity, Scripture sometimes uses two different titles of deity in order to distinguish between persons of the Triune godhead (we saw this previously when I discussed Deuteronomy 32, where the titles of "the Most High" and "YHWH" are used).

There is yet another reason for taking this individual spoken of in Psalm 2 to be a divine person.
Consider verse 8:
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
The individual spoken of here in Psalm 2, therefore, is going to receive the nations as his heritage. But what do we read in Psalm 82:8?
Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!
Thus, the one who judges the earth with a rod of iron and who inherits all the nations according to Psalm 2 is the individual to whom Yahweh is speaking. But according to Psalm 82, it is God who will fulfill this role. Thus, again, we see reason for understanding Psalm 2 to refer to a divine Messiah.

This, of course, also raises the question as to who God is inheriting the nations from, since surely the nations are already his possession. This is illuminated in view of the New Testament revelation of the Trinity. Consider, for example, the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:27:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” 
And Jesus' words in Matthew 28:19:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
The references to God receiving the nations as his inheritance also connects with Deuteronomy 32:8-9:
8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
I discussed the full significance of this text in a previous blog post.

There is also another interesting feature of Psalm 2. In verse 7, we read, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you." In what sense is it referring to Adonai as "Son"? The title of “Son” is not being used here in the sense of the Messiah being the eternal Son in relation to the Trinity. The Davidic heir is identified in Scripture as God’s “Son” (e.g. see 2 Samuel 7:12-16). By identifying Adonai as God’s “Son”, Psalm 2 takes Adonai to be the heir of David.

Thus, once again, we are left with a divine-human Messiah, a consistent theme throughout the Hebrew Bible.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What Does It Mean For Jesus to be the Divine Word? Investigating John's Logos Theology

Image result for in the beginning was the wordOne of the most famous texts in Scripture is the prologue to the gospel of John, where the apostle John represents Jesus as being the divine Logos, or the Word. Here is John 1:1-5,14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it...14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John begins his gospel by asserting Jesus' identity as being the very essence of God incarnate. The transliteration of the Greek of verse 1 reads, "En arche en ho logos kai ho Logos en pros ton Theon kai Theos en ho Logos." You will notice that the noun "Theos" for God at the end of verse 1 lacks a definite article "ho" ("the") but precedes the verb "en" ("was"). In Greek grammar, this renders it a qualitative. Thus, John 1:1 is most accurately translated, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and all that God was the Word also was." Moreover, this divine Word has existed from eternity past. "In the beginning was the word" indicates that in the beginning (as far back as you want to push it) the Word already was in existence. And yet even although the Word is the very essence of deity, "He was in the beginning with God" (verse 2). In other words, in some other sense the divine Logos was distinct from God. This is what Trinitarians believe with respect to the Son's relationship to the Father -- the Son is in very essence deity (possessing all of that which makes God God) and yet in some other sense He is distinct from God.

Just to drive the point home, John then continues in verse 3 by telling us that "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." Nothing exists that has not been created and fashioned by the divine Logos. Thus, the divine Logos is the very essence of God. He cannot Himself be a creature.

In case we still were not convinced about the deity of Jesus, John continues in verses 14 and 23 with a double citation of Isaiah 40:
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth...He [John the Baptist] said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Compare these verses to the words of Isaiah 40:3-5:
3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Thus, not only does John the Baptist identify Himself with the voice crying out in the wilderness from Isaiah 40:3, but John the Apostle also alludes to Isaiah 40:5. But instead of saying that we have beheld the glory of Yahweh (as per Isaiah), he says, "...and we have seen his [Christ's] glory..." There can thus be no question that John is representing Jesus to be God Himself. John 1:14 literally says that the Word became flesh and tabernacled in the midst of us. Just as the very presence of God dwelt within the tabernacle of ancient Israel in the wilderness, so also now in the body of Christ, God dwells in the midst of His people. Just as the tabernacle is where the Hebrews could meet their God, so also Christ is where God's people meet their God. As the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2:9, "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily..."

John also tells us, in 1:18, that,
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
Here, he identifies Jesus as the monogenes Theos, meaning God the one and only. This monogenes Theos, he tells us, who is at the Father's side, has exegeted or explained to us the nature and essence of the unseen God. I shall have more to say about the significance of this later in this article.

But what does it mean for Jesus to be the divine Word, and how does John's prologue connect with the portrayal of Jesus throughout the rest of John's gospel? John in fact derives this concept directly from the Old Testament, as I shall show.