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.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Investigating Alleged Contradictions in the Old Testament

Image result for bibleSomeone recently forwarded me a list of 21 alleged contradictions in the Old Testament, that were apparently assembled by a Muslim, and asked me how I would respond to them. I rarely take interest in apparent numerical discrepancies in the Old Testament, as they are of little consequence to the central truth claims of the Biblical worldview. Even if all of the apparent discrepancies turn out to be real, at best all they compel is a revision to one's view of the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy (which we are not given much information on in Scripture anyway). But one need not be an inerrantist in the strictest sense in order to have rational confidence that the message of the gospel is true. Muslims often forget that we do not share their view of inspiration. Unlike our Muslim friends, we are not dictation theorists. For the most part, we do not believe the Bible was dictated or inscribed by God Himself (as Muslims do for the Qur'an, which is alleged to be inscribed in tablets in paradise and dictated by Gabriel to Muhammad). Whereas as far as the Bible is concerned, inerrancy could turn out to be false and the central claims of Christianity still be true, the truth of the central claims of Islam hinges on the inerrancy of the Qur'an.

That being said, the position I would advocate for is what I call methodological inerrancy. That is to say, when apparent discrepancies in the Scriptures are identified, one ought to assume that the texts do harmonize, and should seek to find plausible harmonizations. This safeguards one against giving up too early on finding plausible harmonizations where in fact they exist, and also ensures that one maintains a high view of and regard for Scripture.

Another point that is worth noting is that it is not necessary for the Christian to have an answer to every conceivable question or objection that might be raised against the Scriptures, in order for him or her to have a rational confidence that Christianity is true. Indeed, every worldview and system of thought has its share of unanswered questions. The real question is whether there are more numerous and more substantive objections to belief or to non-belief. I would argue that there are more numerous and far stronger objections to non-belief than to belief. Thus, on balance, even without answers to every objection that might be leveled against the Biblical text, we are rationally warranted in affirming Christianity to be true.

With all that said, I want to now move to investigate each of the objections one by one, to see how much merit they carry as claims of contradiction in the Hebrew Bible.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christ the Spiritual Rock: Deuteronomy 32 in Relation to the New Testament

Image result for spiritual rock deuteronomy 32The New Testament is rich with allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures. Regrettably, in modern Christendom, we are largely ignorant of much of the Old Testament, and so these allusions are lost on us. When they are discovered, however, they help to illuminate the Bible's teachings on the nature of Jesus Christ.

One such text is to be found in 1 Corinthians 10, in which we read that the Israelites in the wilderness "drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (verse 4). If your mind is not in tune with the Old Testament then it is easy to miss the implications of this text for understanding Christ's identity.

To properly understand what is going on here, it is necessary for us to take a look at the text of verses 1-22, and so I am reproducing it below -- pay especially close attention to the underlined sections in bold font:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
When we examine the text of Deuteronomy 32:15-22, we find that it is laced through 1 Corinthians 10:
15 “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. 16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. 17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. 18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 “The Lord saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. 20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness. 21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. 22 For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:4 identified Christ as the spiritual Rock that followed them. Deuteronomy 32 identifies God as "the Rock of his salvation" (verse 15) and "the Rock that bore you" (verse 18). Verse 16 also tells us that the Hebrews stirred God, i.e. the Rock, to jealousy with strange gods, whereas 1 Corinthians 10:9,22 says "We must not put Christ to the test...Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?" Deuteronomy 32:17 says "They sacrificed to demons that were no gods", and 1 Corinthians 10:20-21 says, "No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons."

Thus, we can see that the Apostle Paul, in writing 1 Corinthians 10, has in mind the text of Deuteronomy 32. Deuteronomy 32 tells us that the Rock is the Lord God Himself. We also see the Lord God identified as the rock in other parts of the same chapter. Consider the following verses.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What Does It Mean for Jesus to be the "Good Shepherd"?

Image result for the good shepherdIn John 10, Jesus describes Himself as the "good shepherd" who "lays down his life for the sheep." Have you ever stopped to consider what the implications are of Jesus' statement in regards to His identity? I have shown previously that Jesus' statements in John 10:22-39 is a claim to divine status and co-equality with the Father. But Jesus' statements to be the "good shepherd" are similarly provocative.

To find out why, let's take a look over at Ezekiel 34. In verses 1-10, God speaks about the judges of Israel, whom He deems to be wicked, evil and corrupt shepherds. In verses 11-24, God tells us that He Himself will shepherd his flock in place of the corrupt and evil shepherds. Take particular note of the underlined sections in bolt print.
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? 20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
Compare these words from Ezekiel with the words of our Lord Jesus in John 10:1-11,14-16. Again, pay particular attention to the underlined words in bold font:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly...14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
The parallels between these texts are striking. The words of Ezekiel 34:17,20 -- where God says He will judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats, between fat sheep and lean sheep -- can also be compared to Jesus' statements in Matthew 25:31-34:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Monday, December 25, 2017

What is the Relationship of Santa Claus to Christmas and Who were the Magi?

Some Muslims will claim, as well as some well intentioned Christians, that Christmas developed from paganism and that there is nothing 'Christian' about this holiday. An example of a Muslim polemic against Christmas can bee seen here. Since this is a subject that Muslim apologists usually use to discredit Christianity I am posting this video and others that will follow where I and my good friend Pastor Sule Prince answer some of the most common questions raised about Christmas and its alleged ties to paganism. The goal of these video series is to dispel common misunderstandings and inaccuracies both among Muslims and Christians regarding this Christian celebration.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Behold Your King Is Coming to You: Unlocking the Meaning of Zechariah 9:9-10

Image result for jesus triumphal entryIn a previous post, I discussed the true significance of Isaiah 53 in relation to Messianic prophecy, revealing how Isaiah 53 foretells of a divine Messiah who would absorb the wrath of God on behalf of God's people. I noted that one of the most compelling reasons to take the Bible as divinely inspired is the subtle consistency (over 1500 years and across different genres of writing) of its portrait of the coming Messiah and of the nature of the Triune God. 

In this article, I want to highlight yet another beautiful Messianic prophecy, and explore its implications for the Messiah's identity and mission. Our text is from Zechariah 9:9-10, a well known text which foretells of Israel's king coming to Jerusalem with salvation, mounted on a donkey.  
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Here, we see that Israel's king, who is to come and establish peace on the earth, is to be a human who rides on a donkey (to ride on the back of a donkey, he must be physical). But Zechariah also tells us something else that is very important in relation to Israel's coming king. Turn over to Zechariah 14:1-9:
Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. 5 And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. 6 On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7 And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. 8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. 9 And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.
This refers to a time yet future when all nations will be gathered for battle against Jerusalem, but God Himself will intervene against Israel's enemies. Verse 4 states something very intriguing: the feet of Yahweh will stand upon the Mount of Olives. For Yahweh's feet to stand upon the mount of olives, He must join to Himself a physical body -- for a non-material being has no feet. It seems that this allusion is intended to be taken literally rather than metaphorically, since the feet touching the mount of olives is responsible for the mountain literally being split in two from east to west. Thus, here we see a picture of Yahweh himself clothed with a physical body. Verse 9 further tells us that in that day "the Lord will be king over all the earth." Thus, the king of Zechariah 9:9-10, whom we read of coming to Jerusalem with salvation, physically mounted upon a donkey, appears to be Yahweh Himself. Here we thus see a foreshadow of the incarnation where, in the person of Christ, God will take upon Himself human flesh.

Notice that Zechariah 14:5 states that "Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him." The New Testament interprets this reference to Yahweh to in fact be the person of Christ Himself. When we turn to 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, we read,
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
The connection between verse 13 and Zechariah 14:5 should be obvious enough. The conclusion, then, that Paul affirmed Jesus to be Yahweh, is thus inescapable.

We also see a fascinating connection between Zechariah 14:4 and Acts 1:6-12:
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away.
Notice that verse 12 indicates that Jesus' ascension into heaven took place at the mount of olives, and the angels in verse 11 told the disciples that Jesus will come back in the same way in which they saw him go into heaven. Thus, when Jesus returns, his feet will again touch the mount of olives. Thus, the book of Acts makes Jesus out to be Yahweh, connecting Him with Zechariah 14:4.

Moreover, since Mark 11:1-10 / Matthew 21:1-11 / Luke 19:28-40 / John 12:12-19 all narrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and connect it to Zechariah 9:9-10, all four gospels represent Jesus as claiming to be Israel's king who has come with salvation, and thus Jesus claims to be none other than the God of Israel who is identified as "king over all the earth" in Zechariah 14:9.

In future posts, I will continue to highlight some of the treasures of the Scriptures in respect to their portrayal of the Messiah. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Unlocking the Meaning of Isaiah 53: Who is the Suffering Servant?

The 'suffering servant' song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is one of the most significant of Messianic prophecies that we find in the Hebrew Bible. It introduces to us the innocent suffering servant who would be slain for the sins of God's people. But few people realize the full significance of Isaiah 53 in relation to the identity of the Messiah. When one reads the suffering servant song in the context of the book of Isaiah as a whole, it becomes clear that the text unmistakably points to a divine Messiah -- i.e. the Christ must be God Himself veiled in human flesh. In this article, I aim to reveal why. But first, the text of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is worth reproducing in its entirety.
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.
    Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.
I will not dwell long on the popular understanding among orthodox Jews today that the servant here is simply a personification of the nation of Israel, or even a righteous remnant within Israel. Very briefly, this interpretation fails for a number of reasons. For one thing, consider verses 8-9:
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
In context, the "my people" of verses 8 is clearly the Hebrews. How, then, can national Israel be "cut off out of the land of the living" and "stricken for the transgression of my people [i.e. Israel]" if Israel herself has done no violence and there be no deceit in her mouth? Moreover, Isaiah is quite explicit elsewhere, such as in Isaiah 6:5, where he exclaims concerning his own guilt before God:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
It seems unlikely that Isaiah 53 speaks of a righteous remnant if this is how even Isaiah felt about his own standing before God. Moreover, he says in Isaiah 64:6,
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
A further reason to think that this text is not personifying the nation of Israel is that God uses the nations to smite Israel for Israel's sins -- and Israel's smiting does not bring healing to the other nations. Rather, God then turns His hand in judgment against them for overdoing the punishment and for their haughtiness and arrogance (see Jeremiah 30 & 31, Zechariah 1, and Isaiah 10 & 29).

But if not national Israel or a righteous remnant, who then is the servant of Isaiah 53?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

"Is the Trinity consistent with the Old Testament?" Jonathan McLatchie vs. Yusuf Ismail

I recently engaged in a public moderated debate in South Africa with Muslim criminal defense lawyer and apologist, Yusuf Ismail. Our subject was the concept of God in the Hebrew Bible -- specifically, whether God reveals Himself as Triune in the Old Testament. Here is the recording of the debate.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Muhammad and the Poor Widows

Part 3

by Tara MacArthur
Anas ibn Malik said, “The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.” I asked Anas, “Had the Prophet the strength for it?” Anas replied, “We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty.” [Another narrator said] that Anas had told him about nine wives only.[1]

Early Muslims boasted about their Prophet’s sexual prowess without any fear that this behaviour might disgust anyone. Only in recent times have Muslim historians felt the need to explain Muhammad’s appetite for women in terms other than lust.

The rationale behind these marriages is clear. Many were performed to rehabilitate divorced and widowed women, especially widows of companions who had been killed in the early battles … Some were done as an act of compassion toward a conquered foe.[2]

We have already studied Muhammad’s first eleven marriages without discovering a single wife who was poor or unprotected. We also saw above that historians were confused about exactly how many wives he had. That is because he continued to acquire women for the rest of his life. We wonder if any of them were vulnerable or poor. Let us find out.

Muhammad’s twelfth wife was Maymuna, a widow of 36. She was living in Mecca under the protection of her brother-in-law, Abbas, a wealthy spice-merchant and banker. Maymuna apparently had some wealth of her own, for she brought at least three servants into her new home in Medina.[3]

Soon after this, Muhammad took Mariya, a household slave, as his concubine. Since she was a diplomatic gift from the Governor of Egypt, we can be certain that she was young and a virgin; and A├»sha was jealous of her beauty. Unlike Muhammad’s official wives, Mariya was poor. She possessed nothing of her own but was herself property. Nevertheless, her poverty does not explain why Muhammad made her a concubine. She lived in his household, receiving food and shelter at his expense, for over a year before he started sleeping with her. If she was performing domestic duties in exchange, there was no particular reason why she needed to add sex to her services.[4]

When Muhammad conquered Mecca in January 630, he married Mulayka, a pretty girl deemed “too young to know her mind”. Although her father had been killed in the battle, she had plenty of other relatives, including a cousin who wanted to marry her; so she was not in need.[5] 

In March he married the pretty Fatima al-Aliya, who was his only Medinan wife. Her father worked in the Islamic army and civil service. He was certainly not a poor man, for he made Muhammad a present of Mantle, “the prettiest camel in the world”. It was after Muhammad divorced Fatima that she became poor. She set up a business collecting camel-dung, drying it in the sun and selling it as fuel.[6] If no pleasanter career was available, we know that neither her ex-husband nor her father was sharing his wealth with her.

In June or July Muhammad agreed to marry Asma, the daughter of a Bedouin nobleman who was anxious to avoid a war with Medina. Asma was a widow but she is described as “beautiful and youthful”. Her wealthy father hinted that he found Muhammad’s standard 400 dirhams a “stingy” dower; but he was obliged to accept that this was all his daughter would be paid.[7]

Later that year, Muhammad married Amra, who had been recently divorced from a teenager. Nothing is known about her family beyond the fact that she had some relatives living. Perhaps they were poor. Nevertheless, Muhammad failed to save Amra from destitution, for he divorced her on their wedding night.[8]

Muhammad also took another of his household slaves as his concubine. Tukana was a war-captive from the Qurayza tribe, so she was only a slave because Muhammad had enslaved her. He did not need to sleep with her in order to save her from poverty, for she had been living at his expense as a domestic maid for some time before he noticed her and called her to his bed.[9] Since a slave had no legal right to refuse her master’s advances,[10] Tukana might have felt more preyed-upon than protected. Before we ask why she needed to become Muhammad’s concubine in order to earn the right to eat, we should ask why Muhammad had needed to attack and destroy her tribe.

Muhammad acquired yet another concubine just one month before he died. Nafisa was given to him as a present. Nothing is known about her beyond the obvious fact that she was a slave.[11] Once again, we need to ask how Muhammad showed compassion and provision for his slaves by sleeping with them instead of setting them free or offering them honest labour.

Muhammad attempted to acquire even more wives than these, but the remainder of his marriages did not last long. He married a princess from Iraq, but she died on her journey to Medina. He then married her aunt in substitute, but she too died before Muhammad could meet her. He divorced one girl because she insulted him on the wedding day and another, sight unseen, when he became annoyed by her father’s boasting. A widow from Medina broke off their engagement before they had finalised the contract; and a newly-ransomed war-captive refused his proposal because she wanted to return to her husband. He accepted the proposal of an attractive widow living off a pension from Khaybar, then divorced her on the wedding day when he saw that she was “old” (although she was certainly younger than he was).[12] What all these brides had in common was social security. Not all were rich, but all had strong family connections and a source of income.

In April 632 Muhammad married Qutayla, a Jewish princess from Yemen. Two months later, she was still on her journey to Medina when she heard that she need not proceed, for Muhammad had just died. Qutayla and her brother immediately declared their apostasy from Islam and returned to Yemen with great joy. The Apostasy Wars had begun.[13]

Among all Muhammad’s wives, we have not found a single one who was poor or friendless. Though some endured considerable distress as a result of marrying him, not one married him as a relief from distress. Nor did he pretend otherwise. He chose women who were young and beautiful, with political or financial advantages being optional.

This is not news. In the words of the missionary-scholar William Gairdner, who worked among Muslims in Egypt:

It is high time that the ignorant or hypocritical statements of neo-Mohammedan writers, to the effect that all Mohammed’s marriage and demi-marriage connections were made for humanitarian or political (etc., etc.) reasons, and that the women in question were elderly or otherwise unattractive, should be put a stop to. These statements are becoming stereotyped among apologist writers both of the west and the east. But they are false; and they are made either ignorantly of falsely. … We hope we shall now hear no more of the neo-Moslem pretence.[14]

It is a hundred years since Gairdner hoped, yet the falsehoods are still being heard. Perhaps the internet will change that. Never before has it been so easy to spread the truth.

The story of Fatima al-Aliya has a happy ending. You can read more about her, as well as all the others, in my book Unveiled.

[1] Bukhari 1:5:268.
[3] Ibn Ishaq 113, 114, 309-310, 312-313. Waqidi 364. Ibn Saad 8:94. Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib 12:13898.
[4] Ibn Ishaq 653. Ibn Saad 8:136-137, 148-149. Tabari 8:98; 39:193-195.
[5] Tabari 8:187; 39:165.
[6] Ibn Ishaq 577-579, 590-591. Waqidi 477. Ibn Saad 1:587; 2:201. Tabari 9:39, 136; 39:187-188. Ibn Kathir 4:421.
[7] Ibn Ishaq 177. Ibn Saad 8:101-104. Tabari 39:188-191.
[8] Guillaume, A. (1960). New Life on the Light of Muhammad, p. 55. Journal of Semitic Studies, Monograph 1. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Ibn Saad 8:100, 101. Muslim 5:2347. Tabari 39:188. Ibn Kathir 4:427.
[9] Ibn Kathir 4:435. Majlisi 2:1180
[10] Ibn Saad 8:94.
[11] Ibn Hanbal 6:26908. Ibn Kathir 4:435.
[12] Ibn Saad 8:106-113, 116. Tabari 9:136-139.
[13] Ibn Saad 8:105. Ibn Kathir 4:424-425.