Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Message of the Prophets - Debate

Thanks Abdullah. It was a pleasure to meet you and consider your points.

Here are my post debate comments for what I was not able to cover during the debate. They are brief and not in any particular order.

1. Dialects of the Qur'an. Abdullah raised the point that the Qur'an was revealed in various dialects, however the hadith on this has Umar bin Al-Khattab and Hisham bin Hakim arguing over how to recite the Qur'an and these men were from the same tribe and therefore had the same dialect.
Narrated Umar bin Al-Khattab: I heard Hisham bin Hakim reciting Surat Al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle and I listened to his recitation and noticed that he recited in several different ways which Allah's Apostle had not taught me. I was about to jump over him during his prayer, but I controlled my temper and when he had completed his prayer, I put his upper garment around his neck and seized him by it and said, "Who taught you this Surat which I heard you reciting ?" He replied, "Allah's Apostle taught it to me". I said, "You have told a lie, for Allah's Apostle taught it to me in a different way from yours". So I dragged him to Allah's Apostle and said, "I heard this person reciting Surat Al-Furqan in a way which you haven't taught me!". On that Allah's Apostle said, "Release him (Umar) recite, O Hisham!" Then he recited in the same way I heard him reciting. Then Allah's Apostle said, "It was revealed in this way", and added, "Recite, O Umar", I recited it as he had taught me. Allah's Apostle then said, "It was revealed in this way. This Qur'an has been revealed to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever is easier for you." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 514, Khan)
The seven ahruf are not dialects.

2. Logos a Greek Idea? It is true that Greek philosophy has the concept of the logos or word, but so too does the Torah, Prophets and Psalms where the word of God is often spoken about as the means by which God interacts with his creation. The Qur'an also has this idea. John 1 sources itself to the Genesis 1 concept of the word.

3. Forgiveness in the Torah? Abdullah referred to a few verses (eg. Ezekiel 18:20-22) to show that repentance is all that is required for forgiveness. This is not correct because these verses are not part of the Qur'an; their context is the Torah which says that repentance must be accompanied by a sacrifice. You cannot impose a Qur'anic context on these verses.

4. Who is the servant of Isaiah 53?
1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53, NIV)
Abdullah said that the nation Israel is the servant of this chapter not an individual. Here is why I disagree: Firstly, throughout the chapter the individual is contrasted to the nation, eg. "He" the servant, "Us" the people (see v. 4, 5, 7, 11) "for the transgression of my people he was stricken." Secondly, this servant is innocent (v. 9 & 11) and the book of Isaiah is quite clear that the nation of Israel is guilty. This servant does not suffer for his own sins but the sins of others. If the servant was national sinful Israel then they would be suffering for their own sins. Thirdly, Isaiah 49:1-6 shows that this servant is the true sinless Israel, the one who fulfills the destiny of Israel. Just as Israel was originally one man who became a nation so now this one man will represent and fulfill the nation.

Regarding "his offspring" (v. 10) the context indicates that these are not normal offspring because they come from a man who dies (v. 9) and is raised to life again (v. 11). This is resurrection offspring. And it is the same with "divide the spoils" this is simply showing that what the servant does he does for others.

5. Regarding Isaiah 9, it was said that because it refers to the "Everlasting Father" it cannot refer to Jesus. However, the concept of the king of Israel being called father of the city is in 22:20-21 and so this is another title for the Messiah.

6. Is the Bible just the work of man's hands? Abdullah referred to these examples to show the Bible is simply the work of men:

Firstly, Deuteronomy 34:5-12 records Moses death therefore Moses could not have written it therefore Moses did not write all of the Torah in the Bible. This is a straw man argument because the Bible does not say that only Moses wrote the Torah. The Torah ends with Joshua being commissioned as a prophet and we read that he was involved in the production of the Torah:
And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. (Joshua 24:26, NIV)
It is the same with the Gospel. When Christians say the Gospel of Jesus we are not saying that he wrote it.

Secondly, Abdullah referred to where Luke says:
Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, (Luke 1:3, NIV)
Abdullah suggested that since it was Luke's idea to write it is not the word of God. However, the same is true of the Qur'an:
... Therefore I (Umar) suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur'an be collected." I said to 'Umar, "How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" 'Umar said, "By Allah, that is a good project. " ... (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 509, Khan)
The Qur'an was collected from its sources because of a human "suggestion" not a divine word. All books have a human history. If they did not they would not be part of this world.
Finally, Paul:
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. (1 Corinthians 7:12, NIV)
Abdullah suggested that this is not the word of God but only Paul. This is not true because Paul is an apostle. When he says "I, not the Lord" he is giving a new word from God for a context that Jesus did not address.

7. God is not the God of confusion. One of Abdullah's criteria for truth was that it must not be confusing, but this is a highly selective method. Things I thought were not confusing he thought were. Theology requires a lot of thinking. How do you explain God's transcendence and his immanence? How do you explain God's sovereignty over all events and human responsibility? Both Christians and Muslims have a range of answers to these truths yet we still hold on to them. It takes effort to understand many aspects of God. This is not confusion but learning.

8. In the question time a man asked about Psalm 110 and David saying "Yahweh said to my Lord" and asked who this David's lord is? The answer was that it is a "grammatical shift" and it is referring to David himself. The other examples of this were given as Psalm 72 and 2 Samuel 22:51. However in neither of these verses does David say "My Lord"; he simply speaks of the king, therefore the verses to do support the point. As the questioner pointed out the rest of the Psalm makes it clear that David's lord is not David.

9. God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Number 23:19, also 1 Samuel 15:29, Hosea 11:9)

These verses were referred to to show that God cannot be a man, however, these verses are contrasting the lying aspect of man to the truthful nature of God. They are not discussing the topic we were considering but a different topic.

10. In question time a Muslim gentleman asked me about prophecies of a prophet to come from the book of Enoch. After the debate we spoke and I read the reference. It was actually a reference in Enoch to the book of Daniel about the "little horn" and so was not about a coming prophet.


Anthony Rogers said...



I have only started to listen to the debate now, so I won't comment directly on it yet, but I did want to chime in on what John was up to when he referred to Jesus as the Logos.

I think your comments are right, yet I also believe there is an intermediate step that is very much worth mentioning. While the concept is ultimately anchored in the OT Word, who often appears (e.g. Genesis 15:1), speaks (e.g. Jeremiah 1:4), etc., and thus is no mere abstraction or personification, many other OT teachings about God's Name and Glory and Malak, etc., converge here. The resulting understanding among the Jews of the second Temple period comes to full expression in the Jewish Targums, which, as Orthodox Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin points out ("The Gospel of the Memra," Border Lines, et. al), provide copious evidence for the fact that a multitude of Jews in both Palestine and the Diaspora believed that the Word was a second divine person in the Godhead.

In order to give just one example of what this yields when it comes to John's Gospel, let me first mention some things that I imagine you probably already know.

When John speaks of Jesus as the Word in the prologue (1:1-18), he is setting up what is supposed to be seen in the narrative. But since John does not refer to Jesus again as the Logos by name, some scholars think there is a failure at this point to carry through with this motif, and some have even gone further and have viewed this as confirming or even proving the idea that the Fourth Gospel is not the work of a single author. And not believing the Gospel to be essentially Jewish, many have gone hankering for explanations outside of Judaism to explain where John got the idea of the Logos. But the fact is John does not drop the ball here, but wonderfully presents Jesus to first century Jews in a way they were readily familiar with, and recognizing this fact undercuts liberal-critical views of the sort I mentioned above.

This brings me to one of many examples to demonstrate the point. Many Christians think the absolute "I Am" sayings of Jesus, i.e. those that lack a predicate, are to be directly related to Yahweh's words to Moses in Exodus 3:14. But as most scholars recognize, the link here is not direct. But this does not mean that Christ's "I Am" sayings do not go back to the way God identifies Himself in the OT, for they do directly relate to the divine self-identification formulas found in such passages as Deuteronomy 32:39. In this passage, as well as in several others in the book of Isaiah, God refers to Himself as "I Am," Ani Hu in Hebrew. This is translated in the LXX as ego eimi, which perfectly correlates with Christ's own statements in the Gospels.

"See, see that I am (ἐγώ εἰμι; ego eimi),
 and there is no god except me. I will kill, and I will make alive; I will strike, and I will heal, and there is no one who will deliver from my hands (καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ὃς ἐξελεῖται ἐκ τῶν χειρῶν μου; kai ouk estin os eξeleitai ek tōn cheirōn mou)." (Deuteronomy 32:39, LXX; tr. Melvin K. H. Peters)

This brings me to the following observation: When the Jewish Targums translate this passage (and others) into Aramaic, they attribute this utterance or self-declaration to the Word, which is Memra in Aramaic. This is true in Targum Neofiti, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and others.

What this shows is that the concept of the Memra/Logos is squarely situated in the thought world of ancient Judaism, and John has not after all failed to show Jesus demonstrating Himself to be the Word. What the Targum attributes to the Word, John attributes to Jesus. This does away with all denials of the unity and essential Jewishness of John's Gospel which are argued on the aforementioned grounds, and thus also with the whole idea of needing to look to the Greeks for the origin of John's Logos Christology.

Anthony Rogers said...


What makes this all the more significant is the fact that three of the most poignant "I Am" sayings of Jesus appear in John 8 (vv. 24, 28, and 58). The occasion on which this takes place is at the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths. A cursory glance at Deuteronomy 31 will reveal that this was the very occasion on which the Jews, who were expected to know Deuteronomy 32 by memory, were to gather for the reading of the Torah, inclusive of this song. In fact, numerous sources indicate that this song was sung on the Sabbath, i.e. the last great day of the Feast (cf. John 7:37), and so the words of Deuteronomy 32, which the Jews would have known in both their Hebrew and Aramaic form (the latter of which, remember, attributes the "I Am" saying to the Memra/Word), would have still been ringing in the ears of the people when Jesus declared Himself (three times over) to be the great "I Am".

In light of the fact that the response of the Jews was to pick up stones to stone Him, the ultimate proof of their unbelief and apostasy, it is also of note to recognize that according to Deuteronomy 31, the Song of chapter 32 was to be learned and sung precisely so that it would be a witness against them when they turned away from God in the future.

There is much more to say on this, but I will leave it here for now.

Michael said...

I liked your debate Samuel. The strong point you consistently make is "read the prophets" and your good explanation of salvation history overall.

Do you think it might help to also talk about the nature of God to protect His revelation? What does God say about himself if the scriptures that we have are unreliable or corrupted?

Anyway nice presentation as always and God bless!