Monday, January 25, 2016

Did Jesus Allow His Disciples to Worship Him? A Reply to Zakir Hussein, Ali Ataie, and Yahya Snow

Yahya Snow, a notorious YouTube Muslim polemicist, has been putting out some commentary on my recent debate with Muslim Sheikh Inamullah Mumtaz. In a recent video, he took some issue with my comments regarding Thomas worshiping Jesus as Lord and God in John 20:28. The Greek reads, ἀπεκρίθη Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ὁ Κύριός μου καὶ ὁ Θεός μου, which, being translated, literally means "Answered Thomas and said to him, the Lord of me and the God of me!"

Watching the clip where I raised this text, I noticed that I had mistakenly said that the text of John 20 uses the Greek verb proskuneo (meaning, in a religious context, "to worship"). I was relying on my memory and I misremembered the text at this point. John 20 does not in fact use the word proskuneo. Proskuneo is used in relation to Jesus on various other occasions, and the disciples are in fact described as giving Jesus proskuneo in Luke 24. What makes this especially important is that we are told that, following Jesus' ascension into heaven, the disciples, "having worshiped" (Greek, proskynēsantes) him, "returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52). Yahya Snow's video plays a clip in which Ali Ataie makes the assertion that proskuneo only implies that the disciples were kissing Jesus' hand out of reverence. While proskuneo can have those connotations, in a religious context, the verb always means to worship. The religious context of Luke 24:52 is very clear, since Jesus had already ascended into heaven. This, thus, refutes the supposition that they were merely kissing Jesus' hand out of reverence.

Yahya Snow also plays a clip of Muslim debater Zakir Hussein (arguably the best Muslim debater in the UK). He argues that the account in John 20 is in fact a fictional account invented wholesale by John (or whoever he takes the author of the fourth gospel to be). His reasoning is that Luke 24:36-49 reports Jesus as having appeared to "the eleven" who were all present together at the time (see verse 33). This, argues Hussein, doesn't allow for Thomas' absence from the group at the time of the appearance, nor a subsequent appearance to the disciples with Thomas present. Furthermore, John tells us that the appearance to the eleven with Thomas present occurred eight days later, whereas Luke seems to indicate that the ascension took place immediately after the appearance to the eleven. Luke 24:50-51 tell us,
"Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven."
One possible reply is that "the eleven" is being used as a figure of speech, much as "the twelve" is used in that way by Paul (see 1 Corinthians 15:5). I do not, however, find this approach to be the most convincing, since it seems to be rather ad hoc, and there is no additional evidence that Luke used the term "the eleven" in this way. It also would not explain the apparent immediacy of Jesus' ascension following the appearance to the eleven, allowing apparently no time for a subsequent appearance to the disciples with Thomas present.

The refutation to Zakir Hussein's objection can be found in the book of Acts (penned by the same author, Luke). Here is the prologue to the book of Acts:
"In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God."
So, Luke understands Jesus to have been with the disciples for forty days following his resurrection. Luke's language implies that he appeared to them multiple times over the course of forty days. Thus, the only conclusion that one can draw is that Luke, in chapter 24, telescopes the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, collapsing them all into one. This, thus, resolves the apparent discrepancy between Luke and John.

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