Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Response to Yahya Snow On My Debate With Yusuf Ismail

Yahya Snow, a notorious Muslim YouTube polemicist, based in London, whom I have had dealings with in the past, has written a review of my recent debate with South African Muslim apologist Yusuf Ismail on Unbelievable?. The debate topic was "Did Jesus' earliest followers believe He was God?" Yahya begins his review by noting,
"I did not appreciate Jonathan McLatchie’s approach in this debate – it smacked of insincerity. I don’t believe that is an attitude anybody who is putting information out into the public domain should espouse. Very disappointing."
Snow goes on,
"Jonathan McLatchie begins by outlining the significance of this discussion as well stating his aims in the discussion. McLatchie at 9.45 injects wild speculation into his theology by claiming it is essential for the Christian worldview that Jesus was divine. Where’s his proof here? This seems to be old speculation that other evangelical Trinitarian Christians are putting forward, others such as James White."
Yes, you read that right. According to Snow, my contention that the deity of Christ is an essential Christian doctrine is "wild speculation." Actually, this contention can be supported from the words of Jesus Himself. In John 8:24, Jesus makes an allusion to Isaiah 43:10, saying, "I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am you will die in your sins."

Does Paul Affirm Christ's Deity?

Yahya goes on,
"Jonathan McLatchie’s intention is to attempt to demonstrate the disciples believed in the divinity of Jesus in an effort to refute Islam. McLatchie wants to show all the earliest sources affirm the deity of Jesus and/or the original followers affirmed this to try and “win the debate”. Jonathan firstly contends Paul clearly affirmed the deity of Jesus in Phil 2:5-11 and 1 Cor 8:6 Hold on did he say 1 Cor 8:6? If he did then we are all left scratching our heads as this is a text Unitarian Christians use to show the Father is the only true God (not Jesus!). What is Jonathan McLatchie thinking here? Here’s the text: yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things cameand for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live."
Yes, 1 Corinthians 8:6 affirms the deity of Christ. Paul takes the Jewish shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 ("Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One") and expands on it ("yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist"). Paul thus identifies Jesus Christ as the Lord of the shema and even identifies him as being co-creator with the Father. What is said of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 8:6 ("through whom are all things and through whom we exist") cannot be said of any mere creature.

Later in his review, Yahya asks whether the Carmen Christi (Philippians 2:5-11) supports the idea of the deity of Jesus. He writes,
"This is not really related to the debate subject either but it may be interesting for folks to delve deeper into this. A lot of evangelicals use this argument. However, does the Carmen Christie really teach the deity of Jesus in the manner in which Trinitarians would have us believe? I don’t think so. For those who are interested in researching this area, look into the idea of exaltation theology and subordinationism too. Again, are we seeing evangelicals thrusting their later church traditions on to the text?"
Actually, it is very related to the debate subject, since the Carmen Christi, quoted by Paul in Philippians 2:5-11, is believed by many scholars to be one of our very earliest sources concerning the beliefs of the early church. Given that our debate was on whether the earliest followers of Jesus affirmed His deity, how can Yahya Snow fail to see the relevance of this?

In verse 6 of Philippians 2, we read that Christ ὃς ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων (hos en morphē Theou hyparchōn) -- literally, "in the form of God subsisting..." In verse 7, we read, ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων (alla heuton ekenōsen morphēn doulou labōn en homoiōmati anthrōpōn) -- literally, "but himself emptied, the form of a servant having taken in the likeness of men." Notice that Paul uses the Greek word μορφῇ (morphē) in both clauses. He thus puts the two in the same category. Just as he was made in the form of a bondservant, so in the same sense he was in the form of God Himself. Verses 10 and 11 also allude to Isaiah 45:23, in which we read, "To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance." The whole context of the Carmen Christi, moreover, is an instruction to emulate the humility of Christ. But one is hardly commended for humility for the act of not seeking to achieve equality with God. Rather, it makes sense only if one is exercising humility by laying aside the divine privilege that was rightfully His.

My Approach in the Debate

Yahya writes,
"He then makes the claim Paul was approved by the leaders of the Jerusalem church (especially James and Peter) [Does he prove this?] – Jonathan believes 1 Cor 15 teaches Paul is of same theology as the other apostles. He also uses Gal 1 and 2 to support this claim. Bizarre. It’s a strange way of going about matters. Why did he not try and piece together what the disciples allegedly believed via the statements attributed to them in the New Testament rather than this convoluted route via Paul which is confusing and bizarrely speculative?"
If Snow wants me to demonstrate that the high Christology of the disciples from statements attributed to them in the New Testament, then I am happy to oblige. In Luke 24:52, for example, the disciples we are told προσκυνήσαντες (proskynēsantes / "having worshipped") Jesus, returned to Jerusalem with joy. The Greek verb προσκυνέω (proskyneō), in a religious context, always means to worship. The religious context of Luke 24:52 is clear because Jesus has already ascended.

We also know that Thomas affirmed Jesus' deity, since in John 20:28, he says, “My Lord and my God!” The Greek says ἀπεκρίθη Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ὁ Κύριός μου καὶ ὁ Θεός μου (apekrithē Thōmas kai eipen autō ho Kyrios mou kai ho Theos mou), which is literally translated "answered Thomas and said to him the Lord of me and the God of me."

We also have statements attributed to Peter, which affirm the deity of Christ. Peter, in Acts 2:21, alludes to Joel 2:32, in which we read that "everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved." But who does the context in Acts identify as Yahweh? Peter goes on to say in Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." Peter is even more explicit in Acts 4:12: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” If Joel tells us that all who call on the name of Yahweh will be saved, and Peter quotes this and identifies the only name by which we can be saved as that of Jesus Christ, how can one escape the conclusion that Peter is identifying Jesus as Yahweh?

Moreover, if one grants the authenticity of 1 Peter, Peter's affirmation of the deity of Christ is further supported by 1 Peter 3:14-15, in which Peter quotes from Isaiah 8:12-13. But instead of saying "The Lord of hosts you shall honour as Holy" (as per Isaiah), he says "Christ the Lord you shall honour as Holy."

The reason I prefer to use the approach that I utilized in the debate with Yusuf Ismail is that one might contest the historical authenticity of any or all of the reported statements I have just alluded to. But no one contests the authenticity of the epistles of Paul that I cited to support my case. Paul provides us with a unique window into the beliefs of the earliest church. That is why I adopt the approach that I do.

Yahya goes on,
"Yusuf seems perplexed at Jonathan McLatchie’s decision to go through Paul who was not an original disciple. He teaches Paul was in conflict with the original disciples on questions of law and monotheism. The Gospels and Acts were written under the influence of Pauline theology thus if there is something teaching the divinity of Jesus within those texts it would be due to this influence according to Yusuf Ismail."
No, Paul was not an original disciple of Jesus -- but he was closely acquainted with people who were. In the debate, I presented several lines of evidence for Paul approving of, and being approved by, the original disciples. Thus, by extension, his core creed -- and His identification of who Jesus is -- was probably likewise endorsed by the disciples too. See my article here for further unpacking of this argument.

Yahya continues,
"2 Cor 11: 4 shows Paul railing against other preachers – preachers of “another Jesus”. Who were these people? Yusuf suggests, through James Dunn, these other preachers were James, John and Peter. There’s some consideration on Peter being the rock of the church."
Who were these people? It is difficult to say. As I pointed out in the debate, unclear passages should always be interpreted in the light of clear passages. The texts that I cited concerning Paul being on good terms with the Jerusalem leadership are clear and unambigous. For example, consider this one, from Galatians 2:
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. [...] those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do."
Even within Paul's letters to the Corinthian church, there is explicit indication that Paul and the Jerusalem leadership were on the same team. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:11-15,
For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.
Paul thus rebukes the Corinthian Christians for being divided and following personalities, when in fact they (Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ) are all on the same team. There is some indication as to the reason for these divisions in 2 Corinthians 10:10 and 2 Corinthians 11:6. It seems likely that the Corinthian Christians were interested in oratory skills (Paul's being regarded as poor), and this may, at least in part, have been responsible for the divisions that existed among them.

Monotheistic Judaism

Yahya continues,
The Judaism contemporary to Paul was strictly monotheistic thus Jesus could not have been seen as divine. This is such a simple yet potent argument. If early Christians were really teaching Jesus was divine, co-equal and consubstantial with YHWH there would have been a huge controversy. Where’s the evidence of this controversy? Where are the councils? They had a council on the practice of circumcision yet Trinitarian apologists believe there was no controversy in teaching a man was God? Come on, let’s be frank here folks – this does not add up. Think about it.
As I pointed out in the debate, Paul was most certainly a Jew, and he affirmed the deity of Christ. Many Jews in the early church affirmed Jesus' deity. This is an historical fact.

The epistles of James and Jude were both written by Jews, and both affirm the deity of Christ. James 2:1, for example, says, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory." Jude 4 identifies Christ as "our only Sovereign and Lord." Jude 5 even identifies Jesus as the one who delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt: "Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe."

Qur'an 3:52 and 61:14

In the debate, I had made reference to Surah 3:52 and 61:14, in which we are told that the true followers of Jesus were granted victory by Allah and rose to dominance. Since the form of Christianity that "won out" was fundamentally Pauline, this presents a problem for Islam. To further compound this difficulty, I noted that Al Qurturbi, Al Tabari and Ibn Ishaq, in commenting on those verses, all affirm Paul as a true follower of Jesus (for more on this, see my article here). Yahya comments,
On 61:14, Jonathan cites Al Qurtobi in showing this verse was revealed about Jesus. OK what was the point of that – it’s apparent it’s about Jesus through the text!! Jonathan then mentions Ibn Isaac who apparently thought there was a disciple called Paul. Jonathan takes it waaaay too far by stating Ibn Isaac and Al Tabari affirms Paul as a true apostle (unbeknownst to him Al Tabari in his comments teaches those who say Jesus is God are liars – more on these internet polemics later).
I don't recall making any point in the debate about Al Qurturbi showing that this verse was revealed about Jesus. I quoted Al Qurturbi to show that, in commenting on Surah 61:14, Al Qurturbi affirmed Paul as a true follower of Jesus ("...of the apostles and disciples that Jesus sent there were Peter and Paul who went to Rome").

Yahya points out -- as Yusuf did during the debate -- that the individuals I cited most certainly did not subscribe to Pauline theology. Yes, indeed. But were they familiar with what Paul actually wrote? It seems unlikely -- otherwise, why would they explicitly identify him as a true apostle of Jesus Christ?

The Earliest Christology

Yahya continues,
McLatchie endeavours to show a high Christology in the earlier Gospels Matt 11 and Luke 7 (he theorizes this is a Q saying) – Jonathan believes this is high Christology. I don’t see it. Justin Brierley (the host) has to ask him how that quote (from Matt 11) teaches the deity of Jesus. It’s clearly not an explicit teaching of divinity! Jonathan is guilty of reading his own understanding into the text. We are seeing eisegesis and not exegesis here. Ask yourself why? Why is Jonathan continually trying to elucidate the obscure with obscure speculations?
The section I read from Matthew 11 and Luke 7, in the debate, is a Q saying. It is found in both Matthew and Luke but is completely absent from Mark. The parallels in wording suggest that Matthew and Luke are both drawing on a common source or tradition that is independent of Mark. This means that the text is likely to be quite early. In the text, Jesus quotes from Malachi 3:1, in which we read,
"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts."
Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the messenger whom God has sent in order to prepare the way for the coming of Yahweh Himself. Who was John the Baptist sent to prepare the way for? The Son of Man. Yahya notes that Yusuf had responded in the debate by claiming that "Matthew has reworked material to bring out later Christian teachings." But this missed the point, since Matthew and Luke are drawing here on a common source or tradition that is independent of Mark. The material is thus quite early.

Yahya goes on,
Jonathan uses Mark 1 in an attempt to prove high Christology. Mark 1 is where he tries to draw high Christology in using Isaiah 40 (apparently a ref to YHWH) and Mark 1:7 (a ref to Jesus). Again, this is eisegesis where Jonathan is foisting an inference upon Mark. If Mark really believed that, why did he not just say it? Why would he be so cryptic and leave it to fertile imaginations of later Christians like Jonathan to expound upon?
To the readership whom Mark was addressing -- who would be well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures -- the allusion would be rather obvious. He are the first three verses of Mark 1:
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”"
This is a clear allusion to Isaiah 40:3, in which the forerunner is said to prepare the way for the coming of Yahweh. Mark goes on to introduce John the Baptist as this messenger that is sent before God's face. But who does Mark present as the way whose way was prepared for? You don't have to keep reading very far to find out. In verses 7 and 8, John the Baptist himself tells us:
"After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Thus, Mark identifies Jesus as none other than Yahweh Himself.

For more examples of the deity of Christ in Mark's gospel, see my article here.

The Authorship of the Gospels

Yahya continues,
Jonathan believes the names attributed to the Gospels are actually the authors. His reasoning about Mark being an unlikely choice as there are “better” individuals to attribute to that Gospel such as Peter and James. He’s basically arguing bigger names (authorities) could have been used, why use a relatively small name? OK, Jonathan is really annoying critical thinkers – AGAIN. Look, folk (at the inception of Mark’s Gospel) would have known Peter was illiterate as he passed away shortly before that Gospel was written, thus to claim Peter wrote that Gospel would have been ridiculous as all the contemporary audiences would have been aware that Gospel came about AFTER Peter’s death. In addition, any semi-smart contemporaneous liar would have known the audience would be familiar with Peter’s inability to write such a work. To attribute a Gospel to him at that time would have effectively been asking to be called out as a liar. So, it doesn’t take a great deal of critical thinking here to see why folk would have attributed it to Mark rather than Peter. Mark was close to Peter thus attributing it to Mark would have been tantamount to linking it to Peter. In fact, it seems it’s the closest one could link a Gospel to Peter. For Jonathan to claim Mark must have been written by Mark as there would have been no real desire to attribute that Gospel to Mark who was a relatively small personality is invalid argumentation. One, upon having thought this through critically in the cold light of the facts available, could quite easily see the motivation for dishonest men to attribute that Gospel to Mark.
Actually, there is a cumulative case for Mark being the author of Mark's gospel, and its material being based upon the eyewitness testimony of Peter (for a short review of some of this evidence, I invite readers to see my article here). Justin Martyr identifies Mark's gospel as the "memoirs of Peter." Peter seems like a much more likely choice for the attribution of this gospel than Mark. Mark is by comparison a very minor character, and is best known for having abandoned Paul in Pamphylia and causing a split between Paul and Barnabus. In his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham presents some internal indicators that Mark's gospel was in fact based on the eyewitness testimony of Peter. The convergence of internal and external evidence presents a strong cumulative case.

Now, let me respond to Yahya's argument about Peter being illiterate and being dead by the time Mark's gospel was written, I would date Mark fairly early. I personally think Mark's gospel was definitely composed before Peter's death in the mid-60's. This is partially because I date the book of Acts to the early 60's, which would mean Luke has to be earlier still, and there is good reason to think Mark is earlier than Luke. Peter is also the attributed author in two epistles found in our New Testament canon, and we know that -- even on the assumption that Peter was illiterate -- he could have used a scribe, as in fact he apparently did when writing his epistles (see 1 Peter 5:12).


I am afraid I was rather disappointed with Yahya's review. As I have experienced before in my viewing of Yahya's rebuttals to my material on his YouTube channel (as well as on his blog), his critiques were shallow, failed to engage with my argumentation in a serious fashion, and exhibited a condescending and dismissive tone.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Great stuff Jonathan. I love reading your work. Yahya like Paul Williams is truly disappointing. I was mesmerized by Sam Shamoun's response (s) to William's recent character assassination. Needless to say the coward Williams deleted it all.