A Response to Dr. Shabir Ally (Part 2)

Third, no writings survive from the disciples themselves. The Second Letter of Peter is admitted even by conservative scholars to be written after Peter’s death. The First Letter of Peter is disputed as to whether or not Peter wrote it. Some scholars think he wrote it; others think he did not. Hence we cannot rely on that letter either.

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1)  Dr. Ally is simply repeating standard skeptical lines without providing the necessary foundational evidence.  This is how history is presented in academia today, but when you start asking tough questions, like, “Why?” you are often labelled a “fundamentalist” and ignored.  If you ask why Petrine authorship is rejected, you get two lines of argumentation:  A) the language of First and Second Peter differs greatly (a demonstrable fact known to anyone who has translated both), and 2) 2 Peter and Jude are clearly related and “late.”  Why late?  Well, you start with a particular theory of church development and then fit the early writing into your theory, of course.  So, just as in arguing that the Pastoral Epistles are non-Pauline (because, we are told, the church situation seen therein did not “develop” until later–and how do we know that?  We don’t.  It’s a theory, though much of modern scholarship is loathe to admit such things) here we have an argument based upon an opinion regarding what topics could, and could not, have been being discussed in the primitive period of the church.  These same mechanisms could be easily applied to the Qur’anic material as well.  For example, all one has to do is theorize as to the nature of the development of the Islamic law over time and then, on that basis, assign certain surahs to a later period, after the life time of Muhammad, because they don’t “fit” with your theory!  Of course, you could only get away with that in Western countries, currently.

N.B.  I would like to provide some reading for those who wish to look more fully into these issues without overwhelming the reader with obscure references.  Just a few resources that I grabbed quickly that would help to elucidate some of the preceding discussion:

For a full discussion of the relationship of Acts and the historical setting it presents (which would be directly relevant to Dr. Ally’s dismissal of the entirety of the recorded sermons as fabrications), see Colin J. Hember, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbraun’s, 1990).  On the authorship of James, see Douglas Moo, The Letter of James in the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, (Eerdmans, 2000), pp. 9-22.  For a discussion of Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, see Hendriksen and Kistemaker, Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews (Baker, 1955-1984), pp. 4-33.  And for Petrine authorship issues relating to his epistolary literature, see Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude, (Baker, 1987), pp. 213-219.

Returning to Dr. Ally’s comments,

The Gospel of Matthew is now thought not to be from the disciple Matthew, since it is widely believed to be copied from Mark. The disciple Matthew is unlikely to have relied on the writing of a non-disciple, Mark, for information about Jesus.

This is surely the natural result of a slavish acceptance of a documentary dependence theory.  (For a discussion of those issues, see Thomas and Farnell, The Jesus Crisis, Kregel, 1998).  But once again we see the incoherence of a Muslim who believes in the inspiration of the Qur’an following such theoretical reconstructions of a document that, I would strongly argue, is the only one that can qualify to fulfill the referent in the Qur’an to the “Injeel.”  What do I mean?  Well, simply, if Dr. Ally is going to insist upon ignoring other possibilities as to the origination of the gospels, and insist that when Matthew and Mark both quote the same material, word for word, that this must show literary dependence (i.e., there can be no supernatural guidance to any human writing whatsoever), how does he then explain his own text, the Qur’an?  As noted earlier, Dr. Ally believes the Qur’an accurately records the words of Jesus in a number of places when, in fact, historically, there is no connection between the Qur’an and the Jesus of history.  The only possible explanation is supernatural inspiration, the very thing he rejects, a priori, for Matthew and Mark.  So which will it be?  And if similarity of language demands we have direct lineal literary relationship, does not the Qur’an likewise become guilty of the utilization of preceding sources in its references to Jewish myths and legends as well as gnostic gospels and other non-canonical Christian writings?  Will Dr. Ally affirm that the author(s) of the Qur’an did, in fact, utilize pre-existing written documents?  If so, which ones, we wonder?

As for the Gospel of John, this too cannot in its present form be credited to the disciple John. This Gospel went through stages of editing which I described in summary form as follows. The disciple John, Son of Zebedee preached his memories of Jesus. A disciple of John took John’s preaching and preached on it further. This disciple of the disciple eventually wrote the results of his preaching in the Gospel. As is generally known, preachers in the heat of their sermons tend to mix up the quoted material with their own explanations. This is what happened also when this disciple of the disciple preached. This explains why in John’s Gospel it is often difficult to know where the quoted words of Jesus end and where the commentary of the writer begins. Moreover, a later editor inserted parts into the Gospel, and added the last chapter as well. In sum we have no dependable first-hand writing of the original disciples of Jesus.

I would simply like to ask Dr. Ally to provide us with some documentation of this amazingly complex reconstruction.  This is form criticism taken to the level of fantasy, as is so often seen in the most destructive of liberal critics.  But where is the evidence of this fanciful history?  And why can’t it be applied with equal facility to Surah al-Baqara, for example?  If there were a series of redactions, why do we not have multiple transmission streams for this gospel?  But what we really must see is how easily Shabir goes from a series of unfounded speculations to an absolutely firm conclusion, “we have no dependable first-hand writings of the original disciples of Jesus.”  Hopefully the reader can see that the chasm of evidence Dr. Ally has leapt with that statement is far wider than can be traversed successfully.

One other question I would honestly ask of the unbiased reader of the Qur’an: do you really think the author of the Qur’an would have come to the same conclusion Dr. Ally has?

The fourth point Dr. Ally raised is very important and I do not wish to rush through it, as it provides an excellent example of how destructive skeptical criticism can force a text into a form never dreamed of by earlier generations, let alone by the author himself.  As this month is the heaviest travel month of my adult life (thus far!), and I leave for Canada (ironically) in the morning, I will need to continue my response as time allows.  Thank you for reading!

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