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Worldview

What do you get when D.A. Carson, John Frame, Scott Oliphint and Michael Kruger are in agreement? A book that you need to purchase right now. James Anderson’s new book What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions is available for one week only for $5.50. Click here to purchase this book.

Here is a 16pg. PDF of the book. And here are some lectures by Dr. Anderson from this past fall. He spoke on these topics “Can I Trust the Bible Over Evolutionary Science?”, “Can I Trust the Bible Over the Quran?”, and participated in a Q&A.

Response to Dr. Shabir Ally, Part IV (Conclusion)

I hurry to finish my response to the article published by Dr. Shabir Ally shortly after our debate at the University of Pretoria in South Africa in early October.  This is the fourth, and thankfully, final portion of my response.  Dr. Ally continued:

James was clearly in a bind. He could not answer my points, and I had answered all of his main points. As I pointed out, James’ thinking was not precise: he had missed the topic. His thinking was not historical: he did not show that the evidence he was adducing really go back to the disciples. And his reasoning was circular: for example, he cited Mark 10:18 to show that Jesus was claiming to be God. But his proof only works if he starts out by assuming that Jesus is God. Thus he argues that when Jesus asked: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus was alerting his listener that he is actually God. But if we do not assume that Jesus was God, which is the disputed point, James’ proof does not work. It is then obvious that Jesus was distinguishing himself from God.

DSCF05241)  I am in hopes that the videos of the debates will be made available soon so that the interested observer can find out if, in fact, I was in a “bind,” if I could not answer these points, and if Shabir actually provided a compelling response to my own presentation.  I obviously differ with his interpretation of the events, and believe the information I have provided thus far shows why.

2)  I had not, of course, missed the topic.  In any scholarly discussion of the earliest sources of the Christian faith, I had, in fact, “nailed” those sources in my opening statement.  It is Shabir’s insistence upon dismissing the Markan material as the earliest gospel material (what is earlier even from his viewpoint?) based upon the bland observation that Mark was not one of the Twelve that places him well outside the scholarly realm of doing “history” at this point.  Further, the even earlier tradition I identified in other sources, including pre-Pauline sources, proved my case.  Shabir’s flight to the Old Testament and to presuppositional insistence that the “Jewish monotheist” simply could not accept what had happened in the Incarnation is, of course, a classic example of begging the question.  It fits every published definition of the term.

3)  Dr. Ally’s radical skepticism (which I must again point out is utterly outside of his own Muslim worldview—the standards he seems to demand for material to go to the early disciples of Jesus would preclude him from accepting the vast majority of the Islamic story of Muhammad, the Sunna, the origination of the Qur’an, etc. and etc.) precludes anyone, let alone me, from providing data from the original disciples of Jesus because Shabir doesn’t believe we have anything from them at all!  He dismisses Matthew, dismisses John, dismisses Peter—is this the only way the Muslim critic can win the debate is by simply eliminating all possible sources of information and then saying, “See, I win”?  Hopefully not!

4)  Dr. Ally does not properly understand circular reasoning if he thinks my comments on Mark 10 are, in fact, circular.  The question is, “What do Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler indicate concerning Himself?”  Shabir assumes, again against his own Muslim heritage, that Jesus is denying goodness, something that again requires him to isolate this text from the rest of Mark and from the rest of the Gospel account.  Is this circular reasoning?  I allow the text to stand in the context of Mark and of the rest of the Gospel accounts, and recognize that Jesus is fully aware of the man’s idolatry from the very start.  Hence His question makes perfect sense in the full context of the encounter.  Shabir does not exegete NT texts in this fashion.  His conclusions are already fixed by a document that would not be written for another half a millennium.

5)  Notice Shabir’s statement, “Jesus was distinguishing himself from God.”  Assumption: unitarianism.  Jesus distinguished Himself from the Father, repeatedly.  Jesus worshipped the Father as God.  Such would be necessary for the Perfect Man.  But to miss the repeated testimony of the entirety of Mark, especially, as we will see below, Jesus’ own self-identification as the Son of Man, is to again allow an external source to determine your conclusions.  It is not fair or scholarly exegesis of the text.

Dr. Ally continued:

Something happened during the cross examination which I am still trying to fathom. I asked James if Jesus in Mark’s Gospel clearly says, “I am the Son of Man,” while using the title for the one who was to come in the future. James replied in the affirmative. The passages in question were Mark 13:25-27 and 14:61-63. As I pointed out, anyone reading these passages can see that Jesus did not clearly say, “I am the Son of Man.”

We both have a hard time fathoming the other at times, and this is surely one of those times!  There are few things more clearly laid out in Scripture than Jesus’ self-description by the title “the Son of Man.”  Once again, only by ignoring the intention of the authors and cutting the texts up into isolated chunks can the obvious teachings of the Scriptures be missed.

We note that the phrase “son of man” is not uncommon in the Scriptures, and in particular, in the Tanakh.  But there is a particular usage of the Son of Man language that is vitally important:

“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

“And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve (יִפְלְח֑וּן , λατρεύουσα) Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.  (Daniel 7:13–14)

Let’s look at the texts:

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  (Mark 2:9–11)

Comment:  Who is the Son of Man here?  Obviously, Jesus, unless you are going to try to theorize that the Son of Man is someone else and Jesus is his representative, or some such idea.  But the obvious reading is that Jesus is saying the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—and He then does what?  Forgives the man’s sins.

And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27–28)

Comment:  Once again Jesus is clearly self-identifying as the Son of Man in light of His actions on the Sabbath.  Of course, this text likewise indicates the divine nature and power of the Son of Man, for God Himself is Lord of the Sabbath.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Comment:  Here, too, the self-identification is beyond question.  Who else in the Gospel of Mark is rejected by the elders and chief priests and is killed and then rises again?  So clearly, Jesus is the Son of Man.

For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”  (Mark 8:38)

Comment:  This is only a few sentences after v. 31 where we have a clear identification of Jesus as the Son of Man.  If this text were to be isolated (as it often is by critics) you could argue Jesus is referring to someone else, but in context, that is not possible.  This is another self-identification passage, but again one that points to the exalted nature of the Son of Man, who bears the glory of the Father and is accompanied by angels (no mere prophet here!).

And as they were coming down the mountain, He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  (Mark 9:9)

Comment:  After Jesus appears in glory in the presence of the Father He once again self-identifies as the Son of Man in light of His previous prophetic word about His coming death and resurrection.

And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that He should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?  (Mark 9:12)

Comment:  Once again, in light of the prophetic announcement of His coming death and resurrection these words can only be applied to Jesus, hence identifying Him as the Son of Man.

For He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”  (Mark 9:31)

Comment:  Another prophetic self-identification passage in harmony with the preceding texts.  I note only in passing that Surah 4:157 makes Jesus a false prophet in these passages.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.”  (Mark 10:33–34)

Comment:  The repetition of the prophetic message where again Jesus is the Son of Man makes it painfully clear that, if one simply allows for Mark to have any authorial intentions at all, he intends to communicate Jesus’ own self-identification as the Son of Man.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45)

Comment:  The interweaving of the crucifixion/resurrection narrative with the Son of Man narrative will come to full fruition at Jesus trial, as we will see.  There is also an echo from Isaiah 53 here, again in contradiction to common Islamic argumentation.

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  (Mark 13:26–27)

Comment:  Even before the signal text in Mark 14 Jesus uses the Daniel and Psalms passages together to present the glorious appearing of the Son of Man.  His own claiming of this identity in Mark 14 will be the pinnacle of this narrative.  Note as well, though, the further solidification of the identity of the Son of Man as divine, for He “sends out” the angels to “gather His elect from the four winds.”  The elect of God belong to the Son of Man.

For the Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”  (Mark 14:21)

Comment:  Again, it is simply impossible to miss the obvious fact that Jesus is self-identifying as the Son of Man in His own betrayal and crucifixion.

And He came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  (Mark 14:41)

Comment:  Even as the betrayal takes place Jesus uses the Son of Man designation of Himself.  The idea that this is some eschatological figure is refuted by the simple observation that the betrayal is happening right then.  Jesus is clearly the Son of Man.

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need?  You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned Him as deserving death.  (Mark 14:61–64)

Comment:  This is the pinnacle, the finale, of the narrative crafted by Mark and which runs throughout his gospel, as we have seen by just this brief survey.  In direct contradiction to Islamic beliefs, Jesus affirms that He is “the Son of the Blessed” (compare the words of Surah 19:88-92), but then immediately identifies the Son of the Blessed with the Son of Man, quoting from Psalm 110 and Daniel 7.  There is no argument about the meaning of His words, as the high priest immediately recognizes the claim and its implications.  He tears his garments, identifies the words as blasphemy (which, if Dr. Ally is right, and Jesus is a “mere rasul,” would be correct!), and condemns Jesus to death based upon the law.

So we simply must ask, how can Shabir miss this clear, consistent testimony from Mark?  If we added in Matthew and Luke, the list would be overwhelming, the consistency irrefutable.  So how he cannot “fathom” the plain, clear reading of the text is very hard to see, until one realizes that Dr. Ally and the skeptical critics he depends upon are not seeking to fairly handle the text of Mark or the New Testament as a whole.  No, it is presuppositional with them all (for very different reasons) to take the NT text as a play thing, a ball of wax to be formed into whatever they see fit, depending upon the goal that is theirs.  This is the fundamental difference between believing exegesis which allows the text to speak for itself, and the interpretations so common today that do not even make a pretense of so doing.

And so we await the provision of the video of the debates from South Africa with eagerness, hoping that the interested viewers will find in them much that will edify and will assist in their understanding of these important issues.

Response to Dr. Ally, Part III

Before flying to Vancouver over the weekend I began responding to an article posted by Dr. Shabir Ally relating to the substance of our debate at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, which took place on Tuesday, October 8th.  I had come to the fourth point in Dr. Ally’s presentation:

My fourth reason for thinking that the original disciples did not consider Jesus God is that Paul’s writings bear evidence that he was in conflict with the original disciples not only over questions of law but also over the question of monotheism. In 2 Corinthians 11:4, it is clear that Paul’s opponents were preaching what Paul calls ‘another Jesus.’ Elsewhere in Paul’s writings it becomes clear that his opponents are the original disciples of Jesus and close followers of the disciples. Now, as Bruce Chilton mentioned, the original disciples’ response to Paul’s accusations are not found in the New Testament. Given the chance, the disciples can be expected to say that their Jesus was the original Jesus, and Paul’s Jesus was the ‘other Jesus.’

DSCF0502

The University of Pretoria, South Africa

I wanted to spend a little time on this claim because it will probably not make much sense to most in our audience.  Christians who hear sound, consistent, believing teaching will have no basis upon which to even understand the allegation being made.  So I wanted to make sure it was clear so that its refutation can be understood as well.

Today it is very popular in skeptical scholarship to begin with the most egregiously indefensible presuppositions and then force them upon the text.  Clearly, the scholars Dr. Ally looks to begin not with the assumption of the unity of the New Testament, but its disunity.  They feel free to theorize about “earlier forms” of books, cut and edit as they see fit, introduce contradiction, etc. Nowhere is this seen with more clarity than in this particular assertion which has become very popular today, at least amongst the radical skeptics.

What lies behind Dr. Ally’s argument is the idea that there was a massive rift between Paul and the other Apostles, such as Peter.  Note his words, “Elsewhere in Paul’s writings it becomes clear that his opponents are the original disciples of Jesus.”  It is being argued today that the people Paul referred to as the “super Apostles” were, in fact, Peter and James and the rest of the Jerusalem leadership, and that there was a great schism between Paul and these original disciples of Jesus.  So, then, Dr. Ally hopes to insert a rift into the text of the Bible, turning Paul into an opposer of the “true disciples of Jesus.”

How should we respond to such an assertion?  Well, first, let’s address the text cited, that being 2 Corinthians 11.  The primary interpretive issue is the identity of the τῶν ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων, “the foremost” or “super” apostles (depending on how we understand the phrase to be used here).  Two primary possibilities exist, as laid out in the following citations from recognized commentators:

5. The superlative apostles (Gk hyperlian apostoloi) to whom, according to Paul’s opponents, he himself was so inferior ( cf. 12.11), can scarcely be other than the Jerusalem apostles, including James (as in Gal. 1.19). Such language, by whomsoever used, could not well be applied to men of lower apostolic status than theirs. By this time, perhaps, none of the Twelve was actually resident in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem would still be regarded as their home base. Their designation as superlative apostles might conceivably go back to the intruders in Corinth, who by this phrase, invoked the authority of men whose commission and status were so incomparably superior, by their account, to anything that Paul could justly claim; but there is a strong flavour of irony about the expression, and it is more likely that it is Paul’s way of summing up his opponents’ portrayal of the Jerusalem leaders. We may compare his reference in Gal. 2.9 to ‘James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars’; it may indeed be these three who are primarily in view here. Paul has no thought of depreciating their apostolic status; he is at pains to emphasize that his is not in the least inferior to theirs. He had received his commission from the risen Christ (I C. 9.1; 15.8; Gal. 1.12), and, by his own account, so had they (1 C. 15.5-7). Even if he permits himself a measure of irony, it is rather at the expense of his opponents’ portrayal of the Jerusalem apostles than at the expense of the apostles themselves; in fact, whatever he may have thought or felt about the failure to observe the delimitation of mission fields agreed upon at Jerusalem, he is studiously careful to avoid any overt criticism of the Jerusalem apostles, while he is unsparing in his denunciation of the intruders who invoked their authority ( cf. verses 13-I 5).  F.F. Bruce, The New Century Bible Commentary, I&II Corinthians, (Eerdmans, 1971, pp. 236-237)

Paul continues to use the first person singular (see vv. 1, 2, 3) and states his own opinion about the infiltrators. He compares himself with them and facetiously calls them superapostles. He repeats this name in the next chapter, where he again states that he is not inferior to these people (12:11; see also 11:23). By resorting to derision, Paul implicitly indicates that the Corinthians already should have evaluated the intruders as impostors. Indeed, they needed to come to Paul’s defense and dismiss his rivals.

Who are these so-called superapostles? Are they Jesus’ twelve disciples and others who followed him from the time of his baptism to that of his ascension (Acts 1 :21-22)? This interpretation fails to do justice to the immediate context, in which Paul speaks of an opponent who preaches a different Jesus (see v. 4). Moreover, the three pillars of the church (Peter, James, and John) had come to an agreement with Paul on a division of labors between Peter and Paul (Gal. 2:6-9). Apart from a confrontation at Antioch, we do not read of any tension between these two apostles (Gal. 2:11-14) or the rest of them. Hence, we cannot infer that Paul considers himself inferior to the Jerusalem apostles. Rather, he employs irony when he labels the Judaizing interlopers as superapostles.

The expression superapostles “even linguistically brings out the impossible nature of such apostles,” because being an apostle of Jesus is in itself incomparable.  The list of spiritual gifts indicates no higher position than that of apostle (I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11).

If the superapostles are not identified with the apostles in Jerusalem, we must associate them with the false apostles whom Paul mentions in verse 13. These men came to Corinth on their own accord, adopted the name apostles to gain entry into the church, and gave the impression of possessing more authority than Paul.  Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 2 Corinthians, (Baker, 1997), p. 365.

The sense here again depends on the connection. If the γὰρ refers to v. 4, the reference must be (as so often occurs in Paul’s writings) to a thought omitted. ‘Ye are wrong in thus bearing with the false teachers, for I am equal to the chief apostles.’ This, however, is not in harmony with the context. Paul’s design is not so much to reprove the Corinthians for tolerating the folly of the false teachers as to induce them to bear with his. He felt it to be necessary to vindicate himself, and he therefore prays them to bear with him a little in his folly. To this point every thing here refers. They should thus bear with him, I. Because he was jealous over them with a godly jealousy. 2. Because they would bear with any who really preached another gospel, were that possible. 3. Because he was on a par with the chief apostles. The connection, therefore, is not with v. 4, but with the main subject as presented in v. 1. This also determines the question, Who are meant by the chiefest apostles? If the connection is with v. 4, then the expression is to be understood ironically in reference to the false teachers. ‘Ye do wrong to tolerate them, for I am in no respect behind those superlative apostles.’ So Beza, Billroth, Olshausen, Meyer, and the majority of the moderns. The reason given for this is, that there is no controversy with the true apostles in this connection, and therefore nothing to call for such an assertion of his equality with them as we find in Gal. 2, 6-11. There is, however, no force in this reason if the connection is with v. I. ‘Bear with me in my boasting, for I am not behind the chiefest apostles.’ In this view the reference to the true apostles is pertinent and natural. Paul says, μηδὲν ὑστερηκέναι, that as to nothing, in no one respect, had he fallen short, or was he left behind by the chiefest apostles; neither in gifts, nor in labours, nor in success had any one of them been more highly favoured, nor more clearly authenticated as the messenger of Christ. He was therefore fully entitled to all the deference and obedience which were due to the chiefest apostles. The expression τῶν ὑpερλίαν ἀpοστόλων, is not in itself bitter or ironical. This is a force which must be given by the connection; it does not lie in the words themselves. It is not equivalent to the ψευδαpόστολοι of v. 13, and therefore there is no more reason why the true apostles should not be called οι ὑpερλίαν ἀpόστολοι than οἱ δοκοῦντες εἶναί τι in Gal. 2, 6. The argument, therefore, which the Reformers derived from this passage against the primacy of Peter is perfectly legitimate. Paul was Peter’s equal in every respect, and so far from being under his authority, he not only refused to follow his example but reproved him to his face. Gal. 2, 11.  Charles Hodge, I&II Corinthians (1859) pp. 631-632.

He then proceeds to refute the two reasons which were assigned for the disparagement of his apostolic authority, viz., (a) he had none of the arts of a trained rhetorician, (b) he had not claimed maintenance from the Church of Corinth, which he had a right to do, if of genuine “apostolic” rank. οἱ ὑπερλίαν ἀπόστολοι, “these superfine Apostles” is thus, as at 12:11, an ironical description of the ψευδαπόστολοι (ver. 13) against whom he is contending. The A.V. and R.V. render “the very chiefest Apostles,” i.e., the original Twelve, who received their commission directly from Christ, and especially Peter, James and John; but to introduce any mention of them here would be irrelevant, and would interrupt the argument (they were ἰδιῶται ἐν λόγῳ), not to speak of the fact that ὑπερλίαν seems always in Greek literature to be used in an ironical sense.  Benard, J. H. (n.d.). The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary. New York: George H. Doran Company.

1.      If οἱ ὑπερλίαν ἀπόστολοι are (οἱ) ψευδαπόστολοι (11:13), that is, Paul’s rivals at Corinth, then the expression “the superlative apostles” is either the self-description of “the false apostles” or the Corinthians’ appraisal of “the false apostles” or Paul’s sarcastic/ironical description of “the false apostles” or of their own opinion of themselves.

2.      If οἱ ὑπερλίαν ἀπόστολοι are not (οἱ) ψευδαπόστολοι, then the expression “the superlative apostles” is either “the false apostles’ ” description of the Twelve or the so-called three “pillars” (στῦλοι, Gal. 2:9, namely James, Cephas, and John) in the church of Jerusalem or Paul’s own commendatory or derogatory description of the Twelve or the Three or his parodying of the Corinthian view of “the false apostles” or his own ironical description of the exalted view of the Twelve held by “the false apostles.”

In the Introduction I have endeavored to defend this last position. The most compelling arguments in favor of drawing a distinction between “the superlative apostles” and “the false apostles” (#2 above) are these. First, it is difficult to imagine that Paul would refer to himself as “in no way inferior” to false teachers whom he describes as “deceitful workmen” (11:13) and servants of Satan (11:15). It would be very appropriate for him to claim equality with the Twelve or the Three, but wholly incongruous to claim to be not a whit behind “false apostles.” Second, when Paul compares himself with the “false apostles” he speaks boldly and positively and claims superiority (“… so am I [11:22, three times] … I am more … much harder … more frequently … more severely,” 11:23 [NIV]), but when he compares himself with “the superlative apostles” he speaks mildly and negatively and implies equality (“I am not at all inferior,” 11:5; 12:11). Third, the apostles who are “false” provoke Paul’s forthright and direct denunciation (11:13, 15), even if he takes their allegations and claims seriously, whereas he treats the apostles who are “superlative” indirectly (11:5; 12:11) and with a gentle irony that is comparable to his depiction of the Three as “those who were reputed (οἱ δοκοῦντες) to be pillars” (Gal. 2:9; cf. Gal. 2:6). Fourth, whatever the source of the expression οἱ ὑπερλίαν ἀπόστολοι, would Paul himself have applied the term ἀπόστολοι, however understood, to those he describes as ψευδαπόστολοι? This phrase, “by whomsoever used, could not well be applied to men of lower apostolic status than theirs,” namely “the Jerusalem apostles, including James” (Bruce 236–37).

In 10:12 Paul disavows comparison between himself and his rivals, although he engages in such in 11:22–29 as part of his κατὰ σάρκα boasting (11:18). Here in 11:5, on our view, he resorts to comparison between himself and the Jerusalem leaders, claiming that he is “in no respect” (μηδέν) inferior to them. μηδέν is surprising, since Paul was not a Judean Jew, was not a member of the mother church in Jerusalem, and was without a personal acquaintance with Jesus. But a rigorist understanding of μηδέν is inappropriate in the context. μηδὲν ὑστερηκέναι, “to be in no way inferior,” is litotes for εἶναι ἴσα ἐν παντί (cf. Phil. 2:6), “to be equal in every way,” and Paul has in mind his parity of status as an apostle (as in 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:5, 8–11) (note τῶν … ἀποστόλων) and as a person competent in knowledge of the faith (γνῶσις, 11:6). This assertion of equality is a response to unfavorable comparisons between Paul and the original apostles being made by his rivals who were illegitimately invoking the authority of the Twelve (and James) in support of their own Judaizing program at Corinth. Paul’s overall point in v. 5 is that if the Corinthians tolerated intruders who brought a counterfeit gospel (v. 4) and made inflated claims concerning the Jerusalem leadership (cf. v. 5), they ought also to bear with him in his “bit of foolishness” (v. 1).  Murray J. Harris (2005). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 746–748). Grand Rapids, MI; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press.

Let me summarize.  If οἱ ὑπερλίαν ἀπόστολοι refers to Peter, James, and John, it would be referring to the interloper’s use of their names as a means of denigrating Paul’s authority in the church in Corinth.  It would not be a slight upon his fellow Apostles themselves.  If the phrase does not refer to them (depending on whether you take v. 5 as being connected directly to v. 1 or v. 4) then it would be a direct reference to the interlopers and their pretended authority, paralleling v. 13.  In either case, there is nothing in the context to even begin to insinuate that Paul is saying the original disciples of Jesus are preaching a different Jesus than he is preaching.

So how can modern hyper-skeptics come to the conclusion that there was this huge rift between Paul and Peter when the text nowhere even hints at such a thing?  The starting assumption must be recognized.  There is one assumption that must be made right at the start, though it is rarely stated as openly as it should be.  The Apostle Paul was a liar.  Simple, yes?  There is no way to sugar-coat it.  You have to start out with the simple belief that what Paul wrote in his epistles is dishonest, misleading, erroneous, and purposefully so.  Paul was a liar.  And Luke, to quote one recent popular writer (Reza Aslan), was Paul’s “sycophant,” so, he, too, is to be dismissed as a liar.  So you begin with the assumption that nothing Paul or Luke says is true, and then you have an open door through which to drive a semi tractor worth of theories and speculations, unhindered by the actual historical documents you are pretending to interpret all along.  Guilty until proven innocent, but, of course, there really is no mechanism allowed for proving Paul innocent since the starting point of the entire process is his own guilt!

Hence, if Paul says he and Peter agreed on the gospel—well, Paul is a liar.  No evidence of a division between them about who Jesus was?  Paul was a liar.  Luke records the Acts 15 council and there is no division over who Jesus was or what He did?  Luke was a liar, too.  See how easy this is?  Find evidence in the Petrine epistles that he taught what Paul taught?  Peter didn’t write any of that anyway! So, once you say you don’t have anything that actually reflects Peter’s views, and Paul is a liar, and now you have the stuff of modern radical skepticism.

Of course, Dr. Ally would never, ever allow us to do this with Muhammad, or Abu Bakr, or Aisha, or any of the other early Muslim figures or writers.  But he does so with Paul.  In fact, this kind of anti-Paulinism is not only popular amongst liberal writers today, it is simply epidemic amongst Muslim apologists.  It is easy to see why, for Dr. Ally admitted in our debate that Paul taught that Jesus was Yahweh in human flesh, and though Shabir still does not understand how that can be (he does not seem to comprehend the distinction between being and person, nor allow for such distinctions in his thought, though, again, he makes similar distinctions in his own theological concepts regarding Allah, Allah’s attributes, and the eternality of the Qur’an as uncreated), the fact remains that there is a fundamental, unalterable, and irreconcilable difference of thought and teaching between the epistles of Paul (and I would argue, all the New Testament writings) and the understanding of the Qur’an.  Of course, I do not believe the author of the Qur’an was at all aware of this (if he was, why is there no warning against Paul?  Why no refutation of Paul’s Christology and a vindication of Peter’s, for example?), but that is the problem: Dr. Ally’s view of the NT is forged by his understanding of a later work, a work that is fundamentally flawed in its understanding of the New Testament.

Dr. Ally’s fifth point he expressed this way:

Fifth, Jesus himself is known to have taught that he is a man and not God. But the Gospels distorted the image of Jesus transforming him from a man to something greater. This can be seen as we compare Mark, the first Gospel, to Matthew and Luke. But this evolution can be seen even more as we compare Mark with John, the last of the four Gospels to be written.

Briefly, once again, Shabir insists upon an anachronistic redefinition of Christian belief.  Yes, Jesus taught He was a man.  Well, He did not have to do that, everyone could see that.  But Christians affirm the humanity of Jesus.  Any orthodox confession speaks of this truth.  But it is a presupposition that we have already challenged repeatedly that there is any such distortion of Jesus’ image, and repeating the same old “I can read the mind of Matthew and based upon my theories of gospel originations and assuming the gospel writers simply edited the earlier versions in a blind fashion I can come up with this theoretical conclusion” arguments will not do in this debate.  The whole point of the debate was to get beyond the repetition of that old argument and ask the most basic question—is there any strata of the earliest tradition that is devoid of an exalted view of Jesus, and my answer was, no, there is not.  And that is why the first part of this response was so important, because Dr. Ally conceded the point!  By abandoning the New Testament evidence and going to the Old Testament Shabir was admitting the whole point of the thesis of the debate!

There is yet some more to respond to, which I hope to get to very quickly in the next portion of my reply.

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!

A Special South Africa Report Dividing Line Today!

Provided a report on the ministry in South Africa today on the program.  We managed to stream some pictures from the events, including the debate in the masjid in Erasmia, and I played some clips from my debates with Shabir Ally.  Also provided some very necessary thanks to the many folks who made this entire trip possible.  Here’s the audio program and the video is below.