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.
1) 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.