13 replies

  1. I honestly am not sure how this follows. I mean, I think I get the idea (i.e. if Christians had interpreted select passages the way you interpret them, things would be different?), but it still seems to me that broad strokes of what separates Christianity from orthodox Islam flow naturally from the Bible.

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    • As a devout Jew Jesus preached monotheism:

      ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord’.

      The doctrine of the Trinity is nowhere to be found. The altered theology of the later church with its creeds and councils and severe punishments meted out to dissenters would not have been necessary if people had adhered to this simple and pure monotheism.

      Hence the need for Islam to correct the error. Alhamdulillah.

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      • We agree that Jesus preached Monotheism. Where things break down between us is on the question of the ontology of the one God.

        I would agree that Jesus is not quoted as explicitly and unambiguously laying out a full doctrine of the Trinity, but so too, He does not clearly stake out a unitarian position either. Hence why each side tries to offer their interpretations of various passages.

        The New Testament depicts Jesus as doing a number of curious things, like:
        – putting forth a biconditional proposition which, if taken seriously, makes affirming His goodness only possible if one affirms His divinity (Mark 10:18),
        – sharing a parable which seems to clearly allude to Him being the Son of God in a unique sense, who comes after all the prophets, and who would be killed (Mark 12:1-8),
        – grouping Himself in a veritable basmala with two participants in (or agents of) creation (Matthew 28:19),
        – identifying Himself as the Son of God and conflating Himself with an obscure figure who was like a human yet who would be served (perhaps even worshiped) by men from all nations, in a way which was considered blasphemous at least from a Sadducean perspective (Mark 14:60-64 with Daniel 7:13-14),
        – teaching that He Himself and God the Father are one in the sense of Deuteronomy 32:39 applying to both (John 10:28-30), and
        – applying titles of God to Himself (Revelation 1:17 with Isaiah 44:6).

        Now, I know you might wish to try to reinterpret some of those texts, and deny others. Regarding such denial, with all due respect, there is no clear methodology for declaring which of those statements was not uttered by Jesus (and a mere appeal to scholars who doubt a statement was uttered by Jesus does not therefore mean it was not uttered by Him).

        As for appeals to Jesus being a “devout Jew,” it is unclear how far that takes us. On the one hand, I recall, for example, that for Muslims posting to the previous blog, Jesus being a Jew wasn’t evidence that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah (exempli gratia). Moreover, it is interesting that the Talmud seems to have polemics accusing Jesus of apostasy or blasphemy, and the Gospel of Mark (which you posit is the earliest Gospel) likewise depicts Jewish authorities of accusing Jesus of blasphemy worthy of death. It seems unclear, therefore, how perfectly He lined up with the Judaisms of His time (i.e. Him being a Jew does not preclude Him from taking positions that other Jews would have found objectionable).

        In the end, this point would remain: Christendom taking seriously statements like those touched on above (as well as the narrative material of the New Testament beyond the quotes attributed to Jesus) can easily lead to doctrinal positions contrary to orthodox Islam.

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      • Denis you say: ‘As for appeals to Jesus being a “devout Jew,” it is unclear how far that takes us.’

        It can take us a considerable distance. Let us consider the notion of ‘historical constraints’. We are all subject to the constraints imposed by the culture in which we find ourselves. If successful communication is to take place there must be constraints which are recognised by speaker and listener alike. Jesus was at the very least a teacher and preacher who had to speak in a manner his followers could understand.

        Today, we have a wealth of new historical detail which was simply not known to previous generations of scholars. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the application of modern critical methods to post-biblical Jewish writings in Greek and other tongues have greatly increased our knowledge of Jesus’s environment in which he lived and the cultural constraints to which he was exposed. This information is of great relevance to Christology.

        These constraints, which were discussed in the pioneering work of Géza Vermes in 1973 (see below), help us to establish the historical options which were open to a person like Jesus and his contemporaries. We can build up a profile of Jesus independently of later ecclesiastical christologies.

        To give one controversial example, Mark 10:17-18 tells us,

        As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

        “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.

        A detailed survey of the Jewish theology of the Second temple period would not lead us to expect that a Jew encountering a Jewish Rabbi in the early first century would have expected him to be the literal incarnation of Yahweh. Such an option was simply not open to him. The constraints of history suggest that no Jew expected Yahweh to be a man who walked the streets of Jerusalem.

        This insight in turn will inform our exegesis of Mark 10:17. Contrary to the strained interpretations of much contemporary Christian apologetics, this only makes sense if Jesus is not ‘claiming to be God’. Jesus expressly denies that he is ‘good’ since that is a quality that belongs to God alone.

        For further study I highly recommend these two seminal works:

        https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/scottish-journal-of-theology/article/jesus-and-the-constraints-of-history-by-a-e-harvey-london-duckworth-1982-pp-184-750/C3BFCAA960C337E27E36C99E18CE27D2#

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      • Greetings Paul, and thank you for your reply.

        You seem to argue that Jesus could not step out of the parameters of what is considered typical among Jews roughly around that time. However, I would ask this question: what if Jesus did step out of that paradigm? It seems to me that an easy answer would be: He might have been accused of blasphemy. If we can agree to that, it then becomes interesting that, again, the Talmud seems to accuse Him of apostasy or blasphemy, and the Gospel of Mark (again, which you claim is our earliest Gospel) depicts Him as being outright accused of blasphemy by Jewish authorities (which then in turn provides potential scope for understanding those apparent Talmudic polemics [i.e. they could quite plausibly have roots in first century Jewish accusations against Jesus]).

        As for the possibility of God animating a human form, it does seem to come up in ealier periods (most notably Genesis 18) as well as in later periods (e.g. Pesiqta Rabati, perhaps Shir ha-Shirim Rabah when read together with the admittedly much later Midrash Eliyahu, et cetera). With those serving as something akin to bookends for a broad spectrum of time, it becomes hard to believe that within that timeframe, it was impossible for any Jews to think in such ways within the specific period around the time of Christ (i.e. it feels strained to insist that they could have believed it before then, and could have believed it after then, yet it is impossible for any to believe anything along those lines during that time).

        In this regard, there is a particularly interesting (though obscure) text in Talmud Bavli, tractate Berakhot 7A, where, in the midst of a discussion on God praying, there is suddenly talk of seeing “Akhtriel Yah,” HaShem Ts’ba’ot, in the Temple, sitting upon a throne. The way the text reads (and in particular the inclusion of the word Akhtriel) can make room for one to speculate that it is referring to an agent of God, though in the context of a discussion about God praying, it seems to possibly be referring to God Himself (perhaps one might say the author of the tradition intended a reference to an aspect or emanation of God, and here later Qabalistic understandings of Akhtriel may be of interest).

        Still another couple of temporal bookends worth considering are the 18th chapter of Wisdom (which has an omnipotent Logos leap from the throne of God and stand on earth as a man, while still touching heaven) and Targum Onqelos (which has at least a hypostatized Memyra moving through creation and being declared God). The idea of Christ as the incarnate Logos seems to fit right within that Jewish spectrum, both chronologically and conceptually. Moreover, if we are discussing what Jews in the first century believed, was not Paul a first century Jew? Paul seems to clearly affirm that one who took part in the creation of all things (1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16) took on human likeness (Philippians 2:7) and was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).

        In short, it seems to me that, with all due respect, what Jews could believe is far more expansive and complex than your post let on. But even if what we are attributing to Jesus diverges from what might have been typical Jewish belief at that time, as was already noted, that could be understood within the scope of early claims about Jewish authorities accusing Him of blasphemy.

        This brings us back to Mark 10:18. You asserted that it “only makes sense if Jesus is not ‘claiming to be God’,” but after seeing what is covered above, I am respectfully left to wonder aloud: what is this assertion based on? I may write a blog entry on Mark 10:18 in the near future, but for now I will simply say that, again, when read most literally and straight forwardly, He is depicted there as putting forth a biconditional proposition, where affirmation of His goodness can only come with affirmation of His divinity (and denial of His divinity constitutes denial of goodness). We Christians can affirm His goodness precisely because we affirm His divinity.

        In closing, permit to share my fear that, in the course of our correspondence, the goalposts may have moved a bit. We began with the claim that if Christians heeded *the Gospels*, orthodox Christianity would not have come about. After I argued that the Gospels (and the New Testament as a whole) contain material which seem to imply positions contrary to orthodox Islam, we seem to be tacitly moving towards a situation where, instead of having Christians heed the Gospels, it is instead preferred that they heed only some very small portion thereof which modern scholars might see as the likely historical core therein. If that is the direction we are moving in, it becomes strange to require that ancient Christians should have read Geza Vermes or James D. G. Dunn rather than the Gospels (I was under the impression that the title of the blog entry had in mind the latter, not the former).

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      • Hi Denis

        as to your first point about Jesus being accused of ‘blasphemy’, we need to ask critical questions as to what that accusation meant in 1st century Palestine, and NOT assume an equivalence with Christian views of blasphemy today. It is likely (according to EP Sanders) that the concept had a considerably broader application than we are accustomed to, including the blasphemous notion that a mere teacher of peasant stock from Judea, not an anointed King of Israel (as expected), dare imply he was the Messiah of Israel. The rebuke is clear: Jesus is a blaspheming imposter.

        Your points re God animating a human body are well taken. But I insist that it was not part of Jewish expectation in the Jewish scriptures that Yahweh would come down from his Throne in Heaven, take up residence in a woman’s body, and then be subject to the birth process as described here from the woman’s perspective:

        ‘When your cervix is fully dilated, your baby will move further down the birth canal towards the entrance to your vagina. You may get an urge to push that feels a bit like you need to have a poo.

        You can push during contractions whenever you feel the urge. You may not feel the urge to push straight away. If you have an epidural, you may not get an urge to push at all.

        If you’re having your first baby, this pushing stage should last no longer than three hours. If you’ve had a baby before, it should take no more than two hours.’

        Taken from the UK NHS website.

        To Jewish and Muslim ears the idea that the Creator (Glorious and Exalted Is He) underwent such a process is utterly unthinkable and blasphemous. The Virgin Birth as simply described in the Holy Qur’an is free of such difficulties. Jesus, the mere man, is conceived miraculously by God and undergoes what all males must undergo. No scandal here.

        As to the interpretation of Mark 10:17 – we are not going to agree. I think the natural reading of the passage has Jesus deny his goodness (as a humble Jew). It is usually understood that way in academic commentaries. I respectfully suggest your reading is coloured by later Christian theology and the attendant need to harmonious diverse texts in the New Testament.

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      • “The doctrine of the Trinity is nowhere to be found.”

        “Hence the need for Islam to correct the error. Alhamdulillah.”

        But if the doctrine of the trinity is nowhere to be found why the need for Islam to correct a non-existent error? Islam must be superfluous in this case, which is my viewpoint anyway.

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      • LOL because Christians have fallen into error. God sent his final prophet to call them back to pure monotheism.

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  2. Remember that the first writer in the christian bible had this attitude “And the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.)”
    He said that after (((14 years))) had already passed when he finally decided to double check with “those considered to be leaders of the church ” !

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  3. Denis said
    “I would agree that Jesus is not quoted as explicitly and unambiguously laying out a full doctrine of the Trinity, but so too, He does not clearly stake out a unitarian position either”
    That would work only in a planet whose people have a new language in which if someone said I have one cow, the listeners would wonder what he meant by one cow (i.e. did he mean1 or 3). However such a planet has not been discovered yet! Assuming that Jesus had to explain what God meant for jews when He said I’m one means you have to go against the norm language of human beings since God created the human beings till now. Jesus didn’t have to explain what (one) means for his people, neither does anyone have to! It’s known by default.
    On the other hand, you are the ones who made a new language no one speaks with! Not to mention it’s nonsensical. There’s no such a thing called Trinitarian monotheism. It’s either three gods or one.

    Deins said
    “putting forth a biconditional proposition which, if taken seriously, makes affirming His goodness only possible if one affirms His divinity (Mark 10:18),”
    That’s actually a good example for how the language can be misused upside down while we know that Jesus didn’t mean the meaning christians desperately try to enforce upon the text! Even Matthew didn’t understand your new language and that’s why he corrupted the story.

    “The idea of Christ as the incarnate Logos seems to fit right within that Jewish spectrum, both chronologically and conceptually. Moreover,”
    Jews can be heretic. However, the incarnate god is a heresy which can be captured rationally though it has its defects. However, the heretic movements of jews don’t give you the right to interpret the gospels nonsensical interpretations, especially if they contradict what Jesus said explicitly. The ambiguous notion/sayings cannot be the base for the idea you want to make if it gonna contradict the clear notion/sayings which are already established.

    Finally. dr Ehrman doesn’t agree that Jesus’ answer for the high priest was a blasphemous. We need to think deeply about that trial. For example, why couldn’t jews find anything against Jesus while he’s supposedly had been preaching extensively about his divinity?

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  4. “LOL because Christians have fallen into error. God sent his final prophet to call them back to pure monotheism.”

    But if the text doesn’t contain this error, as you claim, then we just have to return to the true meaning of the text. A prophet is not necessary in this situation. Any sunday school teacher or preacher can do the same, with the existing text, for example.

    No need for Islam.

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