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Shabir Ally: ‘My Reflections on the Ally-White Debate’

Did Jesus Claim Deity?

My Reflections on the Ally-White Debate

Shabir Ally

March 24, 2012

Christians and Muslims have been debating this question for centuries: “Did Jesus Claim to be God?” I would like to share some of my reflections on my March 22, 2012 debate with James White on the question. I noted in my opening remarks that in such debates both Muslims and Christians often focus on some selected key biblical passages which they cite in favour of their relative positions. Muslims would focus on those gospel passages which show the limitations of Jesus, and Christians would focus on passages in which Jesus makes claims that Muslims would not accept. Usually, both sides leave the debate claiming that they have won. Yet both sides distrust the other for failing to pay sufficient attention to the Bible’s verses which count against their claims.

For my contribution to this ongoing dialogue, I tried to make sense of the fact that the Bible contains both types of statements: passages that prove Jesus’ human limitations, and passages that prove a high Christology. Basically, I explained that Jesus was a man. This accounts for his human limitations. But over time, as the gospels were written one after another, the image of Jesus was transformed—especially so in the last of the four gospels. Jesus the man was made into a divine being. Thus in the gospels we have the surviving memory of Jesus as a man, and also the developed image of him as the divine Son of God.

I have just read Dr. White’s comments on the debate as they appear on his blog. I find his comments fascinating and, as usual, one-sided. Hence I am prompted to share another side to the story. After all our discussion over the years, I am surprised that Dr. White still holds to positions which I have already refuted. For example, he holds to his standard argument that whereas I rely on liberal scholars to deconstruct the Bible, I do not rely on such scholars to deconstruct the Quran. But I answered him in writing about this in 2008. My article “On Consistency in Muslim-Christian Debates” can be read here http://shabirally.wordpress.com/2008/12/29/on-consistency-in-muslim-christian-debates-3/.

Similarly, a lot of our discussion over the years has focused on the more specific question of which Christian scholars I should cite in my debates. In 2006, I had appealed for Dr. White’s understanding on this matter in my article: “Understanding the Rules Regarding the Use of Scholarly Citations.” The article can be read here: http://answeringmissionaries.wordpress.com/?s=citation+of+scholars. I would have hoped that by now, after all my explanations both in writing and in person, I could get through to Dr. White. Yet it seems that in each encounter we are starting again from the beginning. Dr. White would not accept the facts to which I appeal, nor would he accept the statements of the Christian scholars I cite—even conservative Christian scholars.

Obviously, I will have to try again both in listening to Dr. White on this question and in expressing my own view on the matter in the hope of overcoming this impasse. Meanwhile, I took Dr. White’s silence on my previous articles as his acceptance of what I have written. Obviously, this was an incorrect assumption. My request to Dr. White, therefore, is that he should kindly respond in writing to the two articles mentioned above, and also to my present reflection on the recent debate.

As I explained again in the recent debate, I do use all kinds of scholarship in my study of both Islam and Christianity. Naturally, I would be biased in favour of what I already believe. However, I try to put aside what I think I know so as to approach my studies with a neutral stance. I then explore a wide variety of writings on the subjects, and try to assimilate all of this information in a meaningful way. I do that for both Islam and Christianity. I do not accept everything said in favour of Islam. Nor do I reject everything said in disfavour of Christianity. In the end, I must weigh the evidence and form a consistent holistic view that incorporates all of the available evidence.

In my opening presentation, I tried to explain two different approaches to the question. In an academic setting, we would be expected to use approaches that are religiously neutral. Obviously, however, the demand of the debate was that I represent a Muslim perspective. Hence I explained how the fact that I am a Muslim can affect which conclusions of historical scholars on Jesus I accept or reject. Obviously, to reject a historical conclusion simply because I am a Muslim would be academically irresponsible. However, historical conclusions do contain a certain subjective element. Where I recognise such a subjective element I have to ask if I have stronger reasons from my faith perspective for rejecting the subjective element in historical studies. In particular, since our topic was on the question of Jesus, I pointed out that I do not, as a Muslim, accept the conclusion of those historians who claim that Jesus uttered failed prophecies. To Muslims, Jesus was a true prophet. If I were dealing with the subject from a purely historical point of view, suspending my Muslim faith for the exercise, that would be a different matter. But, as long as I am speaking as a Muslim, I have to reject the historians’ conclusion that Jesus uttered certain failed prophecies.

White’s claim that I build my case on the findings of liberal scholars is not correct. It is true that as a Muslim I would naturally tend to accept critical judgements on matters of the Christian faith and resist such judgements on matters of the Muslim faith. But the matter does not end there. In the end, my acceptance or rejection of what scholars say is based on my evaluation of the facts of the matters at hand. I have tried always to find out what some of the most conservative of Christian scholars say on issues. As much as I read material that is critical of Christianity, I also read defences of the Christian faith. Much of what I argue for are conclusions that are so clear that even conservative Christian scholars accept the basic facts even if my way of connecting the dots between those facts is unique.

Over the years, I have attempted to find a way of conveying these facts to Dr. White. In view of his rejection of the scholars I have cited in my favour, I have tried to ascertain from him which scholars he would accept. During the recent debate I asked White if Richard Bauckham is a conservative scholar. He gave a non-verbal response which indicated that he is not sure what to say of Bauckham. I was surprised at his hesitation, since Bauckham is widely regarded as a conservative scholar. I then asked White if F.F. Bruce was a conservative scholar. His answer was a definite affirmative. I was thrilled by his answer. I proceeded to present the position of Bruce and Bauckham. Both Bruce and Bauckham hold that Matthew and Luke based their gospels on that of Mark. Moreover, Bruce holds that Matthew and Luke made stylistic improvements to the narratives which they found in Mark’s Gospel.

I then argued that Matthew and Luke made more than just stylistic improvements to the narratives. I claimed that Matthew made eight sorts of changes to the story, and I supported each claim with an example, as follows:

  1. Matthew made people call Jesus Lord. For example, in Mark 9:5, Peter called Jesus “Rabbi.” But, in the same episode in Matthew 17:4, Peter called Jesus “Lord.”
  2. Matthew made Jesus describe himself as Lord. For example, in Mark 13:35, Jesus referred to himself as “the master of the house.” But, in the same episode in Matthew 24:42, Jesus referred to himself as “your Lord.”
  3. Matthew made people call Jesus “Son of God.” For example, in Mark 8:29, Peter called Jesus “the Messiah.” But, in the same episode in Matthew 16:16, Peter called Jesus “the Messiah, Son of the Living God.”
  4. Matthew made Jesus call God “my Father.” For example, in Mark 3:31, Jesus referred to God as “God.” But, in the same episode in Matthew 12:46, Jesus referred to God as “my Father.”
  5. Matthew made people pray to Jesus. For example, in Mark 4:38, the disciples, concerned about the storm at sea, awaken Jesus as he lay asleep in the stern. They say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” But, in the same episode in Matthew 8:25, the disciples say to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We are perishing.”
  6. Matthew reduced Jesus’ emphasis on One God. For example, in Mark 12:29, Jesus, being asked what was the greatest commandment, replied as is known from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” But, in the same episode in Matthew 22:37-38, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Hence Matthew has omitted the words, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
  7. Matthew reduced the distinction between Jesus and his God. For example, in Mark 10:18, Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” But, in the same episode in Matthew 19:17, Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” Hence in Matthew Jesus did not repudiate the attribution of goodness to himself as he did in Mark.
  8. Matthew covered the human limitations of Jesus. For example, in Mark 11:12-14, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And the tree withered by next morning. But, in the same episode in Matthew 21:18, Jesus was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing but leaves. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no fruit ever come from you again.” And the tree withered at once. Hence Matthew did not mention that it was not the season for figs. Some Christians focus on Matthew’s depiction of this event, and use the narrative as a parable showing how those who refuse to bear fruit will be dealt with.  However, by mentioning the fact that it was not the season for figs, Mark has shown that Jesus’ knowledge was limited.

Hence I have shown that the image of Jesus was being improved from one Gospel to another over time. I then added that the improvements which John’s Gospel made to the image of Jesus are even greater than those made by Matthew. For example, Mark shows that on the night before the crucifixion Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane saying that his soul is troubled. Jesus asks his Father to let this cup pass away from him. Nevertheless, he submits to the will of the Father. But in John’s Gospel, Jesus is not shown to be praying in this way on that occasion. In fact, even before that event, Jesus had already declared that he will not pray like that. Moreover, already at the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist had declared that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Hence this is a very different portrayal of Jesus than that which we have seen in Mark’s Gospel.

Furthermore, in Mark’s Gospel Judas’ kiss was necessary for identifying Jesus so that he would be arrested. But in John’s Gospel Judas’ kiss is not necessary, since Jesus comes forward to hand himself over. In fact, no one can arrest him against his will, since his very voice blows them over. He deliberately gives himself up because he has been given the power to lay down his life and to take it up again.

In this way, as we move from Mark to the later gospels of Matthew and Luke we find the image of Jesus being gradually improved. And as we move from Mark to John, we find the image of Jesus drastically improved. The Quran calls Christians back to the real Jesus as he was prior to such improvements which were made to his image.

It is thus clear that my conclusion was built on two major arguments. The first argument simply reproduces the finding of F.F. Bruce that Matthew and Luke rewrote the narratives of Mark with stylistic changes. The second argument is based on my comparison of the gospels to show that the changes were more than just stylistic—that they involved a major theological shift transforming Jesus from a man into God. To refute my position, it was necessary for White to dismantle my two arguments.

During the cross-examination, White surprisingly claimed that my theory is based on the claims of anti-supernaturalist scholars. I then had to ask him if F.F. Bruce is an anti-supernaturalist scholar. He said, “No.” What then is the problem?

Perhaps the problem is that the examples I have given to show the types of changes occurring in the gospels are not convincing. But, as far as I can recall without going over the recording of the debate, White only challenged two of my eight claims, the ones numbered 2 and 8 above. As for the first challenge, White asserted that the two gospels Matthew and Mark both use the term kyrios (Lord). I am surprised that White still makes this weak point after I had answered him in my 2006 article “A Reassertion that Matthew 24:42 Improves the Image Of Jesus Over that of Mark 13:35: A Commentary on a Point Discussed During the Biola Debate.” The article may be read here: http://answeringmissionaries.wordpress.com/2006/05/25/a-reassertion-that-matthew-2442-improves-the-image-of-jesus-over-that-of-mark-1335/

In that article, and again during the recent debate, I conceded that the term kyrios (Lord) occurs in both gospels. But, as I explained, Mark and Matthew use the term differently. Mark used it in construct with house to mean “Lord of the House,” or, better, “master of the house.” But Matthew changed that to “your Lord.” In my closing statement, I supported my position by showing that the same claim was made by Robert Stein in his The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction.

I am bewildered by White’s refusal to concede the point.

The second challenge came from White with regards to my eighth example. In his attempt to refute the point, White did precisely what I had said that some Christians do. White ignored Mark, focused on Matthew, and argued that Jesus surely knew the seasons. But, as I pointed out again during my rebuttal, Mark made it clear that it was not the season for figs. Hence Jesus’ limitation was clear in Mark, but covered up in Matthew.

A third challenge arose during the Q&A. A Christian cited a counter-example to the trend I have shown to exist in the comparisons between Mark and Matthew. In Mark 14:61-62, Jesus was asked by the high priest, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus answered, “I am.” Mark here seems to be an improvement over Matthew. In Matthew 26:64 Jesus’ answer is ambiguous, “You have said so,” whereas in Mark the answer was definitely positive.

In comparison with the question in Mark, Luke has split the question into two parts, thus eliciting from Jesus two separate answers. First, in Luke 22: 67 the chief priests and the scribes and other members of the council make a simple request to Jesus, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” Jesus replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you, you will not answer. Jesus continues with a statement that is present in Matthew and Mark as well. I give Luke’s version here: “But you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the power of God.” It was at this point in Luke that they all asked Jesus, “Are you the Son of God, then? (Luke 22:70).” Jesus answered here in Luke as he did to the single question in Matthew, “You say that I am (Luke 22:71).” In Luke, as in Matthew, the answer is ambiguous. Hence, in comparison with both Matthew and Luke, it would seem that Mark improved Jesus’ reply—that Mark turned the ambiguous reply to a positive one.

My answer to this challenge was twofold, though it had to be extremely brief given the one-minute limitation. The first aspect of my twofold answer is as follows. This episode in Marks’ Gospel is an example pointing to the existence of the hypothetical Ur-Marcus, a previous version of Mark, as the source of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. As I had explained to White during the cross-examination, scholars had arrived at the hypothetical Ur-Marcus in their reconstruction of the common source of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But since the differences between Ur-Marcus and the present version of Mark is so relatively minimal, scholars found it unnecessary to keep mentioning Ur-Marcus. Rather, they found it more convenient to simply refer to Mark as the source of Matthew and Luke. However, in so referring to Mark, scholars would clarify, if necessary, that Ur-Marcus is the actual source. With this explanation already given, I do not see the question raised by the Christian gentleman as a refutation of my basic position that Matthew and Luke used Ur-Marcus.

The second aspect of my twofold answer is as follows. The two halves of the high priest’s question, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” are obviously meant as synonyms of each other. Hence, according to the high priest, “the Messiah,” means “the Son of the Blessed.” In that case, “the Son of the Blessed” does not mean “literally the Son of God,” as in “the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.” Thus, even in Mark, Jesus’ positive answer to the question does not constitute a claim to be God.

In short, two of my eight examples were challenged by White, and I answered both challenges. In response to his first challenge I showed that Matthew did change ‘Master of the House’ to ‘your Lord.’ In response to White’s second challenge, I showed that Jesus’ limited knowledge was clear in Mark but covered up in Matthew. Mark mentioned that the reason for the absence of fruit on the tree was that it was not the season for figs. By omitting mention of the season as the reason, Matthew thus avoided the problem. The third challenge to my examples, this coming in the form of a counter-example, does not hold up in view of my nuanced view which involves Ur-Marcus.

In conclusion, how did my above position hold up in the debate? It rested on two foundations. The first foundation is that Mark was used by Matthew and Luke, as is acknowledged by F.F. Bruce. The second foundation is that a comparison of the gospels shows that the image of Jesus was enhanced from one Gospel to another. Both of these continue to hold. As for the first, White could not show that Mark was not the source of the other two synoptic gospels. Nor is it fair that White would continue to charge me with depending on liberal scholars for this point after I have cited F.F. Bruce, the very scholar whom White recommended as a conservative scholar. As for the second point, that changes occurred from Mark to Matthew, the three challenges to my eight examples of do not hold up. And White made no attempt to challenge the examples I showed of changes occurring as we move from Mark to John.

As I pointed out in my closing statement, one does not need to be an anti-supernaturalist to see that these changes have occurred. One only needs to have a rational mind and be willing to look at the problem. I believe that many Christians saw the point, even if for some it will not be easy to accept this immediately.

Meanwhile, I hope that the approach I have adopted will lead both Muslims and Christians to a better understanding of the gospels and of Jesus. If my approach is valid, then there is no need for Muslims and Christians to walk away from the debate both claiming that they have won the debate while each remains suspicious of the other for having ignored key verses of the Bible. My approach is more sophisticated than the simple citation of proof texts. And it will take time for Muslims who have not studied the gospels in detail to master this approach. But when they do, they will find, God willing, that this approach builds better trust between Muslims and Christians. It also improves our mutual understanding of how Jesus was transformed by early Christian writings from a man to a divine being. This explains why it became necessary for the Quran and Muslims to reaffirm faith in the original Jesus.

I am sure that as soon as White is freed up from the demands of the conference he is busy with this weekend he will have more to say about our debate. I have mainly represented my side of the debate above. I expect that White will soon elaborate on his side as well. I look forward to reading his further comments. White suggested during the course of our debate that we should soon have another one on the question of salvation. I agree. And I look forward to that. Meanwhile, I await his written responses to the articles I mentioned above, and to the present reflection.

Categorised in: Christianity, Spotlight

8 Responses »

  1. Excellent, scholarly, and clear assessment by Shabir Ally.

  2. 1. It is probable that Peter used both the word Master and the word Lord. One word to draw attention to himself and the other word to begin his statement. This is quite natural and respectful. It is not necessary that Matthew and Mark record both words together.

    2. Mark 13 v 35 “Master of the house” is someone within a parable. Matt 24 v 42 “Watch therefore for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh” is not a statement about someone within a parable but Jesus speakin directly to himself, not indirectly through a parable.

    3. Mark has probably simply shortened the actual phrase that Peter used for brevity. Luke similarily, “Thou art the Christ of God”. Matthew “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

    4. The family requested at least twice for Jesus to leave the crowd and talk to his family. Jesus repeated himself with a slight variation as the text makes clear.

    5.Again we have a repeated request from the disciples for Jesus to save them. The first time they appeal to him addressing him as Teacher, the second time as Lord.

    6. I would say we have two different questioners here. The scribe being one and the lawyer being the other. This explains the different wording from Jesus in response.

    7. In the KJV the correct translation does not distinguish. Matt 19 v 17 “There is none good but one, that is God”.

    8. I don’t see Matthew’s omission as evidence of anything other than inspiration. Why should Matthew have purposely left it out of the narrative? What limitation does Ally mean?

    SA “Jesus’ answer is ambiguous, “You have said so,” whereas in Mark the answer was definitely positive.”

    The phrase “ye say that I am” is not ambiguous but affirmative, as the reply of the High Priest demonstrates:

    Luke 22 v 70 “Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am. And they said, What need we any further witness? for we ourselves have heard of his own mouth.”

    SA : ” “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” are obviously meant as synonyms of each other. Hence, according to the high priest, “the Messiah,” means “the Son of the Blessed.” In that case, “the Son of the Blessed” does not mean “literally the Son of God,” as in “the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.” Thus, even in Mark, Jesus’ positive answer to the question does not constitute a claim to be God.”

    Obviously the word “Blessed” is a synonym of the word God. The question is equivalent to asking Jesus if he is the Son of God, to which he replied in the affirmative. So Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God here.

    It’s not worth the trouble to respond to Mr. Ally’s flights of fancy about Ur-Markus. No one can prove that Luke and Matthew used Mark as a source. There were enough eye witnesses available without resorting to this method.

    • “No one can prove that Luke and Matthew used Mark as a source.”

      OK, and no one can ‘prove’ that the gospels are not largely fiction!

  3. “therefore for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh” is not a statement about someone within a parable but Jesus speakin directly to himself, not indirectly through a parable”

    I meant: not Jesus making a statement about someone within a parable he told but Jesus speaking directly about the returning Lord, himself in the context of the prophecy he gave.

  4. Always Learning But Never Able To Acknowledge The Truth (2Timothy 3:7)
    When Bias Blurs Your Vision And Causes You To Shoot Yourself In The Foot
    Comments on Shabir Ally’s Reflections On The Ally / White Debate Of March 22,2012

    Before I get to the heart of my comments, I would like to get few issues out of the way . Two of them are related: The conservatism of F.F. Bruce and Ur-Marcus (and Q for that matter).
    Bruce’s classical work on the reliability of the New Testament was titled : The New Testament Documents : Are they Reliable ?
    ( you can read Chapter 4 here : -http://www.bible.ca/b-new-testament-documents-f-f-bruce-ch4.htm
    You can also follow the links and read the entire book on line) .
    It would be very helpful for Shabir’s readers ( and listeners) if he can identify where exactly Bruce
    mentioned that the Gospel writers ( not the translators) made stylistic improvements to the text.
    [ I am sure Shabir is familiar with the English translation of the "meaning of" Qur'an by Abdullah
    Yusuf Ali and his translation "improvements" . Examples : 4:34 " lightly" & 33:50 "who dedicates her soul"].

    It is very interesting that Shabir relies on hypothetical sources like Ur-Marckus and Q (with no shred
    of manuscript evidence ) when discussing the Gospels ( with thousands of manuscripts, numerous old translations, hundreds of thousands of early fathers’ quotations and liturgies) .
    I advise Shabir to read ” The Lost Gospel Of Q : Fact or Fantasy ? by the German scholar Eta Linnemann.
    [ The paper in "Trinity Journal" could be read on line here : http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/tj/q_linnemann.pdf ].

    I think Shabir’s puzzles could be solved if he pays attention to how thinking Christians evaluate scholars.
    It might be fair to say that conservative Christians tend to accept the views of conservative scholars. However , they do not have to accept every single view on every issue. Since nobody is perfect except
    God, conservative scholars have less than perfect view on certain topics. A good example of that is the
    position toward the hypothetical gospel of Q. If the Gospel writers were inspired by God they didn’t need
    any other source in order to write the Gospel. After all Moses didn’t need any written source in order to write the Pentateuch. This is part of the belief in the supernatural. Shabir’s mistake is that he thinks that it only applies to miracles.
    [ Speaking of Moses. there is no space here to layout the refutation of the Documentary Hypnosis. For those interested , please read Gleason Archer 's and Josh McDowell's works on the subject].
    Now, back to the question. Was F.F. Bruce a conservative scholar? the answer is :Yes. Was he conservative
    on every issue? the answer is : No.
    I think it is now fair to conclude that Shabir’s puzzles are resulting from his over simplistic approach to the
    matter of conservative and liberal scholars.

    Another side issue is the high priest’s understanding of the term ” Son of the Blessed”(Mark 14:61). Nobody is saying that the high priest understood the “Trinity” . However, it is un-escapable that to him the term meant “Son of God” . ( Also Proverbs 30:4) .
    Jesus was given the death sentence because His answer to the high priest’s question was a blasphemy in
    his eyes. Blasphemy is a claim to deity. That is why the high priest tore his clothes. I am amazed by
    Shabir ‘s attempt to escape this fact.

    With these side issues out of the way, I now move to the main issue which is Shabir’s claim that the Gospel writers improved the image of Jesus over time. I will start be refuting the claim of “improvement” and then follow by explaining the “differences” between the Gospels.
    But before I do this, I would like to lay down some guiding factors that will help in assessing Shabir’s claim. They are as follows :
    1- The concept of biblical inspiration is quite different than that of the Qur’an. While Muslims believe that
    Jibril ( presumably Gabriel ) dictated the Qur’an to the prophet of Islam from the preserved tablet (Al
    Kitab Al-Mahfooz) word for word, we Christians believe that God gave the ideas to the Gospel writers
    and guided them in choosing the words from their accumulative vocabulary that best express those
    ideas. We believe that God shaped the life of the Gospel writers ( from the day of their birth ) and guided
    their life experiences in order to acquire the required knowledge and accumulate the required vocabulary.
    So, the Gospel was God’s sayings in men’s words. This is like the sun rays shining through stained glass
    windows. You can still notice the color of the glass, but it is the sun rays no doubt. That is why one can
    distinguish between the style of a philosopher like Paul and a fisherman like Peter,
    2- Jesus’ conversations were in Aramaic and the Gospels were written in Greek.
    3- The Gospel writers did not carry tape recorders or video cameras around.
    4- The Gospel writers recorded events the same way the historians of their times wrote the Greco-Roman
    history and in a predominantly Jewish oral culture. They summarized accounts, edited and rearranged
    materials while remaining accurate and faithful to the event’s historical thrust.
    The ancients knew how to summarize and how to do so accurately with the “gist” of a teaching intact.
    So, the Gospels might not give us every word Jesus said, but they give us the true “gist” of His
    teaching and the central thrust of His message.
    6- The Gospel writers were able to accurately search out what Jesus did and said (Luke 1:1-4).
    7- To have accurate summaries of Jesus’ teaching is just as historical as to have His actual words; they are
    just two different perspectives to give us the same message. All that is required is that the summaries be
    trustworthy- a factor made likely not only by the character of the writers and the nature of their religious
    convictions, but also by the presence of opponents and eyewitnesses who one way or the other could
    challenge a fabricated report.
    8- In many cases the Gospel writers covered Jesus’ teaching on a topical and not a chronological basis.
    It was more important for the Gospel writers to give Jesus’ teaching and sometimes group it with related
    events, than to be concerned with sequence.
    9- The Gospel writers wrote, not only to tell the story of Jesus, but also to reveal additional perspectives
    about His story. Why else would one write on a topic someone else had already covered? Recorded
    history presents and explains. The Gospels do both as well.
    10- In examining the wording of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, we can distinguish between the ipsissima
    verba of Jesus (His very words) and the ipsissima vox ( His very voice, i.e., the presence of His
    teaching summarized).In either case, His voice comes through the Gospels loud and clear , live and in
    color.. His message presented the choice between life and death. That is why people were either for
    Him to the point of death or against Him to the point of death. His message as recorded in the Gospels
    could not have been made any clearer.
    11- The Holy Spirit guided the writers as Jesus promised in John 14:26 and 16:12-13.
    ( Summarized from “Jesus Under Fire ” ).
    Now to the main issue.

    1-The Fallacy That The Gospel writers “Improved” Jesus’ Image from a mere man “prophet” To The Son Of God Over Time

    Shabir “claimed that Matthew made eight sorts of changes to the story” and that he (Shabir) “supported each claim with an example”. Let us now discuss these eight “changes/examples” and see how they stack up.

    1- Matthew made people call Jesus Lord ( Matthew 17:4).
    Peter called Jesus “Rabbi” in Mark 9:5 and “Lord” in Matthew 17:4.
    Is this an “improvement”? absolutely not. First, a rabbi was highly regarded and revered by all people of
    the society. It was a position of esteem.
    Second, the term “Lord ” did not mean “God” at all times. It is interesting that the same term was used in the very chapter that Shabir is citing (Matthew 17) but 11 verses later (verse 15) to mean “master”.
    In fact, the term is used to mean “master” in the very book of Mathew at least 26 times [ 10:24, 10:25
    15:27,18:25-34 (6 times),20:31,20:33,21:40 24:45-50 (4 times),25:11,25:19-26 (9 times).
    Third, Jesus was called “Lord’ many times in the Gospel of Mark ( 2:28 ,7:28,9:24,10:51,11:3).

    2- Matthew made Jesus describe himself as Lord
    In Mark 13:35 Jesus referred to himself as the “master of the house” but in the same episode in Matthew 24:42, Jesus referred to himself as “your Lord”.
    Is it really the same “episode’ ? Let us see.
    What Shabir calls “episode” is really 5 parables to teach watchfulness and faithfulness. It took Matthew 40 verses ( 24:42-25:35) to record four of them and it took Mark 5 verses to record the fifth.
    The first parable that Matthew recorded here was about “the head of the house ” and the thief.
    Matthew put the conclusion of the first parable at the very beginning “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (and also in verse 44).
    The parable in Mark is a different one. It is about a master of a house that who upon leaving away on a journey put his slaves in charge assigning to each one his task. When he comes back he expects his slaves
    not to be asleep but alert.
    The parable in Matthew is about the coming of the thief while the parable in Mark is about the coming of the master of the house. How could this be the same “episode “?!
    It is very interesting that Shabir compares the conclusion of the parable in Matthew ( your Lord is coming)
    to a character in the parable in Mark ( the master of the house is coming).
    This is one of the clear examples of how one’s bias can get in the way of seeing the truth.

    3- Matthew made people call Jesus “Son of God”.
    In Mark 8:29 Peter called Jesus “the Messiah” but in the same episode in Matthew 16:16 , Peter called
    Jesus “the Messiah , Son of the Living God”.
    Let us look at Peter’s answer to Jesus’ questions as reported in the first three Gospels.
    You are the Christ, the Son of the living God . Matthew 16:16
    You are the Christ. Mark 8:29
    The Christ of God. Luke 9:20.

    First, Peter’s answer was in Aramaic and not in Greek.
    Second, the Gospel writers in many cases paraphrased the essence of what people said much like what the historians did back then and the way journalists do today.
    Writers of the Gospels selected and abbreviated what was said to fit the theme of their Gospel and
    the emphasis they wished to make.
    I can give Shabir a different scenario for the “episode”. Peter’s confession could have been what Matthew
    recorded and both Mark and Luke might have reported only the key part of Jesus being the Messiah.
    There are many examples of that in the Gospels. Here are some of them :

    From that time Jesus began to preach and say,” Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Matthew 4:17.
    Now After John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God and saying “The time is fulfilled , and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”.
    Mark 1:14-15.
    Here we can see that Matthew is the one who abbreviated what Mark had quoted.

    Another example.
    Which is easier to say to the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven ;or to say :”get up and pick up your pallet and walk”. Mark 2:9.
    Which is easier to say,” Your sins have been forgiven you,” or to say, ‘Get up and walk”. Luke 5:23 .
    Here , Luke abbreviated what Mark had quoted.

    A third example .
    But he answered them ,”you give them something to eat” ,And they said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” Mark 6:37
    But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away, you give them something to eat”. Matthew 14:16.
    Here again, Matthew abbreviated what Mark had quoted.

    A fourth example.
    They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street , and they untied it. Some of the bystanders were saying to them, “what are you doing untying the colt? They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them the permission. Mark 11:4-6 .
    The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them. Matthew 21:6 .
    Here again Matthew had extensively abbreviated what Mark had quoted.

    A fifth and well known example is the sermon on the mountain that was quoted in 3 chapters ( 109 verses) in the Gospel of Matthew (5,6 and 7). Luke abbreviated the entire sermon in 30 verse in chapter 6 ( two third of the chapter ).
    I could go on and on. However, I hope that the examples I have given are sufficient .

    4- Matthew made Jesus call God “my Father”.
    In Mark 3:35 Jesus referred to God as “God”. But , in the same episode in Matthew 12:49 Jesus referred to God as “My father”.
    Shabir considers “My Father” in Matthew an improvement over “God” in Mark and that the image of Jesus was enhanced because of this.
    Well , by the same token we can demonstrate just the opposite when we compare Mark 14:36 with with Matthew 26:39.
    And He went a little beyond them and fell on His face and praying ,”My Father if it is possible let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will , but as You will”. Matthew 26:39.
    And He was saying ,” Abba Father .All things are possible for You remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will but what You will “. Mark 14:36.
    The word Abba” is an endearing intimate Aramaic term that is essentially equivalent to the English word “Daddy”. The term is a clear expression of the intimate relationship with the Father. For Matthew not to use the term “Abba” is certainly ( according to Shabir’s claim) is going in the opposite direction.
    The sword of “improvement” cuts both ways.

    5- Matthew made people pray to Jesus.
    In Mark 4::38 the disciples said to Jesus ” Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?
    But in the same episode in Matthew 8:25 they said, ” Lord , save us we are perishing”.
    As a starter, I do not see the word “prayed” in Matthew 8:25.
    Second, the disciples might have said both what Matthew and Mark quoted but each of them recorded part of what was said.
    Third, some of the disciples might have said what Matthew recorded while others said what Mark recorded.
    Finally, the term ” Lord” in Matthew 8:25 has nothing to do with prayer . It simply means “Master”.
    Again, this is another clear example of how one’s bias can get in the way of seeing the truth.

    6- Matthew reduced Jesus’ emphasis on One God.
    Shabir quotes here Mark 12:29 and Matthew 22:37-38 . He claims that when Matthew “omitted ” the words, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”, he reduced Jesus’ emphasis on One God.
    First, I should admit that I fail understand how this claim supports Shabir’s argument that the “image of Jesus was enhanced from one Gospel to another’ which is the second ( and main) foundation of his
    position !
    Second, Jesus was not reciting the ten commandments to the scribe because he (the scribe) knew them by heart. He also knew Deuteronomy 6: 4 by heart. This was not the scribe’s question.. If Shabir read the previous verse in both Matthew and Mark he would have understood the purpose of the question.. Here is the question :
    “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Mark 12:28 .
    “Which is the great commandment in the law? Matthew 22:36.
    Jesus summarized the 10 commandments in two paraphrased commandments. The first one summarizes the first three and the second one summarized the other seven . He basically told him to love God and love others.
    To emphasize this point Jesus said to the scribe ” There are no other commandments greater than these” Mark 12 :31b.
    If we extend Shabir’s line of reasoning, we should conclude that Jesus had invented an eleventh commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. ( which is really a quote from Leviticus 19:18).

    7- Matthew reduced the distinction between Jesus and his God.
    Based on Mark 10:18 and Matthew 19:17 Shabir claims that in Matthew Jesus did not repudiate the attribution of goodness to himself as he did in Mark.

    Before I comment on this claim , I should say that the text in both Matthew and Mark is the same according to KJ and NKJ translations.
    Regardless of the translations , I have news and a surprise for Shabir.
    First, Jesus did not repudiate the attribution of goodness to himself in both Gospels.
    Jesus did not say to the man :”Do not call me good ” but rather ” why do you call me good ? No one is good except God alone”.
    Second, What Jesus repudiated was attributing goodness to human beings. So, basically Jesus was saying to the man “If you think I am good then I am not just a mere man and if you think I am just a mere man I can not be good”.
    [ The wickedness of man was clearly demonstrated several times in the Old Testaments. Here are two examples : “All of us like sheep have gone astray” Isaiah 53:6 ,”There is no one who does good , not even one” Psalm 53:3 ).
    Third, Jesus said in John 10:11 ” I am the good shepherd ” which is a claim to deity in light of the above.
    I think this claim by Shabir clearly demonstrates his need to read good commentaries on the Bible.

    8-Matthew covered the human limitations of Jesus.
    This is the famous “fig tree” episode. It is mentioned in Mark 11:12-14 and Matthew 21:18-19.
    Shabir claims that by Matthew not mentioning that “it was not the season for figs” he enhanced Jesus’ image. He also claims that by mentioning that it was not the season for figs, Mark has shown that Jesus’ knowledge was limited.

    Some Christians would refute this claim by simply stating that if one can accept Jesus’ human limitations
    (hunger, thirst , etc.) why not then accept the limitation of knowledge. However, I follow another route.

    Let me start by saying that we should not blame Shabir for this claim. After all he is not expected to know much about agriculture in first century Palestine.
    Every year at the end of March (Azar), the green leafs of the fig trees appear on the branches. Along with the green leafs, small fruits like green almond also appear. They are good for eating. These are indications that 6 weeks later the tree will bear fig fruits. When Jesus went to the tree He saw the green leafs but there was not even the small fruits that are like green almond. Being from Palestine, Jesus definitely knew that there can’t be fig fruits on the tree at the end of March (Azar). When Mark wrote “for it was not the season for figs” he meant the fruits that appear in mid April (Nisan).
    So, Matthew did not cover the human limitation of anybody. This is one.
    Second, the fig tree is a symbol of the Jewish nation (Hosea 9:10).
    You would notice that this incident was mentioned in the very chapters ( in both Matthew and Mark) where Jesus cleansed the temple. The nation had the appearance of a worshipping one, while in reality they converted the temple of God into a “robbers’ den”. Jesus used the fig tree as an example of the Jewish nation.
    Third, The term ” He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it” does not mean that He did not know that it did not bear fruits.
    I give you three examples from the first book of the Old Testament to illustrate this point:
    He said,’ Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you did not withheld your son, only son from me” Genesis 22;12
    Didn’t God know this before it happened? of course He did.
    I will go down now and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me, and if not, I will know” Genesis 18:21 .
    Didn’t God know this before it happened? of course He did.
    The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. Genesis 11:5.
    Didn’t God know this before it happened? of course He did.
    Fourth , Jesus new everything. For example He knew all the history of the Samaritan woman ( John 4:18).
    Peter said to Him “Lord, You know all things”. John 21;17.

    In conclusion , the assertion that Matthew covered the human limitation of Jesus does not hold any water.

    Now, with the 8 claims out of the way, we can say ” so much for the fallacy” and we move on to talk about the fact.

    2- The Characteristic Distinctions of the Gospels.

    It doesn’t take much for any serious reader to the four Gospels to realize that each one has its own distinctive characteristics . Each of the Gospel writers drew his portrait of Jesus looking at Him from a different angle.
    The following is a brief illustration for the characteristic distinctions of the four Gospels.

    Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew

    Matthew wrote about Jesus as the “King”. This could be demonstrated in the following :
    1- The Gospel starts by the genealogy of Jesus with the emphasis in the very first verse that he is the Son of
    David ( the greatest king in the history of the Jews).
    2- Jesus is called the son of David 8 times in Matthew ( compared with two times in Mark, two times in
    Luke and none in John).
    3- The term ” Kingdom of heavens” is not used in any of the other 3 Gospels. It is used in Matthew 32
    times.
    4- The term “king” is used in Matthew 14 times.
    5- In Matthew alone we read about the Magi who came from the east to Jerusalem asking “where is He who
    has been born King of the Jews? and fell to the ground and worshiped Him and presented to Him gifts of
    gold, frankincense and myrrh” Matthew 2.
    6- On Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem we read about the shouting of the crowd ” Hosanna to
    the Son of David” a term that is used only in Matthew. (21;9).
    7- In Matthew , more than any other Gospel, the terms “King of the Jews” and “king of Israel” were used in
    connection with Jesus (27: 11,29,37 ,42).
    It is because Matthew wrote about the “King of the Jews” that he is the one that quoted the Old Testament
    extensively.
    8- In Matthew 5,6 and 7 we read the “Throne Speech” of the king.

    Jesus according to the Gospel of Mark

    Mark wrote about Jesus as the “Perfect Servant”. This could be demonstrated in the following:
    1- Mark did not write anything about the birth of Jesus ( contrary to Matthew and Luke). This fits well
    with the case of a servant.( It is not really of significance for people to know where a servant was born).
    2- Mark recorded the least of Jesus’ sayings. He was focusing on His deeds. After only 13 verses of the first
    chapter Jesus “the perfect servant” gets down to work .
    3- In spite the fact that the Gospel of Mark is less than two third the Gospel of Matthew in size, still it
    contains almost the same number of miracles.
    4- Only in Mark we read twice that Jesus had no time to eat ( 3:20 , 6:31).
    5- The term “immediately” is used in Mark 42 times (out of 80 times in the entire New Testament).
    That is more than half the time in the shortest Gospel.
    6- As the perfect servant when He performed miracles He did not draw attention to Himself but to His
    Father. That is why Mark quoted Him 5 times asking people not to tell anybody that He did that .
    ( 1:44, 3:12, 5:43, 7:36, 8:26 ).
    7- Jesus the perfect servant looked after the needs of the people. One of those needs was to cast out the
    demons that possessed them. That is why we read in Mark about 7 miracles of Jesus casting out demons.
    (1:23-27, 1:34, 1:39 , 3:11, 5:1-20 , 7:24-30 , 9:14-29). He also gave this authority to His disciples
    (3:15 , 6:7 , 16:17 ) .

    Jesus according to the Gospel of Luke

    Luke wrote about Jesus as the “Perfect man”. This could be demonstrated in the following :
    1- The genealogy of Jesus in Luke starts at Adam.
    2- The Gospel of Luke starts with announcement of Gabriel to Mary : a clear reference to
    the fact that Jesus is the seed of the woman of Genesis 3:15.
    3- Only in Luke where we read about the infancy of Jesus and His early life on earth.
    4- Only in Luke where we read about Jesus’ friends when He was twelve (2:42-44).
    5- As the perfect man we read about Jesus praying in Luke more than any other Gospel.
    ( 3:21 , 5:16 , 6:12 , 9:18 , 9:29 11:1 , 22:41 ).
    6- As the perfect man we read about Jesus’ love and respect for the Word ( 2:46 , 4:4 , 4:8 , 4:12 ,
    4:17-21 , 5:1 , 16:29-31 , 23:46) .
    7- In the Gospel of Luke we read about the poor and the widows more than any other Gospel.
    8- In the Gospel of Luke we read about the parables of grace more than any other Gospels.
    ( compare with the Gospel of Matthew where we read more about the parables of the kingdom of
    heavens).

    Jesus according to the Gospel of John

    John wrote about Jesus as the “Son Of God” . This could be demonstrated in the following :
    1- John starts his Gospel with talking about the existence of the Son from eternity past and that He is the
    creator . He talks about Him as the source of life and the true light. He also talks about Him as the only
    Son and that He became flesh.
    2- Only in the Gospel of John we read 4 times about Jesus as the only Son of God.
    3- Only in the Gospel of John we read about Jesus saying ” Before Abraham was I AM “.
    4- Only in the Gospel of John we read about the seven ” I AM ” sayings of Jesus.
    5- In John we read more than any other Gospel about Jesus healing the blinds which is a clear characteristic
    of the Messiah .
    6- Only in the Gospel of John we read about healing Lazarus after his body decomposed in the tomb.
    7- Only in the Gospel of John we read 3 times about the Jews attempts to stone Jesus because He said that
    “God is His Father and making Himself equal with God”.
    8- Only in John we read about Jesus raising Himself from the dead ( 2: 19).
    9- Only in the Gospel of John we read about Jesus saying to the Father ” All things that are Mine are Yours
    and Yours are Mine” ( 17:10).
    10- Only in the Gospel of John , we read about Thomas’ confession of the Deity Jesus. (20:28).
    11- Only in John we read about Jesus creating eyes for the man who was born blind ( 9:1-7).
    12- Only in John we read about Jesus saying to the Father ” Now Father, glorify Me together with Yourself
    with the glory which I had with You before the world was”.(17:5).

    After this brief illustration of the distinctive characteristics of every Gospel, I would like to invite Shabir to think again about his “improvement hypothesis”. The Gospel writers didn’t need to improve Jesus’ image from a mere man “prophet” to “God”. There is a simple explanation for this. The divinity of Jesus is clear in every Gospel.( This answers Shabir’s point about the fate of those who died before reading the latest Gospel). Let us see what the Gospel that Shabir claims it has the “unimproved” image of ( the original Jesus that the Qur’an and Muslims reaffirm) says about Him.

    The Divinity of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
    The following is a list of verses in the Gospel of Mark that talk about the Divinity of Jesus :
    1- “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (1:1).
    2- “And a voice came out of heavens :”You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased” (1:11).
    3- ” I know who You are, the Holy One of God”. (1:24b).
    4- “And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “son your sins are forgiven. But some of the scribes
    were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming,
    who can forgive sins but God alone ?” (2:5-7).
    5-Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of
    God” (3:11) .
    6-” What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God, do not torment me”
    (5:7b).
    7-”Then a cloud formed overshadowing them and a voice came out of the cloud ” This is My beloved Son,
    listen to Him” (9:7).
    8- And Jesus began to say as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the
    son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand
    until I put your enemies beneath your feet”. David himself calls Him “Lord” ; so in what sense is He his
    son?…(12: 36-37).
    9-” Then they will see the Son of Man (see also Daniel 7:13-14) coming in clouds with great power and
    glory. And then He will send forth angels, and will gather together His elect….( 13:26-27b).
    10 – Again the high priest was questioning Him and saying to Him,” Are You the Christ , the Son of the
    Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of
    Power and coming with the clouds of heaven”. Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘what further
    need do we have of witnesses? you have heard the blasphemy?…( 14:61b-64a).
    11- When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said,
    “Truly this man was the Son of God”. (15:39).

    The same case could be made for both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke .

    Conclusion
    Shabir concludes his reflections on the debate by talking about his approach ( improvement hypothesis) building better trust between Muslims and Christians and improving “our mutual understanding of how Jesus…..”. I can assure Shabir that this will never happen till the day of resurrection as long as Muslims keep believing that the image of Jesus in the Qur’an is the right one. Clear and simple.
    That is why the real battle is the battle of the books and the real debate is : The Bible and the Qur’an , which is the true Word of God?
    I conclude by a word of advice to Shabir: “Before you criticize the Bible, please do yourself (and your audience) a favor , make a little effort to understand it.

  5. @E.Mitri why are posting this typical James White nonsense here? He has lost every single debate with Shabir Ally and with other people whom he had debated on a variety of topics. For example Bart Ehrman made a joke out of White! People like James White or Jay Smith do not belong in the same league with likes of Mr. Ally.

Trackbacks

  1. White-Ally Debate “Did Jesus Claim Deity ?” ( Debunking Shabir Ally ) | DAWAH REFUTED
  2. A Response to James White’s “Some Brief Thoughts Regarding Liberal Scholarship, Redaction Criticism, and Islam (Part 1)” « Shabir Ally’s Responses

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