In Australia, MDI is currently focusing upon it’s Ramadan activities continuing from last year, Alhamdulillah. The primary project is an opportunity for communal charity during the month to provide for orphans around the world, promoting specifically the idea that charity can be easily made, if done in a group. Last year we encouraged Muslims to donate 50 cents per day in the month of Ramadan and from a pool of donors were able to sponsor two orphans for a 12 month period and provide food packs for families suffering from famine in Somalia.
This year we have also introduced ‘Waste not Want not’. An initiative to encourage Muslims to refrain from wasting food during the Holy Month. On average, people in the Western world waste over 100kg of food each per annum at the consumption stage. This doesn’t include the food lost at the production and sales stages. MDI is suggesting that Muslims donate the monetary value of any food they waste during Ramadan to the orphan sponsorship pool and already we have had the opportunity to discuss it at a community iftar.
However, I cannot forget my duties to the world of interfaith discussion! You may be aware that earlier in the year I held a dialogue with Jason Cebalo on the topic of the deity (or not) of Jesus. This discussion was held in March at Sydney University and was basically an extension of a brief dialogue that we had in a small café in Parramatta late last year.
Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries (whom I consider to be a friend) started reviewing some of my comments on his webcast in May and I initially felt it would be appropriate to start responding to some of his suggestions, given that he is reaching the end of his analysis.
However, after realising that it; a)Would probably take me until the end of Ramadan to complete a portion of a worthwhile commentary, b) Dr. White’s key issues are summarised in his book, ‘The Forgotten Trinity’, (particularly, Chapter 6) and c) I’m not sure that I support the idea of reviewing debates in such a manner, I have instead turned to an elementary analysis of said chapter in The Forgotten Trinity, with some references to other sections in the text and some of the comments I made in the aforementioned debate which have relevance.
The textual evidence for the Incarnation
Dr. White opens Chapter 6 by referring to two verses in the Gospel according to John that Orthodox Christians would typically associate with the ascription of divinity to Jesus, namely, John 1:1 and 20:28. Interestingly, John 1:18 is omitted from the list, but this may be unintentional.
Essentially, the key issue in these verses is the application of the term theos (θεός) to Jesus.
The anarthrous θεός – a clear evidence?
In Chapter 4 of The Forgotten Trinity, Dr. White discusses John 1:1 in further detail, going into some detail to refute the idea that there is any value in translating theos in the verse as ‘a god’. However, even a student of New Testament manuscript traditions would be able to illustrate that there are textual variants, albeit relatively late, that state ho theos (ὁ θεός) instead of simply theos with regards to the Word.
Instead of the rendering found in most manuscripts:
καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (ka theos en ho logos) [and god was The Word] and the Word was a god
We find in some manuscripts:
καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (ka ho theos en ho logos) [and The God was The Word] and the Word was God
While I am happy to accept the rationale presented by Dr. White for not automatically translating the anarthrous (i.e. without a definite article) theos as ‘a god’, I don’t think this is a significant concession to the Christian argument by any means. I expect that the first question any thinking Muslim would ask is, why do these textual variants exist, if the meaning of John 1:1 is so obvious?
Reed (2003) outlines briefly the range of interpretations that arose due to the lack of definite article (in the majority of manuscripts):
From the point of view of early church history, heresy develops when a misunderstanding arises concerning Greek articles, the predicate nominative, and grammatical word order. To illustrate, the early church heresy of [Modalism] understood John 1:1 to read, “and the Word was the God”; while the early church heresy of Arianism understood John 1:1 to read, “and the word was a God
It is interesting to note, here, that Modalism is known to have existed at least as early as the first part of the 3rd Century CE, when Sabellius was a priest, because this indicates the potential for the definite article variants to have existed much earlier than the current manuscript evidence confirms.
However, the key question is now amplified. If the meaning of John 1:1 is so obvious, how did Modalism and Arianism arise, using the very same text as evidence for their respective Christologies?
Why am I discussing this point? Because Dr. White suggested in one of his more recent webcasts that we Muslims do not give the Christian Scriptures a fair go. This assertion was made very clear when placed against one of the arguments I made in the debate.
I suggested to the Christian audience (and any that may have happened to watch the debate since) that the claiming divinity for Jesus (or anyone for that matter) is an extraordinary claim and that such a claim would require exceptional evidence. In response, Dr. White has asked, “What more than revelation?”
But what revelation is he speaking of? The likes of John 1:1 which are a) understood drastically differently by those that believe it is revelation and b) present in entirely different textual forms. Dr. White describes John 1:1 as “literary artistry” that the writer must have spent significant time planning. Yet there are literally dozens of different English renditions of the text and there is no authoritative interpretation of the precise meaning of the text.
Hardly what I would consider to be rock solid evidence
I am He
Interestingly, Dr. White suggested in a recent webcast that I was being overly simplistic with my criticism of the Christian use of the ‘I am’ statements, in the Greek New Testament manuscripts, ego eimi, (ἐγώ εἰμι). He seemed to agree with me in some way, in that the language link to the statements in Exodus and Deuteronomy is not quite there in of themselves, but suggested that that is not exactly what Christians are saying.
Dr. White instead refers to Exodus 3:14 as being linked to the ‘I am’ statements in John via Isaiah. Let’s first look at the standard Septuagint version of Exodus 3:14:
καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸς μωυσῆν ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν καὶ εἶπεν οὕτως ἐρεῖςτοῖς υἱοῖς Iσραηλ ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑμᾶς
I have underlined the statements ego eimi ho on (I am the One) and the repeat of ho on (the One) in the verse, where it states ‘the One has sent me to you’.
In Hebrew, the wording is a little different. The Masoretic Text states for the first section underlined:
אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
ehyeh asher ehyeh
I will be what I will be
Likewise, the closing of the verse uses אֶהְיֶה to say ‘I will be has sent me to you’.
Today, most English translations will translate these sections of the passage as ‘I AM Who I AM’ and ‘tell them I AM sent you’.
Note, the capitalisation of ‘I AM’ is not a mistake. Several versions that I consulted capitalise ‘I AM’ in their texts.
The mind doesn’t really have to stretch far to be able to draw a fairly simply conclusion about the motive here. Obviously, there is an attempt to link this passage to the ego eimi statements in John. Dr. White suggests that this can be done via Isaiah.
So, the next question for the thinking Muslim (or Muslimah) is, are the links between John, Isaiah and Exodus apparent?
Dr. White gives several examples for the reader to consider, first to illustrate the links between John and Isaiah that he considers to be intentionally present. Looking at Isaiah 43:25, Dr. White finds it remarkable that the Hebrew, אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי הוּא (anochi anochi huw, lit. I, I, [am] He) is rendered as ego eimi ego eimi in the Septuagint. Aside from the fact that this is a peculiar passage in Isaiah, using a proto-Semitic and highly archaic Hebrew pronoun which is not easily rendered into another language, I personally find no significance to this comparison and do not see any reason for a link to the use of ego eimi in John.
Dr. White continues by suggesting that ani huw in Isaiah (I [am] He) is a euphemism for the Tetragrammaton, YHVH, rendered in English as ‘LORD’. The question I would ask here is, what purpose does it serve? The very chapters Dr. White quotes of Isaiah do use the Tetragrammaton, often in conjunction with ani and anochi. For example:
אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי יהוָה (anochi anochi YHVH)
Isaiah 43: 15
אָנֹי יהוָה (ani YHVH)
I could give more examples, but the point is clear. What exactly is ‘ani huw’ a euphemism for, if the word it is supposed to harmlessly represent (that’s what a euphemism does) is also present in the same portion of the text?
Dr. White then suggests a link between the Septuagint version of Isaiah 43:10 and John 13:19. He proposes that both verses essentially have the same meaning, even to the extent of them having the same words, “When one removes the extraneous words”. He presents the comparison as such:
Isaiah 43:10: hina pisteusete… hoti ego eimi
John 13:19: hina pisteusete… hoti ego eimi
However, this is a bit of a simplification of the texts, unless I am reading a different version of the Septuagint to Dr. White.
With the sections quoted by Dr. White underlined and bolded
Isaiah 43:10 states
γένεσθέ μοι μάρτυρες κἀγὼ μάρτυς λέγει κύριος ὁ θεός καὶ ὁ παῖς ὃνἐξελεξάμην ἵνα γνῶτε καὶ πιστεύσητε
καὶ συνῆτε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι ἔμπροσθένμου οὐκ ἐγένετο ἄλλος θεὸς καὶ μετ’ ἐμὲ οὐκ ἔσται
John 13:19 states:
ἵνα πι στεύητε ὅταν γένηται ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι
At first glance, one would be immediately able to recognise that there must be a lot of ‘extraneous words’ in the verse from Isaiah for there to be any similarity in the texts. Looking a little harder, even a non-reader will be able to recognise that there is an editing problem with Dr. White’s transliterated comparison of the texts. It should be more like:
Isaiah 43:10: hina… pisteusete… hoti ego eimi
John 13:19: hina pisteusete… hoti ego eimi
The next question: Is the point really still there when we add the necessary ellipse?
I must emphasise I am no scholar of the Greek language and cannot undertake an analysis to the level that Dr. White would be capable of. But, with my limited ability, I am yet to be convinced with the examples given. However, there are more that he presents, which inshaAllah we will examine.
I think that forms a good opening to discussing some of the issues raised by Dr. White over the past few months on his webcast. InshaAllah, this analysis will continue during the month of Ramadan.
The full version of the Reed article can be found here: