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Australia Update and Engaging in discussion with Dr. James White

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:

Isaiah 43:11
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:

http://fdier.free.fr/ReedSemiticJohn.pdf

Categorised in: Christianity, MDI Australia

8 Responses »

  1. We pray to Allah to bless and add more wisdom to you and all the brothers at MDI and elsewhere who defend Islam against saboteurs.

  2. Regarding the translating of John 1:1, it may interest you to know that there is soon to be published an 20+ year study (as of 7/2012), an historical analysis, an exhaustive annotated bibliography, with its main focus on the wording and meaning of that verse entitled, “What About John 1:1?”

    To learn more of its design and expected release date, you are invited to visit:

    http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

    When finally published, you will discover over 430 scholarly reference works which have opted to say something other than, “and the Word was God,” and that, among these, are included over 120 which had chosen to use “a god” within the third clause of their renderings.

    As you might expect, we are very excited at the opportunity to share our findings with others.

    Agape, JohnOneOne.

  3. Salaaam Abdullah !
    سلام عبدالله

    You wrote:
    “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.”

    Only 2 MSS contain the definite article in Greek, and they are very late, eighth century.
    See

    http://bible.org/article/jesus-θεός-scriptural-fact-or-scribal-fantasy

    From the article linked above:

    “Although the most probable understanding of the anarthrous θεός is qualitative (the Word has the same nature as God),36 three points concern us here textually. First, both P75 and Codex B attest to the absence of the article in John 1.1c. This is significant since “[t]hese MSS seem to represent a ‘relatively pure’ form of preservation of a ‘relatively pure’ line of descent from the original text.”37 Kenneth W. Clark concludes, “it is our judgment that P75 appears to have the best textual character in the third century.”38 Likewise, Ehrman concurs, “[a]mong all the witnesses, P75 is generally understood to be the strongest.”39 Thus, this evidence significantly strengthens our initial external examination in favor of an anarthrous θεός.

    Second, only two MSS contain an articular θεός (L Ws): καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.40 In addition, these two MSS are late (eighth century)41 and have never produced a reading that has found acceptance into the base text of the NA27 or UBSGNT4 without the support of better and earlier MSS. In fact, regarding Regius (L), “the article with θεός in John 1.1c represents the only sensical variant involving a single letter in all (53) of this scribe’s singular readings. . . . The best explanation for the addition of the article is the sloppy scribal behavior evident in every aspect of this manuscript [i.e., the Gospel of John portion of Regius].”42 As for Ws:

    First, there is no evidence to establish a direct relationship between these two eighth-century manuscripts. As a result, the article with θεός in John 1:1c found in both would appear to be isolated corruptions that are not dependent upon each other. Second, alignment of Codex L and Ws never merits the “original” text according to NA27 without support from other key MSS (a, B, C, D, P66, P75). Third, there are no known instances where Ws combined with a single other witness can be found as the accepted text of NA27. Therefore, the inclusion of Ws as a sub-singular reading in John 1:1c does not negate the significance of the scribal behavior in Codex L and the combination of the two possesses insufficient testimony to consider the reading καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος to be a plausible original.43

    This scant evidence, at best, struggles to gain any viability in going back to the Ausgangstext. In addition, it is highly improbable that this was a deliberate corruption by the Orthodox Church five centuries after the Arian controversy.”

    • Greetings my friend!

      I hope all is well – apologies if I have any outstanding replies due to you.

      I agree that there are limited manuscripts that contain ὁ θεός and the evidence of such being an intentional corruption to deal with Arianism is lacking, at best.

      My question actually holds to this – and I think is amplified by it.

      Why do these variants exist? It can’t just be about Arianism (unless they existed much before the 8th Century).

      My suggestion is simply that John 1:1 is not easily understood with the anarthrous θεός. I think the range of English translations tend to agree with this.

  4. My friend, I couldn’t help but notice as I was reading that you seem to be swatting at flies.

    Even with the different renderings you are left with these three: a. The word was God, b. The Word was the God, or c. The Word was a God.

    The conclusion given is that Jesus = God

    What you’re debating is the sense in which He is God. But again if you do not accept the given text as the authoritative words of God then I guess it won’t hold much meaning for you.

    And as for the comparison of Isaiah 43:10 with John 13:19 this couldn’t be a more obvious example of denial on your part. Jehovah says εγο ειμι and Jesus uses this very same term εγο ειμι in reference to Himself. Notice how perfectly it fits the context of Isaiah 43 as Jehovah being the only redeemer. This role attributed to Jehovah is clearly assumed by Christ Himself as it says in John 14:6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Another εγο ειμι statement.

    Also, I’m not quite sure which Septuagint you’re using either because the analytic Septuagint 270 B.C. renders Isaiah 43:10 in this manner:

    *[[Isa 43:10]] LXX* γενεσθε μοι μαρτυρες καγω μαρτυς λεγει κυριος ο θεος και ο παις ον εξελεξαμην ινα γνωτε και πιστευσητε και συνητε οτι εγω ειμι εμπροσθεν μου ουκ εγενετο αλλος θεος και μετ εμε ουκ εσται

    Even so the obvious conclusion is that unless Jesus is God He has no right to attribute that title to Himself and therefore the Jews would have been right to stone Him. Again, it seems obvious that you’re swatting at flies my friend. You are left with one of two options: to either accept what the text teaches or reject it all together.

    • Greetings friend,

      I’m not sure I am swatting at flies, but much of your comments is highly valued and I appreciate the time taken to prepare them.

      If the text says ‘a god’ or ‘God’ is highly relevant because a range of Christian heresies hinge on verses such as this. Would a Modalist say it is irrelevant? Would a JW say it is irrelevant?

      For the Muslim it is relevant because if we are presenting key theology in a verse, it must be easily understood. We certainly argue about what verses in the Qur’an mean, but when it comes to ones about Who/What God is, we don’t have much room for interpretation.

      Perhaps I did use a different version of the LXX. Regardless, the one you have supplied renders the same issue I outlined in the version I consulted (ινα γνωτε και πιστευσητε και συνητε οτι εγω ειμι).

      Part of my proposal is that ‘I am’ is a pretty sterile phrase in of itself. Perhaps the author of John did intend to draw links to the LXX through these statements, but I don’t think so. Indeed, without a direct intent to do so being apparent beyond any reasonable doubt, the phrases are not quite so important, in my mind.

      And, yes, I don’t believe the text is 100% reliable. However, I can take the text as you have it and look at potential author motivations to understand the meaning. I wouldn’t have a problem with a Christian doing this with the Qur’an, as long as they add appropriate disclaimers where required (such as I put – e.g., “I am not a scholar of the Greek Language”.).

      I’m presenting my view, not ‘THE’ Muslim view or even ‘THE’ correct linguistic/historical view. If my view doesn’t stand up to a challenge, so be it. :)

      • Thank you for your prompt response and sorry for my delayed one. I didn’t say it was irrelevant. I agree as an orthodox Christian that the essence of Christ’s deity or in what way He is God is of utmost importance however I was trying to point out that whichever of those positions you take He is not just a mere prophet but much greater. Furthermore, as Dr. White rightfully asked, why did the Jews respond the way they did in John 8:58-59 if he was just a prophet?

        Joh 8:58-59 ASV* 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I AM 59 They took up stones therefore to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

        I’m not sure how much clearer this could be that Christ is declaring Himself not just greater than the father Abraham but the Έγo Ειμί Himself. Wouldn’t the Jews be right for stoning Him since He takes the name given by Yahweh unto Himself?

        Now, I have a question for you and to Muslims in general that I still don’t understand. If the words of the Old and New Testament are given by Allah and yet you believe that they have been changed, manipulated, altered, etc. then how can we firmly trust that the same has not or will not happen with the Qur’an? Why did Allah fail to keep those words pure and unaltered? Thanks again.

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