I was recently invited to come in and give a short presentation on the cosmological argument for God’s existence to a college apologetics class and I wanted to try it out first here and to share it with a broader audience as well. In the presentation (where I am joined by my lovely wife, Raven, who keeps me from getting too jargon-y), I discuss how 20th century influential atheist Bertrand Russell attempted to refute the argument and some of the reasons why his refutation falls short.
Piggybacking on the ideas of Yehezkel Kaufmann and John Oswalt, this argument builds on the uniqueness of the ancient Israelite claims about the divine to show that such a perspective could only have come about through divine revelation. My co-host was Jackson Ferrell who can be found (among other places) at https://chocolatebook.wordpress.com/ and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCApG0JBkT6PzJEWLMZ0IZOw
Yehezkel Kaufmann’s The Religion of Israel:
John Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths:
John D. Currid’s Against the Gods:
Tom Gilson’s counter-argument to the Jesus legend theory:
There is a strong tendency in man to think of personhood as emerging from non-personality. For pagans and atheists, for example, matter is primary. For many monotheists, God is thought of as too transcendent to really be personal. Even Aristotle, who provided us with an example of what highly trained reason can discern about God apart from revelation, fell very short when he postulated an unmoved mover whose existence precedes all actions but who can be acted upon by none. Such a god may think, but He is not relational. He is personal in only the most anemic sense imaginable. Western Christianity has unfortunately been so influenced by Aristotle that our view of God is at times not much better. We have tended to think of God as apathetic and passionless. As Roger Olson has suggested, this cuts right through to our christology, so that we have often been de facto Nestorians.1
Contrast this with the biblical view of God, however, and you will find a Being who exists beyond everything else (“everything else” being equivalent to the category of things which He created) and yet who condescends to interact with His creation and is personally invested in it.
We see this dichotomy throughout scripture, but perhaps most strongly in the first chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1 gives an account of a nameless God who uses His great power to create the heavens, the earth, and everything that is in them. The primary quality emphasized here is of His transcendence. This God is the one who alone made the heavens and the earth (Nehemiah 9:6) and because of this lives forever, unlike the pagan gods who did not create them and will therefore perish from them (Jeremiah 10:11).
And yet, when we turn to Genesis chapter 2, we find a God who doesn’t just create and dictate, but one who “forms” man by “breath[ing] into his nostrils,” suggesting closeness. This God is given a name to emphasize His personal, intimate interaction with the ones He made in His image. Genesis 2 answers the question of how anything can be known of the God we read about in chapter 1, who is far too transcendent to be understood from human experience and reason alone. To bridge this gap, self-disclosure and condescension is required. God is not simply reasoned to from creation, but must reveal Himself.
The Old Testament, therefore, is about a God who is above creation but who makes Himself known. This God is intensely personal and this quality is demonstrated throughout the Old Testament, not least of all in those places where He talks about His passionate feelings toward His covenant people. For instance, the Hebrew scriptures tell us that God has compassion on Jacob (Isaiah 14:1) and is deeply troubled over humanity’s sin to the point of feeling regret for creating them (Genesis 6:6). Ezekiel chapter 16 provides an account of God’s love for His covenant people in the most emotionally moving language imaginable: God looked upon the lowly and abandoned Israel with compassion and love and felt great affection for her. He married her (representing the covenant He made with her), but she committed adultery. And if that weren’t enough, she sacrificed the children He gave her to foreign gods. One cannot read this chapter without feeling the tenderest empathy for the sadness that God must feel in this scenario.
The transcendent God of the Bible, therefore, is not the transcendent God of Aristotle. He is intimately involved in His creation and draws His people to Him in covenant love. Per Moltmann:
“If God were incapable of suffering in every respect, then he would also be incapable of love… But if he is capable of loving something else, then he lays himself open to the suffering which love for another brings him; and yet, by virtue of his love, he remains master of the pain that love causes him to suffer. God does not suffer out of deficiency of being, like created beings. To this extent he is `apathetic’. But he suffers from the love which is the superabundance and overflowing of his being. In so far he is `pathetic’.”2
If the God of the Hebrews is so different from the god of Aristotle, how much more is He different from the gods of the pagans!3 The primary concept undergirding paganism is that of continuity; everything that exists is of the same kind and is related to everything else. Polytheistic gods are not comparable to the God of the Bible for the same reason human beings aren’t—they are not transcendent over creation but are merely a part of it. For the same reason, personhood is not a quality that defines the gods in the way that westerners, benefiting from 2,000 years of Christian tradition, think about personhood. For the pagan, a person (in Latin “persona”) is merely a mask that a bit of existence wears which appears to distinguish him/her from everything else but is only superficial.4
This leads us to a question, framed by John Oswalt, which must be given a plausible answer:
“The unique combination of transcendent personhood that now provides the sole foundation of biblical thought never emerged anywhere else in the mind of a scribe or a philosopher. Why did it emerge in a thoroughly pagan Israel?”5
Why indeed, to quote Brueggemann, in the Old Testament narrative is YHWH described as “underived and capable of direct intrusion into the narrative life of Israel without preparation or antecedent”?6 The answer which the Old Testament itself gives is the most plausible:
Because God revealed Himself to Israel.
1 Notes Olson, “For Luther it is no scandal to say ‘God was born’ and ‘God suffered and died’ and ‘God was crucified’ and really mean it as more than mere figures of speech. Luther carried the communicatio idiomatum to its logical conclusion—something apparently neither Leo nor Cyril nor their orthodox and catholic interpreters did. They were still prisoners of the old Greek notion of the divine impassibility. This kept them from fully fleshing out the great mystery of the incarnation and caused the Chalcedonian doctrine of Christ to be interpreted more and more in a Nestorian sense after the council adjourned” (Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, Kindle edition).
2 Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, Kindle edition.
3 Note how Kaufmann distinguishes the biblical theology from nearly every other: “The mark of monotheism is not the concept of a god who is creator, eternal, benign, or even all-powerful; these notions are found everywhere in the pagan world. It is, rather, the idea of a god who is the source of all being, not subject to a cosmic order, and not emergent from a pre-existent realm; a god free of the limitations of magic and mythology. The high gods of primitive tribes do not embody this idea” (Yehezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel, New York: Schocken Books, 1960).
4 See John D. Zizioulas’ discussion of the development of personhood as an ontological category in his book Being As Communion.
5 John N. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, Kindle edition.
6 Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology: An Introduction, Kindle edition.
Last year, I had the opportunity of interviewing an older Jehovah’s Witness couple regarding some of the central JW teachings. They were both quite knowledgeable and the husband had even worked for the headquarters in Brooklyn at one time. They were also very friendly, as is evidenced by their willingness to dialogue with me.
I included the recordings below in hopes that they might be instructive for those who are curious about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and the arguments they are likely to use in dialogue with Christians. I, for one, found it to be a fascinating conversation that reiterated to me why the teachings of Christianity, in contrast to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, are so important and precious. Click the links to view in your browser, or right-click to save them to your drive.
Consisting roughly of 50% good scholarship and 50% question begging, Ehrman’s book is a great popular level look at how liberal scholars deal with the history of the early church. I would recommend this book to orthodox Christians who are stable in their faith and willing to do their homework in responding to these arguments. One gets a sense of how liberal, non-Christian scholars handle Scripture, and also how their presuppositions determine their conclusions. It’s also useful for engaging with Muslim apologists, many of whom accept Ehrman’s conclusions on these topics uncritically. This book is helpful to that end since Ehrman disagrees with the Muslim view of the crucifixion (most Muslims believe that Jesus wasn’t actually crucified) and poo-poos popular Muslim reconstructions of the New Testament period. Finally, Ehrman gives us a great example of the fallacious reasoning characteristic of the emotional anti-Christian when he engages in speculation that the cause of Christian anti-semitism is the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, whom they charged the Jewish race with killing.
Most illuminating is Ehrman’s admission that he had in previous years used circular reasoning when looking at passages where Paul clearly referred to Jesus as divine and pre-existent. When interpreting these passages as a younger agnostic, he saw them through his presupposition that the early church’s beliefs about Jesus evolved from seeing him as a prophet exalted by God to God incarnate. Since, according to Ehrman, the earliest gospel (Mark) expresses the former view and the last (John) the latter, and Paul’s letters were written before either, it simply couldn’t be the case that Paul thought of Jesus as a divine person incarnate:
“…in some passages Paul seems to affirm a view of Christ that, until recently, I thought could not possibly exist as early as Paul’s letters, which are our first Christian writings to survive. How could Paul embrace ‘higher’ views of Christ than those found in later writings such as Matthew, Mark, and Luke? Didn’t Christology develop from a ‘low’ Christology to a ‘high’ Christology over time? And if so, shouldn’t the views of the Synoptic Gospels be “higher” than the views of Paul?” (Ehrman, How Jesus Became God).
A key example of this reasoning is in Ehrman’s discussion of Romans 9:5, a passage which seems to explicitly call Jesus God but which more liberal translators have reworked to avoid this conclusion. Ehrman admits:
“My view for many years was that the second translation [the liberal one] was the right one and that the passage does not call Jesus God. My main reason for thinking so, though, was that I did not think that Paul ever called Jesus God anywhere else, so he probably wouldn’t do so here. But that, of course, is circular reasoning, and I think the first translation makes the best sense of the Greek, as other scholars have vigorously argued” (Ehrman, How Jesus Became God).
Here Ehrman admits that he was reading his beliefs into the text instead of translating it accurately. Even so, it wasn’t until Ehrman found another way to understand Jesus being thought of by Paul as divine–that of not being absolutely divine but a divine-like angelic creation–that he was willing to consider the plain reading. As long as Paul doesn’t have a full-fledged orthodox Christology, Ehrman is willing to make some concessions on his extreme evolutionary view of Christological development. Ehrman’s admission of his own self-delusion is commendable, but it also demonstrates how bias can affect how one reads Scripture, and that it affects liberals just as much as it does conservatives. Unfortunately, Ehrman appears to still be under the sway of his faulty presuppositions. Also of note is Ehrman’s claim that one cannot do history if that one is willing to accept supernatural occurrences as possible. I would recommend Eddy and Boyd’s The Jesus Legend for a counterpoint to Ehrman’s naturalistic philosophy of history.
Apart from Ehrman’s strong belief that Jesus was crucified, he says other things that strongly counter the way many Muslim apologists argue in regard to early Christianity. Where many of these Muslim apologists (and, frankly, ignorant anti-Christians of all stripes) argue that the Council of Nicea was forced by Constantine to conclude that Jesus was God and that still it was a close vote, Ehrman argues quite the opposite:
“To Constantine, the issues seemed petty. What does it really matter whether there was a time before which Christ existed? Is that really the most important thing? Not for Constantine. As he says in his letter: ‘I considered the origin and occasion for these things . . . as extremely trivial and quite unworthy of so much controversy’ (Life 2.68)” (Ehrman, How Jesus Became God).
“Sometimes you will hear that at Nicea it was ‘a close vote.’ It was not close. Only twenty of the 318 bishops disagreed with the creed when it was finally formulated. Constantine, who was actively involved with some of the proceedings, forced seventeen of those twenty to acquiesce. So only three did not eventually sign off on the creed: Arius himself and two bishops from his home country of Libya. These three were banished from Egypt. A couple of other bishops signed the creed but refused to agree to the anathemas at the end, which were directed specifically against Arius’s teachings. These bishops too were exiled” (Ehrman, How Jesus Became God).
Thus, while Constantine was happy to view the council’s decision as binding, he did not particularly care what they decided.
Another strange feature of this book is Ehrman’s assertion that belief in Jesus as God is the cause of Christian anti-semitism, since it was believed that “the Jews” killed not just a prophet, but God Himself. However, countless Christians who profess belief in Jesus’ divinity do not think Jews should be oppressed or blamed as a race for the death of Jesus, including the Jews who made up all of the earliest Christian church. Jews were oppressed by pagan empires long before Christianity arose, and have been oppressed by non-Christian states long after, including in the atheistic Soviet Union. While the charge of deicide may have been used as an excuse to oppress Jews from time to time, the root issue in Christian oppression is not one of whether Jesus is seen as God, but of the Christian faith’s relationship to the state and to violence. This misguided and perhaps even malicious conflation of the Church and the State’s violent prerogatives comes out of an ignorance of Jesus’ teaching on these matters.
There’s an interesting article that was brought to my attention by a Muslim friend. He asked that I respond to its claims. The article exists at http://www.islam-guide.com/ch3-10-1.htm and though it claims to be an edited version of an article by Muslim apologist Shabir Ally, I can’t find the original version. In any case, it is representative of arguments typical of popular Muslim apologetics and has been fairly widely disseminated across the internet, so I thought it would be worthwhile to go through its arguments (note: there is one major argument in the article that I won’t deal with here because I’ve done so elsewhere: http://www.amazon.com/Responding-Muslim-Arguments-Against-Christianity-ebook/dp/B00SM0M1IY/). The title of the article is “The Bible Denies the Divinity of Jesus.”
The article begins by making a point that I agree with strongly:
“It is clear enough to everyone that the Quran denies the divinity of Jesus, so we do not need to spend much time explaining that” (Islam Guide).
Indeed, we read in the Qur’an, in Surah 4:171:
“O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs” (Sahih International Translation).
That the Qur’an dnies the divinity of Jesus is not a point of contention. However, the summary statement of what the article purports to do is:
“The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is not God. In the Bible God is always someone else other than Jesus.
“Some will say that something Jesus said or something he did while on the earth proves that he is God. We will show that the disciples never came to the conclusion that Jesus is God. And those are people who lived and walked with Jesus and thus knew first hand what he said and did. Furthermore, we are told in the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible that the disciples were being guided by the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is God, surely they should know it.
But they did not. They kept worshipping the one true God who was worshipped by Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (see Acts 3:13)” (Islam Guide).
What Is the Christian Position?
Before we assess the arguments in this paper, let us first state explicitly what the Christian position is. While there could be finer points of definition, we’ll use a basic understanding of Jesus as the second person of the Trinity who is fully God and took on humanity. The doctrine of the Trinity is that there are three discrete Persons who share equally the divine nature. They are not the same person, but three distinct persons.
It is possible that there is an order of authority in the Trinity from eternity, wherein the Son obeys the Father and the Holy Spirit obeys the Father and the Son, however this point is debatable (however, those who argue for this position will often argue that it does not create an inequality in essence any more than complementarian marriage does). There is, however, agreement that when the the Son, once He takes on humanity, obeys the Father and is sent by Him. Similarly, the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to save us, guide us, and dwell within us. However, all three are equally divine in nature and without beginning.
Further, Jesus is fully God and fully man, meaning the natures do not mix together to create some new nature. The human nature does not compromise the divine nature, but both remain fully. It is, however, the case that Jesus often chose to limit the use of His divine prerogatives– meaning that he hungered, thirsted, was tired, and even had to learn things. If He was not subject to these experiences, He could not have had a meaningful human experience and His human body would be merely a shell and a facade. Instead, He chose to identify with us in our humanity and the weakness that accompanies it.
This means that arguments against the divinity of Christ must do more than show that He isn’t the same person as the Father, or that in His humanity He obeyed the Father. It also can’t be based simply on pointing out that Jesus was a human. Christians already agree with Muslims that these points are true. For a Muslim to assert them as arguments against the Trinity or the divinity of Christ is to completely miss the point and attack a straw man.
Jesus’ Divinity in the Book of Acts
The central argument of the article’s arguments from the New Testament Book of Acts is as follows:
“Peter stood up with the eleven disciples and addressed the crowd saying: ‘Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.’ (Acts 2:22).
“It was God, therefore, who did the miracles through Jesus to convince people that Jesus was backed by God. Peter did not see the miracles as proof that Jesus is God.
“In fact, the way Peter refers to God and to Jesus makes it clear that Jesus is not God. For he always turns the title God away from Jesus. Take the following references for example:
‘God has raised this Jesus…’ (Acts 2:32)
‘God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ (Acts 2:36)
“In both passages, the title God is turned away from Jesus. So why he did this, if Jesus was God?” (Islam Guide)
This is a fair point to bring up. There are various possibilities as to why Peter would use the title of God for the Father but not Jesus. It could be that Peter wasn’t fully aware of the full extent of Jesus’ identity at this early stage. Another option is that the word “God” had a strong link in the Jewish mind to Him whom we would call the Father. The Jews didn’t have a concept of the Trinity, so would hear the word “God” and think of only one Person. The New Testament did not want to say that Jesus was the same PERSON as the Father, but that He shared the divine nature that the Father had. As a result, the word God is rarely applied to Jesus, though the divine nature is both assumed and stated to be His.
It does not undo Jesus’ divinity to point out, as our Muslim author does, that the Father raised Jesus up (Acts 2:32), since the New Testament also tells us that Jesus raised Himself up (John 10:17-18) and that the Holy Spirit raised Him up (Romans 8:11). In other words, the resurrection of Jesus was a Trinitarian action wherein all three members of the Godhead participated.
While Acts does not deny the divinity of Jesus, it does both imply and state that Jesus is divine in multiple places. In Acts 7:59-60, before the martyr Stephen is killed, he prays to the “Lord Jesus” that He would receive his spirit and forgive Stephen’s murderers of their sin. It is God alone who can receive prayer, and God alone that is capable of forgiving sins. Another turn of phrase for prayer is used in Acts 22:16, wherein Ananias tells Paul to “call on [Jesus] name” for salvation (see also Acts 9:14, 10:43). From the use of the word “Lord” for Jesus in Acts 1:21, it is apparent that the same “Lord” is prayed to in Acts 1:24 where the disciples say to Him that He knows the hearts of all men– a quality better known as omniscience. From these passages it becomes clear the early church prayed to Jesus (prayer being an activity viewed as only appropriate to God) and thought of Him as knowing all things and being able to save them. These are qualities of God and not of a prophet. In contrast, the greatest prophet of Islam, Mohammed, when he interceded for a sinner, was only able to lighten his sentence to the point that in hell he had to wear shoes made of fire that were so hot his brains boiled (Sahih Muslim Book 1, Numbers 409 and 415). In stark distinction to Mohammed, Jesus was a complete savior, which is a quality of God alone.
Finally, Paul also gives direct testimony to the divinity of Jesus, even using the word “God” to describe Him, in the book of Acts:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, ESV).
Jesus the All-Knowing, All-Powerful
The article then cites places in the New Testament where Jesus has human limitations on his knowledge and power (Mark 6:5, Mark 13:32, etc.). It anticipates the Christian response and provides its own rejoinder:
“Someone may say that Jesus was God but he took the form of a servant and therefore became limited. Well, that would mean that God changed. But God does not change. God said so according to Malachi 3:6.
“Jesus never was God, and never will be. In the Bible, God declares: ‘Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.’ (Isaiah 43:10)” (Islam Guide).
There are at least two problems with this response. First of all, it understands Jesus’ taking on human experience as a change to His divine nature, which is simply not the case. His divine nature remained divine and His human nature experienced normal human limitations. What the Muslim would have to argue here is that it is simply impossible for God to take on humanity. If he does not feel comfortable placing that limitation on God, then he must admit that if God took on humanity and had a genuine experience of it, this would include the experience of human limitations. It is not the divine nature that experienced these limitations (how can a nature experience anything?) but the divine second person of the Trinity who experience them in the capacity of His human nature.
The second problem is that to support his argument, the author then cites Isaiah 43:10, which Jesus referenced of Himself in John 8:58:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM [in Greek, ‘ego eimi’].” (NASB).
This wording matches the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint or LXX) in Isaiah 43:10-11. (Jesus and the apostles were very familiar with the Septuagint and it is quoted numerous times throughout the New Testament):
“…understand that I am he [ego eimi– I AM]: before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none” (Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton, English Translation of the Greek Septuagint).
Jesus cites this passage in His claim to be divine and the Jews demonstrated that they understood him by picking up stones to stone him in the following verse.
In fact, the text does testify that Jesus was omniscient in His divine nature.
In John 16:30, we see the disciples reaching this conclusion for themselves:
“Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God” (ESV).
Peter reaches the same conclusion in John 21:17:
“and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything’” (ESV).
Other places testify that Jesus has supernatural knowledge of people’s inner thoughts and intentions, such as Mat 12:25, Mat 22:18, Luke 6:8, John 2:25, and Rev 2:23.
As for omnipotence, Jesus does claim to have complete power over all things in Matthew 28:18 (“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’” [ESV].) and John also claims this power for Him (“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” [ESV]).
Paul Believed that Jesus Is God
When discussing Paul’s view of God, the author of this article makes exactly the kind of argument that I pointed out above simply doesn’t count– differentiating God the Father from Jesus:
“Many people use Paul’s writings as proof that Jesus is God. But this is not fair to Paul, because Paul clearly believed that Jesus is not God. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: ‘I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions…’ (1 Timothy 5:21).
“It is clear from this that the title God applies not to Christ Jesus, but to someone else” (Islam Guide).
Of course, Christians believe that God the Father and Jesus are not the same person. As a result, the above argument doesn’t even touch on the Christian position. One might argue though that if Paul doesn’t like to use the word “God” to describe Jesus (since the word usually suggests God the Father in the mind of Jesus readers), he ought to have communicated in some other way that Jesus was God. In fact, he does. Most explicitly in Titus, Paul does break his usual usage and chooses to apply the word God to Jesus:
“waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13, ESV). In the following chapter (verses 4-6) Paul refers to both “God our Savior” and “Jesus Christ our Savior” who together pour out the Holy Spirit onto believers.
As this Muslim author is wont to do, he again brings in false dichotomies by ignoring category distinctions in the doctrine of the Trinity:
“When he was in Athens, Paul spoke of God as ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.’ (Acts 17:24). Then he identified Jesus as ’the man he (i.e. God) has appointed.’” (Acts 17:31)” (Islam Guide).
Jesus of course obeys the Father completely in His incarnation. However, Paul does not distinguish Jesus from the one who made everything and is Lord of it:
“[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17, ESV)
Our Muslim author also fails to take into account the consequences of his arguments:
“For Paul, the Father alone is God. Paul said that there is ‘one God and Father of all…’ (Ephesians 4:6). Paul said again: ‘…for us there is but one God, the Father . . . and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ…’ (1 Corinthians 8:6)” (Islam Guide).
If 1 Corinthians 8:6 proves that only “the Father alone is God” to the exclusion of the Son, then does it also prove that Jesus alone is Lord, to the exclusion of the Father? The author seems to fail to take this into consideration and offers a very flawed argument indeed.
There is also at least one example in the article of the author seemingly forgetting the point he’s trying to prove:
“Paul’s letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:6-11) is often quoted as a proof that Jesus is God. But the very passage shows that Jesus is not God. This passage has to agree with Isaiah 45:22-24 where God said that every knee should bow to God, and every tongue should confess that righteousness and strength are in God alone” (Islam Guide).
The author is quite correct that Paul quotes Isaiah 45:22-24 where God says every knee will bow to Him, and indeed Paul applies this passage about God to Jesus. This seems to be an open-and-shut case– Paul believes that Jesus is God (and yet this section of the article is titled “Paul Believed That Jesus Is Not God”). But what is the Muslim author’s rejoinder to this clear proof that Paul thought of Jesus as God? Simply that this passage couldn’t have possibly been applied to Jesus because it’s about God and Jesus isn’t God. Talk about begging the question!
Finally, the author again fails to understand the doctrine of Jesus being both fully God and fully man:
“Paul said that God alone is immortal. Immortal means he does not die. Check any dictionary. Now, anyone who believes that Jesus died cannot believe that Jesus is God. Such a belief would contradict what Paul said here” (Islam Guide).
This is another example of the author completely missing the point– Jesus was fully God and fully man, God in flesh. It is of course true that the divine cannot go out of existence. However, Jesus was also fully human. Because Jesus was a man, He could die. Because He was perfect and divine, “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24, ESV).
Jesus’ Divinity in the Gospel of John
Our Muslim author opens this section with discussion of the doctrine of Jesus as “the Word” in John:
“This Gospel in its final form says one more thing about Jesus that was unknown from the previous three Gospels — that Jesus was the Word of God. John means that Jesus was God’s agent through whom God created everything else. This is often misunderstood to mean that Jesus was God Himself. But John was saying, as Paul had already said, that Jesus was God’s first creature… Anyone who says that the Word of God is a person distinct from God must also admit that the Word was created, for the Word speaks in the Bible saying: ‘The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works…’ (Proverbs 8:22).” (Islam Guide)
The problems with this assessment are immense. To begin with, Proverbs 8:22 does not say that the Word was the first of God’s works, but is speaking of a personified form of wisdom. It is true that some scholars think that John might be reflecting on this passage (and passages from other, non-canonical works such as Sirach in the 24th chapter) to develop His idea of the Word, though a significant amount of scholars tend to suspect that John is reflecting more on the Greek (particularly as explicated by Philo) understanding of the “Logos,” though I think that there is a significant argument to be made that John is reflecting on the Targumic tradition of the “Memra” (see John Ronning’s The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology). The word translated in this verse as “brought me forth” also provides difficulties for the translator, as it can also mean something like “to possess” or “to acquire.” The church father Athanasius understood it to mean “constituted me as the head of creation.” So even if one did take this to be prophetic of Jesus or reflective of how the apostles saw Jesus, it wouldn’t necessarily demonstrate that He was a separate creation of God. In any case, even if John is developing the idea of wisdom in earlier Jewish writings, this doesn’t mean he’s applying the concept wholesale. He could simply be reflecting on part of the wisdom tradition without using all of it.
Putting that miscitation aside, our author also strongly implies that Christians think that John believes Jesus is the Word because John simply uses the phrase “the Word.” This is not so. We believe that John thinks Jesus– the Word– is God because John tells us that, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John here is careful to distinguish the Father (whom he refers to as THE God) from the Word, whom He claims shares all of the divine qualities with the Father while still being a distinct person. However, it is the case that if John is reflecting on the Targumic tradition of the Word (where “Word of God” stands in for “God” when God interacts with creation) then his use of “Word” would also imply Jesus’ divinity.
In any case, John so manifestly believes in the divinity of Jesus (as noted, he literally calls Jesus divine and claims that He created the universe– “All things were made through Him” in v. 3) that trying to prove otherwise is the ultimate exercise in futility. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are more subtle when dealing with this topic, so one might forgive our Muslim author for not seeing the divine Jesus in their writings. John is so explicit that any unbiased reader couldn’t miss it.
The author supports his claim that John believes Jesus was God’s first creature by citing Revelation 3:14 which refers to Jesus (in the King James Version at least) as “the beginning of the creation of God.” However, this translation is misleading. The Greek word here translated beginning is “arche” and can mean the first of something or the origin of something. This understanding of arche corresponds well to Revelation 21:6, where we read that God is the beginning (arche) and the end. Arche can also refer to a power over something, as it does in Luke 20:20 and Romans 8:38. This understanding of the word works well with verse 21, which shows Jesus as a conqueror sitting on his throne. These interpretations are at least as plausible as the one the Muslim author postulates, if not more so. Because Revelation seems so strongly to assert Jesus’ divinity (1:8 and 1:17-18, 5:13, etc.) it makes the Muslim interpretation here significantly less likely.
Our Muslim author closes his section on John by again completely missing the point:
“In fact Jesus himself told the crowds, that they have never seen the Father, nor have they heard the Father’s voice (John 5:37). Notice that if Jesus was the Father, his statement here would be false“ (Islam Guide).
Obviously, Christians don’t believe that Jesus is the Father so this only serves to further demonstrate how completely irrelevant so much of Muslim Dawah (apologetics) is when it comes to interacting with Christian beliefs. This kind of argument only serves to convert someone who calls himself a Christian but doesn’t actually know the central Christian truth propositions.
Many critics of Christianity claim that the view of Jesus as the divine son of God, resurrected from the dead developed over time. However, the earliest accounts of Jesus strongly contradict this notion. Below are perhaps the two most ancient sources on how Christ’s earliest followers viewed him.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
–1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV
1 Corinthians was probably written between 53 and 57 A.D. Paul, its author, here references what he had received– the gospel he had heard. When did he hear it? Well, he converted to Christianity some time between 33 and 36 A.D. According to Galatians 1:18, three years after his conversion he went and talked to Jesus’ original disciples, which is most likely when he “received” the creed he recounts in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. In other words, this creed– which teaches that Christ died for our sins and was raised up again in history– can be said to date to around 36-39 A.D.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
–Philippians 2:5-11, ESV
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written between 50 and 62 A.D. Because of the structure of this passage (it is poetic in style), many biblical scholars have claimed that Paul is here quoting an even earlier Christian hymn. It is perhaps a hymn like this that Pliny the Younger referenced in his letter to emperor Trajan written around 106 AD which reported that Christians, “sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.” Even if Paul was not quoting another hymn, we still have a very clear and early witness here to the deity of Christ and his death for the sake of others.
I recently engaged in a blog debate with an atheist friend, Ben Doublett, on the question, “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” I posted my portions of the debate on my blog Argue With a Christian, and he posted his on his blog– Fool of Psalms. I thought it might be helpful for those who are interested in the debate to see all of the posts listed in one place.
Both debaters will post on their respective blogs an opening statement making a positive case for their viewpoint not exceeding 1,200 words.
Within 72 hours, both debaters will post rebuttals not exceeding 1,600 words.
Within another 72 hours, both debaters will post a three question cross-examination they have done of the other debater, questions not exceeding 50 words and answers not exceeding 200 words.
Within another 72 hours, 400 word conclusions will also be posted by each debater.
Links to the post responded to and the response posted (when they are submitted) will be placed in text of each post.
Ben Doublett is the owner of a small business and a British citizen living in the United States. He spends his free time volunteering with the business program at Mason High School, mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and, most relevantly, as an amateur atheist and rationalist polemic.
In his new blog, Fool of Psalms, he criticizes all kinds of irrational belief, including alternative and faith-based healing practices and (coming soon) astrology, but mainly he focuses on dispelling the reasons given for religious belief and providing reasons for disbelief. This blog has attracted nearly a thousand unique visitors from all over the world in less than three weeks.
While he is definitely not reserved in his criticisms of beliefs he considers irrational, Doublett always tries to remain as respectful as possible in debates with the faithful. He is a strong advocate of the notion that one should attack the belief and not the believer.
To read more about Doublett’s positions on religious faith and other issues, check out his blog at http://foolofpsalms.blogspot.com/
Cody Cook is a theology student specializing in apologetics. He seeks to follow the biblical command to, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” and seeks to dialogue with non-Christians about the truths of the Christian faith. He believes that since reason and morality come from God, they cannot be consistently used against Him by the atheist/agnostic/skeptic. As a result, he seeks to demonstrate circular reasoning, unfounded assumptions, and faulty reasoning in atheistic thinking, while at the same time seeking to maintain a friendly and generous spirit. He has two blogs which he uses to encourage dialogue with fellow Christians as well as non-Christians: http://arguewithachristian.blogspot.com/ andhttp://codysblackbox.blogspot.com/
The Roman historian Suetonius, reflecting on the period when Claudius was Emperor (41-54 A.D.), shares an interesting tidbit about an event that happened during his reign:
“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.”
Interestingly, Acts 18:2 in the New Testament also seems to give an account of this event:
“There [Paul] met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.”
It seems clear that the Jews were in fact expelled from Rome by Claudius on account of one Suetonius called Chrestus, but who is Chrestus? Many have pointed out that Chrestus is an alternative spelling of Christus, or Christ. So it seems that Jews were causing disturbances in Rome on account of a Christ-figure (Christ being the Greek version of the Hebrew Mashiach or Messiah). It has also been suggested that this refers to Jewish mobs coming against those who preached Christ Jesus. This is not an unreasonable interpretation of Suetonius’ words. After all, there clearly was outrage from Jewish mobs over Paul’s preaching of Jesus which are recorded throughout the book of Acts. In the chapter previous to the one quoted above, there is an account of a Jewish mob organizing in Thessalonica in response to Paul’s preaching of Christ, and even the chapter the quotation is taken from gives an account of a Jewish mob bringing Paul before the authorities because they are offended at his preaching. Based on just these bare facts, it seems very reasonable to assume that a number of Roman Jews as well were being brought to violence over the preaching of Jesus, and that Claudius might have expelled them from Rome because of it.
One difficulty with this is that Acts 18 never explains why the Jews, along with Christian Jews like Priscilla and Aquila, were expelled. Based on the purpose of Luke in writing the book of Acts (to give an account of the earliest preaching of the Gospel after Jesus’ ascension, and of the difficulties the disciples encountered), it would seem that he would be interested in sharing this information. This provides one piece of evidence that Claudius was not concerned about violence over the preaching of the gospel, but it certainly doesn’t destroy the case for the position that he was. Luke could have had any number of reasons for not feeling that it was necessary to give details here.
There is other evidence that Claudius was concerned with the “Christian problem” and particularly how it created difficulties among the non-Christian Jewish population of the empire. The Nazareth Inscription is among this evidence. While there are numerous opinions on how the inscription should be dated and understood, Clyde E. Billington PhD lays out a very convincing case that it was written by Claudius in response to the Jewish claim that the Christians had removed Jesus’ body from the tomb, which is why they believed it couldn’t be found there. Billington’s translation of the Inscription reads, in part:
“if anyone legally charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has moved sepulcher-sealing stones, against such a person I order that a judicial tribunal be created…”
Billington also speculates as to what the impact this inscription might have had on Christians. He suggested that Herod Agrippa I, a lifetime friend of Claudius who provided priceless information to him about how to govern the Jews in a way which would be least likely to incite violence and respect their traditions, promptly responded to this edict with what we read in Acts 12:1-3:
“It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.”
If Billington’s understanding of this inscription, posted in Nazareth where Jesus lived (and after which His disciples were called Nazarenes), is correct, then it becomes even more likely that Claudius was concerned with the issue of Rabbinic Jewish and Christian Jewish relations, and that he very reasonably could have expelled all of the Jews (whether traditional or Christian) from Rome because of the conflicts that were erupting in response to the gospel being preached there.