The Markan Gospel’s Systematic Development in Light of Miracle Sets

Traditionally speaking, Christian apologists have always appealed to the Gospel ascribed to Mark’s haphazard narrative inconsistencies (in regard to the narratives of the synoptics) as a proof of its early authorship being attested by Papias, as recorded in Eusebius’ Church History:

“This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely. These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.” – 3.39.15.

However, using narrative criticism, we are able to examine the patterns of literary development as envisaged by the Markan author. Thus, as we will see, the Markan Gospel cannot be considered disorderly, but should be considered as a work of systematic literary development. Whatever work Papias was referring to, has not remained with us (not a single papyri of the Markan Gospel exists earlier than the mid to late 3rd century), or what later Christians (such as Eusebius) identified with earlier Christians (Papias) is mistaken and as such, should be taken as mere anachronistic apologetic revisionism. As the “Church” began to develop, so did its history, especially in regard to its origins. This might seem odd to some, but we need to remember that as the various early Christian communities began to coalesce, a homogenous “universal” or Catholic history of the “true” Church began to manifest itself, what we refer to today as the proto-orthodox Church.

Jaroslav Pelikan says in the Christian Tradition Vol 1:

“There is a sense in which the very notion of tradition seems inconsistent with the idea of history as a movement and change. For tradition is thought to be ancient, hallowed by age, unchanged since it was first established once upon a time. It does not have a history, since history implies the appearance at a certain point in time, of that which had not been there before.

According to the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, orthodox Christian doctrine did not really have a history, having been true eternally and taught primitively; only heresy had a history, having arisen at particular times and through the innovations of particular teachers Roman Catholics polemics has frequently contrasted the variations of Protestantism with the stable and unchanging doctrine of Roman Catholicism.

It seems that theologians have been willing to trace the history of doctrines and doctrinal systems which they found to be in error, but that the normative tradition had to be protected from the relativity of having a history or being, in any decisive sense, the product of a history.” – pp. 7 – 8.

Many Christian scholars on early Christian traditions, agree that Church history tends to be generative as opposed to retentive (as is often claimed):

“At the same time, such individual memories also typically come to be calibrated in relation to an emerging communal consensus— either reactively or, more often, in convergence with it. Memory of this sort is of course highly episodic, lumpy, and often somewhat formulaic— characteristics to which even eyewitnesses are hardly immune. And it can often be generative of meaning, rather than merely retentive.” – Markus Bockmuehl, Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (pp. 11-12).

So, while the quote attributed by Eusebius to Papias may be more of a generated communal teaching which later manifested itself in Church tradition, can we truly say that the Gospel ascribed to Mark is the work of a scribe hastily writing down an orator’s recounting, as opposed to a work of systematic literary development? The answer is no. There are two sets of miracle stories in the Markan Gospel that follow a specific pattern, that bear witness to an intentional development of the Christ’s image in comparison with the Messianic archetype prevalent throughout Judaic literature.

Markan Miracle Sets 2

As we can see from this simple break down, the miracle stories are equally divided into two sets. Each set has the same pattern and form of miracles: one sea/ water – three healings – one mass feeding. Both sets of miracles, also occur within six successive chapters, with the first set ending and the second set beginning within the same chapter and within one verse of each other. These are not and cannot be coincidences, or disordered in any way. They are quite specific in pattern and form, the ordering of these miracle stories are intentional and systematic. Further analysis shows, that the author derived these miracle stories from earlier Jewish Messianic types, who were to guide their people in times of great turmoil:

Markan Miracle Sets

Thus, the intention of ordering and mentioning these specific miracles attributed to Christ, was done with the purpose of painting Christ in the same image and stature as that of Moses, Elijah and Elisha. In fact, the author who developed these miracle sets, does include specific mention of Jesus being like, or being Elijah within the same chapters:

Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” – Mark 6:15.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” – Mark 8:28.

Therefore, it should be concluded from reading the Gospel ascribed to Mark, that this piece of literature has undergone intentional development, with specific goals in mind to paint Christ in light of earlier Messianic archetypal figures. The narratives are in order, for the purpose the author intended to achieve, and as such, we can understand that it is the case that either Papias’ statement refers to some other piece of literature, or that the Gospel of Mark has undergone significant systematic literary development with a Jewish audience in mind and as such, is no longer in its original form.

and God knows best.

The Sun Sets on Nabeel Qureishi

Most people understand that language has depth. That language has devices that are used to convey ideas, thoughts and beliefs beyond a one dimensional literalistic paradigm. Most people are familiar with the sciences of exegesis and hermeneutics, which are often employed in helping us to understand scripture. Now, that is most people and not all people. One of those people who doesn’t understand these things is Nabeel Qureishi. For example, he recently posted this:

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Now, see if he had read his Bible, even given it a cursory glance he’d come to realise that the phraseology of the Semitic people who wanted to describe a limit or boundary as given by the sea would often use the language of, “where the sun sets”. So for example, we read in the Qur’an 18:85-86:

He set out (westwards) on an expedition, Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud, and he found near it a people.

So, as these passages state, he set out on a journey through the land until he reached a limit where he found a people. What was used to describe this limit? The sea and the sun setting. This was a phrase used to describe the limit of one’s journey being bounded by some body of water be it a sea or an ocean, a lake etc. In Nabeel’s very Bible, such phraseology is used:

“From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.” – Joshua 1:4

“See, I have apportioned to you these nations which remain as an inheritance for your tribes, with all the nations which I have cut off, from the Jordan even to the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun.” – Joshua 23:4

Some translations don’t use a literal rendering of the words, they try to contextualize them. So in the NASB, NIV and other similar translations they try to translate a text according to its usage and not according to its literal meaning. The Qur’an in most cases uses a literal rendition of the Arabic. The literal rendition of the above Bible passages, uses the exact same terminology that the Qur’an does. We read from the ISV:

Your territorial border will extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon Mountains, to the river—that great River Euphrates—all the land of the Hittites—as far as the Mediterranean Sea where the sun sets.

In one instance, there had to be a citation note explaining why a portion of this passage was excluded from the main translation:

Now look, I have allocated these nations that remain as an inheritance for your tribes, including all of the nations that I have eliminated, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea to the west.[b]

b. Joshua 23:4 Lit. Sea that faces the setting sun

The reason that most Christians are unfamiliar with this phrase is because most English Bible translations, translate “the setting of the sun into the sea” or “the setting of the sun by the sea”, to “the west” or to “the Mediterranean Sea”. So when they see such a phrase in the Qur’an, they don’t make the connection between a descriptive term and its use in scripture by the language of the people at that time. This is what happened in the case of Nabeel. He is not familiar with the language of the Bible, nor with the language of the Qur’an.

To aid Nabeel, I’ve used a popular language device in the title of this post. “The Sun Sets on Nabeel Qureishi,” is an oft used language device. Given that Nabeel seems to read things literally, I wanted to point out to him that not everything can or should be read literally. Here’s some examples of language devices being used in sentences and they aren’t meant to be understood literally:

  • I want to address the elephant in the room.
  • The rolling hills of the countryside.
  • It’s raining cats and dogs.
  • The sun set on Jim’s career.

So, Nabeel, I’m addressing you, the guy in this picture:

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“The Sun Sets on Nabeel Qureishi,” does not mean that I think the sun is literally falling on top of you. It does not mean that I want the sun to harm you. It does not mean that I think the sun goes up or down. It quite simply, does not mean anything literally. In modern English, the sun setting for someone can have varying meanings. It can mean they’re shining less brightly as a person, and just so I don’t confuse you, by shining brightly I mean they are not performing according to expected standards of normalcy. In some cases it also means the person is dim (again not literally, but in terms of wit, see: dimwitted), or in decline (again not literally in decline, like as if they’re sitting or stooping, I mean performance or career wise) in some way.

I hope you’ve learned something very valuable today. You can swap a t-shirt for a suit, but it doesn’t make you any smarter. As for his claim on Qur’an 86:7, I didn’t want to confuse him any further than he already is, but for everyone else here’s an excellent article explaining the basic Arabic usage of the terms in the passage.

and God knows best.

Ten Reasons Why We Must Reject the Gospel of John.

Ijaz Ahmad:

A few well put together arguments on the lack of the Gospel of John’s historicity.

Originally posted on Many Prophets, One Message:

John Rejected

Ask a Trinitarian for evidence of the divinity of Jesus and they will undoubtedly direct you to Gospel of John. In a previous article we saw how any such evidence put forward from this Gospel is ambiguous at best and often taken out of context or misinterpreted. Remove the Gospel of John from the New Testament equation and there is very little left in the Trinitarian’s armoury to appeal to for evidence of the divinity of Jesus. If you take away this Gospel, any Biblical foundation for the Trinity, ambiguous or otherwise, comes crashing down. So from a Trinitarian’s perspective the stakes for the Gospel of John are very high. This article is going to show that the Gospel of John is not a reliable historical account of the life and teachings of Jesus:

1. Lack of early evidence.

Dating the Gospel of John is no easy task. For a…

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Missionary Mishap: The Need for Da’wah

In the age of information, can we truly allow ourselves to be misinformed? Our Christian friend Donna, has decided to come to us for answers. Yes, it’s true, she is misinformed but she is seeking answers. This is just one example of a growing need for Muslims to continue doing da’wah….

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So who’d like to give her the good news that he isn’t the holy spirit?

and Allah knows best.

Where does Jesus say I am NOT God in the Qur’an?

Question:

Muslims often like to ask where did Jesus claim to be God in the Bible, to prove that he isn’t God. Some Christians have decided to ask us, “where does Jesus say he is not God in the Qur’an?,” they are trying use our own argument against us. How can we respond to this?

Answer:

Unfortunately for the Christian, Jesus in the Qur’an rejects that he ever claimed to be God, therefore asking this question as a counter-argument is not very smart to say the least. In Qur’an 5:116, it is stated:

“And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as gods besides Allah?’” He will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.”

If a missionary uses this argument, and they’re serious about it, I’d personally find someone smarter to talk to.

and Allah knows best.

Nabeel Qureishi on Tawhid

Nabeel of RZIM and I had a discussion on Twitter about one of his claims during his debate with Dr. Shabir that the word “tawheed/ tawhid” was not found in the hadith corpus. I pointed him to this (source – Saheeh hadith):

دَّثَنَا هَنَّادٌ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو مُعَاوِيَةَ، عَنِ الأَعْمَشِ، عَنْ أَبِي سُفْيَانَ، عَنْ جَابِرٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ يُعَذَّبُ نَاسٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ التَّوْحِيدِ فِي النَّارِ حَتَّى يَكُونُوا فِيهَا حُمَمًا ثُمَّ تُدْرِكُهُمُ الرَّحْمَةُ فَيُخْرَجُونَ وَيُطْرَحُونَ عَلَى أَبْوَابِ الْجَنَّةِ ‏.‏ قَالَ فَيَرُشُّ عَلَيْهِمْ أَهْلُ الْجَنَّةِ الْمَاءَ فَيَنْبُتُونَ كَمَا يَنْبُتُ الْغُثَاءُ فِي حِمَالَةِ السَّيْلِ ثُمَّ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ وَقَدْ رُوِيَ مِنْ غَيْرِ وَجْهٍ عَنْ جَابِرٍ ‏.‏

Jabir narrated that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) said:

“Some of the people of Tawhid will be punished in the Fire until they are coals. Then the Mercy (of Allah) will reach them, they will be taken out and tossed at the doors of Paradise.” He said: ” The people of Paradise will pour water over them, and they will sprout as the debris carried by the flood sprouts, then they will enter Paradise.
What was interesting, is that Nabeel gave this reply (source):
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I learned something from this experience. Nabeel does not know what the word Tawheed/ Tawhid in Arabic looks like, so here it is:
توحيد‎
As a former Qadiani/ Ahmadi, it does not surprise me that the one word fundamental to Muslim ‘aqeedah (doctrine/ creed), is a word he doesn’t know. At least this incident explains to us the extent to which his “Islamic” education reached.
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He just had a debate on the Trinity and Tawheed, and he didn’t even know what Tawheed looked like in the Arabic language, a word that is practically in every Muslim book on creed. I’m not sure what’s worse, that he didn’t know or that because he didn’t know, he made erratic claims that now can no longer be substantiated. I’m sorry Nabeel, there is no excuse for this level of ignorance, especially when you’re debating these topics in an academic setting. Thank you for demonstrating to the Muslim world, the extent of your Islamic knowledge. You’ve done an amazing job. And God knows best.
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