Debate: Is Jesus a Prophet or Son of God?

The debate will be livestreamed via this link: click here!

The debate starts at the following times (updated by 30 mins following new information from Dr. Ally):

  • 7:30 PM EST (October 13th, New York/ Georgia/ Toronto/ Trinidad)
  • 12:30 AM (October 14th, London)
  • 4:30 AM (October 14th, Lahore/ Delhi)
  • 2:30 AM (October 14th, Kampala)
  • 1:30 AM (October 14th, Durban)

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Unpacking Jay Smith: Topkapi Dating

In the past four weeks there has been a roll out of my latest video to the tune of more than 15,000 views. I recently began a series engaging with Joseph “Jay” Smith of Pfander, about his inconsistent, often erratic and usually dishonest claims. I would like to thank MuslimByChoice, SCDawah and EFDawah for uploading the video to their YouTube platforms.

Watch the video on MuslimByChoice’s channel:

 

Watch the video on SCDawah’s channel:

 

Watch the video on EFDawah’s channel:

 

The video is also viewable on our Facebook page:

 

I have been watching very closely the kind of feedback I’m receiving from specifically Christians who echo Jay’s material and the feedback has been quite surprising. There have been a lot more messages to Calling Christians over the last four weeks from Christians asking for more information. They usually come to agree that in this instance, on the dating of the Topkapi manuscript, that Jay is indeed incorrect though they would not explicitly state that he is intentionally being misleading. One common response was usually along the lines of, if he’s wrong in this case it does not mean he’s wrong in everything else he claims. To this I usually responded that this is one of his foundational and most oft-repeated claims, if a core claim is so obviously wrong, and we know he knows this information is incorrect, then how can we claim he is reliable in other areas?

and God knows best.

Is Part of the New Testament Lost?

Most believers in the tenacity of the New Testament would tell you the answer is absolutely “no”, but there is reason to disagree once one takes a look at the manuscript evidence. Today we’ll be taking a look at Mark 16, but not in the way you’re usually accustomed. As a quick recap, Mark 16 in the earliest Greek manuscripts, ends presumably at verse 8. Later manuscripts in Latin extend the ending up to verse 20. Let’s take a quick look at what these look like in the English language:

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Trans.: NIV, verse 8).

and…

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Trans.: NIV, verses 9-20).

Both codices Sinaiticus (א) and Vaticanus (B) date from the 4th century CE, roughly 300 years after Jesus (peace be upon him) walked the earth. They both end at verse 8. However, verses 9-20 can be found in codices Alexandrinus (A, 5th century CE), Ephraemi-Rescriptus (C, 5th century CE), Bezae (D, 6th century CE) and Washingtonianus (W, 5th century CE). You may be familiar with the claim of a longer ending, but there are actually five endings. In one of those five endings there is the case where the women then proceed from the tomb to a group of people who were with the disciple Peter. This ending can be found more notably in the Latin Codex Bobbiensis from the 5th century CE.

There is also another version where an addition is at Mark 16:14 which can be found in Codex Washingtonianus (circa 5th century CE) where it speaks of a more apocalyptic ending. In this ending Satan rules the world and the manuscript quite oddly says that due to Satan, God cannot rule the world…:

“This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits.”

The text in Koine Greek reads as follows:

οτι ο αιων ουτος της ανομιαϛ και της απιστιας υπο τον σαταναν εστιν ο μη εων τα υπο των πνευματων ακαθαρτα την αληθειαν του θεου καταλαβεσθαι δυναμιν

Moving on, the Nestle-Aland 28 Greek New Testament (the Greek text used for most of today’s modern translations) renders verse 8 as follows:

Καὶ ἐξελθοῦσαι ἔφυγον ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου, εἶχεν γὰρ αὐτὰς τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις· καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν· ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ

It uses codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus as the basis for the above Greek version. Do note that the sentence ends with the word “gar” (γάρ), I’ll explain more on the significance of that word shortly. So what do the manuscripts read? We are looking at the ending of verse 8. Codex Sinaiticus reads as follows (here’s the link to view page online):

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Folio 228 of Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus ends verse (and by extension the Gospel of Mark) 8 with the word “gar” (γάρ – do note the text is written in majuscule not minuscule Koine Greek so while the words appear to be different, they’re exactly the same). In majuscule Greek as we find in Codex Sinaiticus we will see γάρ written as ΓΑΡ. Codex Vaticanus reads as follows (here’s the link to view the page online):

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Folio 1303 of Codex Vaticanus

Verse 8 once again ends with the word ΓΑΡ (“gar”), and by extension the Gospel of Mark ends with this word. So what is the significance of the word “ΓΑΡ” (gar)? The word “ΓΑΡ” (gar) is a conjunctive. A conjunction is a word that combines two clauses, phrases or sentences. HELPS Word-studies states on the use of the word:

1063 gár (a conjunction) – for. While “for” is usually the best translation of 1063 (gár), its sense is shaped by the preceding statement – the “A” statement which precedes the 1063 (gár) statement in the “A-B” unit.

Do note, the Strong’s number for this word is 1063 and can be read here. In other words, ΓΑΡ (“gar”) is a word that combines two phrases, for example in the English we can understand it to operate like the word “and” or like the terms “because”, “therefore”, “due to”, “hence”, “henceforth”, etc. This means that the verse is essentially incomplete if it ends with a conjunction. Normally in a sentence when you read the word “because”, you expect something to be written afterwards.

  • they were afraid because…what?
  • they were afraid therefore…what?
  • they were afraid due to…what?
  • they were afraid hence..what?

When you end a sentence abruptly with any of the terms above, you necessarily expect a word or phrase to follow. Grammatically this is known as an anacoluthon (see the definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary):

syntactical inconsistency or incoherence within a sentence; especially : a shift in an unfinished sentence from one syntactic construction to another

In other words, verse 8 is an unfinished sentence. This explains why there were additional endings that were later developed and added to the text, because the way the verse ends is incorrect and suggests that something is missing. This ultimately brings us to our question, if the verse is grammatically incorrect and unfinished, it possibly means that something followed from the word ΓΑΡ (“gar”) and is now no longer evidenced by the earliest surviving Greek manuscripts some 300 years after Jesus (peace be upon him) walked the earth. One may argue apologetically that perhaps the verse was phrased this way for rhetorical effect. That is possible but unlikely due to the authors of Mark never having done this previously in the entire gospel. In fact, I’m not aware of any other instance in the New Testament where ΓΑΡ (“gar”) is used to end a sentence where nothing follows after it. Such an argument is also implausible because it is clearly grammatically incorrect to the point we have multiple endings having been added to it thus showing that readers correctly noted an error has been made.

In the English language, if someone wrote:

There was a boy with a cat. The cat was afraid because…

The cat was afraid because what? The sentence does not continue and so we don’t know. Therefore in either English or Greek, there is a mistake here and so we must ask what did the sentence originally contain and what words did it end with? Were there just a few words more, or many sentences after? How much have we lost? We cannot clearly determine the amount that is lost to us. It is then clear that the last words of the Gospel attributed to Mark are lost to us and therefore a portion of the New Testament is lost to us. Ipso facto, the theological beliefs of tenacity and the preservation of the New Testament are proven to be false.

and God knows best.


Author’s Post Publication Note:

In this article I assumed the A-B unit as the structure of the verse, however given that Mark 16:8 contains two sentences, the first sentence contains this A-B structure (emphasis mine own, taken from the NA 28 GNT online):

Καὶ ἐξελθοῦσαι ἔφυγον ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου, εἶχεν γὰρ αὐτὰς τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις· καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν·

In this first sentence of Mark 16:8, we see this A-B formula in work. In the very next sentence, we do not see it at work:

ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ.

While this is a correct sentence in and of itself, if we only and absolutely take this sentence into isolation, it would be grammatically correct (there is disagreement on this and it is discussed below). However, when we take it into the context of the author’s normal usage of the term ΓΑΡ (“gar”) within this very verse, then it would break the pattern and thus establish itself as being against the norm and therefore in error.

Furthermore, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (scroll down) argues for a succeeding repetition [with the word ΓΑΡ (“gar”)] as the norm (emphasis mine own):

When in successive statements γάρ is repeated twice or thrice, or even four or five times, either a. one and the same thought is confirmed by as many arguments, each having its own force, as there are repetitions of the particle…

There is no argument for the second sentence of the verse, therefore it also breaks this norm. There is one more alternative (emphasis mine own):

b. every succeeding statement contains the reason for its immediate predecessor, so that the statements are subordinate one to another: Mark 6:52…

Again, there is no reason explaining the fear, thus breaking the norm again. Regardless of the apologetic arguments to defend the incompleteness of Mark 16:8, there is no sufficient argument to plainly excuse the break in grammatical norms for this specific verse, though I want to thank at least one individual with knowledge of Greek for trying.

Further Reading

As mentioned above, the same individual raised the point of “ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ” being a complete sentence and has argued it is perfectly reasonable to end a sentence with such a word. Though I did not argue the point that “ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ” was the start of a new sentence (as incorrectly stated by the person), they also argued that no Greek scholar would agree with my conclusions. It should be noted though that I am not the person that has made these conclusions. One noted scholar of Greek and the New Testament, Robert Gundry states in his book Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross on page 1009 that verse 8 in the autograph of the Gospel attributed to Mark was not a conclusion but the beginning of a new unit, “the rest of which is now lost.” He also clarifies that while there is at least one possible example for the word “γάρ” in ending a book, which is possibly the case in the thirty second treatise of Plotinus as edited by Porphyry (though many others disagree), it is rather the exception to the norm and he conclusively states that no other book ends with the word “γάρ”. It should also be noted that New Testament scholar N. Clayton Croy in his work, “The Mutilation of Mark’s Gospel”, also argues that the ending of Mark is incomplete at verse 8 and he also argues that this is in part due to the presence of “γάρ” which he notes is extremely rare and thus unlikely the author of Mark intended to end the Gospel with such a word.

As for the use of “ἐφοβοῦντο”, Collins and Attridge in their work, “Mark: A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark”, on page 799 states:

Some opponents of the thesis that v. 8* is the original conclusion of the Gospel have argued that the verb “they were afraid” (ἐφοβοῦντο) is incomplete as it stands and must have been followed originally by an object, an infinitive, or a clause introduced with the conjunction μή (“that … [not]” or “lest”). Apart from 16:8*, the verb “to be afraid” (φοβεῖσθαι) occurs eleven times in Mark. It is used with a personal object four times (6:20*; 11:18*, 32*; 12:12*). Once it is used in the phrase ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν (“they were very fearful”; lit. “they feared a great fear”) (4:41*). On one occasion it is used with the infinitive: “they were afraid to ask him” (ἐφοβοῦντο αὐτὸν ἐπερωτῆσαι) (9:32*). This verb is never used with the conjunction μή (“that … [not]” or “lest”) in Mark. It is used five times absolutely, as in 16:8*.

Post Publication Note dated 29.08.18, with a note for Further Reading on 06.09.18.

Angels and the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Question:

Many critics of Islam claim that the way the Angel Gabriel interacted with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not in a way that occurred Biblically. This must mean that the “angel” which approached the Prophet, was not actually an angel but a demon.

Answer:

As always, our initial response to this claim should be that we as Muslims do not accept the Bible as a standard with which to judge the Qur’an. We understand that Christians do this because it is an authority for them, but for us as Muslims, it is not an authority for us and so we do not need to view the Qur’an through Biblical lenses. Perhaps someone might mention the “Ask the People of the Book” verse of the Qur’an, please see the link to it as appended which answers this argument.

As for the claim that no Biblical angel has been violent, Genesis 32 disputes such a notion. We read from the English translation of the Judaica Press, verses 25-31:

And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob’s hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him. And he (the angel) said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” but he (Jacob) said, “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.” And Jacob asked and said, “Now tell me your name,” and he said, “Why is it that you ask for my name?” And he blessed him there. And Jacob named the place Peniel, for [he said,] “I saw an angel face to face, and my soul was saved.”

We can establish from this text, that an angel physically wrestled with Jacob and dislocated his hip, thus violence was involved. However, some from the Christian faith argue that Jacob actually wrestled with God, however Hosea 12:4 (NIV) clarifies for us with certainty who Jacob wrestled with:

He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
he wept and begged for his favor.

From the first argument, another common claim is that no one has been afraid of an angel of God previously in the Bible, but this is also not the case. At the end of Mark 16, an angel (or angels if you prefer the other Gospels), in the form of a man greets the women who have come to the empty tomb and they leave with fear, see Mark 16:4-8 (NIV):

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

We know that the man (or men if you read the other Gospels) were angels, as John 20:11-12  (NIV) explicitly says so:

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

It should also be noted that when Moses (peace be upon him) was given the ten commandments and had to ascend Mount Sinai (as recorded in the Old Testament), those with him shook with fear due to the horn which was heard, which indicated they were to ascend the mountain. This is recorded in Exodus 19:16 (NIV):

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning. A cloud covered the mountain, and a very loud horn sounded. All the people among the tents shook with fear.

Another common argument that usually follows is that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) should have known from the outset that Gabriel (Jibreel ‘alayhi as salaam) was an angel of God due to his presence alone. The argument here being that when in close physical proximity to a holy individual, one should feel their holy presence. This is not always the case, notably the disciples did not recognize Jesus (peace be upon him) despite being in there presence, see Luke 24:15-18 (NIV):

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

The same is the case with Mary Magdalene in John 20:11-14 (NIV):

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

It should be noted that she eventually recognized him. Regardless of this, in both examples above and in the example with Jacob, we do not see that they recognized that they were in the presence of angels or of a holy person, therefore the argument that merely being in the presence of angels should indicate who they are is not one from the Biblical tradition. Using these arguments is an indication that a person is not familiar with the Bible and so one should calmly and with sincere intentions, educate them of these things.

and Allah knows best.

Minimal Facts Indeed: A Reply to Gary Habermas Regarding Jesus’s Resurrection

The following is a guest post by author Andrew Livingston.


 

Let me start with a confession: I sometimes have trouble telling what counts as a cliché and what doesn’t. I think I’m hardly alone in this. The internet age has kind of scrambled our circuits. A joke or argument or meme that makes you bury your face in your hands thinking, “You know, if I wasn’t impressed the first 493 times I heard someone say that…” might sound fascinating and refreshing to the friend sitting at your side. And nowhere am I more confused about these things than when it comes to these matters of interfaith debate. Right now, for instance, I’m going to respond to the “minimal facts argument”; do you know what that is? I honestly can’t tell whether nine hundred and fifty out of a thousand people will think I’m beating a dead horse or if the entire subject is some obscure nerdy thing only people like myself who have way too much time on their hands could possibly feel over-immersed in.

Let me put it this way: how often have you seen a Christian bring up the following Bible passage during an argument with you?

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:3-11) [1]

If to you that’s a familiar situation, chances are you were indeed hearing the so-called “minimal facts” argument for Jesus’s resurrection, whether the actual phrase “minimal facts” itself came up or not.

If you haven’t heard any of this before, though, it’s all laid out in the following video from the Veritas Forum’s Youtube page, “The Resurrection Argument That Changed a Generation of Scholars—Gary Habermas at UCSB”. It is this video in particular I’ll be replying to.


Given that I can’t very well transcribe an hour and a half of speech (much of which can easily be skipped over without seriously damaging the flow of Habermas’s argumentation) I encourage you to watch the video first, in its entirety, and then
continue reading.

Let me make it clear right off the bat that I have little interest in bickering over who has the academic consensus on his side—in this debate or any other—despite Habermas’s constant obsessing over said topic. I know that a lot of other Christian apologists will tell you the same thing: “We’re only iterating what a majority of scholars already agree on.” But the only poll to that effect any of them ever seem to cite was conducted by Habermas himself! Alan Segal, on the other hand, said that “rather than there being a consensus, there is actually a small group of scholars made up entirely of the faithful trying to impose their faith in the form of an academic argument on the general academic community.” [2] Is Segal right? Is he close? Could it matter? I have caught a fair amount of flak from other Muslims by saying this but truth is not determined by majority vote—even from the very most learned people. In the end all I care about is whether or not something makes sense; the rest is fluff and strutting. And so I will focus entirely on the reasoning Habermas employs, and why it will never add up no matter how many other people have made the same mistakes as he.

Here, without further ado, is Habermas’s attempt at historical proof for Jesus’s resurrection, interspersed with my commentary and rebuttal:

What if the skeptics are right [and The Bible is] neither inspired nor reliable? And it’s a book of ancient literature, on the level with Homer or Plato?…My argument is [that] we [still] have enough data…to argue that Jesus was raised from the dead…[To show that] The New Testament…fulfills the criteria for historiography…I’m going to be doing my Minimal Facts Argument. I’m going to be citing only data probably ninety-five percent will be accepted across the critical spectrum from conservative scholars to atheist scholars who study these disciplines…

I want you to take note of what Habermas just said: he is going to treat The Bible just like he would an unimportant secular ancient document, and not make any assumptions about its factuality beyond the points he specifically argues. Remember this pledge of his: fix it firmly in your mind. Because believe you me, it’s going to be an issue more than once before we’re done.

[Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:3,] “I gave you what I was given, as of first importance. We’re talking about the heart of Christianity right now,” he says, “and I’m telling you what I was told.” Okay…here’s the question: when and from whom did he receive this material? Do we have a clue?…Richard Bauckham [of] Cambridge University says that [it] is a consensus position amongst scholarship [that] Paul received this material about 35 A.D…How in the world would they know that? Let’s do the math…When did Paul have his Damascus road experience? Or for skeptics, when did Paul think Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus?

You guys caught that, right? If not, I’m going to explain later what he just did.

Paul says, [in] Galatians 1:16, “I met Jesus.” And then he said, “I didn’t go running up to Jerusalem to meet those who were apostles before me. I went out into Arabia by myself…and then I went up to Jerusalem…I spent fifteen days with Peter, the head apostle…I saw…no other apostles except James the brother of Jesus…” Now, what were they discussing during that time? Well, the theme of the short book called Galatians is the nature of the gospel…“Here’s the gospel, get it right. Don’t change it. If you change it you’re anathema. Preach the right thing; don’t try to get there some other way. It’s by grace through faith.” All right, you got it? “Don’t mess up the gospel.” That’s the bottom line. So when [Paul] goes to Jerusalem…five or…six [years after the crucifixion], if they weren’t talking about the gospel centrally, [it] at least had to come up.”

In case it isn’t already clear, what Habermas is trying to prove is that the things Paul taught or believed he must have either learned from, or first cleared with, Peter (who would definitely know what was true due to his connection to Jesus). Yet in the process of arguing this point Habermas refers to the opening paragraphs of Galatians, in which Paul expresses a very different attitude:

Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Chapter 1, verse 8)

So here is my first question: if Paul wouldn’t have believed an angel who told him he was wrong, why then would he have been so interested in what Peter thought? Must we avoid the obvious reading here: that the reason Paul so emphatically asserted what little contact he’d had with the original disciples was to make the point that he didn’t learn much from them?

Habermas continues:

“I know what I would ask Peter and James first. This’d be my first question to them if I’m the apostle Paul: ‘I’ll tell you what I saw on the way to Damascus if you tell me what you saw a few days after the crucifixion. How did [Jesus] look? Come on, guys, give it to me…” And I might say this if I’m Paul—depending on how bold Paul is—and you know Paul is pretty bold from his epistles: “Guys, the three of us have something in common here. I’m not trying to dog you guys, but you know, we all have a point in our life when we weren’t exactly exemplary followers of the Lord. I was on my way to kill or imprison men, women, and children [here the audio is briefly imperceptible in the Youtube recording] in the name of Christ. I’m not proud of that. James, you grew up in a house with the Messiah and you were an unbeliever. Somebody told me you used to think your brother was insane.” (That’s what Mark 3 says. That [Jesus’s] family thought he was beside himself.) And James might’ve hung his head and say, “I didn’t know any better.” [Paul might here continue:] “Peter, you have an exalted position as the head apostle: I’m not trying to dog you but you denied your Lord three times…”

I told you to remember Habermas’s assurance that he wasn’t going to be treating The Bible as even generally reliable, let alone taking it for granted that anything is true simply because The Bible says so. And already, so soon into his argument, he’s gone against that pledge on three occasions. First off, we don’t actually know whether Paul’s conversion happened within the same time zone as any Damascus road: indeed, if we don’t assume that the book of Acts is reliable then we have no actual story surrounding this event at all. Paul’s few-and-far-between references in his own letters to what he thinks happened to him are always intriguingly vague—most of all the one from the opening of Galatians:

God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me… (Chapter 1, verses 15-16; a footnote here allows that “in me” and “to me” are equally possible translations of the original Greek)

As if that wasn’t enough Habermas then goes and treats both the rejection of Jesus by James and the denial of Jesus by Peter as historical facts without one single word of explanation as to why I should believe in either. I thought we were supposed to be taking a minimalist approach here? Watch for this kind of thing, guys: every time a Christian apologist tells you his arguments won’t be relying on biblical inerrancy you need to listen carefully because within ten minutes at the most he’ll go back on his word and not realize he’s done it. Fundamentalists of any stripe tend to be psychologically incapable of discarding their views even purely for the sake of argument. They might try to but sooner or later the supposedly discarded assumptions will slip back in. I don’t think they can help themselves. It’s like a reflex.

Come to think of it, let me amend my advice a little bit: the next time a Christian apologist tells you that his arguments won’t be relying on biblical inerrancy, interrupt him right then and there and ask him why on earth they shouldn’t rely on it. Is that a matter you should trivialize?

Habermas continues:

There’s a little Greek word…It’s in Galatians chapter 1, verse 18. The Greek word is historesai…The English translations usually slaughter it. I know two or three word studies on this, done by non-Evangelicals. It’s a very interesting word. It means ‘to interview so as to acquire truth’. Probably the closest word we have today to depict this…[is] “eyewitness news”. The word historesai means “check it out”…

And Paul says, “I went back…five or six [years after Jesus’s crucifixion] because I wanted to investigate.” Then, as we go from the end of Galatians 1 to Galatians 2—no chapter break—he says…“I went back up, after fourteen years, to see the other apostles and to set before them the gospel I was preaching, to see if I was running, or had run, in vain…I went back up to Jerusalem to make sure that we were all on the same page, to make sure we were all presenting the same gospel.”…And just a few verses later, in Galatians 2:6, these five words in English: “They added nothing to me…” [And then in] 1 Corinthians 15:11 [Paul]…gives a list of the appearances [of the risen Jesus to various followers] and then he says this: “Whether it is I or they”—who are “they”? “They” are the other apostles, he says so in the context—“this is what we preach and this is what you believe…”

I have so very, very many questions.

First off, I’m willing to bet some of you people have had an experience in your lives that you would compare, in however small a way, to Paul’s own. A sudden conversion. There could indeed be someone reading this article right now who believes that he’s met Jesus. And if not, some of you have likely known a person who’s had a sudden conversion. I want you to put yourself in that person’s shoes. You’ve just spent the first twenty or thirty years of your life either completely uninterested in religion or even holding Christianity peculiarly in some sort of contempt. And then something happens and you become a devout convert practically overnight.

Let me ask you something about the person who’s had that experience: is this the guy you’d expect to approach Christian belief as if he’s some sort of investigative journalist?! “Excuse me, sir, I don’t mean to trouble you but I just saw Jesus come down from heaven in a burst of beautiful light and announce to me in a booming voice, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD. YOU ARE NOW MY MESSENGER.’ Would you mind, Dr. McGrath, if I ask you a few questions about early Christian history? You see, I’d like to convert but I also really want to make sure I’ve got all of the facts in before I do anything too hasty.”

Well, it could happen. But even if this was indeed Paul’s attitude why on earth would he wait fourteen years to double check that he hadn’t misunderstood anything Peter told him? Why would he need to double check at all? You can’t have it both ways, Habermas: either Paul’s two-week encounter with Peter and James must naturally have confirmed that their beliefs and his were the same, or they needed to talk it over again at a later time. Which is it already?

Which brings me to another question: since when did Paul ever have the attitude of an investigative journalist—at whatever point in his life, and whatever Greek verbs he may technically have used during a hasty rant? Take a look at this verse from chapter 1 of the very same letter Habermas is building his case around, 1 Corinthians:

Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.

“Jews asks for signs…but we preach something that’s a stumbling block to this.” Does that sound to you like the words of a man who’s determined to base his beliefs in sound empirical proof? Scholar though he may have been Paul was a fideist through and through, and proud of it. [3] I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, only that it must be acknowledged as the worldview he had. Saying, “This is what we preach and this is what you believe,” is not the same as saying, “This is what we’ve proved through careful fact-checking, and as a result all educated parties have come to a consensus on the matter.” (Besides which he was talking there about the idea that the dead could be resurrected—that is to say, he was talking about the belief in Judgment Day. Jesus was his counter-example to the denying of this doctrine he’d seen from some of the Corinthians. For more detail on that see my response to N.T. Wright.)

You may now ask, what exactly was it then that Paul and Peter were talking about during those fifteen days in Jerusalem? Well, frankly, your guess is as good as mine. It’s kind of silly to speak of what must surely have happened during a conversation two thousand years ago that no one recorded. If I had to guess, though, I might side with Gerd Ludemann on this (a man Christian apologists always quote when they talk about the resurrection yet never quote more than one sentence from). Perhaps James and Peter were more or less humoring Paul, because they didn’t want conflict and because they knew that the donation he gave might help a lot of suffering people. As Ludemann put it:

The Christians of Jerusalem probably adopted an ambivalent attitude towards Paul [and his mission to Gentiles]: on the one hand his action was obviously inadequate, since those who had been converted by him did not observe the Torah. Indeed, it was even dangerous, since their example constantly prompted Jews to transgress the law. On the other hand, it was better than nothing, since Christ was being preached (cf. Phil 1:18) and centers were being founded in which the work could be continued—and perhaps corrected by delegates from Jerusalem.

Assuming that these reflections are accurate, the generous gesture [of a donation] on Paul’s part was perhaps what won them over, all the more so since from the gift they might infer certain legal requirements. Certainly Paul is restrained in describing this aspect of the conference when he asserts, “Those who were of repute added nothing to me” (Gal 2:6). But then follows another clause, “only they would have us remember the poor, which was the very thing I made it my business to do” (Gal 2:10). Therefore the most important resolution of the conference was the least apparent: the pledge of a collection for the Jerusalem community; and Paul’s further efforts for this collection were among the most important of his activity. [4]

Again, it’s all guesswork. But that’s exactly the problem: when we read Paul’s account of the Jerusalem meeting we’re hearing only one side of the story regarding an incident that ended with a heated argument (Galatians 2:11-14). Is that actually such a solid foundation for historical knowledge? Would you be so confident even settling a minor argument between two of your own friends under similar circumstances?

Habermas continues:

So far I’ve been focusing on…five to six years after the cross. But I’m going to assert that we can get back all the way to the cross. We can close this gap…Why does Bart Ehrman say we can get this message back to one to two years after the cross?…

Because he thinks the disciples of Jesus came up with an adoptionist (not Trinitarian) view of Jesus as a coping mechanism due to his tragic death, and that the resurrection belief was tied to all of that. The man wrote an entire book explaining this!

[He says that] because of this creedal argument [I’m about to give you]. They can tell that this was early preaching. This [creed] was what the earliest apostles preached coming out of the gate…Peter and James gave it to Paul: they had it before he had it.

Now, when I say an early creed, one of the reasons they know it’s an early creed is because in the Greek it reads stylistically. 1 Corinthians 15:3 and following reads like this in the Greek: ‘DAH-dah-DAH-dah-DAH-dah-DAH, DAH-dah-DAH-dah-DAH-dah-DAH!’ Two stanzas, with data…[expressed in] a way that’s easily memorizable. Why? Because most New Testament scholars today believe that the vast majority of Jesus’s audiences—contrary to other things you may have heard—were illiterate. Up to ninety percent. What do you do when you teach somebody who’s illiterate but you want them to teach somebody else? You tell stories that they’ll remember—ah! Parables! And you give them short, pithy statements that they will memorize: ‘Turn the other cheek.’ ‘Walk the extra mile.’ ‘Do unto others.’ And when you codify things into a ‘DAH-dah-DAH-dah-DAH-dah-DAH, DAH-dah-DAH-dah-DAH-dah-DAH!’ [structure]—especially if there’s an Aramaic original, which is the language Jesus speaks—now we know you’re really going back in the church, because somebody had to put this together.”

To take the mere fact that a Bible verse contains a creedal statement originating from oral tradition and treat it as if you’ve found some sort of smoking gun proving that verse’s factuality is beyond absurd. The “Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship” lists eighty-five different examples of New Testament “passages that may be hymnic or creedal”.

Eighty. Five.

Thirty-three of those eighty-five creedal formulas come from letters traditionally ascribed to Saint Paul (and that’s if you leave out the book of Hebrews).

Eighteen of those thirty-three are from the seven undisputed letters of Paul (that is to say, the seven letters practically no scholar ever declares to be forged or misidentified: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians).

A full one third of that number—six out of eighteen—can be found in 1 Corinthians alone. [5]

Now let me ask you this: how many out of those eighty-five creedal passages have you ever heard anyone claim to confidently trace the origin of? One, and one only: that supposedly all-important passage about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. [6] What makes it so special? Why do we so definitely know that Paul learned this creed from Peter as opposed to, say, Romans 11:33-36 or Colossians 2:8? Or did Paul indeed learn those 17-32 other creeds from Peter as well? Or did he sit down with him and go through a checklist after hearing the creeds somewhere else? Why is 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 treated so uniquely? The answer is plain and simple: confirmation bias, nothing more. The passage can be traced to Peter simply because the people of Christian scholarship—a profession where even the distinct minority of members who don’t self-identify as Christian are still hugely influenced by people who do—want to be able to trace it to Peter. They’re forcing the conclusion.

But let’s go ahead and say that every single thing Habermas told us is absolutely correct. We’ll say that Peter taught Paul the 1 Corinthians 15 creed himself, face to face. We’ll even go so far as to say Peter that personally formulated that creed, and that he did so within months after that first Easter Sunday, and that Paul was determined to learn the creed and understand it correctly, and that he succeeded at doing so. What exactly does any of this prove? That the founders of a religion believed in it and therefore must have been correct? Where, for example, did Peter learn about the appearance of the risen Jesus to those five hundred brethren? How sure can we be that he didn’t simply hear a rumor of such a thing and credulously accept it without doing enough historecai of his own? What do we know?

In fact, let’s go so far as to say the resurrection did in fact happen. What am I supposed to infer about the meaning of it without dragging in other passages from a Bible that doesn’t have to be treated as even generally reliable? If the mere fact of a wondrous act were enough to confirm a theological belief all by itself then Moses’s contest with Pharaoh’s sorcerers would’ve been over the moment they turned their staffs into snakes. Ancient Jews knew that people didn’t come back from the dead every other day but all the same the idea of somebody doing so was still old news to them (see 2 Kings 13:20-21 for just one example). The Gospels themselves claim that there was a rumor going around during Jesus’s own time that John the Baptist had returned from the dead (Mark 6:14, 8:27-28). Did the people who spread that rumor think that John had opened the door to God’s salvation for them?

You see? Even in the best case scenario you need to cram in forty unsupported assumptions for Habermas’s speech to be of any use. This is what happens when someone uses an academic argument simply to disprove pesky skeptics or liberals, instead of doing it to advance our academic knowledge of the subject in question. Their reasoning won’t merely be poor, it’ll suffer from that particular kind of sloppiness you always get when someone’s heart isn’t in the task.

Am I imagining things or could it be that the whole reason Christian apologists so often feign these minimalistic techniques with their arguments is that they won’t feel comfortable if they do have to defend biblical inerrancy? Because they know very well (at least on some level) that’s a lost cause?

 

APPENDIX:

There doesn’t seem to be a fitting place in the article proper to work in such a long quotation as this so I’ll just put it here:

[Here are some] peculiar difficulties [which] surround the mention of the appearance [of the risen Jesus] to “more than five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep.” No note of place is given, and it is only hinted that the manifestation occurred after the first appearance to the Twelve and before the appearance to James. It is astonishing that the tradition has left no mark on any of the four gospels. It may have appeared in the lost ending of Mark, but there seems to be no positive reason for supposing that it did, and in any case one would have expected the remembrance of a fact of which there were more than five hundred witnesses to have survived independently of the fate of a single MS.

This is a serious objection to the acceptance of St. Paul’s statement, and other considerations do not increase our confidence. Who were the five hundred? and [sic] why were they gathered together? They were not Judeans; that is certain, for the Church at Jerusalem before Pentecost did not number five hundred. Are we to suppose that after the disaster of the crucifixion even Galilee contained five hundred brethren willing to leave their occupations and gather together in some remote place in the name of the defeated Master? If the story is historical, some summons must have been issued, and a place and date appointed. It is not impossible (Mark xvi. V 7), but it seems unlikely that tradition would have lost sight of a mass meeting such as this.

The suggestion has been made that the story of the first gospel which does embody a tradition of an appearance in Galilee (Matt. Xxviii. 16 ff.) is a description of this manifestation to the five hundred brethren. No such impression is given by the narrative as it stands. ‘The eleven disciples went into Galilee unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them; and when they saw him, they worshiped him.’ Who would suppose that a crowd of five hundred was present? Nor is the commission which follows suitable for a general body of brethren.

We have no evidence on which to form a certain conclusion, but the balance of probability seems to incline towards the view that St. Paul has accepted a story which was not generally known in the Church, which contained intrinsic improbabilities, and which did not represent with any degree of accuracy an historical occurrence… [Footnote: Or could this be St. Paul’s version of Pentecost?] Once the faith in the resurrection had been established, a misunderstood phrase in conversation, a fanciful interpretation of prophecy, or the pure spirit of romance, might be enough to send a story on its way. It is often impossible to trace the rise of a legend, but that legends do arise is not open to question. (Percival Gardner-Smith) [7]

 

NOTES:

[1] All Bible verses in this article (or at least those that aren’t part of a quotation by somebody else) come from the New American Standard Bible, as accessed through biblegateway.com.

[2] “The Resurrection: Faith or History?” by Alan F. Segal. Found in “The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue”, page 135. Edited by Robert B. Stewart. Fortress Press, Minneapolis. Copyright 2006 Augsburg Fortress.

[3] For further examples of Paul’s fideism see 1 Corinthians 2:9-13 and 13:8-12. You’ll notice that these examples likewise come from the same letter which supposedly contains in its fifteenth chapter an all-important proof of Christianity’s unique foundations in empirical historical fact.

[4] “The Collection for the Saints as a Polite Bribe: An Effort to Humanize Paul,” by Gerd Ludemann. Accessed via bibleinterp.com on Monday, August 13th, 2018.

[5] This is kind of embarrassing but for once I can’t tell you the page number or edition of the book I’m citing. I’ve had a snapshot of the relevant page on my phone for a long time now and for some odd reason it doesn’t accompany further pictures showing me the title page and what not, as with the case of every single other book I’ve ever cited this way in my articles so far. The good news is that this is after all an encyclopedia we’re talking about and therefore it couldn’t be very hard for you to locate the passage yourself. Probably the info is listed under an entry called “creed”. I can at least tell you that the first line of the page I’m citing from reads:

“1:15-20). Some have binary parallel structures (e.g. 1 Cor 8:6), and some have ternary parallel structures (e.g. Eph 5:14).”

[6] All right, every now and then someone will say something similar about Philippians 2:5-11—which hardly seems like any less of a hasty generalization to me, and which still leaves you with a ratio of eighty-three to two.

[7] “The Narratives of the Resurrection: A Critical Study” by P. Gardner-Smith, M.A., dean and fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, pages 18-20. Methuen & Co. Ltd. First published in 1926. I’m reading from a red-brown hardback.

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