Pauline Christianity, the Prophet’s Access to the Bible, and Similarities in the Gospels


Question:

Asssalamu alaikum. My wife is a Christian and she is currently exploring both Islam and Christianity.

  1. She asked how is it possible for Paul to write that well, obviously with some flaws in the Bible, after our prophet Isiah (Jesus {peace and blessing be upon him}) departure many hundred years later? I know he cooperated with King Constantine and gave in to his demand for one Bible. Are his eleven Apostles right and correctly written in the Bible. Are David’s psalms correct?
  2. Second, Did RasulUllah [saws, peace and blessing be upon him] have access to a Bible in anyway?
  3. Third, How come Matthew, Mark and others are so similar?
  4. Fourth, was Paul really inspired by Jesus [peace and blessing be upon him] to jot down all his statements in the Bible. How did he come to know so much of what to say in the Bible?

Answer:

As-salam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

I hope you are well insha’Allah. You have raised many important issues and questions that deserve a lot of research and reflection. Here are a few quick answers. I hope you follow-up and investigate further.

Paul and our Master Jesus (peace be upon him)

First of all, Paul did not live “many hundred years” after our Master Jesus (peace and blessing be upon him); he was his contemporary but the two men never actually met each other during their historical lives. Paul did not meet Constantine as the latter lived three centuries later; and Constantine did not have anything to do with codifying the biblical text; he was mainly concerned with Christology, that is, the nature and function of Jesus Christ – was he equal (homoousian in Greek) with the Father or not. This was why he convened the infamous Council of Nicea in 325 CE. You noted that “Isaiah” is another name for Jesus. This is incorrect.
The Hebrew prophet Isaiah (d. 7th century BCE) is not mentioned in any definitive Muslim proof-text as far as I know. Jesus (peace and blessing be upon him) is ‘Isa in the Qur’anic text or Yeshu’a in Syriac, meaning “saved by God” (see Psalm 20:6). According to the book of Acts as well as Paul’s own account in his various epistles canonized in the New Testament, Paul encountered a vision of the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus a short time after the ascension of Jesus (peace and blessing be upon him) in which Christ commissioned Paul to admonish the Gentiles and build believing Christian congregations (Acts 9, 22, 26; Gal. 1-2).

Paul does not represent ‘Isa (as)

However, according to renown biblical scholars/philosophers F.C. Bauer, Walter Bauer, and Soren Kierkegaard, and others (even Thomas Jefferson), Paul is the initial corrupter of the rigidly monotheistic Gospel of the holy prophet Jesus Christ (peace and blessing be upon him). Paul fails to accurately quote Jesus even one time in his fourteen letters and epistles (actually seven [Romans, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon]; the other seven are viewed by the vast majority of New Testament scholars to be pseudonymous – forgeries attributed to Paul by Pauline elements).

By his own admission, Paul has fundamental differences of opinion with the Jerusalem apostolic leadership, namely James the Just, the brother of Jesus (peace and blessing be upon him) and his successor (See the book of Galatians). Paul accuses Peter, James, and Barnabas of hypocrisy and condemns these eminent apostles as adhering to “another Gospel” (ετερον ευαγγελιον), Gal.1:6. Paul also admits that he does not possess a “letter of recommendation” (ijazah) from any authoritative apostle licensing him to teach the Gospel (2 Cor. 3:1)

Pauline Christianity is Today’s Christianity

Paul’s influence has led many scholars to conclude that he is the actual principal founder of the religion of Christianity; various dogmas such as vicarious atonement, incarnation, and divine sonship find clear origin in the Pauline corpus of the New Testament. The early believing community was split between Jamsonian Christianity, centered in Jerusalem and Semitic (Ebionite) in its theological orientation and Pauline Christianity, centered on Paul and his missions and proto-trinitarian in its theological (Christological) orientation.
The only two books of the New Testament that reflect the Jamsonian school are the books of James and Jude, both family members of Jesus (peace and blessing be upon him), the former labeled “a epistle of straw” by staunchly pro-Pauline theologian and spearhead of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther (d. 1546 CE). There are several other writings that reflect the Jamsonian school of theology that did not make it into the New Testament due to their so-called heretical stances (the Clementine literature, the Didache, Liturgy of St. James, Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of the Hebrews, etc).

The Other Apostles and the Psalms

There are also other books in the New Testament that claim to have been written by apostles of Jesus (Matthew, John, and Peter), but almost all NT scholars believe that these books are pseudonymous as well. The practice of pseudonymity, or pious fraud/deception, was quite common in the Greco-Roman world at the time. With respect to the Psalms, the scholars of Islam say that indeed there are elements of truth in them, but even Old Testament biblical scholars of higher criticism do not maintain that the actual king David (peace and blessing be upon him) wrote the Pslams and have almost universally labeled the book “anonymous.”

Did our Master Muhammad (Peace and Blessing of Be Upon Him) have access to a Bible?

It is certainly conceivable that he did have access to a Bible, but we should remember that the Bible wasn’t actually translated into Arabic until the eighth century CE. That means, as some Orientalists have actually maintained, that he listened to stories about Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc., that were translated to him by learned Jews and Christians, and was then able to rehash those stories back into Arabic, in a style and beauty that remains unmatched to this day! The question then becomes, who were his human teachers that gave him these insights?
The hypocrisy of the Western Orientalist becomes apparent here due to the fact that when it comes to Jesus (who certainly had access to the OT in his own language) he employs a hermeneutic of acceptance; that is to say, that Jesus (peace and blessing be upon him) was prima facie honest and truthful; but when it comes to Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) he employs a hermeneutic of suspicion; that is to say, the Prophet must have had an ulterior motive.

There were no Christian nor Jewish tribes living in Mecca at that time, only certain individuals. Waraqah b. Nawfal died in the Prophet’s second ministerial year; it is inconceivable that an unlettered Arab would have such specialized religious information at that time and place unless he was divinely inspired or raised as a student and rigorously trained in some seminary of some sort (such as a monastery or Yeshiva). With this said, the Prophet was dubbed Al-Saadiq al-Ameen by his people even before his prophecy.

Similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke

These gospels are similar because Matthew and Luke simply used Mark’s “skeleton” in the writing of their respective gospels. This is why these three gospels are called “synoptic,” meaning “one-eyed.” Mark wrote around 70 CE, Matthew around 85 CE, and Luke around 85-90 CE. This theory, known as the Two Source Theory, is the most widely held opinion by biblical scholars. However, at times Matthew and Luke will revise a Markan story or pericope due to linguistic or theological reasons.

The work of the great German scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries such as Bultmann and Strauss gave rise to the study of higher biblical criticism and includes redaction, source, and textual criticisms. See Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman for some incredible insights and information. John’s Gospel is vastly different than the synoptic tradition and scholars have different theories as to why that is.

Ali Ataie

Ali Ataie has been involved in interfaith activities for over fifteen years. He has been both a guest lecturer and guest instructor at several colleges and universities such as Cal Poly State , UC Davis , UC Berkeley, UCLA, Cal State East Bay, and others . He studied various Islamic sciences under local Bay Area scholars and has dialogued and debated with several Christian scholars on a variety of topics ranging from the historicity of the resurrection of Christ (upon whom be peace) and the Prophethood of Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings).
He is a graduate of the Badr Arabic Language Institute in Hadramawt, Yemen and studied at the prestigious Dar al-Mustafa under some of the most eminent scholars in the world. He holds a Masters’ Degree in Biblical Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, with emphasis upon the New Testament (the first Muslim seminarian in the 147 year history of the school to do so). He is certified in Arabic, Hebrew, and biblical Greek, and is fluent in Farsi. Currently he is working on a PhD in Islamic Biblical Hermeneutics at the GTU and is an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies and World Religions at the GTU and Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Ca.

Source: Seekers Guidance Answers – Ustadh Ali Ataie.

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