Analyzing James White’s Post-Debate Remarks
James White and Dr. Shabir Ally had a very recent series of debates in South Africa, the one currently under attention is entitled, “Did the Original Disciples of Jesus Consider Him God?“. As expected James made some post-debate remarks on his Dividing Line Program, then Dr. Shabir responded to James’ comments, and now we’re examining James’ response to Dr. Shabir’s statements.
To be honest, I must agree with James, we can’t assess who won or lost the debate without the debate video and as such, I’m going to avoid giving a judgment on their debate (after all, that would be crass and very dishonest of me to do) – what I am assessing in this article, are the arguments that James has put forth in defense of his methodology and I will attempt to, God willing, respond to the claims he’s made against Islamic theology towards the latter part of his response to Dr. Shabir. I’d like to make it clear that I am not responding on behalf of Dr. Shabir, but I am merely commenting on James’ public posts which are available for anyone to read via the AOMIN website.
My initial listening of James’ Dividing Line program, hinted to me that James felt as if the state he left the debate with Dr. Shabir in, was in an unfinished manner. To me, he knew that if he did make public statements before the debate was released that Dr. Shabir would respond, therefore it may have been his intention to continue ‘the discussion of their points of contention’ during the debate, after the debate in a series of public rebuttals. Meaning then, James may not have been satisfied with his performance and has felt the need to clear the air before the video makes its impressions. Again, these are my opinions, and may very well be wrong, but given my history with James and his past with Dr. Shabir, see these 8 rejoinders/ responses, my conclusion fits the pattern.
To begin with, I do believe that James has misread Dr. Shabir’s intentions concerning this comment:
Secondly, I find Shabir’s words here odd, as they seem to suggest that I seek to “spin” the debates, “saying how well he fared during the debate.” I do not think that such a suggestion is borne out by the documentation one could gather over the course of over one hundred and thirty public debates.
I do think Dr. Shabir meant to say that you comment on your performances after the act (how good did you think you performed?, etc), which is natural for any performer to do, I do not think he meant to say that you claim to being the winner after your debates. Clearly, you also doubt your own spin on his words by terming your response very carefully, you said and I quote, “as they seem to suggest“, clearly James, they do seem to suggest otherwise to me. He went on to say:
I found Shabir’s thinking consistently inconsistent, as I always have. He adopts the most radically skeptical position on anything related to the New Testament, repeatedly identifies the theories of liberal critics as the views of “scholarship” in general, ignores the sound biblical scholarship of believing Christianity, and applies a standard of interpretation to the text of the New Testament that is grossly biased and often simply completely erroneous.
I’m afraid that James would need to flesh out his reasoning a bit here. Apparently, it’s inconsistent to quote scholars that support Dr. Shabir’s point of view, as if James himself does not quote scholars and their interpretations that suit his points of view. If I were to say, apply the consistency argument upon James of which he is so fond of, it would appear to me that if he ever quoted any scholar which supported his conservative point of view, then he’d be falling victim to the same argument he uses here against Dr. Shabir. So, what exactly is James’ problem here? It would seem that he doesn’t like the scholars that Dr. Shabir references, to be honest, simply throwing the label ‘liberal’ over scholars you dislike, neither discredits nor disproves their studies, opinions and academic works. All you’re doing is asking Dr. Shabir to forego his objective study and use of scholars and have him only appeal to the scholars you approve of – if this isn’t the fallacy of appeal to authority and the fallacy of confirmation bias, I don’t know what else to call it. He continues:
I am confident a fair review of the entire debate will justify my conclusions.
Let’s pause for a moment, recall that James spent an entire paragraph, dedicated to explaining that he does not claim he’s won debates – he leaves it for the public to decide. Yet here he is, inconsistently claiming just that! In the space of three paragraphs, not only has James refuted himself, he’s making his response to Dr. Shabir a muddled mess of over critical statements that should never have been written.
During the cross examination period I asked Shabir to provide me with earlier Christian material than that found in the Carmen Christi, the hymn to Christ as to God, found in Philippians 2:5-11, that would demonstrate a view of Jesus contrary to that found in that primitive text. His response surprised me. He did not seek to identify a more primitive stratum of tradition. He did not question the provenance of the hymn fragment. Instead, he responded by pointing me to—the Old Testament! Now, of course, the Old Testament was not produced by early Christians, was it? It was completed centuries before the Christian movement began with Jesus of Nazareth. Our debate was about the earliest disciples of Jesus and what they believed about Him. Surely the Old Testament is relevant as a background document, but it seemed to me, and I leave it to the listeners to decide for themselves, that Shabir conceded, in his response, that the oldest specifically Christian tradition does, in fact, present the deity of Christ. Appealing to Shabir’s personal interpretation of the Old Testament is not sufficient to fulfill the burden of the debate topic.
Once again the arguments of Dr. Shabir seems to have flown over the head of James and I’m not simply cheering on Dr. Shabir. To begin with, the Carmen Christi proves nothing. It only proves something if you already hold that it does, but to an objective individual such as myself it doesn’t appear to hold much water. Let me accept that the Carmen Christi is perhaps older than the Pauline epistles, being older does not automatically equate to it being either being produced by or believed in by the disciples of Christ. Their is no direct correlation to establish such a postulate. The only text that is older, of which the Christian community did hold to be authoritative and moreso than a random hymn, would be the Old Testament. Note, James’ argument against Dr. Shabir’s use of the Old Testament confuses me here. His counter-argument is that the disciples didn’t produce the Old Testament, well James, there is nothing to suggest that they produced the Carmen Christi either! Therefore, logically speaking if the use of a text is evidential simply because it pre-dated Paul and was in use by followers of Christ (whomever they may be – heretical or proto-orthodox), then both the Carmen Christi and the Old Testament qualify as being okay to use. Dr. Shabir was therefore justified in his mentioning of it and your bias and preconceived notions (without supporting evidences) about the alleged (and unmentioned?) links directly back to the disciples and the Carmen Christi was simply a grasping of straws by you, a remnant of your previous debate with him when you first introduced it. He continued:
He basically said that they earliest followers of Jesus were “monotheistic Jews” who could not have believed what Paul was teaching (clearly admitting Paul taught the deity of Christ….
Clearly James, Dr. Shabir’s argument is clear, Paul is at odds with monotheistic Judaism, he corrupted the Shema Yisrael. Note, a corruption to the Shema Yisrael would be any addition to or negation of the principles clearly outlined by the Shema verbatim. Here James concedes that Paul did just that, by adding to the Shema, something which YHWH – the God of the Jews warned against in Deuteronomy 4:2, something which Paul and James should have known:
The Carmen Christi, and the expansion of the Shema in 1 Corinthians….
According to James himself, Paul corrupted the Shema in lieu of Deuteronomy 4:2 by adding to it, thus justifying and qualifying Dr. Shabir’s sound Biblical position.
Now I respond to James’, ‘observations’:
1) James may be considered early, but just as you appealed to the title of the debate to wrongly (and illogically so), negate Dr. Shabir’s use of the Old Testament, if we are to rightly examine your use of James in light of the delimitations of the debate topic, seeing as he is not one of the 12 and the topic clearly mentions ‘disciples’, your evidence does not qualify itself.
2) The Carmen Christi cannot be proven to be verbatim from the disciples, whether through Paul or otherwise and is thus mere speculation and therefore directly irrelevant to the debate. The corruption of the Shema according to sound Biblical edicts by your God (?) in Deuteronomy 4:2, negates its use.
3) Dr. Shabir cites it as the earliest Gospel, he does not cite it as the original or autograph work of the disciple known as Matthew, therefore its use is again, irrelevant and seems to have been a ploy by you to drag Dr. Shabir into discussing it’s Christology – then again, it cannot be traced definitively to the disciple as its author, so his eventual mentioning of that point would have stopped you in your tracks.
4) John may have been an original disciple, but we cannot appeal to the Gospel attributed to him as evidence, given it’s extremely late dating, it’s high Christology and the fact that it’s testimony in relation to the actual disciple is from the Patristics of the Roman Catholic tradition, something a Sola Scriptura preacher such as yourself should reject – then again, your consistency is not up to mark, therefore you declared yourself as a historian – Christian in a historian jumpsuit, I do think so.
5) James said, “Dr. Ally presented no manuscript evidence, historical evidence, patristic citations, or internal evidence, to substantiate his allegation that James did not write James. He simply made the allegation based, as he so often does, upon the fact that you can find a “scholar” anywhere who will say anything.” This might be stupid to ask, but I’m pretty sure the scholar(s) that Dr. Shabir would have cited would have based their opinions on manuscript evidence, historical evidence, Patristic traditions, otherwise they wouldn’t really be scholarship…..but that thought may have – for the umpteenth time, escaped you.
6) Paul was not of the original 12, according to your own scripture, Paul cannot testify of himself as of having met Christ, for Christ himself could not testify of himself (John 5:30-31), with that in mind, Paul’s testimony is invalid. Likewise, since he was not a disciple at the time of Christ, according to the topic of the debate – which I do believe you agreed to debate – he clearly falls outside of the delimitations of the established topic. Not sure what the Islamic Prophet has to do with your inconsistent use of Paul, please save the straw men for the kids at the Church, not educated individuals, thanks.
7) You are really awful at interpreting Dr. Shabir’s words, he said you spent the majority of your time proving the divinity of Christ was an early Christian belief, he didn’t say you proved. You must be very desperate to justify your performance, if you are willing to take such general statements as a pat on the back given your substandard argumentation (as you’ve yourself presented in your response to Dr. Shabir, and not according to the debate which the public, including myself – has yet to view).
8) You didn’t prove anything from the earliest sources as evidence of Christ’s divinity. Empirically speaking P52 is 90 years after the fact. The Pauline traditions are anywhere from 15 to 32 (47 to 65 CE) years after Christ walked the earth. Unless you have definitive proof, that can directly – without doubt – be traced to the disciples during the lifetime of Christ, your ‘proofs and evidences’ are nothing more that speculative theories. James did make a weird statement though, “and had to move beyond the Christian era to the Old Testament“, for all intents and purposes, Jesus would have believed in the Old Testament, according to 2 Timothy 3:15-16, it was the ‘scripture’ they appealed to during his lifetime and shortly thereafter, so what do you mean ‘beyond the Christian era’? Did you become Marcionite overnight and now reject the Old Testament as belonging to Christian theology….? It would clearly seem so.
Responding to Final Two Points of James White
1) It’s implicit that Unitarianism is Monotheistic, it takes speculative theology, introduced by Christendom to prove that 3 is 1. Therefore the burden of proof is not on Dr. Shabir to prove that 1 God is 1 God, but the onus is on you to qualify the claims established by the Trinitarian dogma. In response to the ‘Jews‘ accepting ‘the revelation of Christ‘, it is well known that Paul abandoned preaching to the Jews who rightly considered him a heretic and a fool (self admitted – see 2 Cor. 11:1, 16-19, 21 and 2 Cor. 12:6, 11), he didn’t become the ‘Apostle of the Jews‘, he became the ‘Apostle of the Gentiles‘, as is seen in Romans 11:13. Lastly, we know quite assuredly that the Jews vehemently rejected the Pauline heresies and kept to their faith, we read:
“In presenting the Christian gospel to the Greek world, Christian leaders in the first century were more and more embarrassed by the fact that the Jewish people, among whom the new faith had arisen, did not in any large numbers accept it. Christianity seems to have failed in its first campaign. Its first field was obviously the Jewish people among whom it had arisen; Jesus was their Messiah, foretold by their prophets. But his own people had refused him. What did it mean? The prophets had been full of pictures of the redeemed nation. The coming of the Messiah was to release a new program of spiritual glory for Israel. In the cherished messianic drama his appearance was to be the cue for the nation to take the stage. But the nation had not responded. The Christians joyfully accepted the Jewish scriptures as their Bible, but the prophetic program seemed to be breaking down.
Yet Christianity was not failing. It was winning an amazing success, but in the Greek, not in the Jewish, world. Christianity was, in fact, rapidly becoming a Greek religion. But this success of Christianity in the Greek world only increased the difficulty of the problem. It was nothing like what the prophets had said would happen when the Messiah came.” – ‘An Introduction to the New Testament’, by Edgar J. Godspeed, ‘Matthew’, page 158 – 159.
2) Dr. Ally isn’t stating that Luke is unreliable because he merely asserts so, but given that Luke is not a disciple’s own account, but the version of history as is recorded and manufactured by Luke himself (the scribe of Paul), without any historical documents attesting independently to this history of his, we cannot depend on him wholeheartedly. Historically speaking, how can you claim Luke’s composition to be ‘valid’, and ‘authentic’, if there is nothing to compare it with, isn’t that then, simply confirmation bias?
Confronting and Answering James’ Questions about Islam
At least James and I agree on one point, never always be on the defensive, always try to be on the offensive. He spent 9/10th’s of his response focusing on Christianity, and now he’s spending the remainder on Islam. His argument in summary is:
- Muslims believe that the Qur’aan contains the words of Christ.
- What scholar of Biblical history would claim that Christ actually spoke those words?
- Would even a skeptical scholar – to which Dr. Shabir appeals, consider them historical?
He gave reference to Christ’s words in the cradle and it’s historical relation to the Infancy Gospel that parallels it. With this in mind, I’d like to quote Prof. Dale C. Allison Jr’s, “The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus” of which I recently read, he says and I quote:
“We cannot serve both the historian’s Jesus and the church’s Christ” – Location 99, Kindle Edition.
The Qur’aan does not claim to be a historical work of men, it claims to be a scripture from God. While historians can critique the words and transmissions of men, proving the divinity of a text is something out of their league, so your question is indeed irrelevant. Yet, I will still attempt to answer it, is there a historical witness to the quote? Yes, in the Infancy Narratives as you conceded. Whether it’s apocryphal or not doesn’t matter, what it does establish however, is that someone out there, at sometime in Christian history, believed that Christ did speak those words and that they were without a doubt attributed to him. Of course, no one can actually prove that Christ spoke anything from the Qur’aan or the New Testament, but your question merely asked if the quote from the cradle could be historical, and evidently, there is a historical text pre-dating the Qur’aan which testifies to its historicity. Consider your question answered.
In returning to my first point, was James seeking to gain some traction before the actual debate became publicly available, is he trying to prove something before the public can decide for themselves who won that debate? If he isn’t, why did he use this opportunity to not simply respond to Dr. Shabir, but to start a series of responses on the matter? We know this is the case because he ends his response with:
[continued in Part 2]
Surely, his own words, speaks volumes about his intentions. This therefore, only makes me more excited to see the debate itself.
and Allaah knows best.