I review a debate entitled “What Was The True Faith of Jesus’ Disciples?”
- Br. Ijaz Ahmad of Calling Christians
- Rev. Steven Martins of Nicene International Ministries Canada.
Note: I did the bulk of the review a while ago but never managed to finish it in the detail I would have liked but never got back to it through procrastination and other priorities I’ve quickly tidied up what I had and rolled it out.
“None of the Apostles could have written or sanctioned these stories about themselves” – Br. Ijaz Ahmad
Were the Gospel Accounts eye-witness reports
Steven Martins’ approach was to draw upon the New Testament in his attempt to present what he believes the disciples believed. Steven believes the Gospels are the historical eye-witness records of the disciples. This was rejected outright by Ijaz Ahmad who pointed out the 4 Gospels were not contemporary to Jesus p and nor are the writers of these Gospels known so how can somebody take these works as eye-witness accounts? None of the authors of the documents which make up the NT were eye-witnesses. Paul himself indicates this of himself (and his writings are the earliest written amongst the NT writings). On top of this the authors of the 4 Gospels are anonymous (these names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were later given to the anonymous authors). So weighing up all these points it’s sad to hear Steven insist these writings were eye-witness accounts. Perhaps this is what he was taught by his mentors and other Christian apologists but that does not make it true.
Also, just knowing these two basic facts would preclude one from claiming the authors were eye-witnesses – the Gospels are written by highly literate Greek speakers while the companions of Jesus were considered to be illiterate and Aramaic speakers (these people were lower class men). This suggestion they were unschooled is backed up by the writer of Acts as Ijaz cites:
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. [Acts 4:13]
This may seem odd to us folk living in the 21st Century but the vast majority of the ancient world did not know how to read and write.
Ijaz Ahmad offers an analysis that many may have never come across – the alleged chains of transmission of the Gospel accounts. 4 out of the 6 lead to what Trinitarians would call heretical beliefs and the other two are anonymous – further highlighting the range of differing beliefs amongst early Christians. Ijaz states these chains of transmission indicate Peter, Matthew and John rejected a belief in the death of Jesus (which as Ijaz says, it sounds like they had an Islamic belief!).
Do the Gospels contain myths and legends
Ijaz argues there are erroneous stories in the Gospels. One of Steven Martins’ arguments against the claim the Gospels contains myth and legend is that there was not enough time between Jesus’ life and the recording of the Gospels for myth and legend to enter. He then concludes the Gospels are historical based on this.
Has Steven considered William Lane Craig’s unease at the biggest resurrection story in all of Christian literature – that of the resurrection of the many saints in Matthew. He finds it difficult to accept as a literal event, see here:
Now, if Steven Martins believes this story literally then why does nobody else mention it? A story of many dead people coming out of their graves, is that not something that would get people writing according to Steven? Or does he think this is a myth that was added to the account?
However, a point that it is not unrelated to Steven’s theory, Ijaz Ahmad ran through early Christian history pointing out there were multiple competing Christian traditions which all differed from each other – there were even Gospels which differed from each other. So if at the time of Paul there were different Gospels (now lost) then how can Steven be so confident to believe there are no myths and legends in the four Gospels he has ended up with?
In addition the theology amongst various Christian groups in early Christianity was radically different to the Trinitarian theology the majority of modern-day Christians subscribe to.
There were Christian groups which believed in 2 gods, 12gods and 365 gods. Ijaz Ahmad mentions the Arian controversy as a case in point to demonstrate rival factions were competing with each other. This is a good example to highlight as Arianism is Non-Trinitarian and it drew upon the same scriptures as the Trinitarian faction/s as well as it being a good demonstration of how popularity and a sympathy with the ruling elite promoted one faction over another
Arianism taught that Jesus was created by God and was distinct from God. This belief had it’s scriptural basis in John 14:28
These varying theologies within early Christianity should be something Steven should look into further.
Ijaz taught Paul did not mention or use the four Gospels which modern-day Christians use today so even Paul did not sanction these Gospels. Is it possible Paul was unaware of these Gospels? Not that Paul is a criterion of right and wrong but is it possible Paul would have considered some of the writings in the four Gospels spurious?
Another point mentioned, by Steven I think, Paul abolished circumcision. The question is, who gave him authority to do so?
These are further points for Steven to consider.
Object of worship?
Steven Martins claims throughout the Gospels Jesus is the object of worship – paradoxically he mentions this in the same breath as his mentioning of Satan tempting Jesus p. Think about it, he effectively claimed Jesus was God and Jesus was tempted by Satan. Playing games with the belief of the hypostatic union is not going to get the Bible believing Trinitarian away from this problem. Ijaz Ahmad refers to original language of the scripture to show Steven that the word he uses does not denote the type of worship God receives.
‘Son of God’ title
Steven emphasises the ‘Son of God’ attribution given to Jesus in one of the Gospel narratives after Jesus performed a miracle (walked on water) but this just simply meant somebody who was chosen by God – as taught by Prof. Bart Erhman.
The Gospel of John
Rather predictably, Martins in his attempt to prove Jesus was divine, leans heavily on the Gospel of John. Almost as though the Gospel of Mark (the earliest Gospel) does not exist!
The irony is, Steven Martins tells Ijaz Ahmad to give priority to the earlier sources (Gospels) when Ijaz brought up the church history. Sadly, many Christians don’t do this with the Gospels and they lean disproportionately to the last Gospel – John’s Gospel.
Another Christian apologetics argument presented is that some doubted in the story where Jesus is said to have been worshipped. Martins claims the story must be true because it mentions ‘doubt’. I guess he’s utilizing the idea of a criterion of embarrassment argument here.
Martins rattles off the ‘he who has seen me has seen the Father’ argument in his attempt to prove Jesus was divine. Similarly Martins uses the Gospel teaching of Jesus pre-existing before his birth and the ‘I am’ statements.
Martins states Jesus was omnipotent and omniscient as well as being capable of forgiving sins in order to prove his Trinitarian case. Martins also claims Jesus was called by the name of God, ‘my Lord my God’
Steven Martins would do well to look at where these things are written. Are they written in the Gospel of Mark, the earliest Gospel, or the latest one which is the most Christologically developed whose author is effectively described as a liar by Christian apologist Mike Licona (accused of changing stories to make theological points – thus he was forging stories to get his theology across).This anonymous author (later named John) is not the person Steven wants to be going to to get important aspects of theology or proof texts!
Gleeson Archer is cited by Martins to support the claim that the authorship of 2 Peter should not be corrected. Bart Ehrman teaches us that virtually all scholars (with the exception of conservative evangelicals) are unified that 2 Peter is not from Peter. The bombshell is that Prof.Ehrman does not believes 1 and 2 Peter are not written by Peter at all as hebelieves Peter was illiterate.
And would Ijaz’s citation of Acts not support the view that disciples were illiterate?
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. [Acts 4:13]
Martins acknowledges other Prophets performed miracles but he tries to draw a distinction between the miracles performed by Jesus and the other Prophets. Martins intimates, erroneously, that these were done by Jesus independently while the miracles of the other Prophets were done by the authority of God. Has Steven got any proof of this? Does he even have a quotation attributed to Jesus to this effect?
There is something in the Gospel of John that militates against Steven’s claim:
but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” [10:32]
Steven Martins starts talking about the Quran
I’m not sure why he did this but he just presented dated and already refuted Christian missionary material.
Martins mentions the Quran 10:94 and 5:47. Martins claims the Bible was already in existence at the time of the Quran revealed. Martins just presents the standard intellectually dishonest and shallow Christian apologist material on this.
Ijaz touches on this here:
Bassam Zawadi here:
I think Steven Martins also used one of these missionary arguments too:
Steven Martins and IjazAhmad on Paul of Tarsus
Ijaz Ahmad focuses on the historicity of multiple traditions within early Christianity which were competing against each other contemporaneously. To support this claim, Ijaz cites Paul twice
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel [ESV]
on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. [ESV]
Ijaz makes a point worthy of consideration, when Paul mentions ‘gospel’ he’s not referencing the 4 we see in the New Testament as he wrote his letters prior to those 4. Ijaz supports this conclusion through the absence of references from those 4 Gospels within Paul’s letters. So here, ‘my gospel’ is referring to ‘my teachings of Christ’.
Steven Martins offers his argument for Paul being truthful, yet if Steven thinks about it, the throwing yourself into hardship from comfort argument can be used with much greater force to show Prophet Muhammad (p) was truthful. Think about it, just read his life – the Prophet risked his life and was rejected by his tribe. The argument Steven presents is better suited for Prophet Muhammad (p). If Steven is consistent and objective he would accept Prophet Muhammad (p).
When Reverend Steven Martins wrongly claimed Paul’s writing constituted 75% of the NT it suggested to me that Reverend Steven Martins WAS just eager to deliver a response to defend his already-held world view. Is Steven at home thinking about the points presented deeply and re-evaluating his beliefs, is he searching for the truth or is he simply searching for material to offer in defence of his already-held beliefs?
Ijaz argues Paul turned towards the Gentiles in his preaching because he was weak in his arguments and thus was rejected by the Jews, hence why he turned towards the Gentiles – whom Ijaz believes Paul considered to be an easier audience. Interestingly enough, the Gentiles came from pagan backgrounds where mythology was rampant, this fits in with why the stories about Jesus (p) would have presented him as a god-man, the pagans were accustomed to such stories.
This also ties in with the discussion Ijaz and Steven have on why Paul did not quote from the Gospels. The hardest hitting point as made by Ijaz: Paul was being rejected by the Jews yet he never quoted from the Gospels, why would he not quote something that he believes to be authority to people who were rejecting him?
Disingenuous claim by Christians about Bart Ehrman
I’ve heard this before from Christian apologists. Steven Martins makes the same appeal, claiming even Ehrman believed in the death of Jesus p. However, what Christian apologists always do, they never mention that Ehrman is not accepting miracles and thus is of course going to believe a man who was born over 2000 years ago has died. Thus Ehrman, as a historian, accepts the most popular early story about Jesus p and thus he believes he died. Christians really should stop making this point, it’s not like Ehrman believes in the resurrection belief despite the story of the resurrection is in the same account as the death by crucifixion story.
Controlled or Uncontrolled Texts
Ijaz Ahmad offers a good rebuttal to the James White-style attempt in trying to take a positive out of the lack of a controlled text within early Christianity. The Quran, which was controlled in it’s copying, was scribed in a more suitable environment for accuracy. Chunks were being added to the Gospels by dishonest scribes, so clearly the environment in which the scribes were operating in did not offer restrictions against such doctoring of texts.
If I recall correctly Steven mentioned Uthman. Many Christians are fed misinformation regarding Uthman’s burning of manuscripts. Here’s an expert to explain it:
A really bad argument by Steven pounced on by Ijaz
Martins appeals to the fact that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the pool of Siloam are mentioned in the Gospel accounts as being testimony to the historicity of the Gospels. This is an odd argument – it’s absurdly odd.
To be honest, Steven opened himself up to ridicule when he continued with the argument that geographical locations being mentioned in the Gospels as being evidence for their authenticity. Ijaz hit back by pointing out that the same argument could be used on Harry Potter as it includes King’s Cross station (London). What I’d like to know is, from where did Steven get this line of argumentation? Was it an argument from a Christian apologetics school which he accepted blindly? And would Steven be consistent enough to now claim Islam is true because in Islamic sources real people and real places are mentioned?
The Christian tradition in 7th century Arabia
I feel it’s misleading when Christian apologists bang on about how their canon was formed by this time and thus assume people in Arabia had the modern-day Bible in their possession in the 7th century as though they were Trinitarian Pauline Christians exactly as we find them in a Baptist church somewhere in Texas.
Christians really need to stop making this assumption and they need to stop basing arguments on this erroneous assumption that all Christians had the same books.
Ijaz Ahmad refutes the superficial (and intellectually dishonest) argument It’s obvious this is not the case. Ijaz mentions Christians and Jews converting to Islam during the time of Prophet Muhammad. I would recommend Reverend Steven Martins looks into the story of Salmam Al Farsi, who converted to Christianity, before the coming of Prophet Muhammad, from a Zoroastrian tradition.
Salman Al-Farsi, the son of a Zoroastrian priest, met a Christian monk inPersia and converted to Christianity at the hands of the monk. Salman Al-Farsi ran away to Syria and joined the monk’s Christian sect which was dying sect. Salman Al-Farsi learned, from his Christian sect, of a Prophet to come who was predicted by Jesus (p). He was told of three signs the Prophet would meet:
He shall appear in a land full of dates.
He will have a physical mark on his back.
This man will accept gifts but never accept charity.
From Syria, Salman Al-Farsi ended up in Yathrib after being enslaved. He wound up toiling away as a slave for decades. A time came when talk spread about Prophet Muhammad (p) emigrating to Medina. Salman Al-Farsi heard of this talk and came to Prophet Muhammad (p), he soon realised Prophet Muhammad (p) fulfilled all three signs and converted to Islam.
Salman’s story indicated how few real Christians were left at the time of Prophet Muhammad (p).
Another story illustrating this was that of the Emperor Heraclius, who received a letter from Prophet Muhammad (p). In the account, Heraclius mentions that there are Scriptures in which a Prophet is predicted to come after Jesus (p) and that Prophet Muhammad (p) fits the description.
Both stories indicate that there were Scriptures that the majority of Christians at the time did not have access.
City of Village?
The difference between a village of a city – the village of Bethsaida. Ijaz Ahmad picks on the author of John for making an error of anachronism. Luke also calls it a city. Perhaps it was one of those loose Gospel scribes writing after it was changed to a city. Whatever the case may well be (the Gospel authors or the scribes), it’s an interesting point raised by Ijaz Ahmad to possibly further impugn the reliability of those texts.
Ijaz accuses the author of John of an anachronistic error regarding the city of Bethsaida and Ijaz spends some time relaying discrepancies concerning the Gospel accounts. I think he could have offered more examples to the audience of discrepancies but perhaps he wanted to focus on stories involving companions of Jesus rather than the standard show of contradictions between the Gospels such as what Barth Ehrman presents here:
If clear evidence is shown of discrepancies and changes within the Gospels then the question the truth-seeker may ask is, how can these texts be trusted to think they weren’t changed in other ways to the extent that the texts do not even represent the theology of Jesus?
What’s established from the debate, the Trinitarian narrative is not sound. The Gospels are not reliable. There were competing Gospels and traditions. Basing one’s beliefs entirely on the New Testament is effectively accepting conjecture.
Clearly he, for such a young man, has a burgeoning apologetics CV. He and Zakir Hussain could well be the mainstay of Muslim debates with Christians for the next few decades.
It’s also nice to hear an accent other than a North American or British accent.
I think Ijaz rushed his positive case for the disciples being Muslims. Ijaz shows links between Jewish Christianity and Islam. His focus was heavily leaning on refuting Reverend Steven Martins and the Trinitarian narrative – this he achieved easily in clearly demonstrating the Trinitarian narrative is not sound.
Another point I would pick on here, Ijaz went for the more complex points which for an audience tuned in to apologetics may well have been suitable but I’d imagine the majority of the live audience and those viewers of the recorded debate are not too familiar with the bread and butter points regarding Gospel contradictions and textual criticism.
Ijaz possesses faith shattering information for the Christian, it would be wise to always ensure the audience is invited to Islam at the end of the debate. Most apologists and debaters don’t do this but surely we want them to come to the truth of Islam rather than not invite them to the truth after effectively destroying their faith.
Where does Ijaz go from here? Well, I’d imagine on his island the scope for engaging with seasoned apologists is quite limited so I’d personally like him to debate local pastors. People want to see apologists debate but let’s see Muslims go to churches to dialogue with pastors (who have flocks of people following them). I would also hope the pastors aren’t marred by some of the dishonest arguments Christian apologists are plagued with today so the discussion is easier – less rubbish to wade through before engaging the Christians productively.
Ijaz has charisma and seems like a nice guy too so these qualities could well endear him to Christians which can only be a good thing in witnessing the truth of Islamic monotheism to Christians
Steven Martins of Nicene International Ministries
For me, Steven was visibly struggling in this debate. This should be a sign to Steven that he’s not on the right side of the fence.
I think he’s a victim of bad information from those who has learned from. The person who gave him the argument he was making based on the mention of geographical locations should be banned from apologetics!
I really think Steven should not debate again. He’s better off just remove himself from Christian apologetics and begin a search for the truth. Think about some of the questions raised. Think about why Jesus p never mentioned a man called Paul or 4 books that he wanted people to believe were ‘Gospels’.
Research Islam with an open heart and mind.
From my experience with Christians, it appears many have been hooked by emotional preaching. It’s not that they have been convinced intellectually to accept the idea of the Trinity or the god-man concept.