Note: This is a review done by Br. Paul Bilal Williams via his website, ‘Blogging Theology‘. Br. Paul is a well established orator and debater from the United Kingdom and has studied Christianity and Islam for several years.
Jesus the Christ, Man, God or Both? – Ijaz Ahmad vs CL Edwards
A Review of the Debate by Paul Williams
Ahmad’s opening statement threw down the gauntlet:
‘If we are to be fair and objective in our study of who the Messiah was, then we can’t work backwards, that is to start with the bias we already have and then look at the previous scriptures to justify our claims and beliefs. This is a form of revisionism.‘
He has in mind here a favourite methodology adopted by Christians: that of reading into Jewish texts their own later beliefs about Jesus. Scholars call this practice ‘eisegesis’.
Though Ahmad did not mention well known Christian apologist Dr Craig in his opening presentation, he could have called him as a witness for his defense as Dr. William Lane Craig would agree with him! Though Craig’s comments focus on Jesus’ alleged death and resurrection, they perfectly demonstrate how Christians read back into the Jewish Bible beliefs that no Jew ever held about their Messiah.
‘Early Christians were convinced that Jesus’ resurrection, like his crucifixion, was, in the words of the old tradition quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. 3-5, “in accordance with the Scriptures.” In Luke’s story of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus chastises the two travelers: ” ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24. 26-27).
The difficulty is that when we ask, “What Scriptures are they thinking of?”, we come up with sparse results. Hosea 6.2 ‘ “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” – has been suggested because it mentions the “third day” motif found in the old formula cited by Paul.
But Hosea 6.2 is never explicitly cited by any New Testament author, much less applied to Jesus’ resurrection. In the apostolic sermons in the Acts of the Apostles, we find Psalm 16.10 interpreted in terms of Jesus’ resurrection: “For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit.” But if we look at the principal Old Testament passage cited in the Gospels with respect to Jesus’ resurrection, we find the story of Jonah and the whale. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12.40).
Now the problem for the theory in question is that nobody, especially a first century Jew, reading the story of Jonah and the whale would think that this has anything whatsoever to do with Jesus’ burial and resurrection! Similarly for Psalm 16.10; this has to do with David’s confidence that God will not allow him to see defeat and death. And as for Hosea 6.2, this has nothing to do with resurrection of the dead but with the restoration of the national fortunes of Israel.
The point is that no one who did not already have a belief in Jesus’ resurrection would find in these Scriptures any impetus to think that Jesus had been raised from the dead. To this we may add the fact that in Jewish belief the resurrection of the dead was always an event at the end of the world involving all the people, an event which obviously had not yet taken place.
Once the disciples came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, then they could go to the Scriptures looking for verses to validate their belief and experience, and passages like Jonah and the whale and Psalm 16.10 could be re-interpreted in light of Jesus’ resurrection. But to think that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection was derived from the Old Testament is to put the cart before the horse; it gets things exactly backwards.’
What a stunning admission by Craig! At a stroke all those much vaunted “prophesies” in the OT about Jesus the Messiah turn out to be entirely absent from the Jewish Bible and can only be ‘discovered’ there if you artificially graft Christian beliefs onto the texts, in disregard of the original context and original meaning of the passages. But this is the standard ‘orthodox’ way Christians use the Bible to justify their beliefs.
Ahmad convincingly demonstrates that the Jewish Messiah was never considered to be divine or God at any time but was always expected to be only a man like other mortals.
Therefore the Christian belief in a Divine Messiah is unJewish and alien to the Torah. The final Prophet to mankind Muhammad (pbuh) was sent to correct these blasphemous excesses by Christians. Today 1.6 billion of his followers have learnt this lesson well.
A few comments on the opening statement by CL Edwards
Edwards boldly states:
After seriously studying the first century evidences concerning Christ, while being logically consistent, I had to change my position, and I now hold to the hypostatic union i.e the belief Jesus had two natures. There is no historical proof anyone during this time held Jesus to be just a man.
He might need change his position once more as scholars have long realized that the earliest Christians did not believe Jesus was divine. Read Peter’s sermons in Acts and ask yourself did he consider Jesus to be God (see Acts 2:22 & 2:36 for example)? Read Mark’s gospel: Jesus prays to God; is ignorant about various matters; denies he is ”good”; feels abandoned by God on the cross. Does such a man seem like God in the flesh to you?
Much of Edwards presentation is simply a list of proof texts culled from the Bible. He does not show any critical awareness of how Christology developed in the New Testament, and just how radically different Mark’s gospel is from John’s gospel in its portrayal of Jesus.
As every undergraduate in Bible studies knows, it is clear that there has been a development in the way Jesus is presented in the pages of the New Testament. Look at the earliest gospel to be written, that of Mark.
This shows us a very human figure. Here are 7 examples:
1) Jesus is a man who prays to God (1:35)
2) Jesus is unable to work miracles in his own town (6:5) – but see Matthew’s redaction of Mark in 13:57-58.
3) Jesus confesses his ignorance about the date of the End of the world (13:32).
4) Jesus did not know the identity of a woman who touched him and had to ask his disciples for help (Mark 5:30) – but see Matthew’s redaction in 9:20-21.
5) Jesus was so irritated by the absence of figs he cursed a fig tree even though it was not the season for figs (Mark 11:14) – but see Matthew’s redaction in 21:18-22.
6) Jesus even denies that he is perfectly good (Mark 10) – but see Matthew’s redaction of Mark in 19:17.
7) Mark portrays Jesus despairing of God’s help at the crucifixion as he cries: ‘My God my God why have you abandoned me?’ (15:34) – Luke and John both omit this.
So it seems clear that in the earliest gospel Jesus does not exhibit any of the attributes of God that Jews, Christians and Muslims commonly accept: unlike God, Jesus is not all knowing; he is not omnipotent; he is not perfectly good; he is not eternal; he is notimmortal; he is not unchanging. Therefore it seems obvious that he cannot be God.
If we read the last of the four gospels to be written, the gospel of John, we move into a different world. Here Jesus seems to move effortlessly through his ministry, he is clearly portrayed as a divine figure, indeed as “God” himself.
Instead of Jesus saying in Mark’s gospel “Why do you call me good – no-one is good but God alone”, John has Jesus say: ‘Before Abraham was I am’.
In the very first chapter of the gospel according to John, the Prophet John the Baptist proclaims Jesus to be ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ when he first meets him. But in the earlier synoptic gospels, John the Baptist not only does not say this but half way through Jesus’ ministry sends messengers to Jesus asking “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:2)
So even this brief survey has shown the enormous evolution of the story of Jesus which occurred in less than two generations after Jesus was taken up by God.
Unlike in the earlier gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, in John Jesus speaks with a clear awareness of his divine existence with God from before his time on earth (5.19ff and 8.12ff make this clear). But the question cannot be ducked: whether the Jesus of the fourth gospel was intended to be historical, whether Jesus of Nazareth actually spoke in the terms used by John. Were the claims about Jesus in John’s gospel already in place from the beginning of Christianity? It seems hardly likely.
Few scholars today would regard John as a source for information regarding Jesus’ life and ministry in any degree comparable to the Synoptics gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is worth noting briefly the reasons why scholars think this:
One is the very different picture of Jesus’ ministry, both in the order and the significance of events and the location of Jesus’ ministry. For example, the cleansing of the temple happens at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John but occurs at the end of Jesus’ ministry in the synoptic gospels. A clear contradiction.
Another is the striking difference in Jesus’ style of speaking – much more discursive and theological in John, in contrast to the aphoristic and parabolic style of the Synoptic gospels. Jesus’ way of speaking is the same, whether Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, or to the woman at the well, or to his disciples, and very similar to the style of John the Baptist, and indeed very similar to the 1st Letter of John. The conclusion is unavoidable that the style is that of the author of the gospel of John rather than that of Jesus himself.
Probably most important of all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus’ main message is the Kingdom of God and he rarely speaks of himself, whereas in John the Kingdom of God hardly features and the discourses are largely about Jesus’ own self-consciousness andself proclamation. To put it simply, in the earlier gospels Jesus does not preach about himself but God and his kingdom. In John, Jesus speaks about himself and his Father. Had the striking ‘I am’ claims of John been remembered as spoken by Jesus, how could any gospel writer have ignored them so completely as the Synoptics gospels do?
In conclusion, Edwards could benefit from an introductory course in New Testament studies to bring him up to speed with what his own scholars are teaching!