Friday, 10 April 2015

Mark’s Prologue Examined In light of the assertions of an Incompetent Dawagandist, Part I‎

Sam Shamoun

Muslim dawagandist Ibn Anwar has become rather fond of rehashing the same old liberal attacks and criticisms against the Holy Bible that have been refuted over and over again. Just recently Ibn Anwar produced a short piece (1; 2) attacking Mark for ignorantly attributing a wrong quote to the Prophet Isaiah in Mark 1:2-3. The dawagandist writes:

Can you imagine a book that claims to convey factual information and data making a terrible factual error in its first paragraph? Let's say we have a book called "101 Facts on Animals" and in the first supposed fact it makes an UNFACTUAL claim. Would you be taking that book seriously anymore or will you consider chucking it in the bin and find other books instead? This is the predicament that Christians face when the claim is made that the Gospel according to Mark is divinely inspired or "god-breathed". At the very beginning of the book and in the first chapter of Mark we have a truly irreconcilable [sic] textual error. (Bold and underline emphasis ours)

After quoting Mark 1:2 Ibn Anwar writes:

I challenge every Christian in the world to show me where I can find in Isaiah the verse "Behold, I am sending my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way". Believe me when I say that not even the Pope can help you here. That is because the verse does not exist in Isaiah, although you can actually find it in the Old Testament. To be more specific it is in the Torah. To be even more specific it is in Exodus! The words are different but the meaning is basically the same.

If Ibn Anwar was honest and truly interested in finding an answer to this alleged discrepancy all he had to do was consult some Biblical commentaries which would have provided him with the data to understand what Mark was doing here. In fact he could have found the answer on our site since we have addressed this assertion before, namely in response to another Muslim polemicist named

The fact of the matter is that it is Ibn Anwar who is ignorant, not Mark, and he is the one who has made a gross blunder by erroneously assuming that Mark was mistaken since this exposes his ignorance of the Jewish exegetical practices employed during the time of Christ.

It was a common practice amongst the Jews to take citations from different biblical writings – especially when such references touched on similar themes or ideas and/or used the same words – and attribute them to a single author. The rabbis even coined a term for this particular method of exegesis, namely gezera shewa.

Ibn Anwar has no excuse for not being aware of this information since this is common knowledge to NT scholars, whether liberal or conservative. Case in point, liberal NT scholar John C. Fenton refers to this Jewish practice in his commentary on Matthew 2:5-6 where the passage attributes Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2 to the Prophet Micah:
“The prophecy is from Mic. 5.2, but it is not given in the LXX translation, nor is it an exact rendering of the Hebrew text, 2 Sam 5.2 may have been combined with the Micah prophecy; combining of similar Old Testament passages WAS A REGULAR FEATURE OF RABBINIC STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.” (Fenton, Saint Matthew (The Penguin New Testament Commentaries) [Penguin Books, 1963], p. 46; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Noted Evangelical NT scholar Robert H. Gundry makes the same point in reference to Matthew 27:9-10 where Matthew combines and attributes specific texts from Jeremiah and Zechariah to Jeremiah:
“… The naming of Jeremiah but not Zechariah not only follows a Jewish practice in composite quotations and makes mention of the prophet to whose writing a reader’s mind might not be drawn because of the subtlety of the allusion (in contrast with the obviousness of the other side of the quotation–see esp. 2 Chr 36:21 with Lev 26:34-35 and Jer 25:12; 29:10)…” (Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution [William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI; 2 edition, October 1995],
p. 557; bold emphasis ours)

Another Evangelical NT scholar also refers to this in his explanation of Mark 1:2-3 and Matthew 27:9-10:

Jewish teachers often combined several texts or parts of texts, especially if they had a key word or words in common (here, “prepare the way”). Because they were so well learned in the Scriptures, they did not have to say which texts they were quoting and often assumed the context without quoting it. Thus Mark cites both Isaiah (40:3) and Malachi (3:1) here, although he mentions Isaiah only. Isaiah refers to preparing the way for God, who is coming to restore his people. Malachi refers to God coming in judgment to set matters straight among his people. Mark applies these texts about God to Jesus. (Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament[InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Il.; February 1994],
p. 135; underline emphasis ours)


Jewish scholars could cite some texts while simultaneously alluding to others. Matthew here quotes Zechariah 11:12-13, but by attributing it to Jeremiah he also alludes to a similar text that he wishes his more skillful readers to catch (Jer 32:6-10; cf. 19:1-4, 10-11). (The quotation I almost verbatim, and it is unlikely that Matthew would have known the text so well and yet attributed it accidentally to the wrong author, unless he is using a list of standard messianic proof texts instead of citing directly from Zechariah, or he is purposely “blended” texts, as I suggest here). Zechariah 11:12-13 refers to the low valuation God’s people had placed on him; they valued him at the price of a slave (Ex 21:32). (Ibid., p. 125)

“By appealing to ‘Jeremiah’ rather than to Zechariah, however, Matthew makes clear that he intends his biblically literate audience to link analogus passage in Jeremiah (32:6-14) and to interpret them together (as in the gezerah shewa of Mk 1:2-3, which Matthew recognizes and modifies in Mt 3:3) …” (Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, July 1999], p. 675; bold emphasis ours)

Moreover, Matthew and Mark weren’t the only writers who employed this method since the NT writers often used this practice of combining Biblical passages that used identical words or phrases to explain one another.

Jewish interpreters often linked texts using the same word or phrase (the principle was called gezerah shavah). Peter thus introduces Psalm 110:1, a clearly messianic passage that includes “right hand” and speaks of exaltation just as Psalm 16 does … (Ibid., p. 329)


Rabbis used a technique to connect passages that used the same key word; thus here Paul may use “holy” in Isaiah 55:3 to lead into a citation of Psalm 16:10, which guarantees that the object of David’s promise would never rot (Ibid., p. 360 – see also pp. 420, 422, 712, 653)

Now the readers may be wondering what connection does Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 have with each other which led Mark to combine them together. Their connection lies in the fact that both texts speak of Yahweh sending a herald, a messenger, to announce and prepare for his appearance. (It should be stated that, as even Ibn Anwar correctly noted, Mark has also added language from Exodus 23:20 where Yahweh tells the Israelites that he will send his messenger/angel ahead of them to guide them into the promise land. The connection between this text and the other two is found in regards to Yahweh sending a messenger.)

As the following Bible commentators explain:
“John’s status as the one who prepares the way for the Messiah is certified by a collage of three Old Testament verses (Exod. 23:20; Mal. 3:1; and Isa. 40:3). The fact that the composite quotation is attributed to Isaiah is to be regarded as due not to ignorance but to emphasis; the evangelist is suggesting that the allusions to Exodus and Malachi are best understood in the light of Isaiah’s prophecy; the Messenger promised in Exodus and Malachi is none other than the one whose voice is heard crying in the wilderness.” (Douglas R. A. Hare, Mark (Westminster Bible Companion) [Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky; 1st edition, 1996],
p. 14; bold emphasis ours)


The citation formula, “even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” indicates that the proper context for understanding the gospel is the promise of future salvation found in the latter half of Isaiah. The citation which follows is a composite quotation from Ex. 23:20; Mal. 3:1 and Isa. 40:3, passages which evoke the image of the forerunner Elijah. In the exegetical tradition of the rabbis these texts had already been combined in the conviction that the “messenger of the covenant” (Ex. 23:20) is Elijah (Mal. 3:1; 4:5).25 Mark’s first statement is from the Law, and it agrees verbatim with the text of Ex. 23:20 in the Septuagint. It is enriched by a formulation originating in the Hebrew text of Mal. 3:1, although the first person has been altered to the second in the interest of the messianic interpretation of the passage. This fused text may have been selected from a testimony-collection in which the conflation had already taken place. The second statement introduces a word from the Prophets, and agrees with Isa. 40:3 LXX, with the single alteration of “the paths of God” to “his paths.” By this change the text becomes applicable to Jesus, who was known in the early church as “the Lord.”

The integrity of the mixed citation in Ch. 1:2 has often been questioned. It fails to satisfy the formulation of citation which specifies “the prophet Isaiah” but agrees in form with a quotation introduced in a different context by Matthew and Luke. For these reasons it is commonly regarded as a very ancient gloss, interpolated into the text at so early a stage that it has left its mark upon the entire manuscript tradition. Opposed to this conjecture is not merely the consistent witness of the manuscript tradition, which lends no textual support to the omission of verse 2, but the important fact that the three OT passages, blended in this fashion, are all related to the wilderness tradition and have a significant function in the prologue itself. Ex. 23:20 contains God’s promise to send his messenger before the people on a first exodus through the wilderness to Canaan. In Isa. 40:3 the messenger announces the second exodus through the wilderness to the final deliverance prepared for God’s people. In both the citation from the Law and from the Prophets the theme of an exodus through the wilderness is dominant and appropriate to Mark’s conception and purpose. The blended citation functions to draw attention to three factors which are significant to the evangelist in the prologue: the herald, the Lord and the wilderness. In the verses which immediately follow, the significance of each of these elements is emphasized by Mark, who sees in the coming of John and Jesus to the wilderness the fulfillment of the promised salvation of which the prophet Isaiah had spoken. In stressing the element of fulfillment at the beginning of his account Mark conforms the narrative to the apostolic preaching, in which the theme of fulfillment was of strategic importance. The authenticity of verse 2 should be accepted
. (William L. Lane, The Gospel according to Mark: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2nd edition, June 1974],
pp. 45-47; underline emphasis ours)

25 Cf. Exodus Rabba 23:20. The identical words, “Behold, I send my messenger,” in Ex. 23:20 and Mal. 3:1 furnished the exegetical ground of the conflation. (Ibid., p. 45)

“The quotation of 1:2-3 is identified as coming from the prophet Isaiah, although it is actually a tapestry of three OT passages. The reference to the sending of the messenger in v. 2 follows the first half of both Exod 23:20 and Mal 3:1, although there is no exact counterpart in the OT to the latter half of v. 2 (‘who will prepare your way’). The greater part of the tapestry comes from v. 3, which reproduces Isa 40:3 nearly exactly. Isa 40:3 is quoted by all four Gospels with reference to John the Baptist (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:76; John 1:23). The Isaiah quotation in v. 3 was deemed the defining element of the tapestry of quotations. Thus, the whole is attributed to Isaiah, who was considered the greatest of all the prophets, and whose authority in the early church superseded that of both Exodus and Malachi.” (James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark. (The Pillar New Testament Commentary) [William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI 2002],
pp. 26-27; bold emphasis ours)


This is essentially a combined quotation of Mal. 3:1 (with elements drawn from Ex. 23:20) and Is. 40:3, the whole being attributed to Isaiah presumably because the better-known Isaiah text, even though coming second, was the basis of the herald idea which links the two. Once the two texts are brought together, it is natural that Mal. 3:1 opens the combined quotation, not only because the opening ‘idou could hardly come in the middle but also because the idea of God’s appointed herald is more explicit in Mal. 3:1, while the more allusive language of Is. 40:3 forms an appropriate comment on it. We do not know of these two passages being brought together previously, but it is a natural link, not only on the basis of the phrase pnh-derek which occurs in both, but also because they share more generally (with Mal. 3:23-24 [EVV 4:5-6]) the idea of a herald for the eschatological coming of God. Matthew and Luke, by incorporating the Mal. 3:1 quotation in their later account of the significance of John (Mt. 11:10; Lk. 7:27) while leaving Is. 40:3 at this point, have weakened the effect of this massive opening scriptural salvo.

Once Ex. 23:20 has been linked with Mal. 3:1 (see below) there is also a wilderness connection in each passage, which in this context would be important for Mark …

Ex. 23:20 is a prophecy not of God’s eschatological coming but of his provision for Israel in the wilderness, but the similarity in wording led to the two passages being associated in Jewish exegesis, and the wilderness connection (picked up in the following quote in Is. 40:3) would make the conflation especially attractive to Mark in context…
(R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: New International Commentary on the Greek Testament [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2nd Print edition, February 2002],
pp. 63-65; underline emphasis ours)

The Lord Jesus Christ – The Visible Yahweh has come!

In his haste to discredit Mark’s reliability Ibn Anwar failed to mention how Mark’s prologue presents Jesus as the visible appearing of Yahweh God. Notice the context of Mark 1 carefully:
“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of your face, who will prepare your way’— a voice of one calling
in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:1-11

By quoting Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 in order to introduce John as the forerunner whom the prophets said would come Mark pretty much identifies Jesus as the God of the OT

According to both of these OT texts that Mark cited Yahweh would send a herald to prepare the people for his arrival:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the hand of Yahweh double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for Yahweh; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.’… You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Lord (adonay) Yahweh comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
“‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before my face. Then suddenly the Lord (ha adon) you are seeking will come to HIS temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says Yahweh of hosts.” Malachi 3:1

These passages clearly testify that Yahweh himself was going to appear to his people and enter into his own temple.

This means that John the Baptist is the voice that cries out and the messenger whom God sends to prepare the way for Yahweh’s very own appearing.

However, the Baptist himself says that he was sent to prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, a fact which all the Gospels are in agreement:
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene — during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.”’ … The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’” Luke 3:1-6, 15-18 – cf. Matthew 3:1-15
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”’ John 1:14-15
“Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ ‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.’ The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’” John 1:19-36

What this shows is that Jesus is Yahweh God according to all four Gospels!

Notice the logic behind this.
- The Prophets announced that Yahweh would send a herald ahead of him in order to prepare for his appearance.
- Both the Lord Jesus and all four Gospel writers testify John the Baptist was that herald (cf. Matt. 11:1-10; Luke 7:18-27).
- The Baptist’s advent meant that Yahweh would soon appear to his people.
- However, according to the Baptist’s own testimony he was sent to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ.
- This means that Jesus Christ is none other than Yahweh God, the very Lord whom the Prophets said would come to his people and enter into his own temple!

No wonder Ibn Anwar tried to discredit the testimony of Mark! He realizes that Mark’s Gospel, along with the rest of the NT writings, affirms that Jesus Christ is the unique Divine Son of God who died for our sins and rose again on the third day. Ibn Anwar knows that Mark’s witness conclusively proves that Muhammad was a false prophet who has misled countless numbers of people away from the true God and deceived them into believing a false gospel that will condemn them for all eternity.

We pray that our risen Lord Jesus will have mercy on Muslims such as Ibn Anwar by bringing them out of the lie of Islam and into the glorious light of his true Gospel.

Continuing on Part II



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