Saturday, 5 November 2016

A Case for the Deity of Christ in Light of Muslim Objections

Keith Thompson

Is Jesus God? This is one of the main questions that have divided Christians and Muslims for hundreds of years. To the student who studies the Bible honestly there should be no question that Jesus Christ is presented as God in many Biblical passages. However, many Muslim apologists and liberal critics have attempted to take this notion to task. In this article I will build a Biblical case for the Deity of Christ and address the major Muslim objections to the Biblical data.

Muslim Admissions
Before we examine the Biblical proof texts for the Deity of Christ it is important to note that many Muslim apologists have already conceded that there are passages in the Bible that teach not only the Deity of Christ, but the Trinity as well. These admissions serve to show the utter inconsistency of Muslim apologists when it comes to Christian theology.
Some will claim the Bible does not teach that Jesus is God anywhere and others will say that there are places that do teach it.

Muslim apologist Yahya Hayder Seymour not only conceded on radio that there are places in the Bible that teach Jesus is God, but he also concedes that the Gospel of John is a Trinitarian Gospel.

I would say definitely the Gospel of John is a Trinitarian Gospel. (1)

This is a contrast to what other Muslim apologists have said. For example Shabir Ally, a noted Muslim apologist, has remarked:

… both the Bible and the Qur’an teach that Jesus is not God.

In an earlier article (3) I showed how Muslim apologist Sami Zaatari falsely assumed that the words in John 1:14 that were parenthesized in some English translations, were not originally in the Greek Biblical texts. The words which he said were added in later by English translators are these:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ASV)

In that article I demonstrated that those words, though parenthesized in some English translations, existed in the Greek texts and the early Church Fathers quoted them. Thus when Zaatari further states the following, he implicitly admits that the Bible teaches the Trinity:

As you can see, without the false biased brainwashing brackets the verse has no implications of any Trinity!

So in the realm of Muslim apologetics there is no consensus on this issue of what the Bible teaches about Jesus. Moreover, Muslim apologist Bassam Zawadi contradicts the other Muslim position which asserts that nowhere does the Bible teach that Jesus is God. Zawadi states:

I do not take the position that the entire New Testament (especially the writings of Paul) does not teach the Trinity. I only take the position that Jesus himself did not teach this doctrine in any of the four gospels. (4)

So it appears that although many Muslims are bold enough to claim that nowhere in the entire Bible is the Deity of Christ or the Trinity presented, other Muslim defenders take the more realistic yet flawed approach which says that Jesus didn’t teach the Trinity but some parts of the Bible do teach this.

Biblical Argumentation
In this article we will look at Biblical passages from every New Testament book which teach that Jesus is God or have Jesus presenting himself as God. We will go through the three synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke – as well as the Gospel of John. Then we will look at Acts, Paul’s writings, James, First and Second Peter, First and Second John, Jude, and Revelation. I will systematically demonstrate that every New Testament book, with the exception of 3 John, teaches the Deity of Christ in one way or another. Then we will address the common Muslim objections to these verses. Although it can be shown relatively easily that Jesus is God in the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures, this article will focus solely on the New Testament data.

For proof that Jesus is God according to the Old Testament see the following papers:
(Though many of the narratives are often paralleled in the four Gospels, the point I am trying to make is that every single New Testament book affirms Christ’s Deity.)

Muslim apologists have attempted to address the majority of the passages I am about to present. However, they have not addressed a small number of them so the few that they have not yet attempted to address will be unchallenged in this article.

Gospel of Matthew
I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:6-8)

Here Jesus demonstrates his Deity by affirming that he is distinct from all creation and greater than the temple of God - the place that housed the glory of God. No creature can claim to be greater than God’s abode. He also states that he is Lord of the Sabbath, a glorious divine title which is very similar to how Yahweh is described in the Old Testament. Only God deserves these titles and this appears to be one of the reasons why the Jews wanted to kill him in Matthew 12:14.

Muslim Objection:
Typically Muslims will raise five objections to these passages. 1. They will say that in Matthew 12 Jesus allowed the disciples to pick some heads of grain and eat on the Sabbath when they were hungry and therefore since they violated the Sabbath along with Jesus in a sense this is nothing special. 2. They will say in Matthew 12 Jesus talks about David and his companions entering the temple on the Sabbath in the Old Testament where they consecrated bread which was not lawful for them to do. From that they will conclude that Jesus’ statements are nothing special. 3. They will cite John 7:23 where circumcision was practiced on the Sabbath – thus, it is not so uncommon and does not prove Jesus is God. 4. They will claim that when Mark 2:27-28 says the following; it means that everyone is Lord of the Sabbath: “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” 5. They will say that the titles “Lord of the Sabbath” and “Greater than the temple” are just titles and honours that were given to him by God in John 13:3, therefore they do not imply that Jesus is God.

Christian Response:
On point 1 and 2, Christ, being God and heir of all creation (Hebrews 1:2), had the power and authority to explain the Sabbath, redefine it, and to allow his disciples to do what they did, thus proving a very important point about who Jesus is and what unique authority he has. The Sabbath was created by God for man so he can rest. It is supposed to help man but if man is hungry on the Sabbath and has to work for his food then he should be able to do so. This is what is indicated here. This is why Christ referenced the OT story of David and his companions eating consecrated bread on the Sabbath. It is because the Sabbath is meant to help man, and since food helps to sustain man, there is no point in going hungry on the Sabbath. If Sabbath rest benefits the people with the rest it provides, going hungry defeats the purpose. Yes, breaking the Sabbath was punishable by death but there were some cases where it was allowed and was not considered breaking the Sabbath at all. Other people like David “breaking the Sabbath” before Christ doesn’t take anything away from Christ being called “greater than the temple” or “Lord of the Sabbath.” The titles bestowed upon him are not simply due to these Matthew 12 teachings and actions regarding the Sabbath. The titles belong to him because of his nature. The context answers point 1 and 2 and the Muslim argumentation is shown to be problematic and irrelevant.

With respect to point 3, Church Father Augustine provides the commentary: “Because circumcision refers to a particular sign of salvation, and people should not give themselves a rest from salvation on the Sabbath. ‘So then, do not be angry with me, because I have saved the whole man on the Sabbath. (John 7:23).’”(5) This is what Christ was communicating to his Jewish audience. This takes nothing away from the glorious titles of Jesus either.

Regarding point 4, the Muslims read too much into Mark 2 when they conclude that this means all men are Lord of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27-28 states:

Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So theSon of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’

This verse declares that the Son of Man is Lord even over the Sabbath – not all men or mankind. This would be offensive to God, as God is the true creator and Lord of the Sabbath. Just because there were exceptions to the rule that were not really considered as breaking Sabbath, that does not mean that man is Lord of the Sabbath either; he was still strictly subject to it. The Sabbath day is the Lord’s Day. Only God is truly sovereign or Lord over the Sabbath with the power to overrule it completely – as Jesus did by becoming our Sabbath rest.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10)

We are no longer bound to works of the law. We are set free and as such Jesus Christ is indeed Lord of the Sabbath. It is in him where we have rest. He becomes our Sabbath and thus the title ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ is very appropriate because it not only shows his divine authority and deity but it also shows how he is now our rest in place of the Sabbath day.

The scholar and former president of Columbia International University, J. Robertson McQuilkin explains why Mark 2:27-28 has it so that Jesus alone is Lord of the Sabbath as opposed to all mankind:

“Some interpret this to mean that all sons of men (mankind) are lord of the Sabbath and can do as they please on this day. But it is impossible to interpret the passage this way because “Son of Man” is a technical term that Christ uses in referring to himself as the Messiah.
In the parallel passage in Matthew 12, immediately before he says “the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath,” he identifies the Son of Man as “greater than the temple,” a clear reference to himself. Christ is speaking of himself as being lord of the Sabbath.” (6)

Moreover, just a few verses before this statement, Jesus declared that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10). There cannot be any doubt that “the Son of Man” in this context does not refer to “man” in general.

Now, with respect to point five which is that according to John 13:3 Jesus was given the titles “greater than the temple” and “Lord of the Sabbath” by the Father (7), Muslims seem to think that because the Father gave Jesus those titles of honour and glory that therefore Jesus isn’t God. The whole crux of the argument is that according to Old Testament passages such as Leviticus 23:3, God is the Lord of the Sabbath because it is His. He created it and it therefore belongs to Him.

… It is the LORD's Sabbath day … (Leviticus 23:3)

… For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8)

Secondly, only God Almighty is greater than the temple because it belongs to him and it is where God’s glory is contained.

… Solomon also made all the furnishings that were in the LORD's temple. (1 Kings 7:48)

I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.
(Matthew 12:6)

Since Jesus is Lord, we are told in Malachi 3:1 that Yahweh’s temple is “his temple”:

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lordwhom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

The reason why the Father gave the Son these glorious titles and honours is because they rightly belong to the Son and they demonstrate who he really is - God. He is the incarnate Son of God – the second person of the tri-personal God-head. Isaiah 42:8 tells us that God’s glory belongs to no one but him. It states:

I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.

The reason the Father could give Jesus this glory in the form of titles – the same Glory he says only belongs to him, is because Jesus is also fully God so there is no contradiction – he is giving the glory to himself in a sense. The Father, Son and Spirit are one being and three persons. Jesus was not simply given these titles because he is an exalted prophet. This would go against the Father’s previous exhortation in Isaiah 42:8. It would go against the clear Old Testament teachings that have God as Lord of the Sabbath and temple. Thus it is quite clear that after one assesses both the Muslim and the Christian point of view on Matthew 12:6-8, Jesus declares himself God by identifying himself as greater than the temple and Lord of the Sabbath.

As Dr. Frederick Dale Bruner remarks:
… For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Therefore what Jesus, the Son of Man, says about Sabbath observance is decisive. According to the law of God (Exod 20:10; Lev 23:3, Deut 5:14), the Sabbath day is “for” and “to” Yahweh; he is Lord of the Sabbath. Hence Jesus is making a second indirect reference, after his “a greater than the temple is here,” to what the later church rightly called Jesus’ deity. (8)

Gospel of Mark
But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are youthe Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?  "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him asworthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him. (Mark 14: 61-65)

Here Jesus not only claims to be the unique Son of the blessed God, but he also claims that he will be seated at the right hand of the Father – co-occupying God’s throne. He claims to be the prophesied Son of Man from the Old Testament book of Daniel who happens to be God and is said to come on the clouds of Heaven.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nationsand men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlastingdominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

In verse 14 where it says all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him, the transliterated word for worship there is ‘pĕlach’ (Aramaic); which derives from the Hebrew root word ‘Peal’ פָּלַח. When the word appears in the Old Testament it is either used in reference to the special worship of God Almighty, or the special worship of false gods by people of other beliefs. This is divine worship yet this Son of Man, Jesus Christ, receives this worship indicating that he is God.

The statements of Jesus in Mark 14:61-65 that show he is the Son of Man referenced in Daniel 7 were considered so blasphemous that the high priest tore his clothes. They knew he was claiming Deity here. If the Daniel 7 Son of Man is a person who is able to approach the Ancient of days, receive authority, glory, power, worship from all people, and everlasting dominion then that person is above all humanity sharing the attributes and glory of God. This Son of Man would have to be God and the high priest understood this. Those at the trial likewise understood this to be a blasphemous statement of uniqueness and Deity and thus they spit on him, beat him, and demanded he be put to death.

Muslim Objection:
Commenting on this argument for Christ’s Deity popular Muslim apologist Shabir Ally states:

This is reported variously in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
In Matthew and Luke’s versions we have it that Jesus did not actually affirm the title, he said you are the ones claiming that I am in essence. And to say that Jesus comes on the clouds of heaven proves that he is God himself - that would be to say that God could not do this for one of his creatures. (9)

Christian Response:
Both of Ally’s criticisms here are invalid. Historians and scholars recognize that Jesus was not merely saying “you are the ones claiming that I am the Son,” to these Jews, so as to deny that he is the Son. Jesus was in fact affirming that he is the Son in all three accounts – Matthew, Mark and Luke; two of which simply contain Jewish idiom’s to get the message across.

As Dr. Darrell L. Bock explains:
Though there is variation and difference in detail, the gist of the replies is the same. Whether Jesus said “I am” or used the idiomYou are right in saying I am” – an ancient expression that means, “It is as you say but not with the sense you mean” – he affirmed his identification as Messiah, Son of God. (10)

Remember, when dealing with minor variations or inconsistencies we do not throw out the sources, we use the historical method to determine what the original statement probably was.
In this case all three accounts have it so that Jesus is affirming that he is indeed the Son after being asked. The only difference is that the affirmative answer is given in two different ways – one in Matthew and Luke with a clever idiom and the other in Mark with a straightforward “I am.” The principle is there in all three narratives. Mark is the earliest so many would say his account is probably correct. However if the accounts in Matthew and Luke are correct and based on a tradition or source that pre-dates Mark then that is okay too. They all get the same message across. Moreover, in all three accounts Jesus goes on to say that he is the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God which is the main point of the passage in that it is an appeal to Daniel 7. By identifying himself as the Son of Man found in Daniel 7 he is identifying himself as God.

It becomes evident that one is justified in using these Biblical passages as evidence for Christ’s Deity, despite having examined the Muslim objection.

Ally’s second argument is that God can do this for one of his creatures. This assertion is not only blasphemous according to the Bible but it is also blasphemous according to Islamic teachings regarding monotheism. ‘Tawheed’ is an Islamic principle that means ‘Islamic monotheism’ and is often divided into three categories.

John Eberly explains:
Tawheed: (or Tawhid, etc.) Is of three kinds:
- Tawheed al-Rububiya: Unity of Lordship.
- Tawheed al-Uloohiya: Unity of Worship.
- Tawheed al-Asma was-Sifat: Unity of the Names and qualities of God. (11)

Sam Shamoun brought this excellent type of argumentation to my attention. Ally is violating Islamic monotheism when he asserts that it is okay for God to give a creature the attributes and privileges found in Daniel 7 and Mark 14. God giving this type of glory and honour to anyone but himself would result in a violation of these three classifications of Tawheed. For example Jesus receives sovereign power and Lordship over all peoples. This violates Tawheed al-Rububiya. Jesus receives worship from every nation. This violates Tawheed al-Uloohiya. Jesus is identified as the Son of the Most High. This would seem to violate Tawheed al-Asma was-Sifat in that when Jesus is called Son of the Most High it denotes his unique relationship to the Father as well as the fact that he bears the nature of God. And since the nature of God is a quality of God this violates Tawheed al-Asma - the names and qualities of God.

It is equally as blasphemous Biblically for a mere creature to receive this kind of honour and glory. We read in Isaiah 44:6-8, Jeremiah 10:10, and Joel 3:12 that God alone is the eternal King and eternal ruler, yet Jesus receives authority over every person and nation.
Jesus has an everlasting kingdom and serves as the ruler.

Ally’s second response to Daniel 7 and Mark 14 is therefore incorrect. If Jesus isn’t God and yet receives this honour and glory it not only violates Islamic Tawheed but it also violates Biblical instruction.

The scholars
Robert M. Bowman, J. Ed Komoszewski, and Darrell L. Bock point out that:

Thus, when Jesus answers affirmatively that he is the Son of God and then immediately adds statements claiming to sit on God’s throne at his right hand, exercising divine power in heaven, his response confirms that he is, indeed, claiming to be on the same level as God. (12)

Gospel of Luke
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah it was prophesied that God himself would appear to his people after a voice crying in the wilderness prepares his way:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealedand all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." … Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!" Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11, ESV)

This was fulfilled in the New Testament when John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness, prepared the way for God Almighty.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'" (Luke 3:1-6, ESV)

John the Baptist, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, is making the way for Yahweh so that Yahweh God could appear to his people as the scriptures prophesied. John the Baptist declares that he is making the way for Jesus Christ:

John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:16, ESV)

He [John the Baptist] said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." (John 1:23, ESV)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."
And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." (John 1:29-34, ESV)

This means that when Jesus appears it is Yahweh appearing because Jesus is Yahweh.

To summarize: These verses affirm (1) that John the Baptist is the voice of one crying in the wilderness who makes the way for Yahweh God prophesied in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. However, (2) John the Baptist made the way for Jesus Christ! Therefore, (3) Jesus Christ is Yahweh God who was predicted to come to his people!

Muslim Objection:
Osama Abdullah takes issue with the Isaiah 40 prophecy itself when in verse 5 it says, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Osama responds:

“All flesh shall see it? I haven’t seen it yet.”(13)

Christian Response:
Although it’s quite clear that Isaiah says a voice in the wilderness will herald Yahweh’s coming and that this was fulfilled by John the Baptist introducing Christ, Osama is confused about “all flesh” seeing the salvation of God.
Even though Yahweh God himself was seen, as promised in Isaiah, when Christ (Yahweh) was introduced by the Baptist and then appeared to his people, the salvation itself that this appearance entails would not be seen by all flesh until the Gospel message is spread all over the world. Knowing this, Christ gave these commands:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14, ESV)

And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. (Mark 16:15, ESV)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19, ESV)

Therefore, Yahweh God himself was seen in the first-century when Christ appeared, and the salvation of this appearing is seen all over the world in the form of the Gospel message contained in the Bible and in preaching. Therefore, Jesus is Yahweh who appeared to his people and his salvation is being seen now by all flesh.

Continuing on Part II



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