Answering Muslims is a Christian apologetics website dedicated to responding to the questions, objections, and arguments of Muslims. The site is run by Christian debaters, lecturers, and writers who have a special interest in Islam. Since one of the most common Muslim arguments is that Islamic morality and law would benefit Western nations, we also report relevant current events concerning the im
Vocab Malone and I were setting up for a video about a Sharia-compliant version of the Amazon Echo, when we realized that Alexa was completely willing to accuse Muhammad of hypocrisy for marrying more women than his own revelations allow!
When Muhammad gets things wrong about Jesus, Muslims typically blame the Apostle Paul for corrupting Christianity. But what happens when we compare Paul and Muhammad, and we realize that Paul is far more reliable than Muhammad? Let's find out in this video series.
Sun God Mithra Worship ☼ December 25th - Mithraism - Osiris | Roman Christmas - Jesus vs Mithra - YouTube
In this next video, my good friend Pastor Sule and I answer the oft-repeated and debunked claim that Christians were copy cats and that they borrowed the birth story of Mithra in December and applied it to Jesus. This is a claim many of our Muslim friends are prone to make including many well meaning Christians. Watch and learn and please share the video.
In previous posts, I have been reviewing a book by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya (in particular, chapter 5 of the book). So far, we have seen that Zakariya's objections to the gospels as inspired Scripture and eyewitness testimony, to Messianic prophecy, and to the reliable passing on of stories about Jesus have fallen far short of convincing. Here are links to my four previous rebuttals to Zakariya:
In this fifth installment, I am going to address Abu Zakariya's contention that the Qur'an has the true insight into the crucifixion.
Problems with the Substitution View
Zakariya begins by quoting from Surah 4:157-158:
They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition; they certainly did not kill him. God raised him up to Himself. God is almighty and wise.
Zakariya takes the classical interpretation of this text, which is that someone was made to resemble Jesus and was put on the cross in His stead. He finds support for this interpretation in the narrations of Ibn Abbas, one of the companions of Muhammad (Al-Nasa'i, Al-Kubra, 6:489):
Just before God raised Jesus to the Heavens, Jesus went to his disciples, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping with water (as if he had just had a bath) and he said, 'There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after you had believed in me.' He then asked, 'Who among you will volunteer for his appearance to be transformed into mine, and be killed in my place? Whoever volunteers for that, he will be with me (in Heaven.' One of the youngest ones among them volunteered, but Jesus asked him to sit down. Jesus asked again for a volunteer, and the same young man volunteered and Jesus asked him to sit down again. Then the young man volunteered a third time and Jesus said, 'You will be that man,' and the resemblance of Jesus was cast over that man while Jesus ascended to Heaven from a hole in the roof the house. When the Jews came looking for Jesus, they found that young man and crucified him.
Zakariya concludes from this,
From an observational perspective, would anyone be able to tell the difference between Jesus being crucified, and it being made to appear like he was? Whether it was the real Jesus, or someone who looked, sounded and acted in an identical manner to Jesus, or even an illusion of it being Jesus that tricks the eyes, most casual observers would not be able to distinguish between them. If you think about it, these various scenarios would appear identical for all intents and purposes and would end up being recorded the same way.
The problem is that, if the narration from Ibn Abbas is the correct way things went down, then the twelve disciples of Jesus knew that someone had been made to resemble Jesus and had been crucified in His stead. This is problematic since we know that the disciples themselves believed Jesus to have been killed by crucifixion. There can be absolutely no question about this. This, then, is an oddity on the thesis being here put forth.
On the other hand, if the disciples themselves were duped into believing Jesus had been killed by crucifixion, this means that Allah deceived his own followers, since the Qur'an asserts twice that Jesus' disciples were Muslims (Surah 3:52, 61:14). How do we know that the disciples believed Jesus had been crucified? For one thing, the gospels -- which go back to apostolic testimony (for some of the reasons why I know this, see my previous article here) -- all indicate that Jesus died by crucifixion. Mark's gospel is directly associated with the eyewitness testimony of Peter (who was present at the cross). John's gospel is directly associated with the beloved disciple (as I demonstrated in the previous article), who was also present at the cross and even had a dialogue with Jesus while Jesus was hanging on the cross (John 19:26). Besides the gospels, there are also the speeches of the apostles in Acts which make the cross and resurrection of Jesus the cornerstone of the gospel proclamation (e.g. see Peter's speech in Acts 2:23-24). Furthermore, we also have the epistles of Paul which evidence the earliest apostolic beliefs -- for instance, the creedal tradition passed on by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 or the Carmen Christi hymn quoted by Paul in Philippians 2:5-11 which references the crucifixion. Moreover, Paul's preaching of the gospel to the gentiles (which made the crucifixion a centerpiece) was apparently approved by the Jerusalem eldership, which included Peter and Jesus' brother James (Galatians 2:7-9). Finally, in 1 Corinthians 15:11, in reference to the Jerusalem leaders (Peter, James, the twelve) and having just spoken of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, says, "Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed." Thus, Paul assumes that the Corinthian Christians believed his message to be consistent with what had previously been told to them by the Jerusalem leaders.
A further problem with the substitution view is that there would have been no need for someone to take the place of Jesus on the cross if the purpose was simply to deliver Jesus from crucifixion. Why not simply take him up to heaven and have him escape the grasp of those who wanted to kill him? Why would Allah subject one of his followers to such a painful and humiliating death needlessly? The only reason why one would posit such a substitution view is in an attempt to explain away the manifest evidence that Jesus did indeed die by crucifixion, as every credible scholar in the field maintains.
Finally, there is the problem that Jesus Himself predicted ahead of time His impending death and subsequent resurrection. Therefore, if Jesus did not die by crucifixion, then one of two things is true. Either, Jesus is a false prophet (which makes Islam false since the Qur'an maintains that Jesus was a true prophet of Allah), or Jesus did die by crucifixion, just like He said he would -- but in this case, Islam is also false, since the Qur'an maintains that Jesus did not die by rather ascended to heaven (Surah 4:157-158). This catch-22 is what I call the crucifixion dilemma. One may object by casting doubt on whether Jesus really did foretell ahead of time his impending death, as recorded in the gospels. But let us now take a look at some of the evidence that Jesus really did predict this.
Here, I will give only a couple of examples. As a first example, consider the false testimony of the witnesses at Jesus' trial before Caiaphas. In Mark 14:58 (also paralleled in Matthew 26:61), they say,
‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’
Likewise, in Mark 15:29-30 (paralleled in Matthew 27:40), when Jesus was on the cross, we read,
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
Notice that nothing in either Matthew or Mark give us a pretext for this accusation. It is an unexplained allusion, which itself is a mark of verisimilitude. In fact, a claim that one threatened to destroy the second temple was a rather serious allegation. But nonetheless, Matthew and Mark choose to leave it hanging. Perhaps they didn't know the pretext, but nonetheless faithfully record what the false witnesses and the mockers at the cross said. It seems though that this accusation against Jesus is not something that has been fabricated out of whole cloth, but rather it appears to rather be a garbled version of something Jesus had actually said -- especially in light of the reference to "in three days", a phrase often associated with Jesus' predictions concerning His resurrection from the dead. But now turn over to John 2:18-19, and what do we find?
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Jesus here, it turns out, is speaking about his resurrection from the dead, with the real temple (where the presence of God dwells) being His body. Thus, John provides the pretext for the accusation but makes no mention of the later misrepresentation of Jesus' words and the accusation based on this statement of Jesus. Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, do not give us the pretext for the accusation, but give us the later misrepresentation of what Jesus said. This is particularly striking since Matthew and Mark were written before John, and so they do not have John's gospel in mind as they write. This hand-in-glove fit, or undesigned coincidence, supports independence and thereby corroborates the veracity of the saying.
As a second example, consider the incident reported in Mark 8:31-33:
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.
This saying of Jesus is supported by the criterion of embarrassment, since it seems particularly unlikely that Mark (whose source Peter was) would invent an incident involving such a double rebuke involving Peter and Jesus, especially with Jesus saying to Peter "Get behind me, Satan!" But the double rebuke makes no sense except in light of Jesus' prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection. Thus, the criterion of embarrassment supports the veracity of this saying.
Finally, the sheer number and varied nature of Jesus' predictions of His impending death and resurrection itself suggests that it goes back to eyewitness memory.
Therefore, there is no escape from the dilemma -- either Jesus did not die by crucifixion (making him a false prophet and therefore Islam false), or he did die by crucifixion (contradicting the Qur'an and thereby also entailing the falsity of Islam). Pick your poison.
Biblical Support for the Islamic View on the Crucifixion? Abu Zakariya claims that both the Old and New Testaments support the Qur'anic view that Jesus was not crucified. Yes, you read that right -- Zakariya actually claims support from the Old and New Testaments! From the Old Testament, he cites Psalm 91:10-15. I addressed Zakariya's butchering of this text in my previous article where I interacted with Zakariya's use of the Old Testament. As I pointed out previously, the text of Psalm 91 is not even primarily about the Messiah at all, but rather it speaks of the security of the faithful under God's protection (and Satan twists and misuses it during his temptation of Jesus). But Christ's special purpose was to go to the cross and pay the penalty for our sins. This is the consistent testimony of Messianic prophecy and is the consistent theme throughout all four of the gospels.
The text that Zakariya mangles from the New Testament is Matthew 26:38-39:
38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
These words that have been attributed to Jesus are a clear indication that he did not want to be crucified, supporting the Qur'anic narrative about the crucifixion. This should be a point of reflections for Christians, for if the primary mission of Jesus was to die on the cross, then why did he pray to God to avoid the crucifixion?
Once again, Zakariya has simply not read the text carefully, nor has he read it in context. So let's survey some of the context of Matthew 26 leading up to the quoted statement of Jesus.
Matthew 26:1-2: When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
Matthew 26:11-13: 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:26-28: 26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew 26:30-32: 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
It is after these multiple statements concerning Jesus' death that we read of the incident in the garden of Gethsemane. If one's interpretation of a verse flies in the face of everything else said by the same chapter, this should be cause to reconsider one's interpretation of the text.
Furthermore, Jesus did not pray that he might not die on the cross, but rather he prayed, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." Jesus, being a man, despised having to endure the shame of the cross (Hebrews 12:2). However, he surrendered His own will to that of the Father, thus voluntarily enduring the shame of the cross.
In fact, this even relates to another undesigned coincidence. Turn over to John 18:11, in which Jesus, after the soldiers come to arrest Jesus and after Peter has struck off the ear of the servant of the high priest, says,
“Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
John's gospel nowhere else uses the metaphor of a cup to represent the sufferings of Christ. So why does John use this metaphor here? We learn from the synoptic gospels that Christ had just been praying that night in those very terms, asking the Father that, if there be another way to save mankind apart from His enduring the wrath of God, that the cup might pass from Him. However, when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, Jesus declares, "shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" Now he understands the Father's decision to give Him the cup. This undesigned coincidence, or artless dovetailing, between John and the synoptics corroborates the historical veracity of both sayings.
This also carries with it a special significance in relation to the Old Testament, which also uses the metaphor of a cup to describe God's wrath. For instance, in Psalm 75:8, we read,
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.
Yet, on the cross, Jesus consumed the cup right down to the very last drop, draining it down to the dregs. It was thus far more than the physical sufferings of the cross that caused Christ to tremble, even sweating as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground -- Christ was to also endure the wrath of God against sin on behalf of all those who would place their hope in Him. Christ's use of this cup metaphor, then, reveals His understanding of the significance of His impending suffering and death on the cross.
Support for the Islamic View on the Crucifixion Among Early Christian Groups? Having claimed support from the Old and New Testaments for the Islamic view, Zakariya asserts that,
...we find support for the Qur'anic crucifixion narrative in history. There were numerous first and second century Christian groups who denied the crucifixion of Jesus.
The first ancient group that Zakariya wishes to claim as his own is Basilides and his followers (the 'Basilidians'). Zakariya cites a quotation of Basilides from Irenaeus in his Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 24, section 4:
The Unborn and Nameless Father seeing their miserable plight, sent his First-born, Nous (and this is the one who is called Christ) to deliver those who should believe in him from the power of the angelic agencies who had built the world. And to men Christ seemed to be a man and to have performed miracles. It was not, however, Christ who suffered, but rather Simon of Cyrene, who was constrained to carry the cross for him, and mistakenly crucified in Christ's stead...
The passage itself indicates exactly why Basilides took that view. He writes, "And to men Christ seemed to be a man..." Basilides was a gnostic heretic, who believed that Christ did not really have a physical fleshly body (since the physical world was seen as being defiling and corrupting), but rather only appeared to be a man. If he was not really a man but only appeared to be so, then he can hardly have been in fact fixed to a cross. Thus, to claim Basilides as one of his own is an indication of Zakariya's desperation to find any measure of historical support for his view.
I wish I could say that his examples get better but unfortunately they only go down hill from here. The next group Zakariya cites are the Philadelphian Christians, to whom Ignatius of Antioch wrote one of his letters. Zakariya writes,
The first scentury Church Father Ignatius wrote a letter to a Christian community, the Philadelphians, who seemed to deny that Jesus died and was resurrected on the basis that it was not found in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Quoting Ignatius (epistle to the Philadelphians section 8),
And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. When I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, That remains to be proved. But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified.
Zakariya here thoroughly butchers Ignatius' meaning. Here he is not even addressing heretics, but non-believers who have refused to believe the gospel because the Christ's sufferings do does not accord with their Messianic expectations based on their understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. It has nothing to do with anyone who denies that Jesus was crucified.
In fact, Ignatius speaks in very approving terms of the Philadelphian believers. He even writes in the prologue of the epistle,
To the church of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ at Philadelphia in Asia; mercifully settled in all godly concord; steadfastly rejoicing in the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord; and in the fullness of His mercy, holding sure and certain conviction of the same.
This doesn't sound very consistent with Zakariya's claim that Ignatius was addressing them as heretics.
In a final attempt to find support for his view, Zakariya appeals to the Trallian Christians, to whom Ignatius also addressed a letter. Zakariya writes,
Ignatius wrote a letter to a Christian group known as the Trallians, who seemed to believe that the death of Jesus was only in appearance, not in reality. Here, Ignatius tries to correct their understanding about the crucifixion.
Quoting Ignatius again (epistle to the Trallians section 10):
And when He had lived among men for thirty years, He was baptized by John, really and not in appearance; and when He had preached the Gospel three years, and done signs and wonders, He who was Himself the Judge was judged by the Jews, falsely so called, and by Pilate the governor; was scourged, was smitten on the cheek, was spit upon; He wore a crown of thorns and a purple robe; He was condemned: He was crucified in reality and not in appearance, not in imagination, not in deceit. He really died, and was buried, and rose from the dead, even as He prayed in a certain place, saying, "But do Thou, O Lord, raise me up again, and I shall recompense them.
Again, Ignatius is not addressing the Trallians as heretics but rather as fellow believers in Christ. This is clear from the prologue of the epistle:
To the holy church at Tralles in Asia; beloved of God the Father of Jesus Christ, elect and godly, endowed with peace of body and soul by the Passion of Jesus Christ, who through our rising again to Him is our hope.
In his letter, Ignatius is warning the Christians in Tralles about the destructive gnostic heresies (which deny the reality of Christ's physical incarnation). This much is clear, since in section 6 he says,
And so I entreat you (not I, though, but the love of Jesus Christ) not to nourish yourselves on anything but Christian fare, and have no truck with the alien herbs of heresy. There are men who in the very act of assuring you of their good faith will mingle poison with Jesus Christ; which is like offering a lethal drug in a cup of honeyed wine, so that the unwitting victim blissfully accepts his own destruction with a fatal relish.
Ignatius even goes on to write,
Not that I suspect anything of the kind among you; I am only trying to protect you in good time, because you are dear to my heart and I can foresee the devil's snares ahead.
Thus, this text in fact explicitly contradicts, rather than supports, that the Trallian Christians gave any credence to the Islamic perspective on the crucifixion.
To be honest, I do not get the impression that Abu Zakariya has even read the letters of Ignatius. If he had, it is difficult to see how he would make such blunders. His citations of Ignatius give every appearance of having been copy/pasted from the internet with no regard for their context.
Conclusion It is regrettable that over these five blog posts we have seen so much disappointing argumentation and sloppy scholarship on the part of Abu Zakariya. Chapter 5 of his book, Jesus: Man, Messenger, Messiah, as I have shown, contains not a single compelling argument to call the historical veracity of the crucifixion..
In previous posts, I have been reviewing a book by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya (in particular, chapter 5 of the book). So far, we have seen that Zakariya's objections to the gospels as inspired Scripture and to Messianic prophecy have fallen far short of convincing. Here are links to my two previous rebuttals to Zakariya:
In this fourth installment, I am going to interact with Zakariya's fourth wave of attack, which is against the premise that the stories about Jesus were passed on reliably.
A Note About Differences and Reconcilable Variations
Before I begin to assess Abu Zakariya's arguments, first a word about the implications of variations between the gospel accounts. In eyewitness testimony, it is not at all surprising that there would exist variations in minor detail while maintaining consistency about the core narrative. The existence of variations does not in itself entail that the narrative does not derive from the testimony of eyewitnesses, or that the core events did not happen. By pushing for the existence of actual (as opposed to apparent) discrepancies between the gospel accounts, at best the skeptic can cause us to revise our understanding of inspiration or inerrancy. It does not necessarily call into question the truth of Christianity, a proposition which rests on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
What minor variations do often suggest, however, is independence between accounts. In his book Horae Evangelicae or or The Internal Evidence of the Gospel History, Rev T.R. Birks pioneered a category of argument, a somewhat less dramatic cousin of undesigned coincidences, called reconcilable variations. What is a reconcilable variation? It is when you have two accounts of the same event, or at least two accounts that appear to cross over the same territory at some point, and at first blush they seem so divergent that it's almost awkward; but then, on further thought, they turn out to be reconcilable in some natural fashion after all. When two accounts appear at first so divergent that one is not sure they can be reconciled, that is significant evidence for their independence. When they turn out, upon closer inspection or upon learning more information, to be reconcilable without forcing after all, one has almost certainly independent accounts that dovetail. Thus, identifying plausible harmonizations for apparent discrepancies between the gospels has not only the effect of neutralizing the objection to the gospels' veracity, but also it can, by establishing independence, provide positive evidence for their truth. Early Competing Traditions About the Life of Jesus?
Zakariya contends that in the first century, besides the four canonical gospels, there were other competing traditions about the life and ministry of Jesus. To support this, he quotes from 2 Corinthians 11:4:
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
It is without question that there were false teachers in the first century who presented a different Jesus and a different gospel. There were the Judaizers, who insisted that gentile believers had to become circumcised Jews in order to be saved (Paul specifically takes them on in his letter to the Galatians); there were the gnostics who denied that the Christ had come in the flesh, thereby rejecting the physicality of the incarnation; and there were probably other groups who are unknown to us today. But the existence of such groups does not entail that they were associated with disciples and friends of Jesus, or even credible eyewitnesses to Jesus' life. If Zakariya wishes to make this claim then the burden of proof is on him to supply the evidence.
Does the Gospel of John Change the Date of the Crucifixion?
Zakariya argues that the gospel of John deliberately changed the date of Jesus' crucifixion for theological reasons, from the day of Passover (with the last supper being the Passover meal) to the day of preparation for Passover (before the eating of the Passover meal) -- in order to make Jesus the Lamb of God (as John the Baptist represents him to be in John 1:19). He concludes,
Therefore, we can see that the author of the Gospel of John was willing to change the biography of Jesus in order to make him conform to their beliefs.
But before we are too quick to jump to such a conclusion, let's take a look at the texts more carefully. John 19:14 doesnot say that it was the day of preparation for the Passover, but rather that it was the day of preparation of Passover. The very same term is used in Mark 15:42, but Mark also indicates what it means:
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath.
Consistent with this, we read in John 19:31:
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.
Thus, John concurs with Mark that it was the day before the Sabbath. This is what he means by "the day of preparation." When John writes "for that Sabbath was a high day", he means that it was not just any Sabbath day, but a particularly special feast day -- it was the Passover week Sabbath.
Now, one might complain at this point and urge that John contradicts the claim that the Passover meal had already been eaten. After all, we read in John 18:28:
Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.
It must be borne in mind, however, that the Passover was a week-long festival, not just one day. In fact, the other eight times that John uses the word "Passover", he uses it to refer to the festival as a whole, rather than merely to the opening meal. In fact, the Passover seder is not the only ritual meal that is eaten during the Passover festival. The chagiga is another ritual meal that is eaten the following day at mid-day.
This interpretation is not special-pleading but is supported from a close read of the text itself. The reason that they did not want to enter the governor's headquarters is so that they would not be defiled and could eat the Passover. But such a defilement would expire at sundown. They would then, after washing, be ceremonially clean for the evening meal. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that their concern was about some meal other than the evening meal.
There is therefore no contradiction between John and the synoptic gospels regarding the date of Jesus' death by crucifixion. However, our study has revealed a case of a reconcilable variation, evidencing the independence of the narratives and thus the historicity of the core events.
Is There a Mary Magdalene Problem in the Resurrection Narratives?
Zakariya asserts that the gospel accounts concerning the resurrection of Jesus contradict one another in relation to Mary Magdalene's experience on Easter morning. According to Zakariya,
We can see that in the Gospel of Matthew, Mary Magdalene is presented as having found the tomb empty, but after that she actually encountered Jesus as she was running away from the tomb. In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene is also presented as having found the tomb empty. However, after she flees the tomb she doesn't encounter Jesus but instead runs to the disciples and tells them that the body of Jesus had been stolen. Now, these two accounts of the resurrection are a contradiction; if Mary Magdalene met Jesus at the tomb, as Matthew says, then why did she report that the body had been stolen, according to John?
Abu Zakariya objects to any attempt to suggest that the variation can be accounted for by relating them to two different visits to the tomb. He writes,
We can see that Matthew and John must be talking about the same visit to the tomb. This is because in John 20:1, the stone was removed before Mary Magdalene's first visit. This mirrors Matthew 28:2 which says that the stone was removed as Mary Magdalene was arriving. Moreover, Matthew mentions the day of the visit to the tomb ("after the Sabbath"), as does John ("first day of the week"). In the Jewish calendar, the day after Sabbath is the first day of the week. So, we know Matthew and John are referencing the same day. Matthew also mentions the time of the visit to the tomb ("towards the dawn of the first day"), as does John ("while it was still dark"), so we know they are referencing the same time frame. We must conclude that these contradictory accounts cannot be explained away: Matthew, who has Mary Magdalene meet Jesus and touch him after leaving the tomb, conflicts with John who reports that she left the tomb and told the disciples that the body of Jesus had been stolen and she didn't know where it was.
However, once again, a more careful reading of the relevant texts reveals that there is no real contradiction here. Here is the account from Matthew 28:1-10:
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Now compare this to the account from John 20:1-18:
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
Now, it appears that Matthew either didn't mention and/or didn't know that there were several other women with Mary Magdalene when they came to the tomb and (more importantly) that they did not all leave the tomb together (Matthew mentions only one other woman with Mary Magdalene, who was Mary the mother of Jesus). Even though John only mentions Mary Magdalene, we know from John 20:2 that there were other women besides her who visited the tomb, since she uses the inclusive plural pronoun, "we do not know where they have laid him" (a dovetailing that forms an undesigned coincidence). According to Mark 16:1, "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices" and "went to the tomb." And we know from Luke 24:10 that there were still other women, since Luke reports that there were "Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them."
According to John, Mary Magdalene ran back immediately upon noticing the stone rolled away and surmising or seeing the tomb empty (there may have been one or two other women with her, we don't know). Notice that Matthew does not say that the angel appeared to Mary Magdalene, but rather that he spoke to the women. Thus, it was the women other than Mary Magdalene who left the tomb together as described in Matthew and, while going to tell the disciples, saw Jesus on the way. Matthew says that plural women left the tomb and that "they" saw Jesus on the way but does not expressly say that Mary Magdalene was with them at that time. Again, he may just not have known that she'd left the group already, but he doesn't explicitly say either way. John knew since he was one of the two disciples (along with Peter) to whom Mary Magdalene reported the empty tomb and missing body of Jesus.
We can pick up Mary Magdalene's story as in John. She ran back to get Peter and John immediately upon seeing the stone rolled away. They came back to the tomb with or slightly ahead of her. By this time the rest of the women have already seen the angels and left. They may even be seeing Jesus on their own route back into the city while Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene are on their way back to the tomb. It must be borne in mind that the old city of Jerusalem was a maze. There is no reason at all to expect that these groups would have bumped into each other. Mary Magdalene (as explained in John) still thinks Jesus is dead at this point. She hangs around after Peter and John have looked at the tomb and left in puzzlement. She peers back into the tomb and the angels reveal themselves to her, but she doesn't understand. She turns around, grieved, and sees Jesus and has the wonderful dialogue with him as told in John 20. She then goes back to tell the disciples more about all of this. All this time she isn't with the other women. When the other women have seen Jesus, they run and tell at least some of the disciples, though they might have to wait for Peter and John to get back from their tomb visit. Of course, we also don't know for sure that all of the disciples were staying together. The other women may actually have gone to see a different set of them in some different location.
Is there any support for such a harmonization in the text itself? Yes, there is. One would certainly gather from John that Mary Magdalene was alone in that scene by the tomb; it's very individual and intimate and not at all like the joint meeting between Jesus and plural women in Matthew. And Mary does not appear to have left the tomb when she meets Jesus in John. In fact, she is hanging around near the tomb crying and hoping to find the body so that she can re-bury it. Whereas the women meet Jesus on their hurried way to tell the disciples in Matthew. Also, the women in Matthew appear to believe the angels, whereas in John Mary Magdalene still thinks the body has been moved.
Thus, what appears on first blush to be a contradiction between John and Matthew turns out upon inspection to be readily harmonizable. It also, once again, by the principle of reconcilable variation, suggests strongly that these accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb are independent, thereby corroborating the veracity of the core narrative.
Did the Gospel of Matthew Invent Many Resurrections?
Zakariya quotes Matthew 27:51-53, which narrates the resurrection of various saints that accompanied the death of Jesus. Here is the text:
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Now, none of the other Gospels mention this astonishing incident of the walking dead, only Matthew reports it...Notice that even though Mark's account of the crucifixion is virtually identical to that of Matthew, Mark does not mention the rising of the dead saints. If such a miraculous event really happened, then there would be no rational reason for it to be omitted from the Gospel of Mark.
Zakariya further remarks that Paul and the other gospel authors likewise make no mention of this episode in their writings. Furthermore, he observes,
Matthew's claim is also dubious from the perspective of the historians that lived around the first century. Historian Josephus (37 CE - 100 CE), a contemporary of Jesus from Jerusalem who wrote much about his city, fails to mention the most public of miracles.
Given that Jesus died in 30 or 33 CE and Josephus was born in 37 CE, I don't know why Zakariya seems to think that Josephus was a contemporary of Jesus. But be that as it may, the argument from the silence of ancient authors for discounting singularly reported events -- even very significant events -- is a weak argument. To see why, we need only consider some similar examples from other ancient literature.
Josephus and Philo, for example, both pass over the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius in silence, although it is mentioned by the second century Roman historian Suetonius (Life of Claudius 25.4). We have only one passing mention of the event in a first century source (Acts 18:2). Yet all historians acknowledge that the event nevertheless took place. Another example is the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanaeum in the eruption of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius, in A.D. 79, which is written of in no surviving first century source -- even though Pliny the Younger gives a detailed account of the eruption itself. We even only have one first century source (Josephus) who mentions the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 under Titus.
The weakness of the argument from silence is compounded further when we consider that the vast majority of the literature from first century Palestine has been lost. Thus, if someone else mentioned this episode in their writings, we have little reason to expect to still have his work.
Conclusion Once more, we have seen that the arguments leveled against the Biblical text by Abu Zakariya, upon close inspection, invariably fall apart. More than that, when these differences are viewed through the paradigm of reconcilable variations, they in fact evidence the independence of the respective accounts and thereby their veracity. In my next installment, I will consider whether, as Abu Zakariya contends, the Qur'an provides the correct insight into the crucifixion of Jesus.
In previous posts, I have been reviewing a book by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya. So far, we have seen that Zakariya's objections to the gospels as inspired Scripture and to Messianic prophecy have fallen far short of convincing. Here are links to my two previous rebuttals to Zakariya:
In this third instalment, I am going to be reviewing Zakariya's third wave of attack, which is against the gospels as eyewitness testimony.
The External Attestation of Authorship
When we scrutinise the Gospel authors in the light of their identities and content and date of their writings, we will find that they are not credible eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. To begin with, it's important to recognise that the Gospels themselves are, strictly speaking, anonymous. While today in the New Testament you see the headings "The Gospel according to..." at the start of each of the Gospels, it's important to note that none of the authors identify themselves by name within the texts. They were quoted anonymously by Church Fathers in the first half of the second century (i.e. 100-150 CE) and the names by which they are currently known appeared suddenly around the year 180 CE, nearly 150 years after Jesus. We find this in the writings of early church apologists such as Justin Martyr who was writing in the middle of the second century. Justin quotes from the gospels on numerous occasions, but the striking ting is that he does not call the Gospels by their names. Instead, he regularly calls them "Memoirs of the Apostles." He does not say that he thinks the disciples themselves wrote the books, only that these books preserve their "memoirs" (meaning, their recollections of the life and teachings of Jesus). These are some of the reasons that have led scholars to believe that the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were assigned to the Gospels long after they were first authored.
Given that we do not possess the original autographs for any of the four gospels (but only copies of copies), how can Zakariya state so confidently that the gospels were originally published anonymously? In fact, every extant Greek manuscript we have of one of the gospels that possesses a front page lists the author to whom it has been traditionally attributed. True, front pages tend to be rare the earlier you go back (the beginning and end of books tend to take the most damage), meaning that the majority we have are later -- but my point is, how can we be so sure that the original gospel autographs were anonymous, given that we do not have access to them? Moreover, Luke must surely have been known by Theophilus to whom he addressed both his gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.
Furthermore, during the time of the papyrus scroll, the name of the author would often not be mentioned in the text. Herodotus and Thucydides did mention their names in their respective texts, whereas Suetonius and Plutarch did not. Even Josephus doesn't state his name in the text of Antiquities of the Jews. Names were often placed not in the text itself but rather at the end of the manuscript.
Even the first century church father, Clement of Rome, does not mention his name in the text of his still-extant epistle to the Corinthians. Rather, we know who wrote it from the testimony of Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus of Lyons, by the way, is an important witness in regards to the authorship of the gospels, for he was himself (by his own confession) a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna who was himself, Irenaeus tells us, a disciple of John the apostle. This makes Irenaeus remarkably close to the apostolic generation, and boosts his credibility as someone likely in a position to know the true authorship of the gospels -- especially for John's gospel which he attributes to John the apostle.
The authorship of Matthew is attested by Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Papias of Hierapolis. The authorship of Mark is attested by Tertullian of Carthage, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Papias of Hierapolis (incidentally, all of these witnesses also attest that Mark based his gospel on the eyewitness testimony of the apostle Peter). The authorship of Luke is attested by Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, and Irenaeus of Lyons.The authorship of John is attested by Tertullian of Carthage, Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria. Moreover, the authorship of all four gospels is attested by the Muratorian fragment, the earliest canonical list of the New Testament books (dating to around 170 C.E.).
Papias of Hierapolis, by the way, who attests to the traditional authorship of Matthew and Mark, wrote around 125 C.E. So Zakariya is not entirely correct that there are no attributions of authorship in the first half of the second century. We don't have Papias' original work but what we do have is preserved in quotations from the fourth century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea. Nonetheless, Papias is an early second century witness. According to Irenaeus, he was "an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp." In fact, Papias himself tells us (in a quotation preserved by Eusebius -- Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3–4):
I shall not hesitate also to put into ordered form for you, along with the interpretations, everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down carefully, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I took no pleasure in those who told many different stories, but only in those who taught the truth. Nor did I take pleasure in those who reported their memory of someone else’s commandments, but only in those who reported their memory of the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the Truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders arrived, I made inquiries about the words of the elders—what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and John the Elder, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from the books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice.
If Papias really was connected to John and/or other apostles, and a companion of Polycarp, then he was in a key position to know the authorship of the gospels.
Furthermore, consider the geographical spread of the attestation of gospel authorship, as represented by the figure below:
As can be seen, the attestation to the authorship of the gospels is very geographically widespread. Irenaeus lived in Gaul (what is modern day France); Papias lived in Asia Minor; Clement lived in Egypt; and Tertullian lived in North Africa. Given the unanimity of the authorship traditions (there were no competing traditions of authorship), this evidence suggests that the authorship traditions go back quite early (since word took time to spread).
Given the fact that the gospels were much earlier being quoted without names being attached to them (just as Old Testament Scripture was quoted), this suggests that the early church fathers could anticipate their respective audiences being familiar with the gospels and associating them with apostolic authority. Indeed, had there been controversy and debate about the authorship of the gospels, we should expect to see that reflected in the later second century when names are attached to all four gospels. But there was no such controversy or debate. The four canonical gospels -- and only those four -- were ever accepted as part of the New Testament. And there was no debate about who wrote them. This is especially striking given that Mark and Luke were rather unknown characters. Any attempt to falsify the authorship tradition would have undoubtedly attributed these gospels to higher profile figures.
Indeed, as Zakariya correctly notes, Justin Martyr speaks of the "memoirs of the apostles" which are "called gospels" (e.g. First Apology, chapter 66). In chapter 106 of his Dialogue with Trypho (dated around 160 A.D.), he writes,
And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder.
Justin says that in these "memoirs of him" it is written that Jesus changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter and also changed the name of the sons of Zebedee to Boanerges, meaning sons of thunder. Neither of these is found in the extant portion we have of the so-called Gospel of Peter, but both of them are included in the Gospel of Mark. The statement about calling the sons of Zebedee “sons of thunder” is found only in Mark (3:17). Since Papias also tells us that Mark was the interpreter of Peter, this suggests that the Mark being referred to by Papias is indeed our canonical Mark. It seems unlikely that the gospel of Mark would have gone from being called the memoirs of Peter by Justin Martyr to being universally known as the gospel of the much more obscure John Mark -- unless of course Mark really was the author who wrote the gospel.
The Internal Indicators of Authorship in Luke-Acts At the beginning of his gospel, Luke states his purpose for writing and methodology of research (Luke 1:1-4):
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
About Luke's prologue, Zakariya writes,
There are some important points to note here. The author speaks in the first person ("us"), but they do not say who they are.
Zakariya only quoted the first two verses of Luke. Had he quoted the following verse, he would have learned who "us" are. He is addressing his friend Theophilus. The "us", then, presumably refers to Luke and Theophilus. There are, moreover, internal indicators of Luke's authorship. For one thing, the external and internal evidence in Acts provides very powerful evidence that Luke was a travelling companion of Paul, and we know that Luke was a travelling companion of Paul from Paul's own testimony in Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 1:24 (it is clear that the author who wrote Acts also wrote Luke's gospel).
How do I know that the author of Luke-Acts was a travelling companion of Paul? First, he claims to be (as indicated by the "we" passages from Acts 16ff). The evidence that corroborates Luke's claim is extensive and cumulative, and can be found internally to Acts and the epistles of Paul (in the form of undesigned coincidences) as well as externally (in the form of external corroboration). I will present three examples of each.
For our first example of evidence internal to the New Testament, consider the following two texts from the first letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus.
1 Corinthians 4:17: That is why I sent you Timothy...
1 Corinthians 16:10: When Timothy comes...
Now, we know that Paul was writing from Ephesus because in 16:8 he says "But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost" and in 16:19 he sends greetings from Aquilla and Priscilla, who had met him in Corinth and who traveled with him as far as Ephesus, as we learn from Acts 18). Ephesus is directly across the Aegean sea from Achaia (where Corinth is). So presumably Paul would have sent his letter directly by boat from Ephesus to Corinth.
From the two texts given above, it is evident that Timothy had already been dispatched by the time of his writing, but nonetheless that he expected his letter to arrive before Timothy got to Corinth. We therefore can infer that Timothy must have taken some indirect route to Corinth. When we turn over to Acts 19:21-22, which concerns Paul's stay in Ephesus, we read,
21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
Thus, Timothy (accompanied by Erastus) did take such an indirect overland route to Corinth from Ephesus. This artless dovetailing is best explained by the historical reliability of Acts on this detail. The map below shows the respective locations of Ephesus and Corinth and the route taken by Timothy through Troas and Macedonia.
Let's take a second example. In Acts 18:1-5, we read of Paul's arrival in Corinth:
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.
We learn that Paul worked as a tent maker with Aquilla and Priscilla, and on the Sabbath day would reason with the Jews in the synagogue. But when Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia, apparently Paul changed his ministry model such that he was now fully occupied with his ministry. What caused this change? Luke doesn't tell us -- indeed, Luke may not even have known the reason. But when we turn over to 2 Corinthians 11:7-9, we have our answer:
7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need.
Thus, again, Paul in his own words, in an artless and undesigned manner, corroborates a detail from Acts.
Let's consider one final example of this internal evidence for Luke being a travelling companion of Paul. Here is Acts 15:36-40:
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
Why was Barnabas so desirous to take Mark with him even though Mark had proved himself unfaithful, having withdrawn from Paul and Barnabas previously in Pamphylia? Luke doesn't tell us. However, when we turn over to Colossians 4:10, we have our answer:
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)
Thus, Paul in his letter to the Colossians explains the reason for the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. Now it is evident that Paul did not add this reference to Mark being the cousin of Barnabas in order to explain Acts, for there is no indication in Colossians of there having been any disagreement or falling out involving Mark (by the time Paul wrote to the Colossians, the dispute appears to have been resolved). And nor is Luke in Acts adding his narration of the conflict based on Colossians, for he makes no mention of Mark being the cousin of Barnabas (which would have in such a case been natural to include).
With these three examples of internal evidence, let me now offer three examples of external corroboration.
When Luke tells us about the riot in Ephesus, he says that the city clerk tells the crowd "There are procounsuls" (a Roman authority to whom a complaint may be taken). Usually there would only be one, so why does Luke use the plural form of the word? As it turns out, just as this particular time there would have been two. This is because the previous proconsul Silanus had been assassinated by poisoning in the fall of A.D. 54 at the urging of Nero's mother, by the two imperial stewards. This is independently documented by Cornelius Tacitus in his Annals (13.1). Since we know when Silanus was poisoned, Luke's accuracy here has allowed historians to date the event narrated by Luke with incredible precision.
As a second example, consider Paul's encounter with Ananias the high priest, reported in Acts 23:2-5:
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God's high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
As it turns out, Ananias was not the high priest, even though he was sitting in judgment in that assumed capacity. Rather, he had formerly held the office, his replacement Jonathan had been murdered by the order of Felix and another had not yet been appointed to the station. So, in the meantime, he had himself of his own authority assumed the office for himself (Josephus’ Antiquities 1.20. c. 5, sect. 2; c. 6, sect. 2; c. 9, sect 2.). It was precisely in this interval (between the death of Jonathan and accession of Ismael, who was subsequently appointed high priest by Agrippa) that the Apostle Paul was brought before the Jewish council.
As a final example, consider that Luke gets right the titles of local officials. For example, he gets right the precise designation for the magistrates of the colony at Philippi as στρατηγοὶ (strategoi) (16:22), following the general term ἄρχοντας (archontas) in verse 19; the proper term (politarchs) used of the magistrates in Thessalonica (17:6); the term Areopagites, derived from areios pagos, as the correct title for a member of the court (17:34); the correct designation of Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth (18:12) (this reference nails down the time of the events to the period from the summer of 51 to the spring of 52).
One might be tempted to say that of course Luke is going to get certain details right about the first century. After all, he lived in the first century. But we must be careful not to commit a 'Wikipedia fallacy'. There was no access to google and Wikipedia, and Luke consistently gets hard things right. This suggests strongly that Luke was in fact an eyewitness to the events he reports on Paul's travels.
A further detour into this cumulative body of evidence would significantly lengthen the size of this blog post, and so I will refrain from delving too deeply into this material right now. Here are a few book recommendations, however, for those wanting to investigate this evidence for themselves:
Since Paul tells us in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24 that Luke is with him during his first Roman imprisonment, this dovetails nicely with Acts 27:1-2, in which we read of Paul's journey to Rome:
And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.
Since Paul's voyage as a prisoner to Rome (on which, as it happens, he gets shipwrecked) is one of the texts in Acts where the author uses the inclusive personal pronoun "we", we can infer that in all probability Luke ended up alongside Paul during his first Roman imprisonment. Aristarchus, who is also mentioned in this text, is likewise mentioned in both Colossians and Philemon as being present with Paul in Rome.
Another point worth considering is Paul's mention that Luke is a physician (Colossians 4:14). It is interesting, then, that the author of Luke-Acts pays particular attention to medical details. For example, while the other gospels simply speak of Christ as "healing a leper" and of curing a man who had "a withered hand," Luke says the former was "full of leprosy“ (Luke 5:12) and it was the right hand of the latter which was withered (Luke 6:6). The other gospels say Peter's wife's mother lay "sick of a fever," but Luke writes that she "was taken with a high fever,“ (Luke 4:38). In the account of the healing of the centurion's servant, Matthew simply says the servant "was sick with a fever," but Luke with more fullness records that "he was sick and at the point of death,“ (Luke 7:2). He is the only author to mention that in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” (Luke 22:44). In reporting Peter cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Luke is the only writer to mention that Jesus “touched his ear and healed him,” (Luke 22:51).
Of course, these considerations do not prove that Luke is the author of Acts, but it is at the very least suggestive evidence, which is consistent with the..
In a previous article, I began a series of critical reviews of a book I obtained on Saturday at an Islamic exhibition on the person of Jesus by Muslim polemicist/apologist Abu Zakariya, Jesus: Man, Messenger, Messiah. In this article, I continue my analysis of the book. I have been reviewing Zakariya's claim that Jesus was not in fact crucified, as per the Qur'an (4:157), which is defended in chapter 5 of the book. So far we have examined his objections to the gospel authors having written under divine inspiration. In this article, I turn to his next wave of attack, which is against the claim that the crucifixion is foretold in the Old Testament.
Isaiah 53 -- The Suffering Servant
The only Messianic text that Zakariya engages with is Isaiah 53, which he quotes in full. Zakariya writes concerning this text,
In Isaiah, statements such as "for the transgression of my people he was punished" and "he bore the sin of many" do, at face value, seem to bear a striking resemblance to the theology of the crucifixion. However, when we analyse this chapter in its entirety, we will see that it cannot be a prophecy about Jesus. When it comes to prophecies in Scripture, you can think of each detail that the prophecy provides as a criterion that must be satisfied. So, if we consider Isaiah 53 to be a prophecy about the future, then in order for it to be fulfilled by Jesus, every detail provided in the prophecy has to be satisfied by the life of Jesus as he is portrayed in the New Testament. If not, then Jesus fails as a candidate and the prophecy remains unfulfilled.
This statement is in a sense both right and wrong. It is certainly true that every detail of predictive prophecy must be fulfilled and not fail. However, some Messianic texts in the Hebrew Scriptures predict both Jesus' first and second advent. In such cases, parts of certain prophecies may as yet still lie unfulfilled, awaiting their final fulfillment in the second coming of Jesus.
The Offspring of the Suffering Servant
Zakariya homes in on verse 10, in which we read,
...he will see his offspring and prolong his days.
The Hebrew word used for "offspring", 'zera', carries the meaning of progeny and semen. So, in the context of this verse, it means he will see his children. This can't be a reference to Jesus as nowhere does the New Testament state that Jesus had children.
Is it the case that the Hebrew word zera always refers to literal physical offspring or progeny? Actually, the expression yireh zero ('see seed') is only used one time in the Hebrew Bible, and so one can hardly be dogmatic as to its meaning. At any rate, the word zera is used figuratively at times in the Hebrew Scriptures, even including the book of Isaiah. Isaiah referred to Israel as 'a seed of evildoers' (1:4), 'a seed of an adulterer' (14:20) and 'a seed of falsehood' (57:3-4). Thus, in those texts, the term 'seed' or 'offspring' refers to one who is to the core an evildoer etc. In like-manner, in Isaiah 53:10, it refers to the fact that the suffering servant would see his disciples transformed by virtue of his work on their behalf. This is related in Isaiah 53 to the prolonging of his days, which alludes to His resurrection from the dead.
An additional feasible interpretation here is that the suffering servant would see future generations serving the Lord, since the word zera can sometimes refer to a future generation. For instance, in Psalm 22:30-31, we read,
30 Posterity [zera] shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
There is also a link between Isaiah 53 and the prophecy of the child Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7 (I will show this later in this article). That being the case, it is interesting that one of the titles bestowed on the child of Isaiah 9:6-7 is "Everlasting Father", which parallels the allusion to "his seed" in Isaiah 53:10.
By the way, the concept of Jesus having 'seed' or 'offspring' takes on a special significance in New Testament theology. The apostle Paul takes Jesus to be the last Adam (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:45), and thus the progenitor of the righteous seed -- a theme which I will have more to say about in a future blog post. The apostle Paul states in Galatians 3:16:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
This is an oft-misunderstood text, which is normally taken to mean that the promises to Abraham's 'seed' are given to one individual, i.e. Christ. Dr. John Ronning (professor of Biblical studies at Faith Theological Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland), however, in his book The Jewish Targums and John's Logos Theology, explains that there are several reasons to question this interpretation:
(1) Jewish interpretations that focus on whether a word in Scripture is singular or plural deal with words that sometimes are found in the singular, sometimes in the plural. The word "seed", however, when used to refer to a descendant or descendant(s) is always singular; (2) rabbinical tradition consistently takes 'to their seed' to mean 'to their sons'; and (3) it is doubtful that one can find any Jewish rabbi or other practitioner of midrash in history who had anything but scorn for Paul's assumed reasoning, which makes it highly unlikely that he is emulating rabbinic interpretation.
Thus, Dr. Ronning argues, the better interpretation of Paul's words is not that the seed is Christ, but rather that the seed is Christ's, where "referring to many" is taken not to mean "many people" but rather "many seeds". This interpretation is consistent with what follows only a few verses later (v. 29):
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Dr. Ronning observes that the antecedent of hos/ὅς ("which") is not spermati/σπέρματί ("seed") but sou/σου ("you"). He thus argues,
Following the word order of the Greek (which uses the pronoun "you" in the genitive to indicate possession instead of an adjective like English "your"), it reads "'and to the seed of you', who is Christ." That is, when the LORD said to Abraham, "your seed," it referred only to the righteous seed, which is in reality the seed of the true Adam, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. Ishmael is Abraham's (other) seed, but he is not Christ's seed, and thus he is not an heir of the promise. Paul's point is that Jewish unbelievers are like Ishmael, of the seed of Abraham, but not of the seed of promise, while Jewish and Gentile believers are like Isaac, of the seed of promise because they are Christ's (seed) (Galatians 3:29). Abraham is a figurehead for the true progenitor of the righteous seed (Christ), as the snake in Gen 3:15 is a figurehead for Satan, the progenitor of the unrighteous seed.
The point, then, is that Abraham is not the true new Adam (although he is spoken to as if he is in Genesis 17:2-6). Abraham had more than one seed -- both righteous and wicked offspring (Isaac and Ishmael respectively), only one of whom is the heir of the promise. But Christ, by contrast, truly is the new Adam, and thus the progenitor of the righteous seed.
Dr. Ronning's interpretation is also consistent with Romans 9:7, in which we read, "and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring." In that text, Paul takes 'seed' (singular) to refer to many people. As Dr. Ronning notes,
The only difference between this passage and Gal 3:16 is that in the latter, Paul more specifically identifies the divine progenitor as the Messiah, who is both a man, like the figurehead Abraham, and God.
There is much more to say on this topic, but I will reserve that for another day.
Returning to Abu Zakariya, he goes on to make a very bizarre statement:
Trinitarians might want to think twice before trying to argue that silence on this matter leaves the possibility that it could be true, as from their perspective, any children of Jesus would also be God-men and we'd have the troubling prospect of grandchildren of the Father.
No Christian would claim that Jesus had physical offspring, but Zakariya's understanding of the hypostatic union appears to be rather muddled. We do not believe that Jesus is some sort of divine-human hybrid, with divine attributes somehow encoded in his genetic material -- or that in a hypothetical situation where Jesus had had children that they would somehow also be God-men. No, rather, the doctrine of the hypostatic union states that Jesus is 100% man -- totally and completely human. Any physical offspring, then, would also have been 100% human. However, what makes Jesus unique is that He is 100% God -- totally and completely divine. In the physical body of Jesus came to dwell the full presence of God Himself in the midst of His people.
The Divine Messiah
Zakariya goes on:
The verse above also mentions that his days will be prolonged. This statement makes no sense in the light of the Trinitarian belief that Jesus is God. A mortal man's days can be prolonged, by God is eternal. A being that is eternal cannot have their life prolonged.
But Jesus the man was mortal, and as the text shows, he died and was raised back to life. To an Abrahamic monotheist (Christians and Muslims alike), being mortal does not entail cessation of existence, but rather the separation of the body and spirit. Thus, this is a very confused argument. Indeed, the text of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 itself refutes Zakariya's understanding that God cannot take on mortal flesh, since this very text communicates the deity of Christ. One of the most intriguing things about this passage is the exaltation language that is applied to the suffering servant in 52:13:
Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.
This is the very same exaltation language that is used exclusively of Yahweh elsewhere in the book of Isaiah. Consider, for example, Isaiah 6:1:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.
Or consider Isaiah 33:5,10:
The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high…“Now I will arise,” says the Lord, “now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted."
Or Isaiah 57:15:
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
In case any readers were wondering whether this exaltation language of being "high and lifted up" can be applied to anyone who is not Yahweh, Isaiah 2:11-17 sets the record straight:
11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. 12 For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; 13 against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; 14 against all the lofty mountains, and against all the uplifted hills; 15 against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; 16 against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. 17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
Thus, we see, that the language that Isaiah 52:13 applies to the suffering servant can only be used of a divine person. However, we see further evidence in the suffering servant song of a divine Messiah. Consider again Isaiah 53:11-12:
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Thus, we read that the servant will justify many and make intercession for sinners. But here is the thing. We read in Isaiah 45:24-25 that Israel will be justified in Yahweh alone:
24 “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. 25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”
We further read in Isaiah 59:16 that,
He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.
Thus, there was nobody found worthy enough to intercede or bring about salvation -- so Yahweh did it Himself using His very own arm. In fact, Isaiah 53 teaches a plurality of divine persons, for the divine servant spoken of in Isaiah 53 is also distinguished in some sense from the Lord in verse 2:
For he [the servant] grew up before him [the LORD] like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground...
But there is yet further evidence for the deity of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. Consider Isaiah 11:1-5,10:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist…10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
This text is undisputably speaking of the Messiah -- the descendant of David (and therefore of his father Jesse). This means that this text connects with Isaiah 9:6-7, which speak of a divine Messiah (who is afforded the title of "Mighty God", a title used elsewhere, e.g. in Isaiah 10:21 of Yahweh) reigning from David's throne. While the title Elohim is sometimes used of figures who are not God (e.g. Exodus 7:1), the title El (used in Isaiah 9:6) is never used in any sense other than that of absolute deity.
The conclusion that Isaiah 11 is speaking of the same individual as Isaiah 9 is further supported by the statement that "with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth", which resembles what is said of the child born in Isaiah 9 (verse 7):
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Thus, the Messiah spoken of in Isaiah 11 is the same individual as that spoken of in Isaiah 9:6-7. The Hebrew word used in Isaiah 11:10 for "root" (verse 1 uses the same word in the plural) is sheresh, the very same word used of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:2: "For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground."
We can further confirm the connection between Isaiah 53 and 9 & 11 by looking at Isaiah 42:2-7, which speaks of the same servant as that described in Isaiah 53:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” 5 This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
Thus, like the Messiah of Isaiah 9 and 11, the servant is going to "bring justice to the nations" (verse 1) and "establish justice on the earth" (verse 4). Moreover, the servant is going to "open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." But that is exactly what we read of the divine child in Isaiah 9:1: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Since Isaiah 42 refers to the same servant of Isaiah 53 and since Isaiah 42 connects with Isaiah 9 & 11, this in turn again connects Isaiah 53 with 9 & 11. Thus, Isaiah 53 connects with Isaiah 11 and in turn with Isaiah 9, providing us with yet another reason to take the suffering servant as no less than a divine person.
Given the considerations above, there can be no question that the servant of Isaiah 53 is a divine-human person, who lays down His life for the sins of His people.
Is the Suffering Servant the Nation of Israel?
Abu Zakariya then turns his attention to providing an alternative interpretation of Isaiah 53, and asks who the suffering servant song may actually be referring to:
So, if Isaiah 53 is not talking about Jesus, then whom or what is it referring to? The Jewish people have historically associated this chapter with the suffering of the Israelites.
This is a popular interpretation. But is it credible, or is it clutching at straws? This interpretation fails for a number of reasons. For one thing, consider verses 8-9:
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
In context, the "my people" of verses 8 is clearly the Hebrews. How, then, can national Israel be "cut off out of the land of the living" and "stricken for the transgression of my people [i.e. Israel]" if Israel herself has done no violence and there be no deceit in her mouth? Moreover, Isaiah is quite explicit elsewhere, such as in Isaiah 6:5, where he exclaims concerning his own guilt before God:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
It seems unlikely that Isaiah 53 speaks of a righteous remnant if this is how even Isaiah felt about his own standing before God. Moreover, he says in Isaiah 64:6,
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
A further reason to think that this text is not personifying the nation of Israel is that God uses the nations to smite Israel for Israel's sins -- and Israel's smiting does not bring healing to the other nations. Rather, God then turns His hand in judgment against them for overdoing the punishment and for their haughtiness and arrogance (see Jeremiah 30 & 31, Zechariah 1, and Isaiah 10 & 29).
Is the Suffering Servant Jeremiah?
Next, Zakariya attempts to apply the text of Isaiah 53 to the prophet Jeremiah. He writes,
Prophet Jeremiah faithfully communicated God's words to the people of Israel, warning them about the impending Babylonian captivity that was sure to come unless they repented. But no-one listened to him; he was rejected even by his own family: "Your relatives, members of your own family -- even they have betrayed you" [Jeremiah 12:6]. Jeremiah suffered greatly as he was beaten and imprisoned: "They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned in the house of Jonathan the secretary, which they had made into a prison." [Jeremiah 37:15]
Now we see an inconsistency in Zakariya's argument. He told us previously that Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus since Jesus never had physical offspring. But now he wants to apply the text to Jeremiah, whom God commanded never to marry or have children -- so Zakariya cannot have his cake and eat it too. Take a look at Jeremiah 16:1-2:
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.
Zakariya quotes from Jeremiah 11:18-19, which parallels Isaiah 53:7-8:
18 The Lord made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds. 19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”
Jeremiah fails to fulfill important aspects of Isaiah 53 -- how did Jeremiah's suffering bring about the healing of God's people and atone for their sins? When was Jeremiah killed and raised back to life again? When did kings and rulers shut their mouths in astonishment because of Jeremiah? Moreover, as I have already shown, the servant of Isaiah 53 can only be a divine person -- so that excludes Jeremiah.
There is no question, however, that Jeremiah represents a type or a foreshadow of Christ, and that there are events in the life of Jeremiah which parallel that of Jesus. This may be why the text of Jeremiah 11:18-19 parallels that of Isaiah 53:7-8. See this article for a list of parallels between the lives of Jeremiah and Jesus.
As a final argument, Zakariah quotes the New Testament application of Psalm 91 to Jesus, from Matthew 4:5-7:
5 Then the devil took him [Jesus] to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Clearly, this prophecy [Psalm 91] eliminates any possibility of a crucified Messiah. If we are going to be objective in our interpretation of Scripture, then surely the explicit words of Jesus that confirm Psalm 91 as a prophecy about himself override the comparatively speculative interpretation of Isaiah 53.
With due respect to Abu Zakariyah, this is perhaps the..
This past weekend I attended an Islamic exhibition at the city library in Newcastle, England. The subject of the exhibition was the Islamic perspective on Jesus. During the course of the day, I was given a copy of a new book by Muslim apologist/polemicist Abu Zakariya. The book is entitled Jesus: Man, Messenger, Messiah. I have now had the opportunity to read through the book, and so I thought it fitting for me to write a detailed review of some of the material and argumentation presented in the book. Although Zakariya, to his credit, pursues more depth in his discussion than most Muslim treatments of this subject (although that isn't very hard to do), the book still engages in a significant level of mangling of the Biblical text. Over the course of this and subsequent blog posts, I want to interact with some of the central claims of Abu Zakariya's book, since I thought it a good opportunity to explore some popular fallacies of thought that occur when people study the Scriptures. I will not be interacting with the book in order, but dipping into various parts of the book that I took a particular interest in. Readers will recognize that I have addressed much of the material in various blog posts and talks/interviews/debates before. Nonetheless, it is always valuable to repeat material and so I will be reiterating some material I have touched on in the past, and perhaps on occasion delving into more detail than I did previously -- but a lot of what I want to write about I have not covered before in my writings. If Abu Zakariya is interested in a public engagement regarding his book (in the form of a moderated debate), I will be only too happy to oblige.
One chapter I found to be particularly interesting in the book was chapter 5, in which Zakariya makes a valiant attempt to defend the indefensible -- namely, the Qur'an's claim in Surah 4:157 that Jesus did not die by crucifixion. In this and subsequent articles, I aim to examine how well he does in this undertaking.
Do the Gospels Claim Divine Inspiration?
Zakariya's first wave of attack is against the divine inspiration of the New Testament. I would not argue that the reason we know Jesus was crucified is because the text of the New Testament is inspired by God, for this is very difficult to convincingly demonstrate without first using the tools and methods of historiography. Rather, we know Jesus was crucified because of overwhelming historical evidence (which we will of course discuss in due course).
Zakariya asserts on page 93 that,
None of the authors of these books claimed to be writing under divine inspiration.
The problem with this statement is that it is patently false. Consider John 14:26:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Thus, one of the functions of the Holy Spirit, according to words uttered by Jesus and recorded in John's gospel was to bring to the disciples' remembrance the things that Jesus had said and taught. Indeed, in John 2:22, after Jesus has just predicted His impending death and resurrection, we are told,
When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
It was brought to their remembrance by the Holy Spirit, as indicated in John 14:26. Thus, this is indeed a claim to divine inspiration of the apostles to remember Jesus' teachings.
Did Paul Consider the Gospels to be Divinely Inspired?
Zakariya then proceeds to make allusion to 2 Timothy 3:16, in which we read that,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
He notes that, Paul here was,
...referring to the Old Testament Scriptures which did exist at the time the author penned 2 Timothy.
It is certainly true that Paul believed the Old Testament was Scripture, and thus god-breathed ('theopneustos'). Indeed, in context it is the Hebrew Scriptures that Paul was referring to in 2 Timothy 3:16. But did Paul also view the gospels as Scripture? Zakariya assumes that the gospels were not yet written when Paul wrote to Timothy, but I would argue that the evidence as far as the synoptic gospels are concerned suggests otherwise. Turn over to Paul's previous letter to Timothy, to 1 Timothy 5:18:
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
The first text is from Deuteronomy 25:4. The second ("the laborer deserves his wages") comes directly from Luke's gospel (Luke 10:7). Therefore, Paul equates Luke's gospel as Scripture on the same par as the Penatateuch. This has implications of course for the dating of Luke's gospel, for Luke must pre-date the writing of 1 Timothy by far enough to be considered Scripture when Paul wrote to Timothy (in the early 60's A.D.). If Matthew and Mark are earlier than Luke (which is the conventional scholarly view) then Matthew and Mark must be even earlier still. Given the independent evidence for the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles (1/2 Timothy & Titus), this conclusion (in combination also with other evidence for the early dating of the gospels) seems rather convincing. But a detailed discussion of these topics would take me beyond the scope of our current discussion.
The Synoptic Puzzle
Zakariya then proceeds with a discussion of the synoptic puzzle, and the well-known literary dependence between Matthew, Mark and Luke. To support the literary dependence between the synoptics, Zakariya cites Matthew 24:15-16 and Mark 13:14, where he states that both writers insert the same editorial comment into their narrative:
Matthew 24:15-16: “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Mark 13:14: “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
No one will contest that a literary relationship exists between Matthew and Mark. However, it is not clear to me (as it appears to be to many) that the statement "let the reader understand" is an editorial comment inserted into the account of Jesus' speech here. This is often assumed by commentaries on Mark but seldom demonstrated. Consider earlier in Mark's gospel, in 4:9,23, in which we read,
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
This is strikingly similar to our statement in Mark 13:14 (again using a third person singular imperative), but nobody would argue that this is an editorial insert into the words of Jesus as represented by Mark. The abomination of desolation spoken of in Mark 13:14 is an allusion to the book of Daniel (12:11). Thus, what I understand Jesus to be saying here is that the one who reads those prophecies are to take care that they understand correctly as they read. See this article by Dr. Larry Perkins of Northwest Baptist Seminary for a detailed discussion of the phrase "let the reader understand" in Mark 13:14.
Although the fact that there exists a literary dependence between the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is uncontroversial and abundantly supported, the conclusions Zakariya attempts to draw are not well-founded, although they are popular claims, even among many scholars. His basic contention is that the gospel authors deliberately altered one another in order to embellish their portrayals of Jesus. This relates to one of the bad habits of New Testament scholars -- i.e. preference for complex over simple theories, in this case the failure to recognize when a variation is just a variation. Furthermore, it is often uncritically assumed that the gospel authors had each others' work laid out before them as they wrote their own gospels. This is implausible and impractical. It's not like the ancients could simply click on windows on their desktop or use multiple monitors while composing their respective volumes. In fact, it would have been very difficult for them to have each other's work in front of them, much more so all at the same time -- these are all big scrolls. It seems rather unlikely that the gospel authors were constantly rolling and unrolling each other's scrolls and looking up passages and then scurrying back to their own scroll and writing another passage or chapter. Rather, most probably they had taken notes from their sources before composing their own narrative.
This is part of remembering that a variation is often just a variation. Insisting that later authors were always conscious of precisely how their wording, chronology, or nuances varied from that of earlier authors is far too similar to the ponderous assumptions of redaction criticism itself in which Matthew or Luke are taken to write a scene in different words from Mark only by deliberately changing Mark. Matthew and Luke are never allowed to compose naturally and smoothly in their own words. They are always thinking of how what he says relates to Mark and whether or not to use the same or different words.
Gospel Embellishments? Before discussing further Zakariya's examples of one gospel embellishing another, I want to note that all of his examples assume Markian priority -- that is, that Mark's gospel was the last to be written. Now, there is no question that Mark and Matthew/Luke are literarily dependent, but the question is, in which direction? The majority of contemporary scholarship maintains that Mark's gospel was written first, and that Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark. The conclusion that Mark's gospel was first to be written is so paradigmatic in contemporary Biblical scholarship that it is often taken for granted, and many are unaware of the problems that exist for this hypothesis. Recently, I have been coming more towards the view that Mark may well have been written after Matthew and Luke. On this view, Mark used Matthew and Luke as a source rather than the other way round. For a good defense of this thesis, I refer readers to an insightful book by Dr. David Black (Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), Why Four Gospels?Such a thesis is consistent with the early church tradition that Matthew was the first gospel composed. The church historian Eusebius, for example, quotes the writing of Clement of Alexandria (Ecclesiastical History 6.14.5-7), saying,
And again in the same books Clement has set down a tradition of the earliest elders about the order of the Gospels, and it has this form. He used to say that the earliest written Gospels were those containing the genealogies, and that the Gospel of Mark had this arrangement. When Peter had publicly preached the word in Rome and by the Spirit had proclaimed the gospel, those present, who were numerous, urged Mark, as one who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been spoken, to record what was said. And he did this, handing over the Gospel to those who had asked for it. And when Peter got to know about it, he exerted no pressure either to forbid or to promote it.
The gospels containing the genealogies are Matthew and Luke. Thus, according to Clement of Alexandria, Mark was written only after those gospels. At least four lines of internal evidence can be drawn on to corroborate this perspective. These are:
First, there is the pericope order and the zigzag phenomenon. J.J. Griesbach (1745-1812), a German biblical textual critic, in Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies, p. 108, observes,
Briefly, you can see with your own eyes, Mark having the volumes of Matthew and Luke at hand, continually consulting each, extracting from each whatever he thought would most benefit his readers, now laying aside Matthew, now Luke for a little, but always returning to the very same place of either one where he had begun to diverge from him.
Griesbach provided a table to reveal how Mark jumps between Matthew and Luke in a 'zigzag' fashion. For instance, consider the following example of the zigzagging phenomenon:
Mark 14:12a: Matthew
Mark 14:12b: Luke
Mark 14:12c: Matthew
Mark 14:13a: Luke
Mark 14:13b: Matthew
Mark 14:13c-16: Luke
Mark 14:17-21: Matthew
This suggests that Mark was utilizing Matthew and Luke as a source, rather than the other way round. Markian priority requires that one otherwise explain this phenomenon.
Second, the vivid detail often added by Mark to the narratives in Matthew and Luke suggest that the author was familiar with both of the other gospels. Additional detail is usually an indication of dependence and lateness.
Third, the minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark are best explained by Markian dependence on Matthew and Luke. The defender of Markian priority must explain why in as many as 180 instances, Matthew and Luke independently left out identical sentences and phrases from Mark's gospel.
Fourth, there is evidence that Mark has conflated the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Consider, for example, Mark 1:32, which parallels Matthew 8:16 and Luke 4:40. Notice how Mark conflates his sources Matthew and Luke:
Matthew 8:16: When evening came... Luke 4:40: The sun having set... Mark 1:32: When evening came, when the sun had set...
One example of this phenomenon of course is not a convincing argument for discounting Markian priority, but when one considers it as a cumulative case based on many numerous examples of the phenomenon (and especially in view of the other independent evidence), the case seems to me to be rather strong for rejecting Markian priority. It seems to me rather non-parsimonious to suppose that Matthew and Luke on so many different occasions chose the opposite statements from Mark to draw on for their own narrative. For further discussion of this, I refer readers to Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Markby Dr. Delbert Burkett (Professor of Biblical Studies at Louisiana State University) -- see in particular chapter 6, which covers conflation in Mark.
With all that stated, we have significantly undermined in principle the thrust of Zakariya's argument for gospel embellishments from Mark through to Matthew and Luke. But there is yet another in principle difficulty with this argument, and that is that the examples are cherry-picked. Other instances could be given where Christology appears to be elevated in Mark over other gospels. Consider, for example, the words of the centurion at Jesus' death. Consider the parallels between the synoptic gospels:
Mark 15:39: “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Matthew 27:54: “Truly this was the Son of God!”
Luke 23:47: “Certainly this man was innocent!”
Thus, while Matthew and Mark agree about the words of the centurion, if we were to employ here the same line of argument employed by Zakariya and others, we would conclude that Luke changed the words of the centurion so as to portray Jesus as merely an innocent man, rather than the Son of God. But Zakariya does not mention this example, since it does not support the overall thesis that he wants to argue for.
Another example is at Jesus' trial:
Mark 14:61-62: Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Matthew 26:63-64: But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Luke 22:70: So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”
Here, again, the identity of Jesus is more emphatic in Mark than it is in Matthew and Luke. Are we really to suppose that Matthew and Luke changed the words of Mark in order to lessen the emphaticness of Jesus' statement to be the Messiah and Son of God? Hardly.
But let's take a look at the examples Zakariya provides.
Zakariya quotes the story of the woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years (Mark 5:23-34, Matthew 9:20-22) and comments:
The Gospels of Mark and Matthew narrate a story about a woman who seeks to be cured by touching Jesus's cloak. In Mark, Jesus does not seem to know who touched him; he even asks the crowd. Only after the woman comes forward and confesses does Jesus know who touched him. Contrast this with Matthew's account which omits a large portion of the story and instead has Jesus immediately spotting who touched him. Matthew seems to want to portray Jesus in a more powerful light.
Luke also narrates this story (Luke 8:41-48) and he does include Jesus' question of who touched him. Matthew's account (9:20-22) is a telescoped narrative and the story is summarized in two verses, as opposed to 11 verses in Mark and 7 verses in Luke. This is an instance where a variation is just a variation!
His second example is the incident of Jesus and the question of eternal life. He refers to the incident where Jesus was approached by a rich young ruler and asked how he might inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-18, Matthew 19:16-17). According to Zakariya,
Matthew seems to have been troubled by the implication of the statement "Why do you call me good?" and therefore re-phrased it (very slightly) to "Why do you ask me about what is good" so as to avoid the difficult implication that Jesus might be admitting to not being wholly 'good'.
Mark very clearly affirms Christ's deity, throughout his gospel (for a detailed defense of this, see this excellent paper by Dr. Daniel Johansson), so Jesus' meaning in Mark 10:17-18 must be interpreted within the context of Mark as a whole. Regarding our text in Mark 10:17-18, Johansson comments,
To begin with, Jesus questions why the man is addressing him, “good teacher”: “Why do you call me good?” and, echoing the words of the scribes in 2:7, he continues, “No one is good but one, God.” Jesus then goes on to refer the man to the commandments, “You know the commandments...” This transition has led some scholars to conclude that Jesus distances himself from God and that he can only respond to the question by pointing to God’s commandment. This would probably be correct if we were to isolate 10:17-19 from the context, but in the present context quite the opposite is true. Mark describes how Jesus both discerns the secrets of the man’s heart and then himself goes on to define what is necessary to inherit eternal life: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (10:21). It is not sufficient to keep the commandments to inherit eternal life, as the man claims he has done; he must give up everything he owns and follow Jesus. Consequently, Jesus does not only himself define what is required for entrance into the kingdom of God; at the climax of his declaration he binds it to himself!
The point of the passage is clear. Loyalty to Jesus must surpass loyalty to family and property; only by following him is salvation and entrance into the kingdom of God possible. With regard to the person of Jesus this means that he occupies a place normally reserved for God alone. Or to put it the other way around: only in the giving of unreserved devotion to Jesus is the demand of the Shema to love God fulfilled. But this also means that the “following” of Jesus takes on a much deeper meaning than the physical wandering with Jesus, a meaning which most clearly comes to expression in the choice Elijah puts before the people: “If YHWH is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kgs 18:21).
Zakariya's third example relates to the incident of the disciples and Jesus sailing on a boat (Mark 4:38-40, Luke 8:23-25. He comments,
Mark portrays the disciples as rather disrespectful towards Jesus, as they accuse him of being uncaring. Even the response of Jesus is harsh, "Do you still have no faith?" Luke neutralizes these negative portrayals by having the disciples address Jesus more respectfully, and softens Jesus's response to "Where is your faith?"
I fail to see much difference between the statement "Do you still have no faith?" and "Where is your faith?" Again, it seems that here once more a variation is just a variation.
His fourth and final example is the last words of Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:34, Luke 23:46). He comments,
The Gospels of Mark and Luke record the last words of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus utters the blasphemous words of despair "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Luke's account deletes these troubling words and replaces them with the far more submissive statement "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
But in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus is portrayed as being fully aware of the purpose of his death on the cross (e.g. Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). And the words uttered by Jesus in Mark 15:34 (also in Matthew 27:46) identify him with the Psalmist's words in Psalm 22. The fact that Luke omits this saying is simply, once again, only a variation and nothing more.
Conclusion In conclusion, while many of Zakariya's claims in this section of the book are popular, even among those conversant in Biblical scholarship, he fails to make a convincing case. In a subsequent article, I will address Zakariya's comments on the foretelling of the crucifixion in the Old Testament Scriptures.
When Was Jesus REALLY Born? Is Christmas December 25th Not The Birthday Of Jesus? - YouTube
Many of our Muslim friends and even other Christians contend that December 25 was a pagan holiday taken over by Constantine or the Roman Catholic Church and transformed into the birth day of Jesus. Is this true? Do we know when Jesus was born and why the date of December 25 was chosen? Watch and find out!