Categories
Christian Doctrines Christianity

“On The Errors of the Trinity” By Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus was born in Villanueva in Spain in 1511. He was the son of the local judge. He lived at a time when there was unrest in the established Church, and in a period when everyone was questioning the nature of Christianity. As he grew older and more informed, the young Servetus was appalled by the shedding of blood by the Christians towards the Muslims and Jews.

Imagine his excitement when, upon examining the Bible more closely, he found that the doctrine of Trinity was nowhere a part of its teaching. He further discovered that the Bible did not always support what was being taught by the Church.

Michael Servetus wrote to the leaders of the Reformation, Calvin and Luther, in the hopes that the Protestant movement will turn Unitarian. Alas, the minds of the leaders of the Reformation were still trapped in the false metaphysics. He found that both Luther and Calvin will have nothing to do with his belief in the Unity of God.

Origin of “On The Errors of the Trinity”

Servetus travelled to look for those who were open-minded enough to listen to what he was sure was the true Christianity as taught by Jesus, and even had a correspondence with Calvin. However, all his attempts to influence people by personal contact failed. Severtus later proceeded to publish his views in a book which he called “On The Errors of Trinity“.

The result was that the Church hounded Servetus from one place to another. Servetus was later captured in Geneva, found guilty of heresy at his trial, and was executed by being tied to the trunk of a tree and burned on the 26th of October, 1553.

Excerpts From “On The Errors of the Trinity”

A few excerpts from On The Errors of the Trinity, which caused such violent actions, follows.1 Servetus writes:

The philosophers have invented a third separate being truly and really distinct from the other two, which they have called the third Person or the Holy Spirit, and thus they have contrived an imaginary Trinity, three beings in one nature. But in reality, three Gods, or one threefold God, are foisted upon us under the pretence, and in the name of Unity…For with them it is very easy, taking the words in their strict sense, for three beings to exist, which they say and yet strictly, simply, and really, so different or distinct yet one is born of another, and yet all these three are shut up in one jar. Since I am unwilling to misuse the word Persons, I shall call them the first being, the second being and the third being, for in the Scripture I find no other name for them…Admitting, therefore, these three, which after their fashion they call Persons, they freely admit a plurality of beings, a plurality of entities, a plurality of Essences, a plurality of substances, and taking the word of God strictly, they will have a plurality of Gods.

He continues:

If this is so, then why the Tritorites are blamed, who say that there are three Gods, for they also contrive three Gods or one threefold one. These threefold Gods of theirs form one composite substance. And although some will not use the word implying that these three have been put together, yet they do use a word that they are constituted together and that God is constituted out of three beings. It is clear therefore that they are Tritories and we have a threefold God. We have become Atheists, man without any God. For as soon as we try to think about God, we are turned aside to three phantoms, so that no kind of unity remains in our conception. What else is being without God but being unable to think about God, when there is always present to our understanding a haunting kind of confusion of three beings, by which we are forever deluded into supposing that we are thinking about God…They seem to be living in another world when they dream of such things for the kingdom of heavens knows none of this nonsense and it is in another way unknown to them, that Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit.

He adds:

How much this tradition of Trinity has alas, alas! been the laughing stock of Mohammedons only God knows. The Jews also shrink from giving adherence to this fancy of ours, and laugh at our foolishness about the Trinity, and on account of its blasphemies, they do not believe that this is the Messiah promised in their Law. And not only the Mohammedons and the Hebrews, but the very beasts of the field would make fun of us, did they grasp our fantastic notion, for all the workers of the Lord bless the One God…This most burning plague, therefore, was added and superimposed, as it were, on the new gods which have recently come, which our fathers did not worship. And this plague of philosophy was brought upon us by the Greeks, for they above all men are most given to philosophy; and we, hanging upon their lips, have become philosophers, and they never understood the passages of the Scriptures which they adduced with regard to this matter.

Servetus also stressed what he believed to be the true nature of Jesus:

Some are scandalised at my calling Christ the prophet because they happen not themselves to apply to him the epithet, they fancy that all who do so are chargeable with Judaism and Mohametism, regardless of the fact that the Scriptures and ancient writers call him the prophet.

Conclusions

The writings of Michael Servetus’ On The Errors of the Trinity certainly shows that there are those who call themselves Christians and are yet not blinded by the faults of the Trinitarian dogma. One would no doubt wonder why the Church resorted to persecuting Michael Servetus and his anti-Trinitarian writings instead of debating about it in a scholarly manner if the Church is certain that the doctrine is undisputable and is indeed an inherent part of the Christian faith.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "“On The Errors of the Trinity” By Michael Servetus," in Bismika Allahuma, September 19, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/on-the-errors-of-the-trinity/
  1. As reproduced & adapted from Muhammad `Ata ur-Rahim, Jesus A Prophet of Islam, pp. 112-121 []
Categories
Christian Doctrines Christianity Jesus

“O’ Christ-Worshippers!” A Qasidah Which Refutes Christianity

Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jauziyyah was a prominent Muslim jurist during Islam’s Golden Age. Apart from his jurisdistic prowess, he was also competent in composing qasidah (Arabic poetry). Among his more famous works was the qasidah entitled A’obbad al-Maseeh Fi Naqd al-Nasraniyyah (O Christ-Worshippers! In Refuting Christianity). This qasidah is well-known in the Muslim world and has even been turned into a song.

The following is the English translation of the poetry from the Arabic original.

Verses:

    O Christ-worshippers! We want an answer to our question [from your wise ones],
    If the Lord was murdered by some people’s act, what kind of god is this?
    We wonder! Was He pleased by what they did to Him?
    If yes, blessed be they, they achieved His pleasure,
    But if He was discontented, this means their power had subjugated Him!

    [dropcap]W[/dropcap]as the whole entity left without a Sustainer, so who answered the prayers?
    Were the heavens vacated, when He laid under the ground somewhere?
    Were all the worlds left without a God, to manage while His hands were nailed?
    Why did not the angels help Him, when they heard him while he wailed?

    [dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow could the rods stand to bear the True Lord when He was fastened,
    How could the irons reached Him and [had] His body pinned?
    How could His enemies’ hands reach Him and slap His rear,
    And was Christ revived by himself, or was the Reviver another god?

    [dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat a sight it was, a grave that enclosed a god,
    Stranger still is the belly that confined Him!
    He stayed there for nine months in utter darkness, fed by blood!
    Then he got out of the womb as a small baby,
    Weak and gasping to be breast-fed!
    He ate and drank, and did what that naturally resulted,1
    Is this [what you call] a god?
    High Exalted be Allah above the lies of Christians,
    All of them will be held accountable for their libels!

    [dropcap]O[/dropcap] Cross-worshippers! For what reason is this exalted
    and blame [is cast upon those] who reject it?
    Is it not logical to break and burn it, along with the one who innovated it?2
    Since the Lord was crucified on it, and his hands were fastened to it?
    That is really a cursed cross to carry,
    So discard it, do not kiss it!3

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Lord was abused on it, and you adore it?
    So [it is clear that] you are one of His enemies!
    If you extol it because it carried the Lord of the Worlds,
    Why don’t you prostrate yourself and worship graves,
    Since the grave contained your god in it?4

    [dropcap]S[/dropcap]o Christ-worshipper, open your eyes,
    This is what the matter is all about.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "“O’ Christ-Worshippers!” A Qasidah Which Refutes Christianity," in Bismika Allahuma, April 24, 2007, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/o-christ-worshippers/
  1. Urination and defecation []
  2. Paul of Tarsus, founder of Trinitarian faith []
  3. i.e., don’t glorify it []
  4. i.e., since someone who is a Christian abhors the idea of worshipping a grave, how is it possible for them to worship the cross? []
Categories
Christianity Introducing Islam Islam

Ruling on Celebrating Christmas and Congratulating Them

Since the pagan festival of Christmas, celebrated by the Trinitarian polytheists, is fast approaching on the 25th of December, we would like on this occasion present a fatwa (Islamic ruling) for the Muslims with regard to celebrating their festival or even congratulating them.

It should be noted that the Christians believe that Jesus(P) is literally God, hence to participate or even greet them on the occasion of this festival is to implicitly agree with their doctrine. Therefore Muslims should be aware of the boundaries with regard to Christmas and how one should approach it.

Question:

Syaikh Muhammad bin Shalih al-Uthaymeen rahimahullah was asked:

    What is the ruling regarding wishing “Merry Christmas” to them [the Christians]? What about giving them an answer when they wish us with the same? Is it permissible to go to the places of festive occasions or parties which celebrate this occasion? Is someone considered to have sinned when he does something related to the above without intending to do so [his real reason] yet he did it only to show respect to his friends, or out of shame, or other reasons? Is it possible to do so in these circumstances?

Answer:

Praise be to God.

To wish the non-Muslims with Merry Christmas or any of their religious festivals is haraam (forbidden), by consensus of the ulama (ijma’), as Ibn al-Qayyim, may God have mercy on him, said:

Congratulating the kuffaar on the rituals that belong only to them is haraam by consensus, as is congratulating them on their festivals and fasts by saying “A happy festival to you” or “May you enjoy your festival”, and so on. If the one who says this has been saved from kufr, it is still forbidden. It is like congratulating someone for prostrating to the cross, or even worse than that. It is as great a sin as congratulating someone for drinking wine, or murdering someone, or having illicit sexual relations, and so on.

Many of those who have no respect for their religion fall into this error; they do not realize the offensiveness of their actions. Whoever congratulates a person for his disobedience or bid’ah or kufr exposes himself to the wrath and anger of God.”1

Congratulating the kuffaar on their religious festivals is haraam to the extent described by Ibn al-Qayyim because it implies that one accepts or approves of their rituals of kufr, even if one would not accept those things for oneself. But the Muslim should not accept the rituals of kufr or congratulate anyone else for them, because God does not accept any of that at all, as He says (interpretation of the meaning):

“If you disbelieve, then verily, God is not in need of you, He likes not disbelief for His slaves. And if you are grateful (by being believers), He is pleased therewith for you. . .”2

“This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion…”3

So congratulating them is forbidden, whether they are one’s colleagues at work or otherwise.

If they greet us on the occasion of their festivals, we should not respond, because these are not our festivals, and because they are not festivals which are acceptable to God. These festivals are innovations in their religions, and even those which may have been prescribed formerly have been abrogated by the religion of Islam, with which God sent Muhammad (P) to the whole of mankind.

God says (interpretation of the meaning):

“Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.”4

It is haraam for a Muslim to accept invitations on such occasions, because this is worse than congratulating them as it implies taking part in their celebrations.

Similarly, Muslims are forbidden to imitate the kuffaar by having parties on such occasions, or exchanging gifts, or giving out sweets or food, or taking time off work, etc., because the Prophet(P) said:

“Whoever imitates a people is one of them.”

Shaykh al-Islaam Ibn Taymiyah said:

“Imitating them in some of their festivals implies that one is pleased with their false beliefs and practices, and gives them the hope that they may have the opportunity to humiliate and mislead the weak.”5

Whoever does anything of this sort is a sinner, whether he does it out of politeness or to be friendly, or because he is too shy to refuse, or for whatever other reason, because this is hypocrisy in Islam, and because it makes the kuffaar feel proud of their religion.

God is the One Whom we ask to make the Muslims feel proud of their religion, to help them adhere steadfastly to it, and to make them victorious over their enemies, for He is the Strong and Omnipotent.

Taken from Majmu Fatwa Fadllah al-Syaikh Muhammad bin Shalih al-Uthaymeen, Vol. III, pp. 44-46, no.403
Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Ruling on Celebrating Christmas and Congratulating Them," in Bismika Allahuma, December 18, 2006, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/muslims-celebrating-christmas-ruling/
  1. Ahkaam Ahl al-Dhimmah []
  2. Qur’an, 39:7 []
  3. Qur’an, 5:3 []
  4. Qur’an, 3:85 []
  5. Ibn Taymiyyah, Iqtidaa’ al-siraat al-mustaqeem mukhaalifat ashaab al-jaheem []
Categories
Biblical Commentary Christianity Jesus

The Authentic Gospel of Jesus

Introduction

Instead of writing a full-scale biography of Jesus of Nazareth, I want to focus on some aspects of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth that are commonly overlooked by most Christians. Any attempt to reconstruct the historical Jesus (as distinct from the incarnate deity of ecclesiastical faith) needs to take into account all the recoverable data about Jesus, much of which has been ignored by many Christians because of its’ embarrassment to Christian orthodoxy. Jesus’ reported sayings in the Gospels are frequently subjected to tortuous exegesis by fundamentalist Christians to make them fit later church tradition. Paradoxically, the data has been critically examined by none other than Christian scholars themselves.

It is the time-honoured Christian practice to read the New Testament gospels through the perspective of centuries of later church tradition. This later tradition developed in a very different environment to the milieu of Second Temple Judaism. Certain titles and expressions which had been used of or by Jesus underwent a radical semantic shift, resulting (to give but one example) in a title such as ‘son of God‘ acquiring a totally new and non-Jewish meaning in the Hellenistic world of the third and fourth centuries. The Catholic Church came to redefine the ontology of the man from Nazareth into categories of Greek philosophy and metaphysics. Thus, the charismatic healer and prophet from Nazareth became a God. The doctrine of the Incarnation of God in Jesus has always scandalised Jews and, later, Muslims would also find it blasphemous, an unacceptable Christian dogma.

Western biblical scholarship since the Enlightenment has tried to strip away these ideological accretions and uncover, as much as possible, the real Jesus of history: Jesus the Messiah, a prophet of God. There is an extraordinary resemblance between the historical picture produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. This convergence has not gone unnoticed in recent works by New Testament scholars who see in it an exciting opportunity for rapprochement between the two Abrahamic faiths (I cite two examples in my conclusion below).

I want to explore four key issues that reveal crucial aspects of the teaching and life of Jesus that are commonly obscured or even suppressed by traditional Christian apologetics and piety – whether Evangelical or Roman Catholic.

N.B. There is a Glossary of unfamiliar terms at the end of this essay and Suggestions for Further Reading if you wish to explore the subject further.

The Key Issues

The key issues I will explore come under four chapter headings:

  • Chapter 1: The Jewish Law: Jesus did not declare all foods clean
  • Chapter 2: What Jesus taught about ‘being saved’, or inheriting eternal life (and what St Paul wrote)
  • Chapter 3: Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as predicting his own death: difficulties with taking this at face value
  • Chapter 4: Jesus did not claim to be the Creator of the universe

We will be covering these issues in the following sections.

Chapter 1: The Jewish Law — Jesus did not declare all foods clean

It is widely believed that Jesus taught and declared that all foods are clean, that is, it is permissible for his followers to consume every kind of meat. However, purported sayings of Jesus in Matthews’ gospel suggest otherwise.

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus is reported to have taught his disciples this crucial teaching:

    Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven1

(All quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible)

Towards the end of his teaching ministry, eighteen chapters later, we are told Jesus said:

    The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach2

When Jesus said this, he must have known that any Rabbi would say you could not eat pork, as it says in Leviticus 11:7-8:

    And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.

If you look at another New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles you will read that at a council held in Jerusalem, the disciples ruled that all believers must stay away from

    Food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals (Acts 15:29)

Incidentally, St Paul is reported to have agreed with this decision. Blood is not to be eaten, nor the meat of strangled animals because they would have the blood still in them (see Leviticus 17:10-12)

For the meat to be fit for eating the blood must be properly drained out of the animal (see v 13). The disciples knew their Bible and acted accordingly.

Nevertheless, many Christians think that in the book of Acts the disciples were told to give up obeying the Law on unclean foods. To support this assumption they refer to Acts 10 where Peter has a vision, in which a voice tells him,

    do not call anything impure that God has made clean (verse 15)

It is important to read this verse in its complete context. If you have a copy of the New Testament to hand, I recommend you read the book of Acts, chapter 10, verses 1-35.

If you have read the whole passage, you will see that this vision was not about clean and unclean foods, but about clean and unclean people. The voice from heaven told Peter that human beings should not be called ‘unclean’ just because they did not belong to Israel. Peter wondered about the meaning of the vision (vv. 17, 19). Then he explains what he understood to be the import of the vision:

    He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. (Acts 10:28)
    I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts: 10:34)

So it is evident that, contrary to what many Christians assume, Peter did not proclaim that all foods were now clean. Indeed, if we look at Acts 15 again, at the council of Jerusalem the disciples ruled that all believers must stay away from,

    Food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals (Acts 15:29)

It may be of interest to note that these prohibitions are mentioned in the Qur’an too,

    You are forbidden to eat carrion; blood; pig’s meat; any animal over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; any animal strangled, or anything sacrificed on idolatrous altars3

(All quotations are from The Qur’an: a new translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem published by Oxford University Press, 2004)

A Very Curious Phenomenon

I have not mentioned a very curious phenomenon so far. According to Mark’s Gospel 7:18-19, Jesus supposedly said this:

    Don’t you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? For it doesn’t go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body. (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)

The words in parenthesis were added by Mark and were not spoken by Jesus.

An alert reader would have noticed that this statement directly contradicts the passages quoted above (Matthew, 5:17-20; 23:1-2; Acts, Chapters 10 and 15).

In these passages it is evident that the disciples were not told to abandon kosher food laws by Jesus and that they had to struggle with the difficult question of whether or not the Torah laws could be relaxed for converts (it is crucial to note that the issue was how the gentile converts should live, and not the disciples themselves who continued to observe the Torah).

Christian scholars have faced this problem with commendable honesty. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (ed. R. Brown et al, Prentice Hall, 1990) is a prestigious work of Roman Catholic biblical scholarship with contributions from top scholars in America and the UK.

It states:

Again the problem: If Jesus had been so explicit about the observance of Jewish food laws, why were there so many debates on this matter in the early church? (p. 612)

In historical fact Jesus did not abolish the ceremonial law as such since otherwise the struggles of the early church recorded in Galatians, Acts 10 and 15 would be unintelligible (p. 658)

Therefore, I would conclude that Mark has probably read the attitude of the church of his time and place back into the original sayings of Jesus. Mark is usually believed to have written his Gospel about 65-70AD for a non-Jewish audience, a generation after Jesus. The Hellenization of Jesus is already well underway!

The Plot Thickens!

Now this is not the end of the matter. There is a further complication to consider.

Three different positions are possible to adopt concerning Jesus’ real teaching about the Old Testament Law. They are:

i. Jesus completely abolished the OT law.

<

ul>In the light of the discussion so far we might be forgiven if we are tempted to dismiss this possibility straight away. But it is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:15. Paul says that Jesus,

    Set aside in his flesh the law with its commands and its regulations

In Paul’s letter to the Romans 14:20 he says unequivocally:

    All food is clean

In 1 Timothy 4:1-3 Paul (though most scholars do not think the apostle Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles, I assume Pauline authorship for arguments sakes) even condemns those people (James and the other apostles?) who order people to abstain from certain foods, and accuses them of abandoning the true faith and following demons!

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods.

Finally, as if it were not clear enough already, Paul in his letter to the Colossians 2:14 claims that Jesus

    cancelled the written code, with its regulations…

ii. Jesus taught that the Torah was still to be followed in its entirety.

    The Letter of James, to be found towards the end of the New Testament, assumes the continuing normativity of the law,

    For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you become a law-breaker. 2:10-11

As we have seen even Jesus is quoted as saying that no one should think he came to abolish the law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). Furthermore, Jesus continues,

    Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven Matthew (5:19)

So even the smallest command in the Torah should be adhered to.

However, paradoxically, even in Matthew’s Gospel we read of Jesus cancelling some Old Testament Laws.

The Law of Moses states in Deuteronomy 24:1,

    If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…

In Mathew 5:31 Jesus clearly cancels the Law about divorce and issues a new commandment to replace it,

    It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery

iii. Jesus confirmed the continuing validity of Torah Law in general but abrogated some specific laws.

    This view is a mediating position between positions i and ii above and makes best sense of all the evidence. Confirmation of the correctness of this interpretation is found in Holy Qur’an, a book sent by God to discern what is true and what is false in previous books. Jesus says,

    I have come to confirm the truth of the Torah which preceded me, and to make some things lawful to you which used to be forbidden…(3:50)

Now, some readers might think this argument is a tendentious ploy to prove the Qur’an right. So it is instructive to reflect on the findings of Christian scholars who have wrestled with this problem:

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary makes the following observations:

The problem arises because the plain sense of the words is that Jesus affirms the abiding validity of the Torah; but this contradicts Paul (e.g. Gal 2:5, 16; Rom 3:21-31). Moreover no major Christian church requires observance of all 613 precepts of the OT law, (p.641)

If Matthew is right about Jesus in chapters 5 and 23 then:

There is a gap between the teaching here and the teaching and practice of the churches p.641

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 641) suggests that even if we deny the genuineness of Matthew 5:17-20,

The denial of the authenticity of 17, 19, and 20 does not make Jesus hold the same view as Paul.

The Commentary suggests that these verses,

Reflect the outlook of Jewish Christianity, which, as a separate movement, was eventually defeated by Paulinism [churches influenced by Paul] and died out, perhaps to be reborn in a different form as Islam. (Emphasis added) – p. 641.

This quotation is an acknowledgement from top biblical scholars that Islam has much in common with the practice of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Paul, as we know, had very different views.

As far as modern Christians are concerned, Paul won his fight and they follow him p.641

The authors of the Commentary hold the view that neither Matthew nor Paul is entirely correct. They admit,

There are contradictions within the New Testament on penultimate matters p.641

As we have seen, the Qur’an has provided us with the key to finding the authentic teaching of Jesus on the Law. As I discuss in the conclusion, recent studies have demonstrated the extraordinary resemblance between the historical picture of Jesus produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. How is this so? Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad via the archangel Gabriel, and intended as a guide for all times and places. Unlike the Bible we have today which contains Jesus’ words in an often corrupted and altered state, God has given mankind a book free from any errors, contradictions or alterations by man.

That said, I would like to reiterate that my discussion of the food laws in the Gospels has not been ‘tainted’ or derived through Qur’anic lenses. Putting the Qur’an aside and studying the Gospels according to the methodologies of historical enquiry – we would end up with a Jesus who has an uncanny resemblance with the Jesus presented by the Qur’an. Thus in the case of clean and unclean food, most scholars believe that the historical Jesus did not nullify the OT food laws. I recommend the discussion of this issue in The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders, pp. 218-223 (see my suggestions for further reading below).

(I am indebted to Shabir Ally, President of the Islamic Information and Da’wah Centre International, Canada, for various suggestions contained in his excellent pamphlet What God said about Eating Pork, Al-Attique Publishers Inc. Canada, Second Edition 2003).

Chapter 2: What Jesus taught about ‘being saved’, or inheriting eternal life; what St Paul later wrote about salvation

If the reader has followed the discussion thus far he or she will have some idea of the difficulties facing the student in attempting to uncover Jesus’ true message from the many retrospective changes made to Jesus’ teaching.

Here I will simply put side-by-side two answers to the following question: How is a human being to attain eternal life, that is, how are we saved? The first answer is given by Jesus and the second answer by St Paul. Fundamentalist Christians often put this vital question to Muslims. They tell Muslims that if they want to be saved they need only put their ‘faith in Jesus’. The reader can judge for himself if these Christians are being faithful to Jesus’ teaching or not.

In Mark’s Gospel 10:17-19 we read,

    As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher’, he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

    ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No-one is good – except God alone.

    You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother

Here is St Paul’s answer to the same question in Romans 10:9.

    If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved

The differences are startling. Jesus’ answer to the question about salvation focuses on obedience to the Torah. As a Prophet to the Jewish people, Jesus sees his faithfulness to God expressed in adherence to the Creator’s commands and precepts in the Torah.

For Paul, however, writing decades later, the Law itself has been abolished, and in place of faithfulness to the Creator, we are asked to put our trust in an event no human being witnessed – the alleged resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the ‘Lordship’ of Jesus.

Chapter 3: Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as predicting his own death: difficulties with taking this at face value

Did Jesus clearly announce his suffering and death to his disciples? Or did his arrest, crucifixion and reported resurrection take them completely by surprise? We will briefly survey these questions in this chapter.

The synoptic gospels contain six separate instances in which Jesus predicts his suffering and death, and four times he predicts his resurrection. Here are three examples from Mark and one from Luke.

  • And he charged them to tell no one about him. 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 Mark 8:30-31
  • And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the son of man should have risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant…And he said to them,…How is it written of the son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? Mark 9:9-10
  • But while they were all marvelling at everything he did, he said to his disciples, Let these words sink into your ears; for the son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men. But they did not understand this saying…and they were afraid to ask him about this saying. Luke 9:43-45
  • And they were on the road, going to Jerusalem…And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him saving, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise. Mark 10:32-34

Note the detailed prediction in Mark 10:32-34 (in bold) and how clear and unambiguous it is.

I wish to make the following observations on these passages:

    1. According to the evangelists (with one exception, Matt. 12:40), all of the predictions were made during the final period of his life. They are all solemn in tone: ‘Let these words sink into your ears…’ They are not mysterious but expressed in plain language. There is no doubt that Jesus had put the disciples in the picture about soon to transpire events, at least six times.

    2. Yet how did these same disciples react when the recently foretold events started to occur? At the critical time between his arrest and execution, absolutely no one seems to have remembered the repeated warnings concerning the events leading to the cross. All Jesus’ disciples fled when he was arrested (Mark 14:50). When Peter was confronted he denied having anything to do with Jesus or that he even knew him (Mark 14:66-71). None of the apostles (or his family) went with him to Golgotha, according to the Synoptic Gospels.

    3. Jesus would certainly have had good grounds for believing that an attempt would be made on his life and that he may get killed. However, at the same time he prayed that God would save him from death. ‘Father, everything is possible with you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will‘ Mark 14:36

    4. All the apostles were initially extremely reluctant to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Amazingly, after the death of Jesus and the women had returned from the tomb, the disciples ‘did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense’ Luke 24:11. The Greek word for nonsense is leros which literally means ‘silly nonsense’.

    5. Would a group of people who had been assured in advance by their charismatic and prophetic teacher that the tragic events would be followed promptly by a happy ending have shown such deep disbelief? Even if we allow for the initial shock and fear caused by the arrest of Jesus at night, the apostles should surely have remembered the chain of events so often and so recently rehearsed before them by Jesus.

    6. The evangelists had to provide some explanation for this curious phenomenon to ensure the credibility of their stories.

    7. All the Gospels end up by laying the blame on the disciples themselves for failing to grasp or simply forgetting (!) the predictions of Jesus.

So we are faced with something of a historical dilemma:

Either Jesus did not, in fact, predict the events, and the weakness and disbelief of the disciples are quite natural and understandable.

Or he did, in fact, warn them, and the ignominious behaviour of every single one of the disciples is quite inexplicable!

Weighing up the pros and cons, at a distance of 2000 years, leads me to think that it is much more likely that the Evangelists invented the predictions and inserted them into their story (or it could also be that the predictions were fabricated prior to the composition of the Gospels and came to the authors though tradition), than all concerned should suddenly forget those clear, detailed and repeated warnings. Fabricated prophecies after the event are known to exist elsewhere in the Gospels. Matthew even went so far as to invent a prophecy about Jesus from the Old Testament: ‘he shall be called a Nazarene‘, see Matthew 2:23. There is no such passage anywhere in the Old Testament! Scholars call this genre of ‘creative’ writing pesher interpretation, and it was widely used by the teachers of the Qumran community in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

We have seen that the final form of the Gospels is self-contradictory and occasionally bizarre. The apostles are portrayed as having no idea what rising from the dead meant (Mark 9:10), though historians are aware that the idea of resurrection was widely understood amongst 1st century Jews. The evangelists tried to excuse the disciples by saying that not only did they not understand Jesus, but also the meaning of his words was hidden from them.

In the attempt to give the Gospels some coherence and sense the evangelists make the apostles look extremely dense and dim-witted, hardly the reliable people Jesus would have chosen to continue his mission!

(I am indebted to Professor Geza Vermes, Director of the Forum for Qumran Research at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, for various suggestions contained in his book The Authentic Gospel of Jesus)

Chapter 4: Did Jesus claim to be the Creator of the universe?

The short and incontrovertible answer is No! The fact that later generations of Christians came to believe that Jesus is ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God’ (as stated in the Nicene Creed) is therefore in need of some explanation.

In this chapter, I will look at two historical phenomena which I hope will give us some understanding of this development. They are:

    i) the traditional Christian belief that to confess Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ is to confess his deity, and to say that ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ means and always meant that Jesus is the pre-existent, second person of the Trinity, who ‘for us men and our salvation became incarnate’.

    ii) An illuminating historical parallel to the divinization of Jesus: the divinization of the Buddha


i) The New Testament (NT) calls Jesus ‘the Son of God’. But what does this mean? It is important, if we wish to adopt a historical approach (and most Christians do not), to discover the significance of words and ideas in their original language, as the original speakers meant the original listeners to understand them. Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew, and spoken by most Palestinian Jews. Jesus’ Aramaic teaching (except for a dozen words that are still found in the gospels) has not been preserved.

In the years after Jesus was taken up to God, the early church spread quickly in the Greek-speaking (i.e. non-Jewish) world, and the gospels and letters that came to comprise the NT were all written down in Greek. It is important to grasp that this Greek NT is a ‘translation’ of the original thoughts and ideas of the Aramaic thinking and speaking Jesus, a translation not just into a totally different language but also a transplantation of the thought of the gospels into an utterly alien cultural and religious environment of the pagan Graeco-Roman world.

To discover the authentic teaching of Jesus, and what others believed about him, it is, therefore, necessary to be alert to any changes or developments in meaning arising from the transmission of ideas through the channel of Hellenistic culture.

Therefore, when we examine the term “son of God” in its original ‘context of meaning’ we make an interesting discovery. In Hebrew or Aramaic “son of God” is always used figuratively as a metaphor for a child of God, whereas in Greek addressed to Gentile Christians, brought up in a religious culture filled with gods, sons of gods and demigods, the NT expression tended to be understood literally as ‘Son of God’ (with a capital letter): in other words as someone possessing the same nature as God.

In the fourth century, the Catholic Church officially endorsed this new pagan idea at the Council of Nicea: Jesus was declared to be of the same ‘substance’ or ‘nature’ (the Greek word used was ousia) as the Deity. Pagan philosophy triumphed over the Jewish understanding of God.

The same transformation, or rather deformation of meaning occurred to another key term: ‘Lord‘. According to the gospels, the title ‘lord’ was regularly used as an address to Jesus during his ministry. In its Aramaic context, it was synonymous with ‘teacher’.

Later generations of Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians would completely alter this meaning: the Aramaic definition of ‘Lord’ = teacher became synonymous with the title of God himself: the Lord Jesus = the Lord your God. As noted NT scholar James Dunn comments, expressing the consensus view of New Testament scholars (including NT Wright who is much beloved of evangelicals),

The history of this confession of Jesus as Lord in earliest Christianity largely revolves around the question, How significant is the application of this title to Jesus? What role or status does this confession attribute to Jesus or recognises as belonging to Jesus?…The problem is that ‘lord’ can denote a whole range of dignity – from a respectful form of address as to a teacher or judge to a full title for God. Where do the early Christian references to the lordship of Jesus come within this spectrum? The answer seems to be that over the first few decades of Christianity the confession of Jesus as ‘Lord’ moved in overt significance from the lower end of the ‘spectrum of dignity’ towards the upper end steadily gathering to itself increasing overtones of deity.

We need not doubt that the Aramaic mari underlies the Greek kyrie (vocative)…Mar was used of the first century BC holy man Abba Hilkiah, presumably in recognition of the charismatic powers attributed to him. Moreover, ‘lord’ was largely synonymous with ‘teacher’ at the time of Jesus, and Jesus was certainly recognised to have the authority of a rabbi or teacher (Mark 9:5 etc). We can, therefore, say that the confession of Jesus as Lord was rooted in the ministry of Jesus to the extent that he was widely acknowledged to exercise the authority of a (charismatic) teacher and healer (cf. Mark 1:22,27).

Whether ‘Lord’ already had a higher significance for Jesus himself during his ministry depends on how we evaluate Mark 12:35-37:

‘While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

‘ “The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
Until I put your enemies
Under your feet.”‘

David himself calls him “Lord”. How then can he be his son?’

Even if it contains an authentic word of the historical Jesus (as is quite possible) it needs only mean that he understood Messiah to be a figure superior to David in significance and especially favoured by Yahweh. It does not necessarily imply that he thought the Messiah was a divine figure (Psalm 110 after all probably referred to the king).

From: Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (emphasis in the original) pp.53-54.

So Dunn recognises that the title ‘lord’ originally denoted a human being. As the term began to be used in pagan contexts as the Gentile mission spread, where it was well established as a title for the cult deity in the mystery religions (especially Isis and Serapis), and also in Emperor worship – ‘Caesar is Lord’- a radical alteration of the meaning of the term occurred. Above all, St Paul advanced this change in meaning quite deliberately. He uses Old Testament texts that speak of Yahweh and applies them to Jesus (e.g. Romans 10:13). For Paul, ‘Lord Jesus’ had become a title of divinity. In a profound sense, Paul founded the religion of Christianity we know today.

    (It is of interest to note that evangelical fundamentalists are bitterly resistant to these historical facts. Typically, they are simply ignored, perhaps in the hope that the evidence will just go away. I have noticed this reluctance to discuss these key issues in my debates with Christians. One of the most articulate spokesmen of Evangelicalism, Andy Bannister, is on record expressing his willingness to debate the historical Jesus, as the reader can see on my blog. However, and I regret to say this is quite typical of Evangelicals, he repeatedly refuses to engage the historical questions I survey in this paper. In reality, Bannister and his colleagues demonstrate no interest in serious debate at all. They advocate what they call a “confrontational” approach to Islam and Muslims, and are a serious menace to harmonious relations between people of different faiths.)

As time passed the title used exclusively by Jesus to describe himself, the ‘Son of man’, came to denote Jesus’ humanity in contrast to his divinity. So in the thought of second-century Catholic theologian Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons), the term ‘Son of God’ is interchangeable with ‘God the Son’. Most Christians today, in total ignorance of the historical transmutation of the meaning of these words, still think this way.

The term ‘son of man’ is a storm centre of New Testament scholarship, and the debate is quite technical. There is no consensus as to its meaning for Jesus or the Judaism of his day. James D.G. Dunn in his magisterial survey of the issue in Christology in the Making gives his considered view: the ‘thought of the Son of Man as a pre-existent heavenly figure [Dunn has Daniel chapter 7 in mind] does not seem to have emerged in Jewish or Christian circles before the last decades of the first century AD'(p 96). I refer readers to the discussion in Dunn’s book and The Authentic Gospel of Jesus by Geza Vermes, chapter 7, ‘Son of Man sayings’.

A popular new evangelistic course in the UK called Christianity Explored provides participants with an introductory book about Jesus. It runs courses all over the English speaking world. The course is unashamedly conservative evangelical in theology and adopts a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. It repeats the claim that the terms ‘son of God’ and ‘God the Son’ are simply interchangeable titles. It saddens me that sincere seekers after spiritual truth are being misled into an uncritical fundamentalism, or far worse, the blasphemous worship of the Messiah. It is salutary to recall that Jesus is reported to have said in Mark’s Gospel, Why do you call me good? No-one is good – except God alone.

The perils of failing to ask the following simple question are incalculable: what would those who first used this language about Jesus expect their hearers and readers to understand by the phrase? (Dunn, Christology, p.13). The answers, detailed in this paper, will show that Christians need to re-evaluate their understanding of who Jesus was. If Christians would undertake this difficult but necessary task, they will find that the results will bear a striking resemblance to the Jesus of the Qur’an, and that the two great faiths would be in substantial agreement.

ii) We can see a comparable religious impulse behind this startling divinization of Jesus by looking at some developments in India at about the same time. The Buddha had died at the end of the sixth century BCE. A deep love developed for him and a need to contemplate his enlightened humanity became so strong that in the first century BCE the first statues of the Buddha appeared in NW India. Buddhist spirituality became focused on the image of the Buddha, enshrined in statues, despite devotion to a being outside of the self being quite different to the interior discipline advocated by Gautama.

Devotion to Jesus arose in a similar way, in disregard of his clear teaching about wholehearted love of God and neighbour. As the Gospels unmistakably demonstrate, Jesus invited people to turn in heartfelt repentance and obedience to God, never to himself. Later Christians inverted Jesus’ message by announcing the worship of the proclaimer rather than the God he proclaimed.

Conclusion

As I mentioned in my introduction, recent studies have demonstrated the extraordinary convergence between the historical picture of Jesus produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. This similarity has not gone unnoticed in two significant recent works by New Testament scholars which were published in the last twelve months. Both celebrate this remarkable correspondence. Jeffrey J. Butz is Professor of World Religions at Penn State University and an ordained Lutheran Minister. His book is entitled The Brother of Jesus & the Lost Teachings of Christianity. I highly recommend this book. The other work is by James D Tabor, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. His book The Jesus Dynasty (published by HarperElement 2006) is a study of Jesus and the New Testament. His comments are a fitting conclusion to my study:

Muslims do not worship Jesus, who is known as Isa in Arabic, nor do they consider him divine, but they do believe that he was a prophet or messenger of God and he is called the Messiah in the Qur’an. However, by affirming Jesus as Messiah they are attesting to his messianic message, not his mission as a heavenly Christ.

There are some rather striking connections between the research I have presented in The Jesus Dynasty and the traditional beliefs of Islam. The Muslim emphasis on Jesus as messianic prophet and teacher is quite parallel to what we find in the Q source, in the book of James, and in the Didache. To be the Messiah is to proclaim a message, but it is the same message as that proclaimed by Abraham, Moses and all the Prophets.

Islam insists that neither Jesus nor Muhammad brought a new religion. Both sought to call people back to what might be called “Abrahamic faith.” This is precisely what we find emphasised in the book of James. Like Islam, the book of James, and the teaching of Jesus in Q, emphasise doing the will of God as a demonstration of one’s faith. Also, the dietary laws of Islam, as quoted in the Qur’an, echo the teaching of James in Acts 15 almost word for word: “Abstain from swine flesh, blood, things offered to idols, and carrion” (Qur’an 2:172).

The Christianity we know from the Q source, from the letter of James, from the Didache, and some of our other surviving Jewish-Christian sources represent a version of the Jesus faith that can actually unite, rather than divide, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. If nothing else, the insights revealed through an understanding of the Jesus dynasty can open wide new and fruitful doors of dialogue and understanding among these three great traditions that have in the past considered their views of Jesus to be so sharply contradictory as to close off the discussion. (pp. 287-288)

And only God knows best!

Appendix: What the Qur’an says about Jesus

The Qur’an describes the state of Christianity and its doctrines as they were in the seventh century, a thousand years before the Protestant Reformation. Mostly, the Qur’an accepts and promulgates many teachings that are accepted in Christianity. Jesus holds a particularly high place in Islam. Muslims accept the virgin birth but do not see it as a sign of his divinity (after all Adam and Eve did not have a human father either). Jesus did many miraculous signs, raising the dead, curing blindness and healing lepers. But these are not attributed in the Qur’an to Jesus as God, but as powers given to Jesus from God. The Bible confirms this important distinction, ‘People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.’ Acts 2:22.

(Incidentally, Muslims do not accept Paul as an authentic interpreter of the teaching of Jesus).

The Holy Qur’an says:

People of the book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God, His word, directed to Mary, a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’ – stop this, that is better for you – God is only one God, He is far above having a son, everything in the heavens and earth belongs to Him and He is the best one to trust. (Qur’an, 4:171)

Suggestions For Further Reading

GENERAL

    A History of God by Karen Armstrong, published by Vintage 1999.
    From Abraham to the present day: the 4000-year quest for God. An enlightening and intellectually challenging book, Armstrong offers many valuable insights.
    The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, various editions.
    Though James focuses mainly on Western spiritual experiences, this classic work reminds us of the staggering diversity of religious experience. A useful antidote to exclusivist conceptions of the Divine.

CHRISTIANITY

    The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders, published by Penguin Books 1995. America’s most distinguished scholar in the field of Jesus-research, he provides a generally convincing picture of the real Jesus, set within the world of Palestinian Judaism.

    The Changing Faces of Jesus by Geza Vermes, published by Penguin Books 2001. Vermes gives an equal voice to both the New Testament and non-biblical Jewish writings to uncover the historical figure of Jesus hidden beneath the oldest gospels, showing how and why a charismatic holy man was elevated into the divine figure of Christ. Essential reading.

    The Authentic Gospel of Jesus by Geza Vermes, published by Penguin Books 2004. The first Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford, he almost single-handedly brought to the attention of New Testament scholarship the significance of Jesus as a Jew.

    Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation by James D.G.Dunn, Second Edition, published by SCM Press 1989. This classic text is crucial reading for scholars and public alike. An advanced work, but it repays the effort.

    Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity by James D.G.Dunn, Third Edition, published by SCM Press 2006. Dunn is an author who simply must be read by all serious students of early Christianity. Like his other work on Christology mentioned above, it assumes the reader is familiar with the basic critical issues of NT scholarship.

    The Brother of Jesus & the Lost Teachings of Christianity by Jeffrey J. Butz

    The Apotheosis of Jesus of Nazareth by Paul A Williams. My attempt to summarise some of the issues discussed in Dunn’s work. The conclusions though are mine.

    Escaping from Fundamentalism by James Barr, published by SCM Press 1990.
    Barr is vital reading for those trapped in the rigid world of fundamentalism. I owe him a personal debt of gratitude. Sadly, Professor Barr passed away a few months ago.

ISLAM

    What God said about Eating Pork, & Issues for Muslim/Christian Dialogue, by Shabir Ali, published by Al-Attique Publishers Inc, 2003. A short work (32 pages) written with clarity and intelligence, and unusually for a Muslim apologist, Ali has a firm grasp of the New Testament material.

    Understanding The Qur’an, Themes and Style by Muhammad Abdel Haleem, published by I.B. Tauris 2005. The tenets of Islam cannot be understood without a proper understanding of the Qur’an. This new book by a professor of Islamic Studies at London University is accessible and erudite.

    The Messenger, The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad by Tariq Ramadan, published by Allen Lane 2007. The latest biography of the Prophet Muhammad in English, this book is destined, in my opinion, to become the standard popular work about this astonishing and much-misunderstood man. Highly recommended.

Glossary

    Apologetics a branch of theology devoted to the rational defence of Christianity.

    Buddha (Hindi) The enlightened one. The title applies to the numerous men and women who have attained nirvana, but it is often used of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism

    Enlightenment, the an 18th century European movement marked by a belief in universal human progress and the importance of reason and the sciences.

    Incarnation the embodiment of God in human form, especially of Jesus.

    Islam self-surrender to God. The surrender of heart and will and mind to God is a basic principle of every authentic religion.

    Ontology a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being

    Second Temple Judaism

    Synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke

    Torah the law of Moses as outlined in the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy

  1. Matthew 5:17-20 []
  2. Matthew 23:1-2 []
  3. Surah 5:3 []
Categories
Christian Doctrines Christianity

Is The Trinitarian Ontology Coherent?

Philosophical theism, in contemporary times, has been dominated by philosophers who are Christians. These theistic philosophers have published a great amount of literature defending the rationality of belief in God, and any participant in the great debate will surely be familiar with the names of intellectual giants like Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, among many others.

Swinburne, for example, gives theistic belief, and in particular Christian belief, philosophical treatment in toto. I have noticed the following progression in his case for Christianity. First, he argues that the notion of ‘God-talk’ is perfectly coherent, and there are no a priori reasons to reject theistic belief. 1 Next, he argues on cumulative grounds that natural theology renders the existence of God more probable than not. 2Finally, Swinburne articulates various arguments for Christian particularism, e.g. reasons to believe in the Christian Revelation, the Resurrection of Christ, etc.3 He therefore epitomizes the classic Lockean evidentialist, who is prepared to give rational reasons for all his beliefs.

Of course, not all Christian philosophers have the evidentialist enthusiasm of Swinburne. The reformed epistemologists, spearheaded by Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, approach theistic belief analytically, but not on evidentialist grounds.4 Although they may reject giving arguments for religious beliefs, and still claim that belief in God is rational, what is important to note is that they are prepared to discuss theism in an analytic and rational manner.

These prefatory remarks are important to bear in mind, since I now wish to look at the philosophical tenability of the (orthodox) Christian depiction of God, which I feel has been largely ignored by contemporary Christian philosophers. My analysis will only be confined to divine ontology, and the contention I will be arguing for is that ‘Christian monotheism’ is ontologically incoherent. This has further implications for Christian particularism (in so far as it is understood by Pauline ontology), for if, on a priori grounds, the Christian depiction of God is impossible, then it follows a fortiori, that the doctrinal particulars which are contingent on this erroneous ontology cannot be true.

I am writing this piece with the intention of hearing from Christian philosophers who adhere to the Pauline ontology of God, believe in its coherence, and are willing to discuss the matter on rational grounds.

Locating Our Topic

Naturally, no insight is free from presuppositions, and so I will need to state the position from which my analysis is going to depart. The terminus of natural theology is usually a metaphysical postulation, some ‘first cause’, ‘intelligent designer’, ‘law giver’, or the like. The theist, of course, argues that this being is God. According to Swinburne, to state that God exists is to state that there is:

“A person without a body (i.e. a spirit), present everywhere, the creator and sustainer of the universe, a free agent, able to do everything (i.e. omnipotent), knowing all things, perfectly good, a source of moral obligation, immutable, eternal, a necessary being, holy, and worthy of worship.”5

This is a definition of God that Jewish-Islamic theism can easily accept without any major difficulties, for this is the common understanding of God in Western theism. As far as divine ontology goes, it is a monotheistic definition: there is only one God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe who exists. Understood thus, there is nothing obviously incoherent about postulating such a being. I will further assume that there are no a priori reasons for considering the existence of such a being (taking Swinburne’s definition) as impossible, due to some logical contradiction or the like (a defence of such a contention will be the task for another day).

Now the questions I wish to explore are these: When Swinburne’s definition of God is unpacked, and further explicated within orthodox Christian theism, is it still coherent? Are there any a priori reasons for considering it to be incoherent, and thus impossible? If so, what implications are there for orthodox Christian particulars?

Stating Trinitarian Ontology

According to orthodox Christianity, although there exists a God as understood by Swinburne, He is tri-personal. In other words, God is three distinct persons (The Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in one substance, and yet He is still one being. To understand this, we can do no better than turn to the Athanasian Creed, where we find the following existential statements:

“[T]he Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost … So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God … there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts … He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.”6

Trying to make sense of the creed can be difficult, and therefore we can follow philosopher Richard Cartwright7 by stating the seven basic propositions of the creed, the belief in which is essential for salvation, for the purposes of analysis.

    1. The Father is God.
    2. The Son is God.
    3. The Holy Spirit is God.
    4. The Father is not the Son.
    5. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
    6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
    7. There is exactly one God.

From this point onwards, when I refer to the Christian understanding of God, it is in reference to the Athanasian Creed that my arguments are to be understood.

Can A Tri-Personal Deity Exist?

Answering this question is very much an ontological exploration. We need to distinguish between a priori and a posteriori answers to the question of existence. By a priori answers, I am referring to answers which speak of conceptual possibilities or impossibilities. For example, there is a conceptual possibility that there exists in the world a unicorn. There is nothing in the definition of a unicorn which would immediately render its existence impossible. On the other hand, it is conceptually impossible that there exists in the world a married bachelor, since the notion of a married bachelor is incoherent. We know immediately a priori that such a being could not exist, ever.

By a posteriori answers, I am referring to propositions which we know the truth or falsity of through experience. Thus, although the existence of a unicorn is conceptually possible, most people do not believe that unicorns exist because of the lack of experience they have had, or lack of evidence. However, one would always be open to the evidence, since unicorns could exist. But it would be absurd to seek evidence for the existence of married bachelors, since it is conceptually impossible for such beings to exist.

Here, I am concerned with the definition of the Trinity, propositions (1)-(7) stated above. If any two of these propositions are contradictory, then it would be conceptually impossible for God, in so far as He is understood in orthodox Christian theism, to exist. And therefore, assessing the a posteriori evidence for or against the doctrine of the Trinity (as is often the case with the Biblical data) would be as meaningless as entertaining a married bachelor’s request for divorce.

Let the Father be designated by x, the Son by y, and the Holy Spirit by z. God, as defined by Swinburne, can be designated by G. As Cartwright notes, one way to interpret the creed is to take the verb ‘is’ and understand it to mean ‘is identical with’8, therefore, x = G, y = G, and z = G. But if this is true, then it logically follows (according to Leibniz’s principle of identity, which states: if x is the same object as y then x has exactly the same properties that y has) that x = y, x = z, and y = z. However, the creed will not allow this: (4)-(6). The Father, Son and Holy Sprit are different and distinct from each other.

Another possibility is to construe G as a general term9 to avoid the logical inconsistency. Thus, x is a G, y is a G and z is a G. But surely this would contradict (7), for we are suggesting the existence of three Gods, or tri-theism. Cartwright presents the following syllogism: “every Divine Person is a God; there are at least three Divine Persons; therefore, there at least three Gods”.10 The second premise is supported the principle: if every A is a B then there cannot be fewer B’s than A’s. Cartwright cites the following analogy. If every cat is an animal, there cannot be fewer animals than cats.

It seems we have a dilemma: if x, y and z are identical with G, then we simply have one person, or three names for one person. The heretical position of modalism comes to mind, where the eternal coexistence of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit is denied. But if x, y and z are a G (i.e. belong to a genera), then one has three divine persons, which of course is another heretical position: tri-theism. In the first instance, the contradiction can be removed by altering propositions (4)-(6). In the second, by altering (7). But taken altogether, (1)-(7) portray an inconsistent set. It follows ipso facto that the Christian God, as He is depicted in the Creed, cannot possibly exist.

Implications For Christian Particularism

Orthodox Christian ontology, as depicted in the Athanasian Creed, forms the basis for a number of Christian particulars. And these particulars are contingent upon the truth of the Christian ontology of God. The implications of ontological incoherence of the Trinity are that certain doctrinal particulars simply cannot be true. For example, the divinity of Jesus (the second person of the Trinity took on human form), the incarnation (which involves the second person in the Trinity being completely God and man simultaneously), etc. There seems to be an a priori blockade that prevents these doctrinal particulars from even getting off the ground.

Conclusions

To conclude, the doctrine of the Trinity as presented in the Athanasian Creed depicts an ontologically incoherent model of God. To dissolve the contradictions which arise from analyzing the Creed, one can either reject the plurality of persons and hold that there exists a single person with different names or modes.

Alternatively, one can embrace tri-theism. As long as one is committed to neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance, as the Creed would have us do, one is holding beliefs about God which are logically inconsistent. And if one is to remain consistent with the philosophical treatment of theism in contemporary philosophy by the likes of Swinburne and Craig, it follows that the doctrine of the Trinity, and its relation to ‘Christian monotheism’ — being profoundly irrational — should be abandoned.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Is The Trinitarian Ontology Coherent?," in Bismika Allahuma, February 15, 2006, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/trinitarian-ontology-coherent/
  1. See Swinburne’s The Coherence of Theism (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1977) []
  2. Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1991) []
  3. Swinburne’s arguments can be found in Responsibility and Atonement (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1989), and Revelation (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1992). []
  4. See for example, Alvin Plantinga & Nicholas Wolterstorff, Faith and Rationality(South Bend, The University of Notre Dame Press: 1983) []
  5. Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, p. 1 []
  6. The Athanasian Creed, available online. I have summarized the idea behind the doctrine of the Trinity, although it is suggested the reader scrutinize the entire text. []
  7. Richard Cartwright, ‘On the Logical Problem of the Trinity’, in Philosophical Essays (MIT Press: 1987), p. 188. []
  8. Cartwright, Trinity, p. 191 []
  9. Ibid., p. 192 []
  10. Ibid., p. 196 []
Categories
Christianity Islam Jesus

The Prophet Jesus In the Noble Qur’an

What does Allah (God) say about the Prophet `Eesa (Eesho/Jesus)(P) and his mother Maryam (Miriam/Mary) in His last Revelation to mankind, the Qur’an?

The following are selected Qur’anic verses dealing with `Eesa and Mary, may God’s blessings be upon them:

  • “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) A Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to Him: (far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.” [4:171]
  • “And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We made her and her son a Sign for all peoples.” [21:91]
  • “We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of Messengers; We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a Messenger with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride? Some ye called imposters, and others ye slay!” [2:87]
  • “Those Messengers We endowed with gifts, some above others: to one of them Allah spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus, the son of Mary, We gave Clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit. If Allah had so willed, succeeding generations would not have fought among each other, after Clear (Signs) had come to them but they (chose) to wrangle, some believing and others rejecting. If Allah had so willed, they would not have fought each other; but Allah fulfilleth His plan.” [2:253]
  • “Then will Allah say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold! thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it, and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the Clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: This is nothing but evident magic.'” [5:110]
  • “And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): ‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave: and I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe; (I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me.’ ” [3:48-50]
  • “And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.” [5:46]
  • “Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected Faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary, because they disobeyed and persisted in Excesses.” [5:78]
  • “For Allah, He is my Lord and your Lord: so worship ye Him: this is a Straight Way.” [43:64]
  • “And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: ‘O Children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.’ But when he came to them with Clear Signs they said, ‘This is evident sorcery!'” [61:6]
  • “O ye who believe! Be ye helpers of Allah: as said Jesus, the son of Mary, to the Disciples, “Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?” Said the Disciples, “We are Allah’s helpers!” Then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved: but We gave power to those who believed against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed.” [61:14]
  • “That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.” [4:157]
  • “Behold! Allah said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to myself and clear thee (of the falsehood) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject Faith, to the Day of Resurrection: then shall ye all return unto Me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.” [3:55]
  • “Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them.” [4:158-159]
  • “In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say: ‘Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His Will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all, everyone that is on the earth? For to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For Allah hath power over all things.’ ” [5:17]
  • “They do blaspheme who say: ‘Allah is Christ the son of Mary.’ But said Christ: ‘O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ Whoever joins other gods with Allah, Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help.” [5:72]
  • “Say: ‘O People of the Book! exceed not in your religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by, who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even Way.'” [5:77]
  • “And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! didst thou say unto men, ‘Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. “Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say, to wit, ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord’; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when thou didst take me up thou wast the Watcher over them, and Thou art a witness to all things.” [5:116-117]
  • “Christ, the son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!” [5:75]
  • “He was no more than a servant: We granted Our favour to him, and We made him an example to the Children of Israel.” [43:59]
  • “Then, in their wake, We followed them up with (others of) Our Messengers: We sent after them Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel; and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him Compassion and Mercy, but the Monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them: (We commanded) only the seeking for the Good Pleasure of Allah; but that they did not foster as they should have done. Yet We bestowed, on those among them who believed, their (due) reward, but many of them are rebellious transgressors.” [57:27]
  • “That they rejected Faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge;” [4:156]
  • “And Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of his Revelations, and was one of the devout (Servants).” [66:12]
  • “Say ye: “We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord: we make no difference between one and another of them: and we bow to Allah (in Islam).”” [2:136]
  • “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth Thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus. The son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah;” [3:45]
  • “We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: We sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms.” [4:163]
  • “He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; “And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live: “(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; “So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!” Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of Truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.” [19:30-34]

God Almighty revealed to Muhammad, in the Qur’an, the truth about Al-Maseeh (Messiah) `Eesa Ibnu Maryam (Jesus, the Son of Mary)(P). The Qur’an acknowledges the Messiahship of `Eesa(P) and God’s miracle of his virgin birth as a sign to the Israelites in order to bring back those Jews who deviated from the right path of God, the “lost sheep of Israel” as stated by Jesus(P).

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "The Prophet Jesus In the Noble Qur’an," in Bismika Allahuma, October 7, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/prophet-jesus-noble-quran/