Friday, July 17, 2009

A Christian - Muslim Dialogue, part 8

The following is part 8 of my critique of A Christian - Muslim Dialogue by H.M. Baagil.

On pages 18-26 Baagil challenges the deity of Jesus, the sonship of Jesus and the Trinity. He repeats the same tired old argument that the word Trinity cannot be found in the Bible as if he honestly believes this proves something.

As has been explained time and time again, the word Trinity is a word that later theologians used to describe the data found in the Bible. Some would prefer the world Tri-unity. Regardless of what we call it, the doctrine of Trinity is taught in the Bible even if the actual word is not used.

First, the Bible is very clear that, contrary to Muhammad, Jesus is much more than just a great prophet.

Jesus is specifically called God in the New Testament. For example, Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” and neither Jesus nor the writer of John say anything to correct this statement (John 20:28). Jesus accepts this worship.

John 1:1 and 18 says “The Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The context leaves absolutely no doubt that the Word who was God is Jesus (In fact, even Muhammad said Jesus was a word from God, but more on that below).

John 1:18 says “the only God who is at the Father’s side has made him known.” Again, the context makes it clear that “The only God” is referring to Jesus.

Titus 2:13 refers to “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The way this sentence is constructed in Greek leaves no serious doubt that Paul was intending to call Jesus, God.

Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The writer of Hebrews says that God “makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire, but of the Son He [God] says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”

Second Peter 1:1 refers to “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Again, the Greek construction of this phrase leaves no serious doubt that the writer intended to attribute deity to Jesus.

Philippians 2:6 says that although Jesus “was in the form of God” he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself…to the point of death, even death on a cross…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth [this includes Muhammad] and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Here Jesus is both deity and yet somehow distinct from the Father.

Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” and that “by him [Jesus] all things were created in heaven and on earth…”

The new Testament also applies Old Testament passages to Jesus that clearly referred to God in their original contexts. For example, Mark combines quotes from Isaiah and Malachi about a messenger preparing the way for YHWH. In Mark, the messenger is John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus (Matthew and Luke do the same thing).

In Romans 10:13 Paul says of Jesus, “Whoever will call on the name of the LORD will be saved.” This is a quote from Joel 2:32 which says, “Whoever will call on the name of YHWH will be saved.”

Jesus also claims to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-2; Luke 24:47) and backs it up by supernatural healing (something Muhammad never did, by the way). In a Jewish context, only God could forgive sin and the people in Jesus’ audience understood that Jesus was claiming to do something that only God could do and they accused him of blasphemy!

Jesus also claimed to be “lord of the Sabbath.” But God instituted the Sabbath. No one is lord of the Sabbath but God. If we take the Gospels seriously, Jesus was either a liar, a nutjob, a blasphemer (which no Muslim would claim) or Jesus is truly God.

The idea that Jesus was actually the embodiment of God is not just found in the New Testament. For example, Ignatius, a church leader who lived shortly after the last book in the New Testament was written, says, “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh..."Ignatius understood very well what the New Testament taught about Jesus deity. But Ignatius continued this sentence saying that Jesus was "both of Mary and of God." Even Muhammad affirmed that Jesus was born of Mary as a result of a virgin birth.

Clement of Rome (first century), Polycarp, Justin, and Irenaeus (second century) are just a few of the other very early church leaders who understood and believed the New Testament claims about Jesus’ deity.

About the same time as Ignatius (roughly 110 AD) there was a Roman governor, named Pliny, in a province located in the modern country of Turkey. Pliny didn’t know what to do with all the Christians in his province so he wrote to the Roman emperor Hadrian to ask for advice. Pliny wrote that his investigations showed that Christians “were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god.”

Pliny wasn’t a Christian so he had nothing to gain by lying. He was simply reporting what Christian churches did and what they did was to worship Jesus as God (Pliny would naturally say “a god” because Pliny was a polytheist and the concept of just one God was foreign to him).

Lucian was another anti-Christian. He wrote, “and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.” Lucian clearly understood that Christians believed in Jesus’ deity and worshiped him. He also affirms that Jesus was crucified, something that Muhammad denied.

The idea that Jesus was much more than just a great prophet should also be clear from Muhammad’s own teachings. For example

To Muslims, Muhammad was a prophet, but Muhammad taught that Jesus was a “Word” or “Spirit” coming from Allah himself!

Muhammad didn’t do any miracles but Muhammad said that Jesus healed the blind, healed lepers and even raised the dead (Surah 5:110).

There was nothing unusual about Muhammad’s birth but Muhammad said that Jesus was born of a virgin (Surah 3:47-49).

Muhammad never thought of himself as anything more than a prophet but he called Jesus the “Christ”(Surah 3:45-46) and admitted that Jesus was “strengthened with Holy Inspiration (Surah 2:87; 5:110) and given revelation from God (Surah 3:47-49; 5:110).

Anyway, regardless of how Muhammad's teachings about Jesus are interpreted, the New Testament is very clear that Jesus was the incarnation of God himself.

So God is obviously God and according to the New Testament, Jesus is God. But the Bible also attributes deity to the Holy Spirit (compare Isaiah 6:8-9 with Acts 28:25-26. Also compare Jeremiah 31:31-34 with Hebrews 10:15-17). The deity of the Holy Spirit is confirmed by the fact that the Holy Spirit is said to have the attributes of God (Gen 1:2; Job 26:13; 1 Cor 2;9-11; Hebrews 9:14) and the Holy Spirit performs the works of God (Job 33:4; Ps 104:30; Luke 12:11-12; Acts 1:5; 20:28; 1 Cor 6:11; 2:8-11; 2 Peter 1:21).

The Muslim in Baagil’s imaginary dialoge, however, argues that the Spirit of God is Gabriel. In the fabricated “conversation” between the Muslim and the imaginary Christian, the Muslim asks the Christian to Read Matthew 1:18 which says that Mary “was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” The Muslim then tells the Christian to read Luke 1:26-27 which says that Gabriel was sent to Mary. The Muslim concludes that Gabriel and the Holy Ghost are the same.

Baagil’s imaginary Muslim actually rips Luke 1:26-27 out of context. What the context of Luke 1:26-35 actually says is that the angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce that she will become pregnant. When Mary objects saying that she is a virgin, the angel Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Gabriel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary. Gabriel and the Holy Spirit are not the same.

The idea that the Holy Spirit is Gabriel is actually refuted by the very passage this Muslim uses to make his case. I would think it would be rather difficult for the Muslim to argue that this passage has been corrupted by Christians, since Baagil's Muslim used it as a proof text for his own argument! The very passage this Muslim cites to make his case, however, actually alludes to the Trinity: “The Holy Spirit [NOT Gabriel!] will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35)!

The Muslim could argue, I suppose, that since God is Spirit, the “Holy Spirit” is simply another way of referring to God. Muslims won’t make this argument, however, because they are committed to Muhammad’s mistake of thinking that the Holy Spirit is Gabriel.

The argument that the Holy Spirit is just another way for saying God doesn’t hold up either because the New Testament makes a distinction between God the Father and God the Spirit.

For example, Father, Son and Spirit are all present, yet distinct, at the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22; cf. John1:32-34).

Another example of the distinction between God the Father and God the Spirit is in John 14:26 in which Jesus (God the Son) says that God the Father will send the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t make much sense to say that God is sending Himself.

Yet another example of the distinction between God the Father and God the Spirit is that God the Spirit is said to intercedes for us in our prayers to God the Father (Romans 8:26-27).

In the Gospel of John, The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus (John 16:14). The Bible never says that Jesus "glorifies the Holy Spirit."

Blasphemy of the Spirit is apparently even more serious than blasphemy of the Father or Son (probably because it is the Spirit who draws people to the Father and Son).

The Spirit is “sent” by the Father (Jn 14:16-17, 26). The Bible never says the Spirit sends the Father.

The Spirit is also "sent by the son" (Jn 16:7), the Bible never says the Spirit sends the Son, and Jesus was not "sending" himself.

Jesus was crucified. The Father and Spirit were not crucified.

Jesus said that after he died, the Father would send another Helper. In this passage, Father, Son and Spirit are somehow distinct (John 14:26).

The Bible clearly teaches a distinction between Father, Son and Spirit. Are we supposed to believe that Christians managed to corrupt all of these passages in thousands of ancient manuscripts, translations and quotations, and that Muhammad alone has the truth?

Anyway, it is for all of these reasons (and more) that orthodox Christians have affirmed that the Bible teaches there is ONE and only ONE God (Deuteronomy 6:1; Matthew 12:29) who exists eternally in three “persons”: Father, Son and Spirit. The Bible doesn't have a name for this phenomena so theologians chose to call it the Trinity (I think Tri-unity may have been a better term).

Muslims may disagree with this doctrine. They may think it is illogical, irrational, or contradictory, but for anyone to say that Christians believe in three gods is simply a profound ignorance of Christianity.

The fact is that we worship a Creator who created a universe so unbelievably huge and complex (from tiny but incredibly complex micro-organisms to billions of gigantic galaxies) that human beings do not yet comprehend or understand it all. This being the case, there just might be some things about our awesome Creator that our feeble minds just do not understand.

Imagine, for example, trying to explain a long distance cell phone call to someone from the 1700’s. They wouldn’t understand the concept of telephones, much less cell phones. If you tried to explain it to them, they wouldn’t understand frequencies, or satellites or electronics or even plastic! In other words, they wouldn’t even understand the concepts necessary to understand the principles behind cell phones! How much less do we understand God! So when God reveals himself as ONE God eternally existing in Father, Son and Spirit, Christians believe it even if we can’t explain it.

Baagil’s book then has his imaginary Christian provide arguments for the deity of Jesus. These arguments are "straw men" which the Muslim easily refutes. So for example the imaginary Christian argues that Jesus is God because he could do miracles, and could heal leprosy and could cause a blind man to see, and could raise the dead and could walk on water and could cast out devils. The Muslim refutes this by pointing out that other prophets (like Elijah or Elisha; but not Muhammad) also healed people or raised the dead.

This is true, but for informed Christians, Jesus' healing is not, by itself, proof of Jesus’ deity. They are, however, reasons that Christians take seriously what Jesus taught about himself. None of the prophets ever taught that they were above the Sabbath, or could forgive sins, or could overturn God's dietary laws, or were "one" with the Father. Jesus' miracles and resurrection give us reason to believe that Jesus was telling the truth.

But now that we’re on the subject, the non-Muslim might ask, what reason do we have to believe that Muhammad was telling the truth? Why should we believe Muhammad just because he said he received revelations from God? Other people have said they have received revelations from God too.

Why should we believe Muhammad just because he said he went on an overnight trip to Jerusalem (a roughly 1,400 mile round trip long before Saudi Airlines was developed) even though both his bed-partner for that night and his wife A’isha admitted that Muhammad's body didn’t go anywhere that night? Some of us want evidence.

Muslims will say that the Qur’an is evidence. I’ve read the Qur’an. While Muslims may see the Qur’an as a thing of beauty, most non-Muslims do not see it that way. We do not see it as evidence that Muhammad was a genuine prophet. In fact, quite the contrary.

On the other hand, Jesus’ miracles—which even Muhammad admits Jesus did—and Jesus' resurrection are evidence that Jesus really was who he claimed to be and who others claimed him to be, i.e. the Messiah, Savior, and incarnation of God.

More on the resurrection of Jesus in part 9 tomorrow.