Historical Jesus and the Quran, Reliability of New Testament Documents, Apocryphal Gospels and the Quran

October 18, 2015 at 12:04 am (Uncategorized)

A few days ago there was a debate between Ijaz Ahmad and Dr Tony Costa on the topic of whether Jesus was the Son of God or just His prophet. The debate itself can be viewed here.

A detailed review of this debate by Muhammad Asad was published here. Wish the permission of the author, I am only re-producing a section of this review which touches upon topics such as: the Historical Jesus, are the Quranic stories “borrowed” from non-canonical sources, the Quran on the Trinity, comments of Tarif Khalidi and the reliability of the New Testament writings.

  1. Scholars do not approach the Quran to learn about the historical Jesus this is a strange comment. Indeed the Quran arrives at the scene some 600 years after Jesus. If we a priori dismiss the possibility of miracles and revelation, and deny a priori the possibility of Muhammad (saw) having received revelation from God, then naturally we would not use the Quran to know anything about the historical Jesus. We would go to the earliest sources. In a similar manner, historians deem to be “historically worthless” the words attributed to Jesus pertaining to the prophets of the old. They would go to the earlier pre-New Testament documents to learn about the prophets who were active much before the time of Jesus and would not be approaching the words of Jesus to learn, say, about the historical David, historical Moses, the historical Abraham etc. This does not cause any “problems” for Muslims. We believe that the Quran is the revelation of God. Therefore, it does not matter if this revelation occurred 600 years after the earthly ministry of Jesus. The source is God and God knows what happened.
  1. Historical Jesus Research – Jesus as God and “Son” – From time to time Dr Costa mentioned the “historical Jesus.” He talked about the title “son of God,” cited some New Testament passages and commented how “liberal” scholars deem them to be authentic.

People like Dr Costa are terrific salesmen who are selling a highly deficient product, namely, their evangelical Jesus. I say this because the historical Jesus studies, as a whole, has completely destroyed the evangelical conception of Jesus. For example, consider the divinity of Jesus (emphasis added):

“One of the cardinal principles of historical Jesus research is that the belief in Jesus’s divinity is a post-resurrection phenomenon. During his life, his acts of power were understood as signs that God (or Satan) was working through him – not that he was God.

The gospel of John presents Jesus teaching that he’s divine, but most scholars treat this as a later interpretation rather than a historical fact because it’s so much more highly developed here than in the earlier gospels and gospel sources …” 1

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Jesus the Jew – But What Sort of Jew?

May 4, 2009 at 1:12 am (Historical Jesus)

Jesus the Jew – But What Sort of Jew?

A Lecture by John P. Meier

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A Brief History of Hadith Collection and Criticism

January 20, 2008 at 3:12 pm (Hadith Studies)

A friend recently posted the following details in an internet discussion group. I am making slight changes to it:

Dr. Jonathan Brown is a young and eloquent American hadith scholar at Washington University. He completed his PhD in 2006 entitled:

A while ago Dr. Brown delivered an excellent lecture on the introduction of hadith, in which he also critically examined some of the theories propounded by scholars such as Schacht, Goldziher and Juynboll.

At one point in his lecture Dr. Brown says:

I have never been more impressed with anybody in history in my life than with Muslim hadith scholars. I mean, when I first started studying hadith I was very skeptical, I though it was all made-up and bogus but the more you study it the more you just appreciate the intense brain power of these people. I mean they memorized thousands and thousands of books and then they were able to recall all the different versions of hadith from these books, and then they were able to analyze them and put them all together and figure-out where they all connect and make judgments about the authenticity of these hadith. I mean even nowadays with electronic databases, and computers and word processing, I have hard time following even their discussions of the hadith-let alone their original mastering that they were drawing on. Its almost unbelievable… Its almost unbelievable, and if you didn’t have the books in front of you that they wrote, I wouldn’t believe it personally…

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Response to Dr. James R White’s “Anonymous Books and Inspiration”

November 7, 2007 at 12:49 am (Canon, Dialogue/Discussions/Debates, General, New Testament Studies, The "Bible" in Islamic sources)

A response to Dr. James R White’s “Anonymous Books and Inspiration”

This will be a response to a short paper authored by Dr. James White entitled “Anonymous Books and Inspiration” (http://www.aomin.org)

The main issues raised by White may be identified as follows:

    1. Muslim and Christian conception of the nature of inspiration of Scripture
    2. The significance and consequence of anonymous writings in the Bible
    3. Muslim view of the Bible

The issues have not been brought up in precisely the above order by White. I will go through them briefly in an attempt to comment upon what I consider to be White’s weak points and problematic arguments.

1. Concept of the inspiration of Scripture

White leaves the reader with the impression as if Christians, of the present and the past, have agreed upon a single unified conception of the nature of inspiration of Scripture – the one proposed by him. However, even a cursory glance at the scholarly material on the subject will make it amply clear to any investigator that there has never been a single accepted view of inspiration among Christians. Even today Christians are not united upon a single view of inspiration but adhere to a variety of competing views. A major reason for this is that no author of the Bible clearly defined and put forth a precise theory of inspiration. Likewise, with few exceptions, the majority of the early Christians, while accepting the fact of inspiration of the writers of Scripture, did not examine further its manner and degree of impact upon them.[1] The Christian preoccupation with ‘inspiration’ and its working is rather recent. Thus, over the years the scholars and preachers have studied the different Biblical writings and have sought to come out with a concept of inspiration which seems to them to best account for and explain the nature of the Biblical writings.

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A Rejoinder to James (Part 1)

November 6, 2007 at 11:14 pm (Dialogue/Discussions/Debates, Shabir Ally articles)

A Rejoinder to James (Part 1)

Shabir Ally

In response to my Report on the Seattle Debate, Dr. James R. White has published some responses. I here offer a rejoinder to his “Further Response to Shabir Ally (Part 1 http://www.aomin.org)”. I hope that James and I are not simply being contentious with all of these rebuttals and counter-rebuttals. Some students of comparative religion have urged me to answer the questions raised by Dr. White. I hope we will all benefit from the exchange of information and viewpoints. As is already quite clear, I do not know everything that there is to know about the subjects being discussed. I therefore welcome the opportunity to bounce my ideas out there and to learn from the responses I receive.

Definitions of ‘Crucifixion’

The term ‘crucifixion’ and its related forms have been used in a variety of contexts with varied meanings that need to be defined before we proceed. For our purposes here, ‘crucifixion’ has two meanings: (1) merely hanging a person on a cross; and (2) killing a person by hanging him on a cross.

Whichever of these two meanings is intended will have to be determined by context. We use the word in our writings sometimes with one meaning, and sometimes with the other meaning. This is unavoidable. Both James and I have done it. Even the Bible does it.

I have maintained that the classical interpreters of the Quran took the Quranic statement, ‘they did not crucify him’ in the first sense, whereas we should really take it in the second sense. Hence, they thought that the verse means, ‘they did not even hang him on a cross’; but we should really take the verse to mean ‘they did not kill him by hanging him on a cross’.

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Conversing With a Caller on the Dividing Line of Oct. 23, 2007

November 1, 2007 at 7:05 am (Dialogue/Discussions/Debates, Shabir Ally articles)

Conversing With a Caller on the Dividing Line of Oct. 23, 2007

Shabir Ally

In two separate articles (here and here) I have already responded to the main points made by Dr. James R. White in the Dividing Line broadcast of Oct. 13, 2007. Here I respond to his conversation with a caller. A gentleman who was at the debate called in to speak to James, and three important points came up in the ensuing discussion. My comments are as follows:

The Story of Achan

As already seen, one of the points which some Christian scholars raise against the theory of penal substitution is about the injustice involved in crucifying the innocent to free the guilty. In response, James said in essence that I do not understand the idea of corporate justice as is known from the Bible. I was puzzled. James explained this with reference to the story of Achan. After the Battle of Ai, Achan had not turned over to the public treasury all of the spoils taken from the enemy. As a punishment for Achan’s withholding from the state treasury, Achan, his sons, his daughters, his cattle, his donkeys, and his sheep were stoned and then burned by the congregation under the direction of Joshua. As a result, the Lord turned from his fierce anger (Joshua 7:24-26).

When James mentioned this I volunteered that I did not know the story. He seems now on DL to delight over the fact of my ignorance. I do not mind this, for it is good now and again to remember that what I know is only a little. But it would also be important for James to recall what my response was to this story and to the corporate justice James thinks it establishes. My retort was that this too is injustice. Therefore this could not be used as an answer to the injustice of the cross as a means of Atonement. I added that if I point to one example of injustice and James points to another we now have two examples of injustice. Two wrongs do not make a right. In sum, James has succeeded in showing me an example of injustice in the Bible of which I had no previous knowledge.

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Comments on the Dividing Line Part 2

November 1, 2007 at 6:49 am (Dialogue/Discussions/Debates, Shabir Ally articles)

More Comments on the Dividing Line of Oct. 23, 2007

Part 1

Part 2

Shabir Ally

I have already responded to several comments made by Dr. James R. White in the Dividing Line broadcast of Oct. 13, 2007. Here I respond to the remainder of the important points raised in his broadcast. I deal separately with his conversations with a caller.

The Current Debate Among Christian Scholars on the Nature of the Atonement

Some of James’s comments relate to that part of the debate in which I repeated the statements of some Christian scholars on the meaning and significance of Christ’s death, and in what manner it may be said that he died for us. I must retrace the argument here before addressing James’ criticisms.

This is especially necessary since James seems to address the issues from a singular perspective. The framework of our debate necessitated an allotment of equal time and space for the advancement of our respective views. Now that the debate is over, James has published his written speeches alone, thus upsetting that balance. Moreover, on the DL broadcast he simply reads off his own brief notes, which he took during my presentation, and proceeds to respond to my points one by one. It is as if he has continued debating with me in my absence. I have to now state here what I said in my opening speech to show what it is that James is responding to on DL. I was not working from a prepared speech, but to the best of my recollection here is what transpired (I hope that if a transcript of the debate is ever produced the results for the relevant portion will be substantially as follows):

I mentioned that in preparation for the debate I read an interesting book which was on the recommended reading list provided by Dr. James R. White, a book by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, The Nature of the Atonement. The book is a collection of articles from four Evangelical scholars each representing a slightly different view of the Atonement, and responding to each other. Thomas R. Schreiner represents the view most akin to that of Dr. James R. White. According to this view, Jesus’ death was a penal substitution for the death of others. He took the place of others on the cross in order to placate God and appease his wrath.

The other scholars did not all reject this view. But even those who did not altogether reject this view nevertheless preferred other ways of speaking of the significance of Christ’s death, and mentioned some objections to Schreiner’s view. Their comments of course, by implication, would go against Dr. White’s view as well; hence their relevance to our debate.

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Comments on the Dividing Line Part 1

October 30, 2007 at 3:45 pm (Dialogue/Discussions/Debates, Shabir Ally articles)

Comments on the Dividing Line of Oct. 23, 2007

Part 1

Part 2

Shabir Ally

In the Dividing Line of Oct. 13, 2007 (see http://www.aomin.org), Dr. James R. White made several comments on our debate. I would like here to respond to his most important points.

Luke 13:33 as evidence that Jesus did not die on the cross

I will not belabor the point here. But James asserts that this point was only marginally related to the Atonement. I would have expected him to comment on the point I was making. I was using this verse as evidence that Jesus did not die on the cross. In fairness, I did explain in my earlier report that James has an explanation with which he may be satisfied that my point does not hold. Yet I press forward with the point here as being at least a piece of evidence that points to a reality other than that to which the Gospels wish to convey. They assure us that Jesus died on the cross. But this verse has Jesus saying that it is impossible for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem. And John’s Gospel does say that the crucifixion took place outside of Jerusalem. James agrees that Jesus said this in self-reference. This means that Jesus himself is the prophet who cannot die outside of that city. It follows logically that Jesus did not die on the cross. James dismisses this implication with the assumption that Jesus did not mean to speak strictly of Jerusalem but to allow for Jerusalem and its immediate environs to be included in the mention of Jerusalem. Yet it remains that this is a verse that should be placed on the side of the evidence that supports the view that Jesus did not die on the cross.

Did Jesus Die for Everyone?

James wonders if I was aware of the differences among Christians on the question of whether Jesus died for everyone or just for those whom God decided in advance to save. He is surprised that neither I nor anyone else brought this up. I chose not to raise this question, as it may have proved a distraction from the main matter at hand. In arguing that Jesus died for no one, I was by implication arguing that Jesus did not die for God’s people. I could, of course point to various Bible verses to show that various authors seemed to have different opinions about this. Some thought that Jesus died for everyone; others thought that Jesus died only for the pre-selected few. This difference among the writers of the New Testament and the differences among later Christians highlight a problematic question with regards to the atoning value of Jesus’ death. If his blood was sufficient to wash away the sins of everyone, why are only a limited number saved as in the Calvinist view? I chose, however, not to raise this problem at the time as there were other larger problems with the Atonement to deal with.

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Critical Commentary on White’s debate summary

October 24, 2007 at 5:58 pm (Debate reviews, Dialogue/Discussions/Debates)

This will be a brief commentary on James White’s summary
(http://www.aomin.org/index.php?catid=11&blogid=1) of his second debate with Shabir Ally which took place on 19/10/07 in Seattle. The topic of the debate was: “Was Jesus Christ Crucified as a Willing Sacrifice for the Sins of God’s People?”

Shabir Ally has already responded to White’s summary here and another recent reply by Shabir Ally is to be found here.

Of course, no review of the debate can be offered at this stage simply because we will have to see it first. Nonetheless, since White has already commented upon the debate and shared some of his arguments and thoughts, it does no harm to engage with his claims and remain quite on the bits which require the viewing of the debate.

White’s comments will be in normal text, indented, followed by the commentary in bold.


    I opened the debate with the assertion that the only reason a Muslim
    like Shabir Ally would deny that Jesus died upon the cross as a willing
    sacrifice for the sins of God’s people is due to 40 Arabic words,
    specifically, Surah 4:157. I quote from my opening statement:

    I am asserting that the reason Shabir Ally sits here
    this evening in denial of the thesis is due to these 40Arabic words,
    traceable, at their earliest, to the revision done of the Qur’anic
    texts ordered by Uthman and undertaken by a committee chosen by him
    sometime after the middle of the seventh century according to the
    tradition recorded in Al-Bukhari. There truly is no other reason.

White could have simply said:

“I am asserting that the reason Shabir Ally sits here this evening in denial of the thesis is due to these 40Arabic words, traceable to the Qur’an”

instead of adding the irrelevant – and questionable – bit:

the revision done of the Qur’anic texts ordered by Uthman and undertaken by a committee chosen by him sometime after the middle of the seventh century

The above ‘account’ is most certainly not “according to the tradition recorded in Al-Bukhari.” The hadith in Bukhari does not mention a ‘revision’ but an accurate reproduction of the Quranic text, left by Muhammed (P), in multiple copies.

For those who may not know: Uthman was one of Muhammad’s (P) closest companion, himself a complete memoriser of the Quran, and Muhammad’s (P) son in law, while the chosen committee members were likewise close confidents and companions of Muhammad (P), who had also memorised the complete Quran. Their task was to faithfully reproduce the Quran in multiple copies by painstakingly going through all of the primary written and oral evidence, putting it through strict tests: no document was accepted as evidence unless it was written in the presence of Muhammed (P); memorisers had to have learnt the Quran from Muhammed (P); for every verse two memorisers and a corresponding written transcription was required. Muhammed’s (P) personal scribes were also consulted in the process. This is the traditional Muslim account.

White would never doubt the authenticity of a Christian document if it was known to have reached us through the agency of dear and close disciples of Jesus (P), who were known to have learned his teachings, even memorising some of Jesus’ (P) words, and having spent at least a few years with him. On the contrary, White would use this fact as a piece of evidence in favour of authenticity/reliability, since such intimate disciples of Jesus (P) could hardly be suspected of maliciously changing and altering the teachings of their teacher. But he wants us to believe that close companions of Muhammed (P), who spent a good portion of their lives under his supervision, wilfully altered and changed the Quranic text.

(Furthermore, the more correct opinion is that the Quran was reproduced in multiple copies in the time of Uthman not “sometime after the middle of the seventh century” but in the year 650 (30 A.H). Other possible dates proposed by Muslim scholars being a little earlier: 643, 644 and 645. See the discussion in Ahmad ‘Ali al Imam, Variant Reading Of The Qur’an: A Critical Study Of Their Historical And Linguistic Origins, 1998, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, pp. 32-35).

Moving on, so what if 4:157 consists of ‘40 Arabic words’? James white will now repeat the ‘40 Arabic words’ phrase ad nauseam. Why should this be ‘significant’? White uses this as a shock technique, as rhetoric, in an attempt to seemingly reduce the significance of the passage. For Muslims the Quran is God’s direct revelation, so that 40, 30, and every single individual word is authoritative and important. Muslims do not subscribe to the view that “the fewer quantity of words in a Quranic passage the lesser its importance.”

Moreover, even if we were to dismiss the claim of 4:157 and conclude, one way or another, that the Quran does not actually deny Jesus’ (P) crucifixion and death, it would remain that the notion of Jesus (P) dying “as a willing sacrifice for the sins of God’s people” would still be absent in the Quran. That someone needs to die for our sin is a belief which is not preached within the Quran. Perhaps, at most, Jesus (P) would be argued to have died as a righteous martyr, but not as “a willing sacrifice for the sins of God’s people.” The theology of “a willing sacrifice for the sins of God’s people” can be dismissed from other Quranic passages, which state that we are all responsible for our own actions and that God forgives again and again if we truly repent (for example, see 53:38-39; all created in a state of goodness 30:30; forgiveness of Adam and Eve 2:36-38, 7:23-24; forgiveness 11:90, 39:53-56; 2:286; 6:164; 28:67).

Of course, the claim itself that Jesus (P) died and was crucified is denied clearly by the Quran in 4:157.

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Relevance of The Story of Jairus’ Daughter in the Seattle Debate

October 23, 2007 at 5:59 pm (Debate reviews, Shabir Ally articles)

The Story of Jairus’ Daughter

And Its Relevance to the Seattle Debate

By Shabir Ally

In his “A Stormy Night in Seattle,” (http://www.aomin.org/index.php?catid=11&blogid=1 ) Dr. James R. White criticized me for raising again a point in Seattle that we had previously discussed in the Biola debate. The point of his criticism is that this discussion was irrelevant to the Seattle debate. I wish here to recount the story of Jairus’ daughter, and the discussion it entailed, to show why it was relevant to the latter debate.

The story of Jairus’ daughter is told in the three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Mark, the earliest of the New Testament’s four gospels, relates that one of the synagogue rulers, Jairus by name, came and besought Jesus saying:

    My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” (Mark 5:23 RSV)

While Jesus was on his way to heal the girl, however, some people came from the ruler’s house saying:

    “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” (Mark 5:35)

Ignoring them, Jesus continued on his way, exhorting Jairus to believe and not fear. Arriving at the house, Jesus assured the crowd of mourners: “The child is not dead, but sleeping” (Mark 5:39). Entering where the girl lay, he commanded her to arise. Immediately the girl got up and walked.

Luke’s version of the story (Luke 8:40-56) is quite similar to that of Mark. Matthew’s report is shorter than that of Mark, but this fact has not been my point of objection. Rather, I agree that there is some benefit in summarizing the story even as we have done herein above. However, Matthew’s version is not a mere précis of the story. Matthew’s story is different in an important respect. Matthew has Jairus saying to Jesus from the start:

    “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” (Matthew 9:18)

I argued in the Biola debate that Matthew’s change in the story line fits a larger pattern, not only involving other such changes within Matthew’s Gospel, but across the Gospels in general. Modern scholars are in considerable agreement that Mark is the first of the four Gospels; that John is the last; and that Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources.

My point about the raising of the dead girl is that both Muslims and Christians believe that Jesus raised the dead. Muslims believe thus on the strength of the Quran’s testimony. The Quran does not show precisely how Jesus brought a dead person back to life, but merely says that he raised the dead by God’s permission. One can easily understand that Jesus may have had some knowledge, given to him by God, of how to resuscitate near-dead persons who, at the time, would have been declared dead. Mark’s story especially lends itself to this simple interpretation. Jesus himself had assured the crowd that the girl was not dead but merely asleep.

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