Shamounion Straw men and Obfuscations: A Critical Commentary on Sam Shamoun's: The Purpose and Cause of Jesus' Death

 

 

This is our rebuttal to an attack by Sam Shamoun against Shabir Ally to be found here: http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Shabir-Ally/crucifixion1.htm

 

In some instances we will not be citing and going through Shamoun's points block by block for reasons which will be explained shortly.

 

Sam Shamoun said:

 

Christian apologist and scholar Dr. James R. White (*) debated Shabir Ally on October 19, 2007 concerning the subject of Jesus' substitutionary death and resurrection. Since then Shabir has written several articles in an obvious attempt of doing some damage control (1, 2). It seems that Shabir wasn't too pleased with his performance and decided to remedy that by writing a series of replies to some of the claims made by Dr. White.

 

Response:

Those who have been attentively following the debate and discussion between Shabir Ally and James White can only reach two conclusions here: 1. Shamoun is lying; 2. Shamoun reveals another example of how he suffers from a severe comprehension problem.

The reason for this is simple: after the 19/09/07 debate, it was James White who - almost immediately - began writing articles against Shabir Ally. Following Shamoun's "logic", James White was obviously doing damage control and it seems he was not too pleased with his performance and decided to remedy that by writing a series of replies to some of the claims made by Shabir Ally.

The series of articles by Shabir Ally were simply his RESPONSES to the initial series of articles produced by James White. Does Shabir Ally not even have the right to reply to criticism? According to Shamoun, the answer appears to be "yes"!

To apply Shamoun's reasoning upon himself: recently David Wood had a debate with Muslim apologist Sami Zaatari. Soon after the debate Shamoun began publishing several articles in an obvious attempt of doing some damage control (*, *) It seems that Shamoun wasn't too pleased with David's performance and decided to remedy that by writing a series of replies to some of the claims made by Sami Zaatari.

Furthermore, Shabir Ally has made no statement or given any indications which may cause one to suspect that perhaps he thinks he did not do well in his debate with James White. On the contrary he is very pleased with his debate performance and his pleasure may be inferred from the tone of his responses to James White. Let's just accept this (that Shabir Ally thinks he did well), even if some may disagree with his arguments, instead of attempting to enter Shabir Ally's mind to extract his "actual/real" feelings.

 

Shamoun writes and quotes:

 

Here is an example of Shabir going in damage control mode:

 

In my earlier "Report on the Seattle Debate," I argued that it was James's responsibility to prove three things: that Jesus died on the cross; that he died as a sacrifice for sins; and that he died willing to be such a sacrifice. James's support for each of these three points comes from the more evolved stages of the Gospel tradition as I have shown in the debate. The later the Gospel the more it proves that Jesus definitely died; that he was a sacrifice for sins, and that he came into the world for the very purpose. If it is true that the stories evolved in this way, then James's assertions fall flat. (Relevance of The Story of Jairus' Daughter in the Seattle Debate; 1, 2)

 

Response:

 

As noted above, Shamoun gets the chronology wrong. The above is Shabir Ally's reply to a paper published by James White in which he (White) criticised Ally for raising the topic of the raising of the daughter of Jairus. Since we know that White wrote first and Ally merely responded to him, it thus follows (as per Shamoun's logic of course) that White was the one doing damage control!

 

Shamoun embarrasses himself by failing to comprehend the part where Shabir Ally states categorically at the beginning of his paper that he is responding to the criticisms raised by James White in his paper entitled "A Stormy Night in Seattle" (emphasis ours):

 

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. (Source)

 

Despite this very clear statement, which would be sufficient for even a child to realize that Ally is responding to a paper (by White) published earlier on criticising him (Ally), Shamoun still proceeds to convey the misleading impression as if Ally, out of no where, began writing a series of papers against James White after their debate!

 

Sam Shamoun said:

 

Yet let us not forget that the thesis of the debate was, "Was Jesus Crucified as a Willing Sacrifice for the sins of God's People?" Shabir's responsibility, his burden of proof, was to prove from the earliest available data that Jesus didn't die as a willing sacrifice.

 

Response:

 

We believe that Shabir Ally was successful in showing that Jesus (peace be upon him) did not die as a willing sacrifice.

 

Sam Shamoun said:

 

With this in mind our aim in this current article will be to cull the NT corpus to see whether there is any doubt concerning Jesus dying on the cross. We will analyze the earliest strands of the NT tradition and compare it with the writings which came later in order to see if any evolution has taken place concerning Jesus' death being substitutionary in nature.

 

Response:

 

From here on Shamoun will indulge in large scale irrelevancies and raise points which were not denied by Shabir Ally to begin with.

 

Instead of going through his convoluted arguments point by point, we will cite Shamoun in full and then make a couple of general and specific points.

 

Sam Shamoun said:

 

We will also attempt to examine some of Shabir's underlying assumptions and see how they affect (more like skew) his reading of historical and scholarly sources.


The Pauline Corpus

 

Since Shabir takes for granted that the Pauline corpus predates the composition of the canonical Gospels we will begin there. Paul writes concerning the death of Christ that:

 

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it? the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (hilasterion) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:21-28

 

Hilasterion refers to a sacrifice that turns aside God's wrath, appeasing God's justice so that he can be made propitious (favorable) towards repentant sinners (*).(1)

 

Paul further writes concerning the death of Christ:

 

"But the words 'it was counted to him' were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." Romans 4:23-25

 

"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

 

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." Galatians 1:3-5

 

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20

 

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Ephesians 5:1-2

 

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ DIED for the ungodly. . but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ DIED for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the DEATH of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Romans 5:6, 8-11

 

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you? unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ DIED for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that HE WAS RAISED on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, MOST OF WHOM ARE STILL ALIVE, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me." 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

 

Jesus, according to Paul, died for the ungodly, was given up for our trespasses, for our sakes, and as a sacrifice. There can be absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this Apostle believed and emphatically proclaimed the vicarious nature of Jesus' death.


The Gospel of Mark

 

Shabir further accepts Markan priority, i.e. Mark is the first of the Gospels to be written which Matthew and Luke used in composing their writings. We will therefore quote from this particular writing in order to establish our case.

 

In several Markan passages Jesus announces that he would be handed over to death and that three days later he would rise again:

 

"And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be KILLED, and after three days RISE AGAIN. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.' And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.'" Mark 8:31-38

 

Jesus has to rebuke Peter who, much like Shabir, couldn't accept that God's Messiah could be killed on a cross. Christ's reference to carrying up one's cross is intended to show his followers that they must follow his own example and be willing to suffer for God's sake since it was only a matter of time before he would be killed by crucifixion.

 

"They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will KILL him. And when he is KILLED, after three days HE WILL RISE.'" Mark 9:30-31

 

"They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, saying, '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 will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and KILL HIM, and three days later HE WILL RISE AGAIN.' James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, 'Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.' And He said to them, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' They said to Him, 'Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.' But Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?' They said to Him, 'We are able.' And Jesus said to them, 'The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom (lutron) for (anti) many.'" Mark 10:32-40, 45 NASB

 

In the above citation Jesus clearly describes his death in terms of substitution, that he was going to die vicariously, in the place of others.

 

The word lutron refers to the price that is paid to ransom someone (*), which in this context refers to ransoming from sin. The ransom price that God demands for the redemption of sinners is death, or the life of the victim:

 

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life." Leviticus 17:11

 

In fact, lutron is used in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (Septuagint [LXX]) for the Hebrew pidion, a word used for the ransom paid for a man's life:

 

"When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him." Exodus 21:28-30; cf. Number 3:49-51

 

The preposition anti, "for," carries the meaning "instead of," "in place of," "on behalf of," etc.

 

Strong's # G473

 

1) over against, opposite to, before
2) for, instead of, in place of (something)

a) instead of
b) for
c) for that, because
d) wherefore, for this cause (
Source 1; 2)

 

Here are a few NT texts where the preposition is used in this precise sense:

 

"However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for (anti) me and for yourself." Matthew 17:27

 

"What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of (anti) a fish give him a serpent;" Luke 11:11; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:15

 

This conveys the notion of Jesus' death being substitutionary in nature. Interestingly, the late renowned NT Greek scholar Archibald T. Robertson seemed to have Shabir in mind when he wrote the following comments in reference to the parallel text found in Matthew 20:28:

 

A ransom for many (lutron anti pollwn).

 

The Son of man is the outstanding illustration of this principle of self-abnegation in direct contrast to the self-seeking of James and John. The word translated "ransom" is the one commonly employed in the papyri as the price paid for a slave who is then set free by the one who bought him, the purchase money for manumitting slaves. See examples in Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary and Deissmann's Light from the Ancient East, pp. 328f. There is the notion of exchange also in the use of anti. Jesus gave his own life as the price of freedom for the slaves of sin. There are those who refuse to admit that Jesus held this notion of a substitutionary death because the word in the N.T. occurs only here and the corresponding passage in Mark 10:45. But that is an easy way to get rid of passages that contradict one's theological opinions. Jesus here rises to the full consciousness of the significance of his death for men. (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament; source; underline emphasis ours)

 

Mark provides further clues that Jesus' death is substitutionary in nature. Christ mentions being delivered or handed over to the Gentiles or nations and of his drinking from the cup, terms which denote judgment and wrath.

 

For instance, there are several places in the OT where God says that he will deliver or hand his people over to the nations for judgment and make them drink from the cup of his wrath:

 

"Therefore the LORD was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance. He handed them over to the nations, and their foes ruled over them." Psalm 106:40-41 NIV

 

Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: 'Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.' So I took the cup from the LORD's hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it. Then you shall say to them, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you. And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts."'" Jeremiah 25:15-17, 27-29

 

"And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, 'If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.'" Revelation 14:9-11

 

With the foregoing in perspective Jesus' language clearly implies that he has come to take the place of sinners by drinking from the cup of God's wrath and being handed over to the Gentiles in order to experience the judgment they deserved.

It is therefore abundantly clear that Mark envisioned Jesus' death as a ransom to be paid for the salvation of lives.


The Johannine Corpus

 

The fourth Evangelist begins his Gospel by reporting the words of the Baptizer:

 

"John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'I am the voice of one calling in the desert, "Make straight the way for the Lord." . I baptize with water,' John replied, 'but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' . The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb (ho amnos) of God, who takes away the sin of the world!' This is the one I meant when I said, "A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me." I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.' Then John gave this testimony: 'I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit." I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.' The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, 'Look, the Lamb (ho amnos) of God!'" John 1:23, 26-27, 29-36

 

John identifies himself as the herald of Isaiah 40:3, the one who was sent to prepare for the appearance/manifestation of the glory of God:

 

"A voice of one calling: 'In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.'" Isaiah 40:3-5

 

According to the fourth Gospel Jesus is that manifestation of God's glory:

 

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, 'This was he of whom I said, "He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me."'" John 1:14-15

 

What makes this connection to Isaiah rather significant is that it is in this same context that John refers to Jesus as the Lamb, which is a direct allusion to the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the One who takes away the sin of God's people:

 

"But his form was ignoble, and inferior to that of the children of men; he was a man in suffering, and acquainted with the bearing of sickness, for his face is turned from us: he was dishonoured, and not esteemed. He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. All we as sheep have gone astray; every one has gone astray in his way; and the Lord gave him up for our sins. And he, because of his affliction, opens not his mouth: he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb (amnos) before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth... And I will give the wicked for his burial, and the rich for his death; for he practised no iniquity, nor craft with his mouth." Isaiah 53:3-7, 9 Septuagint (LXX)

We thus have a Gospel writer identifying Jesus as Isaiah's suffering Servant, the One who takes upon himself the sins of man. We will have more to say about Isaiah 53 a little later when we discuss Mark and the first epistle of Peter.

The Evangelist has a lot more to say regarding the vicarious nature of Jesus' death:

 

"'This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for (huper) the life of the world is my flesh.' The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' So Jesus said to them, '

 

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." John 6:50-58

 

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for (huper) the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me? just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for (huper) the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." John 10:11-18

 

"So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, 'What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.' But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, 'You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for (huper) the people, not that the whole nation should perish.' He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for (huper) the nation, and not for (huper) the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." John 11:47-52

 

"It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for (huper) the people." John 18:14

 

The preposition huper, much like lutron, conveys the idea of substitution, e.g. Jesus died in the place/on behalf of others (*).

John is not finished discussing the substitutionary death of Jesus:

 

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the one who turns aside God's wrath (hilasmos), taking away our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 1:7-10, 2:1-2

 

"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the one who would turn aside his wrath (hilasmon), taking away our sins." 1 John 4:10

 

The word hilasmos, much like hilasterion, means a sacrifice that takes away the wrath of God thereby by making him propitious (favorable) towards sinners (*).

 

Hence, John is in perfect agreement with both Paul and Mark concerning the vicarious nature of Jesus' death.

John was also a witness at the cross who saw Jesus personally die:

 

"Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness? his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth? that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: 'Not one of his bones will be broken.' And again another Scripture says, 'They will look on him whom they have pierced.'" John 19:31-37

 

Response:

 

We will make some general and specific points here.

 

1. Shamoun's straw man

 

Shamoun distorts Shabir Ally's position by implying that he (Ally) had denied the presence of the notion of Jesus (peace be upon him) as a vicarious sacrifice in the New Testament. However, Shabir Ally has never denied that the gospels of Mark & John, 1 John and the Pauline epistles claim that Jesus (peace be upon him) died for the sins of humanity, or that Jesus (peace be upon him) died "vicariously." Thus, Shamoun's massive effort at demonstrating that these writings claim that Jesus (peace be upon him) died as a vicarious sacrifice is beside the point since this was not denied to begin with. Shamoun has failed to follow Shabir Ally's argument attentively. Shabir Ally argues that the historical Jesus (peace be upon him) did not preach that he had come to die for the sins of others. Thus, the New Testament writers believing and asserting that Jesus (peace be upon him) died as a vicarious sacrifice only means that this is what they believed about Jesus (peace be upon him) and does not necessarily mean that this is the significance which the historical Jesus (peace be upon him) also attached to his possible death. There is a difference between the two. At most, Shamoun has only shown what certain New Testament writers claimed about Jesus (peace be upon him) - the significance they attached to his death - and not necessarily what the historical Jesus (peace be upon him) preached.

 

2. Unscholarly use of the gospels

A. Shamoun presumes that everything attributed to Jesus (peace be upon him) within the gospels must be historical and accurate. Therefore, he simply goes on and on citing the gospels. Critical scholars, however - most of whom are Christians - do not just read off Jesus' (peace be upon him) views and deeds from the surface of the gospels. They apply criteria to determine what Jesus (peace be upon him) may or may not have likely said or what may or may not be probably historical. As Tuckett explains:

Nevertheless the nature of the Gospel tradition means that we cannot simply take everything recorded in all the Gospels as unquestionably genuine reports about what Jesus said or did in a pre-Easter situation. (Christopher M. Tuckett, Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers, 2001, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 203.)

B. Shamoun quotes the words attributed to John the Baptist in the gospel of John (emphasising the sentences: Behold, the Lamb (ho amnos) of God, who takes away the sin of the world! and Look, the Lamb (ho amnos) of God!) with the introduction: "The fourth Evangelist begins his Gospel by reporting the words of the Baptizer..." Shamoun wants us to believe that these are the literal wordings (or the next best thing) of John the Baptist (peace be upon him). However, John the Baptist (peace be upon him) almost certainly did not utter these words. Instead, they are more than likely the creation of the author of John's gospel or of his community. Consider how the same episode is related in the canonical gospels in parallel:

 

Mark 1:9-11

Matthew 3:13-17

Luke 3:21-22

John 1:29-34

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
  
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
  
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel."
  
Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."

 

All four gospels agree that Jesus (peace be upon him) was baptised by John the Baptist (peace be upon him), yet there are intriguing differences between their accounts. The differences are especially more clearer between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. Mark has a simple story, according to which John the Baptist (peace be upon him) is conducting the rite of baptism for the forgiveness of sins and he preaches about the coming of one mightier than him (verses 7-8). Then appears Jesus (peace be upon him) who is baptised by John the Baptist (peace be upon him). As Jesus (peace be upon him) emerges from the water he sees the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove and he hears a voice from heaven which says: "You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). Thereafter Jesus (peace be upon him) is immediately driven into the wilderness where he faces certain temptations.

In Mark we find Jesus (peace be upon him) taken straight into the baptism - he enters Galilee and is immediately baptised by John (peace be upon him). In Matthew, however, we find a dialogue between Jesus (peace be upon him) and John (peace be upon him) which is seemingly aimed to solve a theological dilemma created by Mark - why would Jesus (peace be upon him) - who is superior - require baptism to repent for the forgiveness of sins at the hands of John (peace be upon him)? In this Matthean dialogue, John (peace be upon him) tries his best to prevent Jesus (peace be upon him) from accepting baptism.

Moving on to Luke, instead of inserting a similar dialogue, he simply speaks about the baptism generally and does not mention John (peace be upon him). This way the role of John the Baptist (peace be upon him) is de-emphasised.

The account in the gospel of John, however, is way off mark. The gospel of John has John the Baptist (peace be upon him) declare that Jesus (peace be upon him) is the "Lamb of God" upon whom the Spirit descended as a dove from heaven (John 1: 19-37). The synoptic gospels do not contain such words.

Both Matthew and particularly John, go out of their way to emphasise even more than Mark that Jesus (peace be upon him) was greater than John the Baptist (peace be upon him). How could it be that all the authors - apart from the author of John's gospel - "missed" noting the very significant words attributed to John the Baptist (peace be upon him) by the author of the fourth gospel (Behold, the Lamb (ho amnos) of God, who takes away the sin of the world! and Look, the Lamb (ho amnos) of God!) if they had been really uttered by John the Baptist? John's "Lamb of God" declaration is more than likely the author's own addition (or that of his community) which he inserted into the lips of John the Baptist (peace be upon him).

Thus, the words cited by Shamoun from John 1:23, 26-27, 29-36 are probably more reflective of the fourth gospel's theology than of the historical situation.

C.  Shamoun simply cites John's gospel as if it is presenting an accurate historical account of Jesus' (peace be upon him) ministry which we can just read off from the gospel's surface. He does not even bother to inform his readers that John is a particularly controversial document, the historicity of which is widely doubted. For example, E. P. Sanders, described by John B. Meier as America's "most distinguished scholar" in the field of historical Jesus research, seemed to have Shamoun in mind when he explained:

It is impossible to think that Jesus spent his short ministry teaching in two such completely different ways, conveying such different contents, and there were simply two traditions, each going back to Jesus, one transmitting 50 per cent of what he said and another one the other 50 per cent, with almost no overlaps. Consequently, for the last 150 or so years scholars have had to choose. They have almost unanimously, and I think entirely correctly, concluded that the teaching of the historical Jesus is to be sought in the synoptic gospels and that John represents an advanced theological development, in which meditations on the person and work of Christ are presented in the first person, as if Jesus said them. (E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure Of Jesus, 1993, Penguin Books, pp. 70-71.)

Shamoun is in the bad habit of often creating an artificial dichotomy between the "liberals" and the "conservatives" and will, undoubtedly, proceed to brush Sanders aside by labelling him a "liberal." Should Shamoun tread on this path, he would be acting in a deceptive manner since conservative scholars also tend to generally recognize that the fourth gospel should not be treated as a strictly "historical" source. To be precise, while most conservatives do not completely write-off John's gospel as utterly unreliable and argue in favour of its substantial or general historicity, they do however, generally tend to agree that John is a more "spiritual" and a more "interpreted" account of the life and ministry of Jesus (peace be upon him) and should not always be taken as literally presenting Jesus' (peace be upon him) words and deeds. The differences among scholars are only upon the degree of John's historicity (or the lack thereof).

We will cite a few prominent conservative scholars here.

While the late evangelical scholar, Bruce Metzger, believed that John recorded some "valuable historical data" and supplementary information (p. 95), he also proceeded to say that John was "guided by theological rather than simple historical interests" (p. 95) and implied that the Synoptics are more historical and reliable when he wrote:

While the synoptics preserve the sayings of Jesus more exactly in their original language and form, the fourth evangelist employs more freely his own modes of thought and language in reporting and interpreting the discourses of Jesus. (Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, its background, growth and content, 2nd edition, enlarged, Abingdon Press Nashville, p. 96.)

Next, consider the verdict of the late conservative Christian scholar and apologist F. F. Bruce, a favourite of conservative Christians and apologists. In his monumental commentary on John's gospel, he wrote:

 

The Evangelist records words which were really spoken, actions which were really performed. His record of these words and actions includes their interpretation, in which their inward significance is disclosed and faith is quickened in Jesus as the Revealer of the Father and the Saviour of the world.

 

The source of the Evangelist's interpretation of Jesus' words and actions is clearly indicated in his record. He reports Jesus' promise that the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, would come to guide his disciples into all truth, especially by bringing to their remembrance all that Jesus had taught them and making it plain to them. In reporting this promise, the Evangelist implies that he himself experienced a rich fulfilment of it, as he pondered the significance of what Jesus had done and said during his ministry, as he shared with others what he and his companions had seen and heard, and as he finally caused the contents of this gospel to be set down in writing. If in this Gospel the words and deeds of Jesus appear to have undergone 'transposition into a higher key' than that with which we are familiar in the Synoptic Gospels, this is the effect of the Spirit's enabling the Evangelist to adapt the story of Jesus to a different public from that for which the earlier Gospels were designed. The Spirit was, among other things, to serve as a trustworthy interpreter; his interpretive ministry is clearly to be discerned in the Gospel according to John. 

 

Interpretation (which in the Gospels involved, at an early stage, translation from the Aramaic which Jesus normally spoke into Greek) may take a variety of forms. A word-for-word transcription or translation is scarcely an interpretation in the usual sense of the word. Today one would 'interpret' the words of Jesus by transposing them from the Hellenistic Greek in which they have been preserved into a late twentieth-century idiom (whether English or any other language). Interpretation may result in an abridgement or a summary (it is widely believed, for example, that the speeches in Acts are literary summaries of what was originally spoken at much greater length). It may, on the other hand, result in an expanded version of what was said; if so, it will probably include a good deal of paraphrase. If the effect of such an expanded paraphrase is to bring out the sense more fully, then the use of this form is amply justified.

 

Plutarch, in his Life of Brutus, describes what happened in Rome on the morrow of Julius Caesar's assassination:

Anthony and his supports demanded that Caesar's will should be read in public, and that Caesar's body should not be buried in private but with customary honours..Brutus agreed to these demands..

 

The first consequence of this was that, when it became known that according to the terms of his will the dictator had presented seventy five drachmas to each Roman citizen and had bequeathed to the citizens the use of his gardens beyond the Tiber,. a great wave of affection for Caesar and a powerful sense of his loss swept over the people. The second consequence was that, after the dead man had been brought to the forum, Anthony delivered the customary funeral oration over his body. As soon as he saw that the people were deeply stirred by his speech, he changed his tone and struck a note of compassion, and picking up Caesar's toga, stiff with blood as it was, he unfolded it for all to see, pointing out each gash where the daggers had stabbed through and the number of Caesar's wounds. At this his hearers lost all control of their emotions. Some called out for the assassins to be killed; others.dragged out benches and tables from the neighbouring shops and piled them on top of one another to make an enormous pyre. On this they laid Caesar's corpse and cremated it..As the flames began to mount, people rushed up from all sides, seized burning brands, and ran through the city to the assassin's houses to set fire to them.

 

A vivid enough account, to be sure. But how was Caesar's will read, and what exactly did Mark Anthony say in his eulogy? A satisfying answer to these two questions is provided in a well-known English interpretation of Plutarch's narrative - not a word-for-word translation but an expanded paraphrase in which it is Anthony who reads Caesar's will aloud after he has excited the indignation of the crowd by exhibiting Caesar's torn and blood-stained robe and exposing his wounded corpse. Anthony's whole speech, from its low-key exordium:

 

Friends, Romans, countryman, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him -

 

To its ringing peroration:

 

Here was a Caesar! When comes such an other?

 

Is a translation of the freest kind, a transposition into another key; but Shakespeare's genius enables him to put the right words into Anthony's mouth, 'endeavouring as nearly as possible' (in Thucydidean fashion), 'to give the general purport of what was actually said'.

What Shakespeare does by dramatic insight (and, it may be added, what many a preacher does by homiletical skill), all this and much more the Spirit of God accomplished in our Evangelist. It does not take divine inspiration to provide a verbatim transcript; but to reproduce the words which were spirit and life to their first believing hearers in such a way that they continue to communicate their saving message and prove themselves to be spirit and life to men and women today, nineteen centuries after John wrote - that is the word of the Spirit of God. It is through the Spirit's operation that, in William Temple's words, 'the mind of Jesus himself was what the Fourth Gospel disclosed';  and it is through the illumination granted by the same Spirit that one may still recognise in this Gospel the authentic voice of Jesus. (F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John,1983, Eerdmans, pp. 15-17.)

 

In short, F. F. Bruce says that we should not view the fourth gospel as presenting the literal wording of Jesus (peace be upon him).

In his more apologetic work, THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS: Are they Reliable? http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/ffbruce/ntdocrli/ntdocc04.htm F. F. Bruce defends the traditional authorship claim for the gospel of John and also mounts a defence of its general historicity. He writes:

As for differences in diction between this Gospel and the others, there is no doubt that the fourth evangelist has his own very distinctive style which colours not only his own meditations and comments but the sayings of Jesus and of John the Baptist. This phenomenon has sometime been described as his transposition of the gospel story into another key. We must remember, of course, that the sayings of Jesus and John, as this evangelist records them, are translations of an oral Aramaic original; and it is antecedently probable that a disciple who had penetrated so deeply into our Lord's mind should have been unconsciously influenced by His style, so that it coloured all that he wrote. Partly because of this, it is, at times, difficult to decide where the Master's words end and where the disciple's meditations begin.

The Synoptic Gospels themselves bear witness to the fact that Jesus sometimes spoke in the style which He regularly uses in John's Gospel. Part of the difference in style between His teaching in the Synoptic Gospels and in this Gospel may be due to the difference in environment. In the Synoptic Gospels He is conversing, for the most part, with the country people of Galilee; in the fourth Gospel he disputes with the religious leaders of Jerusalem or talks intimately to the inner circle of His disciples. We must not tie Him down to one style of speech. The same poetical patterns as appear in the Synoptic discourses recur in the Johannine discourses.' The Synoptists and John agree in ascribing to Him the characteristic asseveration Verily (literally, Amen), I tell you,' except that in John the 'Amen' is always repeated. And even in the Synoptists we come, now and again, on some thoroughly Johannine phraseology. In John our Lord frequently speaks of His Father as 'him who sent me'; the same phrase appears in Mark ix. 37: 'Whosoever receives me, receives not me, but him who sent me' (cf. Mt. x. 40; Lk. ix. 48), almost the same words as we find in John xii. 44, xiii. 20. Still more striking is the passage in Matthew xi. 27 and Luke x. 22: 'All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and any to whom the Son is willing to reveal him'-an 'erratic block of Johannine rock', as it has been called.

It is worth mentioning here that striking affinities of thought and language have been recognised between this Gospel and the Qumran texts. These affinities must not be exaggerated; the Qumran literature coma nowhere near presenting us with such a figure as the Jesus of this Gospel. Yet the texts provide additional evidence for the basically Hebraic character of this Gospel. They appear especially in the phraseology which opposes light to darkness, truth to error, and so forth; and also in certain forms of messianic expectation which find expression both in the fourth Gospel and at Qumran.

We also meet quite remarkable similarities to the thought and language of the fourth Gospel in the Syriac collection of Christian hymns rather oddly entitled the Odes of Solomon, which belong to the end of the first or the early part of the second century.

But the most important question of all is that of the portrayal of Christ Himself. Does John present to us the same Christ as the Synoptists do? He is at one with them in viewing Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. If his purpose in writing the Gospel was that his readers might believe that Jesus was Messiah and Son of God, as he tells us (Jn. xx. 31), then we may recall that Mark introduces his record with very similar words: 'The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God' (Mk. i. 1). There is, in fact, no material difference in Christology between John and the three Synoptists. He does indeed view Jesus as the preexistent Word of God, the Eternal Father's agent in creation, revelation and redemption; but he does not emphasise His deity at the expense of His humanity. Jesus grows tired on His journey through Samaria Jn. iv. 6); He weeps at the grave of Lazarus (xi. 35); He thirsts upon the cross (xix. 28). Indeed, John is at pains to refute a current fancy that our Lord's humanity was only apparent and not real; that is why he insists so unambiguously that 'the Word became flesh (Jn. i 14) and affirms so solemnly, with the authority of an eyewitness, that there was nothing unreal about His death on the cross (xix.30-35).

We do, indeed, get a different impression of the self-disclosure of Jesus in this Gospel from that given by the Synoptists. In them the fact that Jesus is the Messiah is first realised by the disciples towards the end of the Galilaan ministry, at Caesarea Philippi, and Jesus gives them strict instructions to keep it to themselves; moreover, it is only then that He begins to speak about His forthcoming passion (Mk. viii. 27 ff.). In John His messianic dignity is recognized by others and acknowledged by Himself quite early in the record, while He speaks (in somewhat veiled language, to be sure) about the necessity for His death almost at the beginning of His ministry. The evangelist, of course, who had meditated for many years on the significance of the acts and words of Jesus, had learned to appreciate even the earliest stages of the ministry in the light of its consummation. Moreover, while Jesus might well refuse to blaze abroad His Messiahship in the revolutionary atmosphere of Galilee, there were sections of the population in Jerusalem who had to be confronted more directly with His claims, although even there it was a matter of complaint only three or four months before His death that He would not tell them plainly whether He was the Messiah or not (Jn. x. 24).

The last survivor of those who were most closely associated with Jesus during His ministry thought long and deeply about the meaning of all that he had seen and heard. Much that had once been obscure became clearer to his mind with the passage of time.

'What once were guessed as points, I now knew stars, And named them in the Gospel I have writ.'

In his old age he realised more than ever that, although the conditions of life in Palestine which had formed the setting for Jesus' ministry before AD 30 had passed away beyond recall, that ministry itself - indeed, the whole span of years that Jesus had spent on earth - was charged with eternal validity. In the life of Jesus all the truth of God which had ever been communicated to men was summed up and made perfect; in Him the eternal Word or self-expression of God had come home to the world in a real human life. But if this was so, the life and work of Jesus could have no merely local, national or temporary relevance. So, towards the end of the first century, he set himself to tell the gospel story in such a way that its abiding truth might be presented to men and women who were quite unfamiliar with the original setting of the saving events. The Hellenistic world of his old age required to be told the regenerating message in such a way that, whether Jews or Gentiles, they might be brought to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and thus receive eternal life through Him. Yet he would not yield to any temptation to restate Christianity in terms of contemporary thought in such a way as to rob it of its essential uniqueness. The gospel is eternally true, but it is the story of events which happened in history once for all; John does not divorce the story from its Palestinian context in order to bring out its universal application, and at the heart of his record the original apostolic preaching is faithfully preserved.

Another prominent conservative evangelical scholar, John Drane, a student of F. F. Bruce, likewise concludes:

. . . they [New Testament gospels] are certainly carefully crafted narratives aiming to tell the story of Jesus' life and teaching. As such, they are not to be judged by the standards of scientific enquiry, but according to the practises of story telling, in which the 'truth' of a narrative is to be judged as a whole on its own terms, rather than in relation to notions of truth and falsehood drawn from some other sphere of human endeavour. The early Christian communities clearly had no problem in accepting that within the gospel traditions there would be a subtle combination of factual and fictional elements. Had they not done so, they would certainly not have tolerated the existence of four gospels which, for all their similarities, are sufficiently different from one another as to defy all attempts at producing one harmonized, factual version of the life and teachings of Jesus from them. They knew that both artists and historians operate under similar constraints as they seek to balance fact with fictional elaboration, and that the telling of a good story . . . depends on the coherent combination of both these elements. While all four gospels contain factual fictive elements, the fourth gospel appears to have a greater preponderance of the latter. (John Drane, Introducing the New Testament, Lion Publishing Plc. Revised Edition. 1999 pp. 210-211)

 

Evangelical scholar Richard Bauckham in his recent book on the gospels argues that the fourth gospel stems from an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus (peace be upon him), namely, the disciple John. At the same time, however, Bauckham also acknowledges the differences between the fourth gospel and the Synoptics and argues that John is a more reflective and a highly interpreted account of the life and ministry of Jesus (peace be upon him). Regarding the canonical gospels in general, he concludes:

In all four Gospels we have the history of Jesus only in the form of testimony, the testimony of involved participants who responded in faith to the disclosure of God in these events. In testimony fact and interpretation are inextricable; in this testimony empirical sight and spiritual perception are inseparable. (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2006, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 411.)

Regarding the gospel of John specifically, Bauckham says:

All scholars, whatever their views of the redactional work of the Synoptic Evangelists and of the historical reliability of the Gospel of John, agree that the latter presents a much more thoroughly and extensively interpreted version of the story of Jesus. (Ibid. p. 410.)

Furthermore:

The concurrence of historiographic and theological concepts of witness in John's Gospel is wholly appropriate to the historical uniqueness of the subject matter, which as historical requires historiographic rendering but in its disclosure of God also demands that the witness to it speak of God. In this Gospel we have the idiosyncratic testimony of a disciple whose relationship to the events, to Jesus, was distinctive and different. It is a view from outside the circles from which other Gospel traditions largely derive, and it is the perspective of a man who was deeply but distinctively formed by his own experience of the events. In its origins and in its reflective maturation this testimony is idiosyncratic, and its truth is not distinguishable from its idiosyncrasy. As with all testimony, even that of the law court, there is a point beyond which corroboration cannot go, and only the witness can vouch for the truth of his own witness. (Ibid p. 411.)

According to Bauckham, the eyewitness author of the gospel of John did not just simply rehash mere eyewitness reports, but he also offered his highly reflective interpretations and understanding of the events:

... we can also apply the contrast between Mark (or the Synoptics in general) and John more widely. The greater selectivity of events recorded, the more continuous narrative with its more strongly delineated plot, the lengthy discourses and debates - all these distinctive features of the Gospel of John, as compared with the Synoptics, are what make possible the much fuller development of the author's own interpretation of Jesus and his story, just as comparable features of the works of the Greco-Roman historians enable the expression of their own understanding of the history, making their works more than mere reports of what the eyewitnesses said. But in the case of the Gospel of John these characteristics are linked with its claim to be entirely the testimony of an author who was himself an eyewitness. In this case, the whole historiographic process of eyewitness observation and participation, interrogation of other eyewitnesses, arrangement and narrativization in the formation of an integrated and rhetorically persuasive work - all this was the work of an eyewitness, whose interpretation was, of course, in play at every level of the process, but in what one might think of as a cumulative manner, such that the finished Gospel has a high degree of highly reflective interpretation. The eyewitness claim justifies this degree of interpretation for a context in which the direct reports of the eyewitnesses were the most highly valued forms of testimony to Jesus. In the case of the other Gospels it was important that the form of the eyewitness testimonies was preserved in the Gospels. The more reflective interpretive Gospel of John does not, by contrast, assimilate the eyewitness reports beyond recognition into its own elaboration of the story, but is, as it stands, the way one eyewitness understood what he and others had seen. The author's eyewitness status authorizes the interpretation. Thus, whereas scholars have often supposed that this Gospel could not have been written by an eyewitness because of its high degree of interpretation of the events and the words of Jesus, by contrast with the Synoptics, in fact the high degree of interpretation is appropriate precisely because this is the only one of the canonical Gospels that claims eyewitness authorship. (Ibid. pp. 410 - 411.)

Note that Bauckham does not deny the "highly reflective interpretational" status of the gospel of John. He only justifies it by arguing that the author was an eyewitness.

In light of the above, even if we are to accept the fourth gospel as a product of an eyewitness, it does not mean that we can simply read off from its surface the words attributed to Jesus (peace be upon him) as if Jesus (peace be upon him) literally uttered them in his historical ministry.

We should also note the view of I. H. Marshall, a leading modern conservative evangelical New Testament scholar. Writing in the The New Bible Dictionary - a major volume representing purely the work of top notch conservative scholarship - Marshall, like Bauckham, defends the thesis that the disciple John authored the fourth gospel and he also defends the general historicity of the gospel of John. At the same time, however, he too acknowledges that John presents a more interpreted and theologised narration of Jesus (peace be upon him).  To quote Marshall:

The teaching ascribed to Jesus in John differs markedly in content and style from that in the Synoptic Gospels. Such familiar ideas as the Kingdom of God, demons, repentance and prayer are missing, and new topics appear, such as truth, life, the world abiding and witness. At the same time, there are close and intricate connections between the two traditions, and common themes appear, e.g. Father, Son of man, faith, love and sending.  The style and the vocabulary also differ. There are no parables in John, and Jesus often speaks in long discourses or dialogues which are unparalleled in the Synoptic Gospels.

Many scholars, therefore, believe that John gives us his own thoughts or his own meditations upon the words of Jesus rather than his ipsissima verba. This conclusion is strongly supported by the fact that a very similar style and content is found in 1 Jn. Nevertheless, it must be carefully qualified. First of all, the Gospel of John contains many sayings which are similar in form and content to Synoptic sayings .  and which have equal right to be regarded as authentic.  Second, there is, on the other hand, at least one famous 'bolt from the Johannine blue' in the Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 11:25-27) which is a standing warning against the facile assumption that the Synoptic Jesus did not speak the language of the Johannine Jesus. Third, the same traces of Aramaic speech and the same conformity to Jewish methods of discussion are to be found in John as in the Synoptic Gospels.

Thus, we can say with considerable confidence that the sayings recorded in John have a firm historical basis in the actual words of Jesus. They have, however, been preserved in a Johannine commentary from which they can be separated only with great difficulty . This is no radical conclusion. So conservative a scholar as Westcott saw, for example, the words of John rather than of Jesus in 3:16-21.  (I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. J. Packer & D. J. Wiseman (Consulting Editors), New Bible Dictionary, 1996, Third Edition, Inter-Varsity Press, p. 602.)

 

Despite Marshall's insistence that Jesus (peace be upon him) did speak the language of the Johannine Jesus and that there is a "firm historical basis" to the sayings attributed to Jesus (peace be upon him) in the fourth gospel, he also states that the author presents his own thoughts and meditations on the words of Jesus (peace be upon him) and that the sayings of Jesus (peace be upon him) have been preserved in a "Johannine commentary." Furthermore, it is said that the separation of Jesus' (peace be upon him) words from this "Johannine commentary" can only be accomplished with "great difficulty." What then does it mean to say that the sayings of Jesus (peace be upon him) in the gospel of John have a "firm historical basis"? This confusing language and explanation is often applied by conservative scholars when they attempt to adopt two somewhat contrasting positions at the same time:

1) Defend John's "basic/general" historicity and also admit that not everything attributed to Jesus (peace be upon him) is historical

2) That unlike the Synoptics, John is a more interpreted and reflective account.

Finally, note should be made of James D. G. Dunn, one of the leading moderate New Testament scholars around and no "anti-supernatural liberal," who writes:

 

. few scholars would regard John as a source for information regarding Jesus' life and ministry in any degree comparable to the Synoptics. It is worth noting briefly the factors which have been considered of enduring significance on this point. One is the very different picture of Jesus' ministry, both in the order and the significance of events . and the location of Jesus' ministry . Another is the striking difference in Jesus' style of speaking (much more discursive and theological, in contrast to the aphoristic and parabolic style of the Synoptics).  As Strauss had already pointed out, this style is consistent, whether Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, or to the woman at the well, or to his disciples, and very similar to the style of the Baptist, as indeed of 1 John. The inference is inescapable that the style is that of the Evangelist rather than that of Jesus.130 Probably most important of all, in the Synoptics Jesus' principal theme is the Kingdom of God and he rarely speaks of himself, whereas in John the Kingdom hardly features and the discourses are largely vehicles for expressing Jesus' self-consciousness and self-proclamation. Had the striking 'I am' self-assertions of John been remembered as spoken by Jesus, how could any Evangelist have ignored them so completely as the Synoptics do?131 On the whole, then, the position is unchanged: John's Gospel cannot be regarded as a source for the life and teaching of Jesus of the same order as the Synoptics. (James D. G. Dunn, Christianity In The Making Vol. 1, Jesus Remembered, 2003, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pp. 165-166.)

Other conservative Christian scholars who have similar types of verdicts to offer regarding the historicity of the gospel of John include: Bruce Stein, Craig A Evans and Martin Hengel, to name a few.

None of these scholars (except Sanders) are "anti-supernatural" and "liberal."

D. According to Shamoun, "John was also a witness at the cross who saw Jesus personally die." He then proceeds to cite John 19:31-37. How does Shamoun know that the author of this gospel was an eyewitness to the events he narrates? Because he says so! But just because the author claims to be an eyewitness it does not follow he was right in his claim to be an eyewitness.Furthermore, the author of the passage does not identify himself; he does not say that he is John the disciple of Jesus (peace be upon him). Shamoun presumes that the writer of these words was none other than John on the basis of his a priori acceptance of later Church traditions which make this identification for the otherwise unknown author. On its own, the fourth gospel is anonymously written (as indeed are the rest of the canonical gospels).

Also note that John 19:31-37 does not actually state who wrote down the traditions. It only says that the disciple who witnessed Jesus' (peace be upon him) death spoke the truth. There is also a differentiation in the fourth gospel between the disciple who "is testifying to these things and has written them" and the author who (other than the disciple) who describes them, "we know that his testimony is true."

Needless to say, the authorship of the fourth gospel is also a fairly controversial and disputed topic among New Testament scholars. Shamoun expects his readers to be naļve and gullible when he makes not the slightest mention of the serious differences of opinion among Christian scholars on the issue, as if the authorship question is "settled." But highly disputed claims should be presented by informing the readers about the surrounding dispute for purposes of honesty. While not getting into the arguments, let us just say that almost all critical scholars and the vast majority of Christian scholars strongly doubt that the fourth gospel, at least in its finished form, stems from a disciple of Jesus (peace be upon him). It is true that there are a few scholarly defences of the traditional authorship claim for the fourth gospel (as noted above, F. F. Bruce and Richard Bauckham, for example), yet the fact that scholars generally dismiss them is also important to bear in mind.

Listed below are some of the authorship proposals for the gospel of John:

·   The author is the disciple John son of Zebedee (one of the twelve);

·   The author is John the Elder (not John the apostle/disciple) who as a young man had known Jesus (peace be upon him);

·   The author is Lazarus, or John Mark, or Thomas;

·   The "Beloved Disciple" is a symbol created to model the perfect disciple;

·   The "Beloved Disciple," a minor figure in Jesus' (peace be upon him) ministry, was the source of tradition within the fourth gospel but the one who actually wrote it could be his follower/disciple who himself was not an eyewitness to Jesus' (peace be upon him) ministry.

According to the last theory, the tradition about Jesus (peace be upon him) emanating from this minor witness to Jesus (peace be upon him) was interpreted and reflected upon over many years.

The purpose of the above is to show that there is a lot of dispute among scholars when it comes to identifying the author of the fourth gospel. A major reason for this is that the gospel itself is silent regarding the name of its author. Nonetheless, the majority of scholars are content to view this gospel as an anonymous document; at the end of the day we do not know who wrote it and it is quite unlikely that, in its final form, it stems from an eyewitness.

The following judicious and moderate observations on the issue of authorship come from Graham Stanton (who is also not a "liberal" or an "anti-supernatural" scholar):

At the end of the second century Irenaeus states that John the son of Zebedee lived to a great age in Ephesus and there wrote the gospel. Similar statements are found in other writers from this period and it quickly became an established tradition. However, it is difficult to accept its accuracy. There is no evidence in earlier writers that John resided in Ephesus; if he did so, this silence is surprising. The gospel itself does not make any explicit statement about its author.

In the second half of the gospel we meet the 'beloved disciple' (13: 23-5; 19: 26f.; 20: 2-8; and, according to some, 18: 15f. and 19: 35). Although numerous attempts have been made to equate the beloved disciple with John the son of Zebedee, on the basis of chapters 1-20 the best that can be said is that this is a possible inference. In 21: 7 (a later appendix) the beloved disciple is identified as one of the group of disciples mentioned in 21: 2: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples who are not named. Once again the beloved disciple may be linked with John son of Zebedee, but this is not a necessary conclusion. It is in fact unlikely. If the beloved disciple belonged to the circle of the disciples of Jesus from the beginning, why does the first reference to the beloved disciple come only at 13: 23?

The beloved disciple appears finally in 21: 24 . At first sight this verse suggests that the beloved disciple wrote the gospel. But does 'these things' refer to the whole gospel, to the whole of chapter 21, or just to the immediately preceding incident? And even if 21: 24 does refer to the whole gospel, it may well be no more than an attempt from the time when the appendix was added to identify the beloved disciple as the author of the gospel. So we are left with a number of unresolved problems. (Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, 2002, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 120-121.)   

 

A systematic look at the authorship of the gospel of John will be considered in a future paper. For the purposes of this paper, we only wish to draw attention to the dispute among scholars on the subject.

3. The significance, if any, the historical Jesus (peace be upon him) may have attached to his possible death is a much convoluted subject. A number of diverse views are to be observed, with some common views listed below.

The New Testament data is open to diverse interpretations when it comes to assessing the significance, if any, of the death of Jesus (peace be upon him). A few popular views:

A. Shamoun has presented one view, another view is as follows. Notice that the arguments here differ from Shamoun's in a number of ways although the conclusion is the same. Briefly: In Jesus' (peace be upon him) time there existed a view in Judaism according to which the sins of others could be expiated through the suffering and violent death of just persons. In fact, the martyrdom of even one righteous person could expiate the sins of others (a good example of this belief are the Maccabean texts - 2 and 4). Thus, it is possible that when the threat of death loomed up, Jesus (peace be upon him) applied this belief to himself. Furthermore, although Isaiah 52:13-53:12 may be used to support reflections on vicarious atonement, it is, however, never quoted in later writings of the Jewish Bible or even the non-canonical writings. Where allusions to this material about the Suffering Servant do exist in later texts, the notion of a death representatively atoning for others is missing. Be that as it may, the Isaiah texts played a role in shaping early Christian preaching and it may be argued that the motif of vicarious atonement found in Isaiah 52-3 goes back to Jesus (peace be upon him) himself. Nonetheless, one needs to be cautious. No clear texts exist from pre-Christian Judaism which mentions the Messiah's vicarious suffering in connection with Isaiah 53 (more on Isaiah 53 below). Furthermore, the pre-Christian belief of representative expiation did not envisage vicarious atonement through death by crucifixion. Judaism could not accept the atoning meaning of the cross since death on a cross signified being cursed by God. Yet Paul's epistles contain pre-Pauline traditions which mention Jesus' (peace be upon him) death "for us," or as an atonement for sins, thereby running counter to the pre-dominant Jewish beliefs. How do we explain this type of an understanding of the significance of Jesus' (peace be upon him) death? Such an interpretation could not have merely emerged when the disciples encountered the risen Jesus; rather, it is probable that Jesus (peace be upon him) had already in some way claimed to be the Messiah and indicated that his forthcoming death would have an atoning value.

(The above is a very quick summary of the arguments found in Gerald O'Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ, 1995, Oxford University Press. The above certainly does not do justice to the entirety of his arguments since O'Collins applies more arguments of different weight to strengthen his conclusion. Only the points deemed relevant for this paper have been presented above. For the full discussion see pages 70-80).

B. While the notion of a man's death having an atoning effect for others, even if faint, was present in Judaism in the time of Jesus (peace be upon him), that does not necessarily mean that this is also the significance which the historical Jesus (peace be upon him) attached to his possible death. It is difficult to reconcile such a view of death with Jesus' (peace be upon him) teachings in the gospels where we find him emphasising repentance, forgiveness and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. We do not find Jesus (peace be upon him) going around proclaiming "I will die for your sins." Jesus (peace be upon him) indicates in a number of his parables and remarks that it was not God's Will to have him killed. For example, in the parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard (Mark 12:1-12) Jesus (peace be upon him) relates the story about the vineyard owner sending his son to collect his share of the produce of the vineyard. The owner does not desire his son to get killed or sacrificed. The son is not sent for the purpose of getting killed. But when the son is killed by the tenants, the vineyard owner is upset and angry since he did not intend and expect the killing. Instead, the owner only desired the share of his produce. Thus, there is nothing here about sacrifice and a life given to make satisfaction. On the contrary, the themes we encounter in Jesus' (peace be upon him) teachings are about God's expectation of loyalty and of spiritual produce from the covenant people. God is disappointed when there emerges a violent and ignorant response. Jesus (peace be upon him) consistently puts stress upon spiritual growth and progress as can be seen by the expectation that the tenants will yield a profit, the assumption that trees will bear fruit ('fruit' stands for good works and spiritual progress) and the analogies of wheat and mustard growing. In the gospels people approach Jesus (peace be upon him) for spiritual help and he offers them God's forgiveness, healing and salvation. There is no reference here to atonement, redemption and substitutionary death. Moreover, Jesus (peace be upon him) preaches that people can do God's will, they can practice mercy, justice, honesty, trust and he emphasizes that God desires to seek out and save the lost, give good things to His children and to open the doors of the Kingdom to those who wish to enter. Moreover even within the passion predictions (Mark 8:30-31; 9:9-10; 9:30-31; 10:33-34; Matthew 20:19; 26:2; Luke 9:43-45; 18:32), there is no mention of a sacrifice, substitution, cleansing and payment. No saving significance is attached to Jesus' (peace be upon him) death. They only mention the inevitability of his being killed after being rejected. The salvific significance of Jesus' (peace be upon him) death is also missing in Luke and Acts, both of which present Jesus (peace be upon him) as a righteous martyr and not as someone who was meant to die for the atonement of sins (more on this in an upcoming paper). Finally, Jesus (peace be upon him) did not go out of his way to seek death. It is unrealistic to suppose that Jesus (peace be upon him) had determined in his mind that he had to die, believing his death to be sacrificial for others, and that he accomplished this by provoking the authorities. 

(The above has been summarised from: Stephen Finlan, Problems with Atonement: The Origins Of, and Controversy About, the Atonement Doctrine, 2005, Liturgical Press, pp. 109-110; Options on Atonement in Christian Thought, 2007, Liturgical Press, pp. 35-40; E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 1985, SCM Press Ltd., pp. 332-333).

C. Other variant interpretations of Jesus' (peace be upon him) death have been proposed by various New Testament scholars and theologians, some of them being: Jesus (peace be upon him) saw his death as that of a martyr and hoped to be vindicated; Jesus (peace be upon him) saw himself as dying in a good cause believing God would save the cause - Jesus (peace be upon him) hoped to be restored at the time of the Kingdom; Jesus (peace be upon him) hoped for divine intervention and the establishment of the Kingdom before he died; Jesus (peace be upon him) intended to die due to the theological principle of life requiring death; Jesus (peace be upon him) deliberately planned to die but not to atone but, instead, to bring in the 'eschaton'.   

D. The passion prediction: For reasons which cannot be too much elaborated here - since the discussion requires an article of its own - the complete or substantial authenticity of the passion predictions is widely doubted. Often they are deemed to be prophecies "after the event" by New Testament scholars. Before Shamoun starts his "anti-supernatural" rantings, let us state that the reason for this is not an a priori rejection of prophecy and miracles. Briefly, it has been argued that in the period between the arrest and the crucifixion of Jesus (peace be upon him), no one appears to have heard and reiterated the passion predictions. The disciples do not seem to know that Jesus (peace be upon him) had predicted his own death. Likewise, they do not seem to remember that Jesus (peace be upon him) had predicted his resurrection. The death of Jesus (peace be upon him) comes as a shock to them; it is something unexpected.   When the women go to the disciples to inform them about the empty tomb, the disciples "...did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (Luke 24:11). Such a reaction is strange, to say the least, if Jesus (peace be upon him) had already given repeated clear cut predictions about his death and resurrection to the disciples. Even if the disciples were initially shocked, how is it that they could not once remember Jesus' (peace be upon him) clear repeated predictions? One can believe in the supernatural, accept miracles and the possibility of prophecies and still see the serious problems associated with the passion predictions. There are good reasons for believing they are prophecies after the event. It is unreasonable to suppose that all the disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him) one day forgot his repeated passion predictions. (Detailed discussion on the passion predictions can be seen in different places in Geza Vermes' magnum opus, The Authentic Gospel Of Jesus, 2004, Penguin Books).

At most, it has been proposed that while Jesus (peace be upon him) may well have feared for his life and may have related this fear to his disciples. At the same time, however, Jesus (peace be upon him) also hoped and prayed to God to save him. Furthermore, as noted above, even if Jesus (peace be upon him) believed that he would die, it is not necessary that he attached an atoning significance to his death.

E. The use of Isaiah 53: That certain New Testament authors referred to Isaiah 53 does not mean that their use of it was correct. They were reading Isaiah 53 with theological glasses, much like modern Christians, such as Shamoun, read the Jewish Bible with evangelical glasses. There is no evidence to suggest that Isaiah 53 was taken by the Jews to refer to the awaited Messiah who was to die as atonement for sins. Such a view and significance of the Messiah was absent in Judaism. Interestingly enough, even Paul does not quote Isaiah 53 despite his belief in the concept of vicarious atonement.  Commenting upon Isaiah 53, Tom Wright appeared to have Shamoun in mind when he rightfully observed:

It seems very unlikely ... that there was a well-known pre-Christian Jewish belief, based on Isaiah 53, in a coming redeemer who would die for the sins of Israel and/or the world. (N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, 1994, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, p. 60.)

[Note: Tom Wright believes that Jesus (peace be upon him) died as an atonement for sins. His argument is that Isaiah 53 was very unlikely to have been understood by the Jews to be referring to the coming Messiah who would die as atonement for sins].

The detailed Jewish reply to Christian distortions of Isaiah 53 can be read here:

Isaiah 53: by Messiah Truth, Out Reach Judaism and Judaism Answer

Shamoun would have us believe that the notion of the Messiah having to die for the sins of others was an integral teaching of the Jewish Bible. Yet the fact is that the Jews were not waiting for such a Messiah nor is such a Messiah presented in the Jewish Bible. "Sin" was not a problem which was to be "sorted out" by the Messiah in such a manner. Instead, the Jews already had a system in place to deal with sin. They sacrificed animals in the temple and repented by asking God for forgiveness with the belief that God would forgive. The offered sacrifice represented something of value and was a sign of remorse on the part of the sinner. Nothing more was required.

Interestingly enough, the earliest (Jewish) Christians continued to offer sacrifices in the Temple and to observe the laws and the commandments after Jesus (peace be upon him), until the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.  This suggests that Jesus' (peace be upon him) death was not viewed as a one time sacrifice for sins. Since the Jerusalem apostles continued to remain in Jerusalem and participated in the daily Temple sacrifices this suggests: 1) that Jesus (peace be upon him) had not taught them that the Temple would be obsolete (however some Hellenists, such as Stephen, did attack the Temple in strong terms and were killed.); 2) that Jesus' (peace be upon him) death was not seen, initially at least, as a sacrifice to end all sacrifices; 3) that Paul, for whatever reason, is at least partly responsible for developing a sacrificial and atoning conception of Jesus' (peace be upon him) death; 4) with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. the question of its significance was settled for both sides: Temple sacrifice was no longer possible. As a result of this event, Rabbinic Judaism was born, which centred on the Torah. Moreover, Christianity, which had become a largely gentile movement by this time, had no need for Jewish rituals. The religion of Christianity as we understand it today, a purely spiritual faith, was firmly established. 'Christianity' like Judaism, had successfully reinvented itself in changed circumstances.

[Note: Much more can be said in reply to Shamoun's arguments, but that would make the paper much lengthier. For example, his comments on "Hilasterion" and its usage in Romans 3:21-28 are among some of the most controversial issues in New Testament studies, with diverse opinions floating around among scholars. Numerous PhD dissertations have been written just to ascertain the meaning of the word "Hilasterion" as used in Romans. The above general reply, however, will suffice for now.]

 


Exposing Shamoun's lie about: 'Exposing Shabir's uncritical use of anti-supernatural and liberal scholarship'

Sam Shamoun said:

Now what does Shabir do with such clear testimony? Why attack it of course!

More important, however, is the point I have made: the spear thrust is not to be taken as historical. Many Christian scholars (sic) believe that this did not actually occur, but that John mentioned it in his Gospel for theological reasons. Leaving aside this spear-thrust, then, what would have killed Jesus? We must ask the same question along with Raymond Brown. Instead of answering this question and proving that Jesus was verified to be dead beyond the mere appearance to be dead, James concentrated on attacking the scholars I cited. But since crucifixion pierces no vital organ I may still ask, along with Father Brown, about the actual cause of the death of Jesus.

Note how he has to attack the credibility of the Gospels, specifically that of John's, in order to sustain his thesis. How does Shabir know that the spear thrust is not historical? Simply because many(?) "Christian" scholars deny that this actually took place. And what is the evidence that they give to deny the historicity of this report? Nothing more than their ipse dixit (1, 2).

Response:

First note that the event of the spear thrust is said to have occurred after Jesus (peace be upon him) is said to have died. Thus, the spear thrust did not cause death. Secondly, the claim that scholars deny the historicity of the spear-thrust offer "nothing more than their ipse dixit" is simply incorrect. The following are some of the reasons why various scholars doubt the historicity of the spear thrust event:

To begin with, this event is unique to the gospel of John (which, by itself, does not mean it is unhistorical). The piercing incident is introduced as a fulfilment of prophecies. The soldiers do not break Jesus' (peace be upon him) legs since he is already dead - for John Jesus (peace be upon him) is the Paschal Lamb which does not have the bones broken (an allusion to Exodus 12:46). We read (v. 36): "These things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: 'Not one of his bones will be broken.'" The death of Jesus (peace be upon him) is viewed as a sacrifice of the Lamb of God. As for the spear-thrust to Jesus' (peace be upon him) side which caused blood and water to gush out, the reason why this had to occur is explained in Zechariah 12:10, to which allusion is made in v. 37: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced." It is possible that the first Christians referred to Zechariah 12:10 to point out Jesus' (peace be upon him) hands which were pierced by nails while the author of the fourth gospel applied the text to Jesus' (peace be upon him) pierced side. The blood signifies death, atonement and cleansing of sin, while water, being a life giving symbol throughout the gospel, signifies the outpouring of the spirit and the life which comes about for humanity through Jesus' (peace be upon him) death. Thus, Jesus (peace be upon him) is the Passover lamb who has been slain so that others might live. Therefore, given the author's unique theology so clearly permeating the entire event, there is a good possibility that the tradition has been either constructed/edited by the author, or by those from his community, even if not entirely, in light of his/their unique theological presuppositions.

But even putting this aside, it is, nonetheless, quite improbable that a disciple was present in close vicinity of the cross to witness the event up front. According to Mark and Matthew, Jesus (peace be upon him) was abandoned by his male friends. Jesus' (peace be upon him) close disciple Peter denied him three times out of fear of being identified as a follower of Jesus (peace be upon him). Only some women witnessed Jesus' (peace be upon him) last moments, that too from a distance (Mark 14:50 & 15:40-41; Matthew 26:56 & 27:55-56). All of Jesus' (peace be upon him) disciples and apostles are said to have deserted him and fled. Luke, on the other hand, is vague, but brings in a few more to the scene who, nevertheless, "stood at a distance, watching these things." (Luke 23:49). According to Mark, the ones passing by the cross were mocking and insulting Jesus (peace be upon him) (Mark 15:29-32). It is quite unlikely that a disciple of Jesus (peace be upon him) would have been in the midst of these people and that associates of Jesus (peace be upon him) would have been allowed to be so close to the cross. It is more probable that, at most, Jesus' (peace be upon him) associates should be with the women who were watching the scene "at a distance" (where it was, presumably, safe). More importantly than this, the synoptic narrative leaves no room for this incident (of piercing), where the centurion witnesses Jesus (peace be upon him) die, observes the darkness over the land, hears Jesus' (peace be upon him) loud cry, and upon seeing how Jesus (peace be upon him) died declared his faith in Jesus (peace be upon him) as the Son of God, followed by informing Pilate about the quick death (Mark 15:39-45).

There would have been nothing wrong had Shamoun attempted to counter the above arguments and attempted to show their possible weaknesses. But to say that certain scholars deny the historicity of the spear thrust simply due to their ipse dixit is to be deceptive.

Sam Shamoun said:

Moreover, Shabir basically abandons his belief in the supernatural and adopts a naturalistic presupposition when discussing the actual cause of Jesus' death.

Response:

This is a straw man and a distortion of Shabir Ally's position. Ally has not asserted, nor implied, a rejection of the supernatural and adoption of the naturalistic presupposition in his acceptance of the scholarly viewpoint according to which the spear thrust is likely inauthentic. One can believe in the supernatural and still doubt the historicity of this event.

Sam Shamoun said:

All four of the Gospels provide the reason why Jesus died, specifically because he relinquished his life, giving up his spirit at a specific moment which resulted in his death:

"And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that IN THIS WAY he breathed his last, he said, 'Truly this man was the Son of God!'" Mark 15:37-39

"And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" Matthew 27:50-54

"When Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!' And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, 'Certainly this man was innocent!'" Luke 23:46-47

"When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 'It is finished,' and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." John 19:30

Response:

Here we are faced with the problem of the historicity of these passages. They contain a number of highly dubious claims such as:

1. The Temple curtain tearing in two;

2. The earthquake;

3. The opening of the tombs and the dead saints walking around in Jerusalem (no one appears to have seen them apart from Matthew);

4. The centurion's confession.

Although this is not the place to have a detailed discussion on the above elements, the following citations are only meant to demonstrate how scholars generally tend to assess them:

According to the prominent conservative Christian scholar, C. F. D. Moule:

If either of these huge, sacred curtains had been literally ripped in two, whether by human hands or more mysteriously, so dismaying a portent would surely have been mentioned by some historian (e.g. Josephus). But, although Josephus does, indeed, mention strange portents at another time...there is nothing about the veil. When, therefore, Mark says that it was torn, it is, perhaps, his own dramatic, theological comment. (C. F. D. Moule, The Gospel according to Mark (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the New Testament), 1965, Cambridge University Press p. 127.)

So conservative a scholar as N. T. Wright is unable to make an argument in favor of the historicity of Matthew 27:51-53. After discussing a few scholarly opinions on this passage, he concludes by leaving the issue of historicity hanging in the air, though admitting that to argue for its "probable historicity" is "difficult." Wright concludes:

It is impossible, and for our purposes unnecessary, to adjudicate on the question of historicity. Things that we are told by one source only, when in other respects the sources are parallel, may be suspect, especially when events like earthquakes were (as 24.7 makes clear) part of the stock in trade of apocalyptic expectation. But it remains the case that the events Matthew describes in 27.51-53, as well as being without parallel in other early Christian sources, are without precedent in second-Temple expectation, and we may doubt whether stories such as this would have been invented simply to 'fulfil' prophecies that nobody had understood this way before. This is hardly a satisfactory conclusion, but it is better to remain puzzled than to settle for either a difficult argument for probable historicity or a cheap and cheerful rationalistic dismissal of the possibility. Some stories are so odd that they may just have happened. This may be one of them, but in historical terms there is no way of finding out. (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003, SPCK Publishing, p. 636.)

Briefly, in response to Wright, it should be pointed out that Matthew is known to have used various passages of the Old Testament in ways "nobody had understood this way before." In any case, clearly Wright would have liked to defend the historicity of the Matthean passage, but he realizes the difficulties that lay in that path and so cleverly chooses to leave the question of historicity unsettled.

According to Schnackenburg:

The earthquake that split the rocks and opened the tombs is the prelude to the awakening of many "bodies of the saints" who had fallen asleep. On Easter morning, too, as an angel comes down and rolls the stone from Jesus' tomb, a "great earthquake" occurs (Matt. 28:2). The strange awakening of the dead persons of Old Testament salvation history, recounted only by Matthew, and their appearance in the Holy city (Jerusalem), stand, for Matthew, in the perspective of Jesus' resurrection, as well as function as a sign of the resurrection. Thus the text is to be understood only as a theological concept portrayed as an event ... The entire passage belongs to a stylistic genre peculiar to Matthew and is not to be analyzed historically (cf. Matthew 1, 2). Matthew imagines that the centurion and his men saw the earthquake and these happenings, and, seized with great fear, acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. This, too, fits into the framework of such a narrative style. (Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel of Matthew, 2002, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 290.)

Finally, James Dunn briefly comments:

The accounts of three hours of darkness (Mark 15.33 pars.), the veil of the sanctuary being rent (Mark 15.38 pars.), the centurion's 'confession' (Mark 15.39 .) the earthquake (Matt. 27.51 .) and the dead saints being raised (Matt. 27.52-53) are best attributed to dramatic recital and theological elaboration . (James D. G. Dunn, Christianity In The Making Vol 1: Jesus Remembered, 2003, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Footnote No. 92, p. 781.)

 

Putting aside the above, as well as other difficulties with these passages, Shamoun appears to agree with Shabir Ally that there seem to be no reason why Jesus (peace be upon him) would have died so quickly on the cross. That we cannot point to anything which may have resulted in such a quick death. Instead, Shamoun wants us to believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) died simply because he chose to die at that particular time by "giving up his spirit." Could Jesus (peace be upon him) have done this? We will say yes, he could. But the question remains, why? And just because it is possible for Jesus (peace be upon him) to have chosen to give up his spirit at a particular time for whatever reason, it does not necessarily mean that this is precisely what occurred, or that this had to occur.

 

Sam Shamoun said:

What will Shabir say in response to the fact that all four of these records agree as to the manner of Jesus' death? What he always says, that these reports are not credible since they are not written by eyewitnesses and are full of contradictions.

Response:

Shabir Ally would be perfectly justified in making such an argument since the gospels are very unlikely to have been composed by eyewitnesses to the events alleged therein and because they do contain a variety of contradictions and discrepancies.

Sam Shamoun said:

He may even question the possibility of Jesus releasing his own spirit. But for him to deny this as a possibility means that he has to basically abandon his worldview that God exists, that miracles do happen, that man is composed of both body and spirit, and that the reason why death occurs is because the spirit departs from a person's body. He would have to reason as an anti-supernaturalist in order to deny the possibility of this happening, the very position he refuses to embrace when critically analyzing and interpreting the Quran.

Response:

This is also a distortion of Shabir Ally's position, a straw man. Shabir Ally may rightfully question the authenticity of these passages for some of the reasons highlighted above. It is perfectly possible to accept the possibility of miracles and be 100% pro-supernatural yet still question the historicity of these passages.

Besides committing a straw man, we may say that we can grant the possibility of Jesus (peace be upon him) choosing to give up his spirit. The allowance of this possibility does not necessarily mean that it did happen; nor does it tell us WHY Jesus (peace be upon him) would be required to do so.

Sam Shamoun said:

Note for instance what he writes in the same article:

As for the New Testament writers, they have a vested interest in proving to us that Jesus died for others. Hence we cannot take their word for it if we wish to approach the matter according to the demands of a neutral approach to the subject which the setting of a debate necessitates. As for the historians, they are working with the commonsense presumption that a man who lived some time ago and is no longer around must be presumed dead even if the cause of his death was unknown. Even if the person was simply missing for a period of time long enough to have used up the years of life mortal man is usually known to have been granted, we would declare him dead.

Shabir sure sounds like a naturalist, one who denies the supernatural involvement of a Creator who is actively sustaining and superintending his creation. After all, we would expect that a historian who takes naturalism or materialism as a given would approach Jesus' life and death from that particular worldview but why would Shabir approach this topic with that same anti-supernatural bias when he purports to be a theist?

Response:

Besides committing a third straw man - deliberately misrepresenting Shabir Ally's position - Shamoun yields another classical example of misreading and lack of comprehension. Shabir Ally DID NOT adopt the position of a secular historian, one who dismisses miracles a priori. Instead, he only explained the position adopted by historians rather than to adopt that position for himself. To say that Shabir Ally "denies" the supernatural involvement of the Creator while critically analysing the New Testament documents is a lie on Shamoun's part. At no place has Shabir Ally argued for the dismissal of the supernatural and of miracles in order to question any part of the New Testament.

Sam Shamoun said:

Moreover, the question that Shabir should have asked is why would a group of writers be interested in proving that Jesus died for others if he never did die? What did they gain by foisting a lie and suffering greatly for it? For instance, what did Paul benefit or gain from preaching that Jesus died for sinners and rose again apart from persecution and eventual martyrdom? What made him embrace the very movement that he was trying to destroy and vanquish?

Response:

Three points here:

1. "Why" someone would preach something and continue to preach it despite oppression from others does not by itself mean that the preaching is correct. That Paul faced persecution for his beliefs does not mean his beliefs, therefore, are correct. People of all kinds of faiths have died for their beliefs.  Just ask the residents of Jerusalem in 70 AD, or Masada, or Jonestown.  Or the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.  Or the Heaven's Gate adherents.  Or for that matter, ask the Jews of the past 2,000 years. Not to mention Muslims.. Using this sham argument, one would have to conclude that when anyone suffers for the sake of whatever beliefs, then those beliefs would have to be true! It does not occur to Shamoun that Paul could have sincerely held some erroneous beliefs, which he propagated to others, and was willing to die for them since he wrongly believed them to be the truth. 

2. Shabir Ally has not argued that Paul and the writers of the New Testament knowingly "lied" about the death of Jesus (peace be upon him). It could also be that they genuinely believed that Jesus (peace be upon him) had died, though still they were genuinely wrong and mistaken about this.

3. If the New Testament writers and other early Christians genuinely, albeit genuinely incorrectly, believed that Jesus (peace be upon him) had died, it is reasonable to see why they would need to attach a significance to his death; to make sense of it by giving it meaning and to reason with their (Jewish) opponents how Jesus (peace be upon him) was the Messiah despite the crucifixion and that he did not die in vain but that it was God's purpose all along for him to die in this particular manner.

Sam Shamoun said:

More importantly, how did he get away with teaching such a falsehood when many of Jesus' followers were still alive who could both refute and contradict him? Why is there no credible, historical documentation from that period which shows that the Disciples of Christ preached something contrary to what Paul and the Gospel writers taught?

Response:

Simply, our records from the crucial earliest period are incomplete and wholly one sided. We have the documents from only one side, from which we learn some of what Paul's opponents believed. The views of Paul's opponents are no longer preserved in full...they left no documents, or the documents they composed were not preserved, or perhaps some of them may be discovered in the future. Some of Paul's occasional letters are preserved with us, in which he is selective for understandable reasons. Thus we cannot get a complete picture about his disagreements with other Christians and the complete stance of his opponents. We know some of the reasons why other Christians, including Jesus' (peace be upon him) disciples, opposed Paul (circumcision, adherence to the law), while other reasons of contention are unknown.

Sam Shamoun said:

Here is another example of Shabir's anti-supernatural bias at work:

Response:

Instead, here we have another example of Shamoun's straw man at work.

Sam Shamoun said:

Did the Torah Evolve?

James made brief mention of my claim that the Torah was not all written by Moses. It seems that from his brief notes James could not recall what the objection to Mosaic authorship was, so he left that alone and went on to another subject. My point was that the last chapter of the book of Deuteronomy mentions the death of Moses and describes the mourning of the people for him as a past event. This proves that Moses did not write this part, and we must therefore wonder how many other parts were added by a later hand.

Again, one would expect such shallow argumentation from an anti-supernaturalist, whether an agnostic or atheist. But coming from a Muslim this stretches credulity to its limits, to say the least.

It seemed to have never dawned on Shabir that the same God who was able to reveal hundreds (if not thousands) of years of history (cf. Deuteronomy 30-32) was quite capable of informing Moses about his impending death and instructing him to write it down beforehand.

After all, doesn't Deuteronomy itself show that God told Moses that his death was near and foretold Israel's eventual apostasy and banishment from the land?

"The LORD said to Moses, 'NOW THE DAY OF YOUR DEATH IS NEAR. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the Tent of Meeting, where I will commission him.' So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at the Tent of Meeting. Then the LORD appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the Tent. And the LORD said to Moses: 'YOU ARE GOING TO REST WITH YOUR FATHERS, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, "Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?" And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods. Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. And when many disasters and difficulties come upon them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.' So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites. The LORD gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: 'Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.' After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD: 'Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to testify against them. For I know that AFTER MY DEATH you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made.'" Deuteronomy 31:14-29

And:

"On that same day the LORD told Moses, 'Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. THERE ON THE MOUNTAIN THAT YOU HAVE CLIMBED YOU WILL DIE AND BE GATHERED TO YOUR PEOPLE, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.'" Deuteronomy 32:48-52

Not only does God tell Israel what will befall them in the future but he also shows Moses the very exact location of his death! Hence, these passages clearly establish that just as God was able to tell Moses beforehand where and when he would die God was fully capable of telling Moses to record his own death and burial as a befitting way to conclude the book of Deuteronomy. God could have even inspired Moses to record his impending death and burial as a past event, as having already transpired in order to conclude the writing of the Torah.

Response:

 

The problem with the above argument is that Shamoun is blatantly lying when he asserts that Shabir Ally adopted an 'anti-supernaturalist' stance in order to not attribute the entirety of the Torah to Moses (peace be upon him).  On the contrary, he quotes Shabir Ally explaining precisely why he doubts the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy 34:

 

.the last chapter of the book of Deuteronomy mentions the death of Moses and describes the mourning of the people for him as a past event. This proves that Moses did not write this part.

 

The above does not present or rely upon an 'anti-supernatural' argument or reason for denying Mosaic authorship. It does not deny the occurrence of prophecy. Instead, the reason is that the passage is describing a PAST event.

 

Hence, Shamoun again distorts Shabir Ally's position and foolishly fails to comprehend his point.

 

Furthermore, Shamoun goes on to make the following statement in his paper: ".there are many conservative Jews and Christians who believe that another inspired writer such as Joshua wrote Deuteronomy 34. See the following links for Christian writers who believe that someone else wrote Deuteronomy 34 while still affirming Mosaic authorship for the great bulk of the Pentateuch."

 

Did these "many conservative Jews and Christians" transform into anti-supernaturalists in order to deny Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy 34? Did they become atheists and agnostics? Why can't these "many conservative Jews and Christians" accept Shamoun's argument that "the same God who was able to reveal hundreds (if not thousands) of years of history (cf. Deuteronomy 30-32) was quite capable of informing Moses about his impending death and instructing him to write it down beforehand"?

 

So then, one can hold fast to miracles, prophecies and hold supernatural natural beliefs and yet still be able to dismiss the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy 34. If this can be allowed for these "many conservative Jews and Christians", then why is the same courtesy not extended over to Shabir Ally? Why must it be said that Shabir Ally allegedly became an anti-supernatural in order to deny the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy 34? How does this "logic" work?

While Shamoun is perfectly right in his assertion that God could have informed Moses (peace be upon him) about the details of his impending death, just as He tells the nation of Israel about so many future events, Deuteronomy 34 is not presented as a prophecy of a future event. We clearly have someone other than Moses (peace be upon him) describing the latter's death in the, as something which has already occurred in the distant past. Consider the passage (our emphasis):

1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land - from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, [a] 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the LORD said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."

 5 And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. 6 He buried him [b] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

 9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit [c] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.

 10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt - to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

Since Shamoun a priori believes that the entirety of the Torah, with no exceptions, was written by Moses (peace be upon him), on the face of the above problematic passage - problematic because it disproves his presupposition about full Mosaic authorship - he has to presume that God must have 'instructed' Moses (peace be upon him) to write about his future death in such a peculiar manner 'beforehand' despite the fact that this is no where stated/implied for the above passage. 

Yes, God could have informed Moses (peace be upon him) about all the details of his future death, but it stretches credulity to suppose that the above passage was composed by Moses (peace be upon him) to relate a future event. Instead, if the presupposition of full Mosaic authorship is put aside and we read the passage for what it is, the natural sense is that Moses (peace be upon him) is NOT the author of the above. Rather than present a prophecy of something which has yet to occur, the above is composed after the event. It is telling us about something which has already occurred some time in the past. This is not the way to speak about impending events. No wonder there are "many conservative Jews and Christians" around who DO NOT (as per Shamoun's own admission!) attribute this passage to Moses (peace be upon him).

We can accept the occurrence of prophecies and miracles and adopt the occurrence of every conceivable type of supernatural yet still (rightfully) not attribute Deuteronomy 34 to Moses (peace be upon him) for the above stated reasons (which can be accepted perfectly legitimately by one who believes in prophecies, miracles etc).

Sam Shamoun said:

Nor are we the first to promote the idea that Moses may have recorded his own death and burial since this an ancient view, one held by such Jewish scholars and historians as Philo and Josephus:

"The term 'the book of Moses,' found in II Chronicles 25:4; 35:12; Ezra 3:2; 6:18; and Nehemiah 8:1; 13:1, surely included the Book of Genesis and also testifies to a belief in Israelite circles in the fifth century B.C. that all five of the books were the work of Moses. Ben Sira (Ecclus. 24:23), Philo, Josephus, and the authors of the Gospels held that Moses was intimately related to the Pentateuch. Philo and Josephus EVEN EXPLICITLY SAID that Moses wrote Deuteronomy 34:5-12. Other writers of the New Testament tie the Pentateuch to Moses. The Jewish Talmud asserts that whoever denied Mosaic authorship would be excluded from Paradise." (Herbert G. Livingston, The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment, [Baker, 1974], pp. 218-219; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Response:

 

This only means that Philo and Josephus, like Shamoun, were also wrong. Just because they suggested that Deuteronomy 34 was written by Moses (peace be upon him) long before Shamoun, it does not mean they were right.

Moreover, besides Josephus and Philo, there were also Jews around who believed that there were post-Mosaic insertions within the Pentateuch (emphasis ours):

 

Ancient Jewish tradition maintains that Moses was the author of all the five books of the Pentateuch. However, some difficulty attached to the last eight verses of Deuteronomy, in which the death and burial of Moses are described. Some rabbis attributed the writing of these verses to Joshua; but another opinion had it that Moses wrote these verses too at God's dictation ... Medieval commentators, such as Abraham ibn Ezra, were sensitive to some of the anachronistic passages in Deuteronomy incongruous to the time of Moses. The following are a few examples of difficult passages coped with by medieval commentators: 1) "beyond the Jordan" (1:1), a term generally employed by people living in Palestine could not properly be used by Moses who was then situated in Moab; 2) the expressions "at that time" (2:34; 3:4) and "unto this day" (3:14) imply that a long period of time has elapsed since the past spoken of; 3) the mention of Og's bedstead at Rabbath Ammon (3:11) as proof of Og's huge proportions and giant stature implies that Og was no longer alive to be used as living proof; 4) "As Israel did unto the land they were to possess" (2:12) refers to the conquest of Canaan which had not taken place according to the Bible; 5) the verse, "when Moses had put down in writing the words of this teaching to the very end, Moses charged the levites..." (31:24), probably refers only to certain chapters and not to the entire book since it is inconceivable that a book would relate the author's actions after the completion of the book. Ibn Ezra accepts the talmudic position of Mosaic authorship but probably felt that several verses were added to the book after Moses' death. (Encyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition, Under heading "Deuteronomy", 1997.)

 

Sam Shamoun said:

Now the question that Shabir needs to answer is if God was able to foretell future events in advance why does he find it hard to accept the fact that God could have also inspired Moses to record his subsequent death? And if Shabir can actually believe that God inspired Moses to predict the coming of Muhammad roughly 2,100 years before the latter's birth (as erroneous as such a claim happens to be):

According to the Bible, God said to Moses, on whom be peace:

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. (The Holy Bible, New International Version, Deuteronomy chapter 18, verse 18). (What the Bible says about Muhammad;
source)

Then, surely, Ally should have absolutely no problem with Yahweh informing his servant Moses about his impending death.

Response:

As erroneous as Shamoun happens to be about Shabir Ally's stance, it is not that it is hard to believe that God could have inspired Moses (peace be upon him) to record his impending death; the problem is that Deuteronomy 34 is not a telling of a future event. Many conservative Jews and Christians - as Shamoun will himself admit in a little while - have tremendous problems in viewing Deuteronomy 34 as a foretelling of a future event.  It is a description of something which already occurred sometime in the past, rather than a telling of an impending event. Hence, Shabir Ally is perfectly justified in not viewing it as a prophecy - simply because it is not presented as a prophecy. For rhetorical purposes, we may grant the possibility of God using the past tense to mention something which has yet to occur. But the reader of such a prophecy is aware - due to other signs - that a prophecy is being made despite the use of the past tense. In this case, however, there are no accompanying signs and indications to show that Deuteronomy 34 was meant to be a prophecy. Unless one holds fast to the presupposition of full Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and is, for whatever reasons, unwilling to let go of it, then they will have little choice but to conclude that Deuteronomy 34 "must be" a description/prophecy of an impending event - an unnatural interpretation in this instance. This point seems to have dawned upon the "many conservative Jews and Christians" mentioned by Shamoun.

We shall see more on Mosaic authorship below.

Sam Shamoun said:

Furthermore, even though we have attempted to defend the plausibility of Moses writing Deuteronomy 34 the fact is that even if we were to assume that someone else wrote Moses' obituary this still does absolutely nothing to undermine the Mosaic authorship of either the Pentateuch as a whole or the great bulk of Deuteronomy. The most that Shabir would be able to prove from this is that Moses didn't write Deuteronomy 34, nothing more and nothing else.

Response:

Clearly, Shamoun does not read carefully. This is what Shabir Ally had said (our emphasis):

James made brief mention of my claim that the Torah was not all written by Moses. It seems that from his brief notes James could not recall what the objection to Mosaic authorship was, so he left that alone and went on to another subject. My point was that the last chapter of the book of Deuteronomy mentions the death of Moses and describes the mourning of the people for him as a past event. This proves that Moses did not write this part, and we must therefore wonder how many other parts were added by a later hand.

In light of the above, what is Shamoun talking about? Can't he read Shabir Ally stating clearly that Deuteronomy 34 could not have been written by Moses (peace be upon him)? It was not suggested that the entirety of the Torah did not go back to Moses (peace be upon him).

Shabir Ally does, at the end, raise a legitimate question. How many other passages in the Torah stem from a hand other than of Moses (peace be upon him)?

Sam Shamoun said:

After all, there are many conservative Jews and Christians who believe that another inspired writer such as Joshua wrote Deuteronomy 34. See the following links for Christian writers who believe that someone else wrote Deuteronomy 34 while still affirming Mosaic authorship for the great bulk of the Pentateuch (1, 2)

The Bible itself lends some support to the view that God may have used someone else to write Moses' obituary. For instance, we read in the book of Joshua that Joshua included some additional instructions to the book of the Law long after the death of Moses:

"On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD." Joshua 24:25-26

This passage demonstrates the possibility that Deuteronomy 34 was written by another inspired writer under direct orders from God.

And the fact that many conservative Jews and Christians believe that someone else wrote Deuteronomy 34 while still affirming that Moses wrote the Pentateuch demonstrates that Shabir's appeal to this specific chapter is misplaced and does nothing to support his gross errors in logic.

Response:

 

Talking about "gross errors in logic" (never mind he presents no example to justify this allegation), Shamoun has only shot himself on the foot by acknowledging that it is possible to be a pro-supernaturalist and still not attribute Deuteronomy 34 to Moses (peace be upon him), which thereby exposes his lie about Shabir Ally. Moreover, from belligerently insisting that Deuteronomy 34 was authored by Moses (peace be upon him), Shamoun suddenly becomes cozy to the possibility of its non-Mosaic authorship. So what is he really arguing about? Why did he so viciously chide Shabir Ally when Shamoun has no problem with the "many conservative Jews and Christians" who are saying the same thing - that Deuteronomy 34 could not have been authored by Moses (peace be upon him)!? What is the point of this bizarre exercise?

 

What are the "these things" which Joshua interpolated into the "Book of the Law of God"? The "these things" appear to be the "decrees and laws" for the people drawn up in Shechem. This means that the Pentateuch has more non-Mosaic elements than Deuteronomy 34. So, could Deuteronomy 34 have been composed by Joshua? Simply, we don't know.  It is "possible" but nothing more can be said here. Determining the authorship of the book of Joshua is another difficult problem and the belief that its author was "inspired" is Shamoun's presupposition.

Notice also that the links presented by Shamoun do not have conservative scholars reasoning that "only Deuteronomy 34" was composed by someone other than Moses (peace be upon him). Rather, they allow the very real possibility of another hand(s) adding to the Torah in other places after the time of Moses (peace be upon him). Consider these citations from Shamoun's first link (all emphasis ours):

This general position is stated well by the very conservative scholar Duane Garrett [OT:RTG:85-86]:

"The assertion that Moses is the principal author of the present text of Genesis need not mean that it came from his hand exactly as we have it now. To the contrary, one may confidently assume that the work has undergone post-Mosaic redaction. The main reason such a redaction would have taken place was not to substantially change the book in any way but rather to make it intelligible to a later generation of readers.

"Genesis is written in standard Hebrew, archaic forms notwithstanding. Although one may well argue that the Pentateuch played a major role in the development of standard Hebrew, there is no reason to think that there could not have been any revisions to keep up with semantic developments in the Hebrew language. In addition, the location of geographical settings by names that were common in a later period is an indication of redaction. The most well-known example is the reference to Dan as a place name in Genesis 14:14, an obvious anachronism. But it proves no more than that the text has undergone some revision. The same may be said of the reference to Israelite kings in Genesis 36.31.

Notice the admission of an "obvious anachronism" above. Another "obvious anachronism" (stemming from a hand other than Moses (peace be upon him)) is:

Or, take the example of the coastal descriptors of the exodus accounts. At the time of the exodus, the Mediterraean coast was occupied by Canaanites, not by the Philistines, who did not arrive in the Levant until early in the 12th century as a part of the Sea Peoples migration or invasion. Yet exodus 13.17 (When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. ) makes the anachronistic identification. This, however, is narrative explanation, and the actual spies' report in Num 13.29, reflecting the older (and historically actual) event, uses the chronologically correct terms for the day: and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan." . We have a clear case, again, of the older, original forms being present, and then annotation and explanation for somewhat later readers being added.

The position which the above apologist adopts is that "the bulk of the Pentateuch is written very, very early, so this will leave us with the situation that the majority of the material 'looks early as Moses' and a minority of the material 'looks later than Moses'." What precisely is the scope of this "minority of material" we don't know, but it must be more than Deuteronomy 34. The apologist concludes that "the external evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Mosaic authorship of the core substance (and most of the form) of the Pentateuch." This means that the whole of the Pentateuch is not coming from Moses (peace be upon him) but that there are later additions within it which are "generally (not always) very visible." Compare this with Shamoun's above quoted text from Herbert G. Livingston's book which entirely excludes subsequent additions in the Pentateuch from a latter hand(s).

Putting aside the apologist, here is how a leading evangelical conservative scholar discusses the authorship of Deuteronomy in a premier evangelical conservative reference book (The New Bible Dictionary, p. 275):

Few questions have proved more difficult to answer than this [The date and authorship of Deuteronomy]. On the surface the NT seems to imply Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and hence of Deuteronomy . . . The difficulty with all these references is that the exact meaning of the term Moses is not clear. It may refer simply to the Pentateuch scroll and not to authorship. Deuteronomy itself refers to Moses speaking . . . and to writing . . .

But none of these statements permit the conclusion that Deuteronomy as we have it today came completely, or even in large measure, from Moses himself. One has to allow for editorial activity and adaptations of original Mosaic material to a later age. Even if it could be shown that much of the geography, the legal background and the society would suit a generally Mosaic age, this falls short of a complete Mosaic authorship.  

After listing and briefly describing four main proposals of authorship among scholars (1. substantially Mosaic authorship but with a certain amount of post-Mosaic material; 2. much material going back to Moses (peace be upon him) but the book being compiled 300-400 years after Moses (peace be upon him); 3. considerable stratum of Mosaic material and principles underlying Deuteronomy although the book consists of ancient material preserved in religious and prophetic circles during times of apostasy, to be brought together in the 7th century BC; 4. post-exilic date and authorship), J. A. Thompson writes (pp. 275-276):

Increasingly scholars are recognizing that although any investigation of the origin of Deuteronomy will lead ultimately to the figure of Moses himself, it is quite impossible to decide on the date at which Deuteronomy reached its final form. There are two aspects to the problem: (1) the age of the original data, and (2) and the period at which those data were drawn together. There are grounds for thinking that much in Deuteronomy goes back to Moses' time and much to be said for the view that Moses himself provided Israel with the heart of Deuteronomy. However, it became necessary in new situations to represent the words of Moses and to show their relevance for a new day. There are several key points in Israel's history when this might have happened - in the days when the Kingdom was newly established under Saul, or David, or Solomon; in the critical period following the break-up of the Kingdom on Solomon's death; or again at a number of critical points in the centuries that followed. We have to allow both for the powerful influence of Moses and for editorial processes which brought the book in its present shape. While there seems little reason to deny that a substantial part of Deuteronomy was in existence some centuries before the 7th century BC, it is not possible to say how much of it comprises the ipssima verba of Moses himself. 

J. A. Thompson, who is a conservative and evangelical scholar, has no reason to deny complete Mosaic authorship if there were not good reasons for thinking that full Mosaic authorship is highly unlikely. He does not deny complete Mosaic authorship because it is "fun" to do so or because he suddenly transformed into an anti-supernaturalist who denies miracles, prophecies etc. It is the evidence which has convinced Thompson, as well as other conservative scholars, that Deuteronomy (and the Pentateuch as a whole) cannot simply be the product of Moses (peace be upon him) - at least not in its final form - and that other Biblical writings are also quite likely to be composite documents, the products of multiple hands.

 

Among conservative scholars there are multiple views pertaining to the authorship of the Pentateuch. There are those (a tiny minority) who argue that all the contents of the Pentateuch, with little or no exceptions, stem from Moses (peace be upon him); it is argued that the "bulk" or the "core" of the Pentateuch is from Moses (peace be upon him) while the interpolation of non-Mosaic additions/changes (besides Deuteronomy 34) is granted; it is also proposed that the Pentateuch contains many Mosaic elements though it also contains an unknown number of non-Mosaic additions by unknown author(s) and that separating the two is not always possible.

 

The Encyclopaedia Judaica, under the heading "Deuteronomy", after describing the ways how traditional scholars defend the unity and Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, concludes (bold ours):

 

As to passages in the third person, they may be due to a late editor of the original book. Traditional scholars therefore believe that the best way to account for the book is to say that the bulk originated during the last days of Moses. The Israelites standing at the threshold of Canaan were about to graduate from a nomad group to a settled agricultural people and this change necessitated an amplification of the earlier codes of Exodus and Leviticus, which resulted in the book of Deuteronomy. The anachronisms and discrepancies may very well be explained by the reasonable assumption of later marginal notes by learned readers which in the course of time crept into the text itself and became an integral part thereof. Although the historical framework often lacks precision and strict sequence, as stated in the Talmud, "There is nothing prior or posterior in the Torah," for its chief aim is religious and moral and not purely historical. (Encyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition, Under heading "Deuteronomy", 1997.)

 

Therefore, traditional scholars are also open to the possibility of post-Mosaic additions to Deuteronomy, although they usually assign a larger portion of the Pentatuech to Moses (peace be upon him) than is allowed by mainstream Biblical scholarship.

 

Sam Shamoun said:

Here is a helpful illustration. If I wrote a book where I died before completing the final pages of the last chapter, would it be wrong for someone to attribute the book's authorship to me despite the fact that someone else, perhaps Jochen Katz, wrote the remaining portion? Obviously not, just as it wouldn't be wrong for someone to say that Moses wrote the Pentateuch under inspiration even though God had someone else write down Moses' obituary.

Response:

Yes, it would be wrong to attribute the entirety of the book to Shamoun since the last chapter is not "Shamounion" in authorship. More importantly, this is the wrong comparison. Scholars (including conservatives) do not argue (with the exception of ultra-conservatives and fundamentalists) that only the final chapter of Deuteronomy is the product of a latter hand. It has been cogently argued that more additions in other places can be reasonably attributed to writer(s) after Moses (peace be upon him).  Thus, it is wrong to attribute the entirety of Deuteronomy (its finished form) and the Pentateuch, to Moses (peace be upon him).

 

 

Sam Shamoun said:

Was it a Ransom or Sacrifice?

Shabir has a problem with Jesus' death being a ransom since he thinks that this somehow conflicts with Christ being a sacrifice for sins:

Ransom vs. Sacrifice

During the debate I pointed out that Stephen Finlan in his book, Problems with Atonement, has shown that there is a clear distinction between a sacrifice for sin, and a ransom. The sin sacrifice is presented to God based on which God is appeased and he excuses the sinner. Ransom is a different concept. We all know what ransom means. If someone is kidnapped, for example, we may pay a ransom to the kidnappers to secure the release of the victim.

To say that Jesus died as a ransom for us is riddled with difficulties. This would have been appropriate if the devil held us captive and if God made a deal to get us released by offering up his Son in our place. Although many early Church Fathers did in fact say this, James rightly rejects the idea that God made a deal with the devil.

This shows why we cannot use Mark 10:45 to prove that Jesus died as a sacrifice for sins [sic]. That passage has him saying that he came to die as a ransom for many. Since ransom and sacrifice are two different concepts, we cannot take a statement about ransom and make it speak about sacrifice. But James wants to retain the use of the word 'ransom', obviously because it is biblical. He retorted in the debate that I need to understand this in the light of Isaiah 53. I then challenged him to find in Isaiah 53 any mention of ransom. He made an attempt, but I could not hear in what he said anything about ransom with reference to Isaiah 53. Even if we understand that passage as speaking of Jesus, it says nothing of Jesus being a ransom for anyone. James must have felt this himself, for he added a reference to a Deutero-Pauline epistle which speaks of us being redeemed. He explained this as meaning that we have been purchased. But this brought us right back to the original question even if now in a slightly varied form: Purchased from whom? (More Comments on the Dividing Line of Oct. 23, 2007; 1, 2)

Shabir, here, commits the fallacy of false dilemma, since he assumes that Jesus' death couldn't be both a sacrifice AND a ransom at the same time. That this false dichotomy is clearly unbiblical can be seen from the fact that the NT writers portrayed the death of Christ as both a sacrifice for sin and a ransom paid to God to redeem us from the power of Satan and evil.

For instance, we already skimmed through certain statements from Paul where the Apostle emphasizes the atoning aspect of Jesus' death. Yet in other places Paul(2) refers to Jesus' sacrifice as a ransom which the Lord paid on behalf of his people:

"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought/ransomed with a price. So glorify God in your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

"For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 1 Corinthians 7:22-23

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom (antilutron) for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." 1 Timothy 2:5-6

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Titus 2:11-14

We also looked at Mark 10:45 where the Evangelist spoke of Jesus' death being a ransom. This same Evangelist later quotes the following words of Christ:

"And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." Mark 14:22-25

Christ's reference to his blood being poured out for many is a direct allusion to the suffering servant passage of Isaiah 53:

"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he POURED OUT his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of MANY, and makes intercession for the transgressors." Isaiah 53:4-6, 9-12

The above shows that Mark's language is clearly sacrificial in nature, portraying Jesus' death in light of the OT sacrificial system which God set up for the forgiveness of sins. This establishes the point that Mark didn't see a problem with Jesus' death being both a ransom AND a sacrifice. Mark isn't alone:

"knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." 1 Peter 1:18-19

Peter, here, speaks of Jesus' death as the ransom price that was paid to redeem believers from their corrupt ways. Yet in subsequent chapters he refers to Christ's death as a vicarious sacrifice:

"For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered FOR (huper) you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:21-24

Peter, much like Jesus in Mark 14, alludes to Isaiah 53, specifically verses 4-5, 9 and 11-12.

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous FOR (huper) the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit," 1 Peter 3:18

And then we have the testimony of the inspired book of Revelation:

"the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." Revelation 1:5-6

"And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you RANSOMED people FOR God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.'" Revelation 5:6-10

We, once again, find both ideas being presented side by side, e.g. Jesus is the sacrificial Passover Lamb who was slain to ransom people from their sins.

Seeing that the NT writers had no problem with Jesus' death being both a ransom and a sacrifice for sins why should Shabir?

Response:

Putting aside the unsubstantiated assertion about the book of Revelation being allegedly 'inspired' and the authenticity of some of the passages cited above, none of the above writers, as well as Shamoun, explain how Jesus' (peace be upon him) death could be both a sacrifice and a ransom at the same time? How does this work?

A sacrifice for sin is basically an offering to God of something of value to oneself, usually an animal, as this was obviously a major source of wealth of the time. The point of this offering is that one expresses remorse by giving up something material for the sake of God. Obviously God does not gain from this sacrifice. Instead, God sees the repentant attitude of the servant offering the sacrifice and responds by forgiving the servant.

Also, in order for someone to sacrifice something he has to give that something up completely. I can't say that I have sacrificed five hundred dollars by giving it to a poor person and then expect to get it back later on. If I take it back later on then that only means that I have lent the individual some money and not sacrificed it. Now let us ask our selves this question: did Jesus sacrifice his life for us just as Christians say? Well I will have to argue that the answer to that is NO. If Jesus wanted to sacrifice his life for us then he should have stayed dead after getting crucified. However, Christians claim that Jesus took his life back by resurrecting from the dead around three days later. If Jesus took his life back after laying it down on the cross, then that means that he didn't sacrifice his life for us, since he didn't completely give it up.

A ransom, on the other hand, is a material offering to a captor in order to secure the release of the captives he is holding. In this case the captor gets something of value to him.

How does this relate to the story of Jesus' (peace be upon him) sacrificial death? Did Christians willingly offer Jesus (peace be upon him) as a sacrificial lamb in order to show their repentance? Did Jesus (peace be upon him) offer himself?  There is no case in which an animal in the Jewish Bible offered itself for the sins of any human. Christians tend to think that Jesus (peace be upon him) offered himself, and they just accept that this was done for them. Or, did Christians offer Jesus (peace be upon him) as a ransom to secure their own release? Or did Jesus (peace be upon him) offer himself as a ransom so that Christians get released, and now they are to accept that Jesus (peace be upon him) has done this for them? What then became of the ransom? Is he then the possession of the captor? And who precisely is this captor? God or Satan?

None of the New Testament writers answered these questions. They said Jesus (peace be upon him) died as a ransom, without explaining how that worked. They said Jesus (peace be upon him) died as a sacrifice, but without explaining how that works and how a sacrificial view tallies with the ransom view.  Besides the ransom and the sacrificial model, Paul also applies the image of a scapegoat to Jesus (peace be upon him) - this is where the pure goat (Jesus (peace be upon him)) takes on sin whereas the impure community takes on the purity of the goat and must then drive the goat out of the community - again without elaborating how it works when applied to Jesus (peace be upon him).  Needless to say, the scapegoat understanding is quite different from the sacrificial view. Another different model applied by Paul when discussing the death of Jesus (peace be upon him) is the penal substitution model - this is where Jesus (peace be upon him) is said to have died "in our place."

While Paul emphasised that God was generous, the metaphors he used stood in tension with this since they imply that a transactional payment or an exchange had to take place.  While God is All Just and All Merciful, the metaphors imply that salvation is to be "bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 7:72) to avert God's wrath. Thus, God is manipulated, bought-off, persuaded and appeased. While Jesus (peace be upon him) is generous and selfless, God has to be paid-off. God demands a payment and sacrifice.

Furthermore, for Paul, salvation did not come about from Jesus' (peace be upon him) teachings and ministry but from accepting certain (confused) soteriological formulas pertaining to death of Jesus (peace be upon him).

It would appear that the New Testament writers were not sure how precisely Jesus' (peace be upon him) death brought about salvation and atonement and thus the confusion and jumble. The crucifixion came as a shock, and now they were required to give meaning/significance to Jesus' (peace be upon him) death, even if it did not make sense and without explaining the process clearly. The various suggested reasons were combined in a confused jumble of ideas: Jesus (peace be upon him) died to please God; Jesus (peace be upon him) became a curse for us; Jesus (peace be upon him) is a ransom for us; Jesus (peace be upon him) bore our sins etc.

Sam Shamoun said:

Anticipating that Shabir will erroneously assume that Christ's payment was made to Satan here is what the NT actually teaches:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice TO God." Ephesians 5:1-2

"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Hebrews 9:11-14

Christ offered himself to God to obtain eternal redemption, with the implication being that his ransom was paid to him and not to the spiritual enemy of our souls.

Hence, by piecing all of the data it is rather clear that according to the Bible teaching God handed man over to the dominion of Satan and sin as a consequence of Adam's rebellion. And in order for God to set man free from the control of the Devil he required that his justice be satisfied and his anger completely appeased. This is what Christ did, specifically, appease the righteous anger of an infinitely holy God by his perfect life of obedience and vicarious death. This in turn made God favorable towards fallen man and giving him a basis to set sinners free from the control of the forces of darkness.(3)

This concludes the first part of our rebuttal. Go here to read the rest.

Response:

It is not Shabir Ally who "erroneously" assumes that the payment was made to Satan; a number of the early Church Fathers "erroneously" believed that the payment was made to Satan. Shabir Ally made specific note of this, which obviously went over Shamoun's head.

To submit a few examples, church historian, J. N. D. Kelly, described Gregory of Nyssa's view as follows:

... since the Fall placed man in the power of the Devil, he liked to envisage the redemption as our emancipation from him. As Gregory developed this aspect, his chief concern was for God's justice; hence his reiteration that it was through his own free choice that man fell into the Devil's clutches. The Devil, therefore, had a right to adequate compensation if he were to surrender him, and for God to have exercised force majeure would have been unfair and tyrannical. So He offered him the man Jesus as a ransom. When Satan saw Him, born as He was of a virgin and renowned as a worker of miracles, he decided that the exchange was to his advantage. What he failed to realize was that the outward covering of human flesh concealed the immortal Godhead. Hence, when he accepted Jesus in exchange for mankind, he could not hold Him; he was outwitted and caught, as a fish is by the bait which conceals the hook.6 There was no injustice in this, Gregory tried to show,7 for the Devil was only getting his deserts, and in any case God's action was going to contribute to his own ultimate benefit ... (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 1978, Revised Edition, Harper & Row Publishers, p. 382.)

Kelly went on to say (pp. 382-383) that the same theory about the Devil's right to mankind in bondage is also to be found in the writings of Gregory's elder brother, Basil. While Basil "does not seem to press the theory" (p. 383), he "... oscillates between interpreting Christ's death as a ransom paid to the Devil and as a sacrifice offered to God." (ibid).

Commenting upon the 4th century fathers of the West, Kelly writes (p. 387):

 

The theory of a transaction with Satan enjoyed considerable currency.

 

Kelly then proceeds to mention Ambrose whose emphasis "...is generally on the Devils rights and the compensation justly owing to him in requital for surrendering mankind."

We are told:

The Devil, he [Ambrose] states,2 held us in possession, our sins being the purchase money by which he had bought us, and required a price if he was to release us; the price was Christ's blood, which had to be paid to our previous purchaser. Sometimes he suggests3 that, when Christ paid over what was owing to the Devil, He transferred the debt to Himself, with the result that we changed our creditor, although He has in fact most generously forgiven the debt. Ambrose is not afraid4 to dwell on, and elaborate the details of, the deception worked on the Devil, who would of course never have anticipated Christ's blood had he known Who He really was.

Kelly also mentions the "milder version" of the theory, according to which rather than satisfy the Devil's rights, the transaction had to do with punishing the Devil for going beyond his rights - that is, his sin of slaying "the innocent Who knew no sin" (p. 387).     

There were also fathers who were rightfully troubled with the above theory, according to which ransom is paid to the devil (or even to God), such as Gregory of Nazianzus (p. 383. More examples can be seen in pp.384-386).  

Shamoun now introduces a third motif: divine appeasement. But the problems remain. The basic story here is that God was so mad with humans due to their sins that he handed them over to Satan. Now God will only rescue us from Satan if His wrath can somehow cool down. Jesus (peace be upon him) so pleased God in his life and death that God relented and made Satan let us go free. In this case Jesus (peace be upon him) is not a sacrifice for sins in the manner described above, for this hardly requires repentance from the sinners. Nor is he a ransom, for he is not exchanged for the captives. He simply dies and God is pleased enough on seeing him suffer that He simply set us free. This raises the question of Satan's role as God's agent or subcontractor who holds captives for God until such time as God decides to release them.

 

The implication of this theory is also that God was "bought off", manipulated and appeased. An unrighteous/unjust act - the killing of an innocent (Jesus (peace be upon him)) - is said to "appease" God's "righteous" anger and is somehow viewed as "justice." The above theory makes God into someone with a wounded ego - whose unusually huge pride is at stake - who is unable to "get over it" and show Grace by forgiving the one's who offended Him. Instead, God's anger is appeased only when an innocent - who happens to be no less His Son! - is slain. This is what God finds "agreeable." God is also depicted as being less than powerful by such ransom theories in light of His inability to forgive.

Ultimately, the theory has God as the captor, since He receives the ransom. As such, Satan appears to be carrying out his duty on God's behalf - keeping God's captives. God was, therefore, essentially extracting a price from Himself. This makes the whole notion of ransom pointless and makes a weird scenario weirder (at least with Satan as the recipient of the ransom, there was a "sense" in the story). Shamoun has made only a slight alteration here: instead of the ransom being made to Satan - a view shared by a number of Fathers - Shamoun has replaced Satan with God. And who offers the ransom? It can be 1) God making a ransom to Himself; 2) Jesus (peace be upon him) offering himself as a ransom; 3) humans offering the ransom.

Suffice it to say that the above theory of Jesus' (peace be upon him) death cannot be found in the teachings of the historical Jesus (peace be upon him). The simple teachings of Judaism (and Islam) on sin and how it is dealt by God have been replaced with a weirdly confused set of unnecessary scenarios, which get more and more confusing the more you try to "make sense" of them.


See also our previous rebuttal:  Sam Shamoun's Inconsistency, Obfuscation and Red Herrings. A commentary on Sam Shamoun's "Shabir Ally's Inconsistency of Criteria"

There is no need for us to go through Shamoun's "Endnotes" point by point as all the main points have been covered above. Just a few final comments:

 A Jewish response to the writings of the allegedly "Renowned Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown" - who is actually a Christian apologist scholar pretending to be "Jewish" - is to be found here:

Answering Dr. Michael L. Brown's Objections to Judaism.

Read also:

A Knock-Out Punch: The "Last and Final Sacrifice" Takes the Ten-Count

 

Conclusion

In this paper we had a look at numerous straw men Shamoun had to construct in order to "respond" to Shabir Ally. Simply put, Shamoun presented a distorted form of Shabir Ally's arguments a number of times in order to then "refute" them. As if this was not enough, yet again we were faced with a variety of comprehension problems faced by Shamoun. He read straightforward passages and then extracted from them claims they did not make, arguments they did not present and positions they did not adopt. Apart from this, we also saw the thoroughly unscholarly use of the New Testament by Shamoun.

In future papers we will consider some of the same subjects commented upon above as well as some new polemics launched by Shamoun in other papers.

 

 

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