The Purpose and Cause of Jesus’ Death

Sam Shamoun

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.

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)

He further writes in another response that:

James must recall my point, made with support from E. P. Sanders, that if a person once presumed dead is said to have appeared again to his disciples we are within our rights to wonder if he was dead in the first place (Paul: A Short Introduction, p. 29). None of the historians James cited had first-hand information about the Crucifixion event (sic). Neither did any of the second-century Christian witnesses he cites. As for the Gospels, even if we accept that they were written by eyewitnesses, they do not give us any reason to believe that anyone applied even the simplest test to determine the death of Jesus while he was on the cross or ever thereafter (sic). The Gospel of John mentions the spear-thrust into the side of Jesus which many would now take as the wound that killed him. Others dispute the efficacy of such a spear-thrust as a definite cause of death (sic).

And:

James continues to claim that I did not respond to his presentation of such overwhelming evidence from the period. But the single response to this, which I did give, was to say that once it is claimed about any man who lived some time ago that he appeared alive to his friends after he was once dead we should ask how we can be sure that he was really dead in the first place. It was James’ turn to provide reasonable evidence to prove this. But he simply kept appealing to the writers whose presumption that Jesus was dead is now under question. (Comments on the Dividing Line of Oct. 23, 2007, Part 1; 1, 2)

Not having heard the debate I cannot personally comment on the outcome, e.g. whether Dr. White was able to address Shabir’s points and provide conclusive evidence establishing the thesis of the debate (not that I have any doubt whatsoever that he did prove his case since Dr. White is a capable scholar and apologist).

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.

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.

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. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." 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. Christís 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


Exposing Shabir’s uncritical use of anti-supernatural and liberal scholarship

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).

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

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. 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.

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?

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? 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?

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

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.


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?

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.


Endnotes

(1) This notion of Jesus’ death making propitiation is not a completely foreign concept to Judaism since we find some precedence for it within the inter-testamental literature of the Jews (as well as the teachings of the OT prophets). Books such as Maccabees provide us with a glimpse of how the Jews viewed the deaths of their righteous at the hands of tyrants and despots:

"These also avenged their nation, looking unto God, and enduring torments unto death. For it was truly a divine contest which was carried through by them. For at that time virtue presided over the contest, approving the victory through endurance, namely, immortality, eternal life. Eleazar was the first to contend: and the mother of the seven children entered the contest; and the brethren contended. The tyrant was the opposite; and the world and living men were the spectators. And reverence for God conquered, and crowned her own athletes. Who did not admire those champions of true legislation? Who were not astonished? The tyrant himself, and all their council, admired their endurance; through which, also, they now stand beside the divine throne, and live a blessed life. For Moses saith, And all the saints are under thine hands [Dt 33:3]. These, therefore, having been sanctified through God, have been honoured not only with this honour, but that also by their means the enemy did not overcome our nation; and that the tyrant was punished, and their country purified. For they became the ransom to the sin of the nation; and the Divine Providence saved Israel, aforetime afflicted, by the blood of those pious ones, and the propitiatory (tou hilasteriou) death." 4 Maccabees 17:10-22 (Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton, The Septuagint LXX: Greek and English; source)

"Beholding him so high-minded against misery, and not changing at their pity, they led him to the fire: then with their wickedly-contrived instruments they burnt him on the fire, and poured stinking fluids down into his nostrils. And he being at length burnt down to the bones, and about to expire, raised his eyes Godward, and said, Thou knowest, O God, that when I might have been saved, I am slain for the sake of the law by tortures of fire. Be merciful to thy people, and be satisfied with the punishment of me on their account. Let my blood be a purification for them, and take my life in recompense for theirs. Thus speaking, the holy man departed, noble in his torments, and even to the agonies of death resisted in his reasoning for the sake of the law." 4 Maccabees 6:24-30

Renowned Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown provides some further insights into the Jewish thinking concerning the slaughter of the righteous martyrs:

"Another consideration tinged the Jewish response to the slaughter of its people. It was an old Jewish tradition dating back to Biblical times that the death of the righteous and innocent served as expiation for the sins of the nation or the world. The stories of Isaac and of Nadav and Avihu, the prophetic description of Israel as the long-suffering servant of the Lord, the sacrificial service in the Temple - all served to reinforce this basic concept of the death of the righteous as an atonement for the sins of other men.

"Jews nurtured this classic idea of death as an atonement, and this attitude towards their own tragedies was their constant companion throughout their turbulent exile. Therefore, the wholly bleak picture of unreasoning slaughter was somewhat relieved by the fact that the innocent did not die in vain and that the betterment of Israel and humankind somehow was advanced by their ‘stretching their neck to be slaughtered.’ What is amazing is that this abstract, sophisticated, theological thought should have become so ingrained in the psyche of the people that even the least educated and most simplistic of Jews understood the lesson and acted upon it, giving up precious life in a soaring act of belief and affirmation of the better tomorrow. This spirit of the Jews is truly reflected in the historical chronicle of the time:

‘Would the Holy One, Blessed is he, dispense judgment without justice? But we may say that he whom God loves will be chastised. For since the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, the righteous are seized by death for the iniquities of the generation’ (Yeven Metzulah, end of Chapter 15)." (Dr. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000], Volume Two, pp. 154-155; underline emphasis ours)

Hence, the death of Jesus on behalf of his people is something which would be thoroughly acceptable within the Jewish worldview of his day. His death would have fallen under the category of the righteous martyr, e.g. a faithful, pious Jew whose death God accepted as an atonement for others.

(2) Shabir denies that Paul composed the letters to Timothy and Titus, otherwise known as the Pastoral Epistles, hence his classifying them as "Deutero-Pauline." He subscribes to the liberal-critical view that these epistles were either written by a disciple of Paul or someone from among the Pauline circle.

Shabir has apparently changed his position since in some of his published works he attributes Pauline authorship to 1 and 2 Timothy:

Many people use Paul’s writings as proof that Jesus is God. But this is not fair to Paul, because Paul clearly believed that Jesus is not God.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: ... (Paul Believed That Jesus is not God; source)

And:

They will say, "Yes! All scripture is inspired of God." They will also quote from the Bible where it says exactly that in Paul's 2nd Letter to Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16. They may then smile happily because they showed you the answer straight from the Bible. (101 questions for Jehavoh's Witnesses; source)

Be that as it may, our point still stands since even if one subscribes to the theory that these epistles were composed by a pseudonymous writer this would still be an accurate reflection of Paul’s teachings to the churches. After all, this allegedly unknown author would obviously want to closely reflect the theology that Paul taught his followers.

(3) This idea of Jesus’ death being both a ransom and a sacrifice finds some precedence within the OT corpus. The Hebrew Scriptures speak of God redeeming his people from their sins:

"Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me." Psalm 49:14-15

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy," Psalm 103:2-4

"O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities." Psalm 130:7-8

The prophetic writings indicate that the way he does this is by atonement, by vicarious sacrifice:

"Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hears prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you ATONE for our transgressions. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas;" Psalm 65:1-5

"They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their REDEEMER. But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he, being compassionate, ATONED for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again." Psalm 78:35-39

"Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and ATONE for our sins, for your name's sake!" Psalm 79:8-9; cf. Leviticus 16; 17:11

Thus, the NT teaching that Jesus’ death encompasses both of these elements simultaneously is faithful to the OT depiction of God ransoming his people from their transgression by atonement.


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