Responding to a Muslim Review of the Williams-Green Debate Pt. 1
Sami Zaatari posted a brief analysis of the Chris Green versus Paul Bilal Williams titled, “Is Jesus a Muslim Prophet or Christian God? The Public Debate”.
Zaatari claims that Williams was able to show that Mark’s Gospel presents a very human Jesus, in contrast to the more theologically developed Christology of John’s Gospel. He writes:
More to this point, Paul demonstrated how the earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, shows a very human Jesus, a Jesus that is not all knowing, a Jesus that distinguishes himself from God, and a Jesus who teaches the people to follow the commandments to be saved by God. (A Review of the Paul-Green Debate, Posted July 10, 2012)
Statements such as these demonstrate that neither of these gentlemen are interested in accurately representing the Christian faith, nor are they concerned with handling the Holy Bible with care and respect.
The problem with these assertions is that these same criticisms can actually be leveled against the Gospel of John, and yet Williams wouldn’t deny for a moment that this Gospel portrays Jesus as God Incarnate. Why, then, assume that the Mark’s Gospel presents a low, or lower, Christology simply because it contains such statements?
More importantly, why not take the time to carefully examine all of the things which Mark says concerning Jesus before assuming on the basis of a few isolated passages that Christ cannot be God according to this Gospel?
In fact, this is what we intend to do here, namely, show how the same things that Williams said are there in Mark are also found in John’s Gospel. We will also try to establish that Mark’s Christology is every bit as high as John’s since both Evangelists depict Jesus as incarnate Deity, e.g. the divine, unique Son of God who became flesh.
A. Jesus is not all knowing.
There are places in John which seem to suggest that Jesus wasn’t omniscient. Case in point:
“Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.” John 11:32-35
Jesus asks where Lazarus’ body lay, presumably because he didn’t personally know the location.
However, no one who has taken the time to carefully study John’s Gospel would conclude from this that Jesus isn’t truly omniscient, since this happens to be the same Gospel which goes out of its way to show that he was:
“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” John 2:23-25
“‘For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.’ His disciples said, ‘Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?’” John 16:27-31 – cf. 21:17
In fact, the very reason why Lazarus was raised from the dead was for the specific purpose of providing supernatural confirmation that Christ is the divine Son of God:
“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’… After saying these things, he said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’… So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that WHATEVER you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’… Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you ALWAYS hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.’” John 11:1-4, 11-15, 20-27, 38-44 – cf. John 5:21, 25-26, 28-29; 6:39-40, 54
Not only did Jesus know that Lazarus had died without anyone telling him, he actually purposely waited for him to die so as to raise him back from the dead. This would then prove to all those who would witness this miracle that Jesus is God’s unique Son who has the power to give life and resurrect the dead.
In a similar fashion, Mark depicts Jesus as possessing knowledge and specific abilities which only God possesses.
For instance, according to the following pericope, Jesus is said to immediately know in his Spirit (i.e. divine nature) what people are thinking within their hearts, within themselves:
“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And IMMEDIATELY Jesus, PERCEIVING IN HIS SPIRIT that they thus questioned WITHIN THEMSELVES, said to them, ‘Why do you question these things IN YOUR HEARTS? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” Mark 2:1-12
Jesus does three things here which the OT says are actions and abilities that Yahweh alone possesses and carries out, namely, forgive sins, heal all diseases, and know the thoughts of men:
“then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you ALONE, know the hearts of all the sons of men)… If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them.” 1 Kings 8:39, 46-50
"If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart." Psalm 44:20-21
“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 – cf. 1 Chronicles 28:9; Isaiah 43:25; Daniel 9:9; Micah 7:18-19
Even the Quran attests that forgiving sins and knowing men's hearts are functions belonging to God alone:
“If they commit any evil, or wrong themselves, they remember God and seek forgiveness for their sins. Who can forgive the sins except God? They do not persist in what they have done while they know.” S. 3:135 Quran: A Reformist Translation (QRT)
"Whether you keep your utterances secret, or declare them, He is fully aware of what is inside the chests. Should He not know what He created?" S. 67:13-14 QRT
On another occasion, Jesus had control over places that he wasn’t physically present at:
“Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ ‘Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” Mark 7:24-30
Here we find Jesus commanding an unclean spirit to leave the woman’s daughter even though he wasn’t physically present at the place where the young girl was located. This not only shows that Jesus knows what occurs elsewhere, but also demonstrates that he has power to command the elements without having to be physically present to do so!
This is similar to the following report in John:
“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Lord, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” John 4:46-54
Like the story in Mark, Jesus heals a boy without having to be physically present at the location to do so!
Hence, both Mark and John agree that Jesus is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent.
B. Jesus teaches the people to follow the commandments to be saved by God.
What Williams and his partner failed to mention is that John also emphasizes the centrality and necessity of obeying the commandments:
“If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” John 12:47-50
“‘If you love me, keep my commands… Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’… Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.’” John 14:15, 21, 23-24
However, these are the same commandments which say that a person must believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved and receive eternal life:
“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent… For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I WILL RAISE him up on the last day.’” John 6:27-29, 38-40
This is precisely what Jesus tells the rich young ruler in Mark’s Gospel who came asking him about how to obtain eternal life:
“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’” Mark 10:17-20
Conveniently, Williams and his cohorts typically stop at this point in order to give the misleading impression that Jesus taught that salvation is obtained by observing the Torah, or the commands given through Moses.
However, a completely different picture emerges if one simply continues reading the rest of the pericope:
“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, FOLLOW ME.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’ Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything TO FOLLOW YOU!’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields FOR ME AND THE GOSPEL will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.’” Mark 10:21-29
Jesus explicitly says that eternal life is obtained by abandoning everything in order to follow him, not by obeying the Law of Moses. Jesus reiterates this point to Peter when the latter stated that the disciples had given up everything to follow Christ. Jesus’ response shows that the only way to receive eternal life is through following Jesus and accepting the Gospel.
What makes this a rather astonishing assertion is that Jesus clearly stated that it is impossible for any man to save himself, or even others, which is why only God is able to save anyone. And yet Jesus says that he is able to do the impossible by guaranteeing eternal life to all who give up everything to follow him!
In fact, a little later in the same chapter Christ goes as far as to say that he has come to offer up his life as a ransom to save many:
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (kai dounai ten psychen autou lytron anti pollon).” Mark 10:45
He makes a similar claim at the night of his betrayal:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them.” Mark 14:22-24
Suffice it to say, Jesus is again claiming to be able to do something which he himself says only God can do, namely, ransom men from death and destruction in order that they might live on forever.
The OT even agrees that this is something which God alone can do since no human being is capable of ransoming a single human life, let alone many lives:
“Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit… But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Psalm 49:7-9, 15
And here is how the above Psalm reads according to the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, commonly referred to as the Septuagint (LXX), so the readers can see the significance of Jesus’ claims more clearly:
“A brother does not ransom (lytroutai); shall a man ransom (lytrosetai)? He shall not give to God a propitiation (exilasma) for himself, or the price of the redemption (lytroseos) of his soul (tes psyches autou), though he labor for ever, and live to the end, [so] that he should not see corruption… But God shall ransom my soul (ho theos lytrosetai ten psychen mou) from the power of Hades, when he shall receive me.” Psalm 48:8-10, 16 LXX
Thus, Jesus does what this Psalm says no one can do except God, i.e. offer his own life as a ransom in order to save many lives from the power of death and hades!
In this regard, Mark is again in agreement with John since the latter quotes Jesus as saying that he is the Bread of Life who has come down from heaven to offer up his flesh and blood for the life and salvation of the world:
“Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven AND GIVES LIFE TO THE WORLD.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is MY FLESH, WHICH I WILL GIVE FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD.’ Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’” John 6:32-35, 48-58
Now the only way that Mark and John could depict Jesus doing the very thing which is impossible for any man to do, and which only God is capable of doing, is if they both truly believed that Christ is fully God in essence.
This leads us to the next point, which we will pick up in the second part of our rebuttal.