Answering Islam Email Dialogs
Topic: What about the Christian scholars who are doubting the Deity of Jesus?
Received: 1 June 2004
Question: How do you explain the fact that there are Christian Scholars who doubt, after careful examination, Jesus's (peace be upon Him) divinity?
Well, first of all, I would answer that there are innumerable New Testament scholars that affirm Christ's divinity, and with good reason, but we'll get to that shortly. There are some liberal scholars that claim to be followers of Christ, but tend to reinvent him in their own image. A divine Messiah that insists that he is the only way to God is often not conducive to modern, pluralistic, Western sensibilities. In other words, we live in a society where it is thought that one person's viewpoint is just as valuable as another. Needless to say, the Christ of the Gospels does not fit this "politically correct" mold. Many scholars throughout the last century or two have, probably not coincidentally, come up with pictures of Jesus more compatible with their own cultures. It has even been suggested that often a scholar's portrayal of Jesus tells us more about the scholar than it really does about the historical Jesus. A scholar who denies the divinity of Jesus would not, by evangelical definition, be considered "Christian". Although it may not be a perfect analogy, it would be similar to "Muslims" who believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect) is the Messiah/Mahdi claiming to represent true Islam. Obviously, as (presumably) an orthodox Muslim, you do not accept Ahmad's claims as it is contrary to orthodox Islam. The same is true for Bible-believing Christians who reject the views of "Christian" New Testament scholars that deny Christ's divinity.
Now, let's get to a brief discussion of the important issues. While I can list many scholars that agree with my belief in Christ's divinity, what is important is whether or not Christ truly did claim to be divine, as that is the crux of the matter. In other words, what does the evidence tell us? When we consider it in an unbiased manner, the conclusion indisputably leads us to a historical Jesus who did claim to be divine. A great article dealing with the evidence can be found at the following link. I highly recommend you check it out:
I'll paste a few relevant excerpts from the above article here in the text:
"However, there is ample indication that the early church based its doctrine on things Jesus said and did, including His claims to divinity, rather than inventing what He said and did after formulating the doctrines. Craig [Craig.ApIn, 160] reports:
Studies by New Testament scholars such as Martin Hengel of Tübingen University, C. F. D. Moule of Cambridge, and others have proved that within twenty years of the crucifixion a full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate existed. How does one explain this worship by monotheistic Jews of one of their countrymen as God incarnate, apart from the claims of Jesus himself?"
"The oldest liturgical prayer recorded, in 1 Corinthians 16:22, is dated at around 55 A.D. It refers to Jesus as Lord. So does the earliest sermon and the earliest account of martyrdom. The authors of the NT epistles, including and especially Paul, even in his undisputed letters, use the language of divine Wisdom with reference to Jesus. The earliest pagan report of the church's activities indicates that Jesus was worshipped as Lord. Paul's letters, written between 49 and 65 A.D., exhibit the same fully-evolved Christology; logically, he must have gotten it from sometime earlier than 49 A.D. Paul cites creeds, hymns and sayings of Jesus that must have come from earlier (Rom. 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 11:23; Col. 1:15-16; Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:8); these items translate easily into Aramaic and show features of Hebrew poetry and thought-forms, which allows us to trace their origins to Jesus' first followers in Judea, between 33 and 48 A.D. [More.ScCy, 161-5] All of this leads to the inevitable conclusion that the concept of Jesus as divine quite definitely existed within, at the very least, a decade of the crucifixion, and therefore, was likely to have been asserted before His death by Jesus Himself, as is recorded in the Gospels."
Many Muslims, of course, do not believe that Paul's letters are trustworthy when it comes to historical information about Jesus Christ. However, notice in the above paragraph that Paul cites several creeds that predate his writings that attribute divinity to Christ. As also mentioned above, these creeds translate well into Aramaic. Since Aramaic was likely the language of Jesus and the very early church, and since the whole New Testament (with the possible exception of the Gospel of Matthew) was originally penned in Greek rather than Aramaic, it is very likely that they date back very early in church history, certainly before Paul wrote his epistles. If a Muslim still wishes to somehow argue that Paul was the inventor of the idea of Christ's divinity, consider the following excerpt from the same article cited above....
"If Jesus never claimed to be divine, and never claimed it in the sense that is indicated in the Gospels, it is reasonable to expect that:
As it is, there are no extant texts from the first century, or even from the century thereafter, that represent Jesus as claiming to be only human or only a prophet--He is ALWAYS portrayed as making exalted claims to a super-human status. Later heresies of the church, such as Gnosticism, involved paganistic and/or mystical additions upon what Jesus meant in the Gospels when He claimed to be God; they never denied that He made any special claims about Himself. As we noted previously, the earliest known pagan critic of Christianity to address the issue, Celsus, argued that Jesus did apply the title "Son of God" to Himself, but wrongly [Wilk.ChrRom, 109]; only much later did those critics deny that Jesus made such claims. The argument that Jesus never claimed to be divine is in fact nothing more than an unsupportable conjecture, an argument from silence competing against the scream of the available data. Each of the above claims, and every known document of the church, even the heretical ones, acknowledge that Jesus claimed divinity. There is absolutely no evidence to the contrary that can be cited. Saying that there is no evidence that Jesus claimed divinity can only be managed by ignoring reams of evidence, or by facile dismissal."
If the first Christians denied Christ's divinity, then it is remarkable that there is no hard evidence for the existence of such a movement. This is particularly the case if one wishes to argue that Paul invented the idea of Christ's divinity. Paul did not even convert to Christianity until 1-3 years after the movement's genesis. Furthermore, unlike the 11 apostles, he did not follow Christ during the latter's 3.5 year ministry. If Paul competed with the 11 apostles in order to establish what form of Christianity would survive, then it is inexplicable that Paul could have possibly "won." After all, Paul not only did not have the extremely crucial factor of actually having known Jesus working for him, like the 11 apostles did, but also didn't start the alleged "Pauline Christianity" until 1-3 years after the so-called "true Christianity" was being preached by the disciples. On top of everything else, Paul was actually a great enemy of the earliest church (Galatians 1:13), persecuting them with zeal. It would have been virtually impossible, given the comparison of credentials of Paul vs. the 11 disciples, that Paul's movement could have not only "won", but did so emphatically enough to the point where the so-called "non-Pauline, true, Christianity" left no marks on the annals of history! I submit that the only way Paul could have had anything more than marginal success with his ministry would have been if he had apostolic authority behind his ministry, which the evidence that we have states that he did [see Galatians 2:9 (This of course was written by Paul, but if he was competing with the disciples, he would not have invented this fact since the apostles were still around to refute it; it would have been more important for him rather to downplay the authority of Peter, James, and John if in fact his message conflicted substantially with theirs!) and II Peter 3:15, and see this site for refutation of the claim that this epistle was not written by Peter: http://www.christian-thinktank.com/ynotpeter1.html)].
Something else that's important to consider is the evidence of early controversies within the church regarding certain doctrines. One example is the dispute over whether or not Gentile converts should have to keep the Jewish law. See, for instance, the issue of Paul's dispute with Peter on this matter in Galatians 2:11-21, though see also Acts 15:1-29. What is notable about these controversies is that there is no evidence of a debate regarding Christ's divinity within the New Testament. If Paul was in competition with the disciples (e.g. Peter, John, etc.) over the divinity of Christ, then it is notable that there is a complete absence of evidence of this from the New Testament. This is admittedly an argument from silence, but given the extreme importance of such an issue, this is something we certainly would expect to see evidence of should there have been disagreement. So, it is very unlikely that the earliest Christians disputed Paul regarding Christ's divinity.
This demonstrates the external evidence for the claims of Jesus regarding his divinity, which is, as you can see, very impressive. For a summary of the (internal) evidence from the Gospels themselves, see the following links:
These articles are part of a larger series on God's complex oneness or tri-unity (http://www.christian-thinktank.com/trin01.html).
Graeco-Roman historian A.N. Sherwin-White states that even two generations is not enough time for legendary developments to abolish a historical core of truth, yet it can clearly be demonstrated that Jesus was worshiped widely as Lord within a decade of his death! The abundant evidence of Christ's divine claims, combined with the non-existence of hard evidence to the contrary, leads us to the compelling conclusion that Jesus did indeed make divine claims.
Also, think about this. All of Christ's disciples were Jews. The majority of the early converts were Jews. With their very strong monotheistic bent, Jews were perhaps the LAST ethnic group in the ancient world that we would expect to start worshiping a human being as divine, ESPECIALLY if he didn't even make divine claims! The only way to explain such a strong reaction to Christ's teachings by so many Jews, as well later of many Gentiles, is if Christ claimed to be divine, and proved it with say, a resurrection from the dead!
Let me close by encouraging you to read the Gospel of John. In the very first verses (chapter 1, verses 1 to 18), does John, Jesus' closest disciple, leave any doubt about who Jesus really is? Read the entire record penned by John. In chapter 5, you will hear Jesus telling folks that it is to Him that they will have to give account at the Final Judgment (John 5:22-29). In chapter 17, He states that He was with God before the world began (John 17:5). In chapter 20, and all through the book of the Acts, we come face to face with pious, monotheistic Jews who are accepting Jesus as their Lord and God (John 20:28). Back in chapter 8, we hear Jesus claiming to exist prior to Abraham (who lived 2,000 years before Jesus; John 8:58). As I already alluded to, it was because of such claims that the top Jewish religious leaders purposed to kill Jesus (John 5:16-18; 8:47-59; 10:24-39). The Jews understood clearly that Jesus was claiming equality with God. Along these lines, the great scholar C.S. Lewis wrote, “Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among pantheists, like Indians, anyone might say the he was part god, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of god. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.”
To those who refused to believe that Jesus was the Eternal Word and Son of Almighty God, Jesus said, “All should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life… But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life ... You search the Scriptures ... these are they which testify of Me. ... Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you — Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about me. But it you do not believe his writings how will you believe My words?” (John 5:23,24,40,39,45-47)
My apologies for the long response. The important take-home message though is to consider the evidence itself, and not simply appeal to various authorities. Once you take a look at it with an open mind and heart, the historical data compellingly indicates that Jesus made divine claims.
If you would like to discuss some aspect of the New Testament on this topic in more depth, please don't hesitate to write back. I didn't discuss any specific issue on this e-mail because your e-mail didn't really ask for anything specific regarding New Testament data, but we appreciate your taking time to write.
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