Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Bart D. Ehrman Proves Muhammad is a false prophet Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Seeing how Muslims just love to quote liberal critic Bart D. Ehrman’s books, writings and lectures to attack the Christian faith we have decided to start a new series where we will use Ehrman’s own words to prove that Muhammad was a false prophet. After all, we think it is only fair to be able to use one of the Muslim’s favorite scholars against them so as to show them what happens to their own faith if they ever decide to employ such scholars and sources fairly and consistently.

We begin this series by quoting what Ehrman wrote concerning Psalm 110:1 in a book that even noted Muslim taqiyyist Shabir Ally endorses (1; 2):

“The son of a human is human, just as the son of a dog is a dog and the son of a cat is a cat. And so what is the son of God? As it turns out, to the surprise of many causal readers of the Bible, there are passages in which the king of Israel is referred to as divine, as God.

“Hebrew Bible scholar John J. Collins points out that this honor ultimately appears to derive from Egyptian ways of thinking about their king, the Pharaoh, as a divine being. Even in Egypt, where the king was a god, it did not mean that the king was on a par with the great gods, any more than the Roman emperor was thought to be on a par with Jupiter or Mars. But he was a god. As we have seen, in Egyptian and Roman circles, there were levels of divinity, and so too in Jewish circles. Thus we find highly exalted terms used of the king of Israel, terms that may surprise readers who think–on the basis of the kind of thinking that developed n the fourth Christian century–that there is an unbridgeable chasm between God and humans. Nonetheless, here it is, in the Bible itself, the king is called both Lord and God

“For example, Psalm 110:1: ‘The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ The first term, LORD–traditionally printed in capital letters in English–is the Hebrew name of God YHWH, often spelled Yahweh. The four Hebrew letters representing that name were considered so special that in traditional Judaism they were not (and are not) pronounced. They are sometimes called the Tetragrammaton (Greek for ‘four letters’). The second term, ‘Lord,’ is a different word, adn (= adonai, or adoni), which is a common term for the Lord God but is also a term that could be used, for example, by a slave for his master. What is striking here is that YHWH is speaking to ‘my Lord’ and telling him to ‘sit at my right hand.’ Any being enthroned with God is sharing the glory, status, and honor due to God himself. There is not a question of identity or absolute parity here–the king, sitting at God’s right hand–is not God Almighty himself. That is clear from what is said next: God will conquer the king’s enemies for him and put them under his feet. But he is doing so for one whom he has exalted up to the level of his own throne. The king is being portrayed as a divine being who lives in the presence of God ABOVE ALL OTHER CREATURES.” (Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee [HarperOne, First edition 2014], 2. Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism, pp. 77-78; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Moreover, here is what Ehrman says regarding the disciples use of this particular Psalm to describe Jesus’ post-resurrection ascension into God’s heavenly presence: 

“… The followers of Jesus, during his life, believed that he would be the king of the future kingdom, the messiah. Now that they believed he had been exalted to the heavenly realm, they realized they had been right. He was the future king; but he would come from heaven to reign. In some traditions of the Jewish king in the Hebrew Bible, as we have seen, the king–even the earthly son of David–was thought to be in some sense God. Jesus now had been exalted to heaven and is the heavenly messiah to come to the earth. In an even more real sense, he was God. Not God Almighty, of course, but he was a heavenly being, a superhuman, a divine king who would rule the nations

“Before Jesus’s death the disciples believed he would sit on the future throne. If God has taken him up into heaven, he is already sitting on a throne. In fact, he is at the right hand of God. On earth the disciples considered him their master and ‘lord.’ Now he really is their Lord. The disciples recalled the scripture that said, ‘The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”’ (Ps. 110:1). God had taken Jesus, exalted him to his right hand in a position of authority and power, MADE HIM THE LORD OF ALL, who would rule over all things. As one who ruled from besides God’s throne, Jesus was in that sense also God.” (Ibid., 5. The Resurrection of Jesus: What We Can Know, pp. 208-209; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And this is what Ehrman writes in regards to Acts 5:31:

“A similar view is set forth in yet another speech of Acts, which again incorporates A VERY EARLY VIEW OF CHRIST AS ONE EXALTED TO A DIVINE STATUS AT HIS RESURRECTION… Once more, then, in an EARLY TRADITION, we find that Jesus’s resurrection was an ‘exaltation’ specifically to ‘the right hand of God.’ In other words, God had elevated Jesus TO HIS OWN STATUS and given him a prominent position as the one who would ‘lead’ and ‘save’ those on earth.” (Ibid., 6. The Beginning of Christology: Christ as Exalted to Heaven, pp. 228-229; bold and capital emphasis ours)

In order to appreciate what Ehrman is saying here it is vitally important that we first quote the specific NT passages alluded to by Ehrman in their immediate contexts, and then contrast them with what the Quran says about Jesus and his disciples. Here are the citations from Acts which Ehrman made reference to:

“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:29-36 Authorized King James Version (AV)

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” Acts 5:29-32 AV

According to Ehrman, these verses show that Jesus’ own disciples believed and proclaimed that Christ is a divine being whom God exalted above all other creatures by having him share the glory, status, and honor that belongs to God himself!

Now, mind you, this doesn’t mean that Ehrman believes that Christ’s first disciples taught that Jesus had always existed as God. Rather, Ehrman takes this to mean that the first followers of Christ had come to believe that he had become God when, after his resurrection and ascension into heaven, he came to share in God’s own rule and glory.

Suffice it to say such a view conflicts with the teachings of the Quran which claims that Jesus’ followers were Muslims,

When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be My helpers to (the work of) God?" Said the disciples: "We are God's helpers: We believe in God, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims.” S. 3:52 Y. Ali

And behold! I inspired the disciples to have faith in Me and Mine Apostle: they said, “We have faith, and do thou bear witness that we bow to God as Muslims.” S. 5:111 Y. Ali

And would therefore never go around preaching that Jesus had been exalted to share in God’s own unique divine glory, status and honors, since the Quran is quite clear that Allah does not share his sovereignty and worship with anyone:

It is not meet for a mortal that Allah should give him the Book and the wisdom and prophethood, then he should say to men: Be my servants rather than Allah's; but rather (he would say): Be worshipers of the Lord because of your teaching the Book and your reading (it yourselves). And neither would he enjoin you that you should take the angels and the prophets for lords; what! would he enjoin you with unbelief after you are Muslims? S. 3:79-80 Shakir

To God belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth; and God hath power over all things. S. 3:189 Y. Ali

He, Whose is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and Who did not take to Himself a son, and Who has no associate in the kingdom, and Who created everything, then ordained for it a measure. S. 25:2 Shakir

Yet since this is what Jesus’ own followers believed and proclaimed as even Ehrman himself agrees, then the Quran cannot be a revelation of God. Therefore, Muslims have no choice but to reject Muhammad as a false prophet since he denied the historical facts concerning what Jesus and his followers taught concerning Christ’s divine status, as even admitted by one of their favorite liberal critics of the Holy Bible!

Time to proceed to the second part in our series.