Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Bart D. Ehrman Proves Muhammad is a false prophet Pt. 2b

Sam Shamoun

We continue from where left off by focusing on the second part of the Christ hymn.


Christ’s Post-Resurrection Exaltation to the Status, Glory and Honor of Yahweh

In the second half of the hymn or poem, the focus shifts on God’s response to Jesus’ willing submission to the point of death:

“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11 AV

God exalts Jesus to the highest position imaginable and bestows on him the name which is above every name there is. That name would obviously have to be Yahweh since the Scriptures are clear that this name alone is exalted above everything else: 

“I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.” Psalm 138:2 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven.” Psalm 148:13 New King James Version (NKJV)

The name Yahweh is represented in the NT by the Greek word kyrios, meaning Lord. Therefore, when the poem says that every tongue must confess that Jesus is Lord, this means that God expects every creature to acknowledge and worship Jesus as Yahweh!

This is brought out more clearly by the fact that the hymn ascribes to Jesus an OT text which speaks of all humanity turning to Yahweh and acknowledging that he alone is a righteous God that saves:  

“Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Isaiah 45:21-23 AV

To say that this is astonishing is to be putting it mildly!

We will let Ehrman explain the significance of this all:

“… For the Philippians poem, Christ started out as divine, but at his exaltation he was made even ‘more divine,’ in fact, he was made equal with God.

“This is a point that is widely agreed upon by interpreters, and it is because of the wording of the final two stanzas of the poem, vv. 10-11. There we are told that God ‘hyperexalted’ Jesus, so that ‘At the name of Jesus / Every knee should bow / Of those in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. / And every tongue confess / That Jesus Christ is Lord / To the glory of God the Father.’ The causal reader may not realize this, but these lines allude to a passage in the Hebrew Bible. And a striking passage it is. According to the original passage as found in Isaiah 45:22-23, it is to Yahweh alone, the God of Israel, that ‘every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess’…

“The prophet Isaiah is quite explicit. There is only one God, NO OTHER. That God is Yahweh. That God has sworn that to NO OTHER shall every knee bow and every tongue make confession. Yet in the Philippians poem, it is not to God the Father–apart from whom, according to Isaiah, ‘there is no other’–but to the exalted Jesus that all the knees will bow and tongues confess. Jesus has been granted the status and honor and glory of the One Almighty God himself.

“This interpretation of the Christ poem in Philippians shows that VERY EARLY in the Christian movement the followers of Jesus were making audacious claims about him. He had been exalted to equality with God, even though God himself had said that there was ‘no other’ apart from him. Somehow, Christians were imagining that there was indeed ‘another.’ And this other one was equal with God. But it was not because he was God ‘by nature’–to use a later philosophical/theological term that came to be applied to discussions of Christ’s deity. He was God because God had made him so. But how could he be God, if God was God, and there was only one God? This became the key question of the Christological debates in later times, as we will see. At this stage, all we can say is that early Christians were not bothered enough by this dilemma, or this paradox, to have written anything about it, so we don’t know exactly how they dealt with it.

“One final point to make about the Philippians poem may have occurred to you already. I have been calling the Christology that it embraces ‘incarnational,’ since it portrays Jesus as a preexistent divine being who becomes human. But there is obviously an ‘exaltation’ element in the poem as well, since at Jesus’s resurrection God exalted him to an even higher state that he had before. In a sense, then, this poem provides us with a transitional Christology that combines an incarnation view with an exaltation view. Later authors will move even further away from an exaltation Christology, such that Christ will come to be portrayed as being equal with God even before his appearance in the world–in fact, as equal with God for all time. But this is not the view of the Philippians poem. For this beautiful passage, as quoted by and presumably believed by Paul, Christ was indeed a preexistent divine being. But he was an angel-like being, who only after his act of obedience to the point of death was made God’s equal.” (Ibid., pp. 264-266; bold and capital emphasis ours)

As can be seen from the above statements, Ehrman is not arguing for the traditional interpretation of this particular hymn since no orthodox Trinitarian would argue that the poem denies that Jesus has always been essentially coequal with God the Father. But this is precisely why Erhman’s exegesis is so damaging to the Muslim position.

Since the hymn/poem was composed sometime in the forties AD, as Ehrman believes, this gives us an idea of what the first Christians were saying about Jesus a little more than a decade after his resurrection (if not less). According to Ehrman the believers were proclaiming that Jesus is the incarnation of the Angel of the Lord, a figure whom the OT identifies as embodying the very essence of God and who is routinely called both Yahweh and God. These Christians were also preaching that, after his resurrection, God exalted Christ to share in the glory, worship and status which belongs only to God. They even had the audacity to apply the words of Isaiah 45:23 to Christ, even though this passage mentions the universal worship which Yahweh says shall be given only to him in recognition of the fact that he alone is God!

Now seeing how the first generation of Christians believed that Christ was/is the incarnation of the Angel of God, and therefore the visible Yahweh who appeared all throughout the OT period, it only makes sense that they would then take a monotheistic text that speaks of the worship that Yahweh alone receives, and apply that to the worship that every creature must render to Christ. It only seemed natural to these believers that he who already was the visible manifestation of Yahweh, both before and during the Incarnation, would end up receiving the very glory and worship that belong to Yahweh alone.

But this means that Ehrman’s position ends up exposing Muhammad as a false prophet since the latter erroneously claimed in the Quran that the first disciples of Christ were all Muslims whom Allah caused to triumph over the disbelievers, and who even promised that they would remain uppermost until the resurrection (cf. Q. 3:52, 55; 5:111; 61:14). Muhammad further denied that Allah has a son, especially one that shares in his worship and sovereignty over all things (cf. Q. 3:79-80, 189; 9:30; 17:111; 25:2). Therefore, if Muhammad were right then Jesus’ followers would have never preached that Christ is the Incarnation of the “Messenger Yahweh,” nor would they have believed that God exalted Christ after his resurrection to share in the position, glory and worship that belongs to Yahweh alone.

And yet according to Ehrman, this is precisely what Jesus’ disciples proclaimed to the world, which means that neither they nor Jesus believed in Islam.

So much for Muhammad being a true prophet or the Quran being a revelation from the true God.

Lord Jesus willing, there will be more articles in this present series which will be appearing shortly.


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