Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A Rebuttal to Shabir Ally’s Response to Dr. James White Pt. 3a

Sam Shamoun

We proceed from where we left off.



But after Paul became a follower of Jesus, “at once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20).” How can White now say, “We were not told when the transition supposedly took place”? Again, he ignores what I said, and argues as if I said nothing. I am not asking for him to necessarily agree with me. All I am asking is that if he is composing a reply to me it should be a reply to what I said, instead of ignoring what I said. So, yes, it was others, not the original disciples of Jesus, who were responsible for transforming the image of Jesus from the Messiah of God to the only-begotten Son of God.



Before responding to Ally’s charge that Paul was the one who went around proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God, it is vitally important that we first take a look at the chapter itself so as to see what Ally conveniently forgot to mention.


Christ – The Visible Manifestation of God

The chapter begins with Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, HE COULD SEE NOTHING; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. AND FOR THREE DAYS HE WAS WITHOUT SIGHT, and neither ate nor drank.” Acts 9:1-9

This isn’t the only place where Luke mentions the blessed Apostle’s life-transforming experience:

“As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon A GREAT LIGHT from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And when I COULD NOT SEE BECAUSE OF THE BRIGHTNESS OF THAT LIGHT, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.” Acts 22:6-11

“Thus I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, BRIGHTER THAN THE SUN, shining round me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles—to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” Acts 26:12-18

Here, Christ appears in the very radiance and splendor which the Holy Bible ascribes to God:

“For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light do we see light.” Psalm 36:9

“Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, thou art very great! Thou art clothed with honor and majesty, who coverest thyself with light as with a garment, who hast stretched out the heavens like a tent, who hast laid the beams of thy chambers on the waters, who makest the clouds thy chariot, who ridest on the wings of the wind,” Psalm 104:1-3 – cf. Ezekiel 1:26-28; Daniel 7:9-10; 1 John 1:5

This explains why Paul became temporarily blind since we are told that no one is capable of beholding the light which emanates from God:

“In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:13-16

This shows that Luke is depicting Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord as a theophany, or a divine manifestation and appearance of God himself!

“The sudden appearance of ‘a light from heaven’ (phos ek tou ouranou 9:3; cf. 22:6, 9) that is ‘brighter than the noon-day sun’ (26:13; cf. 2 Cor 4:4-6) and that ‘flashed around him’ (cf. 22:6; 26:13) ARE THE SPECIAL EFFECTS OF A THEOPHANY WHEN GOD MEETS A PROPHET (cf. Exod. 19:16; Ezek 1:4, 7, 13, 28; Dan 10:6). Similar to the prophet Ezekiel’s response to his vision of God’s glory (Ezek. 1:28), Saul ‘fell to the ground’ (9:4) in anticipation OF HEARING GOD SPEAK TO HIM. In this case, the ‘light’ (phos) he sees is of the exalted Jesus, SHROUDED IN THE GLORY OF GOD (cf. 7:55).

The epiphany is a divine audition (cf. Exod 3:4-10; Gen 31:11-13; see 2:5-13)… Saul does not recognize the ‘voice’ (phone) he hears, and asks ‘Who are you, Lord?’ (9:5a). His ironical use of ‘Lord’ (kyrios) is not yet a confession of faith in Jesus but the honest query of a devout Jew who understands the significance of his experience from reading Scripture.366 For this reason, Saul is absolutely attentive to what is said next: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (9:5b).” (Robert W. Wall, “The Acts of the Apostles,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, pp. 150-151; capital and underline emphasis ours) 

366. I am convinced that Luke shapes this narrative in the light of the Exodus story of Moses’ commissioning. Jesus’ address, “Saul, Saul,” echoes the angel’s address, ‘Moses, Moses’ (Exod 3:4); and Jesus’ response to Saul’s query, “I am Jesus [ego eimi Iesous],” echoes God’s response to Moses’ similar question, “I am I AM [ego eimi]” [Exod 3:13-14]. The logic of Luke’s intertext reflects the importance of Moses in Acts as prototypical prophet-like-Jesus (see Acts 7:23-43). (Ibid., p. 151)

But that’s not all we discover from the chapter.


Worshiping the risen Lord as God

Luke proceeds to record the risen Lord’s visit with Ananias where he instructs his disciple to meet with Saul in order to confirm to the latter that he did indeed have a divine encounter with Christ. What Ananias says gives us an insight into some of the religious practices of the Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem:

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani′as. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Anani′as.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, and he has seen a man named Anani′as come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Anani′as answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to THY saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon THY NAME.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument OF MINE to carry MY NAME before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of MY NAME.’ So Anani′as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened. For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ And all who heard him were amazed, and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc IN JERUSALEM of those who called on THIS NAME? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.’ But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.” Acts 9:10-22

Here we see that the Jewish believers who lived in Jerusalem were calling upon the name of their risen Lord, which was one of the reasons why Paul decided to persecute them.

To say that this is remarkable, in fact astonishing, would be putting it quite mildly since the Hebrew Bible is emphatically clear that this is an act of worship that is to be offered to Yahweh God alone!

“Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.” Psalm 99:5-6

“The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I beseech thee, save my life!’… I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord… I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” Psalm 116:3-4, 13, 17 – cf. 145:18; Genesis 4:26; 12:8; 21:33; Deuteronomy 4:7; Joel 2:32

That’s not all. Luke records the words of the first Christian martyr Stephen, right as he was about to die:

“And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting to his death…” Acts 7:59-60, 8:1a

Stephen prays to the heavenly Christ in the exact same way that OT believers and Jesus himself prayed to God Almighty!

Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Psalm 31:5

“And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments… Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” Luke 23;33-34, 46

Thus, by committing his spirit to the risen Lord and asking him to forgive the sins of his antagonists, Stephen was basically worshiping Jesus as God since these are some of the divine honors and functions which the inspired Scriptures ascribe to God alone. As the following NT scholars explain: 

7:59-60. And so Stephen dies in imitation of Jesus: He prays, “Receive my spirit” (cf. Luke 23:46) and cries out, “Do not hold this sin against them” (cf. Luke 23:34) and died (cf. Luke 23:46). Unlike Jesus, however, the object of Stephen’s petition is the glorified “Lord Jesus” himself, the one whom the martyr worships. (Wall, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, p. 131; underline emphasis ours)


"It was during his actual stoning that Stephen uttered….: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ (59). His prayer was similar to that which Luke has recorded Jesus as praying just before he died, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ Yet this was not to be Stephen’s last word. He spoke a third sentence when he fell on his knees. He cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (60a). It was reminiscent of the first word from the cross which Luke has recorded, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Whether it was Stephen who deliberately imitated his Master, or whether it was Luke who observed and highlighted the fact, there are several parallels between the death of Jesus and the death of Stephen. In both cases false witnesses were produced and the charge was one of blasphemy. In both cases too the execution was accompanied by two prayers, as each prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners and for the reception of his spirit as he died. Thus did the disciple – whether consciously or unconsciously – reflect his master. The only difference was that Jesus addressed his prayers to the Father, while Stephen addressed them to Jesus, calling him ‘Lord’ and putting him on a level with God." (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts – The Spirit, the Church & the World [Inter-Varsity Press, Downer’s Grove, Illinois, 1990), p. 142; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The Quran itself agrees that these are practices and functions that can only be attributed to God, which is why it commands Muslims to call upon him in their worship,

When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way. S. 2:186 Y. Ali

And your Lord says: "Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer): but those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell - in humiliation!"… He is the Living (One): There is no god but He: Call upon Him, giving Him sincere devotion. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds!  S. 40:60, 65 Y. Ali

And why it also exhorts them to invoke him for mercy and forgiveness since he is the only one capable of doing so:

And those who, having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring God to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins, – and who can forgive sins except God? – and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done. S. 3:135 Y. Ali

Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God: for God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. S. 39:53 Y. Ali

To briefly sum up our discussion of the ninth chapter of Acts, we discovered that Jesus appeared to Paul in the very heavenly splendor and majesty of God, obviously because he is God. We also learned that Jesus’ Jewish followers who were living in Jerusalem (of all places!) had already started worshiping Christ in the same way that the OT saints worshiped Yahweh. Now the obvious reason why they did so is because they must have believed that Jesus was/is Yahweh in the flesh, even though they also knew he was not the Father or the Holy Spirit.

With the foregoing in perspective we can now proceed to the next part of this rebuttal in order to see whether the blessed Apostle Paul was the first one to go around preaching that Jesus is God’s Son.