Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A Rebuttal to Shabir Ally’s Response to Dr. James White Pt. 4a

Sam Shamoun

We continue with our refutation to Ally’s distortions.


Paul and the Eyewitnesses


In short, White has no basis for claiming that I had conceded the debate. A hymn included in Paul’s writing two or three decades after the ascension of Jesus is not proof enough of what the original disciples of Jesus believed. As I argued, there was a deep rift between Paul and the disciples. They differed not only about law in general, but also about monotheism. White’s claim would have had some basis if he could show that Paul derived this hymn from the original disciples of Jesus. But, as I argued, Paul said that that he did not receive his teachings from men; rather, he claimed to have received his teachings by a special revelation from the Christ himself.

And this is what Ally stated in reply to James White’s third question in the cross-examination section of their debate:

“Moreover, Paul has said in his letters that he did not get his teaching from any man. He got it as a revelation from the Christ. So in that case we cannot claim that Paul is getting this from the original disciples of Jesus. In other words this pure invention on the part of Paul, and there is no reason why Muslims or Christians or Jews should believe in him.”

Ally also made the following remarks in his closing statements:

“James quotes the Carmen Christ, but Paul says, 'I did not get this from any human being. I get my teachings from a revelation from Jesus.' So that means we cannot say what Paul was teaching was what the original disciples were teaching. And it is clear that Paul was teaching a Jesus that was a different from what these other teachers were teaching. He calls their Jesus another Jesus. But as Bruce Chilton points out in his Introduction to the New Testament, we do not have Peter's reply to Paul's claims in the New Testament. And if we had their reply, as James Dunn says, they will say that it is Paul's Jesus who is the different Jesus. It is Paul's Gospel which is a different Gospel and the false Gospel. But Paul is saying their Gospel is false, their Jesus is false, and we only have it from Paul.”



Is this what the Apostle Paul meant when he stated that he didn’t get his revelation from any man from but from Christ himself? Was this blessed servant of Christ denying that he ever met with the original disciples in order to confirm that the revelation he had received was truly from the Lord Jesus?

Let us read from the passage that Ally is alluding to in order to find out.

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit (historesai) Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cili′cia. And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me.” Galatians 1:11-24

Here we find Paul stating that although he received the Gospel which he preached by way of revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ, he still went ahead to verify it with the Apostle Peter and the Lord’s brother. Paul again made sure to confirm his message with the eyewitnesses some fourteen years later:

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage—to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, GAVE TO ME and Barnabas THE RIGHT HAND OF FELLOWSHIP, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.” Galatians 2:1-10

As can be seen from the foregoing, Paul never intended to convey the erroneous notion that he never went ahead and verified the revelation which the risen Lord gave him concerning his Deity and the Gospel with the eyewitnesses of the historical Jesus who were still alive at that time. And yet Ally has the audacity to shamelessly pervert this blessed Apostle’s words in order to make him say something contrary to what he intended.

Unfortunately, such shameful tactics is all too typical of Ally since he has shown that he is willing to lie and deceive people in order to score cheap debate points so as to mislead them into following his false prophet and capricious deity. Ally’s distortion of the truth is both reprehensible and disgraceful to say the least, and yet this is the best that Islam has to offer! 

Ally’s problems are far from over and it is about to get whole a lot worse for him.

For instance, the Apostle Paul also passed on a tradition which he received from the disciples of Christ that ends up further proving that Muhammad was a false prophet:

“Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, MOST OF WHOM ARE STILL ALIVE, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-10

The majority of scholars, both conservative and liberal, believe that this specific tradition which speaks of Jesus’ post-mortem appearances to both disciples and hostile enemies such as James, was formulated within 2-3 years after Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection!

Although somewhat lengthy, the comments of noted NT Evangelical scholar Gary R. Habermas on this issue are worth repeating, especially in regard to the meaning of the Greek word historesai that Paul uses to explain the reason why he went up to meet Peter and James:

2. Beyond Paul's own experience, this apostle presents plenty of additional evidence for the claim that Jesus had appeared to his early followers. Essentially all critical scholars today agree that in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul records an ancient oral tradition(s) that summarizes the content of the Christian gospel. Jesus the Christ died for human sin, was buried and raised from the dead, afterwards appearing to both individuals as well as groups of witnesses. While Paul penned the words, he is clear that this material was not his own but that he had passed on to his listeners years before (1 Cor 15:1-2) what he had received from other, as the very heart of his message (1 Cor 15:3). If he were writing today, he might have footnoted his source! Thus this testimony is actually years earlier than the book of 1 Corinthians. Reginald Fuller indicates the scholarly agreement here: “It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition.”

So Paul provides a straight forward explanation that he delivered to his audience what he had first received from others (1 Cor 15:3), which are the equivalent terms for passing rabbinic tradition to others (cf. 1 Cor 11:23). Besides this clear declaration of his actions, there are many other indications that this is exactly what happened. The sentence structure, diction, verbal parallelism, the threefold sequence of “and that,” as well as the presence of several non-Pauline words, the proper names of Cephas (cf. Lk 24:34) and James, and indications that there may have been an Aramaic original all point clearly to this tradition being pre-Pauline. Critical scholars agree that Paul received it from others.

The most popular view among scholars is that Paul first received this very early material when he visited Jerusalem just three years after his conversion. He visited Peter and James, the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:18-19), both of whom are listed as having seen the risen Jesus (1 Cor 15:5, 7).

Stronger evidence to support this conclusion comes from Paul’s use of the verb historesai in Galatians 1:18, which is usually not very helpfully translated into English. The Greek term indicates that Paul visited Peter for the purpose of investigating a particular subject. The immediate context reveals the subject: Paul's topic for discussion was ascertaining the nature of the gospel message (Gal 1:11-2:10). And Jesus' resurrection was the focus of the gospel message (1 Cor 15:3-4; Gal 1:11, 16). Without it, faith is vain (1 Cor 15:14, 17).

Critical scholars usually concede that this pre-Pauline tradition(s) originated at an exceptionally early date. For Ulrich Wilckens, this content “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.” Walter Kasper even thinks that this ‘ancient text’ was possibly “in use by the end of 30 A.D.”

Perhaps surprisingly, skeptics frequently even agree. Skeptic Gerd Lüdemann asserts that “the elements in the traditions are to be dated to THE FIRST TWO YEARS after the crucifixion of Jesus… NOT LATER THAN THREE YEARSThe formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor. 15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 C.E.” Philosopher Thomas Sheehan thinks that this pre-Pauline formula ‘probably goes back to at least 32-34 C.E., that is, to WITHIN TWO TO FOUR YEARS of the crucifixion. Michael Goulder holds that this resurrection report “goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.”

Other skeptics are often not shy about expressing their agreement. In fact, most of the critical scholars who date these events conclude that Paul received this material within just a few years after Jesus’ death, in the early or mid 30s. We will see how the existence and circumstances at such an early date translate to additional eyewitness testimony besides Paul’s.

3. Paul was exceptionally careful to ascertain the content of the gospel message, which centered on the resurrection. To do so, he made a second trip to Jerusalem specifically for the purpose of checking out his gospel preaching (Gal 2:1-10). Amazingly, he states his fear that perhaps he had been teaching the wrong message (Gal 2:2). Some think that Acts 15:1-35 describes an amazing third trip to Jerusalem to do the same. Paul obviously desired to be absolutely positive of the gospel truth! Further, Paul was careful to ask his questions of the proper authorities – the chief apostles. In his initial trip, he met with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:18-20). On the second occasion, he met with these same two men, plus the apostle John (Gal 2:9). Martin Hengel points out that “evidently the tradition of I Cor 15.3 had been subjected to many tests” by Paul.

It is easy to overlook the significance of these meetings. The four men who met together on the latter occasion were certainly the chief apostles in the early church, and each one had been an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection appearances (1 Cor 15:5-7). Therefore, when Paul received their confirmation that his gospel was correct (Gal 2:9; cf. Acts 15:23-35), we have their assurance that Paul's message of Jesus' resurrection appearances agreed with their own experiences. Certainly, if they thought that Paul erred on the central fact of the gospel, this would have created grave problems, especially given the apostolic concern to insure doctrinal truth in the early church.

So Paul provides more than his own eyewitness testimony, as in (1) above. During his trips to inquire of the three senior apostles in Jerusalem, Paul passed their examination regarding his gospel proclamation. Their blessings assume their own eyewitness testimony concerning Jesus' resurrection appearances, since they had also experienced the risen Jesus. Here we are but one step removed from additional eyewitness testimony.

4. Not only did the other apostles confirm Paul's gospel message, but we also have the reverse testimony. After reporting a list of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, Paul explains that he knew what the other apostles were preaching on this subject and that it was the same as his teaching about Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor 15:11). Together, they proclaimed the risen Jesus (1 Cor 15:12, 15). So we have both the previous, more indirect apostolic confirmation of Paul's gospel message provided by the apostolic leadership, as well as Paul's firsthand, more direct approval of their resurrection message. (Habermas, To Everyone An Answer (), eds. Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland [InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 2004], Part 3: Christ And Miracles, Chapter 11: The Case For Christ’s Resurrection, pp. 183-186; bold and capital emphasis ours)

This should put to rest Ally’s boldfaced lie that there was a rift between Paul and the rest of the Apostles, or that Paul’s assertion that his teaching didn’t come from men somehow implies that he never met with Jesus’ disciples to personally confirm the veracity of the revelations which he received from the risen Lord. The fact is that Jesus’ original disciples were in perfect agreement with Paul regarding the Gospel and the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, much to the chagrin of Ally.

It is now time to move to the next part of our rebuttal.