Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Muslim Abuse and Misuse of Modern Biblical Scholarship Pt. 2b

Sam Shamoun

We continue from where we left off.

In this particular section we want to address a few of Dunn’s assertions concerning the early Church’s worship of their risen Lord. He claims that there are specific words that are used for the worship given to God, which are never applied to Jesus in the NT writings. Some of these terms include the following:

“Elsewhere in the New Testament writings, ‘prayer’ as such (proseuchesthai, proseuche), explicitly or implicitly, is always made to God.” (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence [Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Publishing, UK /Westminster John Knox Press, USA 2010], 2. The practice of worship, 2.1 Prayer, p. 33)

Dunn is mistaken since the word proseuchesthai is used in relation to the early Church’s worship of Christ:

“I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day He was taken up, after He had given orders through the Holy Spirit to the apostles HE HAD CHOSEN… So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority…’ ‘Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection.’ So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed (proseuxamenoi), ‘You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two YOU HAVE CHOSEN.’” Acts 1:1-2, 6-7, 21-24

It is clear from the context that the Lord whom the disciples prayed to is none other than the risen Christ since all throughout this chapter he is the One who is called Lord and who is said to have chosen the apostles:

“Luke’s word ‘prayed’ is a form of the verb proseuchomai, which was ‘a religious technical term for talking to a deity in order to ask for help.’ We can be reasonably sure that the ‘Lord’ to whom the disciples prayed was the Lord Jesus, for three reasons (which are to be considered cumulatively). First, like the other New Testament writers, Luke most frequently used ‘Lord’ (kurios) to refer to Jesus. Second, Peter had just referred to ‘the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 1:21) prior to the group’s addressing the ‘Lord’ in prayer. Third, Jesus personally chose the men who served as his apostles, including Paul and any others chosen after Jesus’ resurrection. The verb Luke uses in Acts 1:24 for ‘have chosen’ (exelexo) is the same verb that appears in another form earlier in the chapter in reference to Jesus having ‘chosen’ his apostles (exelexato, 1:2). In his Gospel, Luke uses another form of the same verb in reference to Jesus' choosing the twelve apostles (eklexamenos, Luke 6:13) and uses the related noun form in reference to the Lord Jesus’ ‘choice’ of Paul as an apostle (ekloges, Acts 9:15). Thus, when the disciples prayed that the ‘Lord’ would show them whom he had ‘chosen’ to be an apostle, we should understand this Lord to be Jesus himself.” (Robert Bowman & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Part 1: The Devotion Revolution: Jesus Shares the Honors Due to God, Chapter 3. What A Friend We Have In Jesus, p. 48) 

Hence, not only is the word proseuchesthai (or more specifically proseuchomai) used in connection with the worship given to Christ, the first Christians also proclaimed the omniscience of their risen Lord in their prayers to him!

After all, only someone who is omniscient is capable of knowing the hearts of everyone, a knowledge which the apostles and their followers attributed to Jesus both here and elsewhere in their inspired writings:

“But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?’” Mark 2:6-8

“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” John 2:23-25

“‘Ah!’ His disciples said. ‘Now You’re speaking plainly and not using any figurative language. Now we know that You know everything and don’t need anyone to question You. By this we believe that You came from God.’ Jesus responded to them, ‘Do you now believe?’” John 16:29-31

“He asked him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ He said, ‘Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.’ ‘Feed My sheep,’ Jesus said.” John 21:17 

“It is of little importance to me that I should be evaluated by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. The One who evaluates me is the Lord. Therefore don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 – cf. 1:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:16

“Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira: ‘The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says: I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first… Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.’” Revelation 2:18-19, 23b – cf. Jeremiah 17:10

Yet such an attribute belongs only to God, and therefore implies that the first Christians were worshiping Jesus as their risen Lord and God!

As the Evangelical scholars Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski explain:

“One attribute of God that can bring comfort and assurance–or great anxiety and consternation–is the omniscience of God. The Bible states explicitly that God ‘knows everything’ (1 John 3:20). This knowledge is extremely detailed, including such minutiae as the number of hairs on one's head (Matt. 10:30). God knows what will happen from now until the end of history (Isa. 46:9-10). He knows what we will say before we say it (Ps. 139:4) because he knows what is in our hearts (Ps. 139:1-3). This is something that is true only of God, as Solomon acknowledged in prayer: ‘For you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind’ (1 Kings 8:39 ESV).

“The New Testament attributes this same omniscience to Jesus Christ. In the first recorded corporate prayer addressed to Jesus, the apostles and other believers confessed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart’ (Acts 1:24). For Jesus even to be able to hear prayers essentially implies, of course, unlimited knowledge. Elsewhere, the Gospels report that Jesus knew what other people were thinking (Matt. 9:4; 12:25; Mark 2:6-8; Luke 6:8). Jesus claimed to know what the ancient peoples of Tyre, Sidon, and even Sodom would have done under different circumstances (Matt. 11:21-23; Luke 10:13-15). He would have to know people’s hearts in this way in order to sit in judgment on all humanity at the end of history (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:22-23; Acts 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). As Paul says, the Lord (Jesus) ‘will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart’ (1 Cor. 4:5). In the book of Revelation, Jesus asserts that when they see his warnings fulfilled ‘all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve' (2:23).” (Ibid, Part 2: Like Father Like Son: Jesus Shares the Attributes of God, Chapter 9. Jesus: The Right Stuff, pp. 118-119; bold emphasis ours)


“The book of Acts opens with Jesus’ final appearance to his disciples and his ascension into heaven (Acts 1:1-11). As the disciples waited for the Holy Spirit to come, they prayed the first recorded prayer to Jesus, addressing him as ‘Lord’ and acknowledging that he knows the hearts of all people (Acts 1:24). The Old Testament, of course, ascribes this attribute of knowing people's heart to Jehovah alone (1 Kings 8:39).” (Ibid, Part 3: Name Above All Names: Jesus Shares the Names of God, 13. He is Lord, p. 160; bold emphasis ours)

Dunn also asserts that John in his first epistle doesn’t employ the particular Greek words for asking in prayer in reference to Jesus:

“1 John similarly encourages its readers/audiences to ask (aitein) God boldly in prayer (1 John 5.14-16). And although erotan appears in the Epistles usually in the everyday sense of ‘ask, request,’ again in 1 John 5.16 the request is to God (on behalf of an erring brother). Yet, notably, when used in prayer, aitein and erotan always refer to asking (for) or requesting addressed to God, and never to Jesus.” (Ibid, p. 34)

The problem with Dunn’s assertion is that he erroneously assumes that 1 John 5:14-15 is a prayer addressed to the Father when the context shows that it is actually directed to the Son!

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. Now this is the confidence we have before HIM: Whenever we ask anything according to HIS will, HE hears us. And if we know that HE hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked HIM for. If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does not bring death, he should ask (aitesei), and HE will give (dosei) life to him—to those who commit sin that doesn’t bring death. There is sin that brings death. I am not saying he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that does not bring death.” 1 John 5:11-17

In the immediate context, the One who is to be asked and addressed is the Son of God!

This makes sense in light of the fact that John has already told us in his Gospel that Jesus told his disciples that he is the One who gives life, or more specifically everlasting life, to whomever he pleases:

"‘For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world… I am the bread of life,’ Jesus told them. ‘No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again… For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’” John 6:33, 35, 38-40

“My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father–We are one.” John 10:27-30

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told Him, ‘I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.’” John 11:25-27

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” John 14:6 

“Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, for You gave Him authority over all flesh; so He may give eternal life to all You have given Him.’” John 17:1-2

Jesus also informed his followers that he would do anything that they asked him directly in his name.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  Whatever you ask (aitesete) in my name, this I WILL DO, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask ME (aitesete me) anything in my name, I WILL DO IT.” John 14:12-14

Bowman and Komoszewski explain why this is truly an astonishing claim for Jesus to make:

“According to the Gospel of John, Jesus himself encouraged his earliest followers to pray to him: ‘Whatever you ask me in my name, I will do’ (John 14:14, authors’ translation). It sounds strange to some readers to speak of praying to Jesus in his own name, but the Greek Old Testament also occasionally speaks this way (e.g., 1 Chron. 16:8, ‘call on him in his name’; Ps. 54:1, ‘save me in your name,’ translating literally). Christian readers are more familiar with the practice of addressing prayer to the Father in the name of Jesus, a practice mentioned elsewhere in the same section of the Gospel (John 15:16; 16:23-24).

“It turns out that some Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John omit the word ‘me’ (which happens to be spelled the same way in Greek, me) in John 14:14. The best explanation for this omission is that some copyists indeed thought it odd that Jesus should speak about addressing prayer to him in his own name, so they omitted me. When modern commentators agree with the variants that omit the word, this is usually the reason given. There is not much question that the original wording of the passage included the word me, because the manuscripts supporting that wording are generally older, are from a broad range of manuscripts, and are from diverse geographical origins than those manuscripts that omit the word.

“Even if the word ‘me’ were not in the text, John 14:14 would still be speaking about praying to Jesus. Suppose Jesus said, ‘Whatever you ask in my name I will do.’ The natural inference is that the person who does what we ask is the person whom we ask. Again, the qualifying phrase ‘in my name’ has Old Testament precedent. To ask (or do anything) in someone's name means to do it on his authority, with his backing, in fidelity to that person. Thus, Jesus is saying that whatever we ask, if we ask out of faithfulness and loyalty to him, he will do it. In context, Jesus is telling his disciples that they may do this after he has gone to be with the Father in heaven (v. 12). Properly understood, then, with or without ‘me,’ Jesus in John 14:14 is inviting us to pray to him. That we may address our prayers to either the Father or the Son is quite consistent with the immediate context. After all, Jesus has just said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. … Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (John 14:9, 11).” (Putting Jesus in His Place, pp. 51-52; bold emphasis ours)

Ironically, Dunn is aware of this text since he mentions it earlier in his discussion:

“John’s Gospel uses none of the common words for prayer (proseuchesthai, proseuche, deesthai, deesis), but his use of aitein and erotan is more adventurous. The Samaritan woman could have asked Jesus (aitein) for living water (John 4.10). Jesus promises to ask (erotan) the Father to give his disciples another Advocate (14.16), and in his great prayer to the Father he asks (erotan) on their behalf (17.9, 15, 20). He repeatedly promises that whatever his disciples ask (aitein) in his name the Father will give them (15.16; 16.23-24), even promising that he (himself) will do whatever his disciples ask (aitein) in his name, ‘so that the Father may be glorified’ (14.13). And he adds, ‘If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it’ (14.14). Requests to the Father in Jesus’ name are of a piece with requests to Jesus himself; the common factor is ‘in his name’. ‘In that day you will ask (aitein) in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask (erotan) the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you’ (16.26-27). If the disciples abide in him and his words abide in them they may ask (aitein) whatever they want and it will be done for them (15.7).” (Pp. 32-33; bold emphasis ours)

In light of this, does Dunn want us to actually believe that John would discourage Christians from directly addressing or making their requests known to Christ in prayer?

And doesn’t Dunn’s assertions ignore the fact that according to John’s Gospel Jesus was expected to receive the same honor that the Father receives?

“And just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son also gives life to anyone He wants to. The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all people will honor the Son JUST AS they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” John 5:21-23

It is interesting that Jesus in this very same context says that he gives give life to whomever he so desires seeing that 1 John 5:14-16 refers to praying for a person who is in sin to receive life!

As a scholar, Dunn should be fully aware that for John to say that God himself demands everyone to honor the Son just as they honor him would be outright blasphemous and idolatrous, if in fact Jesus were nothing more than a mere creature. Here, once again, are the comments of Bowman and Komoszewski:

“We have already repeatedly used the word honor in reference to how the Bible teaches us to respond to Jesus Christ. Honor was an important cultural value in the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Jewish culture. To give people honor was to acknowledge their place in the scheme of things—to speak about them and to behave toward them in a manner appropriate to their status and position. In the monotheistic Jewish culture, to honor God meant to confess and live in the light of his exclusive status as the maker, sustainer, and sovereign King of all creation. To honor any creature, no matter how wonderful, as a deity was to detract from the honor due to God. As Philo of Alexandria, a first-century Jewish philosopher, put it, ‘They who deify mortal things neglect the honour due to God.’ New Testament scholar Jerome Neyrey explains, ‘When someone achieved honor, it was thought to be at the expense of others. Philo, for example, condemns polytheism, because in honoring other deities, the honor due to the true God is diminished.’

“It is in this cultural setting that Jesus asserted that it was God the Father’s purpose ‘that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.’ By ‘the Son,’ of course, Jesus meant himself. Jesus went on to say that anyone failing to accord him such honor actually dishonors the Father: ‘Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him’ (John 5:23). Linking the honor due God with the honor due anyone else in this way was unprecedented in the Jewish Scriptures. That Jesus is here claiming divine honor is evident from the immediate context. Jesus has just claimed that he does whatever the Father does (v. 19) and that he ‘gives life to whomever he wishes’ (v. 21). The Father even has entrusted to the Son (v. 22) the responsibility of rendering eternal judgment over all people. According to Jesus, the Father did so precisely so that everyone would honor him, the Son, as they honor the Father (v. 23). In short, we are to honor Jesus as the one who holds our eternal future in his hands–as the one who has the power of life and death. We can assign no higher honor or status to someone than that of our ultimate, final Judge.

“Just how much honor should we give to Jesus? There really is no limit. The book of Hebrews asserts that Jesus ‘is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house itself’ (3:3). Think about what the author is saying. Moses is to Jesus as a house is to the builder of the house! In other words, Moses is part of the creation, the ‘house,’ and Jesus is being described as the ‘builder of the house,’ or the one responsible for the creation. ‘For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God’ (v. 4). Hebrews is telling us to honor Jesus as we would the ‘builder’ of creation–God.” (Ibid, 1. All Glory, Laud, and Honor, pp. 31-32; bold emphasis ours)


“Jesus once said that everyone should ‘honor the Son just as they honor the Father’ (John 5:23). As we saw in chapter 1, Jesus here was making what would have to be regarded as an outrageous claim for any mere human being—or even for an angel. Jesus was claiming the honor due to the one who holds the power of life and death over all humanity.

“If Jesus was claiming the honor due God, we would expect to find the Bible explicitly according him most, if not all, of the forms of honor that it accords to God. We already have seen that the Bible teaches us to honor Jesus by glorifying him, worshiping, by praying to him, and even by singing hymns to and about him. In this concluding chapter on the honors due to Jesus, we will see that in virtually every other way that the Bible teaches is to honor God it also teaches us to honor the Lord.” (Ibid, 5. The Ultimate Reverence Package, p. 61; bold emphasis ours)

Even more so, John 5:22-23 is emphatically proclaiming that there can be no acceptable worship of God that does not also include the Son. Renowned NT scholar Larry H. Hurtado explains:

“This repeated assertion of the significance of Jesus and his name does not, however, reduce the significance of the ‘Father’ in GJohn [Gospel of John]. Instead, belief in Jesus is the will of the Father (6:40), just as it is the Father's intention ‘that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father’ (5:22-23). The close duality of Jesus and God is reflected everywhere in GJohn, as in the statement that eternal life comes through knowing ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ’ who has been sent by God (17:3). To repeat an observation made earlier, Jesus’ significance is always expressed with reference to God ‘the Father’ in GJohn. At the same time, GJohn insists that proper obedience to, and reverence of, God now REQUIRES that Jesus be explicitly included with God as recipient of faith and devotion. This means that ‘the Father’ IS NOW DEFINED WITH REFERENCE TO JESUS, through whom in a uniquely full and authoritative measure the Father is revealed.” (Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity: [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K .2003], 6. Crises and Christology in Johannine Christianity, p. 390; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Once again, do not such statements prove that John’s community would have definitely prayed to Christ and would have offered invocations directly to him?

In fact, this highlights one of the main problems with Dunn’s book. Oftentimes he bases his position on arguments from silence, e.g. he assumes that just because a writer didn’t use a specific term for prayer or worship in relation to Christ that this then somehow proves that the early believers didn’t worship Jesus in the same way or to the same degree that they worshiped the Father. 

The problem, however, is that the New Testament writings are not an exhaustive record which catalogues everything that Jesus and his followers taught and did (cf. John 20:30; 21:25). This means that it is quite possible that the first Christians did ascribe all of the terms associated with the worship of God to the risen Christ.

The fact of the matter is that, in light of what we do find them saying about the worship that the early Church offered to Christ, it would be quite surprising (in fact shocking) to find them not worshipping the risen Lord in the same exact way that they worshiped the Father.

Continue with Part 3.