Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Responding to a Muslim Review of the Williams-Green Debate Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We continue from where we left off.

C. Jesus distinguishes himself from God.

This statement only reinforces the fact that these polemicists have no interest in accurately representing the views or position held by others. All that matters to them is scoring cheap debate points with their audiences.

It is part and parcel of Biblical theology to believe, and affirm, that Jesus is distinguished from God while also being God at the same time. This is why true Christians are Trinitarians since they realize that according to the testimony of Christ and his followers, Jesus is personally distinct from God, namely the Father, and yet is truly God in essence.

Williams and his cohort are operating under the assumption of unitarianism, i.e. they assume that God exists as a singular person, and on that basis conclude that Jesus cannot be God since he distinguishes himself from that one God.

This is why they assume that Mark denies that Jesus is God since there are passages in Mark’s Gospel where Christ and God are distinguished.

For instance, Jesus in Mark’s Gospel speaks of his God and Father:

“And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” Mark 14:36

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Mark 15:34

He even refers to God as the Father of his disciples:

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25

These texts are taken to mean that Mark did not believe that Jesus is God.

However, Jesus is also distinguished from God in John’s Gospel:

“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’” John 20:17

Yet not even Williams would deny that John depicts Jesus as God Incarnate.

Williams is fully aware that John presents Jesus as being both God (in essence) and distinct from God (the Father):

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through him, and without him nothing came into being which has come into being. In him was Life, and that Life was the Light of men… He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, and yet the world did not recognize him… The Word became flesh and pitched his tent/tabernacled among us…” John 1:1-4, 10, 14a

So does Mark!

In fact, both Mark and John agree that Jesus is Yahweh God Incarnate since both of them cite Isaiah 40:3 in relation to the Baptist being sent as Christ’s forerunner:

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’—‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’ And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:1-11

Now compare this with John’s Gospel:

The Word became flesh and pitched his tent/tabernacled among us. WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”’)… No one has seen God at any time. The one and only Son, who is God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him. Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet? He answered, ‘No.’ Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ ‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’” John 1:14-15, 18-27

Note that, like Mark, John cites Isaiah 40:3 to explain the Baptist’s mission. Also notice that both of the Evangelists agree that John testified that he wasn’t worthy enough to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals, meaning that the Baptist wasn’t even good enough to be Jesus’ slave!

What makes the appeal to Isaiah 40:3 rather significant is that the context speaks of Yahweh sending a herald, a forerunner, to prepare the people for Yahweh’s arrival:

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way FOR YAHWEH; make straight in the desert a highway FOR OUR GOD. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.’… You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!See, the Lord Yahweh comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:3-5, 9-11

What this means is that John and Mark both depict the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise that he himself would come to dwell with his people!

After all, the text of Isaiah 40 clearly says that a herald would be sent to announce to the people that their God was coming to live in their midst. According to both Mark and John, that herald was none other than the Baptist. And yet both of them agree that the Baptist was sent to herald the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, which therefore means that both Evangelists depict Jesus as Yahweh God Incarnate! There is simply no way around this point.

In fact, compare the words of Isaiah with what the Fourth Gospel says in regard to Christ:

“And the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall SEE it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:5

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have SEEN HIS GLORY, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”’)” John 1:14-15

It is not a coincidence that John refers to the testimony of the Baptist concerning Jesus right after having just mentioned seeing the glory of Christ, especially when later on in the same chapter he will quote John as citing Isaiah 40:3 (cf. v. 23). It is obvious that the Evangelist wants his readers to know that Jesus’ Incarnation fulfills the promise made by Isaiah that Yahweh will appear and all flesh will see his glory. John is basically saying that to see the glory of Jesus is to see Yahweh’s glory since Christ is Yahweh in the flesh.

John is even in agreement with Mark concerning the Baptist’s proclamation that Jesus is the One who will baptize his followers with the Holy Spirit:

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.’” John 1:29-34

This in itself sufficiently proves that both of these inspired authors believed in the Deity of Christ since, according to the OT scriptures, it is Yahweh who grants his Holy Spirit to individuals:

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour MY Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Isaiah 44:3

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put MY Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:25-27

“You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am Yahweh your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out MY Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out MY Spirit.” Joel 2:28-29

But that’s not all, since there is much more evidence to show that Mark thought that Christ was truly divine.

Mark portrays Jesus as the sovereign Lord who reigns from God’s own throne over the entire creation:

“And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?’ And the great throng heard him gladly.” Mark 12:35-37

In this passage, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 and proclaims that the Holy Spirit revealed to David that the Messiah is the Lord who reigns from Yahweh’s right hand over his enemies. This implies that the Messiah actually rules from God’s heavenly throne since the Psalms testify that Yahweh sits enthroned in the heavens above:

“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Psalm 2:4

“Yahweh has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” Psalm 103:19 – cf. 11:4

Jesus himself confirms that God’s throne is in heaven:

“But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” Matthew 5:34-35

“And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.” Matthew 23:22

“After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” Revelation 4:1-3

This means that in order for the Messiah to be seated at Yahweh’s right hand he must be sitting on the same throne alongside Yahweh.

Thus, by appealing to Psalm 110:1 Jesus was basically claiming to be a co-occupant of God’s heavenly throne from where he would forever reign as sovereign Lord over all creation!

Nor is this the only time where Jesus made such a remarkable assertion:

“And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death.” Mark 14:60-64

Christ not only testifies to being God’s Son who sits enthroned at God’s right hand, he even identifies himself as the Son of Man whom the prophet Daniel saw centuries earlier in a vision:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should SERVE HIM; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14

This particular Son of Man is no ordinary mortal since not only do all the nations worship him as they worship God himself:

“And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” Daniel 7:27 – cf. 3:12, 17-18, 28; 6:16, 20, 26

“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to Yahweh, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;” Psalm 22:27-30 – cf. 86:9; Isaiah 66:24; Zechariah 14:16-17

He also rides the clouds of heaven, which is a divine function according to the Hebrew Bible:

“Yahweh is slow to anger and great in power, and Yahweh will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” Nahum 1:3 – cf. Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19-20, 24; 33:7-11; 40:34-38; Numbers 10:34; 11:25; 12:5, 10; Deuteronomy 33:26-27; Psalm 68:4, 33-34; 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Mark 9:7

The Quran itself agrees that coming on/with the clouds is a function reserved for deity:

Do they then wait for anything other than that Allah should come to them in the shadows of the clouds and the angels? (Then) the case would be already judged. And to Allah return all matters (for decision). S. 2:210 Hilali-Khan

The Muslim scripture also states that the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth belongs entirely to Allah, and denies that he has either a son or partner in his dominion over creation:

AND UNTO GOD belongs the dominion over the heavens and the earth: and God has the power to will anything. S. 3:189 Muhammad Asad

The One who has the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth; He did not take a son, and He does not have any partner in kingship. He created everything and measured it precisely. S. 25:2 QRT

To, therefore, say that Mark presents a merely human Jesus, or a Jesus that is more in line with Islamic theology, is to stretch things quite a bit, since Islam denies the divine sovereignty and worship ascribed to Jesus by Mark.

In fact, to assert that Mark’s Jesus is merely a human figure whom God has exalted is to prove that Muhammad was grossly mistaken for claiming that Allah hasn’t taken a son or that he doesn’t share his sovereignty over the heavens and earth with any creature.

Thus, either view leads to the same conclusion, namely, Mark’s Jesus is incompatible with Muhammad’s assertions regarding God and Christ.

John, on the other hand, concurs with Mark in regard to Jesus being the Danielic Son of Man whom all the nations must worship in the same way that they worship God, and who also reigns from heaven:

“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that ALL may honor the Son, JUST AS they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him… And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” John 5:22-23, 27

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’” John 18:36

He even agrees that the Jewish leadership condemned Jesus to die because he claimed to be the unique, divine Son of God:

“The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’” John 19:7

What this basically shows is that both John and Mark depict Jesus as being God and also distinct from God at the same time!

I end my discussion by citing a critical NT scholar whom Williams’ himself has mentioned and whose work on Christology he has even referenced (*; *), specifically Christopher M. Tuckett. The reason I chose him is not only because Williams quotes him, but also because his views of the Holy Bible are highly critical. Williams, therefore, cannot simply dismiss or object to his statements regarding Mark’s portrayal of Jesus.

Concerning Jesus’ use of the phrase “Son of Man” in Mark, Tuckett says:

“It is quite clear that, for Mark at least, the last part of this overall picture is seen in terms of the vision of Daniel 7. Mark 14:62 and 13:26 clearly allude to the Danielic passage (cf. the language of the Son of Man ‘coming’ on/with the ‘clouds of heaven’). Hence Jesus qua Son of Man is identified with the figure who is described in Daniel as ‘one like a son of man’.” (Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers [Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY 2001], p. 112)

And, in trying to explain Mark’s reference to the veil being torn right at the time of Jesus’ death on the cross, Tuckett writes:

“However, it may be that what is in mind is the veil inside the Holy of Holies in the Temple This is the veil that symbolically hides and separates God from all human beings. If then it is this veil that is symbolically destroyed in the death of Jesus, then Mark’s narrative becomes an extraordinarily powerful piece of theological writing. For the narrative implies that, in the death of Jesus, the barrier preventing human beings from seeing God has been removed. God is now seen – but seen precisely in this figure of the dead Jesus hanging on a cross. It is then this that seems to be reflected in the centurion’s confession of Jesus as Son of God.

“Jesus qua Son of God is the one who enables God himself to be seen. (In this then Mark is perhaps closer to much later Christian claims about Jesus’ divine sonship than others.)… Mark’s Jesus is perhaps closest to the ‘CRUCIFIED GOD’ of some modern theologians.” (Ibid, p. 116; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Hence, we even have a highly critical NT scholar, whose work on Christology is cited by Williams himself, admitting that Mark virtually depicts Jesus as God!

So much for Williams’ and Zaatari’s arguments.

It is time to move on to our addendum.

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