This was the response someone wrote to my original piece on the Nazarenes (The response is copyrighted by Fariduddien Rice, so I assume it was by him). Below are my replies to the various comments, many of which raise important methodological and historical issues. Hopefully, this interchange will advance the discussion farther than I could alone.
[It might best be read with a copy of the original document at hand, to refer to the data.]
The Muslim author begins...[I will mark his text with a line of dots....]
This is mainly a response to some of the claims of this article, mainly with regard to its interpretation of some original source material which lists the "Nazarenes."
Firstly, the source material provided in this article is excellent. It is worth reading just for that. However, regarding the conclusions of the article, it appears to me that the author of the article (and some modern-day authorities which are cited) read the texts with a Christian bias, and therefore derive conclusions from the source materials which are not necessarily warranted by the actual text. What these biases specifically are will be clarified at the end, insha-Allah.
This is an excellent approach. I am always interested in trying to find any particular biases I might have, so hopefully our author will be able to clarify this for me.
Here, insha-Allah, I will just be dealing with material in Part TWO of the article: The Data from the Church Fathers on the Nazarenes. Insha-Allah, I will also try to link what is discussed to Islamic beliefs.
1. Source material from Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho the Jew" :
In brief, this includes a supposed discussion between Justin and a single Jew, Trypho. There is no indication that the views of Trypho is representative of any particular sect, or that Trypho even existed. We know that there is a tradition of philosophical dialogue, where a fictitious dialogue is constructed by a single author to elaborate a particular point of view. For example, this technique was used by many ancient Greek philosophers, and also more recently by Galileo.
Given this, from the text quoted in the article, I don't think we can say that Trypho the Jew actually existed, as he may have been a ficitious person created by Justin to illustrate a particular argument. I think that this passage probably reveals little or nothing about the beliefs of the early Jewish-Christians, and instead it only reveals Justin's method of argumentation.
Actually, the existence or non-existence of Trypho was irrelevant. I personally do not know anyone who believes there actually WAS a "Trypho"--everyone who writes on the subject matter accepts the fact that he was fictional and a literary foil (as the author points out). And my writing didn't even try to articulate or defend such a position anyway, so I have no clue as to why our author brings this up.
The point of the evidence, however, is not even about Trypho at all. And, in fact, the evidence is not even about Justin's method of argumentation either. It is solely about what positions Justin felt was important to refute. Justin felt it was important to refute this position--and this counts as evidence that such a position was actually held by someone in history, and that it was publicly held (and argued) by some.
This is specifically where the data from Justin is relevant to my argument.
2. Source material from Origen, "Contra Celsus"
The relevent passage from Origen is this:
Let it be admitted, moreover, that there are some who accept Jesus, and who boast on that account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance with the Jewish law,-and these are the twofold sect of Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a virgin, or deny this, and maintain that He was begotten like other human beings,-what does that avail by way of charge against such as belong to the Church, and whom Celsus has styled "those of the multitude? "
So, in brief, Origen says that there are two types of Jewish-Christians ("Ebionites"). Both groups accept Jesus (peace be with him), and both groups follow Jewish Law. Of the two groups, one believes in the virgin birth, and the other group doesn't.
Just a quick comment here. Origen does NOT say (1) that these are Jewish-Christians at all, nor that (2) these two groups comprise ALL of the category of 'Jewish Christians'. For all we know, these groups might be fringe groups outside a more 'Nazarene' majority. Also, we should note that Origen does not call these people 'Christians'--only that they 'boast of being Christians'.
Now, the author of the article goes on to comment on the above passage:
But our interest in the passage is that one group of these 'ebionites' accept the virgin birth (which always implied the divine sonship in the Fathers).
This appears to me to be reading more into the text than what is there.
Origen merely commented that one group accepted the virgin birth, he made absolutely no mention of deifying Jesus (peace be with him). For the author to conclude this is reading more than is existent in the text.
This is an important issue, for it has major methodological import. The point of my phrase in parenthesis ["which always implied the divine sonship in the Fathers"] is to explain the semantic content of the phrase 'virgin birth' as it would have been used by Origen. If "virgin birth" ALWAYS INCLUDED the notion of "divine sonship" in the Fathers (or at least in Origen), then I am NOT 'reading into the text'--I am merely exegeting it or making the implicit into the explicit.
So, can we find any passages in Origen that show a very tight logical link between the deity of Christ and the virgin conception and birth?
Yes. For example, in Against Celsus, Book I.69, we read:
"Then Celsus says: "The body of god would not have been so generated as you, O Jesus, were." He saw, besides, that if, as it is written, it had been born, His body somehow might be even more divine than that of the multitude, and in a certain sense a body of god. But he disbelieves the accounts of His conception by the Holy Ghost, and believes that He was begotten by one Panthera, who corrupted the Virgin, "because a god's body would not have been so generated as you were.""
In this passage, Origen is dealing with an objection by the skeptic Celsus. Even Celsus maintains that if the virgin birth had occurred, then the body of Jesus would be more-than-man, even divine(!). Origen does not dispute this, of course, but merely points out that Celsus cannot apply this to Jesus since he doesn't accept the virgin birth. Under any reading, there is a tight link here between virgin birth and deity.
In I.37 we read:
And there is no absurdity in employing Grecian histories to answer Greeks, with the view of showing that we are not the only persons who have recourse to miraculous narratives of this kind. For some have thought fit, not in regard to ancient and heroic narratives, but in regard to events of very recent occurrence, to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo. And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance from better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings.
In this passage we see the historical context of Greek thought. Virgin births were used in pagan thought to create legends of 'more than man' figures! The example Origen gives above is specifically of 'divine' elements(!). Origen, again, accepts the link between virgin born and 'more than man'--the two are also tightly intertwined in Christian thought. [He also rejects, in the passage, the pagan virgin birth legends as groundless. He is NOT simply buying into some pagan Greek thought world!]
And in I.34:
But it was, as the prophets also predicted, from a virgin that there was to be born, according to the promised sign, one who was to give His name to the fact, showing that at His birth God was to be with man
In this passage, Origen points out that the prophecy of Isaiah specifically related to a "God with us" (the name "Immanuel"). The link between deity and virgin birth is not just a characteristic of Greek thought; it was also a part of the messianic predictive content. It must also be noted that in some way, Israel literally expected God to dwell on earth with men, and to actually come to His temple and City. So, Malachi 3.1:
Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the Lord of hosts.
And Isaiah 40.3,5:
A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. 5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together;
[Notice how this is echoed by John in 1.14: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."]
Irenaeus illustrates this exegesis of Is 7.14 in Against Heresies, III.21.4:
Carefully, then, has the Holy Ghost pointed out, by what has been said, His birth from a virgin, and His essence, that He is God (for the name Emmanuel indicates this). And He shows that He is a man, when He says, "Butter and honey shall He eat; "and in that He terms Him a child also, [in saying, ] "before He knows good and evil; "for these are all the tokens of a human infant. But that He "will not consent to evil, that He may choose that which is good,"-this is proper to God; that by the fact, that He shall eat butter and honey, we should not understand that He is a mere man only, nor, on the other hand, from the name Emmanuel, should suspect Him to be God without flesh.
What these three passages show is that the concepts of 'virgin born' and 'more than man' (even deity in some passages) are very tightly linked. Thus, my point in the parenthetical remark--that this link was present in the very mention of 'virgin birth' in the Fathers--still stands. I am NOT 'reading into the text'--I am merely exegeting/reading out what is present in the phrase itself.
[Needless to say, I have only demonstrated this point for Origen. Strictly speaking, I have not produced the data here for all the Fathers! But it will suffice to reply to the objection by demonstrating that Origen specifically linked the two.]
As an example of this, Muslims also believe in the virgin birth, but do not believe that Jesus (peace be with him) is God.
The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: "Be". And he was.
Now, from what I have shown above, we would have to disagree--the Muslim does NOT believe in the Jewish, Greek, or Christian concept of 'virgin birth'. A Muslim belief that an ordinary human being (e.g. not more-than-man, nor divine) was born via virginal conception finds no significant parallel in history--biblical or otherwise! The Jewish prophetic virgin birth resulted in 'God with us'; all the Greek "virgin births" produced minor deities; and the Judeo-Christian 'virgin birth' produced the Incarnate divine Son of God. Therefore, I have to conclude that the Muslim does NOT believe in 'THE' virgin birth at all, but in some semantically different (and historically anomalous) concept.
So far, the beliefs of one group of these early Jewish-Christians agree with what Islam says about Jesus (peace be with him) and his teachings: they believe in Jesus (peace be with him), they follow Jewish Law (as Jesus - peace be with him - himself did), and they believe in the virgin birth.
I would have to label this paragraph as entirely unwarranted--given the data of the passage. If this group 'accepted Jesus' it would have still been very, very different from the Islamic view of Jesus indeed. Every scrap of data we have about Jewish belief tells us that EVERYONE accepted the reality of the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and the bodily resurrection from the dead--no 'appearances' here! And 'belief in Jesus' was not some intellectual assent, but rather "a desperate trust" in the Messiah to secure the believer's salvation. It was not belief in His status as a prophet, or holiness of life (for these are intellectual propositions only), but it was confidence (Heb 11) and abject dependence on the person and work of the exalted Christ. This is a far, far cry from Islamic views of Jesus. For Jewish Christians, Jesus was THE MESSIAH--a much more exalted title than simply another 'messenger only' of God [As consistently maintained in the Qur'an. It calls Jesus 'Messiah' eleven times, but regularly adds the qualification of 'nothing but/only a messenger of God' (4:169/171; 5:79/75). The Messiah was much, much more for the early believers.] And, as I indicated above, it is highly questionable that Islamic acceptance of a virgin conception of Jesus is in any way comparable to early Christian belief.
Now, it is still possible that some groups in the formative years of the Church held to Muslim-like beliefs about Jesus, but my point is that that conclusion cannot even remotely be reached on the basis of Origen's passage! This would be grossly overstepping the data, and definitely 'reading into' the passage.
3. Source material from Eusebius, Church History.
I will just summarize what Eusebius says, for the quote is several paragraphs.
In brief, Eusebius mentions a sect called the "Ebionites." The Ebionites consider Jesus (peace be with him) "a plain and common man, who was justified only because of his superior virtue," and they rejected the virgin birth. They also followed Jewish Law, "on the ground that they could not be saved by faith in Christ alone and by a corresponding life."
Then Eusebius mentions a second group, "of the same name." This second group accepted the virgin birth. However, this second group denied that Jesus (peace be with him) was God, and they observed fully Jewish Law. They also rejected all the letters of Paul, and instead used only "the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews." They followed Jewish Laws and celebrations, and also "celebrated the Lord's days as a memorial of the resurrection of the Saviour."
This second group is very close to what Muslims believe the true followers of Jesus (peace be with him) would have been like. Their qualities are:
- they did not believe that Jesus (peace be with him) was God
- they believed in the virgin birth
- they followed Jewish Law
Another quality, which might also put them in line with Muslim thought was that:
- they rejected the letters of Paul.
Let me make a couple of comments about this piece of the argument.
First, it is essentially irrelevant. The fact that Muslims would predict that any people would have any belief-system has very little argumentative force for what the "true believers" would have been. The Judeo-Christian, for example, predicts that heresies of ALL permutations and combinations would arise--but this does not make them all "Christian" in any meaningful sense.
Second, it is highly inconsistent that the Muslim will allow that man triumphed over God so completely by the extermination of the 'true believers' in this way! For the Muslim to say that Jesus was virgin-born, the Messiah (eleven times in the Qur'an, but without explanation), did great healing miracles, raised people from the dead (Sura 5.110-111), a great prophet--even the "Spirit of God" (Ruh Allah), receiver of Gospel and Evidences (or "Clear arguments"), a 'pre-eminent messenger' (2.253/254) sent by Allah, and then still affirm that Jesus was so ineffective that His message was silenced within a decade or two is simply bizarre. To even believe half the wonderful things the Qur'an says about Jesus, and then turn around and believe that he could not even successfully disciple eleven people to stay true to his message longer than 10-15 years at most, borders on the "miraculously bad"! Even the passage in the Qur'an that refers to the disputes within the early church (1) chalks these off to the will of Allah; and (2) nevertheless affirms that significant disagreement would persist. In point of fact, however, these allegedly 'pre-Muslim' folk were late-comers, insignificant, and quickly disappeared. This is not at all what a Muslim would predict.
Third, it should be noted that Eusebius actually provides some evidence for my earlier point about 'virgin birth' CONTAINING the notion of deity. Look at his quote again: "and [they] did not deny that the Lord was born of a virgin and of the Holy Spirit. But nevertheless, inasmuch as they also refused to acknowledge that he pre-existed, being God, Word, and Wisdom..." The very fact that Eusebius has to point out that they didn't accept the deity of Christ--after explaining that they accepted the virgin birth--indicates that the two were assumed to be linked, and that this needed explaining.
Fourth, this group did more than reject the epistles of Paul: they rejected the epistles of James and of Peter and of John and of Hebrews! Remember, the data from Eusebius (and other fathers) indicated that they rejected/ignored everything except the Gospel According to the Hebrews. This means they rejected/ignored the other three gospels, Acts, the epistles of Peter, James, John, Jude, Hebrews, as well as Paul. This is not your basic squabble over a book or two being in the canon--this is more like a major heretical fringe group (a la Marcion, who ONLY accepted some of Paul and Luke). Again, there is very little justification (as I demonstrated in the article) for considering them the true followers of Jesus and the apostles.
What the Muslim would need to produce, in order to substantiate his/her claim, would be evidence that an overwhelming majority of the original Twelve (and their immediate followers) did not believe in the death of Christ, His pre-existence, His deity, His resurrection, His absolutely unique relationship to God. And there simply is not a shred of evidence for this. The earliest literature we have (the NT literature) portrays them as solidly in line with what the Fathers and Councils will later state officially. One cannot read the epistles of Peter and the writings of John, son of Zebedee (i.e. the Gospel of John and the epistles of John), compare these with their words and actions in the Gospels, and come away with any sense that they considered Jesus 'no-more-than-man'. The later NT apocrypha and docetic writings will develop a million different spins on the original story, but they are simply too late to be used by the Muslim. Even the earliest proponents of the 'apparent death' position--the docetics--believed this ONLY BECAUSE they did not believe Jesus had a real body in which to die! No one believed that Jesus was real and yet did not really die. If the Muslim were correct, we should have considerable evidence in literary and historical sources of major christological disputes--within DECADES of the Cross. And this is simply not present in any form. Even the alleged Paul vs. Peter/James controversies were over ritual law, not the exalted nature of Christ!
Finally, they did have an extra religious celebration in addition to Jewish celebrations, in that they celebrated the "resurrection of the Saviour." This does not conflict with the Qur'an, because although the Qur'an says that Jesus (peace be with him) was not killed or crucified, it was made to appear so to those watching, and also the Qur'an states that Jesus (peace be with him) was "raised up unto" God (Qur'an 4:157-158).
Most readers will recognize the problem in this piece: the radical attempt at redefining the words 'death' and 'resurrection.' If a Muslim could go back in time and ask these "Ebionites" if they believed Jesus actually died and bodily rose again, they would unequivocally answer "yes". There is no doubt about this--NO ONE in the early Jewish/Christian movements ever doubted the reality of the death of Jesus Christ; and celebrations of His resurrection were always around the phrase "raised from the dead". For someone to try to smuggle the word "appearance" into the core belief of ALL believers with Jewish roots (as opposed to some of the Greek and Gnostic systems) that Jesus the Messiah was crucified, buried, and bodily resurrected is completely without historical warrant, and contradicted by all known historical and literary data. The Ebionites would be appalled at the thought that the Messiah did not actually "died for their sins" or was not really the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This places this group well out of reach of Muslim similarities.
Just to illustrate how offensive this would be to even the Ebionites...If I asserted that Mohammed did not actually exist, but that he only appeared to exist, and that all the followers of this apparition were fooled by a 'counterfeited' Mohammed, would they accept that we were "in agreement"? Of course not! Indeed, they would no doubt be highly offended, insulted, and doubt my sanity and intentions. The differences between appearance and reality are quite vivid to believers in the reality!
Additionally, from Eusebius' statements, it might be worthy to note that Eusebius seems to say that this group considered Jesus to be the "Savior". If this term is theirs (as opposed to merely Eusebius') then their view of Jesus is considerably higher that the traditional Muslim view. "Savior" had a long history in Israel, and was much more than simply a messenger or prophet. This also would make their views decidedly unlike Muslim thought.
One must also remember the historical context. At the time being described by Eusebius, one was persecuted and often killed by the local or imperial government for being a Christian. What this means is that this group's view of Christ must have been higher than that of a Muslim--for they were persecuted by Jew and Roman alike, and had to be prepared to die for this Jesus. Would a Muslim today die solely for his belief in Jesus? I may be wrong, but I highly doubt it. (For Muhammad and Qur'an, of course, but not for Moses or Abraham or Jesus.) This will forever separate this early Christian movements' views of Jesus from the Islamic view of Jesus. To argue that they are the same or substantially the same is simply to misunderstand the content of the believer's trust in the Person and work of the Messiah. He came to 'save his people from their sins'. For the Christian--Jewish or otherwise at this time--Jesus was more-than-messenger for them; He was Savior, their hope, their awaited Messiah. A low christology will simply not be an adequate structure to support such personal risk.
Overall, this celebration of Jesus as Savior, and as resurrected (in reality) DOES conflict with the Qur'an, and attempts to mesh the two, require one to 're-define' or substitute an understanding that was NOT there, in place of one that was. This would be a case of "reading into a text" that the author is concerned about.
The Christian author of the web document does not like this, so he quotes a present-day Christian authority to claim that Eusebius was confused in what he wrote. However, I don't think it is necessary to warrant that Eusebius was confused in his claims about their beliefs. The Christian commentator prefers to make excuses to ignore Eusebius's history of the early Church, because it doesn't accord with what he wants to believe.
This is an unfortunate comment, for most readers will recognize this for what it is--an unsubstantiated slur and assertion without data or argument.
First of all, to dismiss the leading authority on the subject (i.e. Pritz) with a simple accusation of 'bias' (without any evidence as the author promised us up front) is irresponsible. Pritz is cited as credible and leading scholarship by Jew and Christian alike, and to literally accuse me of evading a position 'I do not like' (!) and of 'making excuses to ignore' Eusebius borders on childishness. Where is the data? What is the evidence? I have already demonstrated--even accepting Eusebius uncritically--that it would not support the Muslim position. Why would I need to be evasive?!
But just to demonstrate that Eusebius is somewhat confused and contradictory, let me quote another remark he makes about the Ebionites (EH, 6.17):
[Now, it must be admitted that I did NOT reproduce Pritz' arguments about Eusebius' confusion in detail, but I should not have had to. Those who study the history of this period (and its sources) already KNOW that Eusebius cannot be taken uncritically, especially when he seems dependent on multiple sources as in this passage. Eusebius was a brilliant intellectual and worthy historian, but he was still dependent on sources. In this passage he was primarily dependent on Irenaeus, with verbal links to both Origen ("God, Word, and Wisdom") and Justin ("pre-existent"). Irenaeus was from the West and had no direct knowledge of the Jewish-Christian mixtures, whereas Justin and Origen were from the East and are generally considered to have had some direct contact with the various movements. Pritz, after a long discussion on the sources, tries to net it out [NT:NJC:27-28]:
"How did this confusion come about? Justin knew of two kinds of Jewish Christians but gives them no name in his extant works. Irenaeus wrote gainst Ebionites but knew of no distinctions, christological or otherwise, within Ebionism itself. The same can be said of Tertullian and Hippolytus. When we come to Origen, however (and return to the East), we again find two classes of Jewish Christians which he calls Ebionites. From this point on, the name Ebionite becomes a catch-all for Law-keeping Christians of Jewish background. It would seem that this tendency began somewhere in the first half of the third century."
To be sure, this issue of sources is more complicated than I can deal with here, but suffice it to say that the scholarly community (not just the confessional one!) does not dismiss Pritz' careful analysis so summarily.
4. Source material from Epiphanius, "Refutation of all Heresies"
In summary, the qualities of the "Nazarenes" mentioned by Epiphanius are:
- they accept both the Old and New Testaments
- they read their books in Hebrew
- they have a copy of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew
- they accept the resurrection of the dead [presumably on Judgement Day]
- they believe that "everything has its origin with God"
- they follow the Jewish Law "in circumcision, the Sabbath, and the other things"
All the above things agree with what we might expect, from an Islamic viewpoint, true followers of Jesus (peace be with him) would be like.
This is very mistaken. The Muslim CANNOT ALLOW for the true followers of Jesus to accept the Old and New Testaments (as Epiphanius would have used those terms). By the time of Epiphanius, the OT and NT are essentially the documents we have today. By affirming that this group accepted the OT and NT, he is documenting that they accepted Paul and John and Hebrews and I Peter and Acts. He is affirming that they accept Isaiah 53 and Zech 10-12 and Dan 9-12. The OT documents portray clearly an exalted Messiah who will be rejected and die for the sins of the world, before rising from the grave and returning in splendor and victory. The NT documents we have today are very, very explicit about the deity of Jesus Christ, the reality and importance of His death, and of the criticality of one's response to Him. The NT includes the writings of Paul, and the Gospel of John, the book of Hebrews--books which clearly affirm doctrines that the Muslim cannot allow to have been the beliefs of the Nazarenes or Ebionites (or even early followers of Jesus).
In fact, traditional Muslim belief maintains that the NT we have today is grossly tampered with and not in any way representative of what the followers of Jesus believed. And this NT is what Epiphanius says the Nazarenes accepted. This is simply NOT what the Muslim would "expect" at all.
Some other qualities of these Nazarenes are:
- "they proclaim one God and his son Jesus Christ"
This is not necessarily problematic for the Islamic viewpoint. The Old Testament names many people as the "son of God," for example, David is said to be the "son of God." For example, 1 Chronicles 17:13 quotes God as saying to David, "I will be his father, and he shall be my son." There are also other places in the Old Testament where "son of God" is used in this metaphorical sense. It is possible that the Nazarenes mentioned by Epiphanius considered Jesus (peace be with him) to be the "son of God" in this metaphorical sense as well.
Therefore, as long as Jesus Christ being God's "son" is interpreted the same way it is interpreted in 1 Chronicles 17:13 for David, then there is no objection Islamically regarding the Nazarenes discussed by Epiphanius.
This issue of Jesus as the "Son of God" will illustrate one of the major issues in such historical passages; the question of exegesis. In other words, out of the range of possible meanings, WHICH ONE makes the most sense in the passage--historically, linguistically, contextually.
Let me make just a couple of minor technical points first about this:
1. The term "Son of God" does NOT occur anywhere in the OT at all. It is never used of a human or angel or anyone, as a title. There is one comment by a pagan king about an angelic figure looking like a 'son of the gods' (Dan 3.25).
2. The term "sons of God" in the OT refers once to angels (Job 1.6; 2.1; 38.7) and once to either evil angels or pre-flood evil kings (Gen 6.2,4). As such, the title only refers to figures of immense authority and power, and possibly super-human existence.
3. Actually, the term "My son" in I Chron 17 is NOT applied to David at all, but to some unspecified descendent of his:
And it shall come about when your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who shall be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 "He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 "I will be his father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. 14 "But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever."'" 15 According to all these words and according to all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David.
4. David understood this prophecy to refer to his son Solomon (I Chron 22), but knows that Solomon might not 'make it' (I Chron 28). Notice that God NOWHERE calls any descendent of David 'my son', except Jesus. He does NOT call Solomon 'my son' in any passage, in spite of David's hope that Solomon would be the fulfillment of that. In fact, when God addresses Solomon about the throne in 2 Chron 7.17, He relates Solomon to the more generic 'not fail to have a man to sit upon the throne' passage instead of the 'my son' passage. There was no fulfillment of this in Israel's history in the OT.
And, in the one passage that shows this hope of David the strongest (I Chron 28.5ff):
it can be seen that God's ascription of FUTURE sonship ("I will") to Solomon was conditional, based on unswerving obedience. The Chronicler, writing after the exile/return knew that Solomon had not kept this obedience condition, and hence, had not manifested the true character of the yet-future-Son.
5. Israel understood this Son to be a very exalted figure, as shown in Psalm 2:
Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed:
3 "Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!"4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury: 6 "But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain."
7 "I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, 'Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee 8 'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. 9 'Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware.'"
10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. 11 Worship the Lord with reverence, And rejoice with trembling. 12 Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
This is a royal figure ("king") and is the Messiah ("anointed one"), and Judaism uniformly accepted this as future and not fulfilled in any of the pre-NT kings. Even though it was penned by Davd, it was accepted as prophetic, and not ABOUT David (So Qumran, for example). [For excruciating detail on the messianic expectations of first-century Jewry, see my documentation from the sources.] This figure ranges from pure-human, to pure-angel, to that of a "God-man" (Neusner's phrase). Would the Muslim agree to bow down to Jesus in this way? To accept Jesus as this kind of "son of God"? To consider themselves a 'possession' and 'inheritance' of this "son of God"? To take refuge in this Son, lest they experience His wrath and perish?! Somehow I do not believe the Muslim could really consider this to not be a problem!
This descendent of David--God's "son" is so exalted as to be called "Lord" by David in Psalm 110. Jesus in a brilliant confrontation with the Pharisees, shows the problem with a 'human-only' view of Himself (in all of the synoptics: Mt 22.41ff; Mr 12.37f; Lk 20.44f):
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, "What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?" They said to Him, "The son of David." 43 He said to them, "Then how does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying, 'The Lord said to my Lord,"Sit at My right hand, Until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet" '? 45 "If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his son?" 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.
6. The only other reference to being a son of God in the OT is God's description of Israel as "my Son" in Exodus 4.22-23 (and subsequently in Hosea 11): "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, "Israel is My son, My first-born. 23 "So I said to you, 'Let My son go, that he may serve Me'; but you have refused to let him go." (By extension, it can refer to individual Israelites, Is 45.10; 43.6).
7. These are ALL of the references to "son of God", "sons of God", and "my son" in the OT!
So, going into the lifetime of Jesus we have the possible options (from the OT):
a. an angel;
b. an exalted messianic Davidic king that all the world will have to serve in the future, who had not appeared by the time of Jesus, and who had been called 'Lord' by his ancestor David [remembering that YHWH was actual king of Israel--2 Chron 13.8];
c. any member of the remnant of the nation of Israel.
Now, when we get to the NT we will see one addition to this--the 'similarity usage', and one deletion--angels will drop out. [The verse in which Adam is called a 'son of God' in Luke's genealogy (Luke 3.38 in the English) does not have the word 'son' in the Greek.]
Also, we will get the usage of "sons of X", where the issue is likeness or character similarity, not genealogy. Hence, the Pharisees will be called "sons of the devil" (John 8.44), 'thunderous' James and John will be called "sons of thunder" (Mk 3.17), peacemakers will be called 'sons of God' (Mt 5.9), those kind to enemies will be called 'sons of the Most High' [because He causes his goodness to fall upon the unrighteous also] (Luke 6.35), those characterized by kingdom values are called "sons of the kingdom" (Mt 8.12) as those characterized by the values of the present ungodly time as 'sons of this age' (Lk 16.8; 20.34). Those who disobey are the 'sons of disobedience' (Eph 5.6) and those who believe like Abraham without Law as 'sons of Abraham' (Gal 3.7).
And, then, after the resurrection we begin to get the passages from the apostles about 'becoming the sons of God' by trusting Christ (e.g. Paul--Gal 3.26; Hebrews--2.10f; John-I John 3.1; James-1.18; Peter--1.23).
So, at the time of Jesus, when He is called the "son of God" the possible ways his listeners could understand this were:
a. Davidic Messiah, of exalted and universal authority, King of Israel and all the world, and called 'Lord' by David;
b. An ordinary Israelite
c. Somebody very much like God in character
So, how what does the NT gospel data about responses to Jesus suggest the phrase ACTUALLY was understood by Jesus, his followers, and his enemies? [I have dealt with all the detail data and objections elsewhere, so I only want to mention some highlights here.]
First of all, let's look at one of the more explicit passages (John 10.24ff). First, the set-up:
The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me. 26 "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. 27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. 29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 "I and the Father are one." 31 The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?"
Notice that Jesus' words/actions make a claim about Messiahship and about his father-son relationship to the Father. (He also claims to be able to grant and insure eternal life for His followers--can a mere man do this?!) And He ask them as to why they intended to stone Him? And their reply was:
33 The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." 34 Jesus answered them, "Has it not been written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? 35 "If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? 37 "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." 39 Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.
Notice that Jesus does NOT deny the blasphemy charge, but answers back with (1) a technical argument from the OT [a special type of rabbinical argument which we cannot go into here] and (2) appeal to the character of His works as proof of this right to claim sonship. And, even after this response, they still consider His claim to be God as blasphemous. Can it be any clearer as to how the phrase 'son of God' was understood in this event?!
We see this same kind of blasphemy issue show up in John 8.56f:
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." 57 The Jews therefore said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" 58 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." 59 Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him
Notice that Jesus goes even beyond simply saying that He pre-existed ("before Abraham was born, I WAS" would have accomplished this), but He actually uses the Divine NAME ("I AM") to do this! And His content was not lost on his audience; they picked up stones to kill such blasphemous claims to deity!
Secondly, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God in an absolutely unique sense--different than simply 'one member of Israel'. Consider Luke 10.21ff:
At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, "I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. 22 "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him."
He is the only one to know the Father! [Part of this was no doubt due to His pre-existence before time with the Father (John 17.5): ""And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was."]
Thirdly, His sonship was different in kind and status to all the previous prophets. The parable of the Landowner (e.g., Luke 20.10ff):
And He began to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. 10 "And at the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order that they might give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 "And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 "And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. 13 "And the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.' 14 "But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, 'This is the heir; let us kill him that the inheritance may be ours.' 15 "And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, therefore, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 "He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others." And when they heard it, they said, "May it never be!" 17 But He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written, 'The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone'?
18 "Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.
Notice that Jesus describes Himself as radically different than the 'servants' (the OT prophets). Only HE is the 'beloved Son' and the 'heir'. This is very, very close to the exalted 'Lord' Messiah of David.
Fourth, Jesus is the only one in the Bible called "My son" directly by the Father! This occurred at His baptism (Matt 3.17; Mark 1.11; Luke 3.22; see also Is 42.1 and Matt 12.18): "and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." And at the Transfiguration in front of Peter, James, and John (Luke 9.35ff, cf. 2 Peter 1.17): And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" Jesus' sonship was quite unique.
Fifth, his enemies zeroed in on this issue. The trial was about this exalted messianic status. So, Matt 26.63f:
But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." 64 Jesus *said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." 65 Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, "He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; 66 what do you think?" They answered and said, "He is deserving of death!"
This is clear also--His enemies understood His claims as blasphemy and not just treason or insurrection. Son of God meant more than some messenger or righteous man. Even their remark to Pilate in John 19.7 indicated that His claims were deeply religious in nature--not simply political: "The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God." This would not have been a blasphemous suggestion if it was only a claim to 'being like God in character'.
Sixth, even the demons recognized Him and His authority by this title. So, in Matt 8.28ff:
And when He had come to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs; they were so exceedingly violent that no one could pass by that road. 29 And behold, they cried out, saying, "What do we have to do with You, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" 30 Now there was at a distance from them a herd of many swine feeding. 31 And the demons began to entreat Him, saying, "If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine."
Notice that they appeal to Jesus and that somehow Jesus will be their judge at the end of time!
The point of the above brief points (there is much, much more data available) is that:
1. The davidic messiah and future king of Israel would be called the Son of God.
2. No descendent of David until Jesus was called the Son of God in the Bible.
3. The Davidic messiah was an exalted super-human figure (e.g., david called him "Lord", he would possess the entire earth, all nations would have to bow before Him or experience His wrath).
4. Jesus claimed that His sonship relationship with the Father was absolutely unique.
5. His enemies acted like the term 'son of God' was a full claim to deity, worthy of death.
6. Supernatural forces recognized His special authority and was terrified of Him, using the 'son of God' title to address Him.
Could the Muslim agree that Jesus was the "son of God" in this sense? I don't think so.
And I could go on and demonstrate that "Son of God" meant this divine status in the Fathers--it is quite simple to do so. But this should be enough to point out that Nazarene acceptance of Jesus Christ as the "Son of God" is DEFINITELY problematic for the Muslim, since the I Chronicles 17.13 'sonship' turns out to be much more of an exalted, super-human claim that they might assume without a closer look at the history and usage of the term. To be sure, 'sonship' DOES include the royal dynastic aspect of it (cf. John 1.49), but it was NOT used in a dynastic sense of any of David's descendents except Jesus.
5. Source material from Jerome, "Epistle to Augustine"
Here are the qualities of the Nazarenes, according to Jerome:
- "They believe in Christ, the Son of God, born of Mary the Virgin, and they say about him that he suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again"
- The Nazarenes accuse the Scribes and Pharisees that they "made men sin against the Word of God in order that they should deny that Christ was the Son of God"
Separating these points out, we see that they believed that:
- Jesus (peace be with him) was the Christ, or the Messiah
- that he was born of a virgin birth
- that he suffered and rose again
- that Jesus (peace be with him) was the son of God
- that he was the Word of God
All these points are compatible with the Qur'anic view of early
Christians. The Qur'an proclaims that Jesus (peace be with him) was the Messiah (eg. Qur'an 3:45), that he was born of a virgin birth (Qur'an 19:20), that it *appeared* to others that he was crucified and died (Qur'an 4:157), and also that Jesus (peace be with him) was a "word" from God (Qur'an 3:45)
Regarding Jesus (peace be with him) being the "son of God," this is a term used in several places in the Old Testament to mean one who is close to God, such as David (peace be with him) in 1 Chronicles 17:13. If we take a Jewish interpretation of this term, as the Jewish followers of Jesus (peace be with him) would have, then this agrees with the Islamic view of Jesus (peace be with him) as well, which is that Jesus (peace be with him) was close to God.
This section will allow us to deal with a very specific methodological question--how does one determine what the original groups meant by phrases such as 'son of god', 'suffered under Pontius Pilate', or 'Word of God'?
Let me tell you the wrong answer first--you don't try to find something that harmonizes with your beliefs and then accept that uncritically!
What these groups meant by these phrases can only be determined through historical and literary investigation. In other words, we will have to look at things like:
1. How these phrases were used in the Gospels (the founding definitions)
2. How these phrases were used in their writings (e.g. Gospel of Nazarenes)?
3. How these phrases were used in the Fathers, as they described these groups and their own beliefs.
Let's go down this author's list and make some tentative assessments as to whether or not this group used the phrases in the same way a Muslim would:
First, is Jesus as Messiah.
The Qur'an calls Jesus "Messiah" (Al-Masih) eleven times, but the term is never explained nor given an etymological connection. For the Jew (and the Jewish Christian), this word was full of meaning for history. Of all the stands of Jewish messianic thought, the one most commonly agreed on by ALL Jewish schools of thought was that the Messiah was the Son of David, the messianic King. The title was one of royalty, and OT/Tanakh prophets proclaimed repeatedly that this Messianic King would rule the world from Jerusalem. Messiah was also the rejected 'stone' (Ps 118.22) and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 40-66, who was to be 'cut off out of the land of the living' and to be buried 'in the tomb of the rich' (Is 53). He was to be raised from the dead (Ps 16.8-11) and given the nations as His inheritance(Ps 2.8; Amos 9.11f; Is 11.10). [This was part of the reason Paul went to the Gentiles--to bring them into the Kingdom of the Messiah Jesus--as prophesied in the OT. See Rom 1.1-4.] He was so closely identified with YHWH that it was difficult to distinguish the two in passages such as Malachi 3, Isaiah 40, and Zechariah 10-12. He was to usher in world peace in a historical return, in which He would judge ALL nations and governments (Dan 7-12).
How close to the Qur'an is such an exalted notion of "Messiah"? Let me give an extended quote on this from WR:JIQ:31-33, to show how stark the contrast is:
"While there is no Quranic etymological explanation of the word Masih, it was not difficult for the commentators to find a number of meanings. The origin is of course ultimately Hebrew, through the Syriac, but it seems to have been well known in north and south Arabia in pre-Islamic times. The Hebrew mashiah was used of kings and patriarchs, and especially of the coming Deliverer. This was translated in the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament as 'Christos'.
"Firozabadi in his Arabic dictionary said that there were over fifty explanations of Masih. Zamakhshari and Baidawi admitted that it was a foreign word, and the latter commented that Masih was the surname of Jesus, a title of honour like al-Siddiq, the 'truthful', a surname of Abu Bakr the first caliph. That the Hebrew original was used of the 'anointed' kings of Israel and then for the coming Christ, was known to Muslim commentators and they tried to show how Jesus was anointed in this sense. The Qur'an said that Jesus had been 'blessed' by God (19,32/31) and so anointed with honour; he had been protected from Satan from birth (3,31/36), he had been blessed by his special birth and compared only with Adam the father of man kind. (3,52/59; 7,171/172) Some found the etymology of the word in a root msh, 'to touch'. So Jesus was one whose touch purified from faults, being himself provided with the protection of the divine blessing and anointed with the blessed oil with which former prophets were anointed. Jesus himself anointed the needy, healing the blind, laying hands on the sick, and using oil for blessing. This is suggested in the Qur'an (3,43/49), and it is explicit in the Gospel. (Mark 6,I3; Jame5 5,I4) The Qur'an twice says that Jesus was 'supported [or 'confirmed'] by the Holy Spirit' (2,254/253; 5,109/110), and in the Gospel the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism was his anointing and suggests the beginning of his consciousness of being the Messiah (Mark 1,ll) referring back to well-known Messianic prophecies).
"Razi and others suggested a derivation of Masih from a verb meaning 'to travel', for Jesus was said to have travelled much or gone on pilgrimage. For later Muslims Jesus became the model of pilgrims and the example of mystics. 'Take Jesus as your pattern,' said the theologian-mystic al-Ghazali. Ahmadis have applied this idea of the wandering Jesus to their belief that he travelled eastwards as far as Kashmir.
"Later Islam often spoke of ' the Messiah, Peace be upon him! ' But the interpretation of the Messianic concept in a special kingly or historical manner seems hardly to have been discussed yet in the Muslim world."
Now, I submit to you that if one of the core characteristics of the Hebrew Messiah was that of His Davidic Kingship--both historical, spiritual, and universal-- and that if Islamic thought has not even YET discussed this aspect of Messiahship(!), then the two concepts cannot be said to be 'in agreement' at all.
Let's look at point two--that Jesus was born of a virgin birth.
I have already gone into this one, showing the fundamental discontinuity between how those two terms are used in Islam and in the early church. At the same time, there is a possibility that there were some professing Christians back then who believed in a virgin conception but a non-divine Jesus. [Although it is not clear to me what they would have thought of Jesus as a Savior and Lord. Some of the other christological titles are quite large for a 'mere messenger'.]
Point three is "that he suffered and rose again".
I have repeatedly shown that there is no way to make this statement into an 'appearance' statement. "Suffered" here is accompanied by "rose again". There can be little doubt that this is a reference to a fully real and effective execution of Jesus by the Romans. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to adduce evidence that these "Ebionites" and "Nazarenes" held the docetic views of their Greek/Gnostic counterparts! And this would be the only way to turn their celebration of the Lord's supper on the Lord's Day ("you show the Lord's death until He comes") into something other than its plain meaning.
This belief in Jesus' death is not just a "Christian" thing. So, Parrinder, in the sympathetic and moderate WR:JIQ:116:
"Force is added to the modern stress on the historicity of the life and death of Jesus, by the fact that secular historians also accept the crucifixion as a fact. No serious modern historian doubts that Jesus was a historical figure and that he was crucified, whatever he may think of the faith in the resurrection."
Now, this particular problem actually arises because of interpretive difficulties of the Qur'an. The New Testament uniformly affirms that Christ died on the Cross and rose from the dead--there is no strata within it that (1) denies this; (2) does not teach this; or (3) affirms some 'appearance' theory. Secular historians affirm the death of Jesus of Nazareth as does the Jewish historian Josephus.
Over against this is the Muslim author's acceptance of the 'appearance theory' of the death of Jesus. The data in the Qur'an is not as clear as we would perhaps like. There are some suras that seem to indicate that Jesus died (e.g., 19, 34/33 cf. with 19,15; 3,48/55 with 2,241/240; 5,117; 5, 19/17) and there is the famous verses in 4,154-175/155-159, which state that the Jews did not kill or crucify Jesus, but that he was 'counterfeited' to them. There is a very definite tension here, and one that shows up in the history of Islamic discussion over this issue. [It is important to note that the version of the appearance theory that is based on a 'substitute' (sorta like a body-double) finds absolutely NO support in the Qur'an--the 'counterfeited' word is not definite enough for that. Indeed, it is translated "misunderstood" by some Islamic commentators.] Parrinder surveys the history of interpretation of 4, 154f/155f, but states: "The cumulative effect of the Quranic verses is strongly in favor of a real death..." [WR:JIQ:121]. For those Islamic interpreters who understand the Qur'an to not be arguing for a fake death of Jesus, the tension between Christian and Muslim views of the history of Jesus' death is relieved, but the tension between interpretations of that death are just beginning.
In any event, it should be obvious that under traditional Muslim understandings, there is a very, very wide gap between 'he died for our sins' and 'he only appeared to die for our sins'.
Point four was that Jesus was the 'Son of God', which I discussed above. (And I should point out that it was the Jewish understanding of the term that actually WAS the problem! The Gentiles had a category of "son of God" that would have been quite diluted and even would apply to barely-better-men. But the Jewish notion was way too exalted to be a simple human figure, which obviously Jesus pointed out to them.) I Chronicles 17:13 has nothing to do with being 'close to God' in this general sense--it was an intimate King/Prince relationship that was never achieved by any king or prophet in Israel, although there were very, very many men and women who were quite close to God (e.g., Isaiah, Huldah, Asaph, Daniel)! There is no way that a Muslim could accept this type of Sonship of Jesus.
Point five is that Jesus as the Word of God.
Our author refers to Qur'an 3.45 as calling Jesus a "Word" from God. Although this is one translation of the word kalima here (so Shakir: "Allah gives you good news with a Word from him"), it is also translated in an instrumentative sense (so M. Zafrulla Khan: "Allah, through his word, gives thee glad tidings of a son named the Messiah"). But there are other passages which call Jesus a "Word" so we just need to understand how close the concept might be to the NT usage.
The Quranic notion is essentially that of message from God, but with a special emphasis on the immediate (virgin) creation of Jesus (4,169/171 with 3,52/59). Sometimes it looks like it means prophecy (3, 34/39). At one point we have a textual problem with the Qur'an that might have a reference to Jesus being a "word of truth". So Parrinder in WR:JIQ:46:
"19, 35/34 reads: 'That is Jesus, son of Mary -- a statement of the truth concerning which they are in doubt.' It has often been remarked that with a slight change of vowel pointing this 'statement of truth' (qawla'l-haqqi) could be read as 'word of truth' (qawlu'l-haqqi), namely, that Jesus is the word of truth concerning which or whom men are in doubt. Since the original Qur'an had no vowel points there is ambiguity in the reading; in addition there are numerous variants on this verse in old versions of the Qur'an."
So far this is innocent enough, but the NT affirmations of Jesus as the "Word of God" goes considerably beyond this. The NT agrees wholeheartedly that Jesus was a message from God, but argues further that he was the pre-eminent message from God and exact representation of God on earth. Three passages will illustrate this:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Hebrews 1--note the rather exalted claims of Jesus' power and authority!)
If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him." 8 Philip *said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." 9 Jesus *said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'? (John 14.7ff--a VERY presumptuous claim for a mere man!!)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1.1-3--this is the obvious show-stopper for the Muslim.)
So, whereas the Christian can agree with the Islamic description of Jesus as 'word', the Muslim could not agree with the NT (and the Fathers' and therefore the Nazarenes') understanding of Jesus as the divine and perfect Word.
Where does this leave us?
So far, we have not seen adequate reason to identify Muslim teaching with the characteristics of the Nazarenes at all--the semantic content and doctrinal content are simply miles and miles apart. The overlap seems mainly to be only in the words used, but not the actual meaning of those words. The NT, the Nazarene theology, and most of Ebionite teaching is thus NOT in line with Muslim thought, nor in line with what Muslim thought says should have been the historical case. But let's continue...
Another quality of the Nazarenes, according to Jerome, was that
- they did not reject Paul.
This also does not necessarily contradict what we expect of the early Jewish-Christians. In Acts, we have the impression that those in the Church in Jerusalem had mixed feelings about Paul. On the one hand, Gentiles were not required to follow Jewish Law. I think where they differed was whether Jews had to follow Jewish Law or not. Given this, it is not surprising that among the early Jewish-Christians, two opinions may have arisen regarding Paul. At least one Jewish-Christian group was against Paul -- this is, for example, mentioned by Eusebius (above). At least another Jewish-Christian group was not against Paul. This is not problematic to the Islamic viewpoint, since Jesus (peace be with him), according to the Qur'an, was sent to the Children of Israel (Qur'an 61:6), confirming the (Jewish) Law that had come before him (Qur'an 5:49). Therefore, he may not have left clear teachings regarding Gentiles, which therefore could be source of this disagreement.
Actually, this passage is a little confused about the controversy in Acts. The actual controversy was not about Jews keeping the Law, but about Gentiles keeping the Law. So, in Acts 15, the problem is introduced by Pharisees visiting the Gentiles:
And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4 And when they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."
6 And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 "And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."
Peter's opinion is clear from the above passage--Gentiles don't have to do the Law. But the Council met anyway, and the passage goes on to describe the decision of the Jerusalem church (almost entirely Jewish-Christians at this point):
And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, "Brethren, listen to me. 14 "Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 "And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 'After these things I will return, And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it, 17 In order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,' 18 Says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old. 19
"Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas-Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. 24 "Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 "Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell."
So, the issue was that of Gentiles keeping the Law versus Jews keeping the Law.
But even with this understandable mistake, our Muslim author is entirely legitimate to ask the question about 'mixed feelings' about Paul. Although the passages in Acts 15 and 21 give us no indication of any ill will toward Paul from the Jerusalem Church (as opposed to from the anti-Christian Jews!), we know that he was often under attack on his missionary journeys (among the Gentiles!). But these "attacks" were not about his views of Christ or the future or salvation, but apparently about his apostleship. Even the doctrinal disputes in Galatians and Acts 15 were not 'aimed at Paul' but were about a very specific issue--Gentile obedience to the ritual Law of Moses.
But even with this being the case, the Nazarene position is quite a bit stronger than 'did not reject Paul'; they positively endorsed his mission and writings. Remember, Paul is the messenger of the Acts 15 decision ("no Jewish law for Gentiles") and the most explicit preacher of the Crucified Lord of the Universe and Divine Word of God! For the Nazarenes "not to reject Paul"--in light of these HUGE issues--is much stronger evidence of their orthodoxy than simple ambivalence about his personal practice of the Law!!!
Once again, the Muslim cannot allow this to stand. The Nazarenes--to fit the predictions of the traditional Muslim position--MUST explicitly reject Paul and his message. At its core, the Pauline message of the Cross and the Incarnation WOULD HAVE hugely overshadowed any agreement on issues such as ritual law keeping. This, accordingly, cannot be considered an "agreement" with Muslim thought.
So, in summary, so far there is no clear evidence that any of these early Jewish-Christians believed that Jesus (peace be with him) was God. However, we have already seen clear evidence that at least some early Jewish-Christians rejected the idea that Jesus (peace be with him) was divine (for example, from Eusebius).
I think I have made a strong case that the data leads to the opposite conclusion, but I will have to defer that decision to the reader.
I have pointed out (at another level of detail than in the original post), that Nazarene acceptance in the deity of Jesus Christ is evident from their acceptance of:
1. The "Sonship" of Jesus
2. The virgin birth of Jesus
3. The epistles and mission of Paul
4. The larger NT (with Johannine and Petrine writings)
I have also tried to explain why the material from Eusebius is somewhat confused, and that the data we have about the Nazarenes is not at all what the Muslim would predict. The reader will have to be the judge.
6. Source material from Filaster, "Book of Divine Heresies"
The so-called "evidence" here is supposed to be that Filaster didn't mention the Nazarenes. Therefore, the Christian author concludes that the Nazarenes must have had the same beliefs as Trinitarian Christians.
This does not hold up under scrutiny, since we do know that other authors (eg. Eusebius, Ireneaus) do consider early Jewish-Christians to be heretics.
Therefore, an omission by Filaster is not proof either way, and its inclusion as supposed "evidence" is very strange.
Perhaps I was unclear in the original piece, or perhaps the author misunderstood. The point was that Filaster, who listed every heresy and departure from orthodox he could find--to the point of minuta!--omitted the Nazarenes. This omission, in the context of his stated purpose of listing ALL heresies, counts as evidence that the Nazarenes were NOT heretics, but held to almost rigidly orthodox beliefs about the deity of Christ, His crucifixion, His resurrection, and His authority over all.
In other words, if the Nazarenes held Muslim-like beliefs, they would have been included in Filaster's work. But they were not, with the obvious implication that they DID NOT hold Muslim-like beliefs.
And, I do NOT want to leave the reader with the impression that the Ebionites were orthodox! Eusebius and Irenaeus DO consider Ebionites heretics, but I have tried to show that they were (1) not even remotely Christian and (2) that they did NOT look like Muslims (esp. with regard to the 'virgin birth' issue).
This still counts as evidence, given the specific literary purpose of Filaster.
In conclusion, we can say that NO evidence has been produced which shows that early Jewish-Christians accepted the divinity of Jesus (peace be with him). In fact, clear evidence to the contrary has been presented, such as in Eusebius. The second group of Jewish-Christians which Eusebius mentions have beliefs very similar to what we would expect of true followers of Jesus (peace be with him) according to Qur'anic teachings.
Again, this will have to be judged by the reader. I have tried to show that ALL of the many clear passages point in the opposite direction, and that the SINGLE possible contrary data-point is confused.
Let me state this again: all of the passages except one support my thesis (assuming I have exegeted the important phrases and concepts correctly), and only one passage (a questionable one) could count against it. In normal decision situations, the choice would be clear--the decision would be made in favor of my understanding of the historical situation. And, if the data is more supportive of my position, then his last sentence is also incorrect. [This approach does not even consider the issue of dating, which alone would demonstrate their aberrant beliefs to be way too late to be of use for the author.]
Some mistakes which (it seems to me) are made by some Christian
commentators are that:
- they assume that belief in the virgin birth means belief in the divinity of Jesus (peace be with him). That this is not necessarily so can be seen from Muslims, who believe in the virgin birth but do not believe Jesus (peace be with him) was divine. Similar beliefs I think are also held by Jehovah's witnesses and Christadelphians.
- they assume that belief that Jesus (peace be with him) was "son of God" means that it was believed he was divine. This is not necessarily true, and we have shown how in the Old Testament, David (peace be with him) is said to be God's son, yet no-one considers David to be divine. Also, Jehovah's witnesses believe that Jesus (peace be with him) is the "son of God," yet they do not believe he was divine.
This is exactly what I have tried to show. It matters very, very little what Muslims, Jehovah's witnesses, or Glenn Miller means by the title 'Son of God' or the phrase 'virgin birth'. What matters is what did the Nazarenes (and those that used those terms to describe them) mean by those words. The only way to determine this is to see (1)what the foundational, defining events and documents meant (e.g. OT/NT) and (2) to see what the writers describing the Nazarenes meant by that (i.e. the Fathers).
In the cases of the Virgin Birth and Sonship of Jesus, I tried to demonstrate from the OT/NT that these absolutely DID include the beliefs of Jesus' deity/super-human nature. And I tried to demonstrate from the Fathers' writings that they used the terms in the same way as the OT/NT.
If I am correct in my research and analysis of the meanings of these terms, then the "mistakes" are made by those who assume that the historical meaning of a term is the same as a current meaning of a term (as held by some groups within a larger community, and held without consensus of the whole group, I might add!). This is a methodological mistake of reading the present back into the past, as opposed to letting the past speak into the present.
What becomes clear at this point is that the author's original accusation of 'bias' amounts to his belief that Christian are accepting these meanings of the terms/phrases uncritically and without careful and honest investigation. While this has no doubt been the case often, I have endeavored to show that this is NOT the case here. I have tried to show that my belief that these phrases (e.g., "son of God", "virgin birth") do include a high Christology is a grounded and researched belief, not an uncritical assumption. The reader will have to judge my attempt at unbiased thinking.
It is particularly when we take these mistakes into account, that we see that the conclusion that Nazarenes believed that Jesus (peace be with him) was divine are not established at all, because these claims hinge on the above incorrect assumptions.
Of course, these assumptions were what were under discussion all along. Whether they are correct or incorrect will have to be decided by the reader, on the basis of the evidence I have presented.
Finally, it seems the beliefs of some of these early Jewish-Christians appear to be in accordance with the views of the early followers of Jesus according to the Qur'an, such as
* belief that Jesus (peace be with him) was the Messiah (Qur'an 3:45)
* belief that Jesus (peace be with him) was NOT divine (Qur'an 4:171-172)
* belief in the virgin birth (Qur'an 19:20)
* belief that Jesus (peace be with him) *confirmed* the Jewish Laws (Qur'an 5:49, 61:6)
* belief that Jesus (peace be with him) was a word from God (Qur'an 4:171)
* belief that Jesus (peace be with him) was raised unto God (Qur'an 3:55, 4:158)
All I need to reiterate here is that my conclusions were otherwise: that the earliest records we have of Jewish-Christianity indicate that they meant something radically different with these terms than does the traditional Muslim position. The similarities are superficial (at best!), the differences substantial and radical, and the historical context militates against the identification of the two.
There are still many, many more issues that could be advanced here, such as the fact that certain Ebionite sects REJECTED parts of the Law (e.g., sacrifices and related OT passages in the Law) that would not accord well with Muslim expectations, in a different direction than the above. But I will have to stop here...
Our Muslim author is obviously not familiar with the biblical data in much detail (e.g, his mistakes on the Acts controversy, asserting that "many people" were called 'sons of God' in the OT, the ascription of "My Son" to David in I Chron 17), and so some of his assumptions about the meanings of biblical concepts (e.g., "Word of God" and "Messiah") can certainly be understood and forgiven. But his assumption that my beliefs are due to 'bias'--as opposed to historical research--is unwarranted. After all is said and done, the divide between early Christian thought and Muslim beliefs about Jesus' message, identify, and self-understanding still remains.