Book Plunge: Jesus the Muslim Prophet Part 7

What does Son of Man mean?

Fatoohi is going to try to take on this one now. To his credit, he does at least interact with material like 1 Enoch. Fortunately, he comes to Daniel and the all-important passage in there on this topic, Daniel 7:13-14. One of his arguments for this not being the Messiah is the text says one like a Son of Man, not the Son of Man.

Which is really weak.

Daniel watched in awe as one “like a son of man [kĕbar ʾĕnāš]” descended into the throne room surrounded by the clouds of heaven (v. 13). “One like a son of man” means that this person was in human form. As Baldwin points out, however, he is more than a man.

Stephen R. Miller, Daniel (vol. 18; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 207.

Or

While still gazing at the destruction of the beast Daniel’s attention was arrested by a most amazing event. In his vision of the night another figure emerged. This was no beast. It had no animal features. There were no deep, dark, recesses here, but only light. It came as one like a son of man, a human figure. At the same time it was a heavenly figure, not an earthly one. Boldly this one approached the courtroom and was led into the presence of the Ancient of Days. Once there he was handed a kingdom, given authority and sovereign power. All peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him, for his dominion was an everlasting dominion that would not pass away. His kingdom was one that would not be destroyed.
It is important not to miss the contrast here. Here was a human being, one in the image of God, who was at the same time a heavenly figure who ruled like man was meant to rule, that is, under the rule of God. The contrast occurs at a number of levels: chaos versus order, beastly versus human, temporary versus eternal, seized versus given, condemned versus endorsed. Here was something Daniel and many others had longed and waited for since Adam’s failure: one who lived out the divine rule of God.

Andrew Reid, Daniel: Kingdoms in Conflict (ed. Paul Barnett; Reading the Bible Today Series; Sydney, South NSW: Aquila Press, 2004), 123.

With this last one, in a Jewish monotheistic context you have a human figure who is worshipped. This doesn’t fit with what Fatoohi says, but it is just fine within Judaism.

But then something totally unexpected occurs. Into the presence of the Ancient of Days steps “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (7:13). Who is this figure? While the language and imagery of this verse would have been familiar to the ancient reader (though strange to us), the implications would have shocked them.
First, we should realize that “son of man” is a phrase that occurs a number of times in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Ezekiel (2:1, 3, 6, and throughout the book), and always means “human being.” But notice this is one “like a human being,” not a human being per se. And his association, though not identification, with humanity is clear from the fact that this human-like figure is accompanied by the clouds of heaven. In other words, this person is a cloud rider, a sure indication of divinity.
In the first place, in the broader ancient Near East, cloud riding was the function of storm gods like Baal, who was often called “cloud rider” in the Ugaritic myths that describe his exploits. By the time of Daniel, many Old Testament texts had appropriated this description and applied it to God (Ps 18:1–9; 68:4; 103:3; Is 19:1; Nah 1:3). Thus, to ancient readers this human-like figure was God himself riding into the presence of the Ancient of Days, also God himself, after achieving victory over the beasts. No wonder this passage is cited so often in the New Testament in reference to Jesus, God’s Son and God himself (more on this in chapter 16).
But for now, restricting ourselves to an Old Testament reader’s perspective, we should notice that the vision ends with the Ancient of Days conferring great honor on the one like the son of man. Indeed, “he was given (presumably by the Ancient of Days) authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed”

Tremper Longman III, How to Read Daniel (How to Read Series; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2020), 101–102.

Now Fatoohi does appreciate giving what scholars say since he quotes some of them. I have done the same. I wonder who I should trust.

Fatoohi will go on later to say there is no evidence that Son of Man was used in reference to the Messiah before Jesus. Let’s leave out Daniel for the time being. To that, let it be said, “So what?” Even if that is the case, we could just as well the same could apply to the virgin birth, which I do affirm. Jesus shattered a lot of ideas on what the Messiah would be.

He does say that Jesus did use the Son of Man saying to avoid His deification. After all, everyone would just think to that Daniel passage upon hearing it and think “Yep. No shades of deity there.” This also assumes that Jesus’s deity was being taught in His lifetime, but Fatoohi keeps saying that these were monotheistic  Jews who would not do this, so who were these Jews risking turning Jesus into deity?

So color me still puzzled by Fatoohi’s arguments.

We’ll continue next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/162017: Andy Bannister

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Qur’an is a book many Christians aren’t really familiar with. Muslims and Muslim apologists will often talk about the perfection of the Qur’an. The Bible after all supposedly has so many textual difficulties and which version do you read? Not the case with the Qur’an after all! There’s only one Qur’an! There aren’t manuscript difficulties with it! This book came from Allah Himself through the angel Gabriel and delivered to Muhammad.

But what if it’s not true?

Could it be that there has been study done into the Qur’an and found that these claims are lacking? Could it be that we know more about the formulation of the Qur’an than is realized? Could it be the Qur’an is much more human than realized? While the authors of the Bible having their humanity influence the way it was written has been understood, is it the same with the Qur’an?

To discuss this, I have asked someone to come on who understands the Bible very well. I asked someone who has studied this at the highest level and has written about it to help explain it. He’s been on the show before and this time he’s on to talk about the Qur’an. His name is Andy Bannister.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

I am the Director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and an Adjunct Speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, speaking and teaching regularly throughout the UK, Europe, Canada, the USA, and the wider world. From universities to churches, business forums to TV and radio, I regularly address audiences of both Christians and those of all faiths and none on issues relating to faith, culture, politics and society.

I hold a PhD in Islamic studies and have taught extensively at universities across Canada, the USA, the UK and further afield on both Islam and philosophy. I am also an Adjunct Research Fellow at The Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

I am the author of An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an (a groundbreaking and innovative study that reveals many of the ways the Qur’an was first composed) and Heroes: Five Lessons From Whose Lives We Can Learn, an exciting and fast-moving look at the lives of five incredible giants of the Christian faith. My latest book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (or: The Dreadful Consequences of Really Bad Arguments), is a humorous engagement with the New Atheism. I also co-wrote and presented the TV documentary, Burning Questions.

When not travelling, speaking, or writing, I am a keen hiker, mountain climber and photographer. I am married to Astrid and we have two children, Caitriona and Christopher.

I hope you’ll be interested as we have this hour-long discussion on the nature of the Qur’an. Please be watching your podcast feed for this episode. If you can also, go and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on iTunes. I love to see them!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can Your Christianity Be Disproven?

Are you open to the possibility of being wrong? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let me state it right at the start. I am not doubting Christianity. I am not writing from a position of doubt. I am convinced that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. Despite that, I should always be open to being wrong. This hit home again for me reading Zondervan’s Five Views On Biblical Inerrancy.

Al Mohler has the first chapter and in it, he pretty much equates inerrancy with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or CSBI. For Mohler, it seems difficult to imagine inerrancy that does not conform to this statement and if Jesus and Paul or anyone else is an inerrantist, then they would have signed on entirely with the CSBI. That is too much of an assumption I think to make, but a major problem came when I read his response to problem passages that Zondervan asked each person to write on.

In the Kindle version at location 772, I read the following:

Archaeologists will disagree among themselves. I am not an archaeologist, and I am not qualified to render any adequate archaeological argument. The point is that I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully true and trustworthy. Any theological or hermeneutical method that allows extrabiblical sources of knowledge to nullify the truthfulness of any biblical text assumes, a priori, that the Bible is something less than the oracular Word of God.

Well, yes. This position is very radical. Naturally, if the Bible is inerrant and is true in all it claims and teaches, then if it says X, then X is true. Yet at the same time, if God is the God of reality and has written two books as it were with nature and Scripture, then we should expect that nothing outside of Scripture will contradict Scripture.

The problem is that this is the very claim under question. How do we know the Bible is inerrant? Do we start with that as a presupposition or do we reach it as a conclusion? If we say the former, why do this with the Bible and not the Koran or the Book of Mormon?

Let’s picture Al Mohler in a discussion with a Mormon. This Mormon holds to the position on the Book of Mormon that Mohler holds to on the Bible. Mohler goes and points out many archaeological difficulties with the Book of Mormon. The Mormon does not change his position. Why? Because he says he won’t allow any line of evidence from outside the Book of Mormon to conflict with the Book of Mormon.

Now Mohler goes to a Muslim. The Muslim is convinced that the Koran says that Jesus did not get crucified or die on a cross. Mohler goes to several lines of evidence to show that Jesus was crucified, but the Muslim is unconvinced. After all, no line of evidence outside of the Koran is allowed to contradict the Koran.

Are the Muslim and Mormon being unreasonable here? Yep. The sad thing is, so is Mohler. What is being said is a way of saying the double-theory of truth is true. By this, something could be true in the world outside of the Bible and something else contradictory true in the Bible. May it never be!

This is also one reason why I don’t say something like “Show me the bones of Jesus and I’ll abandon Christianity.” If we were to hypothetically say that Jesus never rose from the dead, it seems strange to think that not only would His bones be here, but that we could tell they were His bones. I instead ask people to give me a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one that the church itself gave that explains the data agreed to by critical scholars.

If we want to evangelize people, it is disingenuous for us to tell them that they must be ready to abandon their worldview and accept ours upon conflicting evidence, but we are not doing the same. Some might think that that is a risk. It is only a risk if you think that Christianity could be false. If you are convinced you are right, it is not a risk. Even if you turned out to be wrong, you should be thankful. After all, who wants to believe something that is false?

I cannot go with the position of Mohler. I am convinced it is a blind faith and it makes inerrancy the central doctrine when the resurrection is. I believe in the Bible because I believe in the resurrection. I do not believe in the resurrection because I believe in the Bible.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Thoughts On Yesterday’s Shooting

What can we learn from discussion on this matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, a tragedy occurred with a shooting in a Texas church. I am sure it was at least 20 who were killed as there are different reports out now and I know one of them was the pastor’s 14 year-old daughter. Either way, we have a tragedy right now, but what happens when we go to Facebook and the comments section to see what’s going on?

There’s immediately charges about who did it and why. Now in some sense, I can understand people not mourning. After all, there are several people who will die today and you and I will go through our lives for the most part and not even blink and in fact be happy about it. There’s nothing abnormal about this. When July 24th comes every year, for most of you out there, it’s likely another day of the year. For Allie and I, it’s a very happy time as that’s our anniversary. I don’t expect someone who doesn’t know us to be happy or to have zero sadness on that day. Every day is day of tragedy for someone and a day of joy for someone else.

I have no problem actually then with people discussing this problem and what to do about it. What I have a problem with is people who don’t know the facts acting like they do. In fact, many of them hope that the facts are on their side. That is, the fact that the killer was a member of a certain religion or political persuasion.

One report I have heard is that the gunman was an atheist who wanted to strike out at a church and I think it was his mother-in-law’s church. What would that show? It would not show that you need to be living in fear of the atheist that you meet. It would not show that all atheists are bloodthirsty killers. In fact, many atheists can lead moral lives that could put many Christians to shame.

What if it was a Christian? Again, you would not be able to extrapolate to all other Christians out there. In fact, you will find some crazies in every group out there. It saddens me greatly to know Christians do some terrible things.

For if it was a Muslim, which I haven’t heard this but I’m just tossing it out there. Sadly, I can understand this one some. Most of the acts of terrorism we’ve seen committed here in this country I think have had the battle cry of “Allahu Akbar!” Again, that doesn’t mean that I need to live in terror of the Muslim down the street.

We could go on with if this was a conservative or a liberal. One of the problems is what we do with conspiracy theories. Someone comes with a presupposition of what they think the conclusion was and then tries to find the evidence to support it. In fact, I remember P.Z. Myers did this with the shooting of the Congresswoman in Arizona where he was insistent it would be a right-wing tea party member. Even when evidence he shared was shown to be fake, he was still insistent he was right. (It does look like the posts have been taken down now.)

Now we could discuss the ideologies instead and where they lead to. These are better questions because we’re discussing worldviews and not persons. For instance, if atheism is true, this person does not have to represent all atheists, and he doesn’t if he is one, but we could ask how atheism explains this. If the person was an atheist, did that person live in contradiction to his worldview or not?

What if they were a Christian? Again, we ask the same questions. We also ask that if they were a Muslim. Every worldview has to explain evil and every worldview has to explain morality, even if as is the case with some atheists, they want to say that morality is an illusion of sorts and there is no objective right or wrong.

There’s another thing to not say here. It is foolish I think for us to try to divine the will of God from what happens. Sometimes things just happen because people are evil. I have a problem with people reading the will of God or trying to figure it out from dreams, experiences, events, circumstances, etc. which we don’t know to be directly from God and messages for us, and ignoring the place where we are sure we get the will of God, Scripture. Spend more time exegeting Scripture than you do your own life.

Also, I am on guard now for people saying statements about mental illness. Unfortunately, mental illness becomes a catch-all term that people use and automatically everyone with a mental illness is suspect. Technically, my wife and I both have at least one, namely Aspergers. Could someone with a particular mental condition be more prone to doing this? Sure, but let’s make sure that we don’t impugn all people with mental conditions with that.

When this happened in Las Vegas, I saw someone saying it was the case of mental illness. It always amazes me that people say that someone had to be mentally ill to do something like this. Not necessarily. Could some people just simply be evil and do this? We so often want to say that the person is just a poor thinker and did something stupid than to say the person is an evil soul who did something evil. Sometimes, things happen because people are sinners. Chesterton years ago said the most empirically verifiable doctrine of Christianity is original sin. We are now losing sight of that. It could be we want to say mental illness because those who are supposedly “sane” can then be free to not worry and we don’t have to bother examining ourselves and that pesky little sin problem.

For a while, you’re going to hear people make several claims about what happened. Always be ready to ask what the source is for the claim and how it has been verified. I’m also sure we will hear several crazy conspiracy theory claims. There will be no doubt people saying that this didn’t happen at all. Who knows what else they will come up with? Please especially ignore these.

Pray for the people involved and let’s try to not jump onto any bandwagons of suspicion. Wait until the facts are in, and these are facts that are agreed to by the majority, and then discuss. Until then, worldviews are always available to be discussed and it could never hurt us to have more discussions about the truth on ultimate reality.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: The Qur’an In Context

What do I think of Mark Robert Anderson’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Qur’an for many Christians is a very foreign book. Some people have tried to read it and yet have not made it past the second sura. The style of writing is different to most Christians and does not seem like an engaging work, but the reality is that Christians need to understand this work. Whatever you think of Islam, the Qur’an is the holy book of this faith and it has shaped the world greatly.

Anderson has written a book to help us in its text. Anderson urges us rightly to try to drop our preconceptions and approach the book seriously and seek to understand the way it was written, the why, and the historical context. Even if you don’t think it’s holy Scripture, the Qur’an still should be understood on its own terms. That requires work, just like understanding the Bible does. I have been a long opposition to people not bothering to study the historical context of the Bible and yet speaking on it. I say the same for the Qur’an.

Anderson goes through piece by piece and then compares what he finds to the Bible. There is no doubt on my part he wants to be as fair as he can to the Qur’an. He also addresses the question of if we worship the same God or not. I think we could say that we have that as our intention and I think that Anderson does argue that, but there can be no doubt the descriptions of Allah and YHWH are vastly different.

Anderson also wants us to study the world of 7th century Arabia. What was going on? What were Christians and Jews and pagans all saying? How did Muhammad approach this world?

Next comes a long look at the worldview of the Qur’an. What does it say about evil? What does it say about Adam? What must one do to be saved? All of these have marked differences and Anderson has many questions about whether the system in the Qur’an is really coherent or not.

Jesus is a big topic. The problem for the view of Jesus in the Qur’an is that it’s really downplaying. Very little is said about the ministry and teaching of Jesus. Much comes from non-canonical sources and its depiction of the Trinity is highly lacking. The Qur’an says Jesus is the Messiah, but divests this of any real meaning at all.

Amazingly, you can have many in-depth looks at the lives of other people in the Bible, but with Jesus, you get nothing like that. You don’t understand what His ministry was and why He came. It simply looks like Jesus is only there to point to Muhammad.

Ah yes, but what about the crucifixion? The Qur’an is clear on that and that’s that Jesus did not die on the cross. Anderson disputes that and I have to say he makes a highly highly compelling case. I have long thought that Islam denies that Jesus was crucified, and many Muslims do, but Anderson made a case that made me rethink if that’s what the original Qur’anic author intended and I dare say I will not be as strident until I find a better response to that claim. Anderson bases his claim on what he considers a better reading of that text in light of other texts he thinks are clearer. He contends that others are reading the clear texts in light of this one and changing those in ways that don’t fit.

Finally, he wraps things up by asking if we could say the Qur’an is the sequel to the Bible. The answer is decidedly, no. There are too many differences across the board. Still, we should strive to understand the Qur’an in its historical context to have better discussions with the Muslims we encounter.

Anderson’s book gives a lot of food for thought. He is kind and fair in his treatment and there is nothing here I can think of that would be seen as “Anti-Muslim” or dare I say it, Islamophobic. I look forward to even seeing what some Muslims think about the material in here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Would Matthew Use Mark?

Why would an eyewitness use a non-eyewitness? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My in-laws got me an Amazon Tap for Christmas. As I speak, we are listening to the local Christian radio station on it. I also use it to listen to the Unbelievable? podcast, which I had been missing out on. (And during that, I utilize another gift I’ve been given, Final Fantasy XV from my parents.) On the show I heard yesterday, it involved a Christian and a Muslim debating if Jesus was seen as God and the Muslim presented a few times the claim “Why would Matthew use Mark when Matthew was an eyewitness and Mark wasn’t? It doesn’t make sense.”

The sad thing is I see this objection from so many people, even many that should know better, and it leaves me wondering. If these people would spend a few moments thinking about this, then I think the answer would be clear. Just in case it isn’t for some, I figured I’d write a little something about that.

Now some of you will want to contest traditional authorship. Making a case for the authorship of the Gospels is another post, but this objection assumes the traditional authorship for the sake of the argument. Therefore, I will be doing the same so please no replies such as “Well Matthew didn’t really write Matthew!” or something like that. For the time being, let’s accept the claims of attribution to the Gospels made by the early church.

Once we do that, we are reminded that Mark isn’t just Mark writing without a source really. Mark is the testimony of Peter. (Interestingly, the church never called this the Gospel of Peter. They could have skipped the middleman, but they didn’t. This was the work of Mark.) Why would this matter?

It’s because despite Matthew being an apostle, Matthew was not part of the inner circle. Many times in the Gospels, you’ll find that Jesus takes with Him Peter, James, and John. These three then directly saw things that Matthew himself did not see. By going to Mark, Matthew could ascertain his information on these events that he did not see.

On top of that, Matthew could get another perspective on events. Why not avail himself of that? Ancients did have good memories to be sure, but this was often a good memory in community. Some scholars will have you thinking that someone like Mark just suddenly wrote these stories thirty or forty years after the events and the rest of the time he was just sitting on them and not sharing them, talking about them, being a part of conversations with them, etc.

So contrary to the Muslim guest, yes, it does make sense. The explanation I think is simple and is consistent with the idea of traditional authorship. This isn’t a proof of the traditional authorship to be sure, but I would hope that it is at least a refutation of what is a bad argument against traditional authorship.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Many Prophets, One Message on the Trinity

Does the Trinity have pagan origins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had planned to write a book review again today, but then in a discussion on if Christianity copied from pagans, someone shared this to respond to my claim that they did not. What we saw from the last election cycle in our country is sometimes it’s tempting to get people to move away from a candidate by claiming they’re racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. (Didn’t work too well this time.) In religion, it can be tempting to label something as pagan and think everyone will back away. Of course, labeling is not the same as being able to demonstrate.
The post under question is from Many Prophets, One Message and can be found here. The post is from a Muslim so I won’t be commenting on everything. For instance, when we start talking about the Muslim belief, I won’t be saying anything. Islam is not a specialty area of mine and when I dialogue with Muslims, I stick to what I know, the New Testament. Others who have studied Islam more might want to say something about that part.

So let’s see what they say.

In order to understand the influence of paganism on the doctrine of the Trinity, we need to first understand the world into which Christianity was born and developed. The disciples, the first believers in Jesus, were Jews. In fact Christianity started out as a movement within Judaism. Like Jews since the time of Moses, these first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised and worshiped in the Temple: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.” [Acts 3:1] The only thing that distinguished the early followers of Jesus from any other Jews was their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, that is, the one chosen by God who would redeem the Jewish people. Today, many Christian scholars agree that authors of the New Testament such as Matthew were Jewish believers in Jesus. The influence of Judaism on the New Testament is important because it helps us to correctly understand its message. The New Testament is full of terminology like “son of God.” Such language is interpreted literally by Trinitarians to mean that Jesus is God the Son, but is this correct? What was the intention behind the Jewish writers of the New Testament when they used such language? What did these terms mean at the time of Jesus?

I’m pleased that there is some right stuff here, such as the authors of the New Testament being Jewish believers in Jesus, though I’d say it’s quite a good possibility that Luke was a Gentile believer. Still, the claim that the first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised, and worshiped in the Temple is flimsy. All we have is one verse and it only describes the Temple.

I meet many Seventh-Day Adventists who think that Paul had to worship on Saturday because he went into the synagogues on Saturday to speak to the Jews so he was still observing the Sabbath. If he was, it will need to be established on other grounds. Why would Paul go on Saturday? He went on Saturday because that is the day the Jews were there. If he had gone on Sunday, no one would have been there to hear the message, or at least if some were there, it would not be the usual crowd.

In the same way, when the first believers went to the temple, this is only the believers in Jerusalem and they went there because that was a central meeting place to spread the message of Jesus. Of course, we learn later in Acts 12 about them meeting in the homes of believers as well. As for circumcision, if they were Jews, they were indeed circumcised, but as we learn in Acts 15, circumcision was not seen as essential for Christianity. This was the first great debate. (And aren’t we men all thankful for how it turned out?)

Our writer also says “Son of God” in interpreted literally by Christians. Unfortunately, He does not state what this means. For instance, if I say Jesus is the Son of God, I don’t mean in a literal sense such as God having sex with Mary. I also realize it can be used in a figurative sense as it has been used of angels and of great men and yes, the pagans used the title for their kings. Our author, unfortunately, cites no Trinitarians who are doing what he claims.

In fact, I would argue that Son of God is not the greatest claim to deity Jesus made. Son of Man is far more persuasive. With this, Jesus is consistently pointing to the figure in Daniel 7. This is the figure that will rule alongside the Ancient of Days and whose Kingdom has no end.

When we turn to the Old Testament we find that such language permeates its pages. For example, Moses calls God “Father”: Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? [Deuteronomy 32:6] Angels are referred to as “sons of God”: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. [Job 1:6] The Old Testament even goes so far as to call Moses a god: “And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” [Exodus 7:1] The Israelites are also referred to as “gods”: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’”  [Psalm 82:6] What we can conclude is that such highly exalted language was commonplace and is intended figuratively; it is not a literal indication of divinity.

The problem here is that this is not enough to make a case and it can be cherry picking. Just pick verses that agree with your position and hey, you’ve got it! The reference to Moses is one that is being seen as a metaphor and not a claim about what it means to be the son of God. As for Psalms 82, I interpret this as sarcasm. The rulers of Israel prided themselves as being favored since they were the leaders and got to judge Israel, but God says they’re not gods, they’re mere men. Jesus used this passage to back His claims in John 10. If the title can be used of sinful men, how much more the righteous one? Note He used it to back His claim to deity and not to lessen it.

Even as late as the end of the first century, when the New Testament writers started penning their accounts of the life of Jesus, Jewish people were still using such language figuratively. In a conversation between Jesus and some Jewish teachers of the law, they say to Jesus: “…The only Father we have is God himself.” [John 8:41] The Gospel of Luke calls Adam a son of God when it recounts the lineage of Jesus: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” [Luke 3:38] Jesus even says that anyone who is makes peace is a child of God: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Matthew 5:9] If the New Testament writers understood such language to be a claim to divinity, then they would have used it exclusively in relation to Jesus. Clearly, it denotes a person that is righteous before God and nothing more.

So we can see that such language, in and of itself, does not denote the divinity of Jesus. So where did such ideas come from?

Again, Son of God depends on the context. It’s not the same meaning every time, and our writer makes the mistake of thinking that it is. Note that passages like John 10 are ignored. Still, he asks a good question. Where does the idea that Jesus is divine come from?

The turning point in history came when Christianity ceased being a small movement within Judaism and Gentiles (non-Jews) started to embrace the faith in large numbers. We need to look to the pagan world of the Gentiles in order to understand the mindset of the people that received the New Testament message. Since the time of Alexander the Great, Gentiles had been living in a Hellenistic (Greek) world. Their lands were dominated by Roman armies, with the Roman Empire being the superpower of the world at the time. The Roman Empire itself was heavily influenced by Hellenistic religion, philosophy and culture. Greek gods and goddesses like Zeus, Hermes and Aphrodite, as well as Roman gods and goddesses like Jupiter, Venus and Diana, dominated the landscape. There were temples, priesthoods, and feasts dedicated to the patron god or goddess of a city or region; statues to the deities dotted the forums of the cities. Even rulers themselves were frequently worshipped as gods.

Aside from the first sentence, I really don’t have a problem with what is said here. We do need to understand the Gentile world and the pagan world to understand the New Testament. Much of what is said here about the pagan world is in fact accurate.

Gentiles from such a polytheistic background would have naturally understood Christian preaching about the “son of God” in light of a Greek or Roman god having been begotten by another. We can see this mindset manifested in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts there is an incident where the Gentile crowds think that Paul is Zeus come among them when he heals a crippled man:

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.

The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. [Acts 14:11-13]

In checking this, I found something interesting. When I went to the book of Acts, I did a search for the words “son” and “God.” Only two places do I see references to Jesus being the Son of God. One is in Acts 9:20.

“And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God.”

Note that here we have Paul in a Jewish synagogue and saying “He is the Son of God” about Jesus. The question to ask is how would the Jews understand this? In light of the resurrection, it would mean the claims of Jesus were true, and I would include deity in that. Acts 13:33 is the next and could in fact contain early creedal material.

that God hath fulfilled the same unto our children, in that he raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

This would include the idea that as the resurrected Son, Jesus is the rightful king of this world. He is the one meant to rule. Already, we have exalted language of Jesus. This isn’t counting what we find in the Pauline epistles that leads us to conclude that the earliest Christology is indeed the highest.

Still, what about Acts 14? As our writer goes on to say:

It is worthy of note that Paul and Barnabas did not take this opportunity to explain that it was not they but rather Jesus who was God come in human form. Such a clarification is what you would expect, if Trinitarian beliefs about Jesus are correct. Instead, they argued against such pagan beliefs and practices:

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:

“Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. [Acts 14:14-15]

Here we see that the Greco-Roman peoples that Paul and Barnabas were preaching to were in the habit of taking humans for gods. Despite Paul protesting that he was not a god, the people persisted in their belief: “Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.” [Acts 14:18] From this example we can see that according to Christian history, it was a common practice for people to attribute divinity to other humans. In spite of Paul openly denying being a god, the people continued to worship and sacrifice to him. We can conclude that even if Jesus himself rejected being God at that time, the mindset of the people was such that they would still have found a way to deify him. This is not an isolated incident, as we read elsewhere that Gentiles believed Paul was a god because he survived a bite from a venomous snake:

It is actually not at all surprising. For one thing, I think Luke is speaking in a mocking tone about the people of Lystra. Yet why would Paul not be out spouting full Trinitarian theology at once? One problem is that a lot of people think that if the Trinity is true, that the earliest believers needed to be quoting the Nicene Creed. Not at all. They grew in their understanding like we all do. Paul himself spent three years in the wilderness rethinking everything he knew when he found out Jesus was the Messiah, and in many ways actually understood the ramifications of that better than the others.

Why would Paul not say Jesus was God in human form? Because the people of Lystra would be thinking of Zeus or some other polytheistic deity. Paul would start with where they were. We don’t know for sure what arguments he made as we’re given a picture and a paragraph, but all our writer has is a picture and a paragraph. You need more than that.

He also claims that since people were easily deified, it’s not a shock to think of that happening to Jesus. However, as has been shown, the claims of deity that we’ve already seen aren’t made to a pagan audience but a Jewish one. Jews would not be the ones to do that unless they had really good reason to believe that there had been an incarnation that had taken place. We also have to ask still “How did the idea that Jesus is deity ever come about?” Many people had risen from the dead in the Bible. None were said to be deity. Why Jesus? This is indeed a central question.

Let’s go on.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.

When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.”

But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.

The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. [Acts:28:1-6]

With this background in mind, it’s easy to see how Judaic phrases like “son of God” took on a different meaning when transported out of their Jewish monotheistic context into pagan Greco-Roman thought. The Trinity doctrine arose neither in a vacuum, nor strictly from the text of Scripture. It was the result of the influence of certain beliefs and attitudes that prevailed in and around the Church after the first century. The Church emerged in a Jewish and Greek world and so the primitive Church had to reconcile the notions they had inherited from Judaism with those they had derived from pagan mythology. In the words of the historian and Anglican bishop John Wand, “Jew and Greek had to meet in Christ”

Except the Gentiles never claimed Paul was a son of God. They were claiming he was a god. The Jews were the ones using the Son of God claim. Note that already our writer is claiming the church received ideas from pagan mythology. All we’ve seen so far is that some pagans thought Paul was a god. We have seen no evidence that the Jews received these ideas or that the early church did and if Luke is indeed mocking the people, then it is quite likely they did not.

It’s interesting to note that the Greco-Roman religions were filled with tales of gods procreating with human beings and begetting god-men. The belief that God could be incarnate, or that there were sons of God, were common and popular beliefs. For example, the chief god in the Greek pantheon, Zeus, visited the human woman Danae in the form of golden rain and fathered Perseus, a “god-man.” In another tale Zeus is said to have come to the human woman Alcmena, disguised as her husband. Alcmena bore Hercules, another “god-man.” Such tales bear a striking similarity to Trinitarian beliefs of God being begotten as a man. In fact, the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr, considered a saint in the Catholic Church, said the following in response to pagan criticisms that Christianity borrowed from their beliefs about the sons of God:

Well, not really. That a god could take on a human guise is one thing. That they would take on a human nature is entirely different. This is the claim about Jesus. Jesus entered into every aspect of human life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Not that Jesus Himself did anything bad of course.) That is in no way a similiarity to the Christian claims. Gentiles would be quite horrified by the thought of the gods doing something as shameful as actually becoming human. Still, let’s look at what our writer has to say about Justin Martyr.

When we say that the Word, who is our teacher, Jesus Christ the first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he was crucified and died and rose again, and ascended to heaven, we propound nothing new or different from what you [pagans] believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Jupiter.

And the comment on this is:

According to ancient Roman myth, Jupiter was the king of all the gods. Here Justin Martyr is telling Roman pagans that what the Christians believe about Jesus being the son of God is nothing different than what they believe about the sons of the god Jupiter. That the Church Fathers’ conception of the Trinity was a combination of Jewish monotheism and pagan polytheism can be seen in the testimony of Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century bishop who is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He also happens to be one of the great figures in the history of the philosophical formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote:

We’ll see what comes from Gregory next, but let’s look at what Justin Martyr is saying. What is he defending? He is trying to defend the claim that the Christian religion is NOT shameful. Justin thought the parallels were there because the devil in the myths of the pagans was trying to imitate…..what was he trying to imitate?

The prophecies of Moses.

In fact, I find Justin’s parallels to be stretches. Why would he do this? To get the emperor to stop persecuting the Christians based on their believing something new and strange. In Justin’s time, new beliefs were viewed with suspicion so you tried to connect your beliefs to something old. That’s why Justin points to the Hebrew prophecies. (Get that. Justin believes that all about Jesus is prophesied in the Old Testament, not taken from pagans.) He is wanting pagan audiences to see parallels, indicating they probably didn’t see them before. Note also that there is no indication that the Christians took this on to be more hospitable to pagans. After all, here we are about 100 years later and if that was the plan, it has failed miserably.

I also want to be clear I don’t agree with Justin’s argument, but just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean I think we should misunderstand it. It can only be disagreed with truly if one truly understands it. Let’s make sure we are interpreting Justin rightly.

Now moving on to Gregory:

For the truth passes in the mean between these two conceptions, destroying each heresy, and yet, accepting what is useful to it from each. The Jewish dogma is destroyed by the acceptance of the Word and by belief in the Spirit, while the polytheistic error of the Greek school is made to vanish by the unity of the nature abrogating this imagination of plurality.

The Christian conception of God, argues Gregory of Nyssa, is neither purely the polytheism of the Greeks nor purely the monotheism of the Jews, but rather a combination of both.

There’s a little bit of error mixed in with the understanding here. The Trinity that Gregory accepted is montheistic, but it is not a unitarian monotheism. In fact, this is one of the first mistakes made in Trinitarian discussions. There’s an assumption that God must be one in person. In fact, Jews in the time of Jesus were open to a plurality in the Godhead and even afterward. Afterward, look at figures like Metatron. Before, look at figures like Wisdom and the Logos and sometimes the Son of Man as well.

Even the concept of God-men who were saviours of mankind was by no means exclusive to Jesus. Long before Jesus was born, it was not uncommon for military men and political rulers to be talked about as divine beings. More than that, they were even treated as divine beings: given temples, with priests, who would perform sacrifices in their honour, in the presence of statues of them. In Athens for example, Demetrios Poliorcetes (Demetrios the Conqueror of Cities, 337–283 BCE) was acclaimed as a divine being by hymn-writers because he liberated them from their Macedonian enemies:

How the greatest and dearest of the gods are present in our city! For the circumstances have brought together Demeter and Demetrios; she comes to celebrate the solemn mysteries of the Kore, while he is here full of joy, as befits the god, fair and laughing. His appearance is solemn, his friends all around him and he in their midst, as though they were stars and he the sun. Hail boy of the most powerful god Poseidon and Aphrodite! For other gods are either far away, or they do not have ears, or they do not exist, or do not take any notice of us, but you we can see present here, not made of wood or stone, but real. So we pray to you: first make peace, dearest; for you have the power…

Note that there is a difference between being a divine being, and being seen as ontologically equal to one supreme God. What is the claim of Jesus? Was Paul just preaching that Jesus was a divine being? Note also that you can show all day long other humans were turned into divine beings. That does not show that when it was done to Jesus, that it was done falsely. That would be like saying “Other Jews thought other figures were the Messiah, so when they thought it about Jesus they thought wrongly.” It doesn’t work.

The Athenians gave Demetrios an arrival that was fit for a god, burning incense on altars and making offerings to their new deified king. It must be pointed out that as time passed by, he did some other things that the Athenians did not approve of, and as a consequence they revoked their adoration of him. It seems that in the days before Jesus, divinity could be stripped away from human beings just as easily as it was granted. Perhaps the best known examples of God-men are the divine honours bestowed upon the rulers of the Roman Empire, starting with Julius Caesar. We have an inscription dedicated to him in 49 BCE discovered in the city of Ephesus, which says this about him

Descendant of Ares and Aphrodite

The God who has become manifest

And universal savior of human life

What of it? Claims were made of Caesar like this. Again, our writer will have to show that the claims were made falsely about Jesus. This has not been done. In fact, as we saw earlier, the claims were first made in a Jewish context. I plan on showing more of that later on.

So Julius Caesar was God manifest as man, the saviour of mankind. Sound familiar? Now prior to Julius Caesar, rulers in the city of Rome itself were not granted divine honours. But Caesar himself was – before he died, the senate approved the building of a temple for him, a cult statue, and a priest. Soon after his death, his adopted son and heir, Octavian, promoted the idea that at his death, Caesar had been taken up to heaven and been made a god to live with the gods. There was a good reason that Octavian wanted his adopted father to be declared a God. If his father was God, then what does that make him? This deification of Caesar set the precedent for what was to happen with the emperors, beginning with the first of them, Octavian himself, who became “Caesar Augustus” in 29 BCE. There is an inscription that survives from his lifetime found in the city of Halicarnassus (modern Turkey), which calls Augustus

…The native Zeus

and Savior of the human race

There’s something interesting about all of this. It does indeed sound familiar, but not for the same reasons. Let’s consider what is said by a Bart Ehrman blog which can be found here. If you will look through, the exact same references are used and many times, the same language is used. Ehrman is also a favorite of Muslims, so this doesn’t surprise me, but again, can the writer show that this happened with Jesus in a Jewish context?

This is yet another example of a divine saviour of mankind. Now Octavian happened to also be the “son of God” by virtue of his divine father Julius Caesar. In fact Octavian became known as ‘Divi filius’ (“Son of the Divine One”). These, of course, are all titles widely used by Christians today to describe Jesus. We must realise that the early Church did not come up with these titles out of the blue, they are all things said of other men before they were said of Jesus. For early Christians, the idea was not that Jesus was the only person who was ever called such things, this is a misconception. The concept of a divine human being who was the saviour of mankind was a sort of template that was applied to people of great power and authority. We’ve seen that the history of paganism is littered with such examples, and Jesus was just another divine saviour in a long list of divine saviours that had preceded him.

And this is it. There is no interaction with the divine claims found in the New Testament. There is no indication that pagans believed in a Trinity. Instead, we have the idea of “Pagans turned humans into deities so the same happend with Jesus.” That needs to be shown on all counts and not just asserted. Let’s look at some divine claims about Jesus.

Chris Tilling has a wonderful book called Paul’s Divine Christology. I have reviewed it here. Tilling’s hypothesis is that if there was something that set YHWH apart as deity it was His position as being in covenant relationship with Israel. When we go to the New Testament, we see this same language, but it’s not so much YHWH and Israel as it is Jesus and the church. The parallel is that Jesus is seen as the one the people of God honor in the New Testament in the way that God is honored in the Old Testament.

Another work worth reading is that edited by Michael Bird called How God Became Jesus. I have also reviewed that here and interviewed three of the authors here. You can get an excellent lesson on Christology there.

I regret that I haven’t read Larry Hurtado’s massive work Lord Jesus Christ yet, but I have read How On Earth Did Jesus Become A God?. Hurtado points to some of our early creedal traditions. Jesus is spoken of as the Lord. The language is saying “Anathema, Maranatha.” It refers to the coming of the Lord and is in Aramaic, something Gentiles were not known for speaking. This is high language of Jesus referring to the coming of the Lord. Romans 1:3-4 referring to the divine nature of Jesus fits in this as well as this is also a creedal statement.

The writer might also be interesting in my talk with Rob Bowman on the Trinity. For John, there is my talk with Paul Rainbow on Johannine theology. There are plenty of other authors that could be read like Bauckham and O’Collins and others. Our writer did not interact with any and it’s very easy to make a case if you ignore all the best arguments against your position.

Also, I point to statements such as Paul’s of Jesus being in the divine nature in Philippians 2 and then the language of Isaiah that was applied to God alone. Revelation has all creation in chapter 5 worshiping Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. Note that the Lamb is separated from all creation. In fact, a fascinating way to study Revelation is to go through and see not what it says about whatever your view is of end times, but what does it say about Jesus?

Matthew also begins with early on having Jesus being seen as Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” In the end, Jesus says He has been given all authority and says “I am with you always.” These are bookends. In the middle, He also says that when two or three are gathered, He is in their midst, which is a reference to what was said about YHWH in the study of Torah by the Jews.

We could go on and on with Jesus forgiving someone in the book of Mark and Mark 1 having Scripture that applied to YHWH being applied to Jesus, with Hebrews, a thoroughly Jewish book, having an opening chapter that is a massive tour de force on Jesus being fully equal with God, and with Jesus saying that all must honor Him as they honor the Father in John. The person wanting to know more about this is invited to go to the best scholars on both sides and study the issue.

In conclusion, I find that the writer just hasn’t made his case. He has spent so much time looking at the pagans, that he has not looked at Jesus at all really. What happened in the life of Jesus? What is the evidence? A suspicion is not the same as an argument. The same arguments made could be used to argue that Jesus wasn’t really the Messiah, which Islam would not want to say.

If the writer wants to show true pagan influence, I hope they do better next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters