Why do I find Muslim apologetics so problematic? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I’d also like to remind readers of this blog that tomorrow, I will be hosting Nabeel Qureshi, a Muslim turned Christian, on the Deeper Waters Podcast.
A response to Tark El Nimir
Recently, Muslim Apologist Tark El Nimir has challenged Christian apologist Mike Licona on his Facebook page. Licona is a busy fellow and seeing as I’m his son-in-law and seek to help him out, I figured I’d take up the keyboard and draft a response to El Nimir. His article can be found here.
El Nimir: “Making his case, Michael Licona quoted many historical records, he favoured, the early christians[sic.] knowing well that such records held many discrepancies. Now seeing as the Quran is not a historical document or book, it presents a more factual approach to who Jesus or the prophets was. Michael licona’s[sic.] argument is purely on historic and miraculous evidence that ONLY Christians support. Makes one wonder where Divinity and History agree?”
Reply: Blech! Something’s wrong! The water here tastes nasty! Yes. El Nimir has brought in a well-poisoning at the start saying that the accounts contain discrepancies. Here’s what we are not told about that.
Are the accounts hopelessly contradictory? No answer to that. El Nimir could ask any police detective who has to deal with eyewitness testimony and he’d find out that every case with eyewitness testimony has discrepancies. That does not automatically equal contradictions. Sometimes they can be harmonized. Sometimes, some accounts will contain some errors, but it doesn’t mean the whole is in error.
Are there any attempts to deal with any supposed contradictions? We are not told this as well. We are just given a blanket statement. If El Nimir were really interested in such ideas, he could pick up numerous scholarly commentaries and see the responses that have been given. Some responses are good. Some are not. That is just part of research.
Are the accounts totally unreliable? We are not told that and if we were told an account must be perfect or it has no reliability whatsoever, then we would be in a world of hurt with ancient history. For instance, if the accounts are totally unreliable, should we hold to a Christ-myth position?
For those wondering what we would do, then we just say we do historical study, like we would with any other ancient work. Licona’s position depends on treating the Bible not as the Inerrant Word of God, but as a historical document making claims about Jesus.
Furthermore, Licona’s argument is not based on claims ONLY Christians support. If this were the case, then I could just as well ask El Nimir what other historians besides Islamic ones accept the claim that the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad? Licona’s minimal facts are those that can be attested to by non-Christian scholars. El Nimir can attest to this simply by reading such scholars. The difference between Licona and a non-Christian like Crossan, Martin, or Ehrman, is not largely the facts but rather the interpretation.
El Nimir: “He quotes Mark 14: 61-64, which he believed to be the divine word spoken by Jesus himself. In this passage, Jesus said “…you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power (In Greek-δυνάμεως)…” Why did Jesus choose to say “the right hand of “Power”, and not “God” Himself?”
Reply: This is simply wrong. It’s a circumlocution done out of respect to God, much like Kingdom of Heaven. He’s pointing to judgment motif found in Daniel 7 and the Son will be sitting at the right hand of God when God judges the people who have rejected Jesus. Mike has more information on this passage here.
El Nimir: “Semantically there is a great difference between the two statements. Most importantly, Jesus did not identify God as the divine being, but referred instead to the attribute of God’s Power. It is important to make this distinction because of God’s existence separate to His creation, while His power manifests within all of His creation. In other words, Jesus’ words may be understood as referring to him being supported [within the creation] through God’s power.”
Reply: You would be hard-pressed to find a commentary even by a non-Christian making such a claim. I would argue not only is God’s power manifest in creation, but every attribute He has is. Still, Jesus did identify God as the divine being and every Jew present knew it.
El Nimir: “Jesus clearly indicates in the following passage that his return would be to the Father, who is the shared God of both himself and his disciples: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. John 20:17” It is interesting Jesus thrones “God” but he himself in this passage does not make a distinction between his position or his disciples in relation to the divine “God” yet there is the element he is equal to them nature.”[sic]
Reply: What this has to do with the prior passage, I do not know. El Nimir says Jesus does not make a distinction. If that is the case, then he should have said “Our God.” He never does. Jesus was instead showing that the relationship had been extended. What Jesus had naturally, which came first, they now had by identifying with Him.
El Nimir: “Jesus is Not the Savior of Mankind?
One may be confused to learn that Jesus said “I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Matthew 15:24RSV. Jesus’ Gospel is now ‘undestood’ [sic] to be for all of mankind since Jesus also said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” Matthew 28:19. But that is NOT what Jesus really meant!!”
Reply: No. It’s not shocking unless one is completely unfamiliar with the biblical story. God’s first place to go to was always Israel and through Israel He would reach everyone else. When He came offering the news of the restoration of the covenant, the first to receive the offer was Israel.
El Nimir: “SHOCKINGLY the same verse in the original Greek gospel included the Greek word “τὰ -THE” before the word “nations” as seen HERE. The use of the word “THE” makes these nations specifically targeted as opposed to a general usage, meaning specifically the Twelve tribes of Israel. Yet the word “THE” remains absent in all Bibles, so that the Bible reader will understand making disciples is generally for all nations.”
Reply: This argument is beyond ridiculous. The word the is not always translated in a text as the can be put in for emphasis. Translators do this not to show a conspiracy of some sort, but to make the reading more fluid. Even if there was a “the” in that passage, that is meant to show that it means only Israel? One does not get that impression in Acts 1:8 which is a parallel.
El Nimir assumes that if the article is there, it must be expressed. If that is the case, what happens in a passage like Acts 5:38? If translated that way, it would start “And the now.” No one would think that’s legitimate. Instead, the article there is for emphasis. That is not always the case of course, but it is enough to demonstrate El Nimir does not know what he is talking about.
Consider also if I went to speak at a school and in order to gather the students together, the principal goes on the intercom and says “All students report to the gymnasium.” I go home and talk to my wife Allie later and say “And then, all the students came to the gymnasium. Would anyone say my inclusion of “the” changed the meaning?
El Nimir: “AMAZINGLY, the Bible translators repeated the same error in all verses that ‘says’ [sic] ‘“all THE nation”’ [sic] as in Matthew 24:14RSV “and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations”. see the proof HERE .”
Reply: Apparently, it doesn’t take much to amaze El Nimir. He ignores the fact that the message will be preached to the whole world. Apparently, Jesus must have had a small concept of the world. The word used refers to the Roman Empire. Last I checked, the Roman Empire consisted of other places besides Israel.
El Nimir: “When Jesus uses the phrase “the world” he means the world he was ‘send'[sic] to, which was that of the Children of Israel. ‘why,’ [sic] because he said “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”John 6:33.NIV. We all know the bread here is the revelation of Jesus, for he made it very clear that his revelation was indeed for the children of Israel only when he said: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Matthew 15:26.”
Reply: El Nimir begs the question here. Jesus’s first message was to the Jews, but if we go to Matthew 15, the passage El Nimir reports to, and even the account he mentions, Jesus provides deliverance for a Gentile woman!
Going to a source like BlueLetterBible, we find the following definitions for the Greek word used for “world”
1) the inhabited earth
a) the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks, in distinction from the lands of the barbarians
b) the Roman empire, all the subjects of the empire
c) the whole inhabited earth, the world
d) the inhabitants of the earth, men
2) the universe, the world
Not one matches what El Nimir says.
El Nimir: The Mystery of Jesus’ Two Natures?
“Michael argued the ‘christian’ [sic] perspective of Jesus having “two natures” – the first being his divine nature, and the second his human nature. However, Jesus’ words clearly contradict this perspective. Jesus said: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24 Since Jesus identified God as a spirit, one must also note the definition of a spirit, which Jesus described thusly “a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” Luke 24:39.”
Reply: El Nimir is missing the point that Jesus is talking about God in His essential nature saying God cannot be bound totally to a single place. Not even the doctrine of the incarnation disagrees with this as no one says God the Son was limited to the body of Jesus. In His deity, He still had omnipresence. That deity chose to be manifest in the body of Jesus, just like the cloud filling the temple in 1 Kings 8 does not mean that God was not omnipresent everywhere else. Even when the glory leaves the temple in Ezekiel, it does not mean God is in no sense present or His omnipresence has ceased to be.
Jesus’s point is that He is not just a spirit, but that He is fully human as well. There would be no contradiction between Jesus having an immaterial aspect to Him, such as a second nature, and still being fully human.
El Nimir: “By speaking in ‘semetic’ [sic] parables Jesus became one of the most misunderstood men who spoke in the bible, In order to understand the ‘semetic’ [sic] Jesus one needs to understand what ‘jesus’ [sic] meant when he used the phrases “I” or “I AM”. For Jesus said “I AM the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.John 14:6”
Reply: That’s “Semitic.” I really want to question El Nimir’s judgment when he doesn’t even spell the terms rightly. However, his statement does not speak well of the apostles but rather of Christ. Was Christ such a terrible teacher that He couldn’t get his closest companions to get the message right?
El Nimir: “How can one come to the Father ‘thourgh’ [sic] Jesus? Yet Jesus also said “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” John 6:63.Since Jesus’ flesh is not the way, then it’s the spirit. But how?”
Reply: One wonders what is going on with this kind of hopscotch interpretation where you assume one word means the same thing in every context. The message Jesus is giving is that trust in Him and total reliance on Him is the way to salvation. One must stake everything on Jesus.
El Nimir: “Jesus said “I AM the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. John 6:51” Obviously no one actually ate Jesus, so it is clear that he was speaking metaphorically meaning the “living bread” as his divine message. Yet Jesus said “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Matthew 15:26. Obviously “the children” here are the children of Israel, and the “bread” is Jesus’ divine message. In other words “I AM the living bread” means I AM the heavenly words that come down from God.”
Reply: The bread in Matthew 15 is the divine message, but not in John 6. In John 6, Jesus is contrasting Himself with the bread that came down from Heaven in the time of Moses and saying that He must be the sustenance of the people. Let’s suppose that bread means divine message. Well let’s go through the gospels and see some other places then.
Matthew 4:3-4And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of divine message.”
But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by divine message alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 12:4 how he entered the house of God and ate the divine message of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Matthew 15:33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough divine message in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?”
Matthew 26:17 Now on the first day of Unleavened divine message the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
Mark 6:8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no divine message, no bag, no money in their belts—
Mark 8:14 Now they had forgotten to bring divine message, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Luke 7:33 For John the Baptist has come eating no divine message and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’
Luke 15:17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough divine message, but I perish here with hunger!
John 13:30 So, after receiving the morsel of divine message, he immediately went out. And it was night.
John 21:9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and divine message.
If we apply El Nimir’s standard across the board, it leads to absurdity.
El Nimir: Michael’s views of the Quranic Jesus?
“The biblical verses concerned with preserving Mary’s honor after becoming pregnant out of wedlock can be found in the gospel of Matthew 1:18 “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
I get it; the scribes are saying God revealed through His angel that Joseph should take Mary in marriage so they can tell people that Jesus is Joseph’s biological son. Isn’t this misleading?”
Reply: No. No one is saying Jesus is Joseph’s biological son in the text. They are saying he is Joseph’s legal son. The only way it would be misleading is if the text said Joseph was the biological father. For all intents and purposes, Joseph served as Jesus’s father on Earth, but it was not by biology.
El Nimir: ” ‘I’m asking?.'[sic] Is God so weak that he needs another man to defend Mary’s honor by dishonorable means?”
Reply: This is not a statement about God’s weakness. This is just a statement that God thinks His Son should be raised on Earth by a mother and a father. You’d think that with the Islamic stance against homosexuality, which I do hold to the Christian view on marriage of course, they’d be right there saying a child is best raised by a mother and a father. Strange El Nimir seems to not think of that.
Also, if Mary was doing this for honor, a virgin birth is the last thing she would have said. That would be seen as blasphemy as well. I recommend El Nimir read David Instone-Brewer’s “The Jesus Scandals.”
El Nimir: “Or is God so powerful that he can make a day old child speak in her defense?.”
Reply: He could, but did He? Saying what someone can do is not the same as saying what they did do. By this stance, I could charge El Nimir with any crime committed in his area by saying “Well he could have done it.” Who cares about evidence?
El Nimir: “Furthermore it is surprising how Michael failed to see the miraculous speech of Jesus in the Quran, Or is it that he is blinded by the misleading version of the Bible scribes in Matthew chapter one.”
Reply: Why should one accept the Quranic testimony seeing as it is 600+ years late? Of course, the claim is possible. It’s certainly possible baby Jesus could have spoken, but is it probable? Is there enough evidence from the time to show it? There isn’t.
El Nimir: The Quran is Not Divine Because?
“Micheal said ” What we have of the Quran… is a book that is written 600 Yrs after Jesus …in a different country…culture …language. However the crisis of Biblical misunderstanding started when the New Testament was written in Greek while Jesus delivered his message in Aramaic and Hebrew.”
Reply: How this is a crisis, we are not told. Does El Nimir think professional scribes were so dumb that they could not translate Aramaic or Hebrew into Greek?
El Nimir: “Astonishingly the Bible scribes claimed that Jesus told them, he was to come in their lifetime by stating “according to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. for the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with …call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. (Matthew 10:23 Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27, John 21:22, Matthew 16:28).”
Reply: I can’t help but laugh at these kinds of references since my position is that of an orthodox Preterist that says “Yes. Jesus did come in the lifetime of his disciples like He said He would.” Note that none of those passages aside from 1 Thess. Describes a resurrection. As for 1 Thess., no. That hasn’t happened yet, but the we used is an editorial we. Paul did not know when the time would be so he just used we.
El Nimir: “Shockingly this is the one point where all of the New Testament writers agreed (they will not die physically).”
Reply: Does this include Paul in 2 Timothy who says his life is about to be poured out like a drink offering, a reference to his coming death? How about the prophecy of Peter’s death in John 21?
El Nimir: “For that was the reason they never wrote about the experiences of death,”
Reply: Let me take a shot at this. Could it be because the gospel is about the work of Jesus and not the work of the apostles? Could it also be because maybe when the NT books were written, the apostles hadn’t died yet? Note that James however, one of the twelve, had died in Acts 12.
El Nimir: “why should they, when they all agreed they will meet the Lord Jesus in the air and be with him forever. In truth they all died and -2000- years later we’re asking ‘where is the Lord?’ [sic] Amazingly the Divine answer always stated “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the lord does not take place or come true,that is a message the lord has not spoken” Deut.18:22.”
Reply: Only if we accept El Nimir’s bizarre chronology. For those of us who know how to read apocalyptic texts and recognize when such imagery is not literal, this is not a problem. Perhaps El Nimir should spend time reading real Bible scholars like N.T. Wright.
El Nimir: ” ‘Micheal’ [sic] is not following Jesus but instead he is preaching the false doctrine of Paul who admitted himself to have the blood of the early Christians in his hands by stating “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.” Acts 22:4. Yet God told prophet David “You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.” 1 Chronicles 28:3.”
Reply: Which would apply just fine to Paul if He had been claiming to build a temple. He wasn’t. In fact, he also wasn’t a king, another way it doesn’t apply to him. We might as well say Peter could not have been an apostle as well since he cut Malthus’s ear, which would be shedding blood.
El Nimir: “Paul saw a light falling from heaven when he saw what he thought to be Jesus.”
Reply: Nowhere do I know where Jesus is described as a falling light in the Pauline conversion stories.
El Nimir: “Yet only one time in the Bible Jesus mentioned a “light falling from heaven” saying “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” Luke 10:18. It’s very simple Dr. Micheal, Just take out Paul’s letters, the book of Acts and the Scribes error or editions, then we are left with the Bible most clear prophecy and Jesus own words, that the seal of prophets is to come from the descendents of Ishmael as I gave the irrefutable proof in my Bibical study here”
Reply: It would be nice if El Nimir gave any real sources on textual criticism of the Bible to show that the accounts have been altered to the degree he thinks they have been. In fact, if he is suspicious, I have some quotes from him by a Bible scholar on this topic.
“If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is (Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. Link here”
“In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.”
Who is this Bible scholar? If you clicked the first link, you’d know it was none other than Dr. Bart Ehrman himself, a practical patron saint amongst Muslim apologists.
The essay here is yet another example of why I find it so hard to take Muslim apologists seriously at all. We hope next time there will be real arguments and not Biblical hopscotch.