I. Al-Ghazali’s Erroneous Understanding of the Incarnation.
Al-Ghazali’s understanding of the incarnation is derived from the Egyptian Jacobites who believed that the incarnate Christ comprises a mixture of divine nature and human nature:
God created the humanity of Jesus, on him be peace, then he appeared in it, and united with it. They mean by the union that a connection occurred between him and it like the connective relationship between the soul and the body. Then with this connective relationship, a third reality occurred, different from each of the two realities, composed of divinity and humanity, and having the attributes of all that is required from each of them, with respect to him being God and man. [Al-Radd, pp. 127, 129]
The Jacobites represented the more extreme wing of monophysitism [from monos (single) and physis (nature)] followed Eutyches who taught that either the two natures of Christ must have been fused into a tertium quid [(a third thing that is indefinite and undefined but is related to two definite or known things] or that the humanity must have been swallowed up by the divinity. [J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine 5ed. (A & C Black, 1977), p. 333] God created the humanity of Jesus and then united with it in such a way that the third reality which results from this connection shares all the attributes of divinity and humanity. Continue reading “Answering al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity Part 4. The Coherence of the Incarnation”
Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” This verse testifies that Jesus shared the glory of God in his preexistence. However, al-Ghazali explains away the explicit teaching of the verse by imposing an unprecedented meaning to the word “glory”. He asserts that “the factual meaning is not intended, because in the fullness of the glory that was given to him is prophethood and messengership, and what entails from them in rank, the ascent to heaven, and his power to perform unprecedented miracles.” [Al-Radd, p.111]
Based on his Islamic presuppositions, Al-Ghazali rhetorically asserts that intelligent people would agree that there is an absolute ontological dichotomy between the Father and Christ, “Is it possible that divinity be bestowed when the impossibility of this is a matter upon which intelligent people have unanimously agreed?” However, he does not explain why the divinity of Christ is an “impossibility.” Neither does he offer any evidence to support his claim that it is “a matter upon which intelligent people have unanimously agreed?” His argument is merely an exercise in rationalizing away the plain meaning of the text and aligning them with the premise that the divinity of Christ is an impossibility.
Jesus claims to be divine when he declares publicly to the Jews, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) However, al-Ghazali insists that the statement should be understood metaphorically rather than as literally. For him, Jesus’ prophetic mission was to show people the true God and to worship him alone. A literal interpretation of John 10:30 must be rejected as this would entail Jesus calling people to worship him instead of the true God. Jesus’ oneness with God describes his obedience which enables him to receives power from God to discharge his mission. Continue reading “Answering Al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity. Part 2. Arbitrary Metaphorical Interpretation.”
A. False Premises Distort the Reading of the Gospels
Unlike Muslim polemists who reject out of hand the divinity of Christ without examining the biblical evidence, Al-Ghazali mounts a critique of the divinity of Christ based on his reading of the gospels. However, the ineptitude displayed by al-Ghazali in his handling of the biblical texts seriously undermines his critique.
We look at school children with kind indulgence even when they repeat their mistakes in their class assignments. However, we are dumbfounded when a great thinker like al-Ghazali, whose mastery of philosophy is indisputable, commits glaring mistakes in his analysis of the gospels which are written in lingua franca (koine Greek) to be read daily by ordinary people. Somehow he ends up devising contorted metaphorical readings when the simple meaning is in plain sight.
[This summary of Al-Ghazali’s, A Fitting Refutation of the Divinity of Jesus (Al-Radd al-Jamil) marks the beginning of a series of responses to Muslim polemics against Christianity written by classical Muslim philosophers like Al-Ghazali, Ibn Tamiyya, and Abu Isa al-Warraq]
Historically, the Islamic view of the Bible has been one of ambivalence. On the hand the Quran affirms that the Torah is a word of God and that the Zabur (Psalms) was given to David. While the Quran is silent about the four gospels, it assumes that there is one Injil that was given through Jesus, “He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel.” (Surah 3:48). On the other hand, the Quran accuses Christians and Jews of being guilty of having distorted and altered Scriptures (tahrif).
The dispute between the Sabah-Sarawak churches and the government over the rights of Christians to use the “Allah” word in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible (Alkitab) has lasted more than 10 years. The Malaysian church leaders continue to reach out to government officials to find an amicable solution even as they await the judgment of the court in two cases where Sarawak and Sabah Christians sued the government for their right to use the word in the Alkitab.
The dispute has lasted so long that it no longer garners attention as front-page news. Not surprisingly, many young Christian leaders today fail to understand the fundamental concerns that compelled the church leaders to bring the dispute to court – the dispute over the “Allah” word would not have arisen if the Malaysian authorities acknowledge the undeniable historical fact that Christians in Malaysia who use the word are merely following the honorable tradition of Arabic Christians who have been using the word for centuries long before the advent of Islam. By prohibiting Christians from addressing their God as “Allah”, the Malaysian authorities are violating common sense and human courtesy.
Dr. Bart Ehrman is raising significant questions about the reliability of the Bible. In an engaging way, he is questioning the credibility of Christianity. His arguments are not new, which he readily admits. Numerous Biblical scholars profoundly disagree with his findings. This site provides responses to Dr. Ehrman’s provocative conclusions.
Two comments from readers: 1) I watched the debate between Peter Williams and Bart Erhman as well as Erhman’s other presentations over Youtube. Williams arguments are persuasive but he was uncomfortably defensive in contending with a combative and skilled debater like Erhman. Erhman position is that one can accept the gospels and the New Testament writings from the theological point of view and I suppose he meant by faith but not from the rigorous analysis of historians. Would appreciate your thoughts on this.
Bart Ehrman attributes his loss of faith to his study of early manuscripts of the gospels. He shared that he grew up as a fundamentalist (note his journey from Moody Bible Institute to Wheaton College and then to Princeton seminary) who upheld a rigid understand of inerrancy. Following his rigid understanding of inerrancy, Ehrman insists that if God inspired the writers he wouldn’t have allowed scribal errors or textual variants. As such, Ehrman abandoned his faith when he was exposed to manuscript variants during his seminary studies. The basis of Ehrman’s faith couldn’t have been more flimsy or misplaced. It is certainly indefensible. Ehrman’s view of inerrancy is uncommon as it would be hard to find a conservative scholar working with biblical manuscripts and Christian origins who actually who shares Ehrman’s rigid view of inerrancy. However, unlike Ehrman, conservative scholars do not seem to be troubled by the existence of manuscript variants. Perhaps, Ehrman has other hidden reasons that led him to abandon his faith. Indeed, Ehrman continues to rely on his distorted view of inerrancy as a fig leaf to camouflage the real reason for his loss of faith which is probably a deeper problem of the heart. That he continues to stigmatize conservatives with his earlier distorted view of inerrancy suggests that it serves as a convenient strawman for him in his writings. Continue reading “Comments on Peter Williams vs Bart Ehrman Debate on the Historical Reliability of the Gospels”
The hallmark of Williams’ responses to Ehrman was his use of common sense, both in presenting his own case and in responding to Ehrman’s objections. Williams’ case for the reliability of the Gospels in this debate is based in part upon a compendium of fascinating external confirmations, such as name statistics, measurements, and topography. Pace Ehrman, these small details do constitute evidence that, as Williams says in his book Can We Trust the Gospels?, the authors knew their stuff. The small, difficult things that the evangelists get right are all the more impressive given the major upheavals in social customs and culture in Palestine, and the dispersal of the inhabitants, after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70…
This emphasis on details is highly relevant to Ehrman’s attempts to characterize the Gospels as unreliable because they were, he says, written at multiple removes from the events they describe and hence corrupted over time by a “telephone game” process of transmission. In making this argument Ehrman repeatedly tries to emphasize the fact that the Gospels were written down several decades after their events. Williams rightly counters by pointing out that the Gospels do not have specific dates on them and that we should look at the evidences within them of their coming from those close to the events. Even though Luke, for example, was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, it does not follow that Luke recorded stories that had been repeated many times as in the telephone game–a point Ehrman repeatedly ignores. Continue reading “Peter Williams Shows the Right Way to Debate Bart Ehrman”
Ehrman’s Equivocation and the Inerrancy of the Original Text
Peter Williams did well in his recent debate with Bart Ehrman [Unbelievable? Peter J Williams and Bart Ehrman – Are the Gospels historically reliable?] although I wish he were more aggressive and forcefully challenged Ehrman’s presuppositions of secular historiography. Yes, Ehrman is a world-class expert in textual criticism, but he is a biased secular historian pretending to write objective history of Christianity. His competency in theology certainly lags behind his expertise as a textual critic.
Evangelical theologians have not done as well in their debates with Ehrman because they allow Ehrman to dictate the terms of the debates. Ehrman always insists that he will only answer questions on history and not theology whenever his opponent raises an issue which would require value judgment (theological judgment). But in truth, Ehrman is constantly making value judgments in his interpretation of the historical data based on his secular presuppositions. His opponents should remind him of the hermeneutical principle framed by the great scholar Rudolph Bultmann that “no exegesis is without presuppositions, inasmuch as the exegete is not a tabula rasa but on the contrary, approaches the text with specific questions or with a specific way of asking questions and thus has a certain idea of the subject matter with which the text is concerned.” In reality, Ehrman is doing history with unacknowledged theological presuppositions all the time as he accepts as relevant historical data only what fits his presumed epistemological framework. Proceeding with this restrictive and skeptical mindset, it is not surprising that Ehrman excels in his role as a spoiler rather than as a scholar offering constructive history of Christian origins. Ehrman’s opponents should call his bluff to be an objective historian when they debate with him. Continue reading “Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors? Part 2: Debating with Bart Ehrman”