The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Origins and Theological Significance

Alleged Pagan Origins
(1) A wonder birth or a supernatural birth is one of the commonest ideas in folk-tale and myth. In not all of these, however, is there what can strictly be called virgin birth. The latter certainly does not occur where ancient myths of the birth of heroes, great men, or kings are concerned. In spite of direct evidence of true human descent, myth told how a god was their real father…In these myths also the mother is already wedded, and the divine parent is father in a purely physical sense and has a material form, in that form taking the place of the husband…the woman is already married, and the birth is not, strictly speaking, a virgin birth…

Those who regard the Virgin Birth as mythical trace it to (a) Jewish, (b) pagan sources. (a) The Jewish source is found in Is 7:14. No Jew, however, ever applied this to the birth of the Messiah, though it was in accord with Matthew’s method to use it as pointing to an event otherwise known to him. Other critics have conclusively proved that the myth of virgin birth was unknown to Jewish thought. Continue reading “The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Origins and Theological Significance”

Historical Origin of Divine Christology. Part 2 – Exaltation Christology in Luke-Acts

I. Luke 22:69
It was understandable that Caiaphas demanded an explicit answer from Jesus to the question whether he was the Messiah. Perhaps a display of miraculous power would be in order. After all, God will not abandon his Anointed One in the face of deadly opposition. But Jesus refused to call upon legions of angels to rescue him. What could Jesus be thinking about himself, his relationship with God and his mission when he allowed himself to be arrested and abused by his enemies?

Jesus refrained from any public declaration of himself as the promised Messiah because he did not want to pander to the political and nationalistic expectations of the Jews. His ambiguous answer to Caiaphas was intended to expose the insincerity of his questioner. Nevertheless, he was fully assured that he was God’s chosen servant despite facing adverse circumstances. It is significant that Jesus corrected the high priest by substituting the ‘Son of Man’ for the ‘Messiah’. By referring to the ‘Son of Man’, Jesus answered the question on his own terms and stressed the transcendent character of his mission against all political misinterpretations. /1/ Continue reading “Historical Origin of Divine Christology. Part 2 – Exaltation Christology in Luke-Acts”

The Exalted Christ in the Book of Acts: Reading 1 on Historical Origin of Divine Christology

The Messianic King
The exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God means nothing less than his enthronement as messianic King. Peter concludes his first sermon with the affirmation, “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Taken out of context, this saying could mean that Jesus became Messiah at his exaltation and represents an “adoptionist” Christology. However, the context makes it clear that Jesus was the Messiah in his earthly ministry, and the immediate context makes it clear that Peter means to say that Jesus has entered in upon a new stage of his messianic mission. He has now been enthroned as messianic King. Continue reading “The Exalted Christ in the Book of Acts: Reading 1 on Historical Origin of Divine Christology”

Answering al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity Part 4. The Coherence of the Incarnation

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”

Answering Al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity Part 3. Biblical Evidence for the Divinity of Christ.

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.

Al-Ghazali’s abuse of the meaning of the word “glory” reminds me of the enigmatic conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s book, Through the Looking Glass. Continue reading “Answering Al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity Part 3. Biblical Evidence for the Divinity of Christ.”

Answering Al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity. Part 2. Arbitrary Metaphorical Interpretation.

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.”

Answering Al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity. Part 1: Evasion in the Name of Metaphor

 

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.

How could a great thinker like al-Ghazali’s  stumble in his handling of basic biblical texts? Continue reading “Answering Al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity. Part 1: Evasion in the Name of Metaphor”

A Fitting Refutation of the Divinity of Jesus (Al-Radd al-Jamil) by Al-Ghazali. Part 1

[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).

Some Jews distort the meaning of [revealed] words: they say, ‘We hear and disobey,’ and ‘Listen,’ [adding the insult] ‘May you not hear,’ and ‘Ra ina [Look at us],’twisting it abusively with their tongues so as to disparage religion. If they had said, ‘We hear and obey,’ ‘Listen,’ and ‘Unzurna [Look at us],’ that would have been better and more proper for them. (Surah 4:46. Abdel Haleem translation). Continue reading “A Fitting Refutation of the Divinity of Jesus (Al-Radd al-Jamil) by Al-Ghazali. Part 1”

Redemption as a Touchstone for Right Theology in the Nicene Controversy

Arianism [the ancestral fountainhead of modern day Jehovah Witnesses] posed a dangerous threat to the Church in the 4th century when it challenged the orthodox doctrine of the deity of Christ. In his refutation of Arianism, Athanasius the orthodox theologian displayed rare insight by identifying the doctrine of salvation as the heart of the dispute and cogently demonstrating that soteriology is a touchstone to determine the acceptability of any theology for the Church.

Arianism initially gained popularity because it offered an attractive path to salvation, that is, by imitation of Christ who perfected his own virtues through self-discipline and then enables his followers to do likewise. Christ as the first of the perfected creatures and his perfection is the promise of the heights that believers may aspire to achieve. Christ is the pioneer and perfector of our faith since he perfected his virtues while possessing the same human weaknesses as we have. Naturally, Arianism emphasized the human characteristics of Christ at the expense of his divine qualities, to which Athanasius retorted, “For looking at the human characteristics of the Savior, they have considered him to be a creature.” Continue reading “Redemption as a Touchstone for Right Theology in the Nicene Controversy”

Debunking Christianity in 5 minutes? Debunking the Debunkers

Link to Dawah video: Debunking Christianity in 5 Minutes by Abdur-Raheem Green, Zakir Naik and Shabir Ally. The title suggests that Christians should be cowering in fear when they are confronted with a video which features how three prominent dawah polemists debunk Christianity in 5 minutes. However, their criticism fails as it is based on … Continue reading “Debunking Christianity in 5 minutes? Debunking the Debunkers”

Link to Dawah video: Debunking Christianity in 5 Minutes by Abdur-Raheem Green, Zakir Naik and Shabir Ally.

The title suggests that Christians should be cowering in fear when they are confronted with a video which features how three prominent dawah polemists debunk Christianity in 5 minutes. However, their criticism fails as it is based on weak logical argument and misplaced attacks on caricatures of Christianity. The confidence of these ‘debunkers’ may mask their ignorance of the rudiments of the Christian understanding of the Incarnation. But their reliance on rhetoric and logical fallacies are easily exposed: Continue reading “Debunking Christianity in 5 minutes? Debunking the Debunkers”