The evidential basis for the Book of Acts

The evidential basis for the Book of Acts

Jonathan McLatchie shows how the book of Acts is historically reliable and how it gives credibility to the claim that Jesus really died and rose again.

For further reading on this topic:

Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History

John Saul Howson, The Evidential Value of the Acts of the Apostles

Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary

Stanley Leathes, The Religion of the Christ, Lecture 6

Lydia McGrew, Hidden in Plain View

William Paley, Horae Paulinae

James Smith, The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul

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Objection 1: Jesus never said “I am God, worship me”

Jesus on the Cross
By Zarateman

Alongside our series ‘Why Muhammad is not a prophet’, we thought we’d answer the top ten common Muslim objections to the deity of Christ. This first objection, popularised by Ahmed Deedat, is way the most common and often the first one a Muslim will raise.  So here’s a quick rebuttal, which we hope you find helpful.

Objection 1 – Jesus never said ‘I am God, worship me.’

  1. This is the ‘exact words’ fallacy.

Just because Jesus doesn’t use these exact words doesn’t mean it can’t be true. Just because the Queen is not on record saying exactly “I am a woman and monarch of the United Kingdom” doesn’t mean she isn’t. The  Qur’an never says “tawhid [Islamic monotheism] is God’s truth, you must follow tawhid” – does this mean the Qur’an doesn’t teach tawhid? No, the Qur’an does teach tawhid. Besides, who are ordinary Muslims to tell Jesus, who they revere as a prophet, what He should or shouldn’t have said?  Why not look at His actual words? This leads us to our next point.

2. Why use an argument from silence instead of going to Scripture?

The Qur’an tells Muslims to believe in that which was sent down to us, Jews and Christians, as well as what was sent to them  (Sura 4:136). Allah says he doesn’t make a distinction between the Qur’an and the previous Scriptures (Sura 2:136), that the previous Scriptures are a guidance for mankind (Sura 3:3-4).  Why are Muslims preferring the words of human beings like Ahmed Deedat over Allah’s words?

3. Jesus does claim to be God in John 8:58 and Mark 14:62

How does Jesus identify himself in John 8:58?  Verses 48-58 give the context.

4The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honour my Father and you dishonour me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS BORN, I AM!” (Greek ‘ego eimi’)59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

Who does “ego eimi”  (“I am”) refer to in the Old Testament? Isaiah 43:9-13  from the Septuagint (Greek version of OT):

‘All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, ‘It is true. You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord (Greek kyrios, Hebrew YHWH) ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I AM HE (ego eimi). Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no saviour. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God. Yes, AND FROM ANCIENT DAYS I AM HE. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?’ Isaiah 43:9-13.

“I am” refers to YHWH, the personal name for God as revealed to Moses. YHWH is from ancient days, YHWH is the only Saviour, out of whose hand no-one can deliver.  Jesus is from ancient times (John 8:58, Micah 5:2), Jesus is the only Saviour (Luke 2:11), and no one can deliver out of his hand (John 10:27)! Therefore Jesus is YHWH.

What’s more, the Jews understood perfectly what Jesus meant, hence why they tried to stone him for blasphemy. And it would be blasphemy if Jesus were just a prophet, but Jesus’ claim to be God must be true because Jesus was sinless and not a liar – as the Qur’an also affirms.

27 Jesus’ claim to divinity is even more explicit in Mark 14: 61-64, during his trial before the Sanhedrin:

‘Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

62 I am,” (ego eimi) said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

63 The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64 “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

They all condemned him as worthy of death.

In Jesus’ answer, note the parallels with the Divine Son of Man in Daniel 7:13 who is worshipped by all nations and peoples as God!

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a]coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given 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.

Why is the ‘son of man’ in Daniel  worshipped if He isn’t God Almighty himself? Jesus is claiming to be this very Person! Now turn let’s turn this objection into a question for Muslims:

4. So if Allah tells you to believe in the previous Scriptures (Sura 4:136), and that Jesus was sinless and not a liar (Sura 19:19)  why don’t you worship Him when He claims to be God?

Lord Jesus open Muslims’ eyes to see you for the glorious God and Saviour that You are.

For more in-depth analysis, read this article by Sam Shamoun

 

 

 

 

 

Why Jesus is like Sleeping Beauty (according to Islam)

Sleeping Beauty

The recent debate between David Wood and Shabir Ally on ‘Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?’ exposed an uncomfortable fact for Muslims – that despite the Qur’an’s claim to be a ‘well-explained confirmation of the previous Scripture’ (Sura 10:37 ) neither it nor any of the other Islamic sources remotely explains what happened to Jesus. What you get instead is a big, confused mess.

There is only one ayah (out of 6,236) that mentions Jesus’ crucifixion, Sura 4:157 (Sahih International):

And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

Most Muslims presume from this that Jesus didn’t die by crucifixion; instead they go along with one of two theories. Substitution theory – that someone else died on the Cross,  disguised to look like Jesus while Jesus himself was raised to heaven alive; or Swoon theory, where Jesus passed out on the cross after which he was either taken up to heaven alive (Shabir Ally’s position) or he was laid in the tomb but revived, stumbled on his bloodied, nail-pierced feet unwitnessed and unassisted to Kashmir, where he continued to preach Islam until he eventually died (the Ahmaddi position.)

The earliest tafsir writers support substitution. So who went on this cross in Jesus’ place? According to Ibn Abbas (d.687 AD), it was  the Jew’s ‘man’,  Tatianos. Who is Tatianos? If Muslims were able to identify this person 7 centuries later, how come Christians have never heard of him? Or maybe Ibn Abbas got the wrong story.

Ibn Kathir (d.1373 AD) tells it differently. In his account, Jesus asked one of his friends to volunteer. He chooses a young, rather insistent chap- lucky him.

“Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise” A young man volunteered, but `Isa thought that he was too young. He asked the question a second and third time, each time the young man volunteering, prompting `Isa to say, “Well then, you will be that man.” Allah made the young man look exactly like `Isa, while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and  ‘Isa was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep.

Al Jalalyn ( two writers, d.1459 and 1505 AD) say “he, the one slain and crucified , who was an associate of theirs the Jews was given the resemblance of Jesus.” Some Muslims argue it was a watchman, or Judas (some say Iscariot, others not.) For more detail on who Muslims think might have taken Jesus’ place, read this article by Sam Shamoun.

Identity issues aside, substitution theory creates a serious theological problem:  if it  wasn’t Jesus on the Cross, why did Allah allow millions of Christians throughout the centuries to believe he was? Allah must be very malicious to do that. And it goes against Allah’s own teaching – that no-one will bear the burden of another (Sura 6:164). This is why Shabir Ally doesn’t hold to the Substitution argument, although it remains the most commonly-held position by Sunni Muslims.

Ally’s position, that Jesus was taken up to heaven alive, is based on the verse following Sura 4:157, Sura 4:158:

Rather,  Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.

This verse doesn’t say explicitly that Jesus didn’t die, so Dr. Ally is relying on an argument from silence. But the Qur’an isn’t silent, because in three other verses, it says Jesus dies. Sura 3:55 (see also Sura 19:33 and 5:117)

Lo! God said: “O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto Me

(Note,  not all English translations have this phrase, but it is there in the Arabic– mutawaffeeka.)

Dr. Ally speculated that this verse doesn’t have to be interpreted chronologically: it could mean Jesus was exalted (taken to heaven), and will return one day after which he will die – only there are no other verses that support this interpretation. If anything, the chronological view is supported, as the same formula (reminiscent of the creed in 1 Cor 15:3) is applied to John the Baptist in Sura 19:15:

“And peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he dies and the day he is raised alive.”

No-one doubts that John the Baptist died. Instead Dr. Ally, like Ibn Kathir, speculates that Jesus was taken to heaven in his sleep, according to Sura 6:60

“And He it is Who takes your souls at night, and He knows what you earn by day, then raises you up therein that at an appointed term may be fulfilled. Then to Him is your return, then He will inform you of what you did.”

So Jesus was taken to Paradise in his sleep? Is he still sleeping, like Sleeping Beauty, until Allah wakes him up in time for judgement day? Or did he actually die? The Qur’an strongly suggests it. When he died, was it on the Cross? If not then and there, then where and when? Also, why does the Qur’anic Jesus get to be with Allah in heaven (despite being hopeless at preaching Islam) when Muhammad, the perfect example to mankind, wasn’t sure where he was going? And if Jesus was miraculously rescued from death, how come the same privilege wasn’t extended to Muhammad? Muhammad was fatally poisoned, only Allah didn’t swap him for a lookalike at the eleventh hour.

Dr Ally conceded that not everything in the Qur’an was meant to be interpreted historically, that a bit like “the Hulk shopping for stretchable underwear” (he really said that) just because something didn’t really happen doesn’t make it not true (or words to that effect).

Nice, humorous, vague sentiment – only the Qur’an doesn’t allow itself to be so loosely interpreted. What does Sura 10:37 say again?

And it was not [possible] for this Qur’an to be produced by other than Allah, but [it is] a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the [former] Scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds.

What’s most tragic about this question is that it’s not something the Qur’an even needed to explain, because the Bible presents the death and resurrection of Jesus as historical fact. Not only does the Qur’an fail to explain these facts – it actively ignores them in favour of conflicting, unhistorical, unsubstantiated reports, therefore proving by its own logic that it can’t be from Allah.

David Wood quoted David Hume – “a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence” – and all the evidence for what happened to Jesus is in the Bible. The Bible also tells us why Jesus chose the Cross.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 (John 3:16)

Our Muslim friends at Speaker’s Corner tell us often how ‘logical’ Islam is. Isn’t it logical to go where the evidence leads?

Adnan Rashid’s claims about Islam- part 2

James White and Adnan Rashid

James White and Adnan Rashid had a debate recently on whether or not the Cross is necessary for salvation. In my last post, I analysed the main points raised; in this post, I will hold Adnan Rashid accountable for what he said about Islam.

I will take four of Adnan Rashid’s statements to which I offer my own suggested rapid-fire responses. Each statement could be a debate topic in its own right, and there are deeper theological answers to all of them. But my experience at Speaker’s Corner tells me that more debates are won through a good come-back than through detailed theological explanation. Muslims use this tactic all the time, whether or not their come-backs have any theological support (they often don’t.) A good come-back sticks in the mind of the person watching; it’s the hook that leads them to dig deeper and is something all Christian debaters (myself included) can learn to practice more. Although (needless to say), for the sake of Christ and his truth, as well as our own personal integrity as ambassadors for the Gospel, our come-backs must also be well-grounded theologically.

I’ll try and keep the responses relative to the debate topic for the sake of brevity – for example with the first one, you could go on and on…

  1. “Islam is consistent with the Old Testament”

Is Islam consistent with Genesis 3:21, where the Lord makes ‘garments of skin’ for Adam and Eve, i.e. animal sacrifice, even before the institution of  the Mosaic law? Why does the Qur’an omit this detail? Why, according to the Qur’an, are Adam and Eve expelled from the garden at all, when the Qur’an says Adam received forgiveness from his Lord (Sura 2:37)?  The Bible doesn’t say Adam and Eve were forgiven, it says they were cursed –  in clear contradiction to the Qur’an. Genesis 3 also says that Eve’s offspring would one day crush the head of Satan. No mere human offspring can crush the head of Satan, so it must refer to a god-man – Jesus. That God can become a man is anathema in Islam.

In Exodus, Moses sprinkles blood on his chosen people as confirmation of God’s covenant with them(Exodus 24:8). The Qur’an mentions that Allah made a covenant with the Israelites as God’s people, but it is a covenant based on works, not on blood:

And certainly Allah made a covenant with the children of Israel, and We raised up among them twelve chieftains; and Allah said: Surely I am with you; if you keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and believe in My apostles and assist them and offer to Allah a goodly gift, I will most certainly cover your evil deeds, and I will most certainly cause you to enter into gardens beneath which rivers flow, but whoever disbelieves from among you after that, he indeed shall lose the right way. S. 5:12

The Qur’an even says explicitly that vicarious blood sacrifice does not make a difference to Allah. Sura 22:37

“It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is piety from you that reaches him.”

This stands in direct contradiction to the whole sacrificial system. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest made atonement for himself and the people through the sprinkling blood before the mercy seat of YHWH. In Leviticus 17:11, YHWH forbids the eating of blood because “it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”  If this system was abrogated by Allah, then how can he disregard  his own law without being inconsistent? If he fulfils it, then how? These questions are not answered according to the ‘clear’, ‘detailed’, ‘well explained’ Qur’an (Sura 12:111). Same goes for the role of the High Priest and the priesthood.

The OT repeatedly mentions that YHWH will come Himself to earth to rescue and redeem his people (Gen 3:15, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Job 19:25, Isaiah 9:6). Again – where is the evidence that Allah is a saviour, a redeemer? Why is it not one of his 99 names, when the theme of YHWH redeeming his people is such a consistent thread running throughout the OT?  According to Islam it is impossible for Allah, a monad, to come to earth.

Islam is not consistent with the Old Testament.

2. “Islam teaches just do the law and you will be forgiven.”

What law exactly does Islam teach? Do you mean the Mosaic law, which the Qur’an says is revealed by Allah (Sura 3:3-4, S29:46, S5:47-8) or sharia law, which doesn’t come directly from the Qur’an but is a man-made extrapolation of Islamic teaching? If you mean the Mosaic law – which you say is consistent with Islam – why are you not still sacrificing animals,  keeping the Sabbath, putting to death anyone who curses their father and mother etc? If you mean sharia, please support your statement from Islamic sources that this guarantees forgiveness?  And what do you mean exactly by ‘doing’ the law? Do you have to ‘do’ all of it? Will Allah forgive you if you keep only some, not all of it?

3. “Simply repent and Allah will forgive you.”

But wait, I thought you said ‘do the law’ and you will be forgiven? Now it’s ‘simply repent’? Which is it, and if you meant ‘repent’, where does the Qur’an say this exactly? The Qur’an even states there are circumstances where ‘simple repentance’ is not accepted, i.e. on your deathbed. Sura 4:18

“And of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil deeds until death faces one of them and he says: “now I repent;” nor of those who die while they are disbelievers. For them we have prepared a painful torment.”

4. “We have been promised forgiveness as long as we die as Muslims.”

Now it gets even more confusing. How do you get saved exactly -through repentance, obeying the law (which law?) or dying as Muslims? According to the verse I just quoted, if you do evil deeds your repentance will not be accepted on your death bed. Presumably it’s possible to do evil deeds and still call yourself a Muslim?

In fact, there is a sahih Hadith that supports this statement, despite  contradicting the Qur’an. Bukhari 7:72:717:

Narrated Abu Dharr:

I came to the Prophet while he was wearing white clothes and sleeping. Then I went back to him again after he had got up from his sleep. He said, “Nobody says: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah’ and then later on he dies while believing in that, except that he will enter Paradise.’ I said, “Even It he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft.” I said. “Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft? He said. ‘Even If he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft,” I said, ‘Even it he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and thefts.’ He said, “Even If he had committed Illegal sexual intercourse and theft, inspite of the Abu Dharrs dislikeness. Abu ‘Abdullah said, “This is at the time of death or before it if one repents and regrets and says “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah. He will be forgiven his sins.”

Conclusion

So we see that despite Adnan Rashid’s attempts to make it sound simple and straightforward, every one of his statements about Islam is highly problematic. Islam doesn’t confirm the OT, but in fact either contradicts or denies it, while offering no clear means of salvation whatsoever as an alternative. This is hardly surprising, given Muhammad himself wasn’t sure of his eternal destiny. Sura 46:9 states:

“Say, (O Muhammad): “I am not a new thing among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain Warner.”

Compare this to how Jesus fulfils the OT, as summarised so beautifully in Hebrews 9:11-14  while simultaneously demonstrating the necessity of the Cross:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here,[a] he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Placeonce for all by his own blood, thus obtaining[b] eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,[c] so that we may serve the living God!

We continue to pray and implore Muslims to see Jesus as He really is.

Thank you to Sam Shamoun for helping me understand this topic better. He has done his own rebuttal to Adnan Rashid here.

Questions for Muslims at Christmas

Jesus' Birthday Cake

Last week was officially our last Sunday at Speaker’s Corner in 2017. We wanted a carpet of snow, a beautiful sunset, perhaps a spontaeous rendering of Silent Night performed by a Muslim-Christian choir marking a seasonal cessation of hostilities, and a birthday cake for Jesus. God in His Sovereignty gave us torrential rain, and the choir remains a beautiful dream (next year, boys?) At least the cake came off: all our Muslim friends got a slice even if the candles refused to light and the icing looked  a bit Hallow’eeny.  Add a litany of technical failures and it all made for a wet, rather shambolic afternoon.

But none of the above could shake our joy at what we were there to celebrate – Jesus Christ, God himself come to earth as a vulnerable baby, all because He loves us and would go to any lengths to rescue us. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14.) The same divine, eternal Word that spoke with Abraham (Genesis 15) and Samuel (1 Samuel 3), the Word that will come back in judgement (Revelation 19:13) was Jesus in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes two thousand years ago. Wow.

So what is Allah exactly? Does Allah have a body, a spirit? No one knows. Allah is not a person. To say that he has personhood is heresy. He (and you can’ t really call Allah a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ or an ‘it’ – they are all inadequate) only reveals his/her/its will, not who he/she/it is. You cannot have a relationship with Allah: you exist to do ‘his’ will, pass ‘his’ test. Allah is your master and you are his servant. Compare this with Jesus, who, while we still hated him, became a servant for us – despite being “in very nature God” (Phillipians 2.)

Is Allah a moral being? His 99 names include “the loving” and “the merciful,” but the Qur’an also calls him “the best of deceivers” (S8:30) and says that  “all deception (al-makru) is Allah’s. (S13:42). In His sovereignty the God of the Bible uses Satan’s deceptions to fulfil His plans, but He Himself is not a deceiver – in fact Scripture says it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). YHWH God is, in nature, love.

Does Allah love humans? He doesn’t care if you go to heaven or hell. Some people he has created for hell (S7:179) before they are even born:

“…[Allah] created for Paradise those who are fit for it while they were yet in their father’s loins and created for Hell those who are to go to hell. He created them for hell while they were yet in their father’s loins.”  (Sahih Muslim 33:6436)

Allah is not interested in rescuing or redeeming his creation. The Qur’an ignores the redemption metanarrative of the Old and New Testaments. But YHWH God makes a way for everyone to go to heaven through sending His Son to die on a Cross for us, as prophesied from the beginning in Genesis 3:15 and throughout the OT.  He doesn’t want anyone to perish but wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), while allowing us the  freedom to choose Him or not.

These are our Christmas questions for Muslims. Allah is not personal, but you are personal – why not worship a personal God? Allah’s love is an attribute, along with deception: neither define who Allah is. You know love and deception don’t mix- why not worship a God who is love?  Allah can’t and won’t rescue you – getting to him (but he’s not ‘him’ remember?) is obscure and complex. But you would rescue someone smaller and weaker than yourself, like a toddler on the road – why not worship a rescuing God? It all starts with that baby in Bethlehem.