Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Refuting Ijaz Ahmed’s “Introduction to the New Testament”

By Keith Thompson

This is a response to Muslim apologist Ijaz Ahmed’s video “Introduction to the New Testament Part 1” Because of all of the errors of fact and distortions, I feel a rebuttal is in order. Ahmed’s aim was to disparage the New Testament documents and Christian message with many sweeping assertions and outright falsehoods.

Ahmed begins with some assertions regarding authorship. He asserts, 

“The New Testament’s primary authors are anonymous which means they are unknown, homonymous which means they used the names of other people, common names, similar names, and some scholars believe in one specific case, the case of Paul, that he narrated his letters to a scribe, what we call an amanuensis. So, through church tradition we’ve been told the gospels have been written by four historic individuals: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. However, this information comes from the late second century.”

There are many problems with this compact paragraph of assertions. Ahmed’s claim the primary New Testament authors are anonymous is incorrect. Paul is a primary author and is not anonymous. He names himself as the author in his letter greetings. Moreover, he even names his amanuensis Tertius in Romans 16:22. So that amanuensis is not anonymous either. 

As for the gospels, Ahmed did not interact with Bauckham’s argument that Mark used the common literary device known as inclusio of eyewitness testimony in order to show Peter was the eyewitness ultimately behind the work, so that in essence Peter used Mark as his amanuensis (Bauckham (2006), 132-149). That Mark functioned as an amanuensis of Peter is also confirmed by the work of Jongyoon Moon. In his 2008 doctoral dissertation which was published as a book, he persuasively argued Mark was likewise the amanuensis for parts of the epistle 1 Peter (Jongyoon Moon, Mark as Contributive Amanuenses of 1 Peter?, (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2009). 

Also contained in Mark’s gospel is the “plural-to-singular devise” (C. H. Turner, “Marcan Usage: Notes Critical and Exegetical, on the Second Gospel V. Movements of Jesus and His Disciples and the Crowd,” JTS 26 (1925), 225-240; Bauckham (2006), 156-164). The way the device worked was Mark modified original first-person plural verbs from eyewitness recollections of Peter turning them into third-person plural verbs for his gospel (which appear more unnatural in the Greek). We are therefore looking at the perspective of Peter when this device was used (e.g. Mark 1:21, 29; 5:1, 38; 6:53, 54; 8:22; 9:14, 30, 33; 10:32, 46; 11:1, 12, 15, 20, 27; 14: 18, 22, 26, 32)

We know Luke relied on Mark as a source for about 40 percent of his gospel. Yet, in his preface (1:1-4) Luke affirms his written narrative sources were composed by “eyewitnesses.” This is Luke’s way of telling us Mark was an eyewitness source; an affirmation cohering with our position Mark is based on the eyewitness testimony of Peter. 

Ahmed’s claim Mark’s gospel was only attributed to Mark in the late second century is incorrect as both Papias and Justin Martyr give evidence of Markan authorship or Peter’s testimony being the basis for Mark’s gospel. There is a growing consensus of scholars affirming Papias wrote about A.D. 110 and many arguments for this position (e.g. Robert Yarbrough, “The Date of Papias: A Reassessment,” JETS 26 (1983): 181-191; W. R. Schoedel, “Papias,” in D. N. Freedman (ed.), Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol. 5, (New York: Doubleday , 1992), p. 140; Gundry (2004), 1027-1028; Bauckham (2006), 14; Ulrich H. J. Körtner, “The Papias Fragments,” ed. Wilhelm Pratscher, The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), pp. 176-177). Papias wrote that the way he knew Mark wrote canonical Mark based on Peter’s eyewitness testimony was because travelling students of John the Elder informed him of this (Papias, Fragments VI, quoted in Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.15). And since in the same work Papias confirmed John the Elder knew Jesus and the disciples, John the Elder was in a great position to accurately relay such information. We therefore have testimony from John the Elder going back to the first century confirming Mark was written by Mark based on Peter’s direct recollections.

What about Papias’ writings containing mentions of gigantic grape clusters (Papias, Fragment IV from Irenaeus, Against Heresies V.33.3-4)? Doesn’t this strange story undermine his reliability? Was Papias passing this off as Jesus tradition? No. This teaching is traced to the Jewish works 2 Baruch 29:5 and 1 Enoch 10:18-19. It is also found in The Apocalypse of Paul 22 without reference to it being Jesus tradition (helping to show Papias was not presenting it as Jesus tradition). Papias must have therefore learned of this Jewish material and then used it as a way to explain or interpret Jesus’ teachings as a sort of Midrash. Scholars convincingly posit Jesus’ Matthew 26:27-29 teaching on the millennium which involved wine to be the likely candidate (Charles E. Hill, “Papias of Hierapolis,” Expository Times 117, (2006), pp. 310-314). After all, Papias’s work was called Sayings of the Lord Interpreted. Stephen Young notes, “Understanding this material as commentary rather than tradition that goes back to Jesus would be in keeping with the nature of Papias’s work” (Stephen E. Young, Jesus Tradition in the Apostolic Fathers, (Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), p. 287). Hence, Papias was offering Midrashic commentary, not presenting this teaching as Jesus tradition. What about Papias’ strange sounding teaching about Judas’s fate where he said “his flesh [was] so bloated that he was not able to pass through a place where a wagon passes”? (Papias quoted in Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 316). Doesn’t this ridiculous sounding passage show Papias was unreliable? No. The fact is Shanks has shown those outrageous physical descriptions of Judas actually just represented a common ancient literary device of hyperbolically describing the downfall of the wicked (Monte A. Shanks, Papias and the New Testament, (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), p. 205). They were not to be taken literally. 

Concerning Justin Martyr’s comments on Mark’s Gospel, they are important as Justin lived between A.D. 103-165. In his work Dialogue with Trypho, he quoted Mark 3:17 mentioning “Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue 106). Only Mark’s gospel contains these words (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm G. Eerdmans, 2003), p.146 n. 24; Köstenberger et al (eds) (2016), 277). None of the others do. In the immediate context while referring to the same text, Justin mentions Peter and his name change “written in the memoirs of him [i.e., Peter]” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue 106 brackets mine). Thus, Justin knew of Mark’s gospel and attested the basis of it was Peter, so much so that it could be called Peter’s memoirs. This is great irrefutable early evidence Mark was based on Peter’s eyewitness testimony just as the other evidence confirms. That Justin was referring to Mark's Gospel and not some oral tradition or other material, earlier in the same work he mentions his sources (i.e., the “gospels” and “memoirs of the apostles”) in the plural (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66, 67). This suggests Justin’s comments refer to Mark’s Gospel.

Then there are late second century traditions confirming the same thing from Irenaeus, Tertullian, and then Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark, etc. But there are some different emphases in these patristic quotations suggesting we are dealing with multiple, independent traditions. And the fact no rival theories of this gospel’s authorship are discussed or proposed in the early patristic literature is evidence the traditional authorship view is factual and original. 

Confirming the patristic tradition Mark wrote his gospel in Rome based on Peter’s eyewitness testimony is the fact that 1 Peter 5:13 places both Peter and Mark together in in Rome as close acquaintances. Philemon 1:24 likewise places Mark in Rome. And Acts 12:11-17 connects Mark and Peter since there Peter visits Mark’s home. So, the patristic tradition is substantially strengthened by first century material.

Lastly, if we hold Mark did not write this gospel and instead assert the patristic idea he did is just a fictional invention, the question then arises as to why the early church would designate Mark as the author and not an actual eyewitness disciple like Andrew or Phillip. On this basis we can conclude Markan authorship was not falsely concocted but is reflective of historical truth.

As one can see, it is easy for Ahmed to make sweeping dismissive generalizations, but he has a lot of evidence to deal with. His claim only late second century patristics affirm Markan authorship is a blatant falsehood. The same kinds of arguments can be made for the other three gospels. Ahmed did not deal with the internal and external evidence for the authorship of those works either. 

He did not address Papias’s comments from A.D. 110 on Matthew being written by Matthew (Papias Fragments VI quoted in Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.16). And by the way, when Papias said Matthew composed sayings of Christ in Hebrew διαλεκτω, he did not refer to “Hebrew language” as some critics assume. This Greek word was also used in a technical rhetorical sense with the meaning of Hebrew or Jewish “rhetorical style.” Scholars like Josef Kürzinger, Robert Gundry and others therefore note Papias was saying Matthew was written with Hebrew rhetorical style, not the Hebrew language (Josef Kürzinger, “Das Papiaszeugnis und die Erstgestalt des Matthäusevangeliums,” Biblische Zeitschrift 4 (1960) 19-38; Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994, 2nd edn, 1994), pp. 619-620). I can go in depth and show this from the context. And the phrase "Hebrew διαλεκτω" here is anarthrous (i.e., lacking the definite article) thus strengthening our position Hebrew rhetorical style is in view, not the Hebrew language itself. Upon internal examination of Matthew this becomes obvious. It is why scholars assign a Hebrew audience to Matthew’s gospel. So, the claim Papias said Matthew was written in Hebrew, but that our Matthew was written in Greek, is frivolous. Ahmed also failed to address how Matthew’s Gospel alone mentions Jesus telling Peter not to give offense to tax collectors and to pay temple tax in Capernaum (17:24-27). This is exactly the kind of Jesus tradition a tax collector eyewitness such as Matthew would feel compelled to admit into his gospel. That the first century material affirms Matthew was in fact a tax collector disciple of Jesus, see Mark 2:14; 3:18; Matthew 9:9; 10:3; Luke 5:27, 29; 6:15; Acts 1:13.

Ahmed did not deal with the “we-passages” in Acts (Acts 16:10-20; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; 27:1-28 and 28:16) which show the author was an eyewitness, in conformity with the patristic tradition Paul’s companion Luke wrote Luke-Acts. Nor did he address the scholarly refutations of Robbins et al who reject the we-passages as being eyewitness recollections (C. J. Hemer, “First Person Narrative in Acts 27-28,” Tyndale Bulletin 36 (1985), pp. 79-109); Susan Marie Praeder, “The Problem of First Person Narration in Acts,” Novum Testamentum 29 (July 1987), pp. 210-218); Joseph Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, (AB, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 100-102). In light of Luke being identified as a physician (Colossians 4:14), it is interesting that in the third gospel we see medical interest where the other gospels do not show it. For example, Matthew 8:14 and Mark 1:30 mention Peter’s mother-in-law suffering from a πυρέσσω (fever). Luke 4:38, however, says she suffered from a μέγας πυρετός (high fever). Instead of speaking of a man with leprosy or λεπρος (a leper) as Matthew 8:2 does, Luke 5:12 says the man was πληρης λεπρας (full of leprosy), i.e., his disease was in an advanced stage, etc. Writing to Trypho the Jew concerning Luke 22:44, Justin Martyr (A.D. 103-165) affirmed the authority of the work as well as its author being a follower of the apostles (as Luke was) (Justin Martyr, Dialogue 103). The fact Luke 1:1 mentions Jesus events being “accomplished among us,” means the author was from the same generation as those who walked with Christ. The Greek preposition with the plural pronoun ἐν ἡμῖν (“among us”) occurs seven other times in the New Testament according to my count (Luke 7:16; John 1:14; Acts 1:17, 21; 2:29; 15:7; 1 John 4:9), all with the clear meaning of something being done in the lifetime or presence of the author / narrator. Lastly, again, why would patristics invent the idea Luke wrote Luke-Acts, and not instead attribute the work to an actual disciple of Jesus like Phillip or Andrew if they were just concocting authors? This shows the tradition Luke wrote the work is factual. 

Ahmed did not deal with the fact John’s Gospel itself internally affirms it was written by an eyewitness of Jesus known as the beloved disciple via explicit affirmation (John 1:14; 2:11; 19:35; 21:20-24), as well as the inclusio of eyewitness testimony literary device (John 1:35, 40; 21:20-24; Bauckham (2006), 127-129). Ahmed did not refute the internal arguments made by Bruce et al for John son of Zebedee being the beloved disciple author. He did not touch how in the middle of the second century Justin Martyr quoted John 3:3-5 (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61) while a little later in context mentioning the “gospels” and “memoirs of the apostles” in the plural (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66, 67). He was talking about John and Mark since elsewhere he said Luke was an example of a document written by those “who followed the apostles” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue 103). Hence, Justin knew John’s Gospel was written by an eyewitness apostle of Jesus.

Until Ahmed deals with these kinds of arguments in depth (and there are many more), he is not justified in making sweeping assertions claiming that we do not know who wrote the gospels. There is a lot he has to contend with first. 

Next, Ahmed claims the actual authorship titles on early extant manuscripts of the gospels are not original, but instead appear late and were added onto the manuscripts by subsequent manuscript editors. He focuses on Matthew’s Gospel here and claims “the earliest manuscript of Matthew, P1, has no title to the top of it.” Yet, P1 is not our earliest manuscript on this matter. Simon Gathercole has shown (Simon Gathercole, “The Earliest Manuscript Title of Matthew's Gospel (BnF Suppl. gr. 1120 ii 3/P4),” Novum Testamentum 54 (2012),  pp. 209-235) a flyleaf papyrus dated to the late second or early third century has the words ευαγγελιον κ̣ατ̣αμαθ’θαιον (“Gospel according to Matthew”). Ahmed realizes this early papyrus discussed by Gathercole refutes his case so he briefly mentions it in passing but falsely claims the title “was added to the top of it,” as though originally the papyrus did not contain the title. But the title was not added. It is original to that papyrus. Gathercole nowhere says it was added later in his two studies. The writing of the title itself dates the late second or early third century, so Ahmed is being deceptive. The fact is we have a papyrus earlier than or contemporary with P1 affirming Matthew wrote Matthew.

Ahmed paints the picture that the gospels (with Matthew as a test case) do not have original gospel titles as represented in the earliest extant manuscripts, but that it took many hundreds of years as well as redactions of said manuscripts in order for the titles to be added. The problem with this picture is we also have P75 which is a late second or early third century manuscript (Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, (2005), p. 150; Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1981), p. 51. On Ngonbri’s argument P75 is fourth century, Bruce Longenecker, The Cross Before Constantine, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), pp. 106-107 n. 55 provided three examples of third century stuarograms thereby lessening the force of Ngonbri’s case that the straurogram is a fourth century phenomena in Christianity.). It contains large portions of the gospels of Luke and John. It contains the title ευαγ’γελιον κατα λουκαν (“Gospel according to Luke”) and the title ευαγγελιον κατα [ι]ωαννην (“Gospel According to John”). Gathercole notes there is no evidence these titles were added later by a different hand. They are instead original to the manuscript. Indeed, the evidence suggests the titles share the same hand as the rest of the body of text (Simon Gathercole, “The Titles in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts,” ZNW 104. Bd., S.,.pp. 37-38). Hence, contrary to Ahmed’s picture, we do have early manuscripts with original titles and do not have to wait hundreds of more years for them to be added. What is more, Ahmed failed to address Martin Hengel’s argument that the titles of the gospels are a late first century phenomena (Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, trans. J. Bowden, (London: SCM, 1985), pp. 64-84). Hengel talked about how in ancient book distribution practice titles were common and necessary. He also argued gospel authorship ascriptions being broad and undisputed in the relevant patristic literature is accounted for by the hypothesis the titles were applied to the manuscripts as soon as they began to circulate in the late first or early second century (Ibid., cf. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006), p. 304). What is more, since there were different gospels circulating by the end of the first or early second century, the titles differentiating them needed to be applied early. Thus, the titles are at the very latest early second century. None of these arguments were addressed by Ahmed. 

Next, we turn to the topic of textual criticism. Ahmed quotes David Trobisch stating the aim of the Nestle-Aland 28 Novum Testamentum Graece is not to simply reproduce what the oldest manuscripts like P46 say, but instead to use textual critical methods to arrive at a hypothetical initial text from which all other manuscripts are subsequently derived. There is nothing really controversial about this. All it means is even P46 has some variants and needs to be compared with our wealth of other manuscripts and patristics to help come to the initial text using sound methodologies. Ahmed seems to take issue with the word “hypothetical.” But that is only employed because we don’t have the originals themselves. Well, we don’t have the Koran originals either. It is important to be consistent here. The fact is text critics work hard with good methodologies to come to what they think was the initial text. But because they do not have the originals, they will use the word “hypothetical” in a careful, scholarly manner. The idea Ahmed wants to perpetuate that we do not know what was originally written is contradicted by the testimony of many scholars. I can cite many textual critics or scholars of the relevant field who believe we can uncover the original text based on good text critical principles (e.g. Kurt Aland, “The Twentieth Century Interlude in New Testament Textual Criticism,” in E. Best and R. M. Wilson (eds), Text and Interpretation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 14; Kurt and Barbara Aland (1989), 24; Daniel Wallace in Wallace et al (2006), 54; Matthew Black (1994), 32; Phillip Comfort, Westcott, Hort, Tischendorf, and Soden in Comfort et al (2003), 198-199; Eldon Jay Epp and Gordon D. Fee, Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 4, 6; Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger “In Search of the Earliest New Testament,” in The Early Text of the New Testament, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 4-5, etc). Textual critical techniques are excellent enough tools to allow translation committees and text critics to come to original readings. The best approach to textual criticism is called reasoned eclecticism. It is / was held by most text critics today and of the previous generation. Reasoned eclecticism states we should not prefer any text type over the other but instead examine both external and internal evidence based on sound principles. What are these external and internal principles? (Good summaries of them are to be found in Black (1994), 34-36 and Aland (1981), 280-281). The external principles are: prefer the reading evidenced in broad geographical areas, the one evidenced in most amounts of text types, and the one found in the oldest manuscripts. The internal principles are: prefer the shortest reading, the more difficult reading, the reading most consistent with the original author’s style and vocabulary, the reading most consistent with the immediate context, the reading most consistent with the original author’s broader theology, and the reading that is least like parallel passages (this corrects the practice of certain ancient scribes who would sometimes harmonize parallel texts). Once the external and internal evidence is carefully examined, it is quite easy for scholars to dispel variants and uncover the original text. This is what textual critics have worked very hard to do to ensure sure we have an accurate New Testament. I can provide many examples of how using these principles makes it quite easy to discern original readings. Ahmed would have to call them into question in order to argue we can’t uncover the original text. But he has failed to do so. The fact is as William Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard correctly note, based on these text critical principles, “Estimates suggest between 97 and 99 percent of the original New Testament can be reconstructed from the existing manuscripts beyond any measure of reasonable doubt” (William Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), p. 122).

Ahmed then claims the primitive Christians after Jesus did not believe in inspired New Testament canonical documents, but that such beliefs came much later. He therefore asks, “Are the earliest Christians heretics for not having a New Testament?” However, this matter has been treated at length by Michael J. Kruger in numerous works (e.g. Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), pp. 119-203; idem and Köstenberger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), pp. 125-150, etc.). Ahmed shows no knowledge of such important studies and therefore does not interact with them. He has to, however, if he wants to confidently maintain his faulty position. 2 Peter is a first century document and it states Paul’s letters are scripture (2 Peter 3:16). This means first century Christians held this belief. What is more 1 Timothy, another first century Christian text, cites Luke 10:7 as scripture (1 Timothy 5:18). Moreover, 2 Peter 3:2 gives evidence Christians in first century believed in a New Testament canon. The text says, “you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). As Kruger notes, “Given that the reference to the ‘holy prophets’ is clearly a reference to written texts, it seems that 2 Peter 3:2 brings up the possibility that the teaching given ‘through your apostles’ may also refer (at least in part) to written texts. In fact, 2 Peter 3:16 refers to a particular example of written texts of at least one of the apostles. Since 2 Peter 3:16 shows that Peter understood some of the apostolic testimony to be preserved in written form, then 2 Peter 3:2 begins to appear like a possible reference to the Old Testament canon and the (beginnings of a) New Testament canon” (Kruger and Köstenberger (2010), 132-133). Moving on, we have first century sources affirming first century Christians were already engaged in public church readings of Christian texts regarded as canon. Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27 and Revelation 1:13 evidence this practice, and it mimics the practice of Jewish public readings of the Old Testament canon in synagogues (For the Jewish practice see Luke 4:17-20; Acts 13:15; 15:21 (Ibid., 133)). It should also be pointed out many scholars believe the first century gospels of Matthew and Mark were written with liturgical structure for the purpose of public church readings. This would again mimic the Jewish practice of publicly reading inspired Old Testament canon in synagogues. The implication is the original New Testament authors were aware they were writing inspired canonical texts. Lastly, I could mention how the early apostolic fathers and Justin Martyr attest to the view that the New Testament documents were inspired. Consult Kruger for all that evidence on that. These are the kinds of things Ahmed would need to deal with before he goes around claiming the earliest Christians did not believe New Testament texts were inspired canon.

Next, on the issue of what we can know about the character and sincerity of the original apostles, Ahmed quotes Markus Bockmuehl’s assertion that the early sources don’t tell us much about Peter, that many scholars doubt if Peter wrote 1 and 2 Peter, and that the same is the case with Peter’s connection to Mark’s gospel (Markus Bockmuehl, Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), pp. 3-5). I don’t really care for these kinds of assertions. To take them at face value without doing the hard, historical work yourself is being credulous, even if the assertion comes from a scholar. I am more interested in evidence and sound argumentation. But Ahmed claims Bockmuehl is a “conservative scholar” and so therefore his comments carry more weight. He boasts that he quotes even conservatives to establish his points. However, I engaged in a correspondence with Bockmuehl and he told me he would not identify himself as a conservative scholar.

Bockmuehl's email

Regarding Bockmuehl’s objections specifically, I agree we do not have a full biography of Peter from the earliest sources. But this is because he was not the main focus of primitive Christianity. Jesus was. That is why we instead have a full biography of Christ. We do not need a full biography of Peter. We know enough important things about him which are sufficient to say things about his sincerity and character. We may not know much about his origins, except that he was a fisherman. But the gospels present him as an impetuous (often speaking first or being outspoken) and repentant type of person. His missionary activities are partly treated in Acts and by Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans which mentions the labors of Peter and Paul in Rome. Paul also mentions Peter a number of times in his letters which can be used for biographical information. And Peter’s martyrdom is attested in Clement of Rome’s early Letter to the Corinthians which I date between A.D. 81-96, as well as in John 21:18-19. With Paul’s life we have quite a bit of biographical information from his letters, Acts and the apostolic fathers. So, I fail to understand Ahmed’s claim we do not know much about the character or sincerity of the apostles. I think we do. We have evidence from the New Testament, early patristics and even secular historians like Josephus that disciples like Peter, Paul and James were willing to and did in fact die for their beliefs (Acts 20:25; Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 5, 6; John 21:18-19; Tertullian, Scorpiace, 15; idem, Prescription Against Heretics, 36; idem, Caius and Dionysius quoted in Eusebius, Church History, 2.25.4-8; Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 12; Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 9; Hegesippus in Eusebius, Church History, 2.23:8-18; Clement of Alexandria in Eusebius, Church History, 2.23.3; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1:200-201). John the Baptist was martyred as well (Mark 6:16-28; Matthew 14:6-11; Luke 9:9; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2). And he believed in Christ and points of Christian theology as the synoptic tradition affirms. The point is people don’t die for known lies. Thus, this shows at least Peter, Paul, James and John the Baptist believed what they preached and, in the case of the first three, what they wrote. On the character and sincerity of the disciples, we also have the weighty testimony of the early apostolic fathers. Ignatius testified Paul was a “holy” man (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 12). Papias confirmed Mark was reliable as a writer when doing short-hand for Peter: “Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took special care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements” (Papias, Fragments VI, quoted in Eusebius, Church History, III.39.15). Papias also affirmed the reliability of the testimony (i.e., “living and biding voice”) of Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew, and the other disciples (Papias, Fragments I quoted in Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.4). I discussed Clement’s late first century mention of the deaths of Peter and Paul. But he also confirmed such apostles were “illustrious” and wrote that Peter firstendured not one but many labors” (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 5). He also confirmed Paul was a good example of “patient endurance” and that “he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West . . . [and] taught righteousness unto the whole world” (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 5). In the early second century Polycarp affirmed Paul wasblessed and glorified and that heaccurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth” (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 3). He also stated Paul and the other apostles were obedient and patient people (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 9). Craig correctly notes the disciples of Jesus were “simple, common men, not cunning deceivers” and had nothing to gain in worldly terms by proclaiming what they did (William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 3rd edn, 2008), p. 340). So contrary to Ahmed’s claims, a good case can be made for their sincerity and character.

As regards Bockmuehl’s comments on the authorship of 1 Peter, there are dozens of New Testament scholars (possibly hundreds) who argue it was written by Peter. I can provide many commentaries and introductions doing so. 2 Peter is more complicated but quite a few scholars recognize Peter wrote this letter as well. The difference in style and language between 1 and 2 Peter need not lead to the conclusion Peter did not write the latter (this is a major reason many reject 2 Peter’s Petrine authorship). Recognition of the use of different amanuenses being common practice in this period accounts for such differences. I think the current popularity of this negative view of 2 Peter is more of an example of preference falsification in society. This is where there is social pressure to conform to prestigious secular and unbelieving opinions of the day. The rejection of the possibility of intelligent design is another example of this, even though there is good evidence for the theory. Ahmed believes in intelligent design and also realizes there’s pressure to deny it in academia in order to remain in the prestigious “in club,” so-to-speak. Bockmuehl’s email response to me itself demonstrates this, as he is weary of identifying himself as a conservative because of the stigma the title has in the West. With that said, there are a good number of scholars who offer evidence for the traditional authorship of 1 and 2 Peter, as well as refutations of arguments against these views (e.g. I can think of Schreiner, Bigg, Jobes, Kruger, Guthrie, I. Marshall, Moo, Köstenberger and Kellum and Quarles, G. Green, J. A. T. Robinson, Waltner and J. Charles, Carson and Moo, and Blum, etc.). After examining both sides, I do not find the arguments for pseudonymity of these letters convincing at all. In fact, there are good arguments against the notion. 

Concerning Peter’s association with Mark’s Gospel, I already showed the evidence is now so overwhelmingly strong that anyone who merely appeals to secular critics on the matter is doing it a serious disservice. The bulk of evidence needs to instead be dealt with. Again, for the first gospel we have the device of inclusio of Peter’s eyewitness testimony, the plural-to-singular device involving Peter’s perspective, Dodd’s observation Mark parallels the preaching of Peter in Acts, Luke’s insistence he utilized eyewitness sources in his prologue, taken together with the fact we know Luke used Mark as a source, Jongyoon Moon’s corroborative evidence Mark was also the amanuensis for parts of 1 Peter, as well as the weighty testimony of Papias, Justin Martyr, and various other internal and external considerations Ahmed has not addressed. Instead of just asserting those who deny a Petrine connection to Mark are correct on the matter, this evidence needs to actually be interacted with. Ahmed knows this. But instead he just makes sweeping dismissals without overcoming the data (a clear example of deceit). 

Ahmed then claims Paul may have endorsed using deceit, “according to how one reads Paul.” But the only way you can read Paul as supporting deceit, is if you misread him. Ahmed is referring to Romans 3:7’s mention of “my lie.” The verse says, “But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?” (Romans 3:7). However, if one takes the time to actually read that part of Romans, it is very clear Paul is engaging a theoretical unbelieving Jewish interlocutor as a way to refute objections against Christian teaching. “My lie” is part of the speech of that interlocutor. Scholars point out the hypothetical Jewish objections to Paul’s teaching are found in vv. 1, 3, 5, 7-8a. Paul’s Christian answers are found in vv. 2, 4, 6, 8b and in the ensuing discussion. Because the Koran is incoherent and lacks context most of the time, and Muslims are therefore accustomed to reading religious texts without caring about context, they therefore confuse v. 7 as being Paul’s statement indicating his mindset, when in reality it again is a verse which is meant to be read as a Jewish interlocutor’s objection to Paul. The best Romans commentators recognize this (e.g. Dunn, Moo, L. Allen, Schreiner, Longenecker, Hodge, Morris, Käsemann, Gundry, Harrison, Cranfield, etc.). How one can turn things around and make it as though Paul were saying he was a liar is inexcusable and a prime example of severe Muslim comprehension difficulties. 1 Corinthians 2:14 explains this Muslim blindness by noting natural, unregenerate people cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God (i.e., scripture).

The other text Ahmed and various Muslims distort on this matter is Philippians 1:18 which says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in honest or dishonest motives, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). However, even a basic examination of the context shows Paul was saying his heretical opponents still mention Christ to others which is a good thing, despite their dishonest preaching motivations. These dishonest preaching motivations consisted of people only evangelizing because they envied Paul, wanted rivalry with Paul, and wanted to afflict Paul while he was in prison (v. 15, 17). Would Paul really endorse envy, rivalry, and this affliction against himself? No. Therefore, he was not “endorsing their dishonest motives” as Muslims sophomorically claim, but was just saying that at least Christ is still being preached even though all of this is nonsense is going on.  

Ahmed’s final argument is a distortion of the words of the third and fourth century church historian Eusebius. Ahmed claims Eusebius appealed to Plato to endorse lying and falsehood. However, Licona and Habermas have already refuted the misuse of this quotation in a lengthy discussion (Michael R. Licona and Gary R. Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), pp. 275-277). Eusebius’s quote reads,
 “[PLATO] 'But even if the case were not such as our argument has now proved it to be, if a lawgiver, who is to be of ever so little use, could have ventured to tell any useful fiction [R. G. Bury trans.] at all to the young for their good, is there any useful fiction that he could have told more beneficial than this, and better able to make them all do everything that is just, not by compulsion but willingly?

‘Truth, O Stranger, is a noble and an enduring thing; it seems, however, not easy to persuade men of it.'

Now you may find in the Hebrew Scriptures also thousands of such passages concerning God as though He were jealous, or sleeping, or angry, or subject to any other human passions, which passages are adopted for the benefit of those who need this mode of instruction’” (Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 12.31).
Eusebius merely affirmed it is okay for God to use anthropomorphic language if it resulted in the benefit of humanity. Well the Koran uses anthropomorphic language for Allah as well. Does Ahmed really believe Allah has literal hands (Koran 3:73) and a literal throne encompassing the entire heavens and earth (Koran 2:255)? Or will Ahmed affirm Koran 42:11 which says nothing is truly like Allah and therefore take those passages symbolically? He needs to be consistent and condemn the Koran if he is going to condemn Eusebius and the Bible for permitting anthropomorphic language. If you carefully read the Eusebius quote in question, Plato did not even encourage lying. Licona and Habermas correctly summarize all he said was “he believes he is correct in his belief, but even if he is not, his belief is still expedient” (Ibid., 276). And all Eusebius said was “The Hebrew writers attributed human qualities to God to explain why we should not worship other gods and the reason behind other laws” (Ibid.). Even in the very quote Ahmed cites, those who are willingly just are commended, and: “Truth, O Stranger, is a noble and an enduring thing” (Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 12.31). So, Eusebius cared about truth and was not endorsing lying for the gospel as Ahmed claims. Clearly once again he is ignoring context or he is unable to understand it. 

The fact is the early church exhorted people to be truthful, be lovers of truth, and to avoid lies and deception. Just as the Old Testament explicitly and consistently speaks against lying and deceit (e.g. Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 19:18-19; Psalms 120:2; Proverbs 6:16-19; 12:19, 22), in Mark 7:22 Jesus names deceit as an evil thing that defiles a person. In Mark 10:19 Jesus commanded his people to not bare false witness. In John 4:24 we read, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In John 14:6 Jesus said he is the truth. Since Jesus is the truth, the natural application for Christians is we are to therefore be truthful if we want to honor him. In Acts 13:10 Paul identifies deceit as being demonic. In Romans 1:29 Paul charges the unbelieving world of things he considers evil such as deceit, murder, and envy. In Romans 2:7-8 Paul views obedience to truth as that which leads to eternal life. In 1 Corinthians 5:8 Paul promotes the metaphorical unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. In 2 Corinthians 6:7 Paul promotes truthful speech. In 1 Peter 2:1 Peter commands Christians to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” 1 John 1:6 condemns lying and not practicing truth. Finally, Revelation 21:8 says liars will burn in hell. I could cite many more texts to refute Ahmed and show the early Christians clearly valued truth and despised deception.

With all of the lies I have caught Ahmed in while addressing his introduction, it is clear he is the true practitioner of deceit. After all, Muhammad permitted him to be deceptive. Muhammad allowed his followers to lie as long as it led to a successful murder of an enemy of Islam. In Sahih Bukhari we read,
 “Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: 

Allah's Apostle said, ‘Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?’ Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, ‘O Allah's Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?’ The Prophet said, ‘Yes,’ Muhammad bin Maslama said, ‘Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab). ‘The Prophet said, ‘You may say it’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 271)
The applicatory principle for Muslim polemicists like Ahmed, then, is that they are permitted by Muhammad to deceive Christians and say false things concerning theological matters (as Ahmed did in his introduction), just as long as such deception results in the spiritual death of Christians (and / or conversion to Islam). Those reading Ahmed need to therefore be aware of this overarching deceptive Islamic worldview. There is also the matter of Islamic taqiyya and its various applications which need to be kept in mind when reading the material of Muhammadan apologists. That sums up my rebuttal to part 1 of Ahmed’s introduction. Stay tuned for my response to his second installment once it is made available.

1 comment:

  1. I too have a critical apologetics blog: