Saturday, April 7, 2012

Deity of Jesus Debate- an overview

First, I’d like to thank the North American Muslim Foundation for sponsoring this debate.  For providing a very accessible facility for meaningful discussion.  For providing a serious, competent and gracious scholar in Shabir Ally.  And for providing numerous gracious Muslim’s to interact with.  I have posted some video here but better video (and audio) is available here.

Yet the discussion wasn’t advanced all that much.  Not much over Shabir’s presentation in a short book that he published in 1996.  A book entitled Is Jesus God.  A book that I hope to discuss more in future. A book that for the most part utilizes old Jehovah Witness-type arguments.  Just one book among many that were graciously being given away by the Muslim Foundation.

Yet, Shabir did provide some new angles in the debate.  Presented 8 lines of argument.  Argument which he believes is cumulative.  
Presented some more old textual and redaction criticism.   As if these objections haven’t been answered well before.   
And Shabir spent far too much time playing the highly speculative Gospel Dating Game.  Another game that goes nowhere.  Nothing that serious scholars haven’t considered long before and quickly found irrelevant.  Serious scholars like “F.F. Bruce [deceased] and Richard Baukham” which Shabir appealed to for the old Markan Priority argument.  Scholars that believe that Jesus is God regardless of any Dating Game.

Shabir also appealed to the old Fig Tree argument again (seems Muslims really like figs). With a hilarious and contemporary response from James.  What a hoot. 

Shabir also presented a novel argument from the Prodigal Son parable (as a rebuttal of James opening presentation of ‘Jesus having the power to forgive sins’  in Mark 2).  Where it is to be understood from this parable that it is ‘entirely the Father that provides the mercy’.  
Where Shabir alleges that it is to be understood- that ‘since there is no mention of the involvement of Jesus in the forgiveness of the prodigal, that ultimately Jesus is not God’.  Hmmm…  an ‘argument from silence’, I guess.  Considered to be the very weakest type of argument by many.
And an understanding that would be lost on those hearing the parable (and lost on me if Shabir hadn’t brought it up).  An understanding as James White aptly pointed out- that 'fails when it is considered that the parable is actually focused on the recipients of the Fathers mercy'.  That it is actually focused on the prodigal Gentiles that seem to be repenting and believing in the Father’s mercy rather than the pretentious Jews that are not.  That the actual provider of this mercy is not the point of this parable (something I have dealt with here).  The argument also fails to recognize that various servants were also employed in the providence of such mercy to the Prodigal Son.

Shabir also appealed to the YHWH argument.  Where YHWH is “always considered to be the Father”.  While James responded that YHWH (often transliterated as “LORD”) does indeed include the Son in the O.T.[cf. Exodus6:3].   And James enlisted neo-orthodox N.T. Wright in his defense of this conclusion.  I might have enlisted some of Larry Hurtado or Simon Gathercole’s recent stuff.
Shabir conceded somewhat by saying that “Lord” has “ambiguous application”.  Yet still refused to allow the ambiguity of LORD [an editorial consideration] to be applied to Jesus.

Shabir also challenged James'  proof-of-deity from the early Carmen Christi hymn.  That oft-disputed passage in Philippians 2.  A passage where the term “greater” remains misunderstood by a vast number of English readers (let alone ESL readers).  A term that as any serious Math student will tell you ‘is talking about quantity not quality’ (bigger is not necessarily better, girls).
Here Shabir insisted that Jesus did not have the same qualities as the Father if he did not have the same quantities as the Father.  And Shabir trotted out the standard line that ‘God simply cannot have a dual-nature since God is [merely] spirit’.  Another argument from silence here.  And a strictly philosophical line that limits both His qualities and His quantities.  A line that would limit His ability to create material from immaterial as well.

And this was an aspect that James picked up on in his closing statement.  An aspect that the Apostle Paul and Athanasius were quite determined about.  That if God did not become material… then our material bodies would most certainly be doomed.  That our hope would most certainly be futile. 
A hope that Shabir and James agreed to debate in the future.  A debate that I hope to see in the future.  And a hope that I look forward to seeing in the future.

May the greater hope win.

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