Saturday, 2 January 2010

Response to Yahya Snow's article: Jesus has Muslim Brothers, Sisters and Mothers

On 22 September Yahya Snow posted on his blog a thread assessing from an Islamic perspective a phrase of Jesus from Mark 3: 35. Yahya attempted to prove that Jesus’ teaching by nature includes those who adhere to the Islamic and Qur’anic teaching, since Muslims who adhere to Islamic teaching naturally do the will of God.

In this rebuttal I intend to respond to Yahya Snow’s assessment of the passage in Mark and a number of additional related points, which he raised on his blog.

Yahya’s post and the related topic can be read on these two threads on his blog: ‘The Facts about Islam’

On 22 September Yahya Snow posted on his blog a thread assessing from an Islamic perspective a phrase of Jesus from Mark 3: 35. Yahya attempted to prove that Jesus’ teaching by nature includes those who adhere to the Islamic and Qur’anic teaching, since Muslims who adhere to Islamic teaching naturally do the will of God.

In this rebuttal I intend to respond to Yahya Snow’s assessment of the passage in Mark and a number of additional related points, which he raised on his blog.

Yahya’s post and the related topic can be read on these two threads on his blog: ‘The Facts about Islam’

Yahya Snow wrote:

‘The Bible Confirms: Muslims are the Brothers and Sisters (and Mothers) of Jesus by Yahya Snow

This may come as a surprise to those who are unaware of the contents of the Bible as well as unaware of whom the Muslims are but rest assured it comes as no surprise to those who are familiar with Prophetic Monotheism.

In order to explain the title let us look into the statement attributed to Jesus within the Gospel of Mark (3:35). Herein Jesus teaches us that his brothers, sisters and mothers are those who follow the Will of God.

Mark 3:35 says
"For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."

The uninformed may ask; how does this relate to the Muslims? Well, the word ”Muslim” simply means one who has submitted to the Will of God, so we come to know that “whoever does the Will of God” is a Muslim.

Thus we realise that Jesus is referring to Muslims in this passage so we should pass on these glad tidings to the Muslims as Muslims are indeed the brothers, sisters and mothers of Jesus’.

Hogan Elijah Hagbard responds:

Now let’s assess Yahya’s interpretation of Mark 3: 35:

Yahya presumes that Jesus’ wording in Mark 3: 35: ‘for whoever does the will of God, he is my brother, sister and mother’ establishes the Muslim claim that Jesus was a Muslim and that every Muslim is joined into the original religion of Jesus.

Yet, as I will pinpoint in this rebuttal, such a use of this passage is neither fair to its Markan context; neither does it do justice to the teaching of the Qur’an itself.

First and most we need to clarify that basing this particular debate on Mark’s Gospel may nevertheless prove futile since Mark’s Gospel is not a teaching Gospel but primarily a narrative Gospel. Hence if the Gospel of Mark is the earliest and the most reliable, as Yahya assumes, it simply eliminates the claim of the Qur’an that the original Gospel was a revelatory book of from heaven, it rather seems that the earliest writing focused much more on the narrative part.

However, let’s consider from the teachings of Jesus in Mark whether a Muslim can adhere to the teachings of the Qur’an and still do the will of God according to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

An excellent example is Jesus teaching on divorce. In Mark 10: 11-12 Jesus says:

‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another women commits adultery with her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery with here’

Yet in the Qur’an we find its author conveying to his readers a very different regulation:

And if ye wish to exchange one wife for another and ye have given unto one of them a sum of money, take nothing from it’ (Sura 4: 20)

And if he hath divorced here (the third time), then she is not lawful unto him thereafter until she hath wedded another husband. Then if the (other husband) divorces her it is not sin for both of them that they come together again if they consider that they are able to observe the limits of Allah (Sura 2: 230).

According to the teaching of Jesus in Mark, if someone was to adhere to this teaching in Qur’an he would be categorized an adulterer; hence adhering to the teaching conveyed by the author of the Qur’an is not abiding by the will of God according to Jesus.

Another example if Jesus’ prediction of his own death in Mark 8: 31:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the Law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about these this and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” he said: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”’

Now I here am getting slightly puzzle about the Muslim interpretation of our scripture here! The Gospels clearly teach that Jesus died physically, while the Qur’an openly denies the death of Jesus (Sura 4: 157). Yet in Mark 8: 31 Jesus clearly describes his death as the will of God.

Hence my question to Yahya and other Muslims at this point is: How can you do the will of God in heaven (based upon Mark 3: 35) if you openly reject the ‘things of God’?

Notice here that Jesus even refers to Peter as Satan, since Peter had the audacity to oppose the will of God in heaven in terms of Jesus’ death and crucifixion.

In case of Yahya’s interpretation of Mark 3: 35, anyone who holds to the Muslim position and rejects the death of Jesus hardly describes a follower of Jesus; hence the faithful follower of the Qur’an is according to Jesus teaching in Mark not adhering to the will of God nor is he the Mother, brother or sister of Jesus, but rather as we read in Mark 8: 31 a devil or someone who represents the cause of Satan.

Hence considering Yahya’s conclusion of Mark 3: 35 in its proper context we find that quite the opposite conclusion is more bearing and accurate.

The flipside of the matter is also worth consideration, that is: Peter changed and embraced the will of God in terms of Jesus death; which means that Peter is no longer a representative of the devil---This same option is left open for every Muslim who wants to embark unto the true path of God.

There were also a number of other points raised by Yahya, which I feel we need to respond to.

Yahya Snow wrote:

We should also acknowledge that this verse is from the Gospel of Mark, this Gospel is thought to be the most reliable of the four as it is the earliest but it is also clear that even this Gospel has been adulterated (or changed) by the scribes; this is seen through the footnotes in the NIV Bible (indicating manuscript differences) especially the last ten verses of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-19) which are forged additions by a scribe(s).

There are a number of fallacies within this paragraph of Yahya.

Firstly he assumes that Mark being the earliest Gospel presumes that Mark is the more reliable of the four. Now Mark is indeed an early Gospel, if we consider the writings of Eusebius, Mark was written in Rome and was brought by Mark to Alexandria fairly early, possibly AD 45-50. I say this because the first bishop of Alexandria was Anniasus who came after Mark and became a bishop in the eight year of the emperor Nero, prior to the persecution (Eusebius, The History of the Church, Book 2, 15, 24). In that case Mark’ Gospel might have been written only 15-20 years after the ascension of Jesus. I am fully aware that many scholars date Mark 60-65, however, the earliest data we possess suggests 50 AD or a date even earlier.

However, Yahya is correct Mark is a reliable Gospel, in fact Mark’s Gospel proves to be a devastating problem for those seek to undermine the Christian faith.

I have spent months studying the nature, order, style and origins of Mark, and it is an incredible piece of literature based upon a dictation, which according to the early Christians was an oral transmission passed on from the apostle Peter to his disciple Mark.

Yahya claims that the gospel has been adulterated. This is quite an exaggerated and unattested claim. You only come anywhere such a possibility if you adhere strictly to the individual theories of source critics; yet these methods are conjecture only and if Yahya is to consider these claims he needs to reject Jesus’ miracles (after all one can only consider e.g. Koester and others who saw the supernatural aspect of Jesus as that very adulteration)

Yet there are good evidences that Mark has been well preserved. How do we know that? There are a number of pointers, both logical, historical and textual. Firstly, Mark’s Gospel is not very good literal piece of reading material, the author or its source had good but limited Greek, but knew Aramaic well, this is very obvious from the text and does not render it a very professional piece of literature. Furthermore, the text is written as sermon, lively and wordy and repetitive, etc; the grammatical side is also an issue.

Now try to ask yourself, does that render Mark unreliable or reliable?

Think of it this way, the very reason why the Gospel of Mark has been preserved in this style without any proper amendment or textual polishing reveals that later Christians knowing this transmission to be conveyed by an apostle were unwilling to make any necessary polishing or amendments; they preserved it in its original style and order. This refutes the allegation that Mark has suffered corruption. If Christians intended to corrupt Mark either to elevate Jesus Christ or some other doctrine they would also amend the literary style of the writing---yet they didn’t.

As to the variants caused by later scribes (which Yahya refers to), we are now moving from a speculative field of study into the field of textual criticism, yet the picture Yahya is presenting is a serious misinterpretation of this field of study and even a misinterpretation of e.g. Ehrman and Metgzer (whose books I love dearly).

I do not mind do an extensive debate on this in a later post, but the so called variants found in the Markan apparatus does not reveal the type of corruption so often exclaimed by the Muslims. The typical variants are typical scribal errors caused by faulty hearing or tiredness. These are typical categorized as spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes, omitted words or sentences, or repeated words or sentences. If the reader wants to studies these issues may I recommend: Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1987) and Bart D. Ehrman Misquoting Jesus.

Interestingly changes were made even of theological nature, yes! You will find the explanation of these in the books cited above.

However since a Muslim is bringing these up we need to consider them in that context. Some errors are indeed of theological significant such as certain corruptions of words in Luke’s Gospel mainly to protect the doctrine of the virgin birth (some local scribes sought to remove any wording in the three first chapters of Luke in Luke which were revealing any parental link between Jesus and his adoptive father Joseph; these passages despite the clear teaching of the virgin birth in Luke were potential lines misused by certain heretics who rejected the virgin birth, hence some scribes in their best intention, changed the wording ‘parents’ to Mary and Joseph).

Now before Muslim exclaim that this is sign that the Bible was changed, he has to consider firstly, that these were local not overall changes. Furthermore, they were detected and do not appear in the majority mainstream manuscripts nor in the Bible we read today (as far as I know). In fact early Christian successors were trained to detect such changes both in the written and oral transmission.

Furthermore, if the Muslim wants to push this matter, that is, if the local corruption of the text to support the teaching of Jesus’ virgin birth was an original fabrication, would that would not refute the reliability of the Qur’an as well since the Qur’an refers to this the virgin birth as factional (this is why Muslims ought to do their homework before they use textual criticism as a method of questioning the Bible).

In fact textual criticism does not support the Muslim view, on the contrary it confirms the accuracy and preservation of the New Testament manuscripts:

Ehrman writes:

‘Most changes are careless errors that are easily recognised and corrected. Christian scribes often made mistakes simply because they were tired or inattentive...In spite of the remarkable differences among our manuscripts, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the oldest form of the words of the New Testament with a reasonable (though not 100 percent accuracy) (Barth Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for the Scripture and Faith We Never Knew, pp. 220-21).

Ehrman agrees in his later book Misquoting Jesus:

‘For my part however, I continue to think that even if we cannot be 100 percent certain...that it is at least possible to get back to the oldest and earliest stage of the manuscript tradition...This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote’ (Barth Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, p. 62)

This backfires upon the Muslim use of textual criticism. While the Muslim focuses on these minor textual issues, which generally are of no significance and typically a local deviation, the fact is that textual criticism has only managed to support the fact that the New Testament was well preserved. If textual criticism is utilized by the Muslim to point out our ignorance of a tiny portion of the New Testament text, then the Muslim also needs to recognise that the majority of the New Testament text has been proven intact and preserved by the methods and discovery of textual criticism; hence if we apply e.g. Ehrman, then the New Testament writings are fairly reliable and consequently the Qur’an needs to be rejected based upon historical investigation. This is why textual criticism backfires against the Islamic religion.

As to Yahya’s reference to the end of Mark 16, it hardly renders any support to the modern Muslim position either. Muslims tend to postulate that because the passage was not part of the remaining Mark or the original Mark, it renders entire Mark as a document of corruption. However, this is overstating a matter in which Muslim apologists lack even the most basic insight. The bottom line is: it does not render the passage as non-canonical or even secondary to the rest of Mark just because the passage is not Markan, this is often the typical misunderstanding of the common reader including some scholars.

We have to understand firstly that Mark’s Gospel is Peter’s own personal transmission of a two-genre Gospel tradition, which was common type of transmission in those days.

However, based upon the Triple-tradition it is obvious that Peter is not simply conveying an entirely different tradition, he is handing over to Mark his own personal transmission of a fixed oral transmission. This was also a common practice, yet a free transmission would naturally vanish due to the fixed transmission, unless of course the free transmission was written down and Mark was indeed written down; a free apostolic transmission (Mark’s Gospel) was therefore preserved with the fixed transmission. This fixed transmission is what you find when you start comparing the three synoptic gospels.

What am I saying here? I am saying that in 50-60 AD Mark’s Gospel, due to the presence of the apostles and the oral transmission, would still be rated as secondary. Who cared if the end was missing? The Christians at this time were reciting the entire Gospel in its two genres and the end of it (found in Mark 16, which Mark summarizes), orally and under the control of eyewitnesses anyway.

So where did the end come of Mark originate? There is one explanation only: if we consider the role of succession and transmission in first century Christianity, the end of Mark came from the oral transmission, hence it is as authoritative and apostolic in nature as the rest of Mark.

Yahya Snow further elaborates:

‘As a side note, this verse from the Gospel of Mark does reinforce the view that the followers of Jesus thought of Jesus as a Prophet rather than God as God would not declare people to be his mothers, sisters or brothers. It also shows that Jesus did not view himself to be God as this is not a statement one would expect of God but one would have expected a statement like this from a Prophet, hence Jesus thought himself as a Prophet.’

I think Yahya is misunderstanding the two natures of Jesus, the divine and the human; this is very typical Muslim fallacy. Jesus looks at his followers here as those who follow his teaching and example, hence in his human dimension it is fair to say that they have a close connection. Notice however, that the point is metaphorical, whether Jesus is God or not, the language is still metaphorical; they are not naturally the family of the human Jesus or divine Jesus anyway. This argument is totally futile.

Yet Yahya somehow derives from this that his followers must from, language such as this, have understood Jesus to have been anything but divine. However, this is not the picture we get from Mark’s Gospel at all. The reader of Mark is on the contrary introduced to Jesus as someone who in his very nature is extraordinary. In Mark chapter 1 God announced no less than twice in the Old Testament prophets his coming (the prophets Isaiah and Malachi). Isaiah in Isaiah 40:3-5 predicts the coming of John the Baptist who prepares the way for the Lord; this Lord is no one else but Jesus Christ. From Malachi we have another interesting description, a messenger who is preparing the way for the Lord who comes to his temple. It is interesting that this same individual is also the messenger of the covenant; what is this but God revealed in an inferior form (Malachi 3: 1). This same Lord and messenger who comes to the temple will also refine and judge the world (verse 2).

In Mark 1: 4-8 John confirms: 1) that he is the prophet who made way for this Lord and messenger of the covenant (now why would God send a human prophet to make the way for a human prophet? The answer lies in the passage itself: this is not a prophet arising among the people, but the Lord arriving in a inferior form); 2) that this Lord is much superior and powerful than John the Baptist himself, even to the extent that John is not worthy of untying the Lord’s sandals (why would a human prophet sense such inferiority because another human prophet?).

What is of greater significant is John’s statement that Jesus is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit, a privilege and ability not ascribed to human agents and which according to the Old Testament prophets is the ability and eschatological action ascribed to God only.

Hence my question is: does this Jesus depict just a human being?

Obviously not. Hence the Gospel of Mark refutes Yahya’s conclusion that the disciples of Jesus were unaware of his true nature. There was certainly a time of ignorance, and when Jesus utilized the family metaphor in Mark 3: 35 they were probably still ignorant, but initially as Mark chapter One reveals they were enlightened about the true nature of the one who metaphorically described them as brothers, sisters and mothers.

Yet to remain in this category, as we have seen from the Gospel of Mark requires quite the opposite of what Yahya presumes it would take to make a metaphorical family member of Jesus.

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A response and challenge to those who oppose the Christian faith.