Muslims have always felt uneasy with the difficulty posed by Christian doctrines which, though they answer the more important questions faced by humanity, are diametrically opposed by the theology of Islam, namely: the problem of original sin, the atonement, and the person-hood of Jesus Christ. This dilemma is compounded by the fact that the Bible, as the older and therefore presumably the more authoritative revelation contradicts the Qur'an on these very points. To alleviate this situation a favourite ploy by Muslims has been to point the finger away from the originator of these doctrines, Jesus Christ, and towards a later figure, Paul, employing the axiom that Paul who comes later cannot be as authoritative as Jesus who came before. Unfortunately the very premise for this assumption when applied to the context of the Bible vs. the Qur'an is seemingly lost on the Muslims in the process.
This is not a new tactic, and al-Kadhi once again resurrects this favourite theme rather then deal with the much greater difficulty concerning why the Qur'an has failed to answer the problems of sin, atonement, or the person-hood of Jesus Christ.
In order to adequately provide answers concerning who can be credited for many of our foundational beliefs as Christians; Jesus or Paul, it might be helpful to summarize in two short paragraphs al-Kadhi's essential themes.
In his paper, Al-Kadhi contends that Christians interpret the words of Jesus within the context of Paul, and though Jesus is the greater, Christians continue to bypass his teachings in lieu of Paul's teachings. Jesus, he says never mentions 1) original sin, 2) the atonement, 3) the worship of Himself, or 4) that He was a part of the trinity. These al-Kadhi believes are unique to Paul's teachings, which seem to centre around two further themes; that the law through Moses is worthless (citing Romans 3:28), and that the only criteria for eternal life in heaven is a belief, or faith in the crucifixion of Christ.
In comparison, Jesus he says, completely contrasts this view, demanding his followers to keep the commandments (Luke 18:20); and while Paul seeks to support the worship of Jesus as Lord, Jesus himself points away from worship of himself to the worship of God alone (citing Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8; and John 4:21-23). In the end, al-Kadhi claims that not once does Jesus endorse the preachings of Paul, and therefore neither should we.
Let's take each of these challenges one-at-a-time.
[A] PAUL IS USED TO INTERPRET WHAT JESUS SAID:
It is true that many Christians interpret the words of Jesus within the context of Paul.
This is only natural, as Paul expounds more clearly the teachings which Jesus had initiated. Paul takes the sayings of Jesus and applies them to the setting of the first century. It is because he expounds on the teachings of Jesus that he is so practical, and therefore so attractive to Christians, even those of us living in the twentieth century.
This should not be difficult for Muslims to understand. They too have a similar scenario, for there are many ideas and stories in the Qur'an which cannot be understood or explained without referring to the subsequent Muslim traditions, particularly the compilation of Hadith, written hundreds of years later.
There is much missing in the Qur'an; stories are left unfinished, others are interjected with little background narrative. Many of the rules and regulations which dictate the lives of ordinary Muslims do not even exist in the Qur'an. Therefore, in order to find out how they are to live, or what they are to do in a particular situation, the Muslims must refer to the traditions; made up of the Sira of the Prophet, the Hadith, the Tafsir and the Tahriq. Yet, these traditions (especially the most authoritative Hadith, compiled by Bukhari, and Muslim) were not even compiled until the ninth and tenth centuries, a full 200-300 years after the fact!
It is to them that the Muslims refer when there is a question of doctrine. Take for example the five daily prayers (the 'Salat', made up of Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha prayers). All Muslims are obliged to practice these five prayers as they belong to the second of the five pillars, or 'Deen' (practices) of Islam. If one were to look in the Qur'an for these five prayers, for their names or even where they are listed they would be disappointed. There are four passages which mention the prayers in the Qur'an: Suras 11:114; 17:78-79; 20:130; and 30:17-18. When we look at each passage separately we find that they speak of three prayers and not five (though many Muslim commentators today try strenuously to pull five prayers out of these verses). Knowledgeable Muslims know that in order to find the names for the five prayers, as well as the story which mentions how they were chosen (known as the 'Mi'raj'), we need to go to the later Hadith written by al-Bukhari in the ninth century.
Paul's writings are similar. They also fill in the small details, putting 'body' to the teachings of Jesus. There are few Christians who would deign to throw out Paul's epistles because they are so relevant to the context of the early church; much as there are few Muslims who consider the Muslim traditions to be non-authoritative. The later writings for both faiths are essential to understand that which came before.
Yet, when we compare the two sets of literature, Paul's writings and the Muslim traditions, there is a troubling difference, for we can be sure that what Paul wrote was read by eyewitnesses who would have been quick to confront him if he was wrong. The same cannot be said of the later Muslim traditions, written hundreds of years later by people who didn't even know the prophet, nor lived in the same area. Ironically, the accusation by al-Kadhi that Paul had his own agenda which he imposed on Christ's teachings is an accusation which applies far better to the Muslim traditions than it does to the epistles of Paul; for Paul at least had a corrective, the disciples and believers in the early church who were eyewitnesses to everything Paul wrote about. What corrective did the later compilers of the Muslim traditions have? The eyewitnesses had been dead for hundreds of years, and no-one really knows whether the stories which had been passed down over the intervening time were authentic or not since we have no documents to which we can refer. It is questions such as these, which put the accusation 'back into his lap' which al-Kadhi would indeed have difficulty answering.
It is reasonable therefore to go to Paul, because that which he speaks about expounds on the earlier teachings of Jesus Christ, but in more detail, and with greater application.
[B] PAUL'S EPISTLES CONTRADICT THE GOSPELS:
Al-Kadhi continues by maintaining that the Gospels are diametrically opposed to the material found in the letters of Paul. To support his assertions he points to a number of supposed "contradictions" between that which Jesus taught and what Paul wrote, declaring that these prove the message of Jesus, a true Jewish Pharisee, was not the same as that of Paul's.
These are indeed claims which are difficult to take seriously, yet, they demand an answer. For without the authority and authorship of Jesus Christianity simply would fall apart. If one could show that Jesus delivered a different message than Paul, then indeed there would be room for concern.
Upon closer scrutiny of the scriptures, however, we find that Jesus and Paul are not at all in contradiction with one another, and that most of what Paul claimed had already been stated before by Jesus and the other disciples, though in a different way. Indeed, what is abundantly clear (as mentioned earlier), is that Paul was not at all the founder of Christianity, but its greatest expounder. To illustrate this point let's take the few examples forwarded by al-Kadhi himself.
1) Original Sin:
While al-Kadhi does not define what he means by original sin, the doctrine that the human heart is profoundly corrupt is abundantly clear in the teachings of Jesus. For example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is addressed to His own disciples, yet in Matthew 7:11, again still talking to his disciples Jesus assumes that all his hearers are evil, saying, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children ..."!
In Matthew 15:19 Jesus provides a devastating assessment of the human heart, remarking, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, then false testimony, slander." The same teaching, in a slightly more forceful tone, is found in Mark 7:20-23. What is interesting about these two passages is the corollary teaching by Jesus that physical cleanliness has nothing to do with spiritual purity, an idea foreign to most Muslims. Again, how are we to interpret the remark by Jesus in Mark 10:18, where he states, "...No-one is good-except God alone," if not that every human being is corrupt?
What is Jesus about when he does miracles or exorcisms, but reversing the effect of original sin. In fact much of the focus of Jesus' ministry was towards sinners. Thus in Mark 2:17, while being questioned by his disciples concerning why he should be eating with Levi, the tax-collector, considered to be a sinner, Jesus replied, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." This passage parallels Matthew 9:13 when he remarks that he has not come to call the righteous but sinners. Christians understand this to mean that none are righteous. It is safe to say that Jesus' whole ministry was to restore that which was broken by sin.
Possibly the key chapter on original sin is that found in the book of John chapter 3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order for any man to see the Kingdom of God he must be "born again" (verse 3). The question needs to be asked, why does a man have to be born again? What is wrong with his first birth? Obviously, the condition of humanity in their present state was not good enough. The answer is found a few verses later when Jesus declares, "I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (verses 5 & 6). Echoing what we find later in Paul's letter to the Romans, we find Jesus attesting to the sinful nature of the flesh (brought about by the introduction of sin in the world which we read about both in the Bible, in Genesis chapter 3, and in the Qur'an in Sura 2:35-39). The implication here is that the fleshly nature (original sin) must be replaced with God's pure nature given to us by the Spirit.
Indeed, Jesus spoke often of the sinfulness of humanity. Thus it simply isn't true that the idea of original sin is a notion created by Paul.
Al-Kadhi maintains that the atonement is also not taught by Jesus, stipulating that this is unique to Paul's writings. But is this the case?
Jesus clearly taught that His own blood was to be a penal substitution for His people. In Luke 18:14 we find a clear statement of Jesus' doctrine of justification.
Consider the story of the last supper found in Matthew 26:28. In this passage he says, while offering the disciples the cup representing his blood that, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins," echoed again in Mark 14:24 and Luke 22:19 & 20. These three passages are all independent of Paul (Mark's source was Peter). Jesus said the bread was his body, and the wine his blood. How much more explicit can you get? That is a clear expression of atonement. Forgiveness comes, thus, through the shedding of his blood. Yet, all Jesus was doing was to confirm something which was there from the beginning, from the story of Cain and Abel, where one sacrifice was accepted and the other rejected. Cain's sacrifice was from his own work, that which he had grown, but Abel offered the blood of the lamb as the hope of his salvation.
"Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin" (Hebrews 9:22). This principle is found right through the Old Testament (Leviticus 17:11; Genesis 22 etc...). No Jew ever believed that he could attain the forgiveness of sin just by asking for it (refer to the books of Exodus and Leviticus to find the many sacrifices ordered by God for this very purpose).
Thus, Jesus was now saying that forgiveness could only come through His own blood. There are a number of scriptures where Jesus mentions the need for His blood to be sacrificed. In Matthew 20:28 Jesus says, "just as the Son of Man ... [came] to give his life as a ransom for many," which is followed by John 6:51 where he states, "This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world." In John 10:11 he continues by declaring, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep." These three passages reveal Jesus speaking of the need for a blood sacrifice, specifically, His blood sacrificed.
This is a point completely lost to Muslims, even though they continue the tradition of sacrificing a goat during the time of Eid, though the meaning has been changed to that of remembrance for what Abraham had done earlier. It always puzzles me why Muslims never question the significance for Abraham's sacrifice. Is it no wonder then why they find the idea of atonement so objectionable. Were they to seek the meaning behind this practice in the preceding scriptures they may not protest the atonement quite so readily.
These passages mentioned above clearly speak of the need for atonement, and that Christ had come expressly for that reason. To claim that this idea is unique to Paul simply goes against what we read in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Why al-Kadhi has missed these very important verses I don't know.
3) The Worship of Christ:
Al-Kadhi continues by trying to show that Paul preached a religion based on faith in Jesus Christ, whereas Jesus contradicted this by preaching a religion based on following the law of Moses (Luke 18:20), as well as the worship of God alone (Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8; and John 4:21-23).
The real problem with this position is that al-Kadhi, and many Muslims like him do not understand the Biblical concept of worship. They consider worship as an activity that one does at set times (praying five times a day...or participating in any of the five pillars for that matter). As a contrast the Biblical concept of worship concerns the way one lives one's life. In many ways Christians play into the same trap by using a person called a 'worship leader', who is nothing more than a musical arranger, or someone who leads the singing in church. If one worships God by obeying Him and believing in Him, then Jesus does command the worship of Himself. In John 3 Jesus sets Himself up as the one who must be believed in if salvation is to be gained. Who can do this except the true object of our worship? Whomever can save us from Hell is the object of our worship (John 5:21-26; 10:28). If Jesus requires us to believe in Him (John 3:16,17; 11:25-26), to follow Him (John 8:12), to obey Him (John 3:36), to keep His commandments (John 14:21-24), then we worship Him.
The example in the scriptures is that Jesus accepted worship. The angels are commanded to worship him in Hebrews 1:6. Thomas, one of the disciples, when shown the wounds of the crucifixion in the upper room bowed down in worship in John 20:28, and the two Marys outside the tomb, when they met Jesus, "came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him," Matthew 28:9.
It is clear that if Jesus accepted worship then this could not have been an idea which was created by Paul.
4) The Trinity:
As a final accusation, al-Kadhi claims that Jesus never considered himself to be a part of the trinity. Before we offer an answer it is important to note that this word does not exist in either Jesus's or Paul's teachings, as it was not coined until the second century, by the early Christian writer Tertullian, as a description of what we find in scripture for the nature of God.
To return to the problem at hand, the most explicit teaching on the relationship between the Father and the Son is all found in the mouth of Jesus himself. John 17 is the foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity. In verse 3 he identifies the Father as the one true God - this scares some Christians off, but it must not. Until Jesus has identified what his own relationship to this one true God is, we cannot yet say whether he is excluding himself from the title of God. In verse 5 he requests that the Father glorify him with the glory that he had with the Father before the world began. Who but God can pre-exist creation? In verse 24 he wants his disciples to join with him and the Father, not so that they can see the glory of the Father, but so that they can see the glory of Jesus - who the Father loved before creation. Jesus constantly asserts throughout the chapter that he and the Father are one - and promises that the disciples will be bound together as one, and that they will be brought into the union that exists between the Father and the Son. Verse 21 says that the disciples are to be one in the Father and the Son - not that Jesus is just another disciple, but that the whole church finds its unity both horizontally and vertically in the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Possibly the best way to deal with the concept of who Jesus is in relationship with the Father, is to use the model that the gospels most often use. He is the one sent by the Father to do the Father's work. Why doesn't the Father do the work himself? Why does the Father hand all judgement over to the Son? Why does he allow Jesus to forgive sin? Why does Jesus teach that people must believe in His name if they are to be acceptable to the Father? Jesus is the Christ - the anointed one - prophet, priest and king. It is worth emphasising him as priest - God sends his own Son to be his priest - Yes, the Son receives his life from the Father, just as the Spirit receives his from the Father and the Son - Yes, Jesus does not say or do anything except what the Father commanded him to do - BUT, none of this is contrary to the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is not that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equal in function - only that they are all completely divine. The Father is the source of the life of God, but there has never been a time when the Son was not with him, nor was there ever a time when the Father was without his Spirit. The Father did not become the Father at a particular time. He has always been the Father. He is unchangeable. As Jesus says, he was with the Father, sharing his glory before there was a creation. He was sent out by the Father, to do the will of the Father, not because he is not God, but precisely because he is God. Only the Father's own divine Son can do all that the Father requires him to do. Only the one who shares the life of the Father can claim that all access to the Father must be through him alone.
To say, as al-Kadhi does, that it was Paul who created the view of Jesus as deity is to reject the earlier christology of the Jerusalem church and the evidence of Jesus's deity found in the book of Acts. Of key importance is Peter's statement in Acts 2:33-36 that Jesus has been raised to God's right hand, from which he has poured forth the Holy Spirit, and has been made both Kyrios (Lord) and Christos (the anointed one). Numerous titles of deity were attributed to him by Luke, such as: Messiah (Acts 3:20f), Servant of God (Acts 3:13,26; 4:27), the promised Prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37), the Prince of Life (Acts 3:15; 5:31), the Holy and Righteous One, and the "stone" of prophecy (taken from Psalm 118:22), rejected, but now made the head of the corner (Acts 4:11). These all predate the more developed delineation of Jesus as deity expounded by Paul in his epistles.
There are other references concerning the deity of Christ. The above should suffice however to clearly show that it was not Paul, but Jesus himself who taught the idea of his deity.
5) Salvation by Faith:
We now come to al-Kadhi's final contention that Paul alone speaks of salvation by faith, possibly referring to the classical endorsement for this idea in Ephesians 2:8-9, and Paul's conviction in Romans 3:28 that the law through Moses is worthless. The supposition is that Paul calls for faith without works in contrast to Christ's teaching on good works (which al-Kadhi believes is found in Luke 18:20).
Yet if we were to read the entire passage of Ephesians 2 (including verse 10) we would find that Paul does speak simply of salvation by faith, but follows it up with the need to do good works. There is no denial here of good works at all. The two go hand-in-hand.
What's more, it is rather ironical that the passage al-Kadhi points to in Luke 18:20 is not an example of Christ's teaching on following the laws at all. When we read the entire passage once again (verses 18-30) we find Jesus telling the young ruler that the commandments are not enough, that one needs to sell everything and follow him. In other words the highest commandment is to put Christ first, to leave all our other securities behind and put our faith entirely on him. If anything it is the centrality of one's faith in Jesus Christ which is at the centre of this passage and not a teaching on good works.
The idea of salvation by faith is simply not unique to Paul. Jesus also speaks of salvation by faith in John 3:14-15. There is nothing one has to do in order to be saved but believe in the Son, Jesus Christ. Salvation, thus, comes through faith in Jesus Christ, so that we can receive the spirit of Christ, which then leads us to do good works. Most people want to separate the two ideas, and make them sound contradictory. Yet Paul and Jesus taught both.
But what do we do with references where Paul is suggesting that, "a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law" (Romans 3:28)? Does this not present problems? Is it not contradictory? In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus says, "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets". Later Paul says that Jesus had come to abolish the Law and Prophets (Colossians 2:14). Al-Kadhi believes Paul is contradicting Jesus here. But is he?
According to the Christian scriptures there were two covenants: a) the law of Moses (made up of legal or moral laws as well as ceremonial or ritual laws), and b) the new covenant, which came through Jesus Christ. What Paul is referring to when he says the old law is abolished, are the ceremonial and ritualistic laws which were for the Jews alone (Colossians 2:13-15). No Syrian or Arab or any other gentile was commanded to keep these laws. Only the Jews were, as it made them distinct from all other people, as the chosen of God. What Paul was abolishing were these ceremonial laws which excluded the gentiles from being the people of God. The moral law still holds. Yet, one can be forgiven if they contravene this law, providing they repent.
Paul and Jesus are therefore not contradicting one another. In fact Jesus was establishing the Moral law in Matthew 5:17. One needs to continue reading from verse 21 (and following) to see that He then goes on to delineate what those moral laws are.
Jesus taught that the law would hold good until it had been fulfilled. Jesus himself fulfilled the law. He showed the teachers of the law what the law really wanted. He was everything that the law dreamed of. He was without sin. Notice how he says, "you have heard it said in the law, but I say..." He is aware that he is the end of the law. After him there is no more use for the Mosaic ceremonial law, but while he was alive he constantly referred to the stringent requirements of the law. The law was quite specifically a relationship between the Jews and God. It begins by saying, "I am the Lord who delivered you out of the land of Egypt." No others but the Jews were delivered out of Egypt. The man in Luke 18:20 was a Jew who was under the law. For those who have a problem with this interpretation we need to ask whether there is any occasion which they can find where Jesus requires a gentile to keep the law? The answer is none. He sets his own commandments up as the standard for his disciples whether they are Jew or Gentile, but the law itself has no endurance beyond him.
It is simple to look at Paul and consider him the founder of Christianity. He indeed was a profound thinker, carrying through many of the difficult ideas of the gospel to their logical conclusions. His ideas were met by a wider audience, and so were written with a wider application in mind. It is thus natural that he has become a magnet for many today. Yet, we must not then assume that his writings are uniquely original, or that they are the foundation for a whole new religion. For it is not Paul at all, but Jesus who is the founder of Christianity. All that Jesus founded, Paul and Peter and the others merely expounded. Jesus and Paul both taught about original sin, the atonement, the worship of himself, and that he was a part of the trinity. They also both taught that there is no salvation but by faith, and that the natural outcome of that faith was a desire to do good works. As I hope I have shown, these are quite evident in both the writings about Jesus and those written by Paul, once we take the time to read the entire context of the passages.
Let us not forget to give thanks for a man such as Paul, for the great work that he has done in explaining the gospel so well. But let us continue to remember that his task was never to elevate himself but to present 'Christ crucified', a belief not created by him, nor something he received from man, nor a belief which he was simply taught. Rather he received it by revelation from the very source to which all his writings were directed, Jesus Christ himself (Galatians 1:11-12).
More on Jesus and Paul
The Rebuttal to "What Did Jesus Really Say?"
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