Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Muslim Abuse and Misuse of Modern Biblical Scholarship

Sam Shamoun

Paul Bilal Williams has a fascination with citing or referring to specific Biblical scholars ad nauseum ad infinitum to attack what he calls fundamentalist Christians, i.e. folks who believe that the Holy Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. He even has a recommended reading list where the only authorities he recommends are those who are critical of the Holy Bible and, in certain respects, quite hostile and intolerant of traditional conservative Christian views.

Williams loves to parade scholars such as James Barr or James D. G. Dunn as authorities who have supposedly proven that the Holy Bible cannot be completely relied upon since it is filled with so many errors and lies.

What makes William’s appeal to such sources rather disturbing is that he fails to take their criticisms seriously enough to apply them to his own religious beliefs since if he did so then he could not longer remain "a right-wing fundamentalist" Muslim.

The fact of the matter is that the statements and conclusions of these same scholars can be used against Williams to prove that the Quran is a book filled with lies and myths, that Muhammad was a false prophet, and that the Islamic deity is false a god.

In light of this we have decided to start a series of articles where we will be quoting some of the same authorities which Williams tries to shove down the throats of Bible-believing Christians so he can see what happens when we apply their statements and assertions against Islam. In that way, we will be giving Williams a taste of his own medicine.

We have decided to go with Dunn for this particular article in order to see what this scholar has to say about the beliefs of the first Christians concerning the Person and work of Christ.

We will be focusing on Dunn’s statements concerning Philippians 2:5-11, commonly referred to as the Carmen Christi or the “Hymn to Christ.”

Yet before quoting Dunn, it is vitally important that we actually cite the text itself:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place (hyper-hypsosen) and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Here is how another translation renders this passage:

Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee shall bow”, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, “every tongue shall confess” that “Jesus Christ” is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father. J. B. Philips New Testament

According to this passage, Jesus Christ chose to set aside the divine privileges and status that he enjoyed by virtue of existing in the form of God in order to take on the position or status of a servant by becoming a human being. He did this in obedience to God’s will which included having to die a shameful death on a cross. In response to Jesus’ willing submission, God highly exalted Christ by giving him a name or authority above and beyond all other authorities resulting in Christ being worshiped as Lord by every created thing.

What makes this particular text so remarkable is that it ascribes to Christ the very status and worship which the OT says belong to God alone!

For instance, it is Yahweh who is the highly exalted Lord of all creation, and he is the one to whom every knee will bow in worship and submission:

[For David, when his land is established.] The Lord reigns, let the earth exult, let many islands rejoice… The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth… Let all that worship graven images be ashamed, who boast of their idols; worship him, all you his angels… For you are Lord most high over all the earth; you are greatly exalted (hyper-hypsothe) above all gods.” Psalm 96[Eng. 97]:1, 5, 7, 9 LXX

“If they will declare, let them draw nigh, that they may know together, who has caused these things to be heard from the beginning: then was it told you. I am God, and there is not another beside me; a just [God] and a Saviour; there is none but me. Turn to me, and you shall be saved, you that [come] from the end of the earth: I am God, and there is none other. By myself I swear, righteousness shall surely proceed out of my mouth; my words shall not be frustrated; that to me every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall swear by God, saying, Righteousness and glory shall come to him: and all that remove them from their borders shall be ashamed. By the Lord shall they be justified, and in God shall all the seed of the children of Israel be glorified.” Isaiah 45:21-25 LXX

Now let us see what Dunn has to say concerning this NT passage:

“(a) Phil. 2.6-II. Since E. Lohmeyer’s study of the passage in 1928 there has been increasing recognition that this is an EARLY CHRISTIAN HYMN which Paul has deliberately QUOTED. The balance and rhythm of the clauses certainly support this view, although the actual structure of the hymn is still in dispute. The strongest clue is probably the parallelism which becomes evident when the verses are set down in couplets, since it is the style of Hebrew poetry to repeat the thought of one (half-) line alternative language in the next. An almost perfect parallelism comes to light if three phrases are regarded as explanatory glosses: v. 8 – ‘the death of the cross’; v. I0 – ‘in heaven, on earth, and beneath the earth’; v. II – ‘to the glory of God the Father’. Perhaps the most satisfactory way of setting it out is to follow the pattern suggested by R. P. Martin:

Who being in the form of God
   did not consider equality with God something to be grasped
But emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave.
Becoming in the likeness of men.
   And being found in the form of a man.
He humbled himself
   becoming obedient to death …
Wherefore God has highly exalted him to the heights
   and bestowed on him the name which is over every name.
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow …
   and every tongue should confess that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.

“… In this case it is much more justified to recognize a strong Jewish influence: the Hebraic poetic form even suggested to Lohmeyer that an Aramaic poem lay originally behind the Greek; there is probably some influence from Jewish reflection on the suffering and vindication of the righteous. But much the strongest influence on the whole is the speculation within many Jewish circles about the sin of Adam, its consequences and God’s remedy. The Christian version of this is of Jesus’ obedience which more than counteracts Adam’s disobedience (cf. particularly Rom. 5.I2-2I). Here the contrast is clear: Adam being in the divine image grasped at equality with God; though man he exalted himself and was disobedient; therefore he was condemned to an existence under the power of sin and death. In contrast, Christ being in the form of God did not grasp at equality with God; he took the form of a slave, accepted the condition of (fallen) humanity, and humbled himself in obedience to death; therefore God exalted him and gave him A TITLE AND HONOUR DUE TO GOD.

“One other issue is whether we have here a three-stage Christology. Does the hyman speak no longer simply of the earthly and exalted Christ, but now also of an earlier stage of mythic pre-history or pre-existence? We should probably not make too much of this however. The primary motif is the humility-exaltation contrast, and the first two lines do not evince any speculative interest in divine being and essence in the pre-history stage. The language is drawn from the Adam narrative and is used primarily to stress Christ’s humility, how great was his self-humbling. This deepening of the idea of Christ’s earthly humility is matched by a corresponding heightening of the idea of exaltation – God SUPER-EXALTED (literally) him and gave him THE DIVINE TITLE kyrios (see also below p. 239).” (Dunn, Unity and Diversity In The New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity [SCM Press, Third Edition 2006], VII Patterns Of Worship, 35. Early Christian Hymns, pp. 146-147; bold and capital emphasis ours)

According to Dunn, this is not a passage which Paul invented, but an early Christian hymn which the blessed Apostle adapted and incorporated into his inspired epistle!

And not only does Dunn agree with the consensus of NT scholarship that this is an early Christian hymn which predates Paul’s writing, he also acknowledges that according to this pre-Pauline worship song the first Christians were confessing that Jesus had been exalted to share in God’s name and sovereign rule over all creation.

Dunn even admits elsewhere that this hymn further confirms that the early Christians believed that Jesus receives the very worship which is only to be given to God!

“Most striking of all is Phil. 2.9-11, already cited at the beginning of this section: ‘at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ (2.10-11). No one who knew their scriptures could fail to recognize the allusion to Isa. 45.23: ‘to me every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.’ What is astonishing, however, is that these words in Isaiah are spoken by God, and in one of the most unyielding monotheistic passages in the whole Bible.

21There is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and Savior;
there is no one besides me.
22 Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is none other.
23 By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear’ (LXX adds ‘to God’).

“At the very least we have to recognize that the Philippian hymn (2.6-11) envisaged acclamation of and reverence before Christ which, according to Isaiah, God claimed for himself ALONE. On any count that is an astounding transfer for any Jew to make or appropriate.

“Yet, at the same time, we have to note the final line of the hymn: ‘every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (2.11). This means that the acclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord involved no heavenly coup or takeover, no replacement of God by Christ. On the contrary, it was God who would be glorified in the confession of Jesus. And not because the one was identified with the other (Jesus is Lord, God is Father). But, most obviously because the one God (of Isaiah 45) had chosen to SHARE his sovereignty with the exalted Christ. In other words, we are back once again in the scenario of 1 Cor. 15.24-28. The UNIVERSAL LORDSHIP of Jesus Christ has been determined and affected by God, but the supreme glory is God’s. (Dunn, The Theology of Paul The Apostle [William B. Eerdmans publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K., Paperback edition 2006] Chapter 4. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, 10. The Risen Lord, pp. 251-252; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Hence, according to the very same scholar whose works Williams likes to parrot, the evidence conclusively establishes that Jesus’ earliest followers believed and testified that Christ shares in the rule of God over all things, possesses the divine name of God, and receives the worship given to God alone!

Dunn isn’t the only NT scholar who acknowledges that this is what the first Christians believed:

“… But the most striking example of this is surely Philippians 2:10-11, which appropriates Isaiah 45:23-25 (originally proclaiming submission to God) to portray the eschatological acclamation of Jesus as Kyrios ‘the glory of God the Father.’

“These applications of Old Testament Kyrios passages to Jesus connote and presuppose the conviction that in some profound way he is directly and uniquely associated with God. For example, in Philippians 2:9-11 Jesus’ status is bestowed by God, who has exalted Jesus and given him ‘the name above every name.’ The creative understanding of Isaiah 45:23 in these verses as predicting a universal acknowledgment of Jesus as Kyrios shows that being given this title must be the Greek equivalent of bearing the Old Testament name of God. We must note that Philippians 2:6-11 is widely thought to be Paul's adaptation of a christological hymn that likely originated much earlier than the epistle in which it is preserved, and that Paul shows no need to explain or justify it. Once again, this means that Paul here IS NO CHRISTOLOGICAL INNOVATOR, at least as far as the contents of this passage and the devotional practice it reflects are concerned. Instead the passage gives us valuable historical evidence of devotion to Jesus that was so familiar that Paul could use this fascinating christological recitation as a basis for making his real point here, which is to call for appropriate Christian ethical behavior.” (Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge U.K. 2003], 2. Early Pauline Christianity, pp. 112-113)


“That emphasis upon Jesus’ high status has been struck already in v. 9, which relates the actions that represent God’s response to Jesus’ self-humbling. Following upon and responding to Jesus’ humble obedience, even to death by crucifixion, God ‘highly exalted’ Jesus. ‘Highly exalted’ here translates the same Greek verb used in Psalm 96:9 (LXX; Psalm 97:9 in the Hebrew) to praise God's supremacy ‘far above all gods.’ God also gave to Jesus ‘the name above every name.’ Although we have no explicit reference to Jesus’ resurrection here, it is most likely that God's exaltation of Jesus in Philippians 2:9 is implicitly linked to that event. In the New Testament, Jesus’ resurrection was not simply a revivification of him; it also involved God’s vindication and exaltation of him to a unique status–for example, ‘at the right hand’ of God (the imagery and phrasing drawn from Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1], a key biblical text in earliest articulation of Jesus’ status)…

“To come back to our Philippians passage, in v. 9, particularly, the reference to Jesus being given ‘the name above every name’ practically requires us to think of the traditional, devout Jewish estimation of the sacred name of God. Moreover, we probably have here another echo of Isaiah 45:18-25. In the LXX of the Isaiah passage, YHWH is the Kyrios whose supremacy is to be manifest to all. So the acclamation in Philippians 2:11, ‘Kyrios Iesous Christos’ (‘Jesus Christ/Messiah is [the] Lord’), specifies the exalted name now borne by Jesus. As astonishing as it may be, Philippians 2:9 must be seen as claiming that in some way God has given to Jesus (to share?) the divine name that was represented in Greek by Kyrios and represented in Hebrew by the tetragrammaton. As Nagata put it, ‘Vv. 10-11 make the exalted Jesus virtually God.’ As we will see shortly, however, this does not mean that Jesus eclipses the God of biblical tradition. The exalted claims made about Jesus represent a distinctive ‘mutation’ in traditional Jewish monotheism, but certainly not an outright rejection of it.” (Hurtado, How on Earth Did Jesus Became a God? – Historical Questions about Earliest to Jesus [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K. 2005], Part I: Issues and Approaches, 4. A “Case Study” in Early Christian Devotion to Jesus: Philippians 2:6-11, pp. 93, 94-95; bold emphasis ours)

Now the foregoing presents a serious problem for Williams who has been duped into believing that Muhammad was a prophet of God and that the Quran is God’s word. According to his religious scripture, all of Jesus’ followers were supposedly Muslims:

Then when 'Iesa (Jesus) came to know of their disbelief, he said: "Who will be my helpers in Allah's Cause?" Al-Hawariun (the disciples) said: "We are the helpers of Allah; we believe in Allah, and bear witness that we are Muslims (i.e. we submit to Allah)." S. 3:52 Hilali-Khan

And when I (Allah) put in the hearts of Al-Hawarieen (the disciples) [of 'Iesa (Jesus)] to believe in Me and My Messenger, they said: "We believe. And bear witness that we are Muslims." S. 5:111 Hilali-Khan

As such, Jesus’ disciples would have embraced the Islamic doctrine of tauhid, the word coined to denote the belief that Allah is a singular person, i.e. unitarianism.

This means that Jesus’ followers would have also affirmed the three main subsets of tauhid, namely,

Tauhid al-rububiyyah, i.e. that Allah is the sole creator, sustainer and ruler of all things who does not allow any creature to share in his sovereign Lordship over all creation:

Indeed, the truth deny they who say, "Behold, God is the Christ, son of Mary." Say: "And who could have prevailed with God in any way had it been His will to destroy the Christ, son of Mary, and his mother, and everyone who is on earth - all of them? For, God's is the dominion over the heavens and the earth and all that is between them; He creates what He wills: and God has the power to will anything!" And [both] the Jews and the Christians say, "We are God's children, and His beloved ones." Say: "Why, then, does He cause you to suffer for your sins? Nay, you are but human beings of His creating. He forgives whom He wills, and He causes to suffer whom He wills: for God's is the dominion over the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, and with Him is all journeys' end." S. 5:17-18 Muhammad Asad

And say, 'Praise belongs to God, who has not taken to Himself a son, and has not had a partner in His kingdom, nor had a patron against (such) abasement.' And magnify Him greatly! S. 17:111 Y. Ali

Tauhid al-uluhiyyah/ibaadah, e.g. that Allah alone is to be worshiped and invoked since he does not allow any creature to share in his worship.

“Worship Allah and join none with Him in worship…” S. 4:36 Hilali-Khan

Here is how Muhammad Asad, one of William’s favorite Muslim scholars, explained this verse in his Quranic translation and commentary:

46 The expression shay'an (here rendered as "in any way") makes it clear that shirk ("the ascribing of divinity to anything beside God") is not confined to a worship of other "deities", but implies also the attribution of divine or quasi-divine powers to persons or objects not regarded as deities: in other words, it embraces also saint-worship, etc.

Here are some other passages which exhort Muslims to worship and pray to Allah alone:

So glorify the praises of your Lord and be of those who prostrate themselves (to Him). And worship your Lord until there comes unto you the certainty (i.e. death). S. 15:98-99 Hilali-Khan

O you who believe! Bow down, and prostrate yourselves, and worship your Lord and do good that you may be successful. S. 22:77 Hilali-Khan

And [know] that all worship is due to God [alone]: hence, do not invoke anyone side by side with God! S. 72:18 Asad

And when the slave of Allah stood up in prayer to Him, they crowded on him, almost stifling. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): I pray unto Allah only, and ascribe unto Him no partner. S. 72:19-20 Pickthall

Tauhid al-asma wa-sifaat, i.e. that Allah possesses certain names and attributes, and carries out specific functions, which no one else possesses or is able to carry out.

This includes such divine names as Lord, which the Quran says can never be ascribed to any creature even if s/he is a prophet or an angel:

Say: "O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common:49 that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God."50 And if they turn away, then say: "Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him." S. 3:64 Asad

And neither did he bid you to take the angels and the prophets for your lords:63 [for] would he bid you to deny the truth after you have surrendered yourselves unto God? S. 3:80 Asad

Asad states that this passage rejects the adoration or veneration of saints and angels:

63 I.e., to attribute divine or semi-divine powers to them: a categorical rejection of the adoration of saints and angelic beings.

Now if the disciples were truly Muslims then none of them would have went around proclaiming that Christ ascended into heaven after his resurrection to share in God’s sovereign rule over the entire creation since this would commit the unforgiveable sin of shirk, e.g. associating a creature with Allah in his exclusive divine names, attributes and functions:

Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with him in worship, but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases, and whoever sets up partners with Allah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin. S. 4:48 – cf. 4:116; 2:22

Nor would they have exhorted people to worship Jesus as Lord, or taken OT texts which speak of the universal worship which Yahweh shall eventually receive and applied that to the worship which God the Father expects everyone to give to Jesus.

And yet, according to the scholars which Williams is constantly citing like Dunn, this is exactly what the first Christians preached and believed!

This either means that the followers of Christ did not think that he was a mere man, or that Islamic theology is mistaken for assuming that God would not allow a creature to share in his unique divine attributes and glory.

Yet either situation would mean that we could never become Muslims since Islam perverts and denies what Williams’ own authorities claim Jesus’ earliest followers taught and affirmed.

This also means that if Williams truly believes what some of the very books which he recommends to others are saying then he has no choice but to reject Muhammad as a false prophet and admit that the Quran is a book filled with historical inaccuracies and lies.

Continue with Part 2.