Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Muslim Abuse and Misuse of Modern Biblical Scholarship Pt. 2a

Sam Shamoun

It is time, once again, to turn the tables against Muslim dawagandist Paul Bilal Williams by taking the statements and positions of his own scholars and using them to show how this method would undermine the claims of Muhammad and the Quran.

We will again be looking at NT scholar James D. G. Dunn, specifically his book called Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?.

This is a work which Williams not only highly recommends to his readers, but also believes happens to be a great resource for Muslims to use in their dawah or tirade against Biblical Christianity:

All Christians should read this book, and Muslims too will find much to benefit their dawah. (My Review of ‘Did the first Christians Worship Jesus?’)

In light of this claim, we will quote from this particular book to see whether the statements made by Dunn do in fact support the Muslim cause in attacking Biblical Christianity, or do they actually prove that Muhammad was a false prophet.

In this work Dunn refers to the various Greek terms used in the worship of God. One such word which he mentions describes the practice of calling on a deity in prayer:

(c) A significant term is epikaleisthai, ‘to call upon’. It could be regarded as primarily a term for prayer… But in its wide usage it signifies in effect worship as ‘calling upon God’. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) qara’ is regularly used ‘to denote the establishment of a relation between a human individual and God … it is the verbal appeal for the deity’s presence that is foundational to all acts of prayer and worship’. In common Greek too epikaleisthai is regularly used of calling upon a deity. So it is not surprising that the Septuagint uses the phrase frequently, epikaleisthai to onoma kyriou (‘to call upon the name of the Lord’), that is in prayer. The same usage naturally reappears in the New Testament, where invocation of God is in view.33 (Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence [Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Publishing, UK /Westminster John Knox Press, USA 2010], 1. The language of worship, 1.2 Other Vocabulary, pp. 15-16; bold emphasis ours)

33 Acts 2.21; 1 Pet. 1.17; 2 Cor. 1.23. (Ibid, p. 16)

Dunn then goes on to show that the earliest or first Christians would call on the name of the risen Lord Jesus, and that this was even a distinguishing feature of theirs!

“More striking, however, is the fact that it is the Lord Jesus who is ‘called upon’ on several occasions.34 And even more striking is the fact that believers can be denoted simply as ‘those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 1.2).35 The defining feature of these early Christians (‘those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ' is used almost as a definition, equivalent to ‘Christians’) marked them out from others who ‘called upon (the name of)’ some other deity or heavenly being.36 Moreover, in a still more striking passage, Paul refers to Joel 3.5 (in the Septuagint) to Jesus: ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Rom. 10.13)… Here we need simply note that the same language, calling upon a deity, calling upon the Lord God, IS USED OF CHRIST, and as a distinguishing characteristic OF THE EARLIEST BELIEVERS.”

34 Acts 7.59 (Stephen); Rom. 10:12, 14; 2 Tim. 2:22.

35 Acts 9.14, 21; 22.16; 2 Tim. 2.22

36 Both Hurtado (Origins 78-9; Lord Jesus Christ 198-9) and Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel 129-30) see these texts (1 Cor. 1.2; etc.) as evidence of ‘cultic devotion’ rendered to Jesus from ‘very early moments of the Christian movement’. In contrast, P. M. Case, ‘Monotheism, Worship and Christological Development in the Pauline Churches’, in Newman, et al. (eds), Jewish Roots 214-33, infers that what Paul had in mind was ‘primarily the use of acclamations and confessions such as maranatha and kyrios Iesous’ (225). Hurtado adds the use of Jesus’ name in baptism and healings/exorcisms as supporting evidence for his proposal ‘that the early Christian use of Jesus’ name represents a novel adaptation of [the] Jewish monotheistic concern [to maintain the uniqueness of the one God]’ (200-6; here 204). He comments similarly on 1 Cor. 5.1-5, that the disciplinary action referred to there ‘likely included a ritual invocation of Jesus’ name and power to effect it. Jesus’ cultic presence and power clearly operate here in the manner we otherwise associate with a god’ (Origins 80). (Ibid, p. 16; bold and capital emphasis ours)


“Above all, however, we should recall what we noted in Chapter 1 regarding the use of epikaleisthai (‘to call upon’) in relation to Jesus… Nor should we forget the characterization of Christians as ‘those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 1.2). To call upon Jesus (in prayer) was evidently a defining, and distinguishing feature of EARLIEST Christian worship…” (Ibid., 2. The practice of worship, 2.1 Prayer, p. 36; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Yet despite this candid admission, Dunn still wonders what implications can be drawn from the earliest Christian practice of calling upon the name of the risen and exalted Lord:

“The most explicit prayer language is used exclusively of prayer to God. Jesus himself is remembered as regularly praying to God and giving instruction on prayer to God. With the less explicitly prayer language of ‘asking, requesting, and appealing to’ the picture is somewhat different. Again, where it appears in prayer, the request is normally addressed to God. But in John’s Gospel repeated emphasis is placed by Jesus on his disciples’ future praying to God ‘in his [Jesus’] name’. Paul both appeals directly to Jesus for help from heaven and reflects a commonly used appeal for the Lord Jesus to come (again) from heaven. And the EARLIEST CHRISTIANS are known as ‘those who call upon or invoke the name of Jesus’. If, speaking with tightly focused precision, ‘prayer’ as such was not usually made to Jesus in the worship of the first Christian congregations, at least he was regarded as one, sitting at God’s right hand, who could be and was called upon, and to whom appeal could be made. Was this more like an appeal to Elijah or like appeals that were later made saints? Or should it be seen as a typical expression of earliest Christian worship? The answer is not quite so obvious or clear cut as we would like [sic].” (Ibid., p. 37; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The problem with Dunn’s statement is that we do know what calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus meant for the first believers since Dunn has already told us! As Dunn stated, the Greek term epikaleisthai (or epikaleo) meant calling upon a deity or heavenly being in prayer and was a verbal appeal for the deity’s presence.

That this is a term employed in the context of worship is made evident by the way the OT writings use this phrase, especially in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint (LXX):

“From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. He built an altar to Yahweh there, and he called on the name of Yahweh (kai epekalesato epi to onomati kyriou).” Genesis 12:8

“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and there he called on the name of Yahweh, the Everlasting God (kai epekalesato ekei to onoma kyriou theos aionios).” Genesis 21:33

“Moses and Aaron were among His priests; Samuel also was among those calling on His name. They called to Yahweh (en tois epikaloumenois to onoma autou epekalounto ton kyrion) and He answered them.” Psalm 99:5-7

“I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh (kai to onoma kyriou epikalesomai)… I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh (kai en onomati kyriou epikalesomai).” Psalm 116:13, 17 – cf. Deuteronomy 4:7; Psalm 145:18; Jeremiah 29:11-13

The preceding examples indicate that the Israelites would call upon the name of Yahweh their God in the context of praise and worship, whether individually or corporately, as well as for salvation and deliverance.

This is precisely the manner in which the first Christians called upon the name of their risen Lord, as the following verses amply testify:

If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame, for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13

In the immediate context, Paul has quoted a particular OT text which exhorts believers to call upon the name of Yahweh in order to be saved,

Then everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as Yahweh promised, among the survivors Yahweh calls.” Joel 2:32

And has used this very passage to demonstrate that salvation comes from calling upon the risen Lord Jesus, thereby equating Christ with Yahweh!

Other examples of Jesus’ followers calling on his name include:

“But Anani'as answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to YOUR saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon YOUR name (pantas tous epikaloumenous to onoma sou)’… And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ And all who heard him were amazed, and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on THIS name (tous epikaloumenous to onoma touto)? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.’” Acts 9:13-14, 20-21

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace FROM God our Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:2-3

In this particular reference Paul not only identifies Christians as those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, he even goes so far as to invoke Christ along with the Father to grant grace and peace to all the believers at Corinth! 

This is something which Paul often did at both the start and conclusion of his inspired epistles, as Dunn recognizes:

“Also highly significant for us is the early Christian practice of beginning and ending letters to fellow Christians with a benediction or blessing… There are two very striking features of this practice, apparently begun by Paul. One is that Paul had no hesitation in linking ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ with ‘God the Father’ in formally praying for blessing on the recipients of his letters. The ‘grace and peace’ were conceived of as having a conjoint source: ‘God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. Jesus as Lord was one with God in overseeing the spiritual wellbeing of the young Christians. The other remarkable feature is that the closing benediction takes it as given that grace, that is, of course, the grace of God, was also ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’. The grace of God, already so fully expressed in creation and in the history of Israel, had now been summed up, most fully expressed, and embodied in Jesus Christ. Christ could be called on as the fullest or most effective purveyor of God’s grace. (Ibid, 1.5 The language of benediction, pp. 26-27; bold emphasis ours)

That the earliest followers of Christ invoked the risen Jesus to grant them grace and blessings is an indication that they viewed their exalted Lord as being essentially coequal to God the Father, and therefore fully Divine:  

“At the beginning of each of Paul's letters is a salutation that ends with a standardized formula: ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Cor. 1:3 and elsewhere). The apostle is not saying that there are two distinct sources of grace and peace, one divine and one human; significantly the preposition from (in Greek) is not repeated before ‘the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Rather, Father and Son jointly form a single source of divine grace and peace. Of no mere human being could it be said that, together with God, he was a font of spiritual blessing. Only if Paul had regarded Jesus as fully divine could he have spoken this way.” (Murray J. Harris, Three Crucial Questions About Jesus [Baker Books; Grand Rapids, MI 1994], p. 77; bold emphasis ours)

And for a Muslim, this early Christian pattern of invoking the Son should be quite troubling since the practice of Muhammad and his followers was to invoke Allah to grant them peace, blessings, mercy etc.

Ibn 'Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah used to teach us tashahhud just as he used to teach us a Sura of the Qur'an, and he would say: All services rendered by words, acts of worship and all good things are due to Allah. Peace be upon you, O Prophet, and Allah's mercy and blessings. Peace be upon us and upon Allah's upright servants. I testify that there is no god but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. In the narration of Ibn Rumh (the words are): “As he would teach us the Qur'an.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 0798; *)


Narrated 'Aisha: that the Prophet said to her, “Gabriel sends Salam (greetings) to you.” She replied, "Wa 'alaihi-s-Salam Wa Rahmatu-l-lah." (Peace and Allah's Mercy be on him). Volume 8, Book 74, Number 270; *)

We even have an example of the first Christian martyr praying to Jesus to receive his spirit and to forgive the sin of his accusers and persecutors:

“They were stoning Stephen as he called out: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin!’ And saying this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:59-60

In this case, Stephen prayed to the Lord Jesus in the same way that OT saints would pray to Yahweh!

Into Your hand I entrust my spirit; You redeem me, LORD, God of truth.” Psalm 31:5

With the foregoing in perspective, Dunn’s admission that the earliest Christians called upon the Lord Jesus in their prayers and worship creates a major problem for Muslims like Williams since their prophet claimed that only Allah is to be worshiped in this manner:

AND IF My servants ask thee about Me - behold, I am near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me: let them, then, respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way. S. 2:186 Muhammad Asad 

But your Sustainer says: "Call unto Me, [and) I shall respond to you! Verily, they who are too proud to worship Me will enter hell, abased!" S. 40:60 Asad

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

In fact, Muhammad is reported to have said that invocations are the very essence of worship and therefore can only be made to Allah! 

3828. It was narrated from Nu‘man bin Bashir that the Messenger of Allah said: “Indeed the supplication is the worship.” Then he recited: “And your Lord said: Invoke Me, I will respond to you.”[1] (Sahih(English Translation of Sunan Ibn Majah - Compiled by Imam Muhammad Bin Yazeed Ibn Majah Al-Qazwini, From Hadith No. 3657 to 4341, Ahadith edited and referenced by Hafiz Abu Tahir Zubair 'Ali Za'i, translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Canada), final review by Abu Khaliyl (USA) [Darussalam Publications and Distributors, First Edition: June 2007], Volume 5, 34. The Chapter On Supplication, Chapter 1. The Virtue of Supplication, p. 95)

[1] Ghafir 40:60. (Ibid)


296. The excellence of supplication 

712. Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet said, “Nothing is dearer to Allah than supplication.”

713. Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet said, “The noblest act of worship is supplication.” 

714. An-Nu'man ibn Bashir reported that the Prophet said, “Supplication is worship.” Then he recited, “Call on Me and I will answer you.” (Al-Adab al-Mufrad al-Bukhari, translated by Aisha Bewley, XXX. Supplication; *; bold emphasis ours) 

William’s prophet even taught that the followers of Christ were all Muslims (cf. Q. 3:52; 5:111), which means that they would not have worshiped Jesus or offered up prayers to him.

Yet, according to the historical facts and evidence provided by one of Williams’ favorite Biblical scholars, the first Christians did worship Jesus, and in a manner which contradicts the claims of Muhammad. This means that Williams’ prophet was mistaken concerning the beliefs and practices of the first disciples of Christ since they were not Muslims and did not worship according to the teachings of Islam.

Williams must therefore be consistent and accept the fact that, as far as the results of the research done by his particular brand of NT scholarship into early Christian origins are concerned, Muhammad is a false apostle and an antichrist. There is simply no way around this for him.

It is time for us to move to the next part of our discussion where we address some of Dunn's assertions concerning the early Christian worship of Christ.