An examination of Jeremiah 8:8

Qur’an 5:44, Jeremiah 8:8, the scribes and the corrupted Torah

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

“The Bible has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.” – Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

One of the brothers on my Facebook friends list requested that I clarify Jeremiah 8:8 for him and so the following is a an exposition on the text of Jeremiah 8:8. My interest in the verse piqued when I saw Shabir Ally (now Dr. Shabir Ally) referring to the text in a debate that he had with the irascible Christian missionary Sam Shamoun some 16 years ago. In the debate, during the rebuttal period, Dr. Shabir laments against Shamoun’s accusation against him that he was using an outrageous commentary of Jeremiah 8:8 that he took out of his hat as how a charlatan or a magician might take a rabbit out of his top hat. Dr. Shabir Ally points out, in the rebuttal period, that the interpretation that he offered was not his, but rather, the words and scholarly testimony that are found in the preface of ‘The Bible in Living English’. Indeed, the comments come from scholar and Bible translator Steven Byngton in his book ‘The Bible in Living English’:

“Sometimes even intentional changes were made. Jeremiah 8:8 says that in Jeremiah’s time the commonly accepted copies of the law of Moses were so incorrect as to contain substantial falsehoods: Jeremiah’s words seem to mean that the false matter had been willfully put in; and it would be hard to prove that our copies of the law are not made from the ones that were commonly accepted in Jeremiah’s time.” [1]

In Shamoun’s own rebuttal period, he dismisses Dr. Shabir’s reference as valueless as it comes from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Never mind the genetic fallacy of such an uncouth approach, we shall see that the text and immediate context of Jeremiah 8:8 prove Dr. Shabir’s point and that Byngton’s view is not one that is solitary among Christian Biblical scholars. Some years later, James White came to the scene and wrote a brief attempt at a rebuttal to Dr. Shabir’s use of Jeremiah 8:8. In White’s article, he reasons that, “The context confirms this, for the very next verse says the wise men “have rejected the word of Yahweh,” not that they have somehow managed to corrupt and destroy it. It must exist and be knowable for them to reject it.” [2] Little does White understand, that when someone alters, changes or corrupts any particular message, then by definition he has rejected it. For example, if you send a message to me by mail, then I open it and deliberately make changes and alterations to the original text, I have by doing so rejected the message that I was given. The Christian theologian Paul R. House seems to grasp this point perfectly, “Judah has refused to return to the Lord despite the fact that repentance would be a normal response to their covenant obligations (8:4-7). Why? Because scribes, who were entrusted with transcribing the law, alter it to fit their beliefs (8:8)…Here the law and prophets come very close indeed, for the prophet must preach the law that has been neglected, altered and rejected.” [3]

There is no ambiguity in House’s testimony. Judah was reticent to return to the Lord, because the scribes, whose responsibility was to transcribe and preserve the law, “altered it to fit their beliefs.” And this lends much credence to the claim of the Qur’an:

“It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to Allah’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my ayaat (verses or signs) for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.” (Surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, verse 44)

And according to Mufti Shafi’ Uthmani, in his luminous ‘tafsir’ (commentary) ‘Ma’riful Qur’an’, he comments, “They (the scribes) acted crookedly when they started changing its injunctions…” [4]

An examination of John 8:56-59 and Exodus 3:13-14

Is Jesus Almighty God because he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

In this article, we will be exploring John 8 verses 56-59 and Exodus 3, verses 13-14.

Once again, we come to one of the Johannine literature, the Gospel According to John*, to see whether Trinitarians have a good case in using it to deify Jesus and put him on the same pedestal as the Father. Specifically, we shall be looking at a saying that is attributed to Jesus, which supposedly according to Trinitarian interpretation proves Jesus’ Godhood namely, John 8:58, which says,”Before Abraham was, I am.” In order to get a better picture of what is going on in John 8:58, we should examine its immediate context which begins from verse 56 up to the last verse of the chapter, verse 59.

56. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

57. So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

58. Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

59. So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

(John 8:56-59; English Standard Version)

For the Trinitarian, this is a great proof text of Jesus’ eternal pre-existence and divinity. Typically, the Trinitarian focuses on verses 57, 58 and 59 whilst ignoring the entire context of the passage and most importantly, verse 56, which basically clarifies verse 58. What is even more amazing is that Trinitarians typically side with the opponents of Jesus and in this case, they would agree with their feedback to what Jesus was saying to them. They will agree with verse 57, which to them means that Jesus was claiming pre-existence and they would wholeheartedly agree with verse 59, because that to them is indicative of Jesus claiming divinity and so the verse says that the audience picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy. Well, the only real problem with the Trinitarians siding with Jesus’ enemy’s understanding (or lack thereof) is that in the same chapter, just several verses before this key section, Jesus declares them to be the children of Satan, who are absolute liars: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44) And the truth of Jesus’ declaration or dismissal of their value as witnesses is writ large in verses 56 and 57. So, let’s have a look at these two verses again, but more carefully this time.

56. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

In this verse, Jesus claims that Abraham was happy that he would have the chance to see the day of Jesus and he did indeed see it and was contented. Now, look at the reply of the false witnesses.

57. So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

Biblical Elisha and YHWH butcher little boys

You baldhead!: Young Boys Bullying Prophet Elisha

By Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

In this fascinating story, we read about the great Prophet Elisha who is harassed by 42 naughty children and the reaction that he gives to that, which consequently results into something rather unpalatable to the sensible human observer. Christian missionaries often make a big fuss over supposed rules in the Shari’ah that stipulate the capital punishment for those who offend the person of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. But in this wonderful Biblical story, we see that a most gruesome punishment awaits those who insult a prophet like Elisha. So, I do not think that those Christian missionaries can hold a candle to Muslims and play the holier than thou game when it comes to blaspheming prophets of God.

The story begins thus:

“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” (2 Kings 2:23; New International Version)

Elisha was walking to Bethel and along the way a group of youngsters, who apparently did not like him, started making fun of him and telling him to leave. But there are a couple of problems with the NIV translation of the verse. Firstly, there were 42 individuals in that group that were offending Elisha and so to say that they were just “some boys” is a major understatement. Secondly, the word “boys” is quite inaccurate, because the original Hebrew says “une’arim qetanneem” which means “little children” as the King James Version correctly translates. So, the verse should say that “many little children came out of the town and jeered at him.” We can understand why the NIV and some other translations try to cloud the narrative by inaccurately translating the text: it may well be that the intention is to downplay the seriousness of the story that may put people off. We would heartily agree that it’s wrong for a child or an adult to make fun of others, most especially prophets of God, but in this instance, we have little children, who probably did not know any better and were playing the fool with a visitor. Would you severely punish them just for that? Most reasonable people wouldn’t, but Elisha and the Biblical God most certainly did:

Bart Ehrman’s Mainstream Scholarship in Textual Criticism

Do We Have the Original Words of the New Testament Writers?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

 

Many conservative Christians today would unceremoniously dismiss scholars who question the veracity of biblical texts and would expel and ostracise the voice that dares to question the inerrancy (The belief that scripture is free from errors, i.e., it is complete inspired in its every word – “verbal, plenary inspiration.) of the Bible. Many would think that this view has kicked its bucket and is now safely collecting dust on the shelf marked “Myths and Legend”. It is true that while many Christians in the west, after being exposed to works by textual critics, have embraced a more flexible view of scripture, i.e., the Bible is the Word of God but in it are also the thoughts of men and possibly even mistakes, there are still major pockets of Christian communities and churches that strongly uphold that the Bible(s) they have in their hands are absolutely God’s word, inspired and has no error. In a recent 2014 Gallup Poll showed that 28% of Christian Americans still strongly cling to this belief. This means that the belief is still quite alive and well among many practising Christians.

Whenever one discusses the topic of inspiration and biblical inerrancy, a name that popularly pops up is “Bart Ehrman” whose popularised, easy-to-access and easy-to-read introduction to the technical art of textual criticism brought a storm to not only America but the world over. His work has been described as monumental as it has given rise to great interest in higher criticism among laymen in a way that has never been seen before and the excitement that it has generated has not ebbed to this day.
Of course, to the conservative Christian who strongly believes in the inerrancy of scripture, Ehrman is just another upstart in a long line of deviants that no longer have the grace of God and destined to the pits of fire. Unbeknownst to these well-meaning Christians, the primary concern that Ehrman puts forward in his thesis and one of the reasons that he says helped peel away his faith in the inerrancy of scripture, finds great support in many a conservative scholar that preceded him.

Ehrman proclaims the following words that have irked so many a conservative, “What we have are copies of these writings, made years later – in most cases, many years later. Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in placed. All scribes did this. So rather than actually having the inspired words of the autographs (i.e., the originals) of the Bible, what we have are the error-ridden copies of the autographs.” [1]

Is the Qur’an in stark contrast to the Gospels in its depiction of Jesus? Answering Dr. Michael Licona.

The Qur’an’s Low Christology Compared to the Gospels

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

I was asked by a brother named Kaleef Karim on 9th February 2016 to give some comments on what Dr. Michael Licona wrote about Mark and his low Christology. The following is my feedback to what Dr. Licona said and you can check the attached image below to see his original statements that the following responds to.

Licona

Many scholars maintain that the Gospel of Thomas has a rather low Christology and depicts Jesus truly flesh and blood. The sparse instances where allusions to divinity may be attributed to him have been understood in the framework of Jesus being God’s “Shaliach”. The Didache, which may well preserve the teachings of Die Jerusalemer Urgemeinde (that was led by the earliest followers of Jesus and headed by James) which is an equally ancient witness has an even more pronounced low Christological conception of Jesus, identifying him only as the “servant of God”. Though the Qur’an maintains a fairly low Christology, emphasising time and again the humanity of Jesus Christ, the Gospel according to Mark does not entirely depart from this strand of thought. Granted that there are instances where traditional conservative scholars have interpreted some very isolated instances of the “Son of Man” quotations from Jesus as instances of his claim to divinity (e.g. Mark 14:62), the overall schema of Jesus as found in Mark seem to strongly indicate a low Christological conception: “Compared with the other Gospels, it is often said that Mark has a relatively ‘low Christology’ – meaning that, generally speaking, in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is relatively more ‘human’ than in the other Gospels, his divinity is more subtly and reticently conveyed.’ [1]

Echoing the same sentiment, Associate Professor of Ethics at the School of Theology, Claremont, California, Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher tell us that, “Mark’s Christology is considered low Christology, emphasizing Jesus’ humanity, and the title “Son of Man,” spending more time on that aspect of Jesus than on His divinity.” [2] And when one takes into consideration the stark absence of Patristic commentaries and interpretations on the Gospel of Mark, this point takes even greater root in studies on Mark’s Christology and this good point is no better observed than in the following:
“The many commentaries on Matthew, Luke, and John employing the range of patristic methods of interpretation demonstrate the relationship between the interests of the Fathers and the document being interpreted. The absence of commentaries on Mark, on the other hand, suggests that neither the interpretive nor ecclesiastical interests of the Fathers were excited by Mark.”[3]

Unitarian consistency throughout the passage of time

Unitarianism: From John Wright to Anthony Buzzard

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

With unwavering conviction in the Unitarianism of the lord Messiah, Unitarian author John Wright swiftly repels the Trinitarian belief that Jesus ever desired or sought religious adoration or worship from his Jewish monotheistic believers.

” If we examine the New Testament, we find no instance of prayers being offered to Christ in his absence; Jesus no where directed his followers to pray to him, or to worship him. When he taught his disciples to pray, it was to address the Father; and on different occasions he directed them to pray to the Father, The acts of the Apostles contains no instance of divine worship being paid to any but the Father, or of prayer being addressed to any one else, as the object of religious worship. The case of Stephen, though a particular one, is not an exception to what I say. Stephen was the first Christian Martyr, and was favored at that important moment, with a vision of Jesus. He did not see him as God on a Throne; but as “standing on the right hand of God.” He did not contemplate him as God, but as “the son of man,” he said, “I see the son of man,” Nor did he address him as the supreme God.” [1]

Some 100 years later, another Unitarian scholar, Professor (Dr.) Sir Anthony F. Buzzard testifies:

“There are other equally unambiguous statements confirming Jesus’ belief in the God of Judaism. There is no hint of the introduction of a second people into the Godhead in the farewell prayer Jesus offered at the conclusion of his ministry… No evidence is presented to show that the New Testament abandons its own roots in the Old Testament and ascribes to the title “Son of God” a meaning never hinted at in the Hebrew Bible. The Old Testament meaning of “Son of God” is devastating to the Trinitarian cause. “Son of God” was used in various ways — to describe the nation of Israel, its king, and, in the plural, even angels. In none of these instances does the title imply Deity in a Trinitarian sense.” [2]

Did doubting Thomas make Jesus God?

Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God”: Reconsidering John 20:28 in light of context and scholarship

By Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

This is a favourite verse for Trinitarians when they argue for the divinity of Jesus. They say confidently that here lies a clear declaration of Jesus’ Godhood by his own intimate disciple. Granted that the person being addressed by Thomas in John 20:28 is Jesus, does it finally prove that Jesus is biblically approved as “very God of very God” (theon ek theou alethinou) as the Creed of Nicea of 325 states? Several explanations have been proposed to show that one need not go home with the Trinitarian interpretation but may well retain a strict Unitarian theology whilst still affirming the text in question. The ‘New Evangelical Magazine and Theological Review’ of 1822 gives a non-exhaustive yet good overview of some of the common propositions that are made by concerned monotheists to affirm Jesus’ unbroken humanity and reject the Trinitarian view of John 20:28.

“Of these it is impossible here to take particular notice, but we would solicit attention to a remark or two on the exclamation of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” These remarkable words have been variously interpreted. They are by some supposed to be a sudden, and almost involuntary, exclamation of conviction and astonishment: by others they are understood as an ejaculation of admiration and gratitude, addressed directly to God the Almighty Father: some suppose that the first member of the sentence was addressed to Jesus, and the next to God God the Father; and Unitarians, in general, refer the whole sentence to the Father.” [1]

While most interesting and one or two being rather favourable in our view, in this brief article, we are not interested in delving into any of the above Unitarian propositions as we shall instead consider three alternative interpretations that we feel are most probative.

If we read the context, Thomas’ testimony or exclamation ‘ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou’ (literally means ‘the lord of me and the god of me’) is preceded by his utter doubt in Jesus’ return (v. 25). The disciples had heard that their master had been fixed on a Roman cross to die on it, but we know from Mark that they were not eyewitnesses to that, “Then all the disciples deserted Jesus and ran away.” (Mark 14:50; International Standard Version) And so, basing their belief on hearsay, which was commonplace at the time as people did not have the time or sense of historical acuteness or sensitivity to verify rumours and gossip, that Jesus had died, they did not expect to see him again, but they did. Strangely though, the story goes that the disciples didn’t immediately recognise their master when he appeared to them (v. 19). It was only when he showed them “his hands and side”, allegedly having signs or bruises sustained from the crucifixion ordeal that they were “overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (v. 20) Coming to verse 24, the author of John informs his readers that Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to the other ten (Judas was not longer part of the original 12, diminishing the number to 11) and so those who were there informed Thomas of the meeting, but he did not believe it and said that he would only believe that Jesus had returned if he could put his finger where Jesus was alleged nailed and put his hand into Jesus’ side (in reference to John’s addition of the centurion’s spear thrust).* Before we proceed further, there is one important contextual point to be observed: The ten disciples who first met Jesus without Thomas were “overjoyed” at the sight of their master and their recognition dawned upon them through seeing the bruises that Jesus had sustained through the crucifixion ordeal, but conspicuously they did not declare Jesus’ lordship or godhood when they realised it was him. Returning to the story, one week after Thomas’ doubt and denial, the disciples all together including Thomas convened at the same house again and Jesus once again appeared and said, “Peace be with you!” after which, he told Thomas to put his finger on his hands and put his hand into his side to stop doubting and believe. To this, Thomas said, “ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou.” (My lord and my god” [I purposefully translate ‘kurios’ and ‘theos’ in the lower case as ‘lord’ and ‘god’ to indicate that capitalisation is only made based on a translator’s theological bias]). And Jesus finalised the meeting right after Thomas’ declarative statement that, “Because you have seen me, you have believed…” Now that we have gone through the context of the event of Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearance to the disciples in the Johannine tradition, we may critically assess the content and see whether the Trinitarian view actually holds water or is just hot air.