Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Debate Review: Did The Disciples Believe Jesus was God? Yusuf Ismail and Jonathan McLatchie

..there is no literary evidence that the Primitive ecclesia considered Jesus Christ "fully God and fully man" - John L. McKenzie

A little sombre note to begin with. I did not appreciate Jonathan McLatchie's approach in this debate - it smacked of insincerity. I don't believe that is an attitude anybody who is putting information out into the public domain should espouse. Very disappointing

Jonathan McLatchie's aims and bizarre methodology

Jonathan McLatchie begins by outlining the significance of this discussion as well stating his aims in the discussion.

McLatchie at 9.45 injects wild speculation into his theology by claiming it is essential for the Christian worldview that Jesus was divine. Where's his proof here? This seems to be old speculation that other evangelical Trinitarian Christians are putting forward, others such as James White [see this video rebuking James White via a Dale Tuggy clip]

For that matter, is the Trinity idea even considered "essential" doctrine?

Jonathan McLatchie's intention is to attempt to demonstrate the disciples believed in the divinity of Jesus in an effort to refute Islam. McLatchie wants to show all the earliest sources affirm the deity of Jesus and/or the original followers affirmed this to try and "win the debate".

Jonathan firstly contends Paul clearly affirmed the deity of Jesus in Phil 2:5-11 and 1 Cor 8:6

Hold on did he say 1 Cor 8:6? If he did then we are all left scratching our heads as this is a text Unitarian Christians use to show the Father is the only true God (not Jesus!). What is Jonathan McLatchie thinking here? Here's the text:

 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things cameand for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

He then makes the claim Paul was approved by the leaders of the Jerusalem church (especially James and Peter) [Does he prove this?] - Jonathan believes 1 Cor 15 teaches Paul is of same theology as the other apostles. He also uses Gal 1 and 2 to support this claim.

Bizarre. It's a strange way of going about matters. Why did he not try and piece together what the disciples allegedly believed via the statements attributed to them in the New Testament rather than this convoluted route via Paul which is confusing and bizarrely speculative?

A perplexed Yusuf Ismail

Yusuf Ismail makes a lot of good points and injects good old common sense to proceedings in his opening gambit.

Yusuf seems perplexed at Jonathan McLatchie's decision to go through Paul who was not an original disciple.  He teaches Paul was in conflict with the original disciples on questions of law and monotheism. The Gospels and Acts were written under the influence of Pauline theology thus if there is something teaching the divinity of Jesus within those texts it would be due to this influence according to Yusuf Ismail.

NOTE: Yusuf does not militate against the idea Paul believed Jesus was God. Should the Trinitarian not be challenged on this? What do you think?

Yusuf Ismail asks was Paul approved by the leaders of Jerusalem?

2 Cor 11: 4 shows Paul railing against other preachers - preachers of "another Jesus". Who were these people? Yusuf suggests, through James Dunn, these other preachers were James, John and Peter. There's some consideration on Peter being the rock of the church.

Common sense

The Judaism contemporary to Paul  was strictly monotheistic thus Jesus could not have been seen as divine.

This is such a simple yet potent argument. If early Christians were really teaching Jesus was divine, co-equal and consubstantial with YHWH there would have been a huge controversy. Where's the evidence of this controversy? Where are the councils? They had a council on the practice of circumcision yet Trinitarian apologists believe there was no controversy in teaching a man was God? Come on, let's be frank here folks - this does not add up. Think about it..

Yusuf made good points, how did Jonathan respond?

Jonathan McLatchie gets polemical

Jonathan McLatchie goes into polemical brawler mode and tosses in a shoddy Shamoun polemic which he clearly did not think through critically.  I'm not too sure if these were premeditated debate tactics but this is a microcosm of some of the problems around Muslim-Christian debates.

Jonathan's contention is that the Quran 61:14 and 3:55 basically teach the followers of Jesus will be victorious. He then claims Pauline Christianity was victorious. He then puts these together and intimates the Quran teaches Pauline Christianity is true. Unimpressive argumentation. More on this later!

McLatchie counters Yusuf's claims around 2 Cor 11: 4 by stating this verse is unclear. Hmm, so who were these people preaching a different Gospel?

Jonathan McLatchie noticeably fails to address Yusuf's point on the nature of Jewish monotheism which would have found a 'high Christology' deeply controversial - where's the controversy? These things don't just seamlessly pass by without a commotion. McLatchie offers no answers. This was a crucial objection in the debate - it was not countered at all. Telling!

Yusuf Ismail is unimpressed + a challenge for Jonathan McLatchie

Yusuf was unimpressed by Jonathan's polemics. Ironic considering Jonathan was appealing to context when it came to 2 Cor 11:4. However for some reason, Jonathan's desire for context is thrown out of the window while he plays the role of polemical brawler.

Yusuf challenges Jonathan to provide documentary evidence to prove the original disciples believed in the deity of Jesus. Jonathan's scenic route through Paul is clearly not convincing Yusuf. [This is another challenge that is unmet, what does this say? Jonathan does not have a strong case]

The debate now veers off the topic even more - irretrievably so.

Yusuf talks about the Gospel authorship:

Luke written by a companion of Paul.
Mark is generally agreed to have not been written by a disciple of Jesus. He was said to be a disciple of Peter.
Matthew isn't a disciple either - why would he take from Mark if he was actually a disciple? Matthew was changing and 'improving' the accounts (citing Gundry). 
John's Gospel. Yusuf talks about the 5 stages of editing (referencing Raymond Brown)

Low to high Christology (increased deification) in the Gospels

Jonathan McLatchie: Intellectual dishonesty or just a victim of uncritically accepting special Shamounian material?

Jonathan persists with fleshing out his low-level polemics. Jonathan's influences become more apparent. Hint; a bloke on the net who used to claim Islam allows sex with animals amongst other crazed claims.

On 61:14, Jonathan cites Al Qurtobi in showing this verse was revealed about Jesus. OK what was the point of that - it's apparent it's about Jesus through the text!!

Jonathan then mentions Ibn Isaac who apparently thought there was a disciple called Paul. Jonathan takes it waaaay too far by stating Ibn Isaac and Al Tabari affirms Paul as a true apostle (unbeknownst to him Al Tabari in his comments teaches those who say Jesus is God are liars - more on these internet polemics later).

Is this intellectual dishonesty on his part or is he just guilty of uncritically accepting arguments from a shoddy Christian polemicist on the net.

Jonathan McLatchie: I see Jesus AKA eisegesis

McLatchie endeavours to show a high Christology in the earlier Gospels
Matt 11 and Luke 7  (he theorizes this is a Q saying) - Jonathan believes this is high Christology. I don't see it. Justin Brierley (the host) has to ask him how that quote (from Matt 11) teaches the deity of Jesus. It's clearly not an explicit teaching of divinity! Jonathan is guilty of reading his own understanding into the text. We are seeing eisegesis and not exegesis here.

Ask yourself why? Why is Jonathan continually trying to elucidate the obscure with obscure speculations?

[Note: son of Man is mentioned here - please see Dale Martin on Son of Man]

Jonathan uses Mark 1 in an attempt to prove high Christology. Mark 1 is where he tries to draw high Christology in using Isaiah 40 (apparently a ref to YHWH) and Mark 1:7 (a ref to Jesus). Again, this is eisegesis where Jonathan is foisting an inference upon Mark. If Mark really believed that, why did he not just say it? Why would he be so cryptic and leave it to fertile imaginations of later Christians like Jonathan to expound upon?

Jonathan McLatchie on Gospel authors - disappointing

Jonathan believes the names attributed to the Gospels are actually the authors. His reasoning about Mark being an unlikely choice as there are "better" individuals to attribute to that Gospel such as Peter and James. He's basically arguing bigger names (authorities) could have been used, why use a relatively small name? 

OK, Jonathan is really annoying critical thinkers - AGAIN. Look, folk (at the inception of Mark's Gospel) would have known Peter was illiterate as he passed away shortly before that Gospel was written, thus to claim Peter wrote that Gospel would have been ridiculous as all the contemporary audiences would have been aware that Gospel came about AFTER Peter's death. In addition, any semi-smart contemporaneous liar would have known the audience would be familiar with Peter's inability to write such a work. To attribute a Gospel to him at that time would have effectively been asking to be called out as a liar.

So, it doesn't take a great deal of critical thinking here to see why folk would have attributed it to Mark rather than Peter. Mark was close to Peter thus attributing it to Mark would have been tantamount to linking it to Peter. In fact, it seems it's the closest one could link a Gospel to Peter.

For Jonathan to claim Mark must have been written by Mark as there would have been no real desire to attribute that Gospel to Mark who was a relatively small personality is invalid argumentation. One, upon having thought this through critically in the cold light of the facts available, could quite easily see the motivation for dishonest men to attribute that Gospel to Mark.

Yusuf Ismail slams Jonathan McLatchie for poor scholarship and ludicrous interpretation

Jonathan was asking for this sharp rebuke. He continued building his polemics he got from his colleague. It finally reached a crescendo.

Yusuf chimes Jonathan for poor scholarship - basically the Shamoun argument. Ibn Isaac and At-Tabari would have presupposed Paul believed in Jewish monotheism and rejected the ideas of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. Yusuf thinks Jonathan's (aka Shamoun's) spin around this is ludicrous.

Their comments germane to this discussion would have been subsumed upon the information they had access to at that time thus confusing Paul for a disciple is nothing to write home about for the serious and critical thinker.

Yusuf Ismail: To interpret this group that PREVAILED as being believers in the Trinity in light of the whole Quran would be a ludicrous interpretation.

McLatchie came to the table furnished with quotes from Al Tabari yet if his source was an honest man he would have informed him of one of Al Tabari's commentaries on Quran 3:55 concerning the group who are made superior - in this opinon it's those who follow Islam according to Al Tabari's commentary. In another opinion it's one of the groups from the Jews. Thus we see all that huffing and puffing by Jonathan to build this polemic throughout the discussion was a waste of effort and time.

Al Tabari's commentary on Quran 61:14 indicates Jonathan is a victim of misinformation and spin again. Al Tabari seemingly teaches those who were made uppermost were made uppermost by the revelation of the Quran which confirms the true followers of Jesus - i.e. those who reject the Trinity idea. Al Qortubi has similar commentary.

On 3:55 Al Tabari's commentary indicates he believed it was the MUSLIMS who are the fulfilment of being placed above (made superior to) the disbelievers as Muslims have the correct beliefs about Jesus and follow his message of pure monotheism.

Jonathan McLatchie devoted a lot of time in promulgating second-hand polemics and speculations about what the Quran teaches and the teachings of Muslim historians. A lot of time to devote to ultimately throw dust in the air. Not a good reflection on Jonathan McLatchie. Not helpful for sincere Muslim-Christian dialogue. Not helpful for the serious minded researcher.

Shamoun just made McLatchie look like a right fool in the middle of a debate. Shamoun has a history of making his colleagues look foolish - James White, David Wood and Anthony Rogers have publicly been embarrassed by borrowing Shamoun's snippets of spin. All such episodes have been documented. To be fair, White, largely, gives Shamoun a wide berth nowadays.

Yusuf Ismail on Matt 11 and linking it with Malachi 3

Yusuf states Matthew has reworked material to bring out later Christian teachings. 

[NOTE: How about the possibility a later scribe amended Matt to add this theme into the text?]

Yusuf and Jonathan on evolution of Christology.

Yusuf gives his example: Mark and Matt differ in the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm. In Mark the disciples 'rebuke' Jesus while in Matthew the disciples 'pray' to Jesus.

Yusuf suggests an agenda on the part of Matthew to increase the Christology.

Jonathan responds to Yusuf's developing Christology claim. He appeals to the understated evidence fallacy here and he gives two examples of this "understated evidence" that Yusuf overlooked:

Mark 9 (boy looking like a corpse) not in Matthew 17 or Luke 9 - accounts  of the same story. 

Trial in Mark 14 according to Jonathan has Jesus depicted in high Christology. Again, Jonathan hoists his church tradition onto the text. More eisegesis! The understanding of Son of Man is anachronistic to the original understanding and the "trial" of Jesus is not considered to be historical.

I don't think giving 2 examples counters a general trend especially with regards to John's Gospel.

Yusuf Ismail responds adroitly? He responds by categorising Jonathan's examples as telescoping and not as the evolution of Christology.

It's a smart pick-up here by Yusuf Ismail if that is the case. Most debaters would have got bogged down here in my opinion.

What do you think? How would you have handled that objection from Jonathan?

[PS the fallacy Jonathan mentioned would not be commonly understood amongst those involved in inter-religion debates. It's more commonly understood amongst Atheist-Theist apologetics]

Can Jonathan give any examples of lower Christology in parallel accounts between Mark and John? 

As the dialogue progressed they veered further away from the topic of the disciples and what they believed. 

Does the Carmen Christie support the idea of deity of Jesus?

This is not really related to the debate subject either but it may be interesting for folks to delve deeper into this.

A lot of evangelicals use this argument. However, does the Carmen Christie really teach the deity of Jesus in the manner in which Trinitarians would have us believe? I don't think so.

For those who are interested in researching this area, look into the idea of exaltation theology and subordinationism too.

Again, are we seeing evangelicals thrusting their later church traditions on to the text?


I hope there were a couple of points in the debate and over here which have provoked thought charitably. Look, we have to love God with all our heart and mind, right? Thus it's imperative for the Trinitarian to ask whether they are dividing their love for God between 3 rather than focussing their love directly at 1 - the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.

I was surprised at Jonathan's decision to base his claims on speculation around the relationship between Paul and the disciples. I don't understand why he, as an evangelical, did not sift through the NT and attempt to piece together the purported theology one can make out through quotes attributed to the disciples in the actual NT. I don't recall him employing this methodology.

So for instance, why did he not search for the purported statements of somebody like Peter in the NT? And why did he not try to cite texts such as 1 Peter and 2 Peter (and talk about the 'Granville-Sharp' construction for 2 Peter 1:1) - does he not believe these are linked to Peter? I know there is scholarly opinion that those texts could not have been written by the same person but the big question here is why did the evangelical Christian decide not to use those texts?

IIRC correctly, Jonathan was unable to address Yusuf's common sense objection of why there was no controversy regarding the idea of Jesus being God in the climate of Jewish monotheism? If people saw fit to have councils over the practice of circumcision, what of something practicing Jews were reciting every morning - the Shema. The very idea of who God is!

- Jonathan failed to meet Yusuf's challenge of providing documentary proof for his assertion the disciples believed Jesus was God. To tickle the taste buds of the sincere researcher, think about Acts 2: 14-36 where Peter is purported to have preached and subsequently thousands of people were saved. There was no preaching about Jesus being God.

- Jonathan was relying on speculating on a relationship and uniformity between Paul and the disciples. Nowhere was this proven. It was just that, speculation on his part.

Speculation is not what the sincere researcher wants to hear.

What next for Yusuf Ismail and Jonathan McLatchie

My sincere advice to Jonathan is to ask yourself why you're doing these debates. Is it self promotion? I don't think the sophistry and the attempted gotcha polemics bode well for one's views on your approach to serious matters.

I echo Dale Tuggy here, apologetics is an in-house activity in many cases and apologists play to their particular crowd. Jonathan's arguments and approach may appeal to his particular crowd but it has no place on the anvil of serious debate to assist the earnest researcher. Some food for thought for Jonathan, this is not a place for the ego, gotcha moments, misleading polemics and sophistry.

Yusuf Ismail seems to have scant opportunity to involve himself in discussions with folk who would be conducive to a meaningful dialogue/debate. From what I can see there really isn't much scope for high-level discussions in South Africa - one of the Christian pastors/debaters  there is unable to recognise a model he used to describe the Trinity belief would be deemed heretical in orthodox Trinitarian circles. I'd like to see him further advance Christian-Muslim apologetics through teaching in his locality and help pass on his research to younger students over there through lectures and classes. In many cases folk may cry out for debates but in reality they need lectures and classes much more than debates.

How about you?

The most important people when it comes to debates of this nature are always the viewers. What did you think about it? How would you have approached this discussion?

Here are some interesting suggestions:

How about scanning the literature to see what Peter's theology according to the quotes attributed to him in the New Testament? A starting point could be this video on what Peter believed.

What do you say about looking into the theology of Paul? Sure he was'nt an apostle but that doesn't mean he has to believe in the Trinity idea by default. I think looking into the theology of Paul for oneself would be better than presupposing he was a Trinitarian.

In debates about what the disciples believed quite often Jesus is forgotten. It sounds odd but it's true. Odder still, the debate really is just a variation on what Jesus believed too. Think about it, if we believe the disciples of Jesus were faithful to Jesus then they would have identical beliefs to Jesus. One way of approaching this discussion could be to begin by citing some quotes attributed to Jesus. How about quotes which negate the idea he was divine:

In Mark 13 Jesus states he does not know that day or hour. How is it if Jesus was the same substance and co-equal to the Father that he did not have information the Father had?

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father

Jesus prays to God in Matthew 26:39 so clearly it's ridiculous to believe Jesus is God. Also, why is he only praying to the Father and not to the Holy Spirit and himself?

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

If Jesus was God why does he have to call on the Father for support from angels? Why does he even need support?

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? [Matt 26:53]

John 14:28 teaches Jesus is lesser than the Father

"You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

Jesus denies he is God explicitly in John 17:3. The word only in Greek is monos. It clearly teaches there's no other.

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

In John 20:17 Jesus affirms he has a God

Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"