A Review of the Thomas Ross-Shabir Ally Debate, “The New Testament Picture of Jesus: Is it Accurate?” 3/13/2018, University of Wisconsin at Whitewater
by Thomas Ross
Shabir Ally is a very good debater, probably the leading Muslim intellectual and defender of Islam in the Western world. Thomas Ross was thankful to be able to debate him on the important topic. What both speakers agreed to specifically defined the debate topic was:
The debate topic concerns whether or not the facts of history demonstrate that the New Testament presents accurately or corrupts the original picture of Jesus as evidenced by the historical Jesus’ self-understanding and proclamation and as understood and proclaimed by His eyewitnesses and earliest followers. It is not over the preservation of the New Testament after the autographs, but over the extant facts of history as they relate to the accuracy of the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus. The question of the preservation of the New Testament after its original composition is well worth the time, but it is not the topic of this debate.
In relation to this topic, Thomas Ross demonstrated:
1.) That the New Testament was composed by eyewitnesses to Christ and His earliest followers.
2.) That the New Testament was too early for there to be a transformation from the Muslim “Jesus” to the Biblical Jesus, the Jesus of history.
3.) Since the debate was over the “extant facts of history,” I showed many, many facts of history that supported points #1 and #2 above.
The extant facts of history strongly support the authorship of the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) by their traditional authors. Consequently, the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ as the Divine-human Son of God and Son of Man who died by crucifixion for the sins of mankind and rose again from the dead reflects early and eyewitness testimony, indeed, testimony by Christ’s closest followers. Furthermore, the traditional early dates for the Gospels set forth by the ancient historical sources strongly support the accuracy of the New Testament’s picture of Jesus Christ. What is more, extremely early pre-Pauline material such as 1 Corinthians 15:1ff. and Philippians 2:5-11 similarly supported the New Testament picture of the Lord Jesus, as did the testimonies of the Apostles Peter and Paul, of James, Jude, and the New Testament as a whole. By way of contrast, theologically liberal theories of the authorship and dating of the New Testament are based upon a rejection of all ancient evidence and are baseless speculation. Theories of “Q” sources, Markan priority and literary dependence among the synoptic Gospels, source criticism, and other similar ideas have no support in the extant ancient historical evidence. Mr. Ross argued that the Bible is the non-contradictory and historically accurate, indeed, infallibly inspired Word of God. Furthermore, the evidence and historical sources for the life of Christ as recorded in the Bible are vastly superior to and far earlier than the historical sources of the Quran and the life of Muhammad, so Muslims who accept the accuracy of the latter are inconsistent if they reject the accuracy of the former.
Dr. Shabir Ally, by way of contrast, asserted the theologically liberal denial of the authorship of the four Gospels by their traditional authors and affirmed that late dates for the gospels are correct. He argued that the New Testament and the Gospels generally were contradictory, and that an evolutionary development took place from the original Jesus, who was the prophet depicted in the Quran, not the Divine Son of God who died by crucifixion as a substitutionary sacrifice and rose from the dead. Over time, this Muslim Jesus evolved into the Jesus of Christianity, through stages from “Q,” to Mark, to Matthew and Luke, and finally to John.
Comments on Thomas Ross’s Arguments
Shabir Ally did very little to address the positive evidence that Thomas Ross presented (much of which is explained in more detail in his book God’s Fingerprint: Evidence for the Bible from History, Archaeology, and Prophecy.) For example, Mr. Ross pointed out that 1 Corinthians 15 contains a pre-Pauline creed testifying to Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection mere months after the events took place.
Thomas referred to the pre-Pauline hymn in Philippians 2:5-11, concerning which Martin Hengel, whom Shabir mentions several times, said: “The hymn to Christ [in Philippians 2:5-11] . . . is as old as the [Christian] community itself.”
Thomas Ross mentioned that Dr. Ralph Martin, in his definitive dissertation on Philippians 2:5-11, published by Cambridge University, ascribes the hymn to Stephen, the early Christian who was martyred c. A. D. 35 (Acts 7), some two years after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. But Philippians 2:5-11 indicates that Christ is Jehovah became man, who died on the cross and rose again from the grave, and whom all will worship. The extremely early dates for the creed of 1 Corinthians 15 and the hymn of Philippians 2 is devastating to Islam. Instead of a non-Divine “Jesus” that did not die for the sins of the world and rise again, incredibly early evidence—far before Shabir’s date for Mark to allegedly start “evolving” Christ—testifies to the Christian’s dying and rising Divine-Human Jesus as the real Jesus. What did Shabir say to this? He did not offer any explanation.
Thomas also gave many lines of ancient evidence for Matthew and John’s writing their Gospels. If the unanimous testimony of ancient history is correct and Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew and John wrote the Gospel of John, then Islam’s “Jesus” cannot possibly be the historically accurate one, for it would stand in radical contradistinction to what Christ’s closest followers said about Him. Mr. Ross mentioned the ancient testimonies from Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius and Jerome for Matthew’s authorship, and that nobody ever disputed it at all. He gave similar sorts of testimony for John’s Gospel. Furthermore, he pointed out that the headings of all four Gospels contain “complete unanimity in their attribution of authorship . . . complete unanimity over the four titles of the Gospels in a distribution extending throughout the whole Roman Empire,” in radical contrast with writings that actually were made up, the pseudepigraphical forgeries. What Shabir needed to do was show that each of those pieces of evidence was problematic. He did not provide a single piece of evidence to the contrary, nor a single piece of evidence that even one of these historical sources was unreliable, nor any explanation at all for the unity in the headings for the four canonical gospels in contrast to the diversity in non-canonical forgeries. He never pointed out a single manuscript, for example, that said that someone other than John wrote John, or someone other than Matthew wrote Matthew. In a debate over “extant facts of history,” Shabir Ally’s failure to provide even a single fact in favor of his rejection of Matthew’s authorship of Matthew, or a single fact to weaken even one of the evidences Mr. Ross gave, was devastating. Thomas had asked:
Will he give us anyone who lived in the first century AD, the second century, the third century, the fourth century, the fifth century, or even between A. D. 1 and A. D. 1000, that denied that Matthew wrote Matthew? Can he give us anyone before A. D. 1700? Does every extant ancient historical source, by people who could actually investigate the matter, say Matthew wrote Matthew?
Shabir could not name anyone at all, nor deny that every extant ancient historical source was on the Christian side. The Muslim (and skeptical) view has no ancient historical evidence for it at all.
Mr. Ross also gave some of the overwhelming internal evidence in John’s Gospel for John’s authorship. For example, he quoted:
Internal evidence . . . testifies to . . . “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as the [eye] witness and writer of the content of the Gospel (21:20-24). He was among those Jesus appeared to at the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee) after their night of unsuccessful fishing (21:7). This disciple was a particular friend of Peter and was one of the sons of Zebedee (John 21:2; cf. Matt 4:21; 10:2). The preceding chapters couple him with Peter in the events on the morning of the Resurrection (20:2-8) and also identify him as the one Jesus committed his mother to at the Crucifixion (19:25-27). . . . [H]e is the one who is called “another disciple,” the one who led Peter into the court of the high priest’s palace at the trial of Jesus (18:15-16). He was present at the Last Supper, where he reclined next to Jesus and was questioned by Peter (13:23-24) . . . John . . . Peter’s close associate after the Resurrection (Acts 3:1-11; 4:13-20; Gal 2:9). He would have been able to hear both Jesus’ public and private discourses and would have been actively engaged in the development of the church from its inception. . . .[T]he author was a Palestinian Jew, not a member of the Diaspora. His knowledge of Palestinian topography was accurate. He distinguished between Bethany, the suburb of Jerusalem where Mary and Martha lived (11:1), and “Bethany on the other side of the Jordan,” where John the Baptist preached (1:28). . . . His description of the features of Jerusalem, such as the pool by the “Sheep Gate” (5:2), the “pool of Siloam” (9:7), the “Stone Pavement” (Gr. lithostroton, 19:1-3), and the varied references to the temple (2:14-16; 8:2-10; 10:2-3), show that he was familiar with the city before its destruction. . . . Archaeological investigations have confirmed the accuracy of many of the author’s allusions[.] . . .[The] author personally witnessed the events he described . . . spoke easily and familiarly of the disciples and associates of Jesus (6:5-7; 12:2-10; 13:3-6; 14:5, 8, 22) and knew the background of those Jesus had only casual contact with, such as Nicodemus (3:1) or Annas (18:1-3). Small details appear frequently, such as the barley bread used at the feeding of the five thousand (6:9), the fragrance of the ointment Mary poured on Jesus (12:3), or the time at which Judas left the Last Supper (13:3-10) . . . the natural touches that come from personal memory. . . . Not only must the writer have been an eyewitness, but he also was closely acquainted with the personal career of Jesus from beginning to end. . . .[The] author must have been John the son of Zebedee . . . one who knew Jesus personally, who had followed him throughout his career, and who had become one of the leaders in the movement that grew out of Jesus’ life and teaching. . . . [It is] a genuine document of the first-century witness.
Shabir did not show that even one of these references was inaccurate. He simply asserted that John’s Gospel was anonymous. He also simply asserted that it was late, despite the fact that “archeologists . . . are finding that John is indispensible in recreating pre-70 [A. D.] Jerusalem.” Empty assertions against overwhelming internal and external evidence are simply not sufficient, especially since if we recognize that the Apostle John, one of Christ’s three closest followers, wrote the Gospel of John that is the end of the Islamic “Jesus.” Shabir and Islam will need to do better than simply assert that John did not write John. They will need to refute the actual evidence for it and provide a preponderance of contrary ancient evidence. However, since this is impossible, Islam has a very serious problem here. The Islamic “Jesus” is not the Jesus of history—the Jesus of the Bible, the crucified and resurrected God-Man, is the Jesus of history.
Thomas Ross also defended the dates for the Gospels that are given by the ancient sources, namely, Matthew: c. A. D. 40; Mark c. A. D. 43; Luke c. A. D. 48; and John c. A. D. 50-65.
Thomas gave 15 lines of evidence that Matthew was written this early, and Shabir did not attempt to refute any of them. Nor did he attempt to refute a single one of the evidences supplied for an early date for John’s Gospel. In the question and answer time, Mr. Ross quoted liberal scholar Dr. Charles C. Torrey, professor of Semitic Languages at Yale University and founder of the American School of Archaeology at Jerusalem:
The Gospels as completed and published, in their present extent and form . . . can be only a little later than the middle of the [1st] century . . . [for the] latest of them. . . . At the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis in New York City . . . I challenged my New Testament colleagues to designate even one passage, from any of the Four Gospels, giving clear evidence of a date later than 50 A. D. . . . The challenge was not met, nor will it be, for there is no such passage.
Nobody was able to answer Dr. Torrey’s challenge then, and Shabir did not answer it now; he could not supply even one passage in the Gospels that required a date after A. D. 50. Shabir simply made assertions without any evidence.
Indeed, Dr. Ally did not appear to be aware that large numbers of Greek manuscripts supply the information that “Matthew published eight years after the ascension . . . Mark published two years later . . . Luke another five years later . . . [and John] published thirty-two years after the ascension of Christ.” This information is readily available in the collations of Dr. Wilber Pickering’s Greek New Testament. Dr. Pickering, who actually has collated many MSS, unlike most theological liberals, and unlike Shabir, points out the presence of these colophons in many NT copies, including in family 35, which he traces to the second century A. D. Shabir seemed totally unaware of the existence of this evidence. Here is an example, from the colophon to Matthew in codex K:
It states that Matthew was composed eight years after the ascension of Christ. Many other manuscripts say the same thing for Matthew and also support the dates Thomas Ross argued for in the debate for Mark, Luke, and John. Why this widespread testimony among independently copied manuscripts, from different parts of the world, from different centuries, copied by different, unconnected groups of people? Because these are the actual and the correct dates.
How can Shabir earned a degree from a secular university on the study of the New Testament and yet be totally unaware of this evidence? The secular view of the New Testament does not take the actual evidence seriously. It ignores the testimony of all ancient sources, the testimony of the manuscripts themselves, and so on, to create theories based on anti-supernaturalist bias and on a total lack of actual evidence. Taking the historical evidence seriously will not allow one to be an atheist or agnostic, nor a Muslim—it is a powerful basis for recognizing that Christianity is actually true. For that reason, it must be ignored, and one can actually get a degree from a secular university and never seriously interact with the ancient evidence for the New Testament. Indeed, as some other objections Shabir made in the debate illustrate, one can also get a degree from a secular university in New Testament and know very little about the contents of the Book or how to study it.
Instead of studying the actual evidence, secular people make up theories that reject all evidence, such as that Matthew and Luke copied from the Gospel of Mark and the alleged document “Q.” Shabir was unable to provide a single scrap of manuscript evidence for “Q,” nor any ancient reference to it. When Thomas pointed out that an examination of seventeen different reconstructions of “Q” found not a single verse in Matthew agreed upon among them all as part of the hypothetical document, Shabir did not appear to be aware of the modern scholarship recounting these facts.
All the ancient sources say that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were independent accounts, with Matthew writing first, not Mark. All of Shabir’s arguments about Matthew and Luke “evolving” Mark are based upon a rejection of all the extant evidence in favor of speculation based on no actual facts at all. Nor did Shabir deal with the fact that even if “Q” existed, “Q” still recognizes that Jesus Christ is the “Son of Man,” the Divine-human figure predicted in Daniel 7:14. Even “Q,” the fantasy document built out of anti-supernaturalist bias, does not support the Muslim “Jesus.”
Mr. Ross also pointed out the astonishing contrast between the dates for the evidence for the Biblical Jesus’ life and that for Muhammed’s life.
“The earliest biographer of Mohammed whose work is extant” is Ibn Hisham, who wrote on the Islamic prophet’s life c. A. D. 840, approximately 238 years after Muhammad’s death. The earliest and most authoritative compilation of the sayings of Muhammad (the Hadith) by Al Bukhari, dates to c. A. D. 878, c. 246 years after the death of Muhammad. Someone who rejected these extremely late sources would have to admit that we know just about nothing about Muhammad, and things taught in these collections of sayings but not in the Quran, everything from reciting the shahada to praying five times a day to giving zaqat of 2.5% of one’s income would be gone. The world has testimony to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection within months of the events, and testimony from multiple sources only a very small number of years afterwards—but almost two and a half centuries pass before history uncovers the earliest extant sources on Muhammad’s life! Muslims, nevertheless, are content to pattern their lives and religion around evidence from centuries after Muhammad allegedly lived, while rejecting the Jesus of the New Testament as a “late” invention!
Furthermore, Thomas Ross also argued, in agreement with Oxford historian Sherman-White, that even granting the modern secular dates for the Gospels that Shabir attempted to adopt there was still not even close to enough time to “evolve” the Biblical Jesus from a Muslim “Jesus.” An analysis of historical writings enables historians to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations are too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. [F]or the Gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be “unbelievable.” More generations would be needed. In fact, adding the requisite time gap lands one just when the apocryphal gospels begin to appear. These non-canonical forgeries do contain all sorts of fabulous stories about Jesus, trying to fill in the years between His boyhood and the beginning of His public ministry. These are the obvious legends sought by the critics, not the biblical Gospels. Shabir Ally did not refute Dr. Sherman-White by providing counter-examples where, say, Alexander the Great’s life “evolved,” or Caesar’s life “evolved,” or anyone else’s life “evolved” in a time period comparable to that in which he alleges the Lord Jesus’ life “evolved” from the Muslim “Jesus” to the Biblical “Jesus.” Shabir provided no ancient evidence that such an evolution could happen at the incredibly rapid rate that it must have happened for the Muslim “Jesus” to be even remotely possible. He just made assertions without any evidence.
There is a lot more positive evidence that was given in favor of the Biblical Jesus being the Jesus of history, but there is no need to repeat the entire debate. Mr. Ross is very thankful that it should be obvious to those who watch the debate and pay attention that the question is a matter of all the ancient evidence, which is universally on the side of the truth of Biblical Christianity, against no evidence, but speculation that requires the rejection of all evidence. Receipt or rejection of all the extant evidence is what divides Christians from opponents of the Biblical Christ, whether they are atheist, agnostic, or Muslim opponents.
Comments on Shabir Ally’s Arguments
As one would expect, Shabir Ally made a number of objections to the Christian position that the Jesus of history is the Jesus of the Bible. However, he did not refute or even interact with the vast majority of the arguments Mr. Ross presented. When Dr. Ally did, there frequently were problems in his response. Most of his arguments will be examined below in the general order in which they came up in the debate. This study will skip over his alleged Biblical contradictions, however, since they have already been examined in another study. Readers are strongly encouraged to examine the analysis of his alleged contradictions as well.
I. The Quran’s View of the Bible
Early in his presentation, Shabir argued that the Quran sometimes says very good things about the Bible but then also critiques it (34:00-35:00). He did not explain the positive statements made in the Quran, for they are actually highly problematic for Islam. Muhammed, or whoever wrote or compiled the Quran, thought that he was actually simply confirming what the Bible taught. For example, the Quran states:
Lo! We did reveal the Torah [the Old Testament], wherein is guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed to Allah’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of the law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s Book, and they were witnesses to it: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by what Allah has revealed, they are infidels. . . . Whoever judges not by that which Allah has revealed: such are wrong-doers. . . . And we caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and we bestowed on him the Gospel [the New Testament] wherein is guidance and light, confirming that which was revealed before it in the Torah—a guidance and an admonition to those who ward off evil. Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoever judges not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers.” (Surah 5:44-47)
The Quran plainly declares that God revealed the Old and New Testaments, that they are guidance and light, and that anyone who fails to judge by what is revealed in them is an infidel, wrong-doer, and evil-liver. In fact, the Quran declares:
“O People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians]! You have naught of guidance till you observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed to you from your Lord” (5:68). For that matter, the Quran records Allah’s statement to Muhammad, to look to the Old and New Testaments if he had any doubts about the Quran:
“And if you [Muhammad] are in doubt concerning that which we reveal to you, then question those who read the Scripture that was before you” (10:94). If Muhammad was told to test the Quran by the Scripture that was given before, the Old and New Testaments, and Jews and Christians have “naught of guidance” until they listen to and obey the Bible, and anyone who does not fail to judge by the Bible, in which is guidance and light, is an infidel, wrong-doer, and evil-liver, then Muslims should not believe that the Bible is corrupt and unreliable, but that it is the Word of God. Indeed, the Quran claims, over and over again, to confirm and uphold the Torah and the Gospel, the Old and New Testaments—Muhammad claimed he was the “messenger from Allah, confirming . . . the Scripture . . . which they [the people of the Book, the Jews and Christians] possess” (2:101; cf. 2:41, 89, 91, 97; 3:3, 81; 4:47; 6:92; 12:111; 35:31; etc.)
The Quran places the Old and New Testaments on an equal level with itself as Scripture:
“Believe in Allah and His messenger and the Scripture which He has revealed to His messenger, and the Scripture which He revealed aforetime. Whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers and the Last Day, he truly has wandered far astray” (4:136).
“We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them” (3:84). Thus, the Quran actually teaches that the Bible is the Word of God. The author of the Quran did not know that his new alleged “revelation” grossly contradicted the Bible because he was ignorant of the contents of the Old and New Testament. Thus, Muslims must contradict the Quran in order to question or undermine the Bible.
The only testimony Shabir Ally produced to counteract serious evidence of the sort specified above was Surah 2:75-79. However, this passage does not deny the overwhelming Quranic testimony to the Bible.
“[T]he Qurʾan itself speaks only of punning with words (Q4.46) and concealing certain verses (e.g. those alleged to be predictions of the coming of the Prophet), rather than wholesale ‘corruption.’” The notes in The Study Quran, which has been called “perhaps the most important work done on the Islamic faith in the English language,” explains:[The] earlier commentators . . . preferred to view the “distortion” [spoken of in Surah 2:75-79] as an act of faulty . . . interpretation. . . . interpretation that drifted away from the original intent. . . . [2.75’s statement] “after they had understood [the Word of God]” also supports the idea that the meaning was distorted, not the text.
Shabir claimed that Surah 2:75-79 indicated that some of the books of the Bible were written by people who just claimed inspiration without merit, but that simply is not the assertion of 2:75-79. This Quranic text simply refers to some people misinterpreting earlier revelations and does not contradict the many other Quranic passages indicating that the Quran seeks to confirm, support, and place the Bible on an equal level to itself.
Shabir then claimed that Surah 3:78-80 indicates that Christ did not claim Divinity. While the author(s) of the Quran did indeed deny the Deity of Christ, the passage Shabir cited actually does not deal with that question. Finally, without providing any specific page numbers or explaining any specific argument, Shabir claimed that Sidney Griffith in his book The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the People of the Book in the Language of Islam proves that the Quran never claimed that the Bible actually was God’s inspired Word. Unfortunately for Dr. Ally, Sidney Griffith’s book does no such thing, but the large majority of Muslims watching the debate are likely to simply take his word for it and not evaluate the matter for themselves.
While the debate was not over the inspiration of the Quran, Shabir Ally claimed that the Quran contained mathematical miracles (2:32:00) which demonstrate that it is the Word of God—indeed, these alleged mathematical patterns were the only evidence Shabir supplied in the debate in favor of the Quran being God’s Word. While detailed responses to these highly dubious claims by defenders of Islam have been given in many places, it should be sufficient to point out that Shabir Ally claimed that “even the verse numbers which were written in later” contain these “patterns.” Shabir’s claim here proves far too much. Even apart from the fact that there are different verse numbering systems for the Quran in existence, surely Shabir does not want to claim that the people who put the verse numbers in were writing under inspiration—that would mean that Muhammad was not the last prophet of Allah, but the people who put the verse numbers in later were actually Allah’s prophets—after all, their verse numbering system has the same “evidence” for its inspiration as does the Quran itself with its mathematical patterns. Indeed, one can find the same sorts of “mathematical miracles” in the Bible—though since they are not a good argument Thomas Ross does not use them as Biblical evidence—or even in a work such as Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. Shabir is a very intelligent man, but he employs this poor “mathematical pattern” argument for the inspiration of the Quran because there is nothing better to use.
In Shabir Ally’s first speech he also set forth a number of alleged contradictions in the Bible. Those alleged contradictions are reviewed elsewhere, so this study will skip to the next topic.
II. Appeals to Authority and to Unsubstantiated Opinion
Dr. Ally very frequently committed the historical fallacy of prevalent proof and its associated fallacy of appeal to authority. As mentioned in the debate, David Hackett Fischer in his classic book Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought defines the “fallacy of prevalent proof” as:[M]ak[ing] mass opinion into a method of verification. . . . Many . . . scholars . . . have attempted to establish a doubtful question by a phrase such as “most historians agree . . .” or “it is the consensus of scholarly opinion that . . .” or “in the judgment of all serious students of this problem . . . .” . . . [without providing] empirical evidence. . . . [T]he fallacy of the prevalent proof commonly takes this form—deference to the historiographical majority.
Dr. Shabir Ally regularly and repeatedly committed this fallacy throughout the debate. Thomas Ross had prepared to point out this fallacy because, regrettably, Shabir constantly commits this historical error in his attacks on the Bible and defense of Islam. For example, he said that the Daily Study Bible by William Barclay questions the canonicity of 2 Peter, but provided no actual concrete evidence against 2 Peter other than Mr. Barclay’s opinion. In Mr. Ross’s thirty-second response, he provided four ancient historical sources evidencing the recognition of 2 Peter as canonical in the second century A. D.—that is, four more sources than Dr. Ally provided to deny the canonicity of 2 Peter. Shabir followed his reference to Mr. Barclay with one to The Historical Figure of Jesus by E. P. Sanders which Dr. Ally said was “essential” for one who “needs to prepare for a debate like this.” Shabir then claimed that Sanders demonstrated that Jesus, in the Gospels, claimed the kingdom of God would come in His lifetime, a failed prophecy. Shabir did not reference any text in the New Testament or explain how Sanders allegedly proved that the New Testament contained a false prophecy—only Sanders’ opinion was cited. In response, Thomas Ross referenced the specific Biblical passage that skeptics attempt to use and demonstrated that those who make Sanders’ claim must ignore the immediate context (Matthew 16:28-17:9).
Thomas Ross later reproduced some of the actual factual data Dr. Eta Linnemann used to argue for the independence of the synoptic Gospels.
Dr. Linnemann noted:[A] quantitative Synoptic comparison (in which mere agreement in content is not taken into account) had the following results: In the cross-section examined, just 22.19 percent of the words in parallel passages are completely identical; on the average, given 100 words in Mark, Matthew will have 95.68 differences and Luke 100.43. This means that the verbal similarities are comparatively small and extend chiefly to identical accounts of Jesus’ words and to specific and unalterable vocabulary that is required by the nature of what is being related.
These data are quite normal if one assumes the original and independent free formulation of the same events and circumstances. The same data furnish no basis for assuming literary dependence. . . . [D]ifferences in parallel passages amount to nothing more than the perspectival contrasts that one would expect when eyewitnesses are involved [with] . . . supplementary verses . . . as additional information.
Shabir’s did not dispute any of the evidence for independence above, but simply stated that “many . . . have written refutations . . . [of] Dr. Linnemann . . . [her argument] doesn’t cut it.” Dr. Ally neither named the people who allegedly refuted Dr. Linnemann’s facts, nor cited a single factual error in her argument, nor cited a single piece of hard data that contradicted her evidence.
III. “Evolution” creating the Christian Jesus?
In addition to his argument from alleged Biblical contradictions, Dr. Shabir Ally’s other key argument was that there was an evolution in the portrayal of Jesus Christ. He argued that the earliest, accurate picture of Jesus was what the Quran claimed, namely, the figure of a Muslim prophet called “Jesus.” This “Jesus” allegedly evolved through time into the Christian Jesus who is equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. The process of evolution, Shabir argued, was evident in the Gospels. Mark, which he alleged was the earliest Gospel, was the least evolved. Matthew and Luke showed more evolution, while John’s Gospel showed the most evolution of all, although even in John the Christian Jesus was allegedly not present; John’s Gospel presented Jesus as a demigod, a semi-divine figure who was an intermediary in creation, but not as God Himself. Furthermore, Shabir claimed that the Apostle John did not write John, just as Matthew, Mark, and Luke were allegedly not written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Frequently Shabir asserted this in conjunction with appeals to prevalent proof, stating that “scholars” or “modern scholarship” proved his position without giving actual evidence.
Dr. Ally made the very curious assertion that the Gospels were evolving, as evidenced by his list of several alleged contradictions, to make Jesus into a “non-Jew so he does not need to follow the Law” (48:00). Nothing in the New Testament states or breaths a hint that the Lord Jesus was not Jewish. John’s Gospel, which Shabir (incorrectly) claims is the most “evolved” of the New Testament documents, plainly records others referring to the Lord Jesus as a “Jew” and has Christ identify Himself as a “Jew” (John 4:9, 22), and Christ’s perfect and sinless obedience to the Law as the Jewish Son of David is at the very core of Christianity, for without His obedience and lineage the Lord Jesus could never have satisfied the Law’s penalty as the perfect substitutionary sacrifice (Galatians 4:4-5) and could never have been the Messiah or Christ. Nor is it clear how, even if one granted the handful of contradictions that Shabir advanced (and which are refuted elsewhere), such as that Acts 9 and 22 disagree about whether or not Paul’s companions heard Christ’s voice and Matthew is wrong to omit three names from his genealogy, the conclusion even remotely follows that the writers of the New Testament were seeking to make Jesus into a “non-Jew.” None of Shabir’s alleged contradictions are even remotely related to this conclusion. Shabir’s astonishingly dubious argument that the New Testament was seeking to make Jesus into a “non-Jew,” in light of how poorly it represents the content of the New Testament, should lead one to greater skepticism about the accuracy of Dr. Ally’s use of his other sources.
Shabir Ally claimed that “Q” does not contain a narrative of Jesus Christ dying and rising again, evidencing, in his mind, that these historical facts were later “evolutionary” ideas (1:54:00). Dr. Ally did not provide any manuscript evidence for the existence of “Q,” nor did he provide any reference to “Q” in any ancient document whatsoever; the only arguments he made for its reality were that the Synoptic Gospels contained similar accounts and that various modern scholars claimed that “Q” existed. Shabir Ally never refuted or even attempted to refute the evidence Thomas Ross reproduced against “Q” from actual statistical comparisons of the Greek text of the Gospels, nor did Shabir not cite any actual hard data from modern scholars who liked the “Q” hypothesis. Sadly, Shabir again committed the fallacy of prevalent proof by simply stating that so-and-so believed in “Q” as if that were evidence in favor of its existence. Nor did Shabir explain how his alleged “evolution” could account for the pre-Pauline evidence for Christ’s death and resurrection within mere months of the event (1 Corinthians 15:1ff.) and Christ’s Deity within a similarly tiny timeframe (Philippians 2:5-11). Nor did Shabir explain why even the hypothetical “Q” document still refers to Christ’s cross and to His second coming in glory, which requires His resurrection (Q 14:27; 17:23ff.). What is more, the reason “Q” does not have an extended narrative of Christ’s death and resurrection is because it does not contain an extended narrative about anything at all—it is a hypothetical source of sayings invented by modern liberal scholarship. If one can create a hypothetical source of sayings without any evidence then it is possible to put whatever one likes into such a source and keep out whatever one likes. A Christian could apply a “Q” hypothesis to the Quran and claim that everything in the Quran that disagrees with Christianity is a later addition to an original “Q” form of the Quran where only what agrees with Christianity, such as monotheism, Christ’s virgin birth, and so on, is found. Muslim objections that there is no evidence that a “Q” Quran ever existed could be dismissed by stating that modern writer so-and-so believes in the “Q” Quranic hypothesis. Both the “Q” source of the Gospels and the “Q” source for the Quran are equally credible—or incredible.
Shabir claimed that various passages in the Synoptic Gospels, when compared with passages in the Gospel of John, showed that an “evolution” was taking place from the one to the other. In so doing, he neglected to provide a satisfactory explanation for the unproven assumptions underlying his evolutionary argument. Thomas Ross asked Shabir during a cross-examination the following question: “Is it true that the architect of the two-source hypothesis [Q & Mark as allegedly copied by Matthew and Luke] and classical advocate of Markan priority is Heinrich-Julius Holtzmann, who wrote in 1892, c. 1800 years after the Gospels were composed, while either the absolutely overwhelming or absolutely unanimous testimony of every extant record for century after century from the time the Gospels were written was that they were independent accounts?”
Shabir was not able to provide any historical evidence for the idea that Matthew and Luke were copying from and “evolving” Mark and Q within 1,800 years of the composition of the documents in question. His assumption that Matthew and Luke were copying Mark and “Q” is a rejection of all the historical evidence—the actual data uniformly support the origin of Matthew and Luke as independent documents not dependent upon Mark or the mythical “Q” document.
Thomas Ross had also asked: “Is it true that just in the last few decades, anti-supernaturalists have coined at least twenty-two divergent and contradictory hypotheses of evolutionary literary dependence among the synoptic Gospels, while, in the sharpest contrast, the unanimous testimony of the ancient external evidence ‘results in one conspicuous conclusion . . . [t]he assumed dependence of Matthew and Luke on Mark is totally without historical foundation . . . [and there is an] absolute failure in mustering any support among’ the ancient sources?”
Shabir Ally provided no evidence that his particular evolutionary hypothesis about Matthew and Luke copying Mark and Q is the correct one, and the other twenty-one (or more) alternative evolutionary speculations are incorrect. Since his position has no facts behind it, but simply speculation and a rejection of all the actual historical evidence, there are few limits to what one can imagine, but even fewer to what one can prove. Furthermore, those who developed anti-supernaturalist ideas of a “Jesus” who allegedly evolved through stages of oral tradition into the Savior testified to in the Gospels “never actually carried out empirical research to arrive at their ‘laws of development.’ Rather . . . [anti-supernaturalist] New Testament form critics simply accepted . . . theories . . . crucial aspects of [which] . . . are now uniformly rejected by contemporary folklorists, and for good reason.” For Shabir to claim evolutionary development he needed to first demonstrate the validity of his assumptions about the origin of the Gospels, which he completely failed to do.
Shabir Ally had argued that an allegedly lower view of Christ in Mark was evolving into a higher view in Matthew and Luke and then an even higher one in John. However, Thomas Ross showed that the comparison of Gospel passages Shabir cited that allegedly proved the “evolution” were quite arbitrary; the same sort of comparison could easily prove any one of the Gospels was “evolving” from any of the other Gospels. Dr. Ally claimed that Matthew and Luke were “evolving” from Mark, but one can find texts that can with equal efficacy “prove” the opposite:
One could as logically argue that Luke and John were “evolving” into Mark using the same sort of argument Shabir Ally made for exactly the opposite conclusion:
Similarly, one could argue that John was “evolving” into Matthew, Mark, and Luke:
Examples could be multiplied—Matthew’s Gospel records Christ stating: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19), but this Trinitarian affirmation is absent from John. Surely John has a lower Christology that is “evolving” into the higher one in Matthew. The assumption that a lower view of Christ as merely a Muslim prophet gradually evolved into the Christian view of Christ as the eternal Son, equal in nature to the Father, is at the very core of Shabir Ally’s argument against Christianity and his case in the debate. However, he provided no ancient sources that made this argument, and no hard historical data in favor of it whatsoever, nor did he successfully deal with the severe problem that all the actually extant ancient data disagree with his conclusion. Shabir’s key claim of evolution in Jesus rested on the quicksand of a comparison of passages among the Gospels that proved nothing dressed up with the historical fallacy of prevalent proof. Shabir Ally claimed that “scholars” have proven that this alleged evolution has taken place, but the “proof” turns out to be nothing other than empty assumption when subjected to rigorous historical analysis.
Shabir Ally likewise claimed that Matthew and Luke eliminated “embarrassing” passages found in Mark as evidence for the evolution of the portrayal of Christ in the Gospels. However, this assertion could as easily prove that John, the most allegedly “evolved” of the Gospels, actually was “evolving” into Mark or one of the other Synoptic Gospels. John records Christ’s statement “my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), while this declaration is absent from the Synoptics—surely such an “embarrassing” declaration was eliminated by Matthew, Mark, and Luke as they “evolved” Christ to a higher level. John records that Christ got tired: “Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well” (John 4:6). Can God get weary? Surely not—surely such an “embarrassing” statement in John is absent from Matthew, Mark, and Luke because of the “evolution” of Christ to a higher plane in the Synoptics. Similarly, John records Christ saying: “The Son can do nothing of himself” (John 5:19), another statement absent from the Synoptics—surely the low Christology of the Johannine Jesus is evolving into a higher Christology in the Synoptic Gospels. Contrary to all such empty speculations, all the Gospels contain statements clearly affirming the true Deity of Christ and Christ’s true humanity. The “least evolved” Gospel, Mark, begins with an affirmation that Jesus Christ is Jehovah for whom John the Baptist was preparing the way (Mark 1:1-4 & Isaiah 40:3), and the “most evolved” Gospel, John, also teaches Christ’s true Deity (John 1:1-3; 20:28). The “least evolved” Gospel, Mark, speaks of Christ’s allegedly “embarrassing” human limitations (Mark 13:32) just like the allegedly most evolved Gospel does (John 14:28; 5:19; 4:6, etc.). Furthermore, Christians do not find statements of their Lord’s true humanity embarrassing—they rejoice greatly at that blessed truth, and allegations that they embarrassed or ashamed by anything in any of the Gospels, or that Matthew and Luke were (allegedly) embarrassed or ashamed when they (allegedly) copied and “evolved” Mark are, in truth, ideas that should embarrass those who advocate them. While the differing emphases of the various Gospels will lead to variety in the number and sort of passages proving the various facets of Christ’s character, the same single Person, with His two natures, true God and true Man, appears in all four of the canonical Gospels—just as they appear in the very earliest pre-Gospel, pre-Pauline testimonies to Christ such as Philippians 2:5-11.
Shabir Ally spent a great deal of time attacking the Gospel of John. Such assaults were absolutely essential to his case, since, if John’s Gospel is actually the product of the Apostle John, one of Christ’s three closest followers, it is almost impossible to maintain that the Muslim “Jesus” is the real figure of history, rather than the Biblical figure of Jesus Christ trusted in by Christians. How did Dr. Ally attempt to question the accuracy of John’s Gospel and establish an alleged evolutionary development in the Gospels?
Shabir Ally argued that because the Synoptic Gospels do not use the term “beloved disciple,” the reference in the fourth Gospel to the beloved disciple is fictional (1:24:00). It should not be surprising that the Apostle John, in a Gospel so full of the love of God to sinful men (John 3:16, etc.), should, amazed that the Father, Son, and Spirit would so love him as to redeem him and even put him into the ministry, refer to himself as “the beloved disciple.” Shabir’s argument here is amazingly weak—consistently applied, the idea that if the composer of a book refers to himself with a unique term the author must not really be the author would eliminate a huge percentage of authors from writing their own works. Why would an intelligent man like Shabir provide essentially no response at all to the positive case for John’s authorship of his Gospel and instead spend his time on such astonishingly weak counter-arguments? Is it not because the case for John’s authorship of his gospel is very, very strong?
Shabir likewise claimed that John’s Gospel changes Christ’s words—it is not as careful to accurately record what Christ said as Matthew, Mark and Luke, according to Dr. Ally (1:01:01). However, the text of the Gospel itself indicates that its author had an extremely high view of Christ’s words.
God’s people must hear the words of the Son (John 12:47), receive His words (John 12:48, 17:8), keep His words (John 14:23), have His words abiding in them (John 15:7) and remember His words are from the Father (John 14:10). John records Christ’s prayer to the Father: “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest Me; and they have received them” (John 17:8; John 14:26) in the canonical New Testament Scriptures (John 14-16), and records that believers receive “the word which Jesus had said” (John 2:22), that Christ is the One who “speaketh the words of God” (Jn 3:34) that men must receive Christ’s words in the same way that they receive the words of the Old Testament may believe them (John 5:47), and “the words that I [Christ] speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). John closes the New Testament canon by threatening those who add or take away from God’s actual words with damnation (Revelation 22:18-19).
While the Synoptic Gospels contain statements of this kind in relation to Christ’s words (Matthew 24:35; Mark 8:38; 13:31; Luke 21:33, etc.), John records many more of these statements than the Synoptic Gospels do—thus, if anything, John’s Gospel would be the least likely of all the Gospels to alter Christ’s words. The internal evidence is overwhelming in favor of John being extremely careful to record the actual words spoken by the Lord Jesus. The external evidence is likewise overwhelming—just as there is no evidence for any other author of the fourth Gospel than John the Apostle and strong ancient testimony in favor of the Apostle, so there is no ancient testimony against John’s accurately recording Christ’s actual words and strong testimony in favor of this taking place, while archaeology provides remarkable confirmation of John’s accuracy, leading the honest person to consider that if John is trustworthy where it can be tested, it should be assumed to be accurate elsewhere unless strong evidence to the contrary is provided. Did Shabir provide strong evidence against John’s accurately recording Christ’s actual words? No—he did not interact with the internal evidence at all, did not refute one single piece of the external evidence, and provided no ancient evidence at all in favor of his affirmation of inaccuracy—all he did was mention the name of one scholar who claimed that John did not accurately record Christ’s very words. Shabir did not give any arguments made by this scholar against John’s accuracy, and an examination of the reference Shabir made evidences that this author just made the assertion without providing any evidence at all for it. A historical fallacy of appeal to authority by Shabir Ally is by no means sufficient to overturn the overwhelming evidence in favor of John’s accurately recording Christ’s actual words in his Gospel.
Thomas Ross had argued that the internal and external evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the authorship of John’s Gospel by the Apostle John. The book claims to be by an eyewitness and member of the innermost circle of three (Peter, James, and John; Matthew 10:2; 17:1; Mark 13:3; 14:33; Luke 8:51) within the larger circle of the twelve Apostles (John 13:23; 19:35; 21:24). This member of the inner circle of the Apostles testified about what he had seen and heard from his Savior and Redeemer. Some of the very powerful internal evidence for John has been presented earlier. Shabir Ally did not refute one jot or tittle of this internal evidence, but simply continued to claim that the Gospel was written by someone else.
Similarly, Thomas Ross had pointed out the overwhelming evidence in favor of the Apostle John’s authorship of his gospel. Ancient historical testimony to John’s authorship of his gospel is overwhelming and “with one voice names the apostle John as the author of the fourth gospel” :
Irenaeus: “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us . . . by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures[.] . . . [T]he Apostles . . . had perfect knowledge . . . invested with power from on high [from] the Holy Spirit[.] . . . Matthew . . . issued a written gospel . . . Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast [John 13:23], did himself publish a gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”
Anti-Marcionite Prologue: “The Gospel of John was revealed and given to the churches by John, just as Papias of Hierapolis, the close disciple of John, related[.]”
Clement of Alexandria: “John . . . urged on by his disciples, and, divinely moved by the Spirit, composed a . . . Gospel. . . . [a] tradition of the primitive elders.”
Origen: “[T]he four Gospels . . . are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God[.]. . . [T]he first was written by Matthew . . . [t]he second is by Mark . . . the third by Luke . . . [l]ast of all that by John. . . . Why need we speak of him who reclined upon the bosom of Jesus, John, who has left us one Gospel, though he confessed that he might write so many that the world could not contain them? [John 21:25].”
Furthermore, the heading “according to John” is found in the manuscripts of John’s Gospel, and the manuscript evidence never ascribes authorship to anyone else. The evidence strongly supports the heading’s presence from the very first, since it was necessarily present as soon as any church had more than one canonical gospel. Since John was the last of the four canonical gospels to be composed, it would have circulated almost immediately in churches that had at least one of the other canonical gospels, requiring an almost immediate specification in the earliest copies of Johannine authorship. Shabir Ally never refuted any of this external evidence. He did not even attempt to refute all of it, nor did he even attempt to produce any ancient historical source that argued against the Apostle John’s authorship of his gospel.
Shabir Ally claimed that John 21 was an “obvious addition by the community” (1:27:00), speaking of an alleged community of “Johannine people” who were willing to pretend to be the Apostle John and make up the Gospel. Of course, neither Dr. Ally, nor theological liberals who he is relying upon, have provided a shred of evidence that there ever was such a group of people, as there is no historical data at all in favor of their existence and a unanimous historical testimony against them and in favor of the Apostle John’s authorship of his Gospel. Furthermore, Thomas Ross demonstrated the overwhelming evidence in favor of the unity of John’s Gospel—prologue (John 1:1-18), body, and epilogue (John 21). Ross not only pointed out the complete lack of manuscript or any other sort of concrete evidence for any portion of John being added later rather than being composed by the Apostle, but also positively indicated the impossibility of cutting up the Gospel into parts by the astonishing literary artistry and unity of the entire work. He pointed out:
The prologue consists of 496 syllables, appropriately since 496 is both a triangular number and a perfect number and is also the numerical value of the Greek word monogenēs [“only begotten”] . . . used in 1:14, 18. . . . [T]he number 496 . . . links the Prologue and the Epilogue together. For, while the Prologue has 496 syllables, the Epilogue (a considerably longer passage) has 496 words. That the correspondence should be between the number of syllables in the Prologue and the number of words in the Epilogue is quite appropriate, because the Prologue is a poetic composition, in which one might expect the number of syllables to be important, whereas the Epilogue is a narrative. . . . [W]e cannot think that the identification of the Beloved Disciple as the author of the Gospel is a later, secondary accretion to the Gospel. The Gospel, with its Epilogue and its two-stage conclusion has been designed to reveal . . . at the end the role of the Beloved Disciple in its making[.]
Thomas Ross also pointed out that “20:30–31 and 21:24–25 form together a carefully composed two-stage conclusion to the Gospel. This requires that ‘written’ has the same sense in both 20:30–31 and 21:24. In both cases it refers to the writing of “this book,” not of a [non-existent, hypothetical] source” consisting of only part of John’s Gospel.
Shabir Ally’s only response to this evidence was to claim that the “beloved disciple is known to be an invention by many scholars” (2:12:00). No refutation of the internal and external evidence to the contrary was supplied; a particularly egregious example of the historical fallacy of prevalent proof was all that Dr. Ally mustered against the actual factual data.
Interestingly, Shabir used as proof that John had “evolved” a Jesus not found in the earlier Gospels the fact that John calls Christ the personal Logos or “Word of God” (John 1:1-3, 14; 1:28:00). Ironically, the Quran actually calls Jesus the Word of God (Surah 3:45; 4:171), a fact discussed in the debate itself, yet Shabir claims the Quran contains the “unevolved” original figure of Jesus Christ. Why is a title for Christ shared by the Gospel of John and the Quran evidence that John’s Gospel has “evolved” Jesus, but the Quran has the original “unevolved” figure?
Dr. Ally claimed that only John’s Gospel portrays Christ as the One through whom the worlds were made (1:28:00), evidencing that John’s Gospel was an endpoint of an “evolution” of Christ from a simple prophet into Deity. While the reader should not be surprised that many texts teach Christ is the Creator in John since his Gospel emphasizes Christ’s Deity while other Gospels emphasize other aspects of the Lord Jesus’ glorious Person, Shabir failed to explain why the pre-Pauline Christ-hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 explicitly identifies Christ as the Creator and as Jehovah in c. A. D. 35, before any of the Gospels. For that matter, the Gospel Shabir claims is the earliest and least “evolved,” Mark, begins by identifying Jesus Christ as Jehovah, the eternal God for whom John the Baptist was the forerunner (Mark 1:1-4; Isaiah 40:3) in a passage that identifies the One for whom the Baptist prepared the way as the Creator (Isaiah 40:12). If the fact that John identifies Christ as Creator is a product of a long period of evolution, why is Christ identified as Creator in early pre-Pauline, pre-Gospel testimony, and also in the allegedly least “evolved” of the Synoptic Gospels? Shabir failed to explain or even acknowledge the existence of problems such as these in his argument against John’s Gospel.
Consistent with his claim of historical evolution, Shabir Ally claimed that the Gospel of John did not present Christ as the “true God” but as a quasi-deity, borrowing a line of argumentation employed by the Watchtower Society, because, Shabir alleged, Christ is not called “the God” or ho Theos with the Greek article (1:06:00). He likewise mentioned that in John 17:3 the phrase “the only true God” is employed of God the Father. However, the same Greek phrase employed for the Father in John 17:3 is employed of Christ in 1 John 5:20, the only other text where the exact phrase “the true God” appears in Scripture, in an epistle by the same author, John, who wrote the Gospel of John. So just as the Father is called “true God” (John 17:3), Christ is called “the true God and eternal life” in 1 John 5:20. What is more, at the very climax of John’s Gospel, Christ is actually called “the God” or ho Theos—the apostle Thomas’s statement “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), addressed to Christ, represents the Greek ho Kurios mou kai ho Theos mou.
The Lord Jesus is also called “the God” with the Greek article in Hebrews 1:8: “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God [ho Theos], is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.” The Watchtower Society’s distinction followed by Shabir between articular and nonarticular Theos/“God” is actually based on a highly faulty understanding of the Greek language and the Greek article, and it is unfortunate that Dr. Ally, despite having decades of experience debating leading Christian scholars, would make a painfully invalid and unscholarly Watchtower Society argument about the Greek article in connection with Christ as God, as well as ignoring the only other place the phrase “the true God” appears in the New Testament outside of John 17:3, in an attempt to remove Christ from His exalted status.
Shabir also never acknowledged or dealt with the fact that merely two verses after John 17:3 Christ claims to have the same Divine glory as the Father and to be the Creator who eternally existed before the world came into existence (John 17:5). It is perfectly obvious that John 17:3 is not denying the true Deity of Christ when only two verses later that very true Deity is plainly asserted.
Shabir’s claim that an evolution of the picture of Christ from the allegedly early merely prophetic “Jesus” through the allegedly non-Divine synoptic “Jesus” to the allegedly semi-divine Johannine “Jesus” suffers from the severe problems that the Deity of Christ is taught in all the Gospels—for example, Mark, the gospel Shabir claims is the earliest, begins with a quotation from Isaiah that identifies Jesus as Jehovah (Mark 1:1-3; Isaiah 40:3)—from the fact that John was not a late invention but a product of one of Christ’s three closest human followers, a fact that Shabir produced not a single piece of ancient evidence to contradict, from the fact that John over and over again presents Christ as the one true God, not as a semi-divine being, and from the fact that extremely early, pre-Gospel, pre-epistle, pre-Pauline testimony to the Deity of Christ exists. For example, Philippians 2:5-11, which was mentioned in the debate as being the pre-Pauline Christ-hymn probably composed by the early Christian martyr Stephen, who was martyred only two years after Christ’s death, presents Christ as “equal with God” (Philippians 2:5) and as Jehovah to whom every knee will bow (Philippians 2:10-11; Isaiah 45:23). The “evolution” that Shabir insisted was yet incomplete when John’s Gospel was composed was actually present from the very beginning, present in all the New Testament documents by all New Testament authors, and even present in the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah (e. g., Isaiah 9:6).
IV. Miscellaneous Arguments by Dr. Shabir Ally
Shabir Ally made a variety of other arguments. These will be briefly reviewed below.
Near the end of the debate, Dr. Ally made his only attempt to deal with the overwhelming external evidence that had been set forth by Thomas Ross in favor of the authorship of the Gospels by Christ’s eyewitnesses and Apostles—he claimed that all later sources were simply repeating tradition they derived from Papias. Shabir never dealt with the fact that Papias was not repeating late hearsay but had heard and seen the Apostle John and other first-generation Christians personally.
Papias emphasizes that he got his information from those who had known the apostles Andrew, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew and others, and . . . is writing self-consciously as a particularly well-informed person, who has multiple sources and who is only removed from Matthew himself by a single link. . . . Thus he had informants of great reliability whose reports his readers could safely trust . . . testimony of the highest quality.
Shabir Ally gave no ancient historical evidence to support setting aside or questioning the reliability of the testimony of Papias.
Furthermore, the historical facts are that “the church fathers were not merely unthinkingly reflecting Papias . . . they (e.g., Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, Origen) were renowned scholars in their own right who had information from widespread and independent sources. They did not need to rely solely on Papias for their information.”
Indeed, “[T]here is in . . . the writings of Irenaeus . . . no hint of dependence [on Papias]. Indeed, Irenaeus was sufficiently close to the authorities of Papias to have gathered his own information. . . . Both Papias and Irenaeus . . . are competent to give us reliable and independent information about . . . gospel origins.”
Not a shred of evidence exists that the huge number of ancient historical sources cited by Thomas Ross were merely copying from Papias—and Shabir did not attempt to provide any evidence for his assertion. Nor did Dr. Ally even attempt to provide any refutation of the positive evidence indicating that ancient Christian historical sources engaged in very careful research, rather than just repeating the alleged inventions of Papias. Thomas Ross had provided the evidence of Eusebius as an example of the historical accuracy of early Christian sources:
Eusebius . . . has not been inventing things; in fact, Eusebius’s narrative is built upon a dazzling array of published sources and archival materials, some forty-nine different authors, and over a hundred different books . . . and his literal fealty to the text of the Bible spilled over into a literal fealty to almost every other kind of text. Where the classic historians tended to put speeches and words into the mouths of their characters, Eusebius is utterly scrupulous in citing letters, quotations, and official documents. The early Christians’ handling of history . . . cannot be discounted.
An unsubstantiated assertion by Shabir Ally that later Christian sources were merely copying the unverifiable assertions of Papias is utterly insufficient to overthrow the historical testimony set forth by Thomas Ross. There is strong evidence both that Papias is reliable and strong evidence that other ancient sources were based on further evidence and data, rather than blindly following Papias. Christianity is a religion based upon the conviction that the Creator of the universe became incarnate, was crucified, and rose from the dead in genuine space and time and history, and early Christian historiography evidenced a carefulness for historical accuracy befitting the Christian belief that God Himself had shown towards history by accomplishing redemption within it.
Dr. Ally argued that Thomas Ross cited only conservative scholars. This was simply not the case; both conservative and liberal scholars were cited. However, Mr. Ross’s argument was not based upon the number of scholars cited, but upon the actual ancient historical data, which is of high quality and which is unanimous in its testimony to the Christian Jesus, to the traditional authorship of the Gospels, and which overwhelmingly favors the Christian position. Shabir Ally did not provide any ancient evidence at all showing that the Muslim “Jesus” existed before this figure was invented by the author or authors of the Quran.
Shabir stated that Thomas provided no first century evidence that Matthew wrote Matthew (39:00). However, even on Dr. Ally’s late dating for the Gospels there would have been multiple Gospels extant in various churches before the end of the first century—indeed, since Dr. Ally claims that Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel, from the very origin of Matthew and Luke, if one grants Shabir’s argument, churches would have had both Mark and one of these other Gospels as soon as they were published. Therefore the fact that the headings of the Gospels unanimously affirm Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors of their respective Gospels requires a first century origin for these designations, since as soon as more than one Gospel was present in a church a method of distinguishing the two documents would necessarily have existed. Nor did Shabir provide any ancient evidence at all that Papias, Irenaus, and the many other witnesses cited in favor of the traditional authorship of the Gospels were inaccurate or that their historical research or affirmations should be set aside. His entire case was based upon citing one or more persons in modern times who rejected the testimony of the ancient historical evidence and claiming that these modern individuals should be followed, almost always without even explaining the reasoning made by these modern writers, and always without proving that their reasoning was valid. Shabir made no serious attempt to deal with the unanimity of authorial ascription for the canonical Gospels—present because their actual authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were well known and universally recognized—and the chaotic disagreements in the authorial ascriptions in the pseudepigrapha because of their anonymous or inaccurate authorship.
It is also noteworthy that Shabir Ally never gave a single piece of factual data contradicting the dates for the Gospels accepted by early Christianity and defended by Thomas Ross. Dr. Ally did not give a single piece of ancient evidence against a date for Matthew c. A. D. 41, Mark c. A. D. 43, Luke c. A. D. 48, and John c. A. D. 50-65, nor a single piece of evidence in favor of the later dates after A. D. 70 defended by theological liberalism.
The fact is that every extant ancient first century source, from the extremely early pre-Pauline creed in 1 Corinthians 15, the pre-Pauline hymn in Philippians 2, the canonical Gospels, the rest of the New Testament, and all extra-biblical sources present the Christian Jesus, while the Muslim “Jesus” is nowhere to be found, and there was neither time for the alleged evolution from the Muslim “Jesus” to the Christian Jesus nor any evidence that it ever took place.
Shabir Ally claimed that Christ was inaccurate in His statement about the small size of the mustard seed (59:00; Matthew 13:32; Mark 4:31; Luke 13:19); it was not accurate, Shabir claimed, to call the mustard seed the “least of all seeds” (Matthew 13:32) or “less than all the seeds that be in the earth” (Mark 4:31), because, while the mustard seed is tiny, about the size of a grain of sand, there are seeds present somewhere else on the face of the planet that are smaller. It should be noted that the phrase “least of all seeds” could also be translated as an elative adjective instead of a superlative adjective, that is, as “very small among all the seeds,” and that one could argue that Christ is employing hyperbole, somewhat similar to how one might say “I was in the traffic jam forever” without one’s audience understanding that one was literally in traffic for all eternity, or the way an unhappy employee might complain, “I have the worst of all bosses!” without really meaning that his boss was actually worse than Hitler, Stalin, Pol-Pot, or other monstrous persons in history. However, as Archer points out, “it is highly questionable whether Jesus was discussing all plant life on planet Earth when He made this statement. No one yet has proved that ancient Palestinians planted anything that bore a smaller seed than that of the black mustard, and that was the framework within which Jesus was speaking.” While it is worth noting that the phraseology of “the seeds that be in the earth” (Mark 4:31) refers to seeds sown in the ground in Palestine contextually, not, say, to seeds in treetops in the Amazon rain forest in South America, even apart from this fact it is clear contextually that the mustard was “the smallest of the different kinds of seeds Jews were accustomed to sow in their fields,” and that is all that Christ was referring to. Much stronger arguments than this are necessary if one wishes to overthrow the Bible.
Dr. Ally asserted that Mark’s Gospel inaccurately claims a particular incident happened “when Abiathar was the high priest” (1:00:00). Shabir did not quote the text, Mark 2:26, to which he alludes.
A careful examination of Mark 2:26 reveals that Christ did not actually imply that Abiathar was already high priest at the time of David’s visit. He simply said, “Epi Abiathar archiereōs,” which means “in the time of Abiathar the high priest.” As things turned out, bloody King Saul soon had Ahimelech and the entire priestly community of Nob massacred by Doeg the Edomite (1 Sam. 22:18–19); and Abiathar the son of Ahimelech was the only one fortunate enough to escape. He fled to join David (v. 20) and served as his priest all through David’s years of wandering and exile. Naturally he was appointed high priest by David after David became king, and he shared the high priesthood with Zadok, Saul’s appointee, until David’s death. Under these circumstances it was perfectly proper to refer to Abiathar as the high priest—even though his appointment as such came somewhat later, after the incident at Nob—just as it would be proper to introduce an anecdote by saying, “Now when King David was a shepherd boy,” even though David was not actually a king at the time he was a shepherd boy.
According to W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Chicago: University of Chicago, 1957], p. 286), epi with the genitive simply means “in the time of”; and that is the meaning that applies in Mark 2:26 (the same construction as Acts 11:28 [“in the time of Claudius”] and Heb. 1:2 [“in the time of the last of these days” (epʾ eschatou tōn hēmerōn toutōn)]). The episode did happen “in the time of” Abiathar; he was not only alive but actually present when the event took place, and he very shortly afterward became high priest as a result of Saul’s murdering his father, Ahimelech. If Jesus’ words are interpreted in the way he meant them, there is absolutely no variance with historical fact.
This explanation was personally handed to Dr. Ally over twenty years ago by Dr. Jay Smith. It is unfortunate that Shabir will continue to use arguments against the Bible even though more than two decades ago their invalidity was personally demonstrated to him.
Shabir Ally, while not citing the passage, claimed that Mark 11:13 is problematic, because Christ cursed a fig tree while “the time of figs was not yet.” (1:05:00). However, this alleged error is easily answered.
Fig trees in Palestine would develop their foliage and their figs at somewhat different times of the year, but if there were no fruit when the tree was in full foliage, no fruit would appear on it subsequently:
In the fig tree, the fruit appears coincident with, and sometimes even before, the appearance of the leaves. If the leaves alone appear, there will be no fruit that year. The fact that this tree had an abundance of foliage ahead of season held out the promise of a corresponding precocity in regard to its fruit. . . . [However, Christ] . . . found nothing but leaves”—actual inspection revealed that there were no figs under the leaves. The tree did not fulfill its promise. . . . “The time of figs was not yet” . . . the comment is historically correct; the season for ripe figs was in June, more than a month away. This explanatory comment underlines the fact that there was no reason for expecting the tree to have figs beyond the promise of its preseasonal foliage. It stresses the precocity of the tree.
Christ cursed the fig tree as an illustration of the coming judgment upon Israel for the nation’s rejection of their Messiah:
Events have meaning beyond their face value; they become significant as they are interpreted. . . . His act was an example of prophetic realism similar to the symbolic actions of the OT prophets (e.g. Isa. 20:1–6; Jer. 13:1–11; 19:1–13; Ezek. 4:1–15). The prophets frequently spoke of the fig tree in referring to Israel’s status before God (e.g. Jer. 8:13; 29:17; Hos. 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7; Micah 7:1–6), while the destruction of the fig tree is associated with judgment (Hos. 2:12; Isa. 34:4; cf. Lk. 13:6–9). In this context the fig tree symbolizes Israel in Jesus’ day, and what happens to the tree the terrible fate that inevitably awaited Jerusalem. The explanation was already put forth by Victor of Antioch, in the oldest existing commentary on Mark, that Jesus had “used the fig tree to set forth the judgment that was about to fall on Jerusalem.” This is certainly the evangelist’s understanding of the episode, for in the Gospel of Mark Jesus’ action in the Temple is firmly embedded within the fig tree incident. The a-b-a structure of Ch. 11:12–21 (fig tree—cleansing of the Temple—fig tree) serves to provide a mutual commentary on these two events. Just as the leaves of the tree concealed the fact that there was no fruit to enjoy, so the magnificence of the Temple and its ceremony conceals the fact that Israel has not brought forth the fruit of righteousness demanded by God. Both incidents have the character of a prophetic sign which warns of judgment to fall upon Israel for honoring God with their lips when their heart was far from him (cf. Ch. 7:6).
Nothing at all in the narrative of Christ’s action with the fig tree denies the inerrancy of Scripture, much less proves that the Gospels “evolve” the Christian Jesus from an earlier Muslim prophet.
Dr. Ally repeatedly argued that the Gospels had a theological purpose; therefore, he claimed, they were not giving historical facts (e. g., 2:25:00). It is certainly true that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wanted everyone to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and embrace Biblical Christianity. However, the fact that the Apostles had a purpose in writing does not mean that what they recorded is inaccurate. If what the Gospels record is true, and the Lord Jesus really is the risen Savior of the world, it is only reasonable that those who were willing to brave persecution and death to spread that truth would want everyone to believe it. Furthermore, there are very few ancient writings that are written without some kind of purpose that the author is hoping people will adopt.
As Eddy & Boyd explain:
If [the] “bias” argument against the Gospels were carried through consistently, all historical reporting by people who fervently believed and were emotionally invested in what they report would have to be dismissed. Historical information often is initially reported by those who fervently believe what they report. Since the hypothetical ideal of the historian as a detached, objective observer is a rather modern concept (some would argue, a modern myth), it is hard to imagine ancient reporters passing on material they did not in some sense passionately care about.
Moreover, it is virtually impossible to imagine certain events being reported by anyone, ancient or modern, in an emotionally detached manner. Consider, for example, Holocaust survivors reporting what transpired in Nazi concentration camps. While historians always must take their limitations and biases into consideration, can anyone imagine dismissing the basic reliability of the survivors’ various reports on the grounds that they were, “emotionally involved” and believed “fervently in the story they [were] telling”? If what they are reporting is remotely close to what actually happened, would it not be positively bizarre if they were not “emotionally involved” and believed “fervently in the story they [were] telling”?
So it is, we contend, with the Gospel authors. If the Jesus they knew was remotely like the Jesus they report, we cannot imagine them being anything other than “emotionally involved” and invested in “the story they [were] telling.” Indeed, it is difficult to understand why they wrote what they wrote unless they were passionately committed to the story they were telling. For given the religious-political environment they were ministering in, these authors would have known that proclaiming this message would likely instigate hostility from both Jews and Romans—which, of course, it did. . . .[T]here is no such thing as an unbiased, objective author/reader. To write or research anything is to do so from a distinct perspective, complete with already-established assumptions that frame everything that is experienced, remembered, spoken, and heard. And this is as true of [liberal scholars] as it is of any conservative scholar or ancient author. Yet, this does not keep always-already biased skeptical scholars from believing that their readers should take their reconstructions and conclusions as more or less reliable reflections of the past. If the particular biases of these contemporary scholars do not prevent them from doing (what they want others to accept as) reliable history, why should we think that the bias of the Gospel authors prevents them from communicating . . . reliable history? . . . [T]t seems that hermeneutical humility should lead us to grant to ancient authors the same possibilities . . . we grant to ourselves. Certainly they, like us, are biased. Yet they, like us, are capable of communicating . . . reliable history when they want to.
Bias, which is inevitable, does not necessarily undermine accuracy, whether we are talking about the bias of modern historians, Holocaust survivors, or ancient writers. As H. E. W. Turner has pointed out, “There is nothing anti-historical in writing history from a standpoint.”105 Indeed, if part of the bias of the Gospel authors includes an interest in preserving actual history, as we have argued is the case (e.g., Luke 1:1–4), the emotional investment of the authors may actually enhance their reliability. As with Holocaust survivors, their fervent belief in the story they tell and emotional investment in reporting it like it happened may well have motivated them to do the work necessary to get the story right.
Indeed, the theological purpose of the human authors of the Gospels increased, rather than decreased, their commitment to historical accuracy—they were testifying to the “God of truth” (Isaiah 65:16) about the Son of God who is the truth (John 14:6) and controlled by the Spirit of truth, who led them into all truth (John 16:13) in writing the Word of truth (John 17:17). Shabir Ally needs to demonstrate that those who professed to place such an extremely high value on truth, who taught that the devil was the father of lies (John 8:44), and that all liars would be tormented eternally in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8) overcame their theological convictions to lie despite their theology—to claim that they lied because of their theology is totally inadequate.
Shabir claimed that conservative scholars become liberal, but liberal scholars never become conservative. He claimed that conservative scholars sometimes become liberals, or even atheists, atheists sometimes become Christians, but “it hardly happens that one who has become familiar with the critical scholarship . . . becomes a conservative Christian scholar.” Numbers of examples could be cited to show that Shabir’s claim is false, but Dr. Eta Linnemann, whose works were referenced in the debate, stands as a leading counter-example to Shabir’s claim:
She studied . . . [the] full range of biblical, philosophical, theological, and church-historical subjects, in Marburg, Tübingen, and Göttingen. Notable professors at Marburg were Bultmann and Dinkler in NT, Balla and Fohrer in OT, and Benz, Maurer, and Zscharnack in church history and dogmatics. At Tübingen her professors included Fuchs and Michel in NT, Würthwein and Elliger in OT, Rückert and Ebeling in church history and dogmatics, and Weischedel and Krüger in philosophy. At Göttingen she heard, among others, Gogarten, Wolf, Käsemann, and Trillhaus. . . . [She was] assigned . . . to write interpretations of biblical texts for religion teachers in the German public school system. Out of this labor arose her critically acclaimed book on Jesus’ parables, which was accepted as a doctoral dissertation by the Kirkliche Hochschule (Ecclesiastical College) of Berlin. Overseeing this work were Karl Kupisch, Ernst Fuchs, and Martin Fischer. She received her doctoral degree summa cum laude on July 13, 1961.
From April 16, 1961 till March 31, 1966 she taught in a seminary in Berlin, lecturing in New Testament, church history, and religious education. On April 1, 1966 she received appointment to occupy the chair of Protestant theology and religious pedagogical methodology at the Teachers’ College of Braunschweig. There she became associate professor on February 14, 1967. In the midst of these labors she requested permission to habilitieren (submit a second doctoral dissertation, required in the German theological system for the venia legendi, the right to full privileges as university professor), a request she made to the Protestant faculty at the Phillipps University in Marburg. Her dissertation there was entitled Studien zur Passionsgeschichte (Studies of the Passion Story). She received the venia legendi for NT on February 11, 1970 and was named honorary professor at Marburg on August 10, 1971. She become full professor at Braunschweig in 1972. . . . [On] November 5, 1977 . . . at the age of fifty-one she says she gave her life to Christ. It was a month later that she “repented of my perverse theological teaching” and declared her earlier work and writing rubbish. She has elaborated on this part of her life in her first post-conversion book, Historical Criticism of the Bible. . . . Her initial book on historical criticism appeared in German in 1986 and has since been published in Dutch (1987), English (1990), Indonesian (1991), and Norwegian (1994) editions. Sales of the English edition alone have far exceeded 10,000 copies. A second monograph dealing with the synoptic problem appeared in both German and English editions in 1992 and has likewise sold several thousand copies. . . . [S]he has conducted two extended speaking tours in the United States, speaking at several dozen colleges and seminaries and before numerous church groups. She has also produced a number of essays, among them one called “Pauline Authorship and Vocabulary Statistics,” a second entitled “Historical Critical and Evangelical Theology,” a third entitled “The Lost Gospel of Q—Fact or Fantasy?” which recently appeared in Trinity Journal, and fourth “Is There a Gospel of Q?” which appeared in Bible Review. Still unpublished, to this writer’s knowledge, is a close analysis of a portion of Robert H. Stein’s The Synoptic Problem. An example of her German language article production is “Echtheitsfragen und Vokabelstatistik” (“Questions of Authenticity and Vocabulary Statistics”), in which she investigates the use made of statistics to call in question the traditional authorship of most NT books.
It simply is not the case that only conservative scholars become liberal while liberal ones do not become conservative. A more accurate assessment would be that usually by the time people end up with teaching positions in universities or seminaries they have their minds made up and rarely switch one way or the other, and conservative professors rarely become liberal while liberal ones rarely become conservative. What does happen, on the other hand, with some frequency is that impressionable young college students who claim to be Christians but are not genuinely born again (John 3:3) and consequently do not know the Divine Author of the Bible personally, and who come from weak or even apostate churches (or, perhaps better, “religious organizations”), and who know nothing at all about the arguments for or against the Bible, reject Scripture and adopt theologically liberal positions when they are given one-sided presentations at secular universities by liberal professors. The overwhelming majority of the time at a secular university or a liberal seminary only liberal, anti-inerrancy books are assigned, and only arguments for anti-supernaturalism are given—the conservative response is ignored. Should it be surprised that impressionable young people who know nothing about the topic at hand become liberal in such a situation? On the other hand, at a very high number of conservative schools, just as in conservative works on Old or New Testament Introduction, both the liberal arguments against Scripture and the conservative case for the Bible are given—and in such settings the large majority of students adopt a conservative position. Conservative students at conservative universities and seminaries are much more likely to know the arguments for and against the Bible than are students at liberal universities and seminaries. Thus, the true situation about the strength of the conservative and liberal arguments is almost exactly the opposite of what Shabir implies; when both sides of the matter are presented, the conservative case is recognized by the large majority as far stronger than the liberal case—although, of course, the number of people adopting a position does not of itself prove either the validity or invalidity of the position in question.
Standard works of Old and New Testament Introduction assigned at schools commited to orthodox Christianity and to higher criticism illustrates this difference. The conservative evangelical Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction contains a detailed examination of higher critical theories followed by a refutation of these theories and even a special section dedicated to “Liberal Scholarship in the 20th Century.” In contrast, classical theologically liberal works such as S. R. Driver’s An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament ignore arguments for orthodoxy or against liberalism, as do the overwhelming majority of modern higher critical works. Liberal refutations of conservative works defending the inspiration of the Bible are somewhere on the “endangered species” to “extinct” range, and chapters in liberal works on the Bible such as “Conservative Scholarship in the 20th Century” are totally absent. Archer, after his survey of liberal scholarship, rightly concludes:
Now that we have completed a survey of the history and development of modern higher criticism, it seems appropriate to point out certain basic presuppositions which fatally vitiate the Liberal methodology of handling evidences on anything better than a subjective basis and renders their scholarly endeavors a mere exercise in futility. This may sound like a harsh judgment, but for one who has been trained in the laws of legal evidence and who observes how grossly these guidelines observed in a law court are basically ignored in practice from Astruc to von Rad, we can hardly come to any other conclusion.
The Holy Bible is assumed to be a mere piece of religious literature to liberal scholars, purely human in origin and reflective of an evolution of religious thought, a product of Hegelian dialectic process (thesis, antithesis and synthesis). Far from being an authentic revelation of a personal God and His will for the human race, it is assumed to be a mere invention of human minds, devoid of any demonstrable trustworthiness or authority whatever, except insofar as the modern critic personally approves of it and endorses it as valid. No serious account is taken of the many infallible proofs of divine inspiration with which the sixty-six books of the Bible abound. Even to suggest an investigation of these evidences is absolutely unthinkable in the minds of the Liberal establishment. To propose any kind of objective examination is to invite ridicule and scorn from the practitioners of the Documentary Hypothesis or Form Criticism or Canonical Criticism who maintain a rigid control of the Biblical studies department in most of our present day universities and state-supported seminaries throughout the Western World.
The amazing feature about this Bible-denigrating procedure is its flagrant violation of the rule against circular reasoning which underlies all evidential logic. To the rationalistic mind-set of the Aufklarung and the Encyclopedistes of the mid-eighteenth century it was well-nigh inconceivable for any educated thinker to take seriously the truth-claims of Holy Scripture, and those who undertook to do so were ridiculed as benighted and naive, no matter what scholarly attainments they had achieved in their education. If they really believed that the Bible was the Word of God, they were ipso facto outdated traditionalists who could be safely ignored. . . . One of the most amazing features of the modern Liberal scholarship is its complete ignoring of the overwhelming evidence afforded by the multitude of fulfilled predictions with which the Bible abounds. . . .
From the standpoint of legal evidence, such a cavalier trampling upon the rights of a defendant in a criminal court proceeding would be completely disallowed. Yet the Scriptures are treated to the same procedure as that practiced by the Spanish Inquisition. Confined in a dungeon without a possibility of contact by any friend or relative or legal counsel, the hapless prisoner was confronted only by stern inquisitors who announced to him, “We know you are guilty already, and no testimony in your defense will be allowed.” In this case, then, the Bible is assumed to be of mere human origin, and therefore no evidence of divine authorship can be seriously entertained. There is little possibility for one who has gone through Liberal training to learn how to understand and preach the Bible as the Word of God or to come through that training with any measure of religious conviction. He may learn how to pick and choose elements in the Scriptures that appeal to him as being valid, but since the validation has to come from the human critic, it ends up with no greater measure of authority than that possessed by the human judge, thus the doctrinaire specialists fall into many fallacies that essentially go back to a naive belief in their own superior judgment.
The situation for the New Testament is the same as that for the Old Testament. For example, Rudolf Bultmann, recognized as, among anti-supernaturalists, “the most influential New Testament scholar of the twentieth century . . . [who] influenced a whole generation of scholars, including members of the Jesus Seminar and other recent critics of the Gospels,” wrote:
The historical [critical method] includes the presupposition that history is . . . a closed continuum of effect . . . not rent by the interference of supernatural, transcendent powers and that therefore there is no “miracle” . . . historical science cannot perceive . . . [nor] reckon on the basis of . . . God . . . act[ing] in history. . . . [T]here cannot be any exceptions in the case of biblical texts[.] . . . [This is] the one presupposition that cannot be dismissed.
Elsewhere Bultmann wrote: “The idea of . . . miracle . . . is no longer tenable. . . . [this] does not require proof but is presupposed as axiomatic, and . . . we cannot free ourselves from that presupposition at will.”
Does Bultmann prove that no miracles took place in history and that the best explanation for the Bible is one that excludes the intervention of God? No—he declares that the impossibility of the miraculous is the one bedrock “presupposition” that “does not require proof,” and affirms that “there cannot be any exceptions,” including in the case of the events recorded in the Bible.
Consider Bultmann’s treatment of the resurrection accounts:
Bultmann’s treatment of the resurrection of Jesus . . . was accomplished without a historical investigation of any sort. He concludes at the very outset, “Is it not a mythical event pure and simple? Obviously it is not an event of past history.” . . .Thus, the historicity of the resurrection was rejected a priori as a myth, without any attempt to investigate the facts. Even the importance of such historical research was rejected.
By means of contrast, conservative New Testament introductions contain detailed examinations of higher critical theories as well as responses to liberal arguments.
Dr. Mark Roberts, who passed from denying the infallible inspiration of the Bible during his undergraduate studies at Harvard University to becoming a theological conservative as he continued his studies through his Harvard Ph. D., noted:
After finishing Religion 140, I could not trust the Gospels to provide historically accurate knowledge of Jesus. . . . [However, in] my undergraduate years I began to think critically [through my studies in philosophy], not only about the New Testament but also about the methodologies and presuppositions of New Testament scholarship. Sometimes, I discovered, academic consensus was built on the shifting sand of weak philosophy, peculiar methodology,4 and atheistic theology. Perhaps other approaches were possible, ones that involved rigorous New Testament scholarship and led to a more positive appraisal of the Gospels’ reliability. . . . My road to confidence in the Gospels took a strange twist during my junior year. I enrolled in a seminar . . . called “Christians, Jews, and Gnostics.” . . . I began to see the Gospels as more reliable than I had once thought, in part, as I compared them to the wildly fictional portraits of Jesus in the Gnostic Gospels. . . . [I chose to] pursue graduate work in New Testament. . . . Without exception, my grad school teachers echoed [higher critical] conclusions about the historical limitations of the New Testament Gospels. . . . Yet I began to see how often their interpretations were saturated by unquestioned philosophical presuppositions. If, for example, a passage from the Gospels included a prophecy of Jesus concerning his death, it was assumed without argument that this had been added later by the church because prophecy didn’t fit within the naturalistic worldview of my profs.
The more I spent time with some of the leading [liberal] New Testament scholars in the world, the more I came to . . . recognize the limitations of their scholarly perspectives. I saw how often conclusions based on unsophisticated assumptions were accepted without question by the reigning scholarly community, and taught uncritically as if they were, well, the Gospel truth.
I also discovered how rarely my professors entertained perspectives by scholars who didn’t share their naturalistic worldview. Evangelical scholars were usually ignored simply because they were conservative. This fact was driven home once when I was on winter break in Southern California. I needed to read a few books for one of my courses, so I went to the Fuller Seminary library because it was close to my home. What I found at Fuller [a relatively evangelical school] stunned me. Fuller students were required to read many of the same books I was assigned, and also books written from an evangelical perspective. Whereas I was getting one party line, Fuller students were challenged to think more broadly and, dare I admit it, more critically. This put an arrogant Harvard student in his place, let me tell you. It also helped me see how much my own education was lopsided. Only once in my entire graduate school experience was I assigned a book by an evangelical scholar.9
Theologically conservative schools are far more likely to present both the case for and against the inspiration of the Bible than liberal schools are—the liberal schools ignore the evidence for the other side.
The fact that students at theologically conservative Christian schools are far more likely to be exposed both to liberal attacks on the Bible and the Christian response to those attacks while students at liberal and secular schools are likely to only get an anti-Bible viewpoint presented with Christian responses censored and ignored is also evident in the statements Shabir Ally made himself during the debate. Dr. Ally strongly desires that people become Muslims, and he seeks to prepare carefully when he is engaged in public dialogues, but he appeared surprised and unprepared when Thomas Ross actually defended the authorship of the New Testament documents, the independence of the Gospels, the dates for the Gospels advocated by the early Christians, and the other arguments for classical Christianity presented during the debate, explaining, in part at least, why he made no responses at all to the overwhelming majority of the ancient historical evidence presented by Thomas. Shabir’s ignorance of the fact that “the colophons in 50% of the MSS, including Family 35 [one of the most accurate families of Greek MSS], say that Matthew was ‘published’ eight years after the ascension of the Christ . . . Mark was published two years later . . . Luke another five years later,” and “John was ‘published’ thirty-two years after the ascension” indicates a lack of study of the Greek manuscripts themselves and of conservative sources that take the ancient witnesses seriously; because liberal and higher critical sources overwhelmingly ignore the evidence, and Shabir’s studies overwhelmingly are based on liberal or higher critical works on Christianity, he was not aware of the facts of the matter. Indeed, Shabir was confident enough in his ignorance that he asserted that the “world of critical scholarship” was unaware of the widespread evidence for early dates in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament themselves. Similarly, Shabir not only failed to demonstrate that “Q” should be defended despite the fact that an examination of seventeen different reconstructions of “Q” found not a single verse in Matthew agreed upon among them all as part of the hypothetical document, but he appeared unaware of this fact. Shabir admitted that he was unaware of any scholars who advocated the early dates for the Gospels argued for by Thomas Ross, despite numbers of highly scholarly works making the case for them, because universities advocating higher criticism just ignore evidence for the other side.
An astonishing instance of Shabir Ally’s ignorance of the traditional Christian position appeared in his affirmations that he thought the traditional Christian view, taught for “hundreds of years,” was that Mark was copying from Matthew and Luke! Every extant writer in the early centuries of church history that discussed the subject recognized the synoptic Gospels as independent, eyewitness testimony—indeed, no other hypothesis appears in the historical record for approximately 1,700 years after the time of Christ. The unambiguous testimony of the Gospels themselves, of the earliest uninspired documents, and of the united testimony of the “distinguished scholars . . . [of the early] church . . . who had information from . . . widespread and early sources . . . [and] who lived quite close to the [time of the] composition of the gospels” was exclusively in favor of literary independence. So far was Dr. Shabir Ally from having carefully interacted with the historic Christian view of the Gospels and then rejecting it, based on (alleged) evidence to the contrary, that he was able to obtain a degree in Biblical literature from a secular university committed to theological liberalism, spend decades after his graduation reading works of higher criticism, and yet not even know that every ancient historical source and Christianity as a whole for the overwhelming majority of its history believed the synoptic Gospels were independent accounts with no Gospel copying from another one, rather than accepting modern theories of literary dependence! Institutions committed to New Testament higher criticism do not refute the views of Bible-believers and of historic Christianity. They ignore or censor these views, doing so to such a complete extent that one can graduate from an institution committed to higher criticism and be in total ignorance of basic ideas of orthodox Christianity.
In conclusion, the debate was a great example of the strength of the historical evidence for the Lord Jesus Christ and the inspired records of His life in the New Testament. The actual historical data very strongly favor:
1.) That the New Testament was composed by eyewitnesses to Christ and His earliest followers.
2.) That the New Testament was too early for there to be a transformation from the Muslim “Jesus” to the Biblical Jesus, the Jesus of history.
These assertions are supported by massive amounts of ancient historical evidence. By contrast, the higher critical, atheist, agnostic, and Muslim attacks on the Gospels are based on empty speculation, anti-God presuppositions, and a rejection of the actual evidence of history. The Jesus of history is the Jesus of the Bible—in real, historical space and time the eternal Son of God left the glories of heaven to become incarnate through the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death to pay for the sins of the world, rose bodily from the grave, and ascended back to heaven again. Under the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s earliest followers accurately recorded His words—therefore it is incumbent upon all men to hearken these words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).