“Some Christians believe Jesus is God. If that’s the stance, Reverend Chisholm is correct. Muslims do not believe this. We do not believe this because Jesus himself does not believe this, and never said that he was. We’re called upon to accept all the teachings of Jesus in their pure, uncorrupted form; before his teachings were manipulated/changed by those with evil, self-motivated agendas.”
(Nicola Watson, Observer column, July 23)
In her column in today’s Observer responding to my Observer column of July 20 in which I argued that the God of Islam and of Christianity are not the same, Ms. Watson takes a less than mature intellectual approach and appeals to the Gospel of Barnabas in support of her point that Jesus never claimed to be God. An understanding of the Greek text of John’s gospel alone demolishes this assertion.
A few corrective pointers may help.
Muslims who charge that the Bible has been corrupted face a double-edged problem, from the Qur’an and from the total absence of manuscript support for the charge, except for the spurious and late document, The Gospel of Barnabas.
Muslims love this book because it mentions that Jesus did not die on the cross because Judas was substituted for him. The book is possibly mentioned by name only in the late 5th century AD and the first text of it appears only in the 15th or 16th century AD, despite heated debates between Muslims and Christians between the 7th and 15th centuries. Muslims sometimes confuse The Gospel of Barnabas with the equally spurious Epistle of Barnabas (c. AD 70-90).
The later Qur’an shows regard for the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. In a context dealing with Moses and the children of Israel, Surah 10.94, Allah says to Muhammad: “But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers.”
Surah 29.46: “And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit.”
Surah 2.136: “Say: We believe in Allah and (in) that which had been revealed to us, and (in) that which was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Yaqoub and the tribes, and (in) that which was given to Musa and Isa, and (in) that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit.”
The non-Christian skeptic and the conservative Christian may draw different conclusions from the evidence but all should know that the Bible’s textual integrity (especially pertaining to the New Testament) is superior to that of all other ancient books in terms of number and calibre of manuscripts, date of events vis-à-vis date of writing plus date of earliest copies.
This is the consensus of experts in the field of textual criticism. Listen to the late world-famous Bruce Metzger: “The quantity of New Testament material is almost embarrassing in comparison with other works of antiquity. Next to the New Testament, the greatest amount of manuscript testimony is of Homer’s Iliadwhich was the Bible of the ancient Greeks. There are fewer than 650 Greek manuscripts of it today…They come down to us from the second and third century A.D. and following. When you consider that Homer composed his epic about 800 B.C., you can see there’s a very lengthy gap.” (cited in Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, 1998, 78.)
There are approximately 25000 manuscripts and portions of the New Testament available to textual critics. The onus is on the critic to draw on these or the thousands of New Testament quotations in different languages in the early Church Fathers to prove a textual corruption charge! Good luck with that!
Part of John’s case for who Jesus is to him (beyond the argumentation in the opening chapter of his gospel and beyond) is his documentation of statements by our Lord in which he himself declares things about who he is – the ‘I am’ statements.
Here’s the thing, normally Jesus says who he is (by giving a predicate/object) so you get him saying in 6:35 ‘I am the bread of life’, ‘bread from heaven’ (6:41,51), ‘light of the world’ 8:12, ‘the door’ 10:9, ‘the good shepherd’ 10:11, all metaphorical language showing who he is and can be for believers.
Of greater theological significance though is what we find our Lord saying in chapter 8. Here we find ‘I am’ statements without any predicate/object. So look with me at 8:24, 8:28 and 8:58.
In 8.24, Jesus declares and affirms in most English versions something like
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am [He or who I say I am], you will die in your sins.”
The original Greek simply says, ‘I am’ not ‘I am he’ or ‘I am who I say I am’.
The expression ‘I am ‘ in Greek is egō eimi. Any Jew listening to Jesus here would almost instinctively flash back mentally to God’s declaration to Moses in the Greek version of Ex. 3:14 (the most accessible version of the Old Testament in Jesus’ day) which reads in part egō eimi ho ōn.
This scenario would be reinforced by 8:28 where Jesus says: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
Imagine the horror of the Jews when Jesus drops another ‘I am’ without a predicate in 8:58: “Verily, verily, I tell you before Abraham was [or came to be] egō eimi.”
The attempted stoning to death response to blasphemy in v. 29 is perfectly understandable for that is the punishment demanded by Leviticus. Jesus in this text is unmistakably affirming, declaring that he is God.
For John then, Jesus is God because of Jesus’ own self-affirmation. He did in fact say he is God and he is radically different from Allah!
Since the average reader may not know much about me I mention for checking that I have a Master’s degree in biblical languages (Sheffield University, UK, 1992) and have taught New Testament Greek and/or Greek Exegesis at the Jamaica Theological Seminary and the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology for years and now teach NT Greek online.