Dr. Shabir Ally’s analysis of the University of Pretoria debate on the topic “Did the Original Disciples of Jesus Consider Him God?” A short response to Dr Ally’s letter by Pastor Rudolph Boshoff

debates drafts 02Dr. Ally writes: “The topic was, “Did the Original Disciples of Jesus Consider Him God?”

James had the first 25 minutes to speak. Given the topic, it was necessary for James to show evidence that the original disciples considered Jesus to be God. Instead, he cited one verse from James, several from Paul, and presented a summary of the Gospel of Mark. My response, naturally, was that the original disciples of Jesus should have been his focus. James, the brother of Jesus, was of course an important disciple of Jesus, but he was not one of the twelve, and in any case the letter of James in the Bible is not dependably his. As for Paul, it is universally accepted that he was not a disciple of Jesus, and Mark is traditionally said to be a disciple of Peter and hence not himself a disciple of Jesus. In short, James had spent the bulk of his opening speech speaking off topic. He was merely proving that belief in the divinity of Christ was early. He did not prove that the original disciples considered Jesus God.

Response: 

From the very start there seems to be a bit of confusion as to the 12 Apostles and Christ’s Disciples. The 12 Apostles [ἀπόστολος] “apostolos” or “ambassadors” were selected to become his closest disciples and to be witnesses of His resurrection from the dead. They were then commissioned as apostles (Matthew 28:16-2, Mark 16:15) to advance God’s kingdom and carry the gospel message to the world (Luke 6:13). The Word “Disciple” [μαθητής] “mathētēs” simply means “learner or pupil” and we see Jesus frequently inviting people other than the 12 to become His Disciples or learners (Luke 9:59, Matt 8:22). It seems frivolous to demand that only the 12 Apostles should be called upon in the debate to validify James’s argument for the Divinity of Christ because there is obviously more than 12 “Disciples” or “learners” which was the subject of the Debate? In fact all early orthodox Christians were commissioned to be witnesses and to make Disciples of all nations (Matt28:19, 2Cor.5:20) and that would include Paul, James and Luke.  

Dr. Ally writes: “For my part, I gave five main reasons for thinking that the original disciples did not consider Jesus God.First, the disciples were Jewish monotheists. They would not have considered anyone but Jehovah as God.

Response: 

P1240455I would contend that there were clear theological standards very early on in Scripture? Theologian John Behr recognize a clear line of orthodoxy established very early on amongst the First Christians where they affirmed the between Father, Son and Spirit as traced from the New Testament through to the Church Fathers and guarded by the Apologists which was “solidified” by the Church councils. “All theological concepts were affirmed at the heart of their theology and they all represented an uninterrupted theological steam” [The Way to Nicaea, the formation of Christian theology.2001].

Very early on there seem to be a formation of ideas and the essential theological convictions of Jesus and the New Testament writers continued and were espoused upon by the early Church Fathers. We see this illustrated through various ways for instance through the “regula fidei” or rule of faith as early as the writing of Clement as well as virtually all the other orthodox writings of the patristic era from various geographical locations. These standards clearly assume criteria for theological orthodoxy. Paul command’s to hold to the “traditions” (2 Thess 2:15) while also distinguishing his teaching from false teaching (Rom 16:17) which clearly denotes a standard. Jude refers to the “faith that was once delivered to all saints” (Jude 3) and John speaks of “the message we heard and proclaimed to you” (1 Joh 1:5). Further Scripture clearly shows Christ’s ontological equality with the Father as God (Joh1:1-3, Phil 2:6-8, Heb 1:8) as well as His Lordship over the created order (Col 1:15-20, Heb 1:3). Professor Larry Hurtado writes that “the first few years of the Christian movement are portrayed as practicing a RELIGIOUS DEVOTION TO JESUS that involves ATTRIBUTING TO HIM powers and a status that are closely linked to God… the post 70 C.E. period was acquainted with this forceful Jewish opposition to Jewish-Christian Devotion TO Jesus.” (How on Earth did Jesus become God Pg.162).


The New Testament then clearly affirms Christ performed divine functions in relation to the universe as:

(1) Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)

(2) Sustainer (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3)

(3) Author of life (John 1:4; Acts 3:15)

(4) Ruler over all things (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 14:9; Rev. 1:6)

The Earliest Apostles then affirmed that:


Apostle Peter writes “For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes.” (1 Peter 1:16.)

Apostle John writes “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard [Regula Fidei], so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).  

Luke the Physician writes; “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. [Regula Fidei]  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4).

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received [Regula Fidei] and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

Apostle Paul writes “For what I received [Regula Fidei] I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:1-8).20131008_191447

In fact to deny the eyewitness accounts is to be historically bias, contextually prejudice and seriously irrational about the facts. Richard Bauckham affirms “early Judaism had clear and consistent ways of characterizing the unique identity of the one God and, thus, distinguishing the one God absolutely from all other reality. When New Testament Christology is read with this Jewish theological context in mind, it becomes clear that, from the earliest post-Easter beginnings of Christology onwards, early Christians included Jesus, precisely and unambiguously, within the unique identity of the one God of Israel.” (Jesus and the God of Israel).

Paul affirms; “there is no God but one ” he adds “yet for us there is but ONE God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and ONE Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1Cor.8:4 & 6). “For there is ONE God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5) this is Paul’s affirmation of the Shemah Yisrael.

Jude writes; “For certain persons deny our only (monos) Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” he adds “the only (monos) God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Jude 4 & 25). We can affirm with Bauckham, the Biblical Christology was the earliest Christology and clearly the Early Disciples worshipped Jesus as God.

Dr. Ally writes:

Second, the speeches in Acts of the Apostles in the Bible are not entirely dependable. Whereas the disciples can be seen in these speeches to grant some lofty titles to Jesus, these are Luke’s own composition, not the actual speeches of the disciples.

P1240445Response: 

The biblical scholar A.N. Sherwin-White writes that “for [the book of] Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd”. Even noted archaeologist Sir William Ramsey attests to the incredible veracity of this book and describes Luke’s accuracy as “unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness” and “Luke is an historian of first rank…[and he] should be placed along the with the very greatest of historians.” (Geisler/Turek: I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist Pg262). On the “lofty titles attributed to Jesus Larry Hurtado writes “Among the devotional practices of earliest Christian circles reflected in extant sources were such things as invoking Jesus’ name in healings and exorcisms (e.g. Acts 3:6; 16:18), in baptism (e.g. Acts 2:38), and in other actions intended to execute divine power (e.g. the judgement of the man accused of an incestuous union in 1 Cor.5:3-5). In these and other actions… we have remarkable feature of early Christian devotional practice, which was that Jesus was apparently given the sort of place that was otherwise reserved for God alone… Jesus was treated as a recipient of “cultic” reverence that was given in a setting of corporate practice” (Lord Jesus Christ Pg. 135-136).

In fact if we look at the Apostle John (5:18-26) we clearly see Jesus showed His distinct ontological unity with the Father by being:

V/17- One in Working.

V/19 – One in Will.

V/21 – One in Prerogative.

V/23 – One in Honor.

V/26 – One in Giving Life.

V/27-30 – One in Judicial Power.

Not one of these attributes is to be shared by a mere-creature or prophet!

P1240437Dr. Ally goes on: “Third, no writings survive from the disciples themselves”. “The Second Letter of Peter is admitted even by conservative scholars to be written after Peter’s death”. The First Letter of Peter is disputed as to whether or not Peter wrote it. Some scholars think he wrote it; others think he did not. Hence we cannot rely on that letter either”. The Gospel of Matthew is now thought not to be from the disciple Matthew, since it is widely believed to be copied from Mark. The disciple Matthew is unlikely to have relied on the writing of a non-disciple, Mark, for information about Jesus. As for the Gospel of John, this too cannot in its present form be credited to the disciple John. This Gospel went through stages of editing which I described in summary form as follows. The disciple John, Son of Zebedee preached his memories of Jesus. A disciple of John took John’s preaching and preached on it further. This disciple of the disciple eventually wrote the results of his preaching in the Gospel. As is generally known, preachers in the heat of their sermons tend to mix up the quoted material with their own explanations. This is what happened also when this disciple of the disciple preached. This explains why in John’s Gospel it is often difficult to know where the quoted words of Jesus end and where the commentary of the writer begins. Moreover, a later editor inserted parts into the Gospel, and added the last chapter as well. In sum we have no dependable first-hand writing of the original disciples of Jesus.

Response: 

I have not dealt with the assertions made about the specific books but would like for us to assess the presented logic. First, like Muslims Christians are assured of the same promise that the Scriptures will and cannot be corrupted. (Mat. 24:35; Ps.119:89). We therefore ask for the same courtesy and allowance for the same application of this standard concretely used in their own logic! Secondly, if the Christian scriptures are corrupted, what promise do we have that what is written in the Quranic Scriptures is sure? The Quran also like the Bible seemingly assured it cannot be corrupted yet, if the Bible is corrupted there is no valid reason to assume the quran is untainted simply because it’s Author (God) from both text are the originator and sole protector of both! Third, when we assert that the Bible is corrupted [even when it assures us internally & externally it is not] we clearly presume that God was impotent to preserve His own Word. So indirectly when we assume corruption we assume an impotent God. For a theist to assume the original message of an inspired text could be corrupted immediately abdicates by a consistent logic his own claim to supposed revelation of his own text! Fourth, even the Quran assures us that the Bible is not corrupted predominantly because God’s Words cannot be corrupted or destroyed (Surah 6:115;18:27;4:163;17:55;21:105,3:3-4;3:48-50;5:43-48;10:94;40:70-72;5:46,50,71;61:14). Another interesting point is that there is no evidence within the Qur’an that the Jewish and Christian literature were corrupted. My mentor Uncle John GillchristJohn Gilchrist wrote [the] “Support for this view was sought in the Qur’an itself but, although the book often charges the Jews and Christians with deviating from their TEACHINGS, they are never accused of actually perverting them.” (The Qur’an: The Scripture of Islam. Pg. 39). Even early Muslim scholars affirm accuse them of twisting the meaning of words but never tampering with the text itself! (Read my blog article on: Muslim Scholars on Bible Corruption). Fifth, “if” the Gospel is corrupted, according to the Quran’s own standards, Mohammad is a liar and a false prophet, yet, if the Bible is not corrupted (Surah 3:3-4) its inherent claims clearly shows Islam to be false. Therefore; both ways Islam is false. Sixth, the Quran makes it clear that those who declare that the God’s Words [Bible included] are corrupted will be severely punished. (Surah 40:70-72). And lastly, Mohammad affirms that Christians must judge by their own book yet, if we do and it was corrupted Mohammad was a false prophet and the Quran is false, yet, if it is true the Quran is still false because it contradicts the Bible. (Surah 5:47). To assume the actual message was lost is absurd? That would deem God to be a failure because He sends Christ to bring a message which He clearly showed cannot be lost or corrupted. For Christians we are assured that we find actual words attributed personally to Christ speaking authentically from himself like “you heard it said but I say unto you” or “Jesus said” (Matt5:21; 27; 38, John 9:39) Even Paul records that “Our Lord Himself said” (Acts 20:35). Secondly, Biblically Christ assures me that what He said is sure: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”.  (Mark 13:31) and Salvifically Christ requires me to trust in that. He claims in John 6:63 “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”. He affirms in John 14:10 ““Do you not believe that I am in my Father and my Father in me? The words which I am speaking, I am not speaking from myself, but my Father who dwells within me, he does these works.” Also, Pneumatically Christ assures me that all He has said would be brought back to their memory by the Holy Spirit to the immediate disciples; “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Fathers who sent Me. “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:24; 26). Christ also assures us that what He said would never be corrupted “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words won’t ever disappear”. (Luke 21:33). Lastly and most importantly He affirms that the words He had spoken is the words of the Father God (Joh.14:26) and therefore it is true. When Christ uttered these words He therefore assures us of 4 things: It is true, it is essential, it is preserved and it is the Words of God. Therefore for the Theist we can deem it to be true! 

Dr. Ally writes: “My fourth reason for thinking that the original disciples did not consider Jesus God is that Paul’s writings bear evidence that he was in conflict with the original disciples not only over questions of law but also over the question of monotheism. In 2 Corinthians 11:4, it is clear that Paul’s opponents were preaching what Paul calls ‘another Jesus.’ Elsewhere in Paul’s writings it becomes clear that his opponents are the original disciples of Jesus and close followers of the disciples. Now, as Bruce Chilton mentioned, the original disciples’ response to Paul’s accusations are not found in the New Testament. Given the chance, the disciples can be expected to say that their Jesus was the original Jesus, and Paul’s Jesus was the ‘other Jesus.”

Response: 

P1240435To assume that Paul was at odds with the Apostles is to seriously dismiss the overall context. First we need to say that Luke the Historian shows explicitly and clearly the message Paul preached was testified and affirmed by God (Acts 9:15-20;15:28;22:6-15) as well as the other disciples (Acts 9:26-29;10:34-40;13:46;15:4-8;17:18&31;21:18) and it was identical to the teaching of the First Apostles & Disciples of Christ. Secondly we see Christ affirming the message that Paul is giving in this context that warns believers of these “false Apostles” (Matt.24:1-5, 23-27, Mark 13:5-6). Paul was therefore not contending with something unexpected or Apostles who held to Christ’s Orthodox teachings! These false Apostles had two problems Paul addressed:

 

1). They tried to go back to the law of Moses for their righteousness (3:1-18,11:13-15) where in Christ’s death the “righteousness of God” came to all men (1 Cor 5:21). This was not disputed by the Apostles but clearly affirmed by them (1 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:1, John 3:16-18). In fact Paul affirms the apostolic teaching when he shows:

·      The onset of the New Covenant in Christ and the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:4-18, Heb 8:6-13, Heb 9:15, Mark 14:24, 1 Pet 2:4-9).
·        The magnificent hope of glory in Christ (2 Cor 4:16-5:5, Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 Peter 1:3-5 & 13).
·        The sufficiency of Christ’s death for the forgiveness of sin (2 Cor 5:14-6:2, Matthew 26:28, Hebrews 9:14 & 22, 1 John 1:7-9, 1 Peter 2:24).  

2) The Second issue Paul is addressing in this verse is that these false Apostles declared their superiority over Paul by pointing to their own eloquence (2 Cor 11:5-6) and frequency of visions and revelations (2 Cor 12:1). Paul in return shows that this is inconsequential as the true measure of success is to see the will of Christ achieved in his suffering and identification with Christ (2 Cor 5:11,18-6:2, 5:18-21, 11:21-12:13).

Dr.Ally goes further: “Fifth, Jesus himself is known to have taught that he is a man and not God. But the Gospels distorted the image of Jesus transforming him from a man to something greater. This can be seen as we compare Mark, the first Gospel, to Matthew and Luke. But this evolution can be seen even more as we compare Mark with John, the last of the four Gospels to be written”.

Response: 

20131007_201014The Gospels transformed Jesus something greater? It is important to note that the Gospels were written with different audiences in minds. As theologian David Allen Black writes in “Why four gospels”: “The Apostles realized that they somehow needed to promulgate those passages of the Holy Scriptures from “Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke24:27) that Jesus had explained to Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. It also became clear that the main apologetic task was to demonstrate to the Jewish authorities that Jesus had fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah. These considerations were the original motivation for the composition of the Gospel of Matthew.” We find therefore that the Gospels were written with the following in mind: The Gospel of Matthew clearly written to the Jews to espouse on the Fulfillment and Person of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark written to the Romans to espouse on what Christ said and did. The Gospel of Luke was written to the Greeks to give a concise account of what transpired. And lastly, the Gospel of John was written to Gentiles to show their inclusion in the Story of what Christ has done. Clearly the Gospel authors affirms an overall picture of Christ found within their given contexts yet unanimously identify Jesus as being God (1 Joh1:1-18, Mark 1:3, 2:28, 13:26; Luke 7:48, 3:3-6, Matt 3:3). We see how these authors affirm the same pericope delineated to different audiences. We see this for instance at Christ’s trial when the chief priests asked Him point blank, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 

And He said:

• “I am.” (Mark 14:60-62)

• “Yes, it is as you say.” (Matt. 26: 63-65)

• “You are right in saying I am.” (Luke 22:67-70)


This is therefore not a progression or an unlawful embellishment but rather one central message that “Jesus is the Son of God, the long awaited Messiah of Israel, who laid down His life that we might be forgiven for our sins, and who rose from the dead as a guarantee that we too may rise with Him in due time to eternal life and heavenly glory (J.Gillchrist, “Jesus Disfigured” Pg.334). Another interesting point is that Dr. Ally holds to the “Markan Priority” thesis. It should be mentioned that the early Church fathers like Papias, Origin, Eusebius and Jerome deemed the Gospel of Matthew to be written first? This therefore according to Dr. Ally’s standard seems to point to the right “historical” perspective. Dr. Ally should then adhere to his own reasoning when he proposes that Dr. White was not thinking historically. We see problems with the “Markan Priority” in that the “Didache” (dated A.D. 50 & A.D.150) clearly relies on Matthew and not Mark which means the earlier it is, the earlier Matthew has to be. We also find Matthew to be written about more frequently in the 2nd Century as well as Luke. Matthew also seems to hold a more central place in the earlier 2ndcentury as well as Paul’s epistles. (Ernest DeWitt Burton “Some Principles of Literary Criticism and Their Application to the Synoptic Problem”). The whole idea of a progressive narrative that seemed to bolster Jesus more and more as time progressed is just pure fiction and a fabrication.       

Dr. Ally writes, “These five reasons form a strong cumulative argument showing that the original disciples did not consider Jesus God. James was clearly in a bind. He could not answer my points, and I had answered all of his main points. As I pointed out, James’ thinking was not precise: he had missed the topic. His thinking was not historical: he did not show that the evidence he was adducing really go back to the disciples. And his reasoning was circular: for example, he cited Mark 10:18 to show that Jesus was claiming to be God. But his proof only works if he starts out by assuming that Jesus is God.Thus he argues that when Jesus asked: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus was alerting his listener that he is actually God. But if we do not assume that Jesus was God, which is the disputed point, James’ proof does not work. It is then obvious that Jesus was distinguishing himself from God.St._Theodor

Response: 

Dr. Ally seems to be falling by his own sword? It could be argued by using the same logic that one could only assume Jesus was not God by assuming Jesus was not God to start off with? Again, any statement of Christ read in isolation would be problematic. In other words, any text not read in the full context should be deemed as pretext. Jesus was not rebuking the man for calling Him good and never implicitly denied His own Deity? What this great teacher was doing is simply showing the man his own lack of goodness and that is why the young man “went away sad” (Mark 10:22). Jesus showed that following Him is in itself is good and affirms His own worthiness and goodness to be followed. Thereby He affirms He is good and only God is good which implicitly declares His own deity. The logic can thus be summarized as follows: 1: Jesus claims only God is good. 2: Jesus claims to be good. 3: Therefore, Jesus claims to be God.

Dr. Ally continues: “To get out of this bind, James twice claimed that I had handed the debate to him when I admitted that Paul took a reference to Jehovah (in Isaiah 45:23) and applied it to Jesus (in Philippians 2:5-11). This, as I pointed out, does not hand the debate to James, since our topic is not about whether or not Paul considered Jesus God. It was about whether or not the original disciples did so. In response to his repeated claim, I said that I have never seen a man lose a debate so badly while claiming that he has won it. In The Dividing Line James says that such a comment is unworthy of me. I would like some feedback on this. Was I wrong to say what I said?

Something happened during the cross examination which I am still trying to fathom. I asked James if Jesus in Mark’s Gospel clearly says, “I am the Son of Man,” while using the title for the one who was to come in the future. James replied in the affirmative. The passages in question were Mark 13:25-27 and 14:61-63. As I pointed out, anyone reading these passages can see that Jesus did not clearly say, “I am the Son of Man.” I invited James to correct his statement when he returned to the lectern. But, I do not recall that he did correct his statement. I am still trying to fathom his reticence to admit his error. Is the whole enterprise about winning debates at all costs? Or, are we in this with the expectation to benefit from seeing opposing points of view defended with honest research? Now in The Dividing Line James twice referred to the topic of our debate as if the topic is about the belief of the ‘earliest followers of Jesus.’ I do not understand why he still thinks of the topic in such a vague manner after so much of the debate hinged on the precise formulation of the topic. The ‘earliest followers of Jesus’ is too vague a designation. How early is early?

Paul may be classed as an early follower of Jesus on one interpretation. But our topic was deliberately worded to exclude Paul from the enquiry. The question was about the belief of the original disciples. They were twelve in number. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

In sum, my impression is that James’ thinking about the topic was imprecise, his treatment of the New Testament was non-historical, his reasoning was imprecise, and he did not answer my five main points. I would like to hear of the impressions of independent reviewers of the debate, especially after the recordings are posted online.

Shabir Ally

October 16, 2013

Responses by Rudolph P. Boshoff

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