Based on the assumption that Mark was the first of the four gospels written, and John the last, there are those who believe that Jesus originally displayed Himself as a mere prophet-teacher in Mark but subsequently underwent an evolution of sorts. They claim that in the interval between Mark and John, when Luke and Matthew were written, the image of Jesus was embellished upon and only in John do we see Him appearing as Divine. This argument has been made popular by apologists like Dr Shabir Ally. And while Ally tends to be one of the more articulate Muslim apologists, it’s easy to see the foundation that this claim is built upon cannot hold the weight of its accusations.
The presupposition behind this argument is that Jesus was never really Divine, but that, as the Quran and Muslims claim, was nothing more than a prophet (S. 4:171, 5:75) Despite how Jesus displayed countless evidences of His divinity in the four gospels, Muslims are taught that this is all fabrication. Islamic apologists often look to the New Testament to corroborate the Islamic view of Jesus, however in the midst of their search for Quranic whispers in the gospels, they overlook the loud shouts of Divinity, death and resurrection that were clearly communicated. The verses that seem to imply any type of support for the Quranic Christ are readily received, while the parts of the New Testament that clearly paint a different picture are discarded as having been manipulated or distorted. This topic itself deserves more attention but the present article is concerned with the idea of Jesus’ evolution. This underlying presupposition is the driving force behind the claim made by Muslims regarding the four gospels. Without the Islamic idea of Jesus, there would be no reason to formulate such a theory.
Dr Ally, in his debate with Dr James White, Cites the fact that many believe Matthew may have used Mark’s material to supplement his writing somehow (mainly due to the fact that Mark is smaller than Matthew), Ally goes on to infer the idea that Matthew made improvements to the narratives in his gospel in order to make Christ look more divine. He gave eight examples in the NT that he believes are proof of the alleged evolution:
—> Mark 9:5; Matt. 17:4, Mark 13:35;Matt. 24:2; Mark 8:29;Matt. 16:16; Mark. 3:31; Matt. 12:46; Mark. 4:38; Matt. 8:25; Mark. 12:29; Matt. 22:37-38; Mark. 10:11;18;Matt. 19:17-18; Mark. 11:12;14; Matt. 21:18.
Upon reading these parallels, we find that in Mark, Jesus is sometimes called Rabbi, whereas in Matthew Jesus is called Lord, in Mark Jesus refers to God as ‘God’ whereas in Matthew Jesus refers to Him as “Father”, in Matthew Jesus leaves out the words “Hear O Israel the Lord is one” whereas in Mark they’re included, in Mark Jesus says “why do you call me good” whereas in Matthew Jesus says “why do you ask me about what is good?”, when Jesus curses the fig tree Mark adds that it wasn’t the season for figs, whereas in Matthew this was omitted, because, as Ally believes Matthew didn’t want his readers to know that Jesus was unaware of the fact (as if Jesus actually was unaware of what season figs were ripe in). The differences in these parallels are said to be attributed to an ulterior motive in the heart of Matthew, one that wanted to make Jesus look more divine whereas Mark was portraying a less than divine version.
After reading the NT for more than a decade it’s easy to see the authenticity of the gospels and how beautifully they intertwine with each other. Although written by different authors, during different times and at different locations, all four are recount the same details of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with startling accuracy. And while there aren’t any hard and fast patterns one can see as to how they relate to each other, we do know that some writers may abbreviate or summarize where other writers expand. We also know that some writers recall the exact same account by using words that, although different, aren’t contradictory. In any case the substance of what Christ did or said is always the same.
Each of Dr. Ally’s parallels could be easily explained without referencing any alleged improvements on the part of Matthew. The season for figs, for example, was probably well known by anyone who lived and travelled in the region, Mark probably adds the fact that it wasn’t fig season to explain why the tree was barren although it displayed leaves whereas Matthew may not have seen this as necessary. Likewise there wouldn’t have been any devious motive for Matthew to omit Jesus’ from saying that the Lord is one, as this sentiment is found in all N.T. writings, including the latest. Lastly, Mark is the shortest gospel, it’s roughly half the size of Matthew and two thirds the size of Luke and John, it includes less parables and less discourses than any other gospel; regardless of what took place, we would still find less content in the gospel of Mark. Be that as it may Mark still provides us with a fully Divine picture of Jesus as he makes numerous references to Him as the unique Son of God; so there’s no reason for Matthew to have to improve upon anything in this respect-the crux of the entire allegation rests on the idea that Mark is presenting a more Islamic version of Jesus when in fact this is patently false.
One need only to glance at the opening line of Mark’s Gospel to see that Jesus was always portrayed as God’s divine Son:
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark. 1:1)
Throughout his gospel, Mark consistently reveals to us a Jesus who demonstrates divine qualities. In Mark 1, Jesus is said to be the one whom John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for. This Messianic figure is described as “the LORD”, that is Yahweh Himself, as per Isaiah 40:3. In Mark 2 we see the story of Jesus forgiving a paralytic of his sins. Something which makes His critics accuse Him of blasphemy- “who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk. 2:7). And when Jesus is on trial and questioned by the high priest, He openly confesses to His true nature: “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mk. 14:61-62). Here Jesus refers us back to Daniel 7:13-14, where the ‘Son of Man’ is seen coming on the clouds of heaven and receiving authority over all creation. During the transfiguration Mark shows Jesus appearing in His radiant, heavenly form and tells of how God spoke to the disciples from on high, saying “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” (Mk. 9:7). Lastly, we see the final word on Jesus’ divinity when the angels in Jesus’ tomb tell two Mary’s that their Savior is unrestrained even by physical death:
“Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here” (Mk. 16:6).
The resurrection of Christ not only assures us of His divine, eternal nature, but also of the fact that He holds ultimate power over life and death. Because of His authority, we can have confidence in His promises to give eternal life to those who believe and trust in Him.
“Because I live you also will live” (Jn. 14:19)
Although Dr Shabir Ally, someone who I believe is likely the most articulate Muslim apologist I’ve witnessed, has offered numerous proof texts to support his allegation, these parallels are of zero consequence, being either simple abbreviations, the using of similar words, paraphrases or nonsensical. We could even use texts from Mark to say that he is improving upon other gospels and presenting a higher Christology than later writings do (see Mark 15:39 where the Centurion refers to Christ as the “Son of God”, while in Luke 23:47, the same person says “righteous”. Most importantly though, the idea that Christ is presented as divine at a later time but not at an earlier time itself is unfounded as we see Mark presenting Jesus as the Son of God throughout his Gospel. Faced with these facts we can choose to either take the Biblical Jesus at face value and acknowledge who He truly is, or dodge the obvious with insidious arguments that only betray those who wield them.