Monday, September 14, 2015

A Critique of Shabir Ally’s Debate Tactics Pt. 1a

By Sam Shamoun


Here begins a series of articles where we highlight and respond to some of Shabir Ally’s arguments and objections that he has been raising in some of his recent debates concerning the blessed and glorious Trinity versus his version of Islamic Unitarianism. We will be addressing certain specific claims Ally made in his debate with Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, titled “What is God Really Like: Tawhid or Trinity?”.

We will also raise up some of the points Ally made in his debate on this very same subject with another Christian apologist named Jonathan McLatchie, which took place on August 16 2015.

It is important that the readers watch both these debates beforehand, since this will help them better understand and follow along with our responses to Ally’s claims.

Exposing Ally’s Distortions and Misrepresentations

In the debate with McLatchie, Ally misrepresented Justin Martyr as saying that Christians also worshiped angels along with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is apparent that Ally was merely parroting the argument made by Bart Ehrman who made the same exact claim in his most recent book dealing with the Deity of Christ:

“There is some question, in fact, about whether Justin can rightly be thought of as embracing a doctrine of the Trinity. He does not talk yet about the three divine beings, Father, Son, and Spirit, as being all equal and the ‘three’ being ‘one.’ He does say that God is worshiped first, the Son second, and the prophetic Spirit third (1 Apology 1.13). But this again seems to suggest a hierarchy of divinity, with God at the top and the others in lower places beneath him; and elsewhere Justin claims that God alone is ‘unchanging and eternal’ and the Son is subordinate to the Father (1 Apology 13). So too he indicates that Christians worship God, the Son, angels, and the Spirit–clearly not a Trinitarian view (1 Apology 13). If nothing else, one cay say that Justin represents a development toward the orthodox Christological and Trinitarian paradoxes.” (How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish preacher from Galilee [HarperOne, Hardcover edition: 2014], 9. Ortho-Paradoxes on the Road to Nicea, p. 334)

Suffice it to say that this is a gross misreading of Justin on the part of Ehrman, since a careful look at the context shows that Justin WAS NOT suggesting that Christians worship angels along with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

Chapter 6. Charge of atheism refuted
Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him, and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught. (Justin Martyr, First Apology; bold and underline emphasis ours)

It is quite evident that Justin wasn’t listing angels as objects of Christian worship. Rather, as the context shows Justin’s point was that Christ wasn’t the only one who came from God to teach Christians their faith, since God also sent angels for that very purpose.

That Justin did not think for a moment that it was acceptable for believers to worship anyone other than God is brought out clearly by his repeated emphasis that Christians worship God ALONE:

“And with regard to our not swearing at all, and always speaking the truth, He enjoined as follows: Swear not at all; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these comes of evil. Matthew 5:34, 27 And that we ought to worship God ALONE, He thus persuaded us: The greatest commandment is, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve, with all your heart, and with all your strength, the Lord God that made you. Mark 12:30 And when a certain man came to Him and said, Good Master, He answered and said, There is none good but God only, who made all things. Matthew 19:6, 17 And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word…” (Ibid., Chapter 16. Concerning patience and swearing; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

And:

Chapter 17. Christ taught civil obedience

And everywhere we, more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him; for at that time some came to Him and asked Him, if one ought to pay tribute to Cæsar; and He answered, Tell Me, whose image does the coin bear? And they said, Cæsar's. And again He answered them, Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's. Whence to God ALONE we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment. But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed, and will render account according to the power he has received from God, as Christ intimated when He said, To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required. Luke 12:48 (Ibid.; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

Justin even quotes the words of Jesus to this effect:

“… For this devil, when [Jesus] went up from the river Jordan, at the time when the voice spoke to Him, 'You are my Son: this day have I begotten You,' is recorded in the memoirs of the apostles to have come to Him and tempted Him, even so far as to say to Him, 'Worship me;' and Christ answered him, 'Get behind me, Satan: you shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.' Matthew 4:9-10…”(Dialogue withTrypho the Jew, Chapter 103. The Pharisees are the bulls: the roaring lion is Herod or the devil)

At the same time, however, this blessed martyr of the risen Lord does affirm that all true believers also worship the Son and the Holy Spirit, just as Ehrman himself admitted. Note, also, the following references from Justin’s writings:

Chapter 13. Christians serve God rationally
What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied, as we have been taught that the only honour that is worthy of Him is not to consume by fire what He has brought into being for our sustenance, but to use it for ourselves and those who need, and with gratitude to Him to offer thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him. Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar; and that WE REASONABLY WORSHIP HIM, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, AND THE PROPHETIC SPIRIT in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed. (First Apology; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)
   
“… Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians. For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing…” (Justin Martyr, Second Apology, Chapter 13. How the Word has been in all men)

“… Accordingly, when a star rose in heaven at the time of His birth, as is recorded in the memoirs of His apostles, the Magi from Arabia, recognising the sign by this, came and worshipped Him.” (Dialogue, Chapter 106. Christ's resurrection is foretold in the conclusion of the Psalm; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Justin: But if you knew, Trypho, who He is that is called at one time the Angel of great counsel, and a Man by Ezekiel, and like the Son of man by Daniel, and a Child by Isaiah, and Christ and God to be worshipped by David, and Christ and a Stone by many, and Wisdom by Solomon, and Joseph and Judah and a Star by Moses, and the East by Zechariah, and the Suffering One and Jacob and Israel by Isaiah again, and a Rod, and Flower, and Corner-Stone, and Son of God, you would not have blasphemed Him who has now come, and been born, and suffered, and ascended to heaven; who shall also come again, and then your twelve tribes shall mourn. For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God… (Ibid., Chapter 126. The various names of Christ according to both natures. It is shown that He is God, and appeared to the patriarchs; bold and underline emphasis ours)

 

Ehrman helps us to see why Justin and the Christians whom he represented had no qualms about worshiping the Lord Jesus along with the Father:

“There are two principal ways that Justin understands Christ as a divine being, both of which harken back to earlier views we have already explored. Justin develops these views in more sophisticated ways than seen in the New Testament itself. He saw Christ both as the preincarnate Angel of the Lord and as the Logos (Word) of God made flesh…

“In several places throughout his writings Justin speaks of Christ as the Angel of the Lord who appeared in the Old Testament. In Chapter 2 we saw that there is some ambiguity in the famous passage of Moses and the burning bush: the ‘Angel of the Lord’ speaks with Moses, but then the narrative shifts to indicate that in fact it is ‘the Lord’ who is speaking with him. Justin is keen to explain this textual conundrum in Christological terms. The reason this divine figure is both the Angel of the Lord and the Lord, at the same time, is that it is not God the Father who is there in the bush, but it is Christ, WHO IS FULLY DIVINE. First Justin establishes that this angel IS NO MERE ANGEL, BUT GOD: ‘Do you not see that He whom Moses speaks of as an Angel who conversed with him from the fiery bush is the same who, BEING GOD, signifies to Moses that He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob?’ (Dialogue 59). But then he argues that this ‘God’ could not have been God the Father: ‘No one with even the slightest intelligence would dare assert that the Creator and Father of all things left His supercelestial realms to make himself visible in a little spot on earth’ (Dialogue 60). And so who was this God? It was Christ, the angel who later was to become human. 

“Christ was also one of the three angels who appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre in Genesis 18, another passage we have considered. Because this ‘angel’ is also a ‘man’ but is called ‘the Lord,’ it is clear to Justin: ‘There exists and is mentioned in Scriptures ANOTHER GOD AND LORD under the Creator of all things who is called an Angel.’ This one ‘appeared to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, and is called God, [and] is distinct from God, the Creator; distinct, that is, in number, but not in mind’ (Dialogue 56). These patriarchs did not see God the Father but ‘God the Son … His angel’ (Dialogue 127).

“God the Son, then, is the one to whom God the Father is speaking in the Old Testament when he says, ‘Let us make humankind in our own image’ (Gen. 1:26); he is the one to whom God speaks in the psalms when he says, ‘Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever’ (Ps. 45:6); and he is the one to whom the text refers when it says ‘The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand …”’ (Ps. 110:1).” (How Jesus Became God, pp. 331-332; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And:

“For Justin, Christ was not only the Angel of the Lord, however; he was also the Word (Logos) of God who became human. It appears clear that Justin was influenced by the Christology found in the Gospel of John, a book that he rarely, if ever, actually quotes, surprisingly enough. But Justin’s Logos Christology is more advanced and philosophically developed than that found in the Fourth Gospel…

“Justin was especially concerned to deal with the question of whether Christ is in any sense a being distinct from God the Father, and if so, how one is to imagine the relationship of Christ, the incarnate Word, to God the Father himself. In one place Justin considers Christ as the Word in relation to words we ourselves use. When we speak a word, in some sense that word has an existence independent of us (as we discover when someone misunderstands a word we have spoken); on the other hand, the word we utter owes its existence entirely to us, since we are the ones who utter the word. The Logos of God is like that: IT COMES FORTH FROM GOD, and so belongs entirely to God, but it takes on its own kind of existence once it comes forth.

“In another place Justin likens Christ’s relationship to God to a fire that is used to start another fire. The second fire exists independently of the first, but it could not have come into existence without the other. Moreover, when it is started, the new fire does not diminish anything of the first fire, making it less than it was to begin with. The first fire is just the same as it was before. But the second fire is just as fully fire as the first. And that’s how it is with God and Christ. CHRIST CAME FORTH FROM GOD, and became his own being, and yet God was not diminished in the slightest when that happened (Dialogue 61). Thus Justin stresses that Christ is a separate being from God and is ‘numerically distinct from the Father’ (Dialogue 129); BUT CHRIST IS AT THE SAME TIME FULLY GOD.” (Ibid., pp. 332-334; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Hence, for Justin the risen Lord was none other than the very Messenger of God and Jehovah God Almighty himself that appeared to the OT patriarchs and prophets. No wonder Justin could speak of Christians worshiping Jesus alongside God the Father, since to them Christ was no mere creature but the Father’s eternal Logos/Word who proceeded from God’s own Being, and was therefore just as much God as the Father is. The same holds true for the Holy Spirit, whom Justin agrees is also worshiped together with the Father and the Son.

And since Justin clearly taught that God alone is to be worshiped this means that, for both himself and orthodox believers, the Son and the Spirit are two divine Persons who fully share in the very essence of God himself.

Here is a summation that helps bring out the logical ramifications of Justin’s statements concerning Christian worship:

A.    Justin Martyr (and all true Christians) believed that God alone is to be worshiped.
B.    Justin Martyr (along with all true believers) worship(ped) the Father, Son and Spirit.
C.    This, therefore, shows that both Justin and orthodox Christians believed that the Father, Son and Spirit were/are all fully and truly God in nature.  

It is rather unfortunate that Ally didn’t bother to check out Ehrman’s reference in order to see for himself whether the latter accurately represented Justin’s views on this matter. It seems that Ally will blindly accept any opinion that is critical of the Holy Bible and Christianity, so long as it helps him to attack and undermine the Christian faith. And yet when it comes to his own religion, Ally will never take what an author says for granted, specifically when that individual is questioning the truth claims of Islam. Rather, Ally will personally check out the assertions made by a given authority for himself, in order to make sure that the person in question hasn’t misunderstood or misrepresented what the Islamic corpus actually teaches.

Such blatant inconsistency is truly disturbing to say the least.

With the foregoing in perspective we are ready to proceed to the next part in our series.

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