It never ceases to amaze me how Muslim polemicists will constantly cite liberal biblical scholarship to refute the Christian faith, while rejecting that the implications that same scholarship has on the truth claims of their own religion.
Take, for instance, Paul Bilal Williams’ post titled “Yale: ‘The Synoptic Gospels do not portray Jesus as preexistent’” http://bloggingtheology.net/2017/01/09/28159/, where he cites the work of John J. and Adela Yarbro Collins titled, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature , for the express purpose of establishing that the Synoptic Gospels, i.e., Mark, Matthew and Luke, deny the divine prehuman existence of Christ. Williams writes,
This will come as a shock to most people to learn that New Testament scholarship is broadly in agreement that the gospels of Matthew and Luke do not portray Jesus as preexistent and have no awareness of the notion of the Incarnation of God. In the light of Christian teaching about the origins of Jesus this is surprising as both gospels have extended birth narratives where such ideas would naturally be mentioned. Here is an extract from a recent academic discussion from Yale University in the USA.
And then posts a picture from p. 209 of Collins’ work:
The Synoptic Gospels do not portray Jesus as preexistent. In Mark ‘son of God’ signifies first and foremost that Jesus is the messiah (1:11 in its allusion to Ps 2:7 and explicitly in 8:29). During his lifetime Jesus has authority and will suffer as the hidden Son of Man (2:10, 28; 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). He will exercise his messiahship as the exalted Son of Man (8:38; 13:26-27; 14:62). Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ messiahship in the opening sentence: “the account of the descent of Jesus = messiah, son of David, son of Abraham (BiBlos geneseo ‘Iesou Christous hyiou David hyiou ‘Abraam). Both Matthew (1:20) and Luke (1:35) portray Jesus as begotten by God in the sense that he was conceived by the power of God and had no human father. In neither case, however, is this idea combined with the notion of preexistence and incarnation. As in Mark, ‘son of God’ and ‘Son of Man’ are equivalent in Matthew. Matthew goes beyond Mark in emphasizing that Jesus as Son of Man has a kingdom (13:41; 16:28) and will act as judge (19:28; 25:31-46).
Page 209 from the Conclusion of King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature, by Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins – both professors of biblical criticism and interpretation at Yale University.
In this post I am going to show how the claims made by these two scholars end up proving that William’s religion cannot be true and that Muhammad was false prophet.
Christ as the Divine Son of Man
Collins referenced the following passages where Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man:
“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of HIS Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38
“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then HE will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Mark 13:26-27
“Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,” and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”’” Mark 14:61b-62
Notice that according to these verses Jesus is the Son of Man who rides the clouds of heaven, appears in the glory of his Father, which identifies the Son of Man as God’s own unique Son, sends forth the angels, and sits enthroned at the right hand of God.
It is clear that Christ is identifying himself as the Lord of David who is mentioned in Psalm 110:1, a fact confirmed elsewhere in Mark,
“While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’” David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?’ And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.” Mark 12:35-37
And as the divine figure whom the prophet Daniel saw coming on the clouds in order to reign forever, and whom all nations must worship:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
Suffice it to say this now raises some serious problems for Williams’ Islamic beliefs since, according to the Quran, it is God Almighty who comes on the clouds of heaven with his angels in order to judge the nations:
What do they look for, but that God shall come to them in the cloud — shadows, and the angels? The matter is determined, and unto God all matters are returned. S. 2:210
No indeed! When the earth is ground to powder, and thy Lord comes, and the angels rank on rank, and Gehenna is brought out, upon that day man will remember; and how shall the Reminder be for him? S. 89:21-23
And it is God alone who reigns supreme over all creation, since he does not permit anyone to share in his sovereign rule, not even a son!
It belongs not to any mortal that God should give him the Book, the Judgment, the Prophethood, then he should say to men, ‘Be you servants to me apart from God.’ Rather, ‘Be you masters in that you know the Book, and in that you study.’ He would never order you to take the angels and the Prophets as Lords; what, would He order you to disbelieve, after you have surrendered? S. 3:79-80 Arberry
And say: ‘Praise belongs to God, who has not taken to Him a son, and who has not any associate in the Kingdom, nor any protector out of humbleness.’ And magnify Him with repeated magnificats. S. 17:111 Arberry
Say: “Allah knows best how long they stayed. With Him is (the knowledge of) the unseen of the heavens and the earth. How clearly He sees, and hears (everything)! They have no Wali (Helper, Disposer of affairs, Protector, etc.) other than Him, and He makes none to share in His Decision and His Rule.” S. 18:26 Hilali-Khan
to whom belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth; and He has not taken to Him a son, and He has no associate in the Kingdom; and He created every thing, then He ordained it very exactly. S. 25:2 Arberry
The foregoing establishes that the only way that the prophets David and Daniel could describe the Messiah as the Lord who rides the clouds of heaven and who rules from God’s own throne, and whom all nations are to worship forever, is if they believed that he is God in the flesh (though not the Father or the Holy Spirit). And since this is the plain, explicit teaching of these inspired emissaries taught concerning the Person of Christ, Muhammad therefore stands condemned as a false prophet for contradicting the message of God’s true spokespersons that came before him.
The literal, unique Son of God
Williams also failed to appreciate that Collins is basically arguing that both Matthew and Luke are affirming that the virginal conception and birth of Jesus literally makes him the Son of God. Lest the readers misunderstand, we do not mean literal in the sense that God sired Jesus through sexual procreation, but through a creative act by the Holy Spirit in which Christ is both human and divine. He is human in that Jesus was conceived in the womb of a woman; he is also divine in that the conception took place by God’s own Spirit, thereby making him the actual Son of God in a unique, divine sense.
After all, being begotten by God makes Jesus divine by nature, just as his being begotten by a human mother makes him human. As critical NT scholar Bart D. Ehrman explains (whom we might add is no friend to conservative Evangelical Christianity):
Luke himself–whoever he was-does not think Jesus was a preexistent Son of God. As it turns out, he does not think Jesus became the Son at the baptism either, as we will see. Then why does he have the voice say this? Again, Luke is fond of incorporating a variety of preliterary traditions that he had heard, even if they differ from his own views. And so in a speech of Acts he can include a tradition that says Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection (13:33); in his Gospel he can include one that says Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism (3:22); and he incorporates another tradition that says he became the Son of God at his birth (1:35). Maybe Luke simply wanted to stress that Jesus was the Son of God at all the significant points of his existence: birth, baptism, and resurrection.
Jesus as Son of God at His Birth
In the final form of Luke’s Gospel, it appears that Jesus is to be thought of as becoming the Son of God, for the first time, at the moment of birth. Or, to be more precise, at the moment of his conception. We saw in Chapter 1 that in the pagan world there were a variety of ways that a human could be thought of as having become divine. Some humans were made divine at their deaths, when they were taken up to the heavenly realm to live with the gods (e.g., Romulus). This would be comparable to Christian traditions that Jesus was exalted to God’s right hand as his Son at the resurrection. In other pagan traditions a divine human was born that way, after a god such as the lusty Zeus had sex with a beautiful woman he could not resist. The offspring was literally the son of Zeus (e.g., Heracles [Roman: Hercules]). There are no Christian traditions in which this happens. The God of the Christians was not like the philander Zeus, filled with lust and full of imaginative ways to satisfy it. For the Christians, God was transcendent, remote, “up there”–not one to have sex with beautiful girls. At the same time, something somewhat like the pagan myths appears to lie behind the birth narrative found in the Gospel of Luke.
The Birth of Jesus in Luke
In this Gospel, Jesus was born of Mary, who had never had human sex. She had never had divine sex either, exactly, but it was God, not a human who made her pregnant. In the famous “annunciation” scene, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, who is betrothed to be married but has not yet gone through the ceremony or had any physical contact with her espoused, Joseph. Gabriel tells her that she is specially favored by God and will conceive and bear a son. She is taken aback-she has never had sex: How can she conceive? The angel tells her in graphic terms: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the one who is born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). I call this description “graphic” because there is nothing in it to make the reader think that the angel is speaking in metaphors. In a very physical sense the Holy Spirit is to “come upon” Mary and “therefore”–an important word here–the child she bears will be called the Son of God. He will be called the Son of God because he will in fact be the Son of God. It is God, not Joseph, who will make Mary pregnant, so the child she bears will be God’s offspring. Here, Jesus becomes the Son of God not at his resurrection or baptism, but already at his conception.
It is interesting to observe that the Gospel of Matthew also has an account of Jesus’ birth in which his mother is a virgin. One might infer from this account as well that Jesus is the Son of God because of the circumstances of his unusual birth. But in the case of Matthew, this conclusion would indeed need to be made by inference: Matthew says nothing of the sort. There is no verse in Matthew similar to what Luke says in Luke 1:35. Instead, according to Matthew, the reason Jesus’s mother was a virgin was so that his birth could fulfill what had been said by a spokesperson of God many centuries earlier, when the prophet Isaiah in the Jewish Scriptures wrote, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Matthew quotes this verse and gives it as the reason for Jesus’s unusual conception–it was to fulfill prophecy (Matt. 1:23)… It does not take too much thought to realize, though, that Matthew may have been giving “scriptural justification” for a tradition he inherited that originally had a different import: like Luke’s tradition, the one that came to Matthew may originally have spoken of Jesus as the unique Son of God because he was born of a virgin, with God as his father.
Whether this is the case or not, I should stress that these virginal conception narratives of Matthew and Luke are by no stretch of the imagination embracing the view that later became the orthodox teaching of Christianity. According to this later view, Christ was a preexistent divine being who “became incarnate [i.e., “human”] through the Virgin Mary.” But not according to Matthew and Luke. If you read their accounts closely, you will see that they have nothing to do with the idea that Christ existed before he was conceived. In these two Gospels, Jesus comes into existence at the moment of his conception. He did not exist before.
Whether or not Matthew’s tradition originally coincided with Luke’s view that Jesus was conceived by a virgin without sexual intercourse so that he was LITERALLY the Son of God, this view, as most pronounced in Luke, is a kind of “exaltation” Christology that has been pushed back just about as far as such a view can go. If an exaltation Christology maintains that a human has been elevated to a divine status, then there is no point for that to happen earlier than the moment of conception itself. Jesus is now the Son of God for his entire life, beginning with … his beginning. One could argue, in fact, that this has pushed the moment of exaltation so far back that here we no longer even have an exaltation Christology, a Christology from “down below.” For here, Jesus is not portrayed in any sense as beginning life as a normal human who because of his great virtue or deep obedience to the will of God is exalted to a divine status. HE STARTS OUT AS DIVINE, FROM THE POINT OF HIS CONCEPTION. (How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee [HarperOne 2014], 6. The Beginning of Christology: Christ as Exalted to Heaven, pp. 240-244; capital emphasis ours)
This, too, is incompatible with Williams’ Islamic beliefs since the Quran outright denies that Jesus is God’s Son,
The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the Son of God’; the Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the Son of God.’ That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before them. God assail them! How they are perverted! S. 9:30 Arberry
And further denies that the Muslim god is a father to anyone, since he neither begets nor is begotten, irrespective of whether that begetting is spiritual or sexual in nature:
Say the Jews and Christians, ‘We are the sons of God, and His beloved ones.’ Say: ‘Why then does He chastise you for your sins? No; you are mortals, of His creating; He forgives whom He will, and He chastises whom He will.’ For to God belongs the kingdom of the heavens and of the earth, and all that is between them; to Him is the homecoming. S. 5:18 Arberry
The Creator of the heavens and the earth — how should He have a son, seeing that He has no consort, and He created all things, and He has knowledge of everything? S. 6:101 Arberry
And they say, ‘The All-merciful has taken unto Himself a son. You have indeed advanced something hideous! The heavens are wellnigh rent of it and the earth split asunder, and the mountains wellnigh fall down crashing for that they have attributed to the All-merciful a son; and it behoves not the All-merciful to take a son. None is there in the heavens and earth but he comes to the All-merciful as a servant; S. 19:88-93 Arberry
Had God desired to take to Him a son, He would have chosen whatever He willed of that He has created. Glory be to Him! He is God, the One, the Omnipotent. S. 39:4 Arberry
who has not begotten, and has not been begotten, S. 112:3 Arberry
Ironically, Muhammad said that if God had a Son then he would be the first to worship him,
Say, ‘If the Merciful One has a son then am I the first to worship him. S. 43:81 Palmer
Which is precisely what Christ’s own followers actually did after seeing Jesus’ sovereign power and control over the natural elements!
“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” Matthew 14:22-33
This shows that even Muhammad realized that God’s Son would have to be truly divine and therefore worthy of worship.
Now since the very Yale scholars that Williams’ appealed to acknowledge that the Synoptic Gospels identify Jesus as the divine Son of Man and (in the case of Matthew and Luke) the unique Son of God from the very moment of his blessed, miraculous conception, Williams is therefore left with no choice but to reject Muhammad as a fraud, as a false prophet and antichrist for rejecting what our earliest witnesses to the historical Jesus taught concerning him.
So much for Williams’ appeal to Yale’s scholars!
All Scriptural quotations taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Holy Bible.