Wednesday, December 21, 2011

4 useful, online (and free) Islamic studies resources

I thought I would share the links to 4 online Islamic studies resources that I have found to be quite useful in my personal studies. The first 2 are books that I own (and now also have on my hard-drive), the latter 2 I did not have before discovering them online, but have now also found a cozy place on my hard-drive:

Martin Lings', Muhammad - His Life Based On The Earliest Sources - this is my favorite biography of Muhammad, after Guillaume's English translation of Ibn Ishaq's, Sirat Rasul Allah, under the title - The Life of Muhammad (Oxford, 1955; 10th impression 1995).

Ahamd Von Denffer's, Ulam al-Qur'an - An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an - though not as comprehensive as Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi's, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an (1999), it is a solid treatment, especially for those who are just beginning to explore this particular subject.

al-Tirmidhi's, Jami' al-Tirmidhi - this is one of the six major Sunni Hadith collections (I personally consider it to be the third most reliable after Shahih Bukhari and Shahih Muslim).

The Qur'anic Manuscripts - a good introduction to the early history of Qur'anic manuscripts; this pdf document seems to be related to THIS online article (I recommend Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami's, The History of the Qur'anic Text (2003) to those who can afford it).


Grace and peace,


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Two Reformed Baptist sites that I discovered earlier today

Before I delve into the topic of this thread, I would like to share my thoughts on a couple of items that are currently on my mind.

First, I would like to state that many of the threads that I post here at AF have the express purpose of presenting 'another side' to topics that I am either currently studying, or have seen being expounded (and debated) upon at other online sites.

Second, I am amazed at just how many issues are being debated over and over again, with little (usually no) sign/s of learning and/or development that should be taking place if each 'side' would seriously reflect on what their opponents have presented previously (some sites being merely monologues, allowing no dialogue at all, or only from those who already agree with what is being discussed).

Now, the above is actually more of an introduction to an upcoming thread (the Lord willing) that will discuss a prime example of an issue that is being debated repeatedly on a number of internet sites, with pretty much NO development: sola fide.

But before I jump back into the fray, I wanted to share a couple of new sites (at least to me) that I happened upon earlier today.

The first site I would like to share with my readers is:

Credo - The Magazine

The purpose of the site and magazine is summed up in the following statement:

Credo magazine is self-consciously Evangelical, Reformational, and Baptistic: Evangelical since it aims at being supremely Gospel-centered, exalting in the substitutionary death and historical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; Reformational as the gospel it promotes is defined by the solas of the Reformation; and while Credo magazine welcomes contributors from diverse ecclesial backgrounds, it seeks to especially celebrate those doctrines that mark the Baptist tradition. (link)

The first issue (and only issue to date), was published just last October. In addition to the magazine, the site also has a Blog, and Media page.

The second site/blog is:

The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies

This site revolves around Historia ecclesiastica - "The Weblog of Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin".

My personal interest in this site/blog is focused on the Dr. Haykin's "Ancient Church" series (see right side bar on the sites opening page for links). I am still in the process of reading through this series; much of what I have read, has been informative.

Anyway, I sincerely hope that some of my readers will find the above sites of use in their own studies.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Recent interest in Surah 4.157

In addition to my two threads on surah 4.157 (and the issues of the death and crucifixion of Jesus in the Qur'an- first; second), there seems of late, to have been a fair amount of interest in this particular ayah from the Qur'an. The following are a few of the examples I have recently come across on the internet:

At the website called, Antioch Believer!, Asf Aslan (the owner who resides in Antioch, Turkey, and describes himself as a "Minister of the Gospel"), posted the thread, What does the Quran say about Jesus death?, back on July 1, 2011. In that thread he wrote:

In the verse 4:157 please notice carefully, “WA lakin shubbiha lahum” means "He was made to resemble to them" or "it was made to resemble to them" or "a likeness of that was made for them" or "a similitude was made for them" -- not "someone was made to resemble him". In the sentences, "it" or "that" refers to the incident and not a person.

In fact, I don't see in Q 4:157-158 a denial of Christ's death, nor yet a denial of His crucifixion. Actually, I see a harmony between the text of that Surah, and John's gospel, when Jesus said; Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.- John 10.17-18.

After further commentary, Asf Aslan concludes his post with:

The Quran is not actually denying His crucifixion, nor yet His death. And to consider that He was raised up to life, and subsequently raised up to Allah, as is also in harmony with Bible (John 20.9-17; Acts 1.2-3, 9). Please click here for more details on Jesus death from the Quran.

On the site, A Christian Thinktank, a long, but very informative, response was given to a "truth-seeking Muslim", who had questions about the death of Jesus on the cross (SEE THIS THREAD). The entire thread is a must read (IMHO), but at the end of the post, the following summation is provided:

Ok, let’s try to summarize this data:

1. The non-controversial Qur’anic references to the death of Christ are clear in affirming a historical death.

2. Because of a perceived conflict with an interpretation of 4:157, these verses were re-interpreted (sometimes almost bizarrely).

3. Muslim and non-Muslim interpreters know that God caused Jesus to die—no human agency could take credit for it.

4. Muslim and non-Muslim scholars know that the passage is obscure and not clear enough to build such a ‘large’ doctrine on. (Some even add the phrase ‘And God knows best what happened’!)

5. Scholarly exegetes who were closer/truer to the text tended to reject/criticize the substitution legends.

6. It is frequently known that it is not the Qur’an that denies the historicity of the Cross, but rather some interpreters of the Qur’an who do so.

7. The range of interpretation of the verse by Muslims over the years shows that ‘denial of the Cross’ was not an early/reliable and consensus tradition.

8. Many (most?) modern Muslim scholars do not hold to the non-historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus.

9. There were several equally plausible ways of understanding the verse, which fit with the other Qur’anic witnesses and the witness of the prior Books.

10. The early Shi’i community explicitly accepted the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus.

11. The Qur’an itself shows that the objection that “Prophets are protected by God from such deaths” is false.

12. Several Muslim intellectuals had argued over the centuries that the substitution legends were illegitimate intrusions into the interpretation, mostly coming from the unreliable Isra ‘iliyyat (from both Jewish and Christian sources). And in some cases the alleged Islamic sources were too suspect themselves to be used for establishing proper Muslim belief.

13. Several of the most learned, respected, and submitted Islamic scholars in history rejected or criticized the substitution view.

14. The grammar of the controversial passage militates against it supporting a substitution theory.

15. Some Muslim scholars/groups held (a few still hold) that Jesus was crucified, but that only His body died—His spirit was alive to God.

16. But the understanding which makes the most sense out of the passage, the other passages on death, the repudiation of the boasts of the Jews in 4:157, their uncertainty about their success in overcoming/extinguishing a Prophet of God, and the wording about the Battle of Badr (and the passage in the Zabur 44 I cited) is that God caused Jesus to die at the hands of the Jewish enemies—for His own sovereign purposes—but that He cancelled that death and exalted/raised Jesus up to honored status as a Living Teacher, Prophet, and Judge who will come again at the end of time.

17. This latter understanding agrees with the pre-Qur’anic revelation—in conformity to the claims of the Qur’an itself that it ‘confirms’ the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (as they existed at the time of Mohammed).
From the pen of Gabriel Reynolds, the Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology Director, at the University of Notre Dame, we read:

This point might be taken still further. If tafsīr indeed provides an accurate explanation of the Quran’s original, intended meaning, then nowhere should the explanation be clearer than in the case of the Crucifixion. If the Prophet Muhammad announced to his companions that Jesus never died, but rather someone who was made miraculously to look like him died in his place, i.e. if he gave a historical account of the crucifixion which fundamentally contradicts that which Jews and Christians had been reporting for hundreds of years, then certainly such a revolutionary account – if any – would be well remembered and well preserved. But, quite to the contrary, the reports of the mufassirūn are inconsistent and often contradictory. They have all of the tell-tale signs of speculative exegesis.

This strikes me as reason enough for critical scholars to read this quranic passage in light of earlier (i.e. Jewish and Christian) and not later (i.e. Islamic exegesis) literature. When the Quran is read in this light, it quickly becomes apparent that the passage on the crucifixion is fully in line with Christian anti-Jewish rhetoric. A major theme of this rhetoric, of course, is the portrayal of the Jews as prophet-killers. Accordingly the Quran, in sūrat al-nisā’ (4) 155, accuses the Jews of “murdering the prophets”. When the Quran then alludes to the crucifixion just two verses later, it means to give the cardinal example of just such a murder. (The Muslim Jesus: Dead or Alive?)
Further contributions that are germane to our topic, which are available online, include the following:

Via the Reformed site Contra Mundum: The Crucifixion of Jesus in Muslim Theology

The Answering Islam site provides M.N. Anderson's, "Strike The Truth In the Cross" (Part 4 of his, Jesus The Light And Fragrance of God) - LINK

And at the blog, Religious Roundtable, the thread: The Crucifixion and the Quran.

Anyway, thought I would share some of my recent discoveries on this important issue—ENJOY!!!

Grace and peace,


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dr. Todd Lawson's stimulating lecture - "Tafsir and the Meaning of the Qur'an: the Crucifixion in Muslim Thought"

Back on November 21, 2009 (LINK), I introduced my readers to Dr. Todd's Lawson's ground-breaking book, The Crucifixion and the Qur'an. (I also shared a few of my own reflections on this issue in the same thread). Yesterday, I discovered that back on October 23, 2010, Dr. Lawson delivered a lecture on one of the topics in his book.

Part 1 of the lecture is below:

Todd Lawson from Ali Vural Ak Center for Global I on Vimeo.

Part 2:

Todd Lawson (Part 2) and Daniel Madigan from Ali Vural Ak Center for Global I on Vimeo.

It seems that none of my readers chose to purchase Dr. Lawson's book (at least to my knowledge); perhaps the viewing of his lecture will stimulate greater interest in this very important topic.

Grace and peace,


Monday, December 5, 2011

James White's (mis)use of Melito of Sardis as an early witness to the incarnation of God (the Son)

I have been listening to the recent debate, Can God Become a Man? (10-17-11), between James White and Abdullah Kunde (full audio of the debate available HERE).

At approximately the 9:00 minute mark forward, James cites Melito of Sardis' Peri Pascha (or, Homily on the Passion) as one of "two early writers" (the other being Ignatius of Antioch), "who are both telling the same story...that the Christian consistent belief was that Jesus Christ had become incarnate".

Now before getting to the misuse of Melito by James, a little background information on the text he cites needs to be provided. This is not the first time that James invokes Melitio; I am aware of at least two other instances wherein he does so: first, in his 1998 book, The Forgotten Trinity (pp. 184, 185) ; and then shortly after, in the Christian Research Journal (21.4 - 1999) article, "Loving the Trinity" (online PDF version).

In both of the above instances, James gives his readers the same English version of sections 95-96, 104-105, from Melito's Peri Pascha; he gives no references to the text at all in the book version, and in the CRJ, he merely states in footnote #11 that what he has quoted is a "Personal translation." He gives no indication that there is a major break between sections 95-96 and 104-105, and provides no published source of the Greek text that he used for his "Personal translation." (Two editions of the Greek text, with English translation, have been published: Campbell Bonner's The Homily on the Passion by Melito Bishop of Sardis; with Some Fragments of the Apocryphal Ezekiel (1940), and Stuart G. Hall's Melito of Sardis On Pascha and Fragments (1979) - I own a copy of the latter.)

[Alternate English translations available in Richard A. Norris Jr.'s, The Christological Controversy, pp. 33-47 (1980); Gerald F. Hawthorne's in Kerux: A Journal of Theology - 4/1 (May 1989), which was originally published, "a festschrift for Merrill C. Tenney entitled Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation (1975)"; and most recently, Alistari Steward-Sykes' in On Pascha.]

Moving on to why the use of the Melito quote by James in all three of the above contexts constitutes a misuse: Melito of Sardis was a modalist. Note the following from Hall's introduction:

Doctrine of God and Christ. Bonner characterized Melito's teaching by Harnack's phrase 'naïve modalism"; i.e. Christ is equated with God with no serious consideration of the implications. Bonner refers especially to the use of the title Father in speaking of Christ, and the epigram 'God is murdered'. Attempts are made to modify this estimate, by interpreting Father as a reference to Christ's regenerating action, or emphasizing expressions which imply Christ's distinct personal pre-existence. Others defend Melito from the imputation of formal heresy. Nevertheless, Melito does attribute to Christ all the acts of God without exception; he rarely uses expressions which clearly imply a personal distinction of the Son from the Father; where the term Logos is used of Christ there is no suggestion of the Middle Platonist ideas which led Justin to think in terms of a second God; and Melito addresses his doxologies to Christ rather than distinctly to the Father. If not exactly a modalist, Melito shares the Christocentric monotheism of the Acts of John; Christ alone is God. On the doctrine of incarnation, similarly, Melito's orthodoxy has been exaggerated...The divine Lord identifies himself with suffering mankind, putting on like a garment flesh which is the subject of man's defeat by sinful passion and death. In the flesh he dies, but his dying merely releases the divine Spirit, which destroys death and raises him to life again, and with him humanity (ὁ ἄνθρωπος). (Pages xliii-xliv.)

From Melito himself we read:

8 For as a Son born,
and as a lamb led,
and as a sheep slain,
and as a man buried,
he rose from the dead as God, being by nature God and Man.

9 For he is all things:
inasmuch as he judges, Law;
inasmuch as he teaches, Word;
inasmuch as he save, Grace;
inasmuch as he as begets, Father;
inasmuch as he is begotten, Son;
inasmuch as he suffers, Sheep;
inasmuch as he is buried, Man;
inasmuch as he is raised, God.

10 This is Jesus the Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hall, pp. 5, 7.)

The esteemed patristic scholar, Johannes Quasten, concurs with the assessments of Bonner and Hall. The following quote from volume 1 of his famous Patrology (3 volumes in all), provides Bonner's translation of the above passage, along with some of his own reflections.

The title 'Father' for Christ is unusual. It occurs in an important passage describing the various functions of Christ:

For born as a son, and led forth as a lamb, sacrificed as a sheep, buried as a man, he rose from the dead as God, being by nature God and man. Who is all things : in that he judges, Law, in that he teaches, Word in that he saves, Grace, in that he begets, Father, in that he is begotten, Son, in that he suffers, the sacrificial sheep, in that he is buried, Man, in that he arises, God. This is Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory to the ages of ages (8-10 Bonner).

This complete identification of Christ with the Godhead itself could be interpreted in favor of the monarchian modalism of a later period. If that were the case it would explain the neglect and eventual loss of Melito's works. (Johannes Quasten, Patrology - Volume 1, 1986 reprint, p. 244.)

If it is 'fair game' to cite modalists as representatives of "Christian consistent belief", why not adoptionists, or subordinationists, or Arians, or ...

Grace and peace,


Friday, December 2, 2011

Early Christian-Muslim dialogue

In my library, I possess what seems to be a fairly rare book on Christian-Muslim dialogue, with the full title, The Early Christian-Muslim Dialogue: A Collection of Documents from the First Three Islamic Centuries (632 - 900 A.D.): Translations with Commentary.

The book was published back in 1993 by the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute (Hatfield, Pennsylvania), and was edited by N. A. Newman. (Google Books link.)

The following are the translated works included in the book (links to free online editions of the 3 largest works are included):

The Dialogue of Patriarch John I [the Jacobite (i.e. monophysite) Patriarch of Antioch] with 'Amr al-As [the Amir of the Hagarenes] (639 A.D.)

Leo III's [Byzantine Emperor] Reply to Umar II [Umayyad Caliph] (719 A.D.)

John of Damascus' "Islam" in On Heresies [chapters 100, 101] (died circa 752 A.D.)

Note: Google Books online preview of Daniel J. Sahas definitive work, John of Damascus On Islam, available here.

The Dialogue of Patriarch [Nestorian] Timothy I with Caliph [Abbassid] Mahdi (781 A.D.)

Online access: Woodbrooke Studies - volume 2; The Apology of Timothy the Patriarch before the Caliph Mahdi - Mingana

The Religious Dialogue of Jerusalem

Al-Kindi's Apology (circa 820 A.D.)

Online access: The Apology of Al Kindy - Muir

Al-Tabari's Book of Religion and Empire (circa 855 A.D.)

Online access: The Book of Religion and Empire - Mingana

Al-Jahiz's A Reply To The Christians (died 869 A.D.)

In addition to the obvious assessment that the above works provide us with a fairly good glimpse into the kind/type of dialogue that was transpiring between Christians and Muslims in the first three centuries after the rise of Islam, I would like to add the following observations: first, the majority of Christians entering into dialogue with the Muslims in this early period were deemed heretics by the 'Catholic' (Greek and Latin) branch of Christianity; second, the Muslims writers were all Sunnis; third, the level and scope of the dialogues seem somewhat 'unsophisticated' and uninformed by more modern 'standards'; and fourth, certain lines of apologetic method and argumentation on how the ongoing dialogues/debates would proceed along were established—lines, with few exceptions, that have continued down to our own day among the more popular and polemical disputants.

I would now like to expand a bit on my fourth observation. Those who are familiar with this blog are aware of importance that the development of doctrine played in the formation of Christian dogmas. They are also cognizant of the incredible diversity that existed (and continues to exist) among 'catholic/orthodox' Christians, let alone among those who came to be deemed as heretics via conciliar and imperial decrees. With this in mind, I find it quite interesting that much of the apologetic method and argumentation between Christians and Muslims has been carried on with the view that Christian dogma has virtually no diversity, and was 'fixed' long before the debates between the Christians and Muslims began. (I would also argue that the same holds true concerning the development of Muslim doctrines.)

It is my belief that this lack of acknowledgement, and discernment, concerning the development and diversity of dogma, has severely hindered constructive and fruitful dialogue between Christians and Muslims. I also believe that much of the poor apologetic method and argumentation that began in those early dialogues has continued into the 21st century—allowing, of course, that both sides have become much more 'polished' in their presentations of those methods and arguments.

Sincerely hope that this opening post will stimulate some robust and thoughtful interaction.

Grace and peace,