In previous parts of this series, we concluded that Paul’s ‘gospel’ differed dramatically from the Gospel message (Arabic: injîl) of Jesus as found in the several opening documents (Gospel books) of the New Testament of the Bible (i.e., Christian scripture). Accordingly, we can argue that Paul—after an infamous career of hunting down the followers of Jesus to wipe them out—that Paul did not convert to Jesus’ Gospel at all. Yet, that is apparently what he would have one believe. Furthermore, Paul is today widely celebrated as ‘the second founder’ of the worldwide Christian religion that venerates Jesus!
IN FACT WE can say that Paul was the first ‘Christian’ (not Jesus! nor Jesus’-personally-mentored Twelve Disciples!) and that Paul’s activity served to supplant the genuine teaching of Jesus, who remained firmly in the Jewish camp: Jesus was neither a founder of the Christian religion, nor a member of it! Whereas Jesus continued teaching pure monotheism and called for his people to return to their trust in God, Paul, by contrast, violated monotheism in promoting a ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ as deserving of worship alongside God.
So now, just how was Paul’s message maneuvered to replace that of Jesus? It was not alone the writings of Paul that proclaimed a doctored-up version of the Jesus-religion.
Jesus As ‘Logos’
We continue following Professor James D. G. Dunn in his book, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? His evidence for a “Yes” answer—presented from the opening passage of the Gospel of John—regarding the status of Jesus in the eyes of the first Christians, is to be read as marking a transition from the human prophet Jesus—accounted for in the narratives of the four Gospels books of the New Testament (NT)—to Pauline teaching of the divine Christ Jesus, and theologized by the Church.
We take up now from where we left off in Part 4, from the section called ‘PHILO’S LOGOS AS METAPHOR FOR GOD.’ The Greek-language NT uses the term “logos” both in the ordinary sense of a spoken “word,” and also as a term with philosophical implications, borrowed from the Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived during the time of Jesus. It was into this term, reformulated by the Church, that Paul’s Christological teaching was conveniently ‘downloaded.’
The Greek term ho logos has been translated into English traditionally as the two-word phrase, “the Word,” with a capital “W” to indicate special status of some kind. The vital Christian metaphysical concept now contained in ho logos, appears in the passage below both in the English noun phrase (“the Word”) and also in pronoun form (“he” or “his”). The use of “he” rather than “it” is calculated so as to link up with the interpretation of a personified “Word” and to be identified with a male human being. In this tightly-argued, ecclesiastically-approved passage, “the Word” and “he/him” are found repeatedly and highlighted in colored font below as a readers’ aid.
The beginning verses of the Gospel of John are conspicuously non-narrative and serve to color theologically the rest of the text of the Gospel of John, which otherwise is basically a narrative account of the acts and sayings of Jesus—in much the same style as the other three Gospel books of the NT. The main elements of this passage are excerpted below as they impinge upon the answer to Dunn’s question, “Did the First Christians worship Jesus”:
Bible, Gospel of John 1:1-18: Before the world was created, THE WORD already existed; he was with God, and HE WAS THE SAME AS GOD. From the very beginning the Word was with God. … The Word became a human being … and [he] lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son. … Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. [italics and color added]
In dealing with the above passage, we lay aside for a moment the secondary connection of “the Father’s only Son…Jesus Christ” with “the Word.” Our first priority must be to deal with the bedrock association—or outright identification—of Deity with “the Word.”
The equating of Deity with anything other than Himself is a non-starter since Deity is categorically unlike anything else. If pushed to the pure logic of this simple observation—and this is where we Muslims can best serve the interests of monotheism (taw ḥîd)—the Christian interlocutor cannot help but admit to this unarguable foundational principle. Al-hamdulillah, once the primary, foundational issue (Deity ≅ the Word ?) is settled, the secondary concern will naturally fall into place.
To be accurate concerning the translation of logos in this passage—often-quoted, by Christians as theologically definitive—one must understand the difference between “[the] God” and “a god” in the above English translation of the NT Greek text. Remember that the pagan Greeks of Jesus’ time lived in a mythological world of gods and goddesses, not a world in which they worshipped—or even recognized—a singular, unique One God as Creator of the universe.
In the pagan Greek world, “ho logos” referred to the cosmic logic or the operating principle on which the universe was run. For the Greeks, the world had always existed—without having been created—and nature’s organizing order or forces of nature was called “logos.” One could say that in their world, “logos” designated the ultimate power, whereas their pantheon of immortal gods and goddesses was populated with superhuman personalities associated with the various aspects of human life under that logos.
The biblical verse-segment, John 1:1c , is normally rendered “The Word was God,” but its literal translation is actually:
god (theos) – was – the – word(=logos)
In plain language, then, the Greek sense—in context—is that the operating order (“logos”) of the universe is to be equated with the metaphysical “supernatural” foundation (“god”) of the world as it impinges upon a person. The functioning of the physical world is to be associated with a “divine”-ness characteristic.
The traditional translation (“The Word was God”) gives one to understand that whatever “god”-ness (i.e., deity) was, that is what the philosophical “Word” was. The bottom line being propounded here is that the two terms have equivalent properties—if not identical ones—or, that the two referents may possibly be two names for one and the same entity. Whatever “the Word” is understood to be, the same is also to be understood as [somehow] “divine,” that is, in some sort of relationship with deity. It would take the Church several hard-fought centuries to define their position on what that relationship was—and this we take up starting in Part 8.
From the platform of this first equivalence—deity linked with the Laws of Nature, so to speak—Christian interpreters move on to “prove” that, according to [this] sacred scripture (John 1:1-18), Jesus is a human form of Deity. This primary identification is supposedly further strengthened by adding that Deity is secondarily to be identified with the risen-to-heaven Christ, and thirdly, theologized as “Son of God.” (We properly deal with the key Christian concepts of “Son of God,” “Christ,” and “Father” in a later installment, inshâAllah.)
Having linked (1) deity (theos) with the principle of order in the universe (logos), the philosophical argument proceeds, further, to link in (2) the human Jesus to the logos on the assertion that the logos historically became a human being, namely Jesus. Further to be co-identified with Jesus is (3) “the Father’s only Son…Jesus Christ.” In this associationalistic process, pagan deity becomes the monotheistic “God” and the Creator’s force behind the universe becomes “the Christ,” meaning Jesus.
A number of malleable terms are thrown into the mix—all with some kind of non-prophetic, mystical-world implication. So then, ho logos is still the kingpin, mediating philosophical term which links deity to the human Jesus. Jesus has taken on several other mystical or supernatural titles in the process of apotheosis.
DEITY (theos) ← → the Word (ho logos)
God human being (“he”)
“Son of God” ← “Christ” ← JESUS
A chain of associations, or supposèd equivalences, is implied and is used to authorize the Christian theological doctrine of a God-made-flesh supernatural being, who—after an alleged dramatic death and return to life on earth—was said to be now alive in the heavens and available for answering petitions. Surely, such a commanding figure, supposing it were true that Deity had “become flesh”—in line with pagan Greek thinking—wouldn’t that god-man individual be worthy of having worship and prayer directed to him?!
The two terms—deity (Greek: θεος, theos) and divine order (Greek: ό λογος, ho logos) are now infused with new associated meaning, namely, theos becomes the supposedly monotheistic “God” and ho logos becomes His supposed “Christ”/ “Son of God.” The two terms are to be mutually equated one to the other through the mediation of the newly-applied philosophical concept: ho logos. According to the definitive Christian passage (John 1:1-18), divine order (logos) existed alongside deity/god (theos) in the beginning—and divine order “was” [=equivalent to, or, identified with] god/deity. Translated into plain Christian English: the essence of Jesus existed alongside the essence of God from the beginning, and what God was, the same “was” [or, could be said of] Jesus!
The He-God Vs. A-God
Yes, we Muslims are blindsided by the ease with which pagan god-ness is put in place of the All-Powerful, All-knowing One God, and, by the quantum leap from the operating principles of the universe to the human prophet Jesus (in his supposed role as spiritualized, supernatural “Christ”).
Naturally, we are so unexpectedly taken aback simply because we have a clear-cut concept of Allah as transcendent, “wholly other,” the nothing-remotely-like-Him Deity, the One God; we also have a well-defined concept of the [human] prophet—whether Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Abraham, etc., etc.—as a human being who has received unsolicited revelation from God and who has been entrusted with conveying those unabridged, unadulterated words of guidance, each prophet to his own target audience, each exemplifying its message in his lifestyle and each performing his unique signature activities.
The Christian has not inherited from the historically dominant Church these pure concepts: God, guidance, and divinely-directed human guide. Christian converts to Islam typically mention that they never had accepted Church teaching in regard to doctrines such as the Divinity of Jesus, the Trinitarian model of God as three “persons,” or, the authority of the Church to expand on divine revelation or to manufacture doctrine so as to compete with the times.
Sacrifice For Sin?
And if those Christian converts to Islam had previously bought into the emotional drama of “God’s only Son” as dying on the Cross so as to pay the God-required capital-punishment for their sins, still they almost always mention that, at some point, they had also seriously doubted that a just and good God would have imputed to them the guilt of Adam’s and Eve’s sins, in the first place—an ancient disobedience on the part of Adam and Eve toward God, in which—contrary to Paul’s writings—they had played no part and had no connection, except their biologically-inherited DNA!
Islamically, we know that Allah holds no person responsible for an intention or act of another independent person. So, the burdensome guilt-trip manufactured by Paul, and taken up by mystery-cult-inspired first Christians is a non-starter in our teaching.
For the Christian, the immense, supposed corruptible hold of “Original Sin” over the human being is matched only by a loving God in His generous offer to sacrifice the life of the perfectly righteous, and so-called only “son” of God Himself in man’s place. This is an emotionally difficult doctrine for the committed Christian to give up—because for him the Pauline concepts are the heart of his belief in “Christ” (as associated with Jesus).
Sacrifice of innocent life is necessary, in the Christian belief system, in order to free billions of mankind from their sinful nature—past, present and future. God’s forgiveness of an individual, according to Paul, is contingent upon a person’s avowal of this belief. The need for such forgiveness has been brought on, in the first place, by a disobedient intent and act on the part of mankind’s distant human progenitor, Adam! Not to mention—according to the biblical account (Genesis 3)—that Adam was put up to this sin by his wife, Ḥawwâ’/Eve! And not to mention that Eve had been deceived by Satan who came to her in the form of a snake!
For the Muslim, as for the Jewish Jesus, personal repentance was called for in order to pave the way for wiping away the damage done by one’s own personal sin—not the sin of one’s neighbor or ancestor.
In his pitch for belief in his “gospel” teaching, Paul used the imagery of the “first Adam” as the one who brought sin [and thus death] to the human species—conjoined with the imagery of [Jesus] Christ as the “second Adam,” who, Paul claimed, is the one who brought a resolution to this sin-and-death predicament through his [Jesus’] supposed sacrificial death—the perfectly righteous one on behalf of the sinner (Bible, Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians 15:22, 45-47).
In regard to the need for sacrifice—human sacrifice—Paul also latched onto the imagery of the nonagenarian Abraham (Ibrâhîm) who was willing to obey God, regardless of personal cost, even to the extent of personally sacrificing his beloved and [at that time] his only son, when it was abundantly clear that Abraham’s son would have to survive to a procreative age if Abraham’s hope of continuing his genealogical line was to be realized. For God had promised to bless Abraham—and the world—through a godly, prophetic Abrahamic lineage.
By analogy, the willingness of God Himself—according to Paul’s “gospel”—to physically sacrifice His own beloved “Son” on a Roman cross was a central feature of Paul’s message. In fact, Paul’s version was “one up” on the competing mystery cult choices, so plentiful and attractive in his day. As history has proven, Paul’s version was a winner among its contemporaries, though not without repeated “boxing matches.” One could well imagine that it was in answer to Paul that Prophet Muhammad was instructed to respond: Say, if the Most Merciful truly had a son, I would be the first to worship him (Sûrat Al-Zukhruf, 43:81).
The point is that God is categorically unlike any other entity in our experience and that we deal directly with the awesome Almighty, following the tutelage of His authorized guidance: His Books and His prophets. We are invited—in fact, required—to call upon Him for our needs and desires, and to keep up our “personal” conversation with Him as our Lord.
Problems In the Greek Text
As suggested above, the grammar of the key phrase (in John 1:1c) does not warrant the translation as “the-Word was God,” at least, not in the sense of the One God. Nor is the Cosmic Logic, Laws-of-Nature, operating-principles-of-the-universe “logos” a personality so as to merit capitalization as “the Word.”
Furthermore, the translation “he/ his/him” would more accurately be rendered “it/its” referring to “logos,” since under normal circumstances there would be no need to speak of “logos” in an anthropomorphic, personified sense, referring to a human male.
Thus, “he” is a translator’s choice of words in keeping with a theological interpretation of the text to mean that the material force underlying the functioning of the existing physical world would take on the form of a human male at a particular turning-point in history. That god-man would be observed as teaching and performing miraculous healings—all while demonstrably still also doing its (his?) job of operating the natural physical processes of the universe!
So, the translator’s choice to capitalize “Word” and “God” are part of weighting the translation to “prove” a theological doctrine predicated on the authority of the words of documents (Paul’s writings) which the Church, in time, would definitively approve as holy scripture. Undoubtedly the opening passage of the Gospel of John was spliced into place precisely in order to promote the theological belief—which the translators have correctly translated to match the intention of that Greek-culture-oriented philosophical introduction.
The introductory verses to the Gospel of John (chapter 1, verses 1-18) is a traditionally favorite passage among Christians, one which confirms unmistakably, in their minds, inklings elsewhere in the Johannine text, deliberately crafted, or redacted, so as to tip the scales in favor of belief in the deity of Christ.
This Logos passage, which was out-of-character for John (whether or not the “writer” of this Gospel was in fact John son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ Twelve Disciples), was quite probably not part of the original Gospel of John document collection. This means that the Logos verses would not be part of the original Jesus narratives according to the tradition of its author/compiler/transmitter: “John.” Which is to say that it could have been added later to ensure appeal to the pagan, Gentile audience—and for gaining a theological upper hand over its Jewish origins.
“Be!” And It Is
The above discussion reminds us Muslims of Allah’s use of a commanding “word” to bring about what He has decided to create, that is, to bring into existence: When Allah wills something to be, He simply says to it [the word] “Be!”—and it is. (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:117)
Jesus, like Adam, came into the world by a command of the Almighty—Adam without a mother and both Jesus and Adam without a father:
Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was. (Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:59)
This ayah serves to deny that there was any such peer, partner or son alongside God in the beginning. We are also reminded, as to ʿIsa/ Jesus, that Allah refers to him in the Quran (Sûrat Âl ʿImrân,) as “a word from God”:
[And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary—distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ]. (Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:45)
In no sense—literal of figurative—does the exalted human being Jesus equate to the governing principle or cosmic logic (logos) in the universe, existing with God in the beginning and a junior partner in creation, issuing a “word” of command to bring things into being. On the contrary, Jesus himself was brought into being by a word of Allah’s command!
Jesus, as a “word from God,” brings to his Jewish people a “word” (i.e., message) of guidance from God, and his activity demonstrates and epitomizes God’s teachings. Jesus is no less than God’s chosen servant and prophet, perfectly carrying out his foreordained mission. This analysis is something that Christians believe—and Jesus himself affirms in the Gospel accounts. Unfortunately, though, because of following Paul, Christians want to make something more of Jesus: a god-man after the Greco-Roman model.
The teachings and actions of Jesus are to be properly understood as “signs” [revealed verses, or, prophetic witness] of God’s guiding instruction, support, and assistance in a time of national crisis, just as other prophets had come with revealed words and actions, for the purpose of speaking to the needs of specific persons or peoples in various times and places throughout history.
Philosophy and Visionary Experience Linked
Prof. Dunn in his book (p. 130) explicates how these opening verses of the Gospel of John reflect the influence of Philo’s Logos in enabling (by misapplication, either blindly or willfully!) the concept of a literal ‘second God’ identity of “the Word” as the man Jesus. Also, this opening chapter of the Gospel of John opportunely introduces Paul’s title for Jesus as ‘Christ’ (John 1:17, 41). Anachronistically, “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36) and other later theologically-pregnant references to Jesus are found in this Gospel, including links to the Wisdom and Spirit metaphors so well developed in Pauline writings, says Dunn.
By the time the NT reader reaches the visionary, apocalyptic last book of the NT, the Revelation to John,
he meets an unqualified ‘divinity’ or ‘deity’ in the person of Jesus as “the Christ” and as the exalted-to-heaven, sacrificial “Lamb of God,” continues Dunn (p. 130).
By clear implication, this awesome personage is portrayed as God’s partner, sits on God’s throne, and receives the same worship as does the Lord God Almighty (p. 131). Reminiscent of Paul’s initiation into the mystic Christ experience, the concluding clairvoyant book of the NT opens with a claim to visionary revelation received from the risen-to-heaven [Jesus] Christ:
Bible, The Revelation to John 1:1-2, 5-6: This book is the record of the events that Jesus Christ revealed. God gave him this revelation in order to show to his servants what must happen very soon. Christ made these things known to his servant John by sending his angel to him, and John has told all that he has seen…This is his report concerning the message from God and the truth revealed by Jesus Christ…the faithful witness, the first-born Son, who was raised from death…To Jesus Christ be the glory and power forever and ever! Amen.
NT scholars have traditionally presumed that a one-and-the-same John—in particular, the one of Jesus’ Twelve Disciples named John—is behind the Gospel of John, and the three Letters from John, and the Revelation to John, though other John’s are possible. Those academics see the Gospel of John as implying a theological understanding of Jesus as more than a man, especially if they presume its introductory verses to be from the hand of John the Disciple.
In the Revelation to John, the ‘Christ’ is clearly portrayed as being on a par with God. Therein he is the spiritualized Jesus who had been raised-from-death-to-life-on-earth and then, from here on earth he had been raised-up-into-heaven before the very eyes of his close followers.
Christians generally do not have, in their thinking or church teaching, a strong concept of prophethood that could apply to Jesus—even though the Gospel narratives portray Jesus as a Hebrew prophet. Even if they acknowledge that Jesus was technically a “prophet”—based on Jesus’ self references (Matthew 13:57-58, Luke 13:32-33) and based on assessments reported from others (Matthew 21:11, Luke 7:16; 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, 9:17), the average, Church-taught Christian would simply insist that he is more than a “mere” prophet.
The New Testament Gospel books clearly refer to Jesus as “the Son of God,” they will tell you. It has most likely never occurred to them that this Christian catchphrase might have had a prophetic meaning in Jesus’ Jewish context before it took on a pagan Greek philosophical meaning, with the help of Paul and his fellow travelers!
Thus, the Jesus found in the Revelation to John is represented as “more than a man,” which means that Jesus would thus have to equate to “God”/”god” in one sense or another. And, the writing’s self-declared author “John”—in that he receives the “revelation” from the visionary Jesus Christ—becomes a kind of oracular prophet figure. This means that “John” is functioning as an oracle on a pagan model in which he receives his revelatory, visionary message in an ecstatic state and conveys it to his community of “believers.” The pagan “soothsayer” of Prophet Muhammad’s time (kâhin in Arabic) would hold a comparable position.
From an Islamic point of view, Jesus already belongs to the highest elevated status possible to the human being: PROPHET! By setting Jesus side-by-side with the One God, the Church does not elevate Jesus as they have supposed, nor do they make God more accessible to man by—supposedly—bringing Him down to man’s level. Rather, they downgrade the All-Powerful God, who alone “sends down” angels and prophets with His revealed Words to human beings. At the same time they corrupt the prophetic status of Jesus when they—supposedly—deify him, as if he were a pagan god!
Even worse, they, ignorantly, trash the very God-given concept of “prophet.” Paul promoted his own version of the institution of prophet in his churches, meaning a person who spoke ecstatically! This Pauline institution, however, has been left behind in the mainline churches as belonging to another age.
The institutionalized Church has ended up historically in putting her stamp of approval on this ill-conceived move away from Jesus’ self-portrayal as God’s prophetic servant and in giving Jesus a seemingly more appealing and progressively avant-garde status as God’s “begotten son.” As a result, Christians have been stuck with a counter-intuitive, self-contradictory dogma built on the assertion that God had made Himself a specific human being (the doctrine of “incarnation”)—resulting in the supposed “deity” of Jesus (“Christology“), with a supposed divine “Son” relationship to God, and a partnership of Jesus in a supposed tripartite formulation of Almighty God (“Trinitarian“).
Had the Church not accepted Paul as a valid spokesman for Jesus, such a pagan-inspired belief system could not have been possible in regard to Jesus, the faithfully monotheistic Jewish prophet.
To be continued, inshâAllah in Part 7