“…come let us reason together.” Isiah 1:16
By Gary Miller
THE STATUS OF THE BIBLE
In such discussions, several things should be noted. First, the Muslim does not have to reinterpret Christian scripture. Our duty is to insist that a man state his case clearly, not in vague terms. We must ask for all information related to the matter (Where else do we find key words and phrases in the Bible?). We must demand that thoughts expressed are carried to their logical conclusion. Let us illustrate again with another familiar example. An all-purpose quotation is John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through me.” Exactly what this verse is supposed to prove is left vague. Does it prove the divinity of Jesus? Is it supposed to mean that God listens to no one except Jesus or those who call on Jesus ? If either of these ideas are to be based on the verse, we have to consider all the available information. The dictionary shows that the words “way”, “truth”, and “life” do not automatically carry connotations of divinity. So the Christian insists that the structure of the sentence stresses the way, the truth, and the life, as though Jesus is unique for all time. Bill Clinton may be the American President but he is not the first and probably not the last. So language usage alone does not do the job. Then another thought must be brought to its conclusion. “The life” is said to be a state of affairs: one either has “the life” or not. In this way the verse is used in support of the redeeming power of Jesus. Yet Jesus himself says: “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). In this passage life is not a state of affairs, either positive or negative, with no other possible states. Jesus speaks here of something that can be measured. The verse John 14:6 is used by the missionary with the vaguest of intentions. Ironically enough, when his meaning is questioned, this verse becomes probably the most over-specified of all Bible texts.
Second, there are certain non-issues that cannot be treated as though they were issues. Where the Christian and Muslim agree, there is no argument. For example: the Qur’an states that in spite of appearances the crucifixion of Jesus was unsuccessful, that God saved Jesus. The Christian says that Jesus died and three days later showed himself to be alive. Where the Christian exceeds his authority disagreement begins. He does not have proof that Jesus died. He has some anonymous writings (the Gospels) which say so. However, it was common belief in the first century among Christians that Jesus was not even crucified. But this was only one school of thought. Another is represented in the Bible and it has become the only Christian school of thought on the matter. The only facts that bear up well under historical examination are simply these: Jesus appeared to be crucified but was seen alive a few days later. Insisting that his death is proven is actually ludicrous. On the one hand we are told that this man healed cripples, lepers, the blind, and raised the dead. On the other hand, beating him,, stabbing him and nailing him to a cross is said to be quite sufficient to kill him. While portrayals of the crucifixion today tell of a great civic event, there are Bible references that indicate otherwise. A small gathering in a garden, where his followers were forced to stand at a distance is indicated in Luke 23:49 and John 19:41. The Bible describes his post-crucifixion appearances as an attempt to tell his disciples that in spite of what they had seen he was alive, not a ghost. If the Christian does not try to prove the death of Jesus and the Muslim does not try to prove his own theory of how Jesus avoided death, there is nothing left to disagree upon. This is precisely the point made in the Qur’an at 4:157.
Third, let us not be led into believing that certain issues can be treated as non-issues. More than one missionary has asked Muslims: “What do you gain by denying the divinity of Jesus?” The questioner hopes to evade an issue by treating it as unimportant. The answer to his question was given by Jesus who said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Spelling out the precise disadvantages of belief in any particular falsehood is a worthwhile exercise, but the general principle of Jesus’ words is sufficient motivation for rejection. The truth is, claiming divinity for Jesus is based on what people said about Jesus not on what Jesus himself said. Here is a place to explain the Muslim view of world religions. Islam is not a competitor among religions. The Qur’an states that in ancient times every nation had its messengers of God. Many peoples possessed the truth, but have to varying degrees added to this knowledge with unsupported claims. So the Muslim believes that virtually any of the old religions stripped of its excessive points any thoughtful person towards Islam.
Fourth, the missionary must be consistent. If he admits that Jesus’ words were expanded into Trinitarian doctrine by later generations, then he is either claiming that Jesus taught his disciples more than is actually recorded in the Bible, or he is saying that God brought us knowledge of the Trinity gradually. The first case cannot be reconciled with Jesus’ words at John 18:20, ” . . . I spoke nothing in secret.” As for the second case, if the Trinity became known only to later generations, then one must not insist that Jesus preached the doctrine.
Fifth, deduction cannot increase content. Deduction is a process of seeing more clearly that which was already indicated by the evidence. We cannot deduce more than the evidence contains. This is why we say that the Trinity cannot be deduced from scripture. The definition of the Trinity requires a vocabulary not found on the lips of Jesus. At best, the Christian can point to a verse and say that it is in agreement with his ideas, but no verse is conclusive evidence of the divinity of Jesus. The so-called “fallacy of the converse” is the logical mistake most often made. This means turning the “arrow of implication” backward, e.g. rain means wet streets but wet streets do not mean rain. Another example: the appearance of the horizon on the ocean might be cited as being in harmony with the idea of a flat; earth, but it certainly does not prove the earth to be flat. Similarly, some Bible statements might harmonize with the idea of a divine Jesus but no verse proves the claim.
THE NATURE OF PROOF
“Proof” is a very misused word. Proof refers to the establishment of a proposition. Proof withstands challenges and satisfies tests. But phrases such as “more proof”, “better proof”, or “stronger proof” are abuses of language or misunderstandings. “More proof” is a deceptive phrase that might lead us to believe that proof is measured and that people might have proofs of opposite things, but the winner is the one with more volume of proof. In this case proof has been confused with evidence. We may have another proof, but not more proof. When logicians speak of better proof, they are referring to something called elegance -a quality denoting clarity and simplicity. They do not refer to validity by this word. Proofs are either valid or invalid – or occasionally doubted by some until a more elegant version appears. The expression “stronger proof” describes not the proof but its assumptions. In general, the fewer the initial assumptions, the stronger the proof.
This brief explanation is intended to dispel the notion that proof depends on a man’s ability to say a lot of things which sound plausible. It is content and quality, not appearance and quantity, that really matter. When the missionary produces his “proof” it can be shown to be unsatisfactory. He often concedes this fact but prefers the word “insufficient”. He then claims that God can supply the insufficiencies. This raises three important points:
1) Proof is not the sort of thing that we can simply patch over the gaps with and then call it legitimate. In fact, any valid information contained in an unsatisfactory proof is unrelated to the conclusions that one has attempted to prove. For example, the apparent motion of the planets approximately fits the theory of epicycles which is part of the theory that puts the earth in the center of the universe. But the theory is false, which means the trajectories of the planets in no way support the idea that the earth stands stationary at the center of the universe.
2) When the Christian claims that God will “help one to believe” he argues in a small circle. His claim is based on his proof and his proof is based on his claim. The dialogue is something like this:
Christian: “I have proof.”
Muslim: “But there are gaps in your argument.”
Christian: “Ask God to help you believe.”
Muslim: “Why should I?” (Claim based on proof.)
Christian: “Because of things I, have shown you.”
Muslim: “But these things do not prove anything.” (Proof based on claim.)
3) And finally, once again the Christian puts himself in a position where he must contradict his own behavior. When a preacher claims that he has proof for his beliefs, he should be talking about the kind of thing one man can give to another -the facts and arguments for his case. Instead, he admits that his belief is not built on evidence and analysis, but rests on the faith which God gave him! If faith is a gift from God then it is not something that one man can give another man. Missionary efforts would be more honest if it was stated that the Christian only intends to describe his religion and invite converts. But much of missionary literature suggests that Christian belief is built on the kind of evidence that could win a court case.
Actually the Christian has two views of “faith”. Faith is said to be a gift of God, but there is another thought he expresses when confronted as in the last paragraph. Speaking from personal experience: We tell a man that his evidence will not stand a thorough examination and he hurls an accusation that we are stubborn. As mentioned already, he carelessly interprets historical accuracy in the Bible as proof that it speaks only the truth on every matter. Turning the confusion backwards, he then says that if we doubt any passage in the Bible, we must doubt every book of history. But history is not our opponent. We are opposed to a particular doctrine built on the interpretation of a very small collection of quotations of Jesus. But before we can make this point, the second view of faith occurs to him. “If all things could be proven, where is the merit in believing?”, he asks. In other words, he does not want final proof. He feels that a pledge of loyalty – a bold leap into belief is actually the act that brings salvation. So having faith means an effort that brings reward and yet faith is a gift from God that we do not deserve. Resolving this irony is the Christian’s business. Our point here is only “honesty in advertising” If the foundations of Christianity are loyalty to the interpretation of scripture, it should not be advertised that Christianity stands on that which has been established in clarity – i.e. proven explicitly.