Is there an Evolution in NT Christology?
Analyzing Muslim Claims That the Christological Portraits of the Bible Are Contradictory

[Part 1] [Part 2]

Sam Shamoun

We resume our discussion by focusing on the NT portrait of Christ, to see whether any evolution in Christology has indeed taken place.

3. Pauline Christology

Many scholars believe that Paul’s writings are some of the earliest NT documents written, predating even the composition of the four Gospels. For example, the late liberal, Catholic Scripture scholar, Father Raymond E. Brown (one of Shabir’s favorites) believes that of the thirteen Pauline epistles, seven are definitely Paul’s: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Romans. (Brown, Introduction to the New Testament, [Doubleday, 1997], p. 6)

Brown notes that the “seven undisputed Pauline (or ProtoPauline) letters were probably the first NT books to be composed…” (Ibid. 409).

Shabir Ally, however, expands this list to include Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, even Hebrews! (Source: 1, 2) And in one of his most recent debates with Dr. Anis Shorrosh on May 2005, titled "The Nature of Allah and the Trinity," Ally provides the following dates for the Gospels: Mark: 66-70 AD. Matthew and Luke: roughly around the same time, 85 AD. (Ally claims that many scholars believe that Luke was composed first). Ally stated that John went through several stages of editing, and that its final form was composed at 100 AD.

Brown dates 1 Thessalonians to around 50 or 51 AD, or 41- 43 according to a revisionist chronology (Ibid., p. 457). Ally, in his debate with Shorrosh, placed the date of composition at 50 AD. Since the consensus of scholars place this as the first of the NT books to be written we will focus our attention on it in order to see the type of Christology Paul presents to his readers. We will also look at several other Pauline epistles in order to get a fuller picture of the kind of Jesus Paul presented to the first generation of believers.

And instead of commenting on all the citations from 1 Thessalonians, we will save our analysis towards the end when we summarize Paul’s Christology. For now, we will simply highlight the significant parts of those verses.

“To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ... For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 9-10

“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved--so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!… For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, 19

“ Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night... For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 9-10

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." 1 Thessalonians 5:28

We now would like to examine a few citations from 1 Corinthians. Brown places the composition of 1 Corinthians at 56, perhaps very early in 57 AD, or 54/55 in the revisionist chronology (p. 512).

“Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’-- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Corinthians 8:4-6

Paul says that Jesus is the one Lord of OT monotheism, the very One through whom all things were created and kept together. Renowned NT scholar Richard Bauckham elaborates on Paul’s monotheistic formula in light of its historical and biblical context:

"Paul’s concern in this context is explicitly monotheism. The issue of eating meat offered to idols and participation in temple banquets is an instance of the highly traditional Jewish monotheistic concern for the loyalty to the only true God in a context of pagan polytheistic worship. What Paul does is to maintain this Jewish monotheistic concern in a Christian interpretation for which loyalty to the only true God entails loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes up from the Corinthians’ letter (at the end of verse 4) the typical Jewish monotheistic formula ‘there is no God except one’ in order to agree with it and to give, in verse 6, his own fuller monotheistic formulation, which contrasts the many gods and many lords of the Corinthians’ pagan environment (verse 5) with the one God and one Lord to whom Christians owe exclusive allegiance.

Verse 6 is a carefully formulated statement:

a   but for us [there is] one God, the Father,

b   from whom [are] all things and we for him,

c   and one Lord, Jesus Christ,

d   through whom [are] all things and we through him.

"The statement has been composed from two sources, both clearly recognizable. One is the Shema’, the classic Jewish statement of the uniqueness of God, taken from the Torah itself, recited twice daily by all observant Jews, as we noticed in chapter 1. It is now commonly recognized that Paul has here adapted the Shema’ and produced, as it were, a Christian version of it. Not so widely recognized is the full significance of this. In the first and third lines of Paul’s formula (labelled a and c above), Paul has in fact reproduced all the words of the statement about YHWH in the Shema’ (Deut. 6:4: ‘The LORD our God, the LORD, is one’), but Paul has rearranged the words in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. It should be quite clear that Paul is including the Lord Jesus Christ in the unique divine identity. He is redefining monotheism as christological monotheism. If he were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema’ speaks, then, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing not christological monotheism but out right di-theism. The addition of a unique Lord to the unique God of the Shema’ would flatly contradict the uniqueness of the latter. The only possible way to understand Paul as maintaining monotheism is to understand him to be including Jesus in the unique identity of the one God affirmed in the Shema’. But this is in any case clear from the fact that the term ‘Lord’, applied here to Jesus as the ‘one Lord’, is taken from the Shema’ itself. Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema’ a ‘Lord’ the Shema’ does not mention. He is identifying Jesus as the ‘Lord’ whom the Shema’ affirms to be one. Thus, in Paul’s quite unprecedented reformulation of the Shema’, the unique identity of the one God consists of the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, his Messiah. Contrary to what many exegetes who have not sufficiently understood the way in which the unique identity of God was understood in Second Temple Judaism seem to suppose, by including Jesus in this unique identity Paul is certainly not repudiating Jewish monotheism, whereas were he merely associating Jesus with the unique God, he certainly would be repudiating monotheism." (Bauckham, God Crucified-Monotheism & Christology in the New Testament [Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, U.K., 1998], pp. 37-39; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Paul goes on to affirm Jesus’ prehuman existence:

“I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

Jesus was there sustaining and protecting the nation of Israel during the time of the Exodus! The OT says that the Rock that nourished and provided for Israel was Yahweh God:

"For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he … But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him. He made him ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock. Curds from the herd, and milk from the flock, with fat of lambs, rams of Bashan and goats, with the very finest of the wheat-and you drank foaming wine made from the blood of the grape. But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, For they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness. They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols … If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end! How could one have chased a thousand, and two have put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had given them up? For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves … For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free. Then he will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection! See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’" Deuteronomy 32:3-4, 9-21, 29-31, 36-39

Paul is essentially saying that the Yahweh who provided for Israel was actually the Lord Jesus Christ!

Here is the final example from 1 Corinthians:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, MOST OF WHOM ARE STILL ALIVE, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

Another Pauline epistle that has a very high Christology is Romans. Brown believes that this was written 57/58 AD from Corinth (or 55/56 according to the revisionist chronology [p. 560]).

"because, if you CONFESS with your lips THAT JESUS IS LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon ALL WHO CALL UPON HIM. For, ‘every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’" Romans 10:9-13

Paul, in the above, was applying the following OT text to Jesus:

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” Joel 2:32

Paul is basically saying that calling on the name of Jesus is the same as calling upon the name of Yahweh!

Paul also says that Jesus personally indwells all true believers, and that God’s Spirit is also Christ’s Spirit:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh… But you are not in the flesh, you are IN the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God DWELLS IN YOU. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is IN YOU, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. Romans 8:3, 9-10

If this weren’t sufficient enough to establish Jesus’ full Deity, Paul goes on to call Jesus God forever blessed:

“To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 9:5

One of the greatest Greek Grammarians who ever lived, A.T. Robertson, stated:

Of whom (ex wn). Fourth relative clause and here with ex and the ablative. Christ (o Cristoß). The Messiah. As concerning the flesh (to kata sarka). Accusative of general reference, "as to the according to the flesh." Paul limits the descent of Jesus from the Jews to his human side as he did in Acts 1:3. Who is over all, God blessed for ever (o on epi pantwn qeoß euloghtoß). A clear statement of the deity of Christ following the remark about his humanity. This is the natural and the obvious way of punctuating the sentence. To make a full stop after sarka (or colon) and start a new sentence for the doxology is very abrupt and awkward. See Acts 20:28; Titus 2:13 for Paul’s use of qeoß applied to Jesus Christ. (Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament)

Paul also identifies Jesus as the Sovereign Lord of both the living and the dead:

"If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So each of us shall give account of himself to God.’" Romans 14:8-11

We now turn to another one of Paul’s undisputed letters, the epistle to the Philippians. Brown states that Philippians was composed AD 56 if from Ephesus, 61-63 if from Rome, or 58-60 if from Caesarea (Ibid., p. 484).

Paul writes:

"Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, To all the saints IN Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:1-2

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection (love) of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the Day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:6-11

"for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance," Philippians 1:19

Within a few short verses, Paul affirms the absolute Deity and sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. Paul is a slave of Jesus, all the saints are in Jesus (meaning in union and fellowship with Christ), the Day of Judgment is the Day of Christ Jesus, the fruits of righteousness come through the agency of Christ to all believers, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ Spirit, and love for believers comes from Christ who is the Source of all true affection and love.

This isn’t the only time where Paul identifies the Day of Judgment, the Day of Resurrection, as the Day of the Lord Jesus:

"so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:7-9

In light of the OT background, this identifies Jesus as Yahweh God since this Day is consistently referred to as the Day of Yahweh:

"Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the Day of Yahweh is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations... Yahweh utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the Day of Yahweh is great and very awesome; who can endure it?" Joel 2:1, 11

“Woe to you who desire the Day of YahwehWhy would you have the Day of Yahweh? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the Day of the Yahweh darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” Amos 5:18-20

"Be silent before the Lord Yahweh! For the Day of Yahweh is near; Yahweh has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. And on the Day of Yahweh’s sacrifice-- 'I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud.'" Zephaniah 1:7-9

"The great Day of Yahweh is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the Day of Yahweh is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements." Zephaniah 1:14-16

Paul also affirms Christ’s resurrection and omnipotence:

“And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead… But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:9-11, 20-21

Paul states that Jesus has power to subject everything to himself, implying that there is no power or authority that can resist him or thwart his purpose. By this same power, Paul says, Jesus will transform our bodies to correspond to Christ’s glorious body. Thus it is quite clear that, at least as far as Paul is concerned, Jesus is God Almighty.

Let us now summarize Paul’s teaching on the Person of Christ:

  1. Paul’s statement that the Church or believers are IN Jesus refers to believers having intimate fellowship with Christ. Yet the only way for Christ to have fellowship with all true believers is if he is omnipresent and omniscient.
  2. Likewise, for Christ to be able to bestow grace upon all believers implies that he is omnipotent, having inexhaustible means at his disposable.
  3. Jesus guides and directs the acts and travels of believers, which once again shows that he is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.
  4. Jesus is God’s Son.
  5. Jesus is Sovereign Lord in the sense of being Yahweh.
  6. Jesus is God over all.
  7. God’s Holy Spirit is also Jesus’ Holy Spirit, the Spirit belongs to the Son as well.
  8. Jesus is the Agent and Sustainer of creation to whom all things belong.
  9. Jesus is the preexistent Rock who provided for Israel during their desert wandering.
  10. Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.
  11. More than five hundred witnesses saw the resurrected Christ.
  12. Jesus saves believers through his death and resurrection.
  13. Jesus will return to the earth from heaven where he will save his people from God’s wrath while bringing judgment upon the unbelievers.
  14. God will resurrect the dead through Jesus, meaning that Jesus will raise the dead as God’s agent.
  15. The OT Day of Yahweh is the Day of the Lord Jesus, the Day in which Christ returns to usher in the universal resurrection and judgement. Thus Jesus is doing what the OT says Yahweh shall do at the end of the age.

With all these foregoing points in mind, I want to conclude my discussion of Pauline Christology by citing the following hymn:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though being (huperchon)in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christis Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

In this hymn, Paul refers to Christ as a preexistent figure who, even prior to taking on human form, had already existed in God’s form, having the very nature of God. The hymn celebrates Christ’s willingness to set aside his Divine glory and rights in order to become a slave so as to accomplish God’s purpose of dying a shameful death on the cross.

After having accomplished God’s purpose, Christ was exalted from a state of humility to the highest position of authority in all reality. He is given the authority which he already had by virtue of being God in nature, but which he voluntarily set aside. The authority he had, and which he then received again after having relinquished it, is the authority of Yahweh or Lord. This is what the hymn means when it says that Christ was given a name above all names, name here being equivalent to authority, that he was given the authority which is above all other authorities and rule:

“and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:19-21

The hymn even quotes an OT text referring to the sovereignty and supremacy of Yahweh to highlight this point:

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” Isaiah 45:22-23

Paul is essentially saying that bowing the knee before Jesus and confessing him as Lord is actually a fulfillment of what Yahweh said would happen in the Isaiah text just cited.

Regarding this hymn, known as the Carmen Christi, Brown wrote:

“Most think that Paul wrote but did not create these lines; they are probably a prePauline hymn that the Philippians knew and that Paul may have taught them at the time of his first visit.” (p. 491)


Also debated is whether the hymn was originally composed in Greek probably with its origin in the mission that evangelized Greek-speaking, or in Aramaic with its origin in the Palestinian missionary enterprise. A plausible case can be made for the latter and for the possibility that Paul learned the hymn in the late 30s in the first years after his conversion. (p. 492)

Notice the parallel between form of God and form of a slave. To be in the form of a slave is to be a slave; likewise, to be in the form of God is to be God. Having a slave’s form means to be a slave, having God’s form means to be God in nature. As the late NT scholar William Barclay put it:

“… It is not doubtful that Paul thought of Jesus Christ in terms of God. He says of Jesus that he was in the form of God. (Phil. 2:6). He then goes on to say that Jesus was found in human form (Phil. 2:8, RSV), where the AV renders that he was found in fashion as a man. The RSV somewhat misleadingly translates two Greek words by the English word form, whereas the AV correctly distinguishes between them. In the first instance the word is morphe, which means THE UNCHANGING AND UNCHANGEABLE ESSENTIAL NATURE of a thing; the second word is schema, which means the changing and altering external form of a person or a thing. For instance, a man has always the unchanging morphe of manhood; that is what he essentially is; but he will have different schemata, different outward forms, in babyhood, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. A tulip, a rose, a chrysanthemum, a marigold, a daffodil, a delphinium all have the same morphe, the same essential nature, for they are all flowers; but they have very different outward schemata, outward forms. Paul says that Jesus was in the morphe of God; that is to say, the essential nature of Jesus IS THE SAME AS THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF GOD; but he says that Jesus was found in the schema of a man; that is to say, he temporarily took the form of manhood upon him. The NEB renders the Greek well here. In translating the word morphe it renders the passage: 'The divine nature was his from the first.' In translating the word schema it says that he was 'revealed in human shape.' This passage leaves us in no doubt that Paul believed that the nature of Jesus is the nature of God.” (Barclay, Jesus As They Saw Him [Eerdmans Publishing Company; Grand Rapids MI, rpt. 1998], pp. 27-28; bold and capital emphasis ours)

A.T. Robertson noted:

Being ( uparcwn). Rather, "existing," present active participle of uparcw. In the form of God ( en morph qeou). Morph means the essential attributes as shown in the form. In his preincarnate state Christ possessed the attributes of God and so appeared to those in heaven who saw him. Here is a clear statement by Paul of the deity of Christ. A prize ( arpagmon). Predicate accusative with hghsato. Originally words in -moß signified the act, not the result ( -ma). The few examples of arpagmoß (Plutarch, etc.) allow it to be understood as equivalent to arpagma, like baptismoß and baptisma. That is to say Paul means a prize to be held on to rather than something to be won ("robbery"). To be on an equality with God ( to einai isa qeoi). Accusative articular infinitive object of hghsato, "the being equal with God" (associative instrumental case qewi after isa). Isa is adverbial use of neuter plural with einai as in Revelation 21:16. Emptied himself ( eauton ekenwse). First aorist active indicative of kenow, old verb from kenoß, empty. Of what did Christ empty himself? Not of his divine nature. That was impossible. He continued to be the Son of God. There has arisen a great controversy on this word, a Kenosiß doctrine. Undoubtedly Christ gave up his environment of glory. He took upon himself limitations of place (space) and of knowledge and of power, though still on earth retaining more of these than any mere man. It is here that men should show restraint and modesty, though it is hard to believe that Jesus limited himself by error of knowledge and certainly not by error of conduct. He was without sin, though tempted as we are. "He stripped himself of the insignia of majesty" (Lightfoot). For more on Paul's Christology, please read the following articles: (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament)

Finally, the very liberal Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (another favorite of Ally's) wrote:

… This passage could hardly have been composed by Paul, for some of its terminology is not Pauline and Paul's characteristic ideas are missing. Its phrases fall into vs patterns, and it is doubtless a hymn of the early church. In the 19th cent. some thought that an editor added the hymn; now scholarly opinion agrees that Paul quoted it and that the hymn is thus older than the letter…

The "story" begins with equality with God prior to existence in time-space. Existing in the form of God means having divine prerogatives, being God's virtual equal… But the first meaning, that Christ had equality but did not insist on keeping it, seems much more likely. All attention is concentrated on the free surrender of divine authority…

… The heart of the matter is the change of roles from divine authority to slave status, from the highest thinkable role to the lowest known. "Empty" must be understood metaphorically, not metaphysically- i.e. it is a poetic way of celebrating the change of status, not a way of talking about the discarding of divine substances or essences (such ideas may lie behind the hymn but are not its concern). The hymn makes precisely the same point as II Cor. 8:9.

… What the hymn celebrates, therefore, is the movement of Christ from sovereignty over the cosmos to slavery within it.

… The point is that he who was equal with God now became equal with man… (p. 850; underline emphasis ours)

The foregoing conclusively shows that, as far as Paul was concerned, Jesus is Yahweh God who set aside his authority in order to become man, only to receive it again after perfectly accomplishing God’s purpose of dying and then rising again to immortal glory.

For more on Paul's Christology, please read the following articles:

Paul Believed That Jesus is not God: Or So Shabir Thinks
Paul on the one God

4. Markan Christology

We now turn to Mark in order to see his view of Christ.

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ' My son, your sins are forgiven.' Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ' Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?' And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, 'Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Rise, take up your bed and walk"? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' --he said to the paralytic-- 'I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.' And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, 'We never saw anything like this!'" Mark 2:5-12

"So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Mark 2:28

"for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, 'You are the Son of God.'" Mark 3:10-11

"And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again." Mark 8:31

"For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of HIS Father with the holy angels." Mark 8:38

"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.' For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him.' And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only." Mark 9:2-8

"John said to him, 'Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.'" Mark 9:38-39

"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45

"He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, ' This is THE HEIR. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard." Mark 12:6-8

"And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, 'How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in 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 is he his son?' And the great throng heard him gladly." Mark 12:35-37

"And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory . And 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

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Mark 13:31

"And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ' This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'" Mark 14:22-24

"But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?' And Jesus said, 'I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.'" Mark 14:61-62

"And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' And some of the bystanders hearing it said, 'Behold, he is calling Elijah.' And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, 'Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.' And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ' Truly this man was the Son of God!'" Mark 15:34-39

"And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid." Mark 15:42-47

"And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" Mark 16:5-7

From the foregoing we can clearly see that Mark's Jesus claims to be:

  1. The Unique Son of God.
  2. Forgiver of Sins and Healer of diseases, being prerogatives of God according to the OT:
  3. "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy," Psalm 103:2-4

    "I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." Isaiah 43:25

    "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:18-19

  4. The Knower of the hearts of men, which again is a Divine prerogative:
  5. "then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)," 1 Kings 8:39

  6. The Lord of the Sabbath, a rather explicit claim to Deity in light of the OT teaching that the Sabbath belongs to Yahweh:
  7. "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places." Leviticus 23:3

  8. The Divine Eschatological Son of Man of the book of Daniel. See the first part of our discussion for the details.
  9. David's Sovereign Lord.
  10. The Sovereign Owner and Ruler of angels and the elect.
  11. The Utterer of eternal words, something which the OT ascribes to Yahweh:
  12. "Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens." Psalm 119:89

    "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." Isaiah 40:8

  13. The One in whose name miracles and healings are performed.
  14. The Savior of men through his death and resurrection.

In light of the preceding, Jesus' words in Mark are anything BUT a “low” Christology. Mark's Jesus is very high, far exalted beyond the heavens!

For a fuller examination of Mark's Christology, as well as the Christology of the other two Synoptics, please read the following:

A Christian Response to Jesus is Not All-Powerful, and Not All-Knowing
Responses to "Islamic Information" This Is Our God, the Servant King
Some Misunderstood Verses of the Bible Now Put Back in Their Contexts
The Trinity: The NT Witness: The Self-Understanding of Jesus (Synoptics)

5. One Muslim’s Blatant Inconsistency

In the first part of our response we had mentioned one Muslim advocate of the view that the NT portrait of Christ has evolved throughout time. We referred to Shabir Ally who makes it a point to constantly bring up the charge that the NT view of Jesus changed from an anointed prophet/servant/son of God to the highest and first creature of God. We have already addressed these issues in some detail and demonstrated the fallacy of this claim.

What we want to do at this point is to expose some of Shabir’s inconsistency, documenting how he often contradicts himself or presents evidence to refute his own arguments. Here is an example of Shabir's inconsistency:

Some changes become evident just by comparing one Gospel with another in the present Bibles. You can do this investigation yourself. One example of this is the centurion’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God as reported in Mark’s Gospel as follows:

“Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

The same confession of the same centurion at the same scene, at the very moment, is reported in Luke also. But in Luke the Centurion is reported as saying:

“Certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47). (Source)

Instead of providing an example where the portrait of Jesus has evolved, Shabir actually has proven that the picture of Christ got demoted throughout time! Since Mark precedes Luke, this means that the Gospel writers didn’t embellish the picture of Jesus, but actually tried to water it down. Now we obviously don’t believe this, but are simply highlighting the obvious implications of Shabir’s argument. It is obvious that Shabir doesn’t really know what he wants to argue, and only manages to contradict himself. After all, how can Shabir claim that Christ’s picture becomes more embellished when the example he provided proves the exact opposite?

Shabir’s example provides evidence that the Gospel writers were not changing the picture of Christ in order to turn him into something that he was not. They were accurately recording, obviously in summary form, the very words and teachings of Christ.

In fact, the example he gives can easily be reconciled, showing that they are not in the least contradictory. Rather, they are complementary. Here is what the centurion may have said if we assume that both accounts are correct:

“Certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47). Truly this man was the Son of God! (Mark 15:39).”

The centurion realized that Jesus was innocent, and therefore not deserving to die, and that he was what he claimed to be, THE Son of God. Our harmonization is consistent with the events that transpired during Christ’s crucifixion as documented by both Mark and Luke:

“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.’… One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father , into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’” Luke 23:33-34, 39-47

The centurion obviously heard Jesus refer to God as his Father and the criminal affirming that Christ was innocent, which shows that it is quite plausible to assume that he did indeed make both statements. It should also be rather obvious that Luke had no intention in denying that Jesus was God’s Son as the above citations show. Anyone reading Luke’s Gospel can see that he has actually gone out of his way throughout this entire book to prove that Jesus is the Son of God.

Another example of Shabir’s inconsistency occurred during our debate, “The Quran or the Bible: Which is the Word of God?” In his opening statements, Shabir went off topic and decided to attack the NT accounts on the Deity of the Lord Jesus, specifically the NT teaching that Jesus is the Son of God. In reference to the Bible’s emphasis on monotheism, Shabir claimed:

But there are verses in the Bible which would seem to indicate something else. And many people today read their Bibles like an insurance contract. They don’t go for the main message, they don’t look at the big picture; they go down into the fine print to make sure there is not something there that they’re missing. So what they do is they find one little verse and they say, “Well look, this looks like it means Trinity.” And then they take that, whereas that is a problematic teaching in itself. Nobody has been able to explain, satisfactorily, what exactly is the Trinity. How can God be three and yet one? How can you have three Persons, each of whom is completely God, so that’s God, that’s God, that’s God, and together they’re still only one God?

Shabir then went on to argue that the picture of Jesus evolved throughout the Gospels:

And over time as you look at these Gospels you see that the story about Jesus was evolving, so that in the last of the four Gospels you have the kinds of claims which Christians are very fond of. (Source).

Here, Shabir doesn’t come right out and say that the Holy Bible explicitly establishes the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, but that the Bible only seems to support it. When told in the rebuttal period that this was off topic and was nothing more than a red herring since we were discussing the Bible being God’s Word, not whether the Trinity is biblical or rational, Shabir responded with:

Now, the Divinity of Jesus is that a red herring? No! We’re looking at the contents and teachings of the Scriptures. And if we see that the Scripture teaches something which is blatantly wrong, we have the right to say that as what part we are dealing with this topic, the Scripture is wrong, that wrong part cannot be the Word of God. Look, if any man comes and tells me he has one bucket of water, and another bucket of water, and a third bucket of water, and together the three are just one bucket of water like the first one, I would say this is not right. So to bring me a book and you show, “Look it’s in that book,” I would say that the book is not right. And that is the very point. If you say Jesus is Divine, that means he is God, but if he is God how is he also man? Christians say that he is completely God and completely man at the same time; I promise you he can’t be both. In the book “Common Sense Christianity” we read that, “to say that Jesus was completely God and completely man at the same time is as nonsensical as saying ‘I saw a squared circle’; such a thing cannot exist.” (Source)

What can Shabir’s comments possibly mean if not that the Holy Bible DOES IN FACT teach the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus, and the doctrine of the Trinity? In fact, this is what he seems to be saying since he reiterates this point in the Q&A regarding the consistency of the Bible despite its being written over a 1400-year period:

Well, in fact, the message of the Bible is contradictory and it’s not a red herring to introduce the Trinity here, because the message of one part of the Bible is that Jesus is the Son of God. And from that he is promoted to Godhead, and from that people say God is a Trinity. And that in fact goes away from the message of one God right from the very beginning in the Old Testament, and in fact right all the way to the end in the New Testament.

But then why does Shabir go out of his way in his writings and talks to DENY that the Holy Bible teaches these truths? If Shabir claims that he wasn’t implying in our debate that the Holy Bible teaches these truths, then he will basically be admitting that I was right and he was indeed bringing up red herrings. After all, if the Holy Bible doesn’t teach these facts then why did he even bother bringing up these points seeing that this was not the topic of our discussion? And how can Shabir accuse the Bible of error for something that he believes it does not say or teach? Either way, Shabir is exposed for using an inconsistent methodology that makes it obvious that he is not pursuing truth, but is simply using cheap debate tricks in order to persuade people to follow Islam. But what kind of religion is it that needs its followers to lie or distort facts in order to convince persons to embrace it?

This wasn’t the only debate where Ally contradicted himself. In the Shorrosh debate which we mentioned above, Ally stated that Paul took OT texts and reapplied them to Jesus. In so doing Ally ended up making the following candid admission:

"So whereas in the Old Testament it was very clear that you drop on your knees only before one Being, that is the One who is called Yahweh and who said that he is the only God, Paul has it in his letter to the Philippians, for example, that at the knee, at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. And if we are to refer back to the passage he has in mind, in Isaiah for example, we will find that in Isaiah you are to bow before Yahweh, Christians can easily understand from this letter to the Philippians that in fact you are bowing before Jesus.

"So Paul has in fact set up a different way of looking at things. Whereas, in fact, in Deuteronomy 6:4 we read that there is only one God, it says ‘The Lord your God the Lord is One,’ Paul has it in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 8:6) that we have one God and one Lord. So you have a shift of emphasis here. There was one God who was Lord. And now in Paul there is one God and one Lord. Somehow there is a distinction that is made between God and Jesus, and at the same time an integration of God and Jesus INTO SOMEHOW CONSIDERING THEM BOTH GOD." (Capital emphasis ours)

Note that Shabir admits that Paul applied to Jesus OT texts referring to Yahweh, which means that Paul believed that Jesus is Yahweh, and that the Apostle integrated Jesus and God together in order to show that both were God! Ally’s concession contradicts his own published works where he denies that Paul believed Jesus is God (source).

But it gets better (or worse depends on how one looks at it)! In the same opening speech, just a few minutes after making the above statements, Shabir ended up contradicting himself since he went on to deny that Paul believed that Jesus is God. After contrasting John’s Gospel with the other three, specifically with Mark, Ally made the following assertion:

"So in John’s Gospel we have a very different conception of Jesus. Jesus is much more than a human being. In fact, in John’s Gospel Jesus is right where Paul left him. Paul thought of Jesus as the Agent of creation, NOT AS GOD. The conception of Jesus as God is not clear in Paul. That will be worked out in the Council of Nicaea many hundreds of years later, couple of hundred years later. But in the Gospel according to John, and in Paul, Jesus is the Agent of creation. So God didn’t create everything directly, God created Jesus and through Jesus created everything else. So both Paul and John can speak of Jesus as Creator. This is why we have in the beginning of John’s Gospel the idea that it is through him everything was made and without him nothing was made that was made. A different conception." (Capital emphasis ours)

In this very same debate, in his opening statements, Shabir made the following claims about Mark’s Christology in relation with the other Synoptics:

"Episode for episode if you check them you will see that in the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus appears very Muslim, but in Matthew and Luke he appears more Christian. Why is this the case? Now in Mark's Gospel he appears to be a prophet, he has marvelous power because that’s what a prophet has by the leave and power of God. But at the same time he has limitations."

But in the Q&A session of our debate, Shabir stated in response to a question regarding Jesus’ view of salvation in contrast to that of Paul’s:

"Notice that we are not saying that Mark is a Muslim Gospel; we are agreeing that Mark said certain things which is very Christian."

Talk about mass confusion! Shabir’s contradictory claims are clear indications that he is really not pursuing truth, and that he must not really believe what he says but simply makes such arguments in order to confuse and deceive people.

As a side note, Shabir responded to Shorrosh’s reference to Zechariah 12:10 where Yahweh said that the people would look to him whom they pierced and mourn as a result of it by arguing that this text actually referred to a false prophet. Shabir then said that he found it strange that the NT authors took this as a prophecy of Jesus. What is strange is how Shabir confused Zechariah 12:10 with Zechariah 13:

"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on ME, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn." Zechariah 12:10

"And on that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more. And also I will remove from the land the prophets and the spirit of uncleanness. And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the LORD.’ And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies. On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies. He will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive, but he will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a worker of the soil, for a man sold me in my youth.’ And if one asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your back?’ he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’" Zechariah 13:2-5

It is Zechariah 13, not 12, which speaks of false prophets being pierced through for prophesying falsely. It is truly amazing how Shabir could confuse these two different contexts.

We conclude this specific section with a final example of Shabir’s blatant inconsistency. Shabir Ally has attempted to prove elsewhere that Jesus, in John’s Gospel, predicted the coming of Muhammad when he made reference to the coming Paracletos (Cf. John 14:16-17, 15:26, 16:7-15). It is truly amazing that Shabir questions the authenticity of John’s Gospel when it references the Deity of the Lord Jesus, but has no qualms affirming that John accurately reported Jesus’ words regarding the Paraclete. Put it another way, when it serves Shabir’s purpose to prove that Islam is true he will have no problems arguing for the veracity and genuineness of John’s Gospel. But when that same Gospel calls into question Muhammad’s prophetic claims Shabir is only too eager to discount its veracity. Such blatant inconsistency is quite revealing to say the least.

Concluding Remarks

With all that behind us, please keep these points in mind regarding the NT books. Generally the NT books, especially the four Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, affirm:

Thus, all the evidence, from the earliest strata of NT tradition, conclusively proves that the very first Christians, the very eye and ear witnesses of Jesus, were proclaiming that Christ is the God-man. As Christian scholar and historical Jesus expert, William Lane Craig stated:

“Studies by New Testament scholars as Martin Hengel of Tubingen University, C.F.D. Moule of Cambridge, and others have proved that within twenty years of the crucifixion a full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate existed. How does one explain this worship by monotheistic Jews of one of their countrymen as God incarnate, apart from the claims of Jesus himself?” (Craig, Apologetics: An Introduction [Moody Press, Chicago 1984], p. 160; bold emphasis ours)

Christian professor and writer Robert Letham concurs with Craig. He addresses critics like James D.G. Dunn (another favorite of Ally's) who claim that Christ's prehuman, pretemporal existence was a gradual development found only in the later NT writings:

Based on our discussion so far, we must revise the consensus, held until recently, that belief in Christ's personal preexistence was a gradual development, crystallizing only relatively late in the composition of the NT. Certainly the later NT contains much material along these lines. In Hebrews 1:3-4, the Son is said to be "the radiance of the glory of God." ...

Typical of this consensus is James D. G. Dunn. Dunn argues that a full view of Christ's personal preexistence is not found in Paul, but only in Hebrews and John, which he regards as significantly later documents. In particular, he argues, the locus classicus, Philippians 2:5ff., does not refer to the claimed pretemporal existence of Christ at all. Paul here contrasts Christ with Adam. Adam wanted to be like God and, in self-assertiveness, grasped the prize of the forbidden fruit. In utter contrast, Christ refused to act like this. Dunn concludes that since Paul compares Christ with the temporal Adam , there is no need to seek any pretemporal reference in the passage. Opposed to Dunn is [Seyoon] Kim, who considers Paul to be the author of the teaching of preexistence. [Ralph]Martin also favors the claim that Paul teaches pre-existence here. [Larry] Hurtado points out that while Dunn makes some evocative points, it is a logical fallacy to assume that even if Paul refers to Adam, preexistence is thereby precluded. Moreover, he claims that the Adamic reference is not explicit, and points out that the majority of exegetes hold that preexistence is in view. Dunn fails to do justice to the force of the language, Hurtado comments. The remarkable conclusion that follows Hurtado's evaluation is that, if this passage is an early Christian hymn, as is commonly supposed and as is probable, then most likely its liturgical use was widespread. It follows that its teaching was widely accepted a considerable time before Paul wrote Philippians. Thus, Hurtado concludes that belief in Christ's pre-existence originated "remarkably early" and was "an uncontested and familiar view of Christ's churches."

This puts other Pauline passages in a different light. With the evaporation of Dunn's argument, statements such as Paul's Romans 8:3 and Galatians 4:4 can be seen afresh to refer to the coming of the preexistent Christ for our salvation. Together with the great prologue to the gospel of John and the exalted introduction to Hebrews, they reflect a belief that was present in the church from the very start, that Jesus' birth at Bethlehem was the coming into the world of God the Son as man. Paul was not foisting a novelty on the church, but giving voice, clarity, and development to what it already believed. (Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship [P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ 2004], pp. 48-49; underline emphasis and bracketed comments ours)


Hurtado argues that the treatment of Christ as an object of worship began in Jewish-Christian circles within the earliest years of the Christian movement, a development "almost explosively rapid in the first few years." Consequently, "elaborate theories of identifiable stages of Christological development leading up to a divine status accorded to Christ ARE REFUTED BY THE EVIDENCE." (Ibid., p. 50; underline and capital emphasis ours)

Letham noted regarding Paul's use of Kyrios ("Lord") in reference to the Lord Jesus that:

Paul's characteristic name for Jesus Christy is "Lord" (kyrios). This is the Greek word used to transliterate the tetragrammaton, YHWH, the covenant name of God in the OT. In applying it to Jesus Christ, not on an occasional or casual basis, BUT PERVASIVELY, Paul shows that he regards Jesus as having the status of God, fully and without the slightest abridgment. This is particularly clear in Philippians 2:9-11, but it so pervades his letters that the only conclusion possible is that he took it for granted. Moreover, he makes no attempt to explain or defend it. He uses it so unself-consciously that, as Hurtado comments, it must have been regular, everyday currency among the early Christians. Paul's letters are the earliest NT documents, and so this testifies to belief in the full deity of Jesus Christ from the very beginning of the Christian church, as its basic axiom, not as a point of contention. IT WAS ASSUMED AS GIVEN IN PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANITY. This, Hurtado points out, is confirmed by the Aramaic acclamation that Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 16:22 - marana' tha, "Our Lord, come!" He uses this expression in a Gentile context without any explanation or translation. Jesus Christ is here addressed in a form of corporate, liturgical prayer, with reverence shown only to God. Moreover, the roots of this prayer are obviously Palestinian, yet widely familiar beyond its original source and quite probably pre-Pauline. This fits well with the thesis of Seyoon Kim that the origins of Paul's gospel go back to the very earliest days of Christianity, a thesis that he has recently defended strongly against his critics, particularly Dunn. Hurtado produces a range of citations where Paul applies the tetragrammaton to Christ through the title kyrios "without explanation or justification, suggesting that his readers were already familiar with the term and its connotation." ... (Ibid., p. 43; underline and capital emphasis ours)

He also says regarding prayers to Jesus that:

... Paul also prays to the Lord (as we saw, his usual title for the risen Christ) that his thorn in the flesh be removed (2 Cor. 12:8-9). He refers to an apparently common cry, "Our Lord, come!" (1 Cor. 16:22; cf. Rev. 22:20). It is striking that this is an Aramaic phrase (marana' tha), originating in Palestine, since Corinth was Greek speaking. Paul cites it without comment, assuming it to be common coinage, known to all without need for translation or explanation. This shows that the phrase originated in the very earliest days after the Resurrection. Jesus was recognized as Lord, equal in status to Yahweh, RIGHT FROM THE START. (Ibid., p. 47; underline and capital emphasis ours)

Finally, contrast Shabir's assertion that Mark presents a Muslim Jesus with the comments made by this next Evangelical author and scholar:

... For Mark, Jesus is the human manifestation of the God of the Jewish Scriptures. He came to fulfill the eschatological expectations expressed in those Scriptures, particularly in Isaiah, that God would one day visit and restore his people. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God anticipated in Isaiah's prophecy, and like Isaiah's Servant of the Lord, he died an atoning death for God's people. Mark wants his readers to know that this death can effectively atone for any sin, even the sin of those who abandoned Jesus in his hour of greatest need and even the sin of those who plotted his death, for Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach, [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2005], Chapter 3. Mark: The Death of God's Son As Good News, p. 57)

... He says in the first several sentences of his gospel why he concentrates on Jesus' identity. He wants to tell anyone who will listen to him that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, whom the prophets Isaiah and Malachi said would come. In other words, he wants to define Jesus' identity in scriptural terms and to show that Jesus fulfills the expectations of the prophets that God would one day come to his people for deliverance and judgment. Who, then, is Jesus? Mark tells us in the first line of his gospel that he is both Messiah and Son of God. (P. 59)

In another sense, however, Jesus was far more than a righteous king and specially designated "son" of God. Mark wants his readers to understand that Jesus is the Messiah who is "Son of God" in a unique sense that goes beyond what we might expect simply by merging 2 Samuel 7 with Psalm 2. (P. 62)

... Mark wanted his readers to know that Jesus was "the Son of God" in a unique sense. Thus, when God announces that Jesus is his Son in 1:11 and 9:7, Mark's Greek reveals the unique nature of his sonship. In each instance, Mark uses the Greek adjective agapetos ("only beloved") in what Greek grammarians call the "second attributive position." An adjective in this position receives particular stress. In both 1:11 and 9:7, therefore, God says that Jesus is "my son - the uniquely beloved one." The high priest at Jesus' trial seems to understand the unusual connotation of Jesus' claim to divine sonship in the parable of the wicked tenants (12:6). Looking for a conviction, he asks Jesus the apparently astounding question, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" (14:61).

The unique nature of Jesus' relationship to God is evident throughout Mark's narrative. When Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic in 2:5, the scribes think disapprovingly, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Although the question is rhetorical - the scribes intend it to be a statement of the obvious truth that Jesus has usurped a divine prerogative - it prompts the Christian reader to think of Jesus as acting in the way God acts. Mark has led us to think of Jesus as God. This impression is confirmed in 4:41 when, after stilling the raging storm, the disciples ask, "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?" The disciples know that the stilling of raging storms is the business of Yahweh (Ps. 65:7; 89:9; 107:28-30), and their question implies the unthinkable - that when they are in the presence of Jesus, they are in the presence of God himself.

The same implication arises from Jesus' question to the rich man. Jesus asks, "Why do you call me good? No one is good - except God alone" (10:18). We know by this time in the narrative that Jesus is good; as the people of the Decapolis have said, "He has done everything well" (7:37). But if Jesus is good and no one is good but God alone, then it implies that Jesus is God. This does not mean that Mark somehow thought either that God and his Son were identical persons or that they were two separate gods. The most important commandment in the Mosaic law for Jesus and for Mark was, "the Lord our God, the Lord is one," which means that "there is no other but he" (Mark 12:29, 32). Moreover, Jesus is subordinate and submissive to his Father, who alone knows the end (13:32) and whose purpose includes suffering and death of his Servant (14:36). Still, for Mark, where Jesus was present, God was present, and Mark wants his readers to feel the impact of this abounding claim. (Pp. 63-64)

It is now clear why Mark's story of Jesus is good news. Mark tells us that God's Son, Jesus, the anointed, royal Son of David, inaugurated the long-expected reign of God over his people. Where Jesus went, God's reign was present. At the same time the insensitivity of Israel's leadership and of Jesus' disciples to the presence of God in their midst led them to reject Jesus, albeit in different ways and at different levels. As Jeremiah might have said, they had eyes but did not see and ears but did not hear that the God who made the sea and the dry land was among them (cf. Jer. 5:21-22; Mark 8:18). Enigmatically, the hard-hearted rejection of God and the eschatological presence of God had not followed each other but were present at the same time in Jesus' ministry. Their clash eventually brought Jesus to the cross. (p. 83)

Hopefully, this will put to rest the claims of Shabir and others that there is evidence showing that the portrait of Christ within the NT has evolved throughout time.

Recommended Resources

Here is the link for those interested in purchasing Shabir Ally’s debates with Dr. Anis Shorrosh: [1], [2]

Ally and Shorrosh debated four topics:

"Is Mohammad Foretold in the Bible?"
"The Nature of Allah and the Trinity."
"The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ."
"Jesus and the Bible vs. Mohammad and the Quran"

All of these debates took place in Glasgow on May 2005. Overall, the debates were very informative and enjoyable.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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