Debate Review: “What Was The True Faith of Jesus’ Disciples?” – Nicene International Ministries v Calling Christians

I review a debate entitled “What Was The True Faith of Jesus’ Disciples?”
The debaters
Br. Ijaz Ahmad of Calling Christians
Rev. Steven Martins
of Nicene International Ministries Canada.
I did the bulk of the review a while ago but never managed to finish it in the detail I would have liked but never got back to it through procrastination and other priorities I’ve quickly tidied up what I had and rolled it out.
“None of the Apostles could have written or sanctioned
these stories about themselves”
– Ijaz Ahmad
Were the Gospel
Accounts eye-witness reports
Steven Martins’ approach was to draw upon the New Testament
in his attempt to present what he believes the disciples believed. Steven
believes the Gospels are the historical eye-witness records of  the disciples. This was rejected outright by
Ijaz Ahmad who pointed out the 4 Gospels were not contemporary to Jesus p and nor are the writers of these Gospels known so how can somebody take these works as eye-witness accounts? None
of the authors of the documents which make up the NT were eye-witnesses. Paul
himself indicates this of himself (and his writings are the earliest written
amongst the NT writings). On top of this the authors of the 4 Gospels are
anonymous (these names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were later given to the
anonymous authors). So weighing up all these points it’s sad to hear Steven insist
these writings were eye-witness accounts. Perhaps this is what he was taught by
his mentors and other Christian apologists but that does not make it true.
Also, just knowing these two basic facts would preclude one
from claiming the authors were eye-witnesses – the Gospels are written by
highly literate Greek speakers while the companions of Jesus were considered to
be illiterate and Aramaic speakers (these people were lower class men). This
suggestion they were unschooled is backed up by the writer of Acts as Ijaz
cites:
When they saw the courage of Peter
and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were
astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. [Acts 4:13]
This may seem odd to us folk
living in the 21st Century but the vast majority of the ancient
world did not know how to read and write.
Ijaz Ahmad offers an analysis that
many may have never come across – the alleged chains of transmission of the
Gospel accounts. 4 out of the 6 lead to what Trinitarians would call heretical
beliefs and the other two are anonymous – further highlighting the range of
differing beliefs amongst early Christians. Ijaz states these chains of
transmission indicate Peter, Matthew and John rejected a belief in the death of
Jesus (which as Ijaz says, it sounds like they had an Islamic belief!).
Do the Gospels
contain myths and legends
Ijaz argues there are erroneous stories in the Gospels. One
of Steven Martins’ arguments against the claim the Gospels contains myth and
legend is that there was not enough time between Jesus’ life and the recording
of the Gospels for myth and legend to enter. He then concludes the Gospels are
historical based on this.
Has Steven considered William Lane Craig’s unease at the biggest resurrection story in all of Christian literature – that of the resurrection of the many saints in Matthew. He finds it difficult to accept as a literal event, see here:
Now, if Steven Martins believes this story literally then why does nobody else mention it? A story of many dead people coming out of their graves, is that not something that would get people writing according to Steven? Or does he think this is a myth that was added to the account?
However, a point that it is not unrelated to Steven’s
theory, Ijaz Ahmad ran through early Christian history pointing out there were multiple
competing Christian traditions which all differed from each other – there were
even Gospels which differed from each other. So if at the time of Paul there
were different Gospels (now lost) then how can Steven be so confident to
believe there are no myths and legends in the four Gospels he has ended up
with?
In addition the theology amongst various Christian groups in
early Christianity was radically different to the Trinitarian theology the
majority of modern-day Christians subscribe to.
There were Christian groups which believed in 2 gods, 12gods and 365 gods. Ijaz Ahmad mentions the Arian
controversy as a case in point to demonstrate rival factions were competing
with each other. This is a good example to highlight as Arianism is Non-Trinitarian
and it drew upon the same scriptures as the Trinitarian faction/s as well as it
being a good demonstration of how popularity and a sympathy with the ruling
elite promoted one faction over another
Arianism taught that Jesus was
created by God and was distinct from God. This belief had it’s scriptural basis
in John 14:28
These varying theologies within
early Christianity should be something Steven should look into further.
Ijaz taught Paul did not mention or use the four Gospels
which modern-day Christians use today so even Paul did not sanction these
Gospels. Is it possible Paul was unaware of these Gospels? Not that Paul is a
criterion of right and wrong but is it possible Paul would have considered some
of the writings in the four Gospels spurious?
Another point mentioned, by Steven I think, Paul abolished
circumcision. The question is, who gave him authority to do so?
These are further points for Steven to consider.
Object of worship?
Steven Martins claims throughout the Gospels Jesus is the
object of worship – paradoxically he mentions this in the same breath as his
mentioning of Satan tempting Jesus p. Think about it, he effectively claimed
Jesus was God and Jesus was tempted by Satan. Playing games with the belief of the hypostatic union is not
going to get the Bible believing Trinitarian away from this problem. Ijaz Ahmad
refers to original language of the scripture to show Steven that the word he
uses does not denote the type of worship God receives.
‘Son of God’ title
Steven emphasises the ‘Son of God’ attribution given to
Jesus in one of the Gospel narratives after Jesus performed a miracle (walked on
water) but this just simply meant somebody who was chosen by God – as taught by
Prof. Bart Erhman.
The Gospel of John
 
Rather predictably, Martins in his attempt to prove Jesus
was divine, leans heavily on the Gospel of John. Almost as though the Gospel of
Mark (the earliest Gospel) does not exist!
The irony is, Steven Martins tells Ijaz Ahmad to give
priority to the earlier sources (Gospels) when Ijaz brought up the church
history. Sadly, many Christians don’t do this with the Gospels and they lean
disproportionately to the last Gospel – John’s Gospel.
Another Christian apologetics argument presented is that
some doubted in the story where Jesus is said to have been worshipped. Martins
claims the story must be true because it mentions ‘doubt’. I guess he’s
utilizing the idea of a criterion of embarrassment argument here.
Martins rattles off the ‘he who has seen me has seen the
Father’ argument in his attempt to prove Jesus was divine. Similarly Martins
uses the Gospel teaching of  Jesus
pre-existing before his birth and the ‘I am’ statements.
Martins states Jesus was omnipotent and omniscient as well
as being capable of forgiving sins in order to prove his Trinitarian case.
Martins also claims Jesus was called by the name of God, ‘my Lord my God’
Steven Martins would do well to look at where these things
are written. Are they written in the Gospel of Mark, the earliest Gospel, or
the latest one which is the most Christologically developed whose author is
effectively described as a liar by Christian apologist Mike Licona (accused of changing stories to make theological points – thus he was forging
stories to get his theology across).This anonymous author (later named John) is
not the person Steven wants to be going to to get important aspects of theology
or proof texts!
Peter

Gleeson Archer is cited by Martins to support
the claim that the authorship of 2 Peter should not be corrected. Bart Ehrman
teaches us that virtually all scholars (with the exception of conservative evangelicals)
are unified that 2 Peter is not from Peter. The bombshell is that Prof.Ehrman does not believes 1 and 2 Peter are not written by Peter at all as hebelieves Peter was illiterate.
And would Ijaz’s citation of Acts not support the view that disciples were illiterate?
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. [Acts 4:13]
Miracles

Martins acknowledges other Prophets performed miracles but
he tries to draw a distinction between the miracles performed by Jesus and the
other Prophets. Martins intimates, erroneously, that these were done by Jesus
independently while the miracles of the other Prophets were done by the
authority of God. Has Steven got any proof of this? Does he even have a
quotation attributed to Jesus to this effect?

There is something in the Gospel of John that militates
against Steven’s claim:

but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good
works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” [10:32]

Steven Martins starts
talking about the Quran

I’m not sure why he did this but he just presented dated and
already refuted Christian missionary material.

Martins mentions the Quran 10:94 and 5:47. Martins claims
the Bible was already in existence at the time of the Quran revealed. Martins
just presents the standard intellectually dishonest and shallow Christian
apologist material on this.

Ijaz touches on this here:
Bassam Zawadi here:
I think Steven Martins also used one of these missionary
arguments too:
Steven Martins and
IjazAhmad on Paul of Tarsus

Ijaz Ahmad focuses on the historicity of multiple traditions
within early Christianity which were competing against each other
contemporaneously. To support this claim, Ijaz cites Paul twice
Galatians 1:6
I am astonished that you are so quickly
deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a
different gospel
[ESV]
Romans 2:16
 on that day when, according to my gospel, God
judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
[ESV]
Ijaz makes a point worthy of consideration, when Paul mentions ‘gospel’ he’s not referencing the 4 we see in the New
Testament as he wrote his letters prior to those 4. Ijaz supports this
conclusion through the absence of references from those 4 Gospels within Paul’s
letters. So here, ‘my gospel’ is referring to ‘my teachings of Christ’.

Steven Martins offers his argument for Paul being truthful,
yet if Steven thinks about it, the throwing yourself into hardship from comfort
argument can be used with much greater force to show Prophet Muhammad (p) was
truthful. Think about it, just read his life
– the Prophet risked his life and was rejected by his tribe. The
argument Steven presents is better suited for Prophet Muhammad (p). If Steven
is consistent and objective he would accept Prophet Muhammad (p).

When Reverend Steven Martins wrongly claimed Paul’s writing
constituted 75% of the NT it suggested to me that Reverend Steven Martins WAS just
eager to deliver a response to defend his already-held world view. Is Steven at
home thinking about the points presented deeply and re-evaluating his beliefs,
is he searching for the truth or is he simply searching for material to offer
in defence of his already-held beliefs?

Ijaz argues Paul turned towards the Gentiles in his
preaching because he was weak in his arguments and thus was rejected by the
Jews, hence why he turned towards the Gentiles – whom Ijaz believes Paul
considered to be an easier audience. Interestingly enough, the Gentiles came
from pagan backgrounds where mythology was rampant, this fits in with why the
stories about Jesus (p) would have presented him as a god-man, the pagans
were accustomed to such stories.

This also ties in with the discussion Ijaz and Steven have
on why Paul did not quote from the Gospels. The hardest hitting point as made
by Ijaz: Paul was being rejected by the Jews yet he never quoted from the
Gospels, why would he not quote something that he believes to be authority to
people who were rejecting him?
Disingenuous claim by
Christians about Bart Ehrman

I’ve heard this before from Christian apologists. Steven
Martins makes the same appeal, claiming even Ehrman believed in the death of
Jesus p. However, what Christian apologists always do, they never mention that
Ehrman is not accepting miracles and thus is of course going to believe a man
who was born over 2000 years ago has died. Thus Ehrman, as a historian, accepts
the most popular early story about Jesus p and thus he believes he died.
Christians really should stop making this point, it’s not like Ehrman believes
in the resurrection belief despite the story of the resurrection is in the same
account as the death by crucifixion story.

Controlled or Uncontrolled
Texts

Ijaz Ahmad offers a good rebuttal to the James White-style
attempt in trying to take a positive out of the lack of a controlled text
within early Christianity. The Quran, which was controlled in it’s copying, was
scribed in a more suitable environment for accuracy. Chunks were being added to
the Gospels by dishonest scribes, so clearly the environment in which the
scribes were operating in did not offer restrictions against such doctoring of
texts.

If I recall correctly Steven mentioned Uthman. Many
Christians are fed misinformation regarding Uthman’s burning of manuscripts.
Here’s an expert to explain it:
A really bad argument
by Steven pounced on by Ijaz

Martins appeals to the fact that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the
pool of Siloam are mentioned in the Gospel accounts as being testimony to the
historicity of the Gospels. This is an odd argument – it’s absurdly odd.

To be honest, Steven opened himself up to ridicule when he
continued with the argument that geographical locations being mentioned in the
Gospels as being evidence for their authenticity. Ijaz hit back by pointing out
that the same argument could be used on Harry Potter as it includes King’s
Cross station (London).
What I’d like to know is, from where did Steven get this line of argumentation?
Was it an argument from a Christian apologetics school which he accepted
blindly?  And would Steven be consistent
enough to now claim Islam is true because in Islamic sources real people and
real places are mentioned?
The Christian tradition in 7th
century Arabia

I feel it’s misleading when
Christian apologists bang on about how their canon was formed by this time and
thus assume people in Arabia had the modern-day Bible in their possession in
the 7th century as though they were Trinitarian Pauline Christians exactly as
we find them in a Baptist church somewhere in Texas.
 
Christians really need to stop
making this assumption and they need to stop basing arguments on this erroneous
assumption that all Christians had the same books.

Ijaz Ahmad refutes the superficial
(and intellectually dishonest) argument It’s obvious this is not the case. Ijaz
mentions Christians and Jews converting to Islam during the time of Prophet
Muhammad. I would recommend Reverend Steven Martins looks into the story of
Salmam Al Farsi, who converted to Christianity, before the coming of Prophet
Muhammad, from a Zoroastrian tradition.

Salman Al-Farsi, the son of a Zoroastrian priest, met a
Christian monk in Persia
and converted to Christianity at the hands of the monk. Salman Al-Farsi ran
away to Syria
and joined the monk’s Christian sect which was dying sect. Salman
Al-Farsi learned, from his Christian sect, of a Prophet to come who was
predicted by Jesus
(p). He was told of three signs the Prophet would
meet:
He shall appear in a land full of dates.
He will have a physical mark on his back.
This man will accept gifts but never accept charity.

From Syria,
Salman Al-Farsi ended up in Yathrib after being enslaved. He wound up toiling
away as a slave for decades. A time came when talk spread about Prophet
Muhammad (p) emigrating to Medina.
Salman Al-Farsi heard of this talk and came to Prophet Muhammad (p), he
soon realised Prophet Muhammad (p) fulfilled all three signs and converted to
Islam.

Salman’s story indicated how few real Christians were left
at the time of Prophet Muhammad (p).
Another story illustrating this was that
of the Emperor Heraclius, who received a letter from Prophet Muhammad (p). In
the account, Heraclius mentions that there are Scriptures in which a
Prophet is predicted to come after Jesus
(p) and that Prophet
Muhammad (p) fits the description.
Both stories indicate that there were Scriptures that the
majority of Christians at the time did not have access.
City of Village?
The difference between a village of a city – the village of Bethsaida. Ijaz Ahmad picks on the
author of John for making an error of anachronism. Luke also calls it a city.
Perhaps it was one of those loose Gospel scribes writing after it was changed
to a city. Whatever the case may well be (the Gospel authors or the scribes),
it’s an interesting point raised by Ijaz Ahmad to possibly further impugn the
reliability of those texts.

Ijaz accuses the author of John of an anachronistic error
regarding the city of Bethsaida
and Ijaz spends some time relaying discrepancies concerning the Gospel accounts.
I think he could have offered more examples to the audience of discrepancies
but perhaps he wanted to focus on stories involving companions of Jesus rather
than the standard show of contradictions between the Gospels such as what Barth
Ehrman presents here:
If clear evidence is shown of discrepancies and changes
within the Gospels then the question the truth-seeker may ask is, how can these
texts be trusted to think they weren’t changed in other ways to the extent that
the texts do not even represent the theology of Jesus?
Conclusion

What’s established from the debate, the Trinitarian
narrative is not sound. The Gospels are not reliable. There were competing
Gospels and traditions. Basing one’s beliefs entirely on the New Testament is effectively
accepting conjecture.
Ijaz Ahmad
Clearly he, for such a young man, has a burgeoning apologetics
CV. He and Zakir Hussain could well be the mainstay of Muslim debates with
Christians for the next few decades.

It’s also nice to hear an accent other than a North American
or British accent.

I think Ijaz rushed his positive
case for the disciples being Muslims. Ijaz shows links between Jewish
Christianity and Islam. His focus was heavily leaning on refuting Reverend
Steven Martins and the Trinitarian narrative – this he achieved easily in
clearly demonstrating the Trinitarian narrative is not sound.

Another point I would pick on
here, Ijaz went for the more complex points which for an audience tuned in to
apologetics may well have been suitable but I’d imagine the majority of the
live audience and those viewers of the recorded debate are not too familiar
with the bread and butter points regarding Gospel contradictions and textual
criticism.
Ijaz possesses faith shattering information
for the Christian, it would be wise to always ensure the audience is invited to
Islam at the end of the debate. Most apologists and debaters don’t do this but
surely we want them to come to the truth of Islam rather than not invite them
to the truth after effectively destroying their faith.
Where does Ijaz go from here?
Well, I’d imagine on his island the scope for engaging with seasoned apologists
is quite limited so I’d personally like him to debate local pastors. People
want to see apologists debate but let’s see Muslims go to churches to dialogue
with pastors (who have flocks of people following them). I would also hope the
pastors aren’t marred by some of the dishonest arguments Christian apologists
are plagued with today so the discussion is easier – less rubbish to wade
through before engaging the Christians productively.

Ijaz has charisma and seems like a nice guy too so these qualities could well endear him to Christians which can only be a good thing in witnessing the truth of Islamic monotheism to Christians
Steven Martins of Nicene International Ministries
For me, Steven was visibly struggling in this debate. This
should be a sign to Steven that he’s not on the right side of the fence.
I think he’s a victim of bad information from those who has
learned from. The person who gave him the argument he was making based on the
mention of geographical locations should be banned from apologetics!
I really think Steven should not debate again. He’s better
off just remove himself from Christian apologetics and begin a search for the
truth. Think about some of the questions raised. Think about why Jesus p never
mentioned a man called Paul or 4 books that he wanted people to believe were
‘Gospels’.
Research Islam with an open heart and mind.
From my experience with Christians, it appears many have
been hooked by emotional preaching. It’s not that they have been convinced
intellectually to accept the idea of the Trinity or the god-man concept.
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