Worshiping Jesus as God –
A Reply to the Late Ahmad Deedat Pt. 3
In this final part of our refutation we are going to look at texts where the first Christians offered prayers and invocation to their risen Lord.
According to the NT documents, the first Christians were known for and characterized by their practice of calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus,
“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, both their Lord and ours:” 1 Corinthians 1:2
A practice which began among Jesus’ Jewish followers in Jerusalem of all places!
“But Anani′as answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to THY saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon THY name.’… And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ And all who heard him were amazed, and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on THIS NAME? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.’” Acts 9:13-14, 20-21
What makes this truly remarkable is that the OT scriptures are crystal clear that Yahweh God is the only Being whom believers were to call upon in their worship and petitions:
“Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” Genesis 12:8
“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” Genesis 21:33
“Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the Lord, and he answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his testimonies, and the statutes that he gave them.” Psalm 99:5-7
“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I beseech thee, save my life!’… I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord… I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” Psalm 116:1-4, 13, 17
Jesus’ followers even called upon their risen Lord at the moment of their deaths, as we find in the case of the first Christian martyr Stephen:
“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and JESUS standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and THE SON OF MAN standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul… And as they were stoning Stephen, HE PRAYED, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ AND HE KNELT DOWN and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:55-60
Stephen here prays to the risen Lord Jesus in the same way that the Psalmist prayed to Yahweh,
“Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Psalm 31:5
And similarly to the manner that Christ himself prayed to the Father while he was on the cross:
“And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments… Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” Luke 23:33-34, 46
Moreover, not only does Stephen ask Christ to receive his human spirit, he even beseeches the exalted Lord to forgive his murderers, which is another divine function since both the Holy Bible,
“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 thus? It is blasphemy! 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 thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise, take up your pallet 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, take up your pallet and go home.’ And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet 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
And the Quran concur that only God is able to forgive sins:
And those who, having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring God to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins, – and who can forgive sins except God? – and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done. S. 3:135 Y. Ali
Stephen’s prayer therefore provides further proof that the first Christians were worshiping Jesus as God Almighty Incarnate. As the following commentaries explain:
“… [2.] Our Lord Jesus is God, to whom we are to seek, and in whom we are to confide and comfort ourselves living and dying. Stephen here prays to Christ, and so must we for it is the will of God that all men should thus honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. It is Christ we are to commit ourselves to, who alone is able to keep what we commit to him against that day it is necessary that we have an eye to Christ when we come to die, for there is no venturing into another world but under his conduct, no living comforts in dying moments but what are fetched from him. [3.] Christ's receiving our spirits at death is the great thing we are to be careful about, and to comfort ourselves with. We ought to be in care about this while we live, that Christ may receive our spirits when we die for, if he reject and disown them, whither will they betake themselves? How can they escape being a prey to the roaring lion? To him therefore we must commit them daily, to be ruled and sanctified, and made meet for heaven, and then, and not otherwise, he will receive them. And, if this has been our care while we live, it may be our comfort when we come to die, that we shall be received into everlasting habitations.” (Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible; bold and underline emphasis ours)
calling upon God and saying, Lord Jesus, etc. — An unhappy supplement of our translators is the word “God” here; as if, while addressing the Son, he was really calling upon the Father. The sense is perfectly clear without any supplement at all - “calling upon [invoking] and saying, Lord Jesus”; Christ being the Person directly invoked and addressed by name (compare Acts 9:14). Even Grotius, De Wette, Meyer, etc., admit this, adding several other examples of direct prayer to Christ; and Pliny, in his well-known letter to the Emperor Trajan (a.d. 110 or 111), says it was part of the regular Christian service to sing, in alternate strains, a hymn to Christ as God.
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit — In presenting to Jesus the identical prayer which He Himself had on the cross offered to His Father, Stephen renders to his glorified Lord ABSOLUTE DIVINE WORSHIP, in the most sublime form, and at the most solemn moment of his life. In this commitment of his spirit to Jesus, Paul afterwards followed his footsteps with a calm, exultant confidence that with Him it was safe for eternity (2 Timothy 1:12).
cried with a loud voice — with something of the gathered energy of his dying Lord (see on John 19:16-30).
Lord — that is, JESUS, beyond doubt, whom he had just before addressed as Lord.
lay not this sin to their charge — Comparing this with nearly the same prayer of his dying Lord, it will be seen how very richly this martyr of Jesus had drunk into his Master‘s spirit, in its divinest form. (Robert Jamieson, Andrew Robert Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible; bold and underline emphasis ours)
(6) As invoking the name of Jesus seems to have been a characteristic and familiar mark of the early Christians, so to do this just as the spirit is passing out of time into eternity, and in these solemn circumstances to commit to Jesus that most precious of all deposits-one's own spirit-asking Him to receive it on its flight from the body, is such an act of supreme worship as no devout dying believer can be conceived to have offered to one whom he believed to be no more than a creature, or to be other than "God over all blessed forever;" and if the great apostle did not habitually do this very thing which Stephen did with his last breath, what meaning can be put upon the words already quoted, penned by him when about to seal his testimony with his blood, "I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day"? (2 Timothy 1:12.) (Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged; bold and underline emphasis ours)
Calling upon God - The word God is not in the original, and should not have been in the translation. It is in none of the ancient mss. or versions. It should have been rendered, “They stoned Stephen, invoking, or calling upon, and saying, Lord Jesus,” etc. That is, HE WAS ENGAGED “IN PRAYER” TO THE LORD JESUS. The word is used to express “prayer” in the following, among other places: 2 Corinthians 1:23, “I call God to witness”; 1 Peter 1:17, “And if ye call on the Father,” etc.; Acts 2:21, “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord,” etc.; Acts 9:14; Acts 22:16; Romans 10:12-14. This was, therefore, AN ACT OF WORSHIP; a solemn invocation of the Lord Jesus, in the most interesting circumstances in which a man can be placed - IN HIS DYING MOMENTS. And this shows that IT IS RIGHT TO WORSHIP THE LORD JESUS, AND TO PRAY TO HIM. For if Stephen was inspired, it settles the question. The example of an inspired man in such circumstances is a safe and correct example. If it should be said that the inspiration of Stephen cannot be made out, yet the inspiration of Luke, who has recorded it, will not be called into question. Then the following circumstances show that he, an inspired man, regarded it as right, and as a proper example to be followed:
(1)He has recorded it without the slightest expression of an opinion that it was improper. On the contrary, there is every evidence that he regarded the conduct of Stephen in this case as right and praiseworthy. There is, therefore, this attestation to its propriety.
(2)the Spirit who inspired Luke knew what use would be made of this case. He knew that it would be used as an example, and as an evidence that it was right to worship the Lord Jesus. It is one of the cases which has been used to perpetuate the worship of the Lord Jesus in every age. If it was wrong, it is inconceivable that it should be recorded without some expression of disapprobation. (3)the case is strikingly similar to that recorded in John 20:28, where Thomas offered worship to the Lord Jesus “as his God,” without reproof. If Thomas did it in the presence of the Saviour without reproof, it was right. If Stephen did it without any expression of disapprobation from the inspired historian, it was right. (4)these examples were used to encourage Christians and Christian martyrs to offer homage to Jesus Christ. Thus, Pliny, writing to the Emperor Trajan, and giving an account of the Christians in Bithynia, says that they were accustomed to meet and “sing hymns to Christ as to God” (Latriner). (5)it is worthy of remark that Stephen, in his death, offered the same act of homage to Christ that Christ himself did to the Father when he died, Luke 23:46. From all these considerations, it follows that the Lord Jesus is a proper object of worship; that in most solemn circumstances it is right to call upon him, to worship him, and to commit our dearest interests to his hands. If this may be done, HE IS DIVINE.
Receive my spirit - That is, receive it to thyself; take it to thine abode in heaven.
And he kneeled down - This seems to have been a “voluntary” kneeling; a placing himself in this position for the purpose of “prayer,” choosing to die in this attitude.
Lord - That is, Lord Jesus. See the notes on Acts 1:24.
Lay not … - Forgive them. This passage strikingly resembles the dying prayer of the Lord Jesus, Luke 23:34. Nothing but the Christian religion will enable a man to utter such sentiments in his dying moments. (Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)
To confirm Barne’s point that Stephen was inspired by God to worship Christ, recall that according to v. 56 Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit, which is why he was able to see a vision of the risen and glorified Christ standing at God’s right hand. And in the previous chapter Luke tells us that this holy servant of the Lord Jesus was a man filled with faith, power, grace and the Holy Spirit, one who was able to perform mighty miracles before the people, and whose countenance was like that of an angel’s:
“And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Proch′orus, and Nica′nor, and Timon, and Par′menas, and Nicola′us, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people… Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyre′nians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cili′cia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke… And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” Acts 6:5-11, 15
These Christians were simply obeying what the Lord himself had told them while he was with the disciples on earth:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask IN MY NAME, I WILL DO IT, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything IN MY NAME, I WILL DO IT.” John 14:12-14
Jesus makes the remarkable assertion that once he is with the Father in heaven, he would then personally answer all the petitions that his followers make in his name!
This presupposes that Christ is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent since he has to be aware of all those who are praying to him, where exactly are they praying from, and what they are praying for, and must further possess the power to answer all these requests.
Thus, Christ is making himself out to be the Hearer of prayer, even though both the Holy Scriptures,
“Praise is due to thee, O God, in Zion; and to thee shall vows be performed, O thou who hearest prayer! To thee shall all flesh come on account of sins.” Psalm 65:1-2
And the Quran teach that this happens to be a function that God carries out,
When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way. S. 2:186 Y. Ali
And your Lord says: "Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer): but those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell - in humiliation!"… He is the Living (One): There is no god but He: Call upon Him, giving Him sincere devotion. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds! S. 40:60, 65 Y. Ali
Since he alone has the ability to hear and answer all prayers!
This should sufficiently put to rest the late Deedat’s desperate attempts of trying to undermine the clear biblical proclamation that the disciples and all who believed were worshiping the Lord Jesus as God Almighty in the flesh.
All biblical references were taken from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Holy Bible.