Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Worshiping Jesus as God –

A Reply to the Late Ahmad Deedat Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

A certain Muslim dawagandist has made a short youtube clip where he has taken a snippet from the Q&A session of one of the lectures of the late Muslim polemicist Ahmad Deedat where he addressed a question from a Christian concerning the disciples worshiping Jesus as God (“Ahmed Deedat Answer - Did the disciples 'worship' Jesus as God?”).

The Christian mentioned Matthew 14:27-33 where the disciples worshiped Jesus as God’s Son after having seen him walk on water and enable Peter to do the same. Here is the pericope in question:

“And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.”

The Christian also referred to Thomas’ worshiping the risen Jesus as his Lord and his God:

“Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God! Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’” John 20:26-29

Deedat tried to explain away these texts by claiming that worshiping God entailed prostrating or falling down on one’s face before him, as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane,

“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’” Matthew 26:39

And as other prophets did as well:

Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,” Genesis 17:3

“Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them,” Numbers 20:6

“So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Eli′jah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.” 1 Kings 18:42

Other examples include the following:

“And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,” Revelation 7:11

“And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God,” Revelation 11:16

Kneeling would be another posture that people adopted as a way of expressing worship to God,

“Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and supplication to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven;” 1 Kings 8:54

“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” Psalm 95:6

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” Ephesians 3:14-15

Which is why God forbade kneeling before any other god besides him: 

“Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:18

Deedat then argued that no one ever prostrated or fell down on their face before the Lord Jesus, and therefore shows that they weren’t worshiping him as God.

First of all, Deedat is arguing from silence.  In both of the passages which the Chritian cited, the focus is on what the disciples SAID, not how they moved. It is their confession that was of importance to the authors, not their bodily posture or the movements of their limbs. It is simply not stated whether the group of disciples in Matthew or Thomas in the event reported by John, stood, sat, kneeled or fell on their faces. It is not stated, and Deedat has no way of knowing what their bodily shape was when they made these confessions.

Second, the text in Matthew’s gospel states it explicitly that they “worshiped him”. Who is Deedat to deny this? What secret knowledge or what authority does Deedat have to argue against the explicit statement of the Gospel?

In John’s passage, it is only stated that Thomas spoke this confession. The word “worship” is not used in the narrative, but if addressing somebody by “my Lord and my God” is not worship what is it then?  Isn’t this the very essence of worship to declare to God that he (alone) is my Lord and my God?  Saying this to anyone but God is blasphemous. And saying it to God is worship regardless of what form of bodily posture Thomas may have had at the time when he said it. Does Deedat really want to deny this?

Therefore, Deedat’s response is basically an argument from silence. The texts in question simply do not say in what bodily posture did Jesus’ disciples assume when they worshiped, whether sitting, standing, kneeling or on their faces. And for Deedat to infer therefore that they were NOT on their faces is an invalid argument. They may well have been. 

Hence, prostration or kneeling is often reported when the Bible speaks about worship, but nowhere does the Bible claim that it is necessary for worship or that worship becomes invalid if you forgot to prostrate or kneel. On which scriptural basis did Deedat make it a necessary condition?

But even if they did not fall on their faces, there are glaring problems with Deedat’s assertions, not the least of which is the claim that falling down or prostrating on one’s face is necessary to prove that Jesus was being worshiped as God. Worship is not simply about the posture of the body, but about the attitude that one has towards the object that is being venerated. After all, we find places in which individuals fell before their faces in the presence of others without this implying that they were worshiping those before whom they fell as deity. Note, for instance, some examples:

“Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land… Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land.” Genesis 23:7, 12

“And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. And he put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.” Genesis 33:1-3 

“And Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, ‘Go and carry them to the city.’ And as soon as the lad had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times; and they kissed one another, and wept with one another, until David recovered himself. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.”’ And he rose and departed; and Jonathan went into the city.” 1 Samuel 20:40-42

“Afterward David also arose, and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, ‘My lord the king!’ And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth, and did obeisance.” 1 Samuel 24:8

Therefore, worshiping God involves more than just bowing down on one’s face. Worshiping God involves the understanding and belief that he is the most important and valuable Being there is, the One for whom all things exist. As such, a person must be willing to love God more than anything and anyone, including one’s one life, and prove one’s love by wholeheartedly and unconditionally obeying his commands.

Lo and behold, this is exactly the kind of devotion Jesus demanded from his followers!

Christ expected his followers to love him unconditionally, commanding them to love him more than anything in existence including their own selves,

“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life FOR MY SAKE will find it.” Matthew 10:37-39

“And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life FOR MY SAKE and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? 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 8:34-38

“Peter began to say to him, ‘Lo, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, FOR MY SAKE and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Mark 10:28-30

He further demanded that they prove their love by perfectly keeping his commandments:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:46-49 – cf. Matthew 7:24-27

“‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments… He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’… Jesus answered him, ‘If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and WE will come to him and make OUR home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” John 14:15, 21, 23-24

Such love and wholehearted devotion are the very heart of what it means to worship God.

With that said we are ready to proceed to the second part of our discussion.