Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus as Wisdom Incarnate –

Dealing with the Assertions of a Muslim polemicist Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Muslim taqiyyist extraordinaire Paul Bilal Williams has written an article where he tries to convince his readers that the NT documents provide evidence for an evolving Christology. He argues that one is able to see how the portrait of Jesus has evolved over time, making him much larger than he truly was with the passing of time, when they compare what the earliest writings say concerning Christ with those that were written at a much later date.

Here is what he says concerning the so-called “earliest recoverable christology” in contrast to its later development:

For the purposes of this study I want to focus on one aspect of this ongoing enquiry into Christian origins: the earliest recoverable christology. By which I mean the study of those beliefs held (as far as we can now determine) about Jesus of Nazareth by his immediate followers; those whose lives chronologically overlapped that of Jesus but who never met him (e.g. the apostle Paul); and the beliefs of the evangelists who composed our four gospels.

It is clear that there has been a development in the way Jesus is presented in the pages of the New Testament. Even a cursory reading of the earliest gospel to be written, that of Mark, shows us a very human figure, a man who prays to God (1:35); is unable to work miracles in his own town (6:5); confesses ignorance about the date of the End of the world (13:32); and who apparently despairs of God’s help at the crucifixion (15:34). (Williams, The Apotheosis of Jesus of Nazareth, Published on Friday 06, April, 2007)

All of these assertions have been thoroughly addressed and refuted in the following articles and rebuttals:

Yet what makes William’s claims rather interesting is that the dawagandist proceeds to shoot down his entire argument in the very same article!

I do not claim that this example explains but a small fraction of the theological movement that lead ultimately to the Nicaean creed. In fact A LARGE PART of the Trinitarian doctrine was INITIATED in embryonic form by the apostle Paul IN THE 40s AND 50s of the first century. (Capital and italic emphasis ours)

Did Williams ever bother to stop for a moment and ask himself that if a large part of the doctrine of the blessed and holy Trinity was already initiated in embryonic form during the 40s and 50s of the first century AD how could he then argue that the portrait of Christ evolved over time? Wouldn’t this actually prove that the “earliest recoverable christology” was already a high Christology since one necessary element which led to the more fully developed doctrine of the trinity is that Jesus is fully divine?

As if his arguments couldn’t get anymore confusing, the taqyyist then cites a scholar who actually confirms that the “earliest recoverable christology” was already a very “high” one!

Edward Schweizer in an article published in 1959 stated: “The idea of the pre-existence of Jesus came to Paul through Wisdom speculation.”2 He further concluded that in the expression “God sent his Son, to…” WHICH IS COMMON TO PAUL AND JOHN one finds “a christology which seeks to grasp Jesus IN THE CATEGORIES OF THE PRE-EXISTENT WISDOM OR LOGOS.”3 (Capital emphasis ours)

If both Paul and John depict Jesus as pre-existent Wisdom or Logos and God’s Son who was sent then that means that, contrary to the dawagandist’s assertions, no major evolution in Christology took place. Rather, the earliest Christological proclamation is consistent with that which came later, and therefore the Christology of the earliest followers of Jesus was every bit as high as what we find in John’s writings.

The dawagandist is not done butchering his sources or distorting the Scriptures to his own destruction (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16):

Turning to the Synoptic gospels we find that “Jesus appears as bearer or speaker of Wisdom, but much more than that as Wisdom itself. As pre-existent Wisdom Jesus Sophia…”4

Mathew, without any apparent fanfare has made a change in Jesus’ ontological status from Jesus as a messenger of Wisdom to Jesus as Wisdom.

If the gospel was written after 70 CE (the consensus of scholars), the outbreak of hostility between rabbinic Judaism and Jewish Christianity which occurred after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 (which is implied by Matthew 23) may have been provoked by what to Jewish monotheistic ears trained to value the unity of the Godhead, must have sounded like the rankest blasphemy in attributing deity to a creature.

These statements are rather remarkable since the taqiyyist has basically admitted that Jewish Christianity, as represented by the Gospel of Matthew, attributed “deity to a creature”!

The reason this is a remarkable assertion is because, throughout many of his polemical writings and lectures, Williams seeks to pit Paul and his followers against the so-called Jewish Christians headed by James. He argues that, whereas Jewish Christians thought Jesus was only a flesh and blood human being, “Pauline” Christians, on other hand, proclaimed that he was much more than that. He even tries to convince people that Matthew didn’t believe that Jesus was/is God. And yet in this article he candidly acknowledges that Matthew portrays Jesus as Wisdom itself and ascribes deity to Christ!

Can the taqiyyist make up his mind and get his distortions straight? Does he really want us to believe that Jewish Christians as represented by Matthew’s Gospel did not believe that Jesus was God? Or does he actually accept the fact that the Jewish followers of Christ such as Matthew proclaimed that Jesus is actually God’s preexistent divine Wisdom who became a man?

The Muslim propagandist continues with his assault against God’s inspired Word:

It will be apparent from this analysis that at least one writer known to us many years after Jesus’ ascension, by his deliberate editing of the gospel sayings of Jesus, took a completely new step: he applied Wisdom categories that had previously dramatised Gods [sic] saving actions in the world to a man who lived only decades earlier.

The dawagandist then quotes the following verses:

“For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute,’” Luke 11:49

“Therefore, behold, I AM sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city,” Matthew 23:34

In order to show how Matthew has changed his source in order to identify Jesus as Wisdom:

Here we have a Q saying. I would argue that Luke’s version is nearer to the original Q form, because it is more probable that Luke’s Wisdom utterance: ‘I will send them…’ is more likely to be the original than that he deliberately altered a precious first person saying of Jesus: ‘I send you…’

So in Q we have Jesus quoting a saying of Wisdom where she promises to send emissaries to Israel, and Jesus is the spokesman of Wisdom. So much is clear.

When we turn to Matthew’s redaction of Q, he has turned the saying of Wisdom into a saying of Jesus himself. For Matthew, Jesus is Wisdom.

There are several problems with these assertions, not the least of which is the assumption that Matthew has redacted his Q source to make Christ the Incarnation or embodiment of Wisdom.

The first problem that the taqiyyist faces is that scholars are divided whether Matthew has modified Q in order to make Jesus’ identification with Wisdom more explicit, since the examples from the Synoptics that are presented to prove this point are less than convincing.

In fact, in order for this argument to work one has to assume that Matthew’s audience was familiar with either Luke’s Gospel or the original form of the so-called Q sayings. Otherwise, how would they have known that Matthew, in 23:34, supposedly ascribed to Jesus what Jesus, in Luke 11:49, ascribed to Wisdom?

As the following scholar explains:

“However, there are some serious problems with this. Principally, although it is possible that Matthew himself thought of an identification of Jesus and Wisdom, it is scarcely possible that he could expect his readers to pick up on this unless they were somehow privy to his sources and aware of the original content of the saying.22 It is only by combining the Lukan and Matthean versions that any identification of Jesus with Wisdom could be made.

“Secondly, there is an important difference between the Lukan and Matthean versions. Luke personifies Wisdom as speaking in primeval time and declaring that she will send prophets and apostles in the future. It is for this reason that she can be described as a preexistent personification. On the other hand, in Matthew Jesus is speaking in the time of his earthly ministry of what he will do. As a result, there is clearly no implication of a preexistent action or utterance of Jesus…” (Simon J. Gathercole, The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, And Luke [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Paperback, September 19, 2006], Part Three. Jesus, the Incarnation of Preexistent Wisdom?, Chapter 8: A Critique of the Wisdom Christology Hypothesis, I. Jesus’ and Wisdom’s Appeal on Behalf of God, p. 200)

22. As Pregeant wonders, “Can we reasonably imagine that readers not privy to the author’s sources would in fact make the identification of Jesus with Wisdom that the redaction seems to intend?” R. Pregeant, “The Wisdom Passage in Matthew’s Story,” SBLSP (1990), 469-93 (470). (Ibid)

This leads us to the second problem with William’s arguments. He fails to mention the fact that not all NT scholars believe that Q is an independent collection of sayings which Matthew and Luke used as one of their sources. There are scholars such as Mark Goodacre who have made a very persuasive case that the Q material found in Luke is actually sayings that Matthew recorded.

If this is the case then that means Matthew hasn’t edited or redacted anything since the so-called Q material that is found in Luke’s Gospel is actually statements that Luke took and modified from Matthew’s Gospel!

Third, Luke not only met with the eyewitnesses of Christ he was also one of Paul’s closest followers. This can be seen from certain passages in Acts where Luke depicts himself as having personally witnessed some of the events which he reports:

“A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged US, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon US. It happened that as WE were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met US, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and US, she kept crying out, saying, ‘These MEN are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.’ She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment.” Acts 16:14-18

“When WE had parted from them and had set sail, WE ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, WE went aboard and set sail. When WE came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, WE kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. After looking up the disciples, WE stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. When OUR days there were ended, WE left and started on OUR journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted US until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, WE said farewell to one another. Then WE went on board the ship, and they returned home again. When WE had finished the voyage from Tyre, WE arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, WE stayed with them for a day. On the next day WE left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, WE stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. As WE were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to US, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’ When WE had heard this, WE as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, WE fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!’ After these days WE got ready and started on OUR way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with US, taking US to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom WE were to lodge. After WE arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received US gladly. And the following day Paul went in WITH US TO JAMES, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” Acts 20:1-19

Moreover, scholars have been able to confirm Luke’s amazing accuracy as an historian, as noted Christian philosopher and apologist Dr. William Lane Craig explains:

“… The gospel writers have a proven tract record of historical reliability. Again let’s look at just one example: Luke. Luke was the author of a two-part work: the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These are really one work and are separated in our Bibles only because the church grouped the gospels together in the New Testament.

“Luke is the gospel author who writes most self-consciously as a historian. In the preface he writes:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. (Luke 1:1-4 RSV)

“This preface is written in classical Greek such as the great Greek historians used; after this Luke switches to a more common Greek. But he has put his reader on alert that he can write, if he wants to, like the learned historian. He speaks of his lengthy investigation of the story he’s about to tell and assures us that it’s based on eyewitness information and is accordingly the truth.

“Now who was this author we call Luke? He was clearly not himself an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. But we discover an important fact about him from the book of Acts. Beginning in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul reaches Troas in modern-day Turkey, the author suddenly starts using the first-person plural: ‘We set sail from Troas to Samothrace,’ ‘We remained in Philippi some days,’ ‘As we were going to the place of prayer,’ etc. The most obvious explanation is that the author had joined Paul on his evangelistic tour of the Mediterranean cities. Eventually he accompanies Paul back to Israel and finally to Jerusalem. What this means is that the author of Luke-Acts was, in fact, in firsthand contact with the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry in Jerusalem.

“Skeptical critics have done backflips to try to avoid this conclusion. They say that the use of the first-person plural in Acts should not be taken literally; it was just a literary device that was common in ancient sea voyage stories. Never mind that many of the passages in Acts are not about Paul's sea voyage but take place on land! The more important point is that this theory, when you check it out, turns out to be sheer fantasy. There just was no literary device in the ancient world of sea voyages in the first-person plural–the whole thing has been shown to be a scholarly fiction! There's no avoiding the conclusion that Luke-Acts was written by a traveling companion of Paul who had the opportunity to interview eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life while in Jerusalem.” (Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision [Published by David C. Cook, 2010], Personal Interlude: A Philosopher’s Journey of Faith, Part Two, 8. Who Was Jesus?, pp. 191- 193; bold emphasis ours)


“Was the author reliable in getting the facts straight? The book of Acts enables us to answer that question decisively. The book of Acts overlaps significantly with the secular history of the ancient world, and the historical accuracy of Acts is indisputable. This has recently been demonstrated anew by Colin Hemer, a classical scholar who turned to New Testament studies, in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-tooth comb, pulling out a wealth of historical detail, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details that only a local person would know. Again and again Luke's accuracy is demonstrated. From the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, Luke gets it right.

“According to Professor Sherwin-White, ‘The confirmation of historicity in Acts is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.’ The judgment of Sir William Ramsey, a world-famous archaeologist, still stands: ‘Luke is a historian of the first rank… This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.’

“Given Luke’s care and demonstrated reliability, as well as his contact with eyewitnesses within the first generation after the events, this author is trustworthy.” (Ibid, pp. 193-194)

And, despite the fact that he erroneously assumes that Luke’s reference to a census in Luke 2 and the statements concerning Theudas/Judas in Acts 5 are mistaken, one of William’s favorite NT scholars James D. G. Dunn, nevertheless, recognizes that the author of Acts was quite amazingly accurate due to his involvement with some of the eyewitnesses and events which he mentions:

(2) Those deductions are strengthened by the 'we' passages in Acts. They certainly provide prima facie evidence that the author was personally present during the sequences described (the beginning and end of Paul's Aegean mission and his final arrival in and departure from Palestine). But one of the implications which can obviously be drawn from them also is that the author had opportunity to consult participants in the early phases of his story. According to the first 'we' passage (16.10-17) he spent some time in the company of Silas, one of the leading men among the brothers' (15.22), that is, in this case the Jerusalem disciples. According to the third 'we' passage (21.8-18), he stayed in Caesarea for several days with Philip (21.8, 10), one of the leaders of the Hellenist group which emerged in ch. 6 and the evangelist of Samaria (ch. 8); there he encountered the prophet Agabus (21.10), who would have provided another link with the earlier history of both Jerusalem and Antioch (11.27-28); and on the way to Jerusalem itself he stayed at the house of Mnason of Cyprus, 'an early disciple' (21.16). The lack of first-hand ('we') reports during Paul's imprisonment in Jerusalem and Caesarea (22-26) is surprising but could have a number of explanations, and the 'we' 27.1 may be sufficient for the conclusion that the author must have spent some time in Caesarea, during which he would have had plenty of opportunity to consult 'those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word'. A reasonable deduction, therefore, is that Luke both had personal involvement with Paul's mission and that he was able to draw on first-hand (eyewitness) reports for at least much of the substance of the earlier episodes which he narrates in Acts.” (Dunn, Beginning From Jerusalem (Christianity in the Making Volume 2) [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, U.K., 2009], 21. The Sources, pp. 75-76; bold emphasis ours)


(3) Often overlooked in assessments of Acts is the degree of concurrence between Acts and the data to be gleaned from Paul's letters as to his basic movements. The point can be documented effectively in a chart on the following pages.

The details will be reviewed as we proceed. But the overall impression strongly suggests that the author of Acts was well informed about Paul's life and mission.

(4) It is a striking fact that whereas with the Gospel of Luke there are only a few details which can be correlated with information from non-biblical sources, in the case of the Acts of Luke the number of such details is substantial. For example, the striking account of the death of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12.20-23) is paralleled in its main details by Josephus (Ant. 19.343[sic]-46) and must have been the subject of many a story-teller's performance. Luke's knowledge of it, as no doubt Josephus's, probably came from such 'common knowledge', not from any literary source, with Luke's 'own' take on the story most evident in the final verse (12.23).

“A feature worth noting is that examples of these correlations become frequent from the beginning of the 'we' passages onwards. Indeed, since William Ramsay was converted to a high view of the reliability of Acts, students of Acts have regularly been impressed by Luke's historical accuracy on various small details on which a writer with no personal experience of the events he narrates might well have stumbled. Luke knows that Herod Antipas was only titled 'tetrach' of Galilee (Acts 13.1), whereas Agrippa I and II were both properly titled 'king' (12.1; 25.13), since both were granted the royal title by Gaius and Claudius. He uses the correct title 'proconsul' for the Roman governors of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus (13.7), and of Corinth, Gallio (18.12), the only NT writer to use the proper Greek equivalent (anthypatos) of the Latin proconsul, governor of a senatorial province, whereas Felix and Festus were only procurators of Judea, governor (hegemon) of a minor province (23.24; 26.30). Philippi is correctly described as a 'colony' (kolonia, 16.12) and its chief magistrates praetors (strategoi, 16.20). The city magistrates of Thessalonica, however, are properly designated 'politarchs' (politarchai, 17.6), a title which Luke could not have derived from literary sources, since it is not attested in Greek literature known to us, though we know the title from Macedonian inscriptions. His report of an expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius (18.2) is confirmed by the famous report of Suetonius cited above… His knowledge of the several Ephesians officials named in Acts 19 is exact – proconsul (19.38), secretary of state/town clerk (grammateus, 19.35), and Asiarchs (asiarchoi, 19.31), men of status within the civic administration; and he uses the correct term, agoraios, for a provincial assize in Ephesus (19.38). And his knowledge of the rights of Roman citizenship and of judicial procedures reflects the conditions of the middle decades of the first century, not those of the later decades, during which he probably wrote Acts.

“Also worth noting is the extent to which Josephus in particular confirms many of Luke's details which otherwise we might attribute to his story-telling imagination: the rebels, Judas of Galilee and Theudas (5.36-37 - even if Luke is confused as to their dates), and the 'Egyptian' (21.38); not only the dating of the procuratorships of Felix and Festus in Judea (23.24; 24.27) and the identity of the high priest Ananias (23.2; 24.1), as well as the names of Felix's wife (Drusilla, 24.24) and of Agrippa II's wife (Bernice, 25.13), but also his characterization of Felix, Festus and Agrippa II.

“In an age when there were no almanacs providing ready information regarding titles and dates of officials and no easy access to official records by someone of Luke's likely rank and status, the slips already indicated are readily explicable. At the same time, the accuracy of such details and representations as have just been listed can hardly be better explained than by Luke's own involvement with those caught up in the events (or with the events themselves), or by his having access to eyewitness accounts of the events.” (Ibid, pp. 77, 80-81; bold emphasis ours)

Paul himself quotes Luke’s Gospel in 1 Timothy:

“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages (axios ho ergates tou misthou autou).’” 1 Timothy 5:18

The second citation is a verbatim quotation of Luke 10:7:

“And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages (axios gar ho ergates tou misthou autou). Do not go from house to house.”

Paul even mentions Luke being with him in his second epistle to Timothy:

Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11

It is therefore not surprising that he would quote from this particular Gospel seeing that the author who composed it under inspiration from the Holy Spirit was present with him!

Thus, since Luke personally knew some of the eyewitnesses to Christ, including the Apostle Paul, this gives us all the more confidence to trust what he writes concerning the teachings of Jesus and his earliest followers. And since he was one of Paul’s traveling companions he would have surely learned about Paul’s views of Christ and would have therefore been exposed to Paul’s Wisdom Christology.

Now this creates a major dilemma for the taqiyyist. He has already admitted that Paul, like John, depicts Jesus as Wisdom. In light of this, does the dawagandist really expect us to believe that the author of Luke-Acts, who was a traveling companion and disciple of Paul, did not agree with his mentor concerning Christ being the human embodiment, the very incarnation, of God’s Wisdom?

This brings us to the conclusion of this part. Please proceed to Part 2.