Hard Questions

frank, open and honest discussions

St. Paul and The Mahdi

with 9 comments


“Why believe Muhammad over Paul, when both of them derived their authority from visions from God? ” This question was put to me by my dear friend Michael, in a comment on my post on the crucifixion.M A Al Mahdi of Sudan

St. Paul experience is not completely alien to Muslims, although we look at it in a rather different light. Many Muslims say they see in their sleep, visions of the prophet Muhammad peace and blessing upon him. Some of them are very righteous people who are not known for being liars. Some even went to claim a special status as a Mahdi (Guided one).

These visions have generally been understood to be a private matter for the individual concerned. It does not give him/ her any special authority to add to or interpret the revelation of the Allah in the Quran or the saying of the prophet. Visions granted to ordinary people, do not transform their words/ opinions or writing to Holy scriptures from God. We need to look at what they say, and if it conform to the message delivered by the Messengers of God, and the eternal message of God, then we can take it on board as Their contribution.

There is a major difference between Muhammad pbuh and St Paul: Muhammad said he was a messenger of God sent to Mankind, who received a revelation in the same tradition of the prophets before him, including Jesus, i.e. through an angel sent by God who spoke with him, or via vision/inspiration of events, or God -unseen- speaking to him. He was given specific instructions by God to deliver to the people.

St. Paul, on the other hand, only said he was interpreting the message and live of Christ. He said he saw visions of Christ, and never claimed he was a messenger of God. His role is comparable to those who claimed to be the Mahdi, saying they see visions of the prophet Muhammad pbuh.

My view on those visions (from Both Faiths) is that they simply have no authority what so ever. Their legitimacy or otherwise is determined solely by how consistent they are with the teaching of the prophets of God from Noah until Muhammad, and including Jesus the Christ, peace be upon them.

Of prime importance to me is what I call ‘the principle of The homogeneity of the message of God‘. If a particular person is preaching a message that is wholly compatible with the eternal message of God delivered by all his messengers, then I listen and take note of what he says. This eternal message can be summarised in:

  1. The Worship and obedience to God Almighty, the Most High,
  2. The banishing of worship to idols, angels, people.
  3. The belief in the messengers of God and his angels as servants to God The One, Most High creator of everything,
  4. The belief in the resurrection and Last day, when everyone will be held accountable for his deeds in this life.
  5. The importance of BOTH: correct belief in God AND the righteous deeds and avoidance of sin in order to attain salvation from Hell.

This was the message of all the prophets including Christ, and also the message of prophet Muhammad peace be upon them all. I am not convinced that this is what St Paul preached. I find for example a difference between his teachings on:

  1. His views on salvation are different from the words of Jesus and also those of James. Moreover, they go against the principles of justice and personal accountability.
  2. His interpretation of the crucifixion was something that he invented and was not attested to by Jesus before the incident itself.
  3. His teachings on taking the message to the gentiles contradicted the words of Jesus before the alleged crucifixion.
  4. As soon as he had the vision, he said he went to Arabia, without learning from the people who lived with Jesus all his life (At best, it is said he spent only two weeks with them although he contradicts this elsewhere in his writings).

I think that one of the root causes of some of the textual problems in the New Testament is discrepancy between the Pauline theology and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Over the years, scribes have found it necessary to harmonize the text.

This is a very interesting post which gives numerous examples where scribes felt the need to harmonize.

St. Paul had made an effort to interpret the events surrounding the life of Jesus and his words. I don’t think he claimed an exclusive right to interpret the life of Jesus, but somehow, his writings were to define Christianity. You have the right to believe those interpretations, but I need some convincing that they were compatible with the teachings of Jesus and the prophets of God before him.

Written by Rasheed Gadir

January 7, 2008 at 8:19 pm

9 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Rasheed,

    Interesting post. However, I think you’re mistaken on the nature of Paul’s vision.

    You said: “St. Paul, on the other hand, only said he was interpreting the message and live of Christ. He said he saw visions of Christ, and never claimed he was a messenger of God.”

    I think that this is false. Paul claims to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). In Ephesians 3:1-3, Paul begins to elaborate on what he calls the “grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation.” And in Ephesians 3:8 he makes it abundantly clear: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

    Paul did claim to be a messenger of God, and confirmed it with miracles recorded in the book of Acts.

    You said: “This was the message of all the prophets including Christ, and also the message of prophet Muhammad peace be upon them all. I am not convinced that this is what St Paul preached. I find for example a difference between his teachings on:

    1. His views on salvation are different from the words of Jesus and also those of James. Moreover, they go against the principles of justice and personal accountability.
    2. His interpretation of the crucifixion was something that he invented and was not attested to by Jesus before the incident itself.
    3. His teachings on taking the message to the gentiles contradicted the words of Jesus before the alleged crucifixion.
    4. As soon as he had the vision, he said he went to Arabia, without learning from the people who lived with Jesus all his life (At best, it is said he spent only two weeks with them although he contradicts this elsewhere in his writings).”

    Can you please elaborate on these points? Where do you find these discrepancies? I would like to discuss them.

    jmcrist

    January 7, 2008 at 9:43 pm

  2. In my opinion, a messenger from God will make it clear in unambiguous terms that he is a messenger from God. He will explicitly state it in clear words “I am a messenger from God to you.” I believe it is one of the primary tasks of a messenger that has to be done from the beginning and throughout his mission is to make this statement to the people and leave them in no doubt as to the nature of his mission.
    If a king sends someone as a messenger to some people, that king will definitely tell his messenger to tell them that he was a messenger from him to them and then present them with whatever message the king gives him.
    This is what Mohamed did at numerous occasions. Moreover, it is stated explicitly many times in the Quran where Allah declares it clearly that Mohamed is His messenger.
    Consistency is a critical point, and it should be considered in different aspects. Besides consistency with the “homogeneity of the message of God,” there has to be “internal” consistency. That is, consistency with the nature of the person’s mission. A messenger cannot lie. His history must show uninterrupted piety. And, he should have clear signs of his being a messenger to the surrounding people so that they believe. A vision that he saw alone, is not a sign, but there should be something tangible that others can testify to. The Quran was delivered to Mohamed in a way that others could not have cognition of (even if present), but the Quran itself is tangible and it is the sign… it is a sign that testifies that it could come from no one but God and could be given to only a messenger of His. This is why the Quran is the ultimate sign which humanity needs: A book that could not have been authored by anyone other than God, and that is preserved intact over the centuries without any sort of alteration. Because if it had been subject to alteration, then it is the natural thing to expect God to send a new book. That was the norm throughout the ages until God sealed his revelation with the final book al-Quran al-Kareem.

    عبده

    January 9, 2008 at 12:53 pm

  3. Rasheed,

    Your summary of the message of God misses one important point. God’s message from Genesis to Revelation was that man, if left to himself, was evil and could not work his way to God. The Bible encourages good works, but declares all the way through that no amount of good deeds brings salvation. That was the purpose of the sacrifice in the Old Testament, and the final atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Muhammad’s message was inconsistent on this point with those you deem his predecessors.

    Muhammad himself consistently broke one of the Ten Commandments given by God which said ‘do not steal.’ He raided caravans as a regular practice. Should we not consider this an inconsistency?

    One distinct difference we must note between the Apostle Paul and the Mahdi you speak of is their disposition before the vision. Paul was an intense persecutor of the Church. He stood by and held the coats of the men who stoned the Apostle Stephen (Acts 7), and killed and imprisoned many Christians. He was not a believer having a vision as I would assume your Mahdi are. He was a hater of Christianity. That was what made Paul’s conversion so astounding. He was not preconditioned for a vision as the Mahdi are.

    Paul did preach for a time before meeting the Disciples, but this was mostly attributed to the Disciples still fearing him. They were afraid for a time that he converted as a trick, but some of the Apostles convinced the Disciples that his conversion was legitimate. He was joined in his preaching by Apostles, and was never a lone ranger preacher as you depict him. For a time he followed Barnabas around, learning from him.

    The message of Paul was not any different from that of Christ or the Disciples. The underlying message was simple. Salvation can come only through faith. It is a gift of God given to all who believe in Jesus as Messiah. The account in Genesis of Abraham says that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” This was the beginning of the message of salvation. God credited Abraham with righteousness, which is a right-standing with God in which sins are forgiven and one is deemed holy by God.

    You said in your post, “I think that one of the root causes of some of the textual problems in the New Testament is discrepancy between the Pauline theology and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Over the years, scribes have found it necessary to harmonize the text.”

    I would urge you to read something other than Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus on textual criticism. Ehrman’s book is highly misleading and leans mostly on the shock effect to the popular audience who knows nothing about textual criticism. He says that there are anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 errors in the biblical manuscripts, but neglects to tell the reader how he counted these errors. Many of these errors are compounded errors, where a mistake was made in one text and copied from that text. This would be counted in EVERY text it was made in. So if you have a mistake made in the 5th century that is copied in 300 manuscripts, Ehrman counts it as 301 errors. He also neglects to tell the reader that 80% or more of the mistakes are spelling errors or places where a nu was dropped off a word (think ‘a’ and ‘an’). These changes are not errors and don’t affect the meaning one bit.

    There are only 3 significant changes Ehrman points to, and these are not troubling at all. They have been corrected in most new translations of the Bible and doctrine remains unchanged (unless you belong to a snake handling church). These errors are John 7:53-8:11 the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery; Mark 16:9-20 the ending should be a mysterious one with the women leaving Jesus’ empty tomb and telling no one; and 1 John 5:7-8 the words Spirit, water, and blood were changed to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 1 John 5:7-8 is the most significant change, but was not in existence in the 4th century when the Church was discussing the doctrine of the Trinity. If it was in existence at this point it most certainly would have been used. All of these passages have been corrected, and there is no need to worry that the text has been corrupted further.

    You followed up the comment I quoted by linking to a blog. First, don’t believe everything you read on the internet. The blog you link to is a man who is a staunch King James Version (KJV) supporter. There are several reasons the KJV has been updated. Textual critics, which you are so fond of, have made great strides since the KJV was first translated to move the Bible’s text closer to the original. The KJV is also in archaic English. The words it uses have different meanings today than when it was published and is difficult to understand. If you want to bring textual criticism into the discussion, I would suggest you steer clear of any KJV supporters.

    Andrew

    January 15, 2008 at 3:35 pm

  4. عبده,

    There is one distinct problem with Allah declaring Muhammad as his messenger in the Qu’ran. Muhammad was the one narrating the Qu’ran. The prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus were not proven by their who they said they were, but by their prophesies and miracles. It was given in the law that a prophet must prophesy an event that would occur in his lifetime and vindicate him. If it did not come true, he was to be punished with death. What did Muhammad predict that came true in his lifetime and can we be sure this was a prediction and not a later addition since the Qu’ran was not written down immediately?

    Andrew

    January 15, 2008 at 3:35 pm

  5. Andrew,

    A miracle such as the Quran should be enough proof of Mohamed’s being a messenger and prophet. I am not sure it was required in the OT that a prophet should have both miracles and prophecies? Did Zachariah have as miracle?

    Usually miracles have a local effect limited in time and place. They are directed at the people of the place and time in which they are given. I don’t think I am required to believe in a miracle which I did not see.

    But when it comes to the Quran, it is different because the Quran is a global miracle which transcends time and place. It is an eternal miracle because it remains with us intact the way it was from the beginning. This, combined with its soundness and truth, is very powerful, and when evident there remains no much need for prophecies to serve as proof of the prophet. However there could be a prophecy here or there in the life of Mohamed to serve a specific purpose according to the circumstances.

    Therefore, I don’t advice anyone to spend a lot of time looking for prophecies from Mohamed. Just focus on the Quran and whether it can be from the True God or is a human book written by Mohammed, because that’s the ultimate test to be sure about someone who claims to be receiving a book from God.

    Having said that, I can give you one prophecy I am aware of which is actually given in the Quran in (30:2-6).

    What about Jesus Christ? What were his prophecies? And how can we be sure they were not later addition?

    عبده

    January 15, 2008 at 8:26 pm

  6. عبده,

    What is the miracle of the Qu’ran? How can a book be a miracle? Truth can hardly be considered a miracle. The Qu’ran was not written or even narrated by Muhammad directly. How can we be certain it was not changed as it was compiled by his followers? What about the copies that were burned when the Qu’ran was unified in the 8th Century (I believe this is the date)? What about the divergent copies found in a Yemeni mosque?

    We obviously can’t be certain that Jesus gave prophesies beyond believing the accounts written about him. One sign of the authenticity of a story textual critics recognize is the criterion of embarrassment. Often, when Christ prophesied he would be killed, the disciples, Peter especially, argued with him and told him they would not allow it. This would have been an embarrassment to Peter, but was included in the Gospel of Mark that he assisted in narrating.

    Is not the title “prophet” only to be applied to one who “prophesies”? If Muhammad doesn’t prophesy, how is he a prophet? That is an obvious logical inconsistency.

    Andrew

    http://seekingtheface.wordpress.com

    Andrew

    January 16, 2008 at 12:02 am

  7. @ Andrew

    Are you (or anyone) able to produce a chapter (surah) like those of the Qur’an? The Qur’an dares you to do so, and this is what makes the Qur’an a miracle, a masterpiece of literature, a book of truth. Remember that the poets of Muhammad’s time, were saying that he was a magician, because even though he was illiterate, the Qur’an surpassed their poems clearly?
    This was point one.

    Point two.
    Compilation of the Qur’an.
    The Qur’an was written down, in the time and by order of Nabi Allah (Muhammad), on pieces of cloth, stones, bones, leather, etc., and later compiled by Abu Bakr (Zayd Ibn Thabit was the one to gather the Qur’an in one book by order of Abu Bakr, who was advised to do this by Umar Ibn Al-Khatab), so it was compiled by companions of the Prophet, not but a few years after his death. You need very big twisting to get to the conclusion that the closest of companions to the Prophet would actually corrupt the Qur’an for any reason, even more since everyone in that time knew the Qur’an by heart. The compiling was for practical reasons, and not any other reason.

    Amir Abdullah

    May 26, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  8. Point three.
    Since having cleared the compilation topic, we can proceed to the prophesies one. Needless to mention the victory of the Romans (Byzantine Empire) in their war with the Persians. You know it is prophesied, and that it came true, the only thing that held you back was the authenticity of the Qur’an, but I answered that one in my previous post.

    Friendly greetings,
    Amir.

    Amir Abdullah

    May 26, 2009 at 1:02 pm

  9. Amir,

    You are taking a subjective judgment of poetic beauty and using it as a test for the divine nature of the Qu’ran. Not everyone is going to agree with this judgment. How can we prove this one way or another? We can’t.

    Look into the compilation of the Qu’ran. It’s not as perfect as you think. There is open information from biblical scholars on the textual criticism of the Bible. There is no such thing from Muslim scholars, and it is not because variant texts don’t exist. Should this not cause us to wonder?

    Andrew

    Andrew

    May 28, 2009 at 4:03 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: