Answering Missionaries

May 25, 2006


Filed under: James White,Jesus in gospels,Shabir Ally vs James White — answeringmissionaries @ 5:38 pm



Shabir Ally


May 21, 2006

In my recent debate with Dr. James White at Biola University James reminded me of a point I had made elsewhere. I had made much of a difference I noticed between a verse in Mark and a parallel verse in Matthew. James explained, however, that if I had looked at a Greek parallel of the Gospels I would have noticed that the same word is used in both. I understood him to be saying that the impression I had received from the Bible translation I relied on for that point is not sustained by the underlying Greek text. Due to my ignorance of the Greek language, I conceded the point, deferring to James’ unquestionable knowledge of Greek. Subsequent to the debate, however, I checked the relevant verses in the New American Standard Bible, the very Bible which James gave me, which he recommended that I use, and for the translation of which he has served as a consultant. I found that in the NASB the verses allow for the original point. After reviewing some of my scholarly sources, I feel that I should restate and reclaim the original point.

We may begin with a brief summary of the matter I had raised elsewhere, and with which James came prepared to confront me during our encounter. I had argued elsewhere that a comparison of Mark’s Gospel (13:35) with Matthew’s Gospel (24:42) shows that Matthew had modified the information as it was once found in Mark’s Gospel so as to now present Jesus as being greater than he appeared in Mark.

It will suffice here to present a synopsis of the discussion in Mark’s Gospel and then to see by comparison how Matthew has presented the same matter. In both Gospels, Jesus speaks of the sudden occurrence of the Hour. In Mark’s Gospel the sudden nature of the apocalypse is compared with the situation where the master of a house goes away for awhile and, leaving his servants in charge, he specifically instructs the doorkeeper to be on the lookout (Mark 13:34). Jesus continues:

Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch. (Mark 13:35-37 RSV).

Matthew’s comparable verse reads:

Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:42)

Thus I had argued that Matthew’s Gospel substitutes ‘your Lord’ in place of Mark’s less theological term ‘master of the house’. This I had given as one example among many showing a usual tendency in Matthew’s Gospel. In the debate itself I had not used this example, but I made the same general statement about Matthew’s Gospel and supported it with other such examples.

Introducing this discussion during the cross-examination period, however, James informed me that in the relevant verses of Matthew and Mark the same Greek term ‘kyrios’, meaning ‘Lord’ is used. He graciously explained that my error was due to my reliance on the English translation alone. Having studied much of my past work, he masterfully laid bare my sources. He had me acknowledge that my analysis was based on Gospel Parallels by Burton Throckmorton Jr.,2 which contains the text of the Gospels from the Revised Standard Version. This is where I saw the difference between Mark’s mention of ‘the master of the house’ and Matthew’s mention of ‘your Lord’. In short, it seemed clear to me from James’ confident assertions and his undeniable knowledge of the Greek text that he must be correct. I conceded the point. I nevertheless maintained throughout the debate, based on other demonstrations of development, that Matthew enhances the image of Jesus over Mark’s presentation of him. I realized later, however, that even this example on which James challenged me remains valid.

Now it is true that the term ‘kyrios’ meaning ‘Lord’ appears in both Matthew and Mark in the comparable verses. Hence the NASB is correct where it affixes a note indicating that what it here translates as ‘master’ is literally ‘Lord’. Likewise, James was right about the fact that the word ‘kyrios’ occurs in both gospels here. However, on closer inspection, it turns out that this is not the full picture. The other fact, which became obscured in our discussion is that the common word is used differently in the two gospels at this juncture. Whereas in Matthew Jesus is referred to as ‘your Lord’, the comparable term in Mark is literally ‘the lord of the house’. Because in English we no longer speak of the owner of a house as ‘the lord of the house’, both the RSV on which I depended, and the NASB which James gave me, translate this as ‘the master of the house’. Along the same lines, the New International Version Bible renders it as ‘the owner of the house’. Even though my ignorance of the Greek language is granted, the same cannot be said for the translators of the RSV, the NIV, and the NASB Bibles.

The difference is significant. In Mark the word ‘kyrios’ is used in construct with ‘house’, thus giving a different meaning to the word. There is a great deal of difference between ‘your Lord’ and ‘the owner of the house.’ On this basis, I do not feel that my ignorance of the Greek language has led to an error in this comparison. It is clear that while Matthew retains from Mark the use of the word ‘Lord’, he has removed it from its original construct phrase ‘lord of the house’ and presented it in a new construct: ‘your Lord’. In applying the latter designation to Jesus, Matthew has heightened the image of Jesus in this passage as he does elsewhere in his Gospel.

Hence it is clear that the original point I had made elsewhere was correct. Although I had depended on the RSV as contained in Gospel Parallels by Burton Throckmorton, I should have arrived at the same conclusion if I had been looking at the Greek, and if I had been schooled in the language. I find it puzzling that James does not see the difference in the way Matthew has reconstituted the term. The translations of the relevant passages in the NASB Bible and the NIV Bible bear out the same difference between the two gospels. Matthew’s new take on the term is evident in the English translations despite his retention from Mark of the Greek word kyrios.

Having settled that issue, I want to now clarify the larger context of this discussion. In the debate and elsewhere I have argued that the image of Jesus has been modified over time. If we line up the gospels according to the chronological order of their appearance, we will notice that the image of Jesus evolves along the direction of developing Christian doctrine. Hence, whereas Christians would eventually proclaim that Jesus is God, the Gospel of John, the last of the four has developed the image of Jesus furthest in that direction. By comparison, the Christology of the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of our four Gospels, is closer to the Muslim conception of Jesus. Matthew and Luke are somewhere in between. They improve the presentation over that of Mark, evolving it towards a higher Christology—but not quite the way in which John does it. John’s improvisations, I have argued, are different in kind, whereas those of Matthew and Luke are different only in degree.

During the debate and elsewhere I have shown many examples of both sorts of improvements: those of John and those of Matthew and Luke. It is significant, I believe, that James has not been able to refute my demonstrations of the Johanine modifications of the tradition. He explained the difference by saying that the Fourth Gospel was written in a different context for a different audience. When the disciples were alive there was some danger to their persons in broadcasting their belief. But by the time of the composition of the last Gospel the disciples were no longer alive, and it was now safe for the writer to state clearly the belief of Christians. I believe this is a weak response to my presentation, for I have shown specific ways in which this Gospel has modified the information to prove a point which is obviously a later developing belief. James is of course correct in saying that each Gospel was written with different purposes for different audiences. But the underlying purpose common to all of them is a theological presentation of Jesus. Each Gospel reflects a different stage in the development of that theology. The most evolved Christology is that of the Gospel of John. Written near the end of the first century, it reflects the state of thinking about Jesus within the Johanine community at that time. The reason this was not reflected in the other gospels is not due to any fear for the personal safety of Christians, but is due to the fact that the Johanine ideas about Jesus were not yet developed.

In my opening presentation, I had also given some examples, of the manner in which Matthew and Luke have modified Mark. James has responded in part to one such example, one involving Jairus’ daughter, by saying that Matthew telescoped the narrative. My line of questioning during the cross-examination phase of the debate, however, revealed the profound weakness of this response. It became clear that this sort of telescoping granted Matthew the license to put words into Jairus’ mouth. James’ response actually provided strong support for that part of my thesis which asserts that the New Testament contains the creative work of the men who wrote the Gospels. As I pointed out in my final statement, this means that we can no longer be assured that the speeches of Jesus in the Gospels are not similarly telescoped. Or, to put that in simpler terms, we can no longer be confident that we have the actual words of Jesus in the Gospels.

Matthew’s improvement over Mark in his change from “master of the house” to Lord as a reference to Jesus is only one example of many pointing in the same direction. For James to disprove what I am saying with this example he has to deal with two things. First, he has to discount many of these examples until the remaining few would seem insufficient grounds on which to support the conclusion that Matthew was changing the story in this way. Even if James were successful in showing that one of the examples does not prove the point he does not in this way disprove the point.

Second, James needs to keep in mind that great scholars who are Christians, even conservative ones, accept that this sort of modification has taken place. Hence the task of disproving this conclusion does not end with me. When I return to the writings of scholars in the field I will find them making the same point. That is where I picked it up in the first place. James really ought to disprove these scholars. Now these are people who are schooled in the Greek language. The charge of ignorance which might be leveled against me will not work against them.

Bruce Metzger is one of the scholars who agree that, in general, Matthew tends to insert the title ‘Lord’ for Jesus where Mark did not have it. I hope that a citation from this scholar will help to establish the point for James, for I sense that he holds Metzger in high regard. In his book entitled The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content, Metzger points to many verbal similarities between the first three Gospels and then writes:

It is obvious from these data that there is some kind of literary relationship among the synoptic Gospels. Of several possible relationships, the one which has approved itself to most scholars is the priority of Mark. This is the theory that Matthew and Luke followed Mark’s historical narrative, making its language fundamental to their own accounts, arranging its material to conform to their own purposes in writing, and adding material from other sources oral and written. In support of this view, it is customary to point not only to the implications of the data set forth above, but also to the following features which suggest the primitive character of Mark’s Gospel.3

Metzger then goes on to list eight such features which indicate that Matthew and Luke have improved upon Mark. He begins to describe the fifth category as follows:

A natural development of reverence for Jesus in the primitive church is reflected in the Gospels by such details as the following. Only once does Mark use “the Lord” to refer to Jesus (Mk 11: 3); Matthew, however, uses it nineteen times and Luke sixteen.4

The rest of Metzger’s description of that fifth category of improvements would add considerably to the evidence in support of my thesis that Matthew and Luke have developed the tradition further along Christian lines. So too would his description of the remaining seven categories of variations detectable in a close comparison between Mark and the other synoptic gospels. But here I am concerned for the moment only to establish that Matthew had the tendency to introduce the title “the Lord” for Jesus where it is lacking in the Markan parallels. Metzger’s conclusion from these eight categories of changes, however, is relevant:

These examples, which will be appreciated most fully it they are examined by consulting a harmony which gives the text of the Gospels in parallel columns, are more than sufficient to prove that Mark’s Gospel is the most primitive of the synoptics, and that where the three report the same incident, Matthew and Luke seem to have depended upon Mark’s account, occasionally modifying its words in accord with their own purposes.5

While I have not shown that Metzger has appealed to the specific example on which James challenged me, it is clear from Metzger that the matter of copying and modifying on the part of Matthew is settled. It is also clear that Matthew had the specific tendency to insert the term ‘the Lord’ for Jesus where it is lacking in Markan parallels. This general conclusion does not depend on only one example, and is not the finding of students who, like me, are ignorant of New Testament Greek.

Nevertheless, I think I have established here that the example which I had presented elsewhere, and on which James challenged me during our debate holds good under careful scrutiny. In response to James’ questioning I surrendered the example only to realize later that in fact it remains valid despite James’s criticism. The concession, I would now maintain, was granted on the assurance that the underlying Greek text of the relevant passages did not bear out the difference I once saw between Matthew and Mark. But a wider reading now confirms that the difference is real. The common use of kyrios in the two gospels in the parallel passages should not conceal the fact that Matthew has used it differently. Hence, whereas Mark represents Jesus in the relevant passage as ‘the lord of the house’, Matthew has modified this to ‘your Lord’.


1. In the original article earlier today, I had erroneously asserted that James took issue with the RSV translation of Mark 13:35. However, he has given me the opportunity to correct my misunderstanding. After listening to the recording again, I have seen that he is correct. He did not specifically say that the RSV was incorrectly translated. This is merely the impression that I was left with, for this is how I understood the reason for his objection.

2. Burton Throckmorton Jr., Gospel Parallels (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1979).

3. Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Nashville: Abingdon, 1965) pp. 80-81.

4. Ibid, pp. 81-82.

5. Ibid, p. 83.


Metzger, Bruce. The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content. Nashville: Abingdon, 1965.

Throckmorton, Burton, Jr. Gospel Parallels. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1979.


1 Comment »

  1. Jesus of the Qur’an or Jesus of the Bible?
    You compare and decide who the true Jesus is!
    By: Brother Ismaa’eel (A Christian who converted to Islam)

    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus made no racist slurs against non-Jews! Jesus is only mentioned as a messenger to the children of Israel (Qur’an 61:6).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus is a racist against non-Jews, insulting them by describing them as sub-human swine and dogs (Mark 7:25-30, Matthew 7:6, 15:26, 18:17). Jesus said salvation is of the Jews only (John 4:22).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: No mention of Jesus using weapons! Jesus is a righteous prophet! (Qur’an 6:85).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus attacks people with a whip (John 2:15) and encourages his disciples to use swords (Luke 22:36, Matthew 10:34). Jesus encourages self mutilation (Matthew 5:30, 18:8, Mark 9:43), and he even encourages castration of the penis (Matthew 19:12). Jesus’ follower Paul wanted to castrate his opponents (Galatians 5:12). Jesus endorses the idea of killing people by slaying them (Luke 19:27).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is a prophet protected from satan (Qur’an 3:36) but he was human like anyone else (Qur’an 5:75).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus asks God to forgive him his sins (Luke 11:4). Baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16) and Jesus was baptized (Luke 3:21), therefore Jesus must have sinned!
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is a prophet protected from satan (Qur’an 3:36).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus is swayed by his desires and tempted by satan for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus felt tempted by every kind of filthy and disgusting sin imaginable (Hebrews 4:15).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is a true genuine prophet (Qur’an 6:85-90, Qur’an 19:30).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus made a false prophecy to his generation when he told them that his second coming will occur in their own lifetime (Matthew 24:34). This generation of course died about 2,000 years ago and the prediction was never actualized. Therefore according to the Bible Jesus is a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus treats animals with respect! Jesus creates a bird out of clay and breaths life into it by God’s permission (Qur’an 5:110).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus curses and subsequently kills an innocent tree (Mark 11:21). Jesus tortured to death two thousand pigs by drowning them alive (Mark 5:13).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is very kind to his mother Mary (Qur’an 19:32). Jesus shared meals with his mother Mary, a gesture of family unity (Qur’an 5:75).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus said you must hate your family (Luke 14:26). Jesus insults his mother Mary in front of others (John 2:3-4). Jesus respects his followers but disrespects his own mother Mary (Luke 8:19-21). Jesus would not let his followers bury their own dead father and say goodbye to their families (Luke 9:59-62). Jesus said your family is your enemy (Matthew 10:35-36).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is a peaceful prophet (Qur’an 19:33). Jesus came to make no divisions in faith (Qur’an 42:13).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth but “the sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus did not come to bring unity on earth but “division” (Luke 12:51).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus cared for his disciples’ needs (Qur’an 5:112-114). Jesus’ disciples were prescribed no difficulty but only to seek the good pleasure of God (Qur’an 57:27).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus does not care for his disciples but sleeps while they are about to die (Mark 4:38-40). Jesus said you cannot be his disciple unless you renounce all your possessions and leave everything behind (Luke 14:33, 18:22, 5:28, 12:33, Mark 1:16-20, Matthew 4:18-22). Jesus said you cannot be his disciple unless you hate yourself (Luke 14:26).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus never spoke anything but the truth God commanded him to say (Qur’an 5:116-119).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus lied to his brothers (John 7:8-10).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is obedient to God (Qur’an 4:172).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus temporarily rejected God’s will (Mark 14:36, 15:34).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is very obedient to his mother Mary (Qur’an 19:30-32, Qur’an 19:19).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus disobeys and leaves his parents (Luke 2:43-49).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: No mention of Jesus drinking or making intoxicants, instead he is held in honor in this world (Qur’an 3:45). There is some benefit in wine but the sin is greater than the benefit (Qur’an 2:219).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus drank the intoxicant wine (John 19:30). Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:7-9). Jesus said wine is good (Luke 5:38-39). Jesus is called a “drunk” (Luke 7:34). John the Baptist was so holy that he did not drink wine (Luke 1:15, 7:33). Jesus said no one is greater than John the Baptist (Luke 7:28). If you want to be holy you cannot drink intoxicants (Numbers 6:1-4). The Biblical Jesus is not holy!
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is an open clear sign to all peoples (Qur’an 21:91, Qur’an 43:63, Qur’an 61:6).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus intentionally concealed the truth from people by using parables (Mark 4:11-12). Jesus was being devious and hiding the truth that he was the messiah (Luke 9:20-21, Mark 1:34).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus followed the laws of divorce of his time (Qur’an 5:46).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus says that unless a spouse commits adultery, if the other spouse divorces and remarries, both the divorcer and the new spouse become adulterers (Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:31-32, 19:9).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus respects and follows the same faith as the earlier prophets (Qur’an 42:13).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus said the prophets who came before him were thieves and robbers (John 10:8).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus was respectful to the religious leaders of his time (Qur’an 5:44-46).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus publicly disgraces the religious leaders (Matthew 23). Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee for dinner but Jesus repays him at the dinner table by insulting him and his guests (Luke 11:37-45). The Biblical Jesus is a terribly rude dinner guest!
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is righteous (Qur’an 6:85).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus is not good (Mark 10:17-18, Matthew 19:16-17, Luke 18:18-19).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is a wise prophet (Qur’an 43:63).
    Jesus of the Bible: Healing power left Jesus’ body yet he did not know where it went (Luke 8:45-46).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus was able to perform many miracles by God’s permission (Qur’an 5:110-115).
    Jesus of the Bible: In the first attempt Jesus could not fully heal the blind (Mark 8:25). Jesus was not able to perform any mighty miracle in a town with people of little faith (Mark 6:5).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus is a man of strong courage and faith (Qur’an 5:110).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus hid away from the Jews seemingly scared of them (John 7:1-10, John 11:54, Matthew 12:14-15). From fear of the Jews Jesus disguised himself as a gardener (John 20:15).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Jesus was a just prophet and he was not killed (Qur’an 4:157).
    Jesus of the Bible: If Jesus sacrificed himself to death for guilty sinners then he is also a sinner for allowing this unjust act to happen to him! (Luke 23:39-41, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Mark 14:24, 1 Peter 2:21-22).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: There is no mention of Jesus teaching violence, instead Jesus told his followers they will be rewarded (Qur’an 3:52-57, Qur’an 57:27).
    Jesus of the Bible: Jesus told his followers they would have to enter heaven with violence (Luke 16:16). Jesus said those who reject him will be dashed to pieces and crushed (Matthew 21:44, Luke 20:18).
    Jesus of the Qur’an: Prophet Jesus was not killed but God loved him and saved him from his enemies (Qur’an 4:157-158, Qur’an 5:110).
    Jesus of the Bible: God abandoned Jesus and allowed him to be falsely accused, brutally tortured, stripped half naked and murdered on a cross (Mark 15). Paul said Jesus was cursed on the cross (Galatians 3:13).

    Dear Christian, this letter is not intended to insult you but to only encourage you to search for the true Jesus. Is he the Jesus of the Holy Qur’an or the Bible? Ask God Almighty to reveal the answer of this question to you. Honestly pray and search for the truth and God will lead you inshaa’Allah. It is clear from the above that the true messiah is the Jesus of the Qur’an! The Muslims are therefore the true followers of Jesus! It’s now up to you to embrace Islam. God bless you.

    Comment by Brother Ismaa'eel — July 6, 2006 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

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