Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Sami Zaatari's Crucial Mistake On John 1:14

Keith Thompson and Jochen Katz1

Since the doctrine of the Trinity and Islam are mutually exclusive many Muslim apologists have attempted to demonstrate that the Bible doesn't teach the Trinity, despite the fact that Christians for 2000 years have believed in this doctrine based on Biblical texts. One Muslim apologist who engages in this type of polemic is Sami Zaatari. In the Gospel according to John, chapter one, the Divinity of Christ as well the distinction of Christ to the Father in personhood are presented. Because of this the Muslim apologists have spent a lot of time trying to dispute John 1:1-3,14. Everything Zaatari and his likes have ever said about John 1:1-3 has been addressed and refuted in subsequent articles and in scholarly works refuting Jehovah’s Witness claims about the absence of the definite article. 

Here are some useful articles on the subject (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).

This article will merely address one particular major blunder on the part of Zaatari. In his article entitled John 1:1 and the Trinity (*), Zaatari says the following:

[John 1:14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

I kept the bracket comments on purpose to show how I am right. Notice how the Trinitarian has to put in these false bracket comments which aren't actually part of the text. I kept the bracket comments on purpose to show how I am right. Notice how the Trinitarian has to put in these false bracket comments which aren't actually part of the text. Notice the bracket marks say that the Word is the only begotten of the Father. Yet the text doesn't say that! As I told you, the text says no such things, rather since Trinitarians are BRAINWASHED they assume it means that when it actually doesn't! As a result of this you see such bracket marks.

Now let us quote the verse again without the bracket marks:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

As you can see, without the false biased brainwashing brackets the verse has no implications of any Trinity! The verse says the Word became flesh, the verse doesn't say the Word became the Son, and came from God the Father.

Zaatari implies that the early Greek text doesn't actually say, "and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father." His assertion is that later Trinitarian translators corrupted the text by adding the words in parentheses when they are not actually supposed to be there. He states:

"As you can see, without the false biased brainwashing brackets the verse has no implications of any Trinity!"

Thus, if it turns out that the words contained in parentheses are originally in John 1:14, Zaatari admits that it has Trinitarian implications! So the question remains. Does John 1:14 look like this in the earliest texts:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

Or like this:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth."

If we consult the early second and third century church writings we will find out that the words that some modern English translations have in parentheses are actually authentic and not interpolations (additions) as Zaatari asserts. In fact when I demonstrate this to be true, Zaatari will have to admit that John 1:1-3,14 has Trinitarian implications, since by claiming that because he believes the words in parentheses of v.14 are not authentic, "the verse has no implications of any Trinity!"

What is more, Zaatari doesn't provide any evidence or compelling arguments as to why he thinks that v.14 doesn't contain the words that some English translations have placed into brackets. He must think that because some translations put brackets there that therefore the words must not be original. By that same token I can say that because the NIV, NASB, The Message Translation, New Living Translation, English Standard Version, Young's Literal Translation and many more don't have brackets, therefore the words are in the earliest manuscripts and have to be original. That is not a scholarly approach and I am forced to conclude that Zaatari came to his conclusions solely based on the brackets being there in some English version like the KJV and a few others.

We will begin by noting that early church fathers of the second and third century quoted the words that are contained in the brackets as part of John 1:14. This shows that their early Christian texts that they used and quoted from in the second and third centuries contained the material that Sami admits has Trinitarian implications. Irenaeus (130?-202) in his Against Heresies stated:

"...and Aletheia, and Zoe, and the Word made flesh, whose glory, he says, we beheld; and His glory was as that of the Only-begotten (given to Him by the Father), full of grace and truth." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.8.5. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.] Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight; source)

As we can see the church Father Irenaeus quoted the bracketed part of John 1:14 showing that the text he had in the second century contained the words. Contrary to Zaatari's assertion that later Trinitarian translators added the words in brackets, Irenaeus quoted them. Unless Zaatari is going to say that Irenaeus was the English translator who inserted the brackets, he must admit that he was incorrect.

Moreover, church Father Tertullian (160-220) likewise quoted John 1:14 which included the bracketed data. This proves that the text he utilized in the early third century had the relevant words that Zaatari claims later Trinitarians added when contriving the English versions. As Tertullian states in his Against Praxeas:

"In that we called Him Another, we must needs imply that He is not identical — not identical indeed, yet not as if separate; Other by dispensation, not by division. He, therefore, who became flesh was not the very same as He from whom the Word came. His glory was beheld — the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father; not, (observe,) as of the Father." (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter 21. Translated by Peter Holmes. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.] Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight; source)

According to Zaatari, Tertullian must have had a time machine to transport to the time when the English translations were being made since he obviously has to be one of the Trinitarian corrupters of the text!

Church Father Origen in his Contra Celsus also includes the relevant words. He states:

"He showed to us, moreover, all prophecy, which did not perish even after His incarnation, but was received up into heaven, and whose symbol was Elijah. And he who beheld these things could say, We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Celsus, then, has exhibited considerable ignorance in the imaginary answer to his question which he puts into our mouth, How we think we can know God? And how we know we shall be saved by Him? for our answer is what we have just stated." (Origen, Contra Celsus, Ch. 68. Translated by Frederick Crombie. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.] Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight; source)

Thus we have Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen in the second and third centuries quoting from texts that include the words that some English translations have in brackets and that Zaatari says has Trinitarian implications. The words that Zaatari questions were in second and third century manuscripts all over the world. Therefore Zaatari's claim that Trinitarian English translators interpolated the words into John 1:14 is refuted. In light of the evidence provided, it is highly probable that John 1:14 should rightfully be translated as the following:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

Thus when Zaatari says that because he thinks the bracketed words are fake, therefore there is no Trinitarian language, he lets us know that he is open to the idea that it is Trinitarian language if the bracketed words are authentic. Since the evidence I have provided shows that the words have always been part of v.14, and since Zaatari hasn’t provided any evidence showing that these are interpolated words which were not originally part of John 1:14, he must now come forward and admit that the gospel of John has Trinitarian implications!

Challenge to Sami Zaatari

There exists not even one Greek manuscript of the Gospel of John which contains this verse but omits this clause within this verse. So if Zaatari thinks that the words that some English translations put in brackets are interpolations, I would invite him to prove it using the manuscript tradition. That is the challenge. If he can't then I would invite him to be honest and admit that John 1:14 contains Trinitarian implications.

“We don’t need no education” or: What are parentheses for?

Please accept my apologies for expounding on such an utter triviality, but it is apparently necessary – as evidenced by Zaatari’s article. Simply put: Parenthetical comments are additional thoughts provided by the author. They are often put into parentheses to visibly separate them from the main flow of the text. That is not an issue peculiar to the Bible. This use of parentheses is found in many different kinds of literature.

In Greek, parentheses were not used, i.e. they were not expressed with a written symbol, but the concept of a parenthetical comment nevertheless existed. In fact, the very word “parenthesis” is of Greek origin (cf. the Wikipedia entry on Parenthesis). In some English Bible translations, the translators simply decided to use parentheses in this verse to highlight the fact that this particular clause is a parenthetical comment. That does in no way imply that this part of the sentence is not part of the original text.

The claim that the parentheses mark this part of the text as not original displays either the gross ignorance of Sami Zaatari, or it is a deliberate lie to deceive a gullible audience about the actual teaching of this Biblical passage.

Consider that Zaatari says the following about himself:

… let me fill you in on something, ok? Please pay attention: I AM A WRITER! Did you get that? So when you tell me to enjoy writing articles for my site, I say thank you, I love writing articles for my site, and on top of that my degree is in the field of literature and writing! Writing is my main area, … (Sources: 1, 2; bold underline emphasis mine)

Given that Sami Zaatari has earned(?) a university degree in literature studies and writing, the first possible explanation for his false interpretation of the parentheses (gross ignorance) doesn’t seem to be a credible option.

Nevertheless, just in case this topic was really not covered in Zaatari’s education, here are a couple of links that could be helpful to learn about parentheses, and studying those links may make him a more well-rounded person (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

As stated above, the meaning of parentheses is a general issue. But maybe Zaatari thinks general rules of interpretation do not apply to the Bible?

Frederic Charles Cook of Harvard University was a renowned Biblical scholar and linguist in the 19th century. Commenting on John 1:14 rendering in the King James Version (used by Sami Zaatari), Cook points out:

"and we beheld ... Father] The breaking of the construction by this parenthetical clause, marks the pause which the Evangelist makes to contemplate the mystery which he has declared. He looks, as it were, from without upon the record and comments upon it. The same phenomenon in different forms recurs v. 16, iii. 16, 31, xix. 35; i John i. 2." (Frederic Charles Cook, The Holy Bible, According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611), with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary and a Revision of the Translation by Bishops and Other Clergy of the Anglican Church [Scribner, Armstrong, 1880], p.12; underline emphasis mine)

Anyway, most probably all effort spent on explanations is rather futile, since ignorance was not the reason for Zaatari’s false argument. Let’s just have a look at another one of his articles, titled “Why the Bible Offends Muslims” (*). This is the text of the second paragraph:

So to make things simple, I thought I would give some of the main reasons as to why the Muslims feel offended by the Bible, by doing so it will allow the Christians to know where we are coming from, and will hopefully get rid of some of the silly theories I mentioned above (Muslims hate the Bible because they hate the truth! They are evil Muslims who are taught to hate the Bible!)

And in the Conclusion he writes:

... The Bible insults God, Prophets, and angels, now who I wonder would do such things? (Satan incase you couldn't figure it out!)

Astonishingly, there are parentheses in some of Zaatari’s articles (this is not the only one). Do these parentheses mean that somebody else later corrupted Zaatari's article and added those parenthetical statements to it, although Zaatari never intended them to be there? That would be silly. No, the text is exactly as Zaatari himself published it, and he intentionally wrote it that way. The parts in parenthesis are additional information, clarification.

Obviously, Zaatari understands what parentheses are and what function they have. He is clearly able to use them correctly.

As pointed out above, there are, in principle, two possible explanations for Zaatari’s horrendous misinterpretation of the parentheses in John 1:14:

  1. gross ignorance regarding the function of parentheses
  2. a deliberate lie for the purpose of deceiving a gullible audience about the authentic biblical teaching regarding the nature of Jesus.

However, given the evidence that Zaatari is able to correctly use parentheses in his own article(s) and even claims to have a degree in literature studies, I wonder how many would consider option (a) the most probable explanation.

It is true: There are some translations which use parentheses to indicate words that are added in translation but do not exist in the original language. In particular, Abdallah Yusuf Ali's translation of the Qur'an and the Qur'an translation by Al-Hilali & Khan. However, one cannot simply transfer the meaning of parentheses from Yusuf Ali's translation of the Qur'an to the King James Version of the Bible (published about 300 years earlier). Each text and each book has to be studied on its own terms, and that means understanding the notation it uses. There is no excuse for sloppiness on this matter, particularly not for somebody with a degree in literature studies. The KJV also indicates "added text" but it uses italics to do so, not parentheses.

In his paper Principles of Correspondence (examining various approaches to Bible translation), Eugene Nida notes in a section on "formal equivalence translations":

An F-E translation may also make use of brackets, parentheses or even italics (as in the King James Bible) for words added to make sense in the translation, but missing in the original document. (Lawrence Venuti, The Translation Studies Reader, [Routledge, 2004], pp. 161-162; source; underline emphasis mine)

Appendix: Zaatari’s response (July 5, 2009)

It took only a few hours until the Sami Zaatari published his response (*) to the above rebuttal. I have seen a lot in my 15 years of discussions with Muslims, but this is definitely one of the worst Muslim responses ever. Is that a new method of “proof by ignoring the evidence”?

Zaatari does not even attempt to interact with the evidence presented above, he completely ignores it and only takes a hold of a slightly unfortunate formulation in the conclusion by Keith Thompson. He triumphs:

Well ladies and gentlemen, and to the Answering-Islam team, there shall be no need for me to compile a long length rebuttal to their assertions, rather they have provided the refutation themselves, and I quote from one of the authors himself, Keith, who wrote:

In light of the evidence provided, it is highly PROBABLE that John 1:14 should rightfully be translated as the following

Did you catch that everyone? After their long lengthy rebuttal, they end up saying that the actual text is HIGHLY PROBABLE to include the bracket texts within the main text! So it is not certain, it is not conclusive, it is not for sure, it is not 100%, no, it is only probable the text reads like that.

Therefore my main contention still stands, that the bracketed text is not part of the text.

That is a totally ludicrous response. But never mind, since Zaatari thinks he can manipulate Keith Thompson’s conclusion in such a silly way, here is my conclusion for him to contend with:

In the light of the evidence provided, there can be no doubt that the text which has been put in parentheses by the translators of the KJV is a genuine and authentic part of this verse.2

The question is not whether Keith Thompson formulated his conclusion cautiously or boldly; the question is what the evidence says, and the evidence is unambiguous. The evidence has two main parts, and I will add a third.

The primary evidence: All manuscripts of the New Testament that contain this passage also contain this phrase. Formulated differently, there does not exist even one manuscript of this passage in which the bracketed part is missing.

The secondary evidence: When the early Christian scholars quote this verse, the bracketed part is also quoted. To my knowledge, there exists no quotation of this verse in which this phrase is missing.

The tertiary evidence: I dare say, Zaatari will not be able to find even one scholar of textual criticism of the New Testament who argues (e.g. in a text book or article published in a journal of NT textual criticism) that this phrase is not original. Not even Bart Ehrman who talks and writes about the “textual corruption” of the Bible at great length (1, 2).

Conclusion: All evidence is on the side of the conclusion that this is an authentic part of the verse. There is no doubt in any way. It is not like 78% of the manuscripts contain the phrase but it is missing in 22% of the manuscripts, and so there could be a discussion on the question which variant is the original one. No, the evidence is 100%. No such variant is found anywhere.

Zaatari has nothing at all to base his claim on. It is all in his desperate imagination. He is merely too embarrassed to publicly admit that his argument was based on nothing but his ignorance of the meaning of parentheses in the King James Version.

[Update (July 7, 2009): Today Zaatari finally admitted he was wrong and changed his original article (*) to reflect this fact. He also removed his response to our above rebuttal. We applaud him for this step. There is a simple way to avoid such basic errors. One should read every Bible passage in at least four or five translations before writing an article about it. There are at least ten English Bible translations online, in addition to Arabic translations. Even if one translation might lead to misunderstandings, a comparison with others will usually make clear what is meant.]


1 Jochen Katz wrote the last section of the main article and the appendix (just to make sure Zaatari knows whom to blame for what).

2 Personally, I do not like the KJV translation of this verse, neither with nor without the parentheses. The NIV or NET is much better (*). Still, the issue of this discussion is not the translation but the original Greek text on which the translation is based.

Rebuttals to Sami Zaatari
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