Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Didache and the Deity of Christ

A First Century Witness to a Non-Islamic Christology

A Response to Paul Williams Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun


Christophobe and leading taqiyyist Paul Bilal Williams has written a blog post where he appeals to the claims of Jewish scholar Geza Vermes to prove that Jewish Christianity, i.e. the beliefs and practices of Jesus’ original Jewish followers, differed and, in some places, contradicted so-called Pauline Christianity, e.g. the teachings of the blessed Apostle Paul.

He cites Vermes’ statements concerning an early Christian manual called the Didache, which Vermes believes reflects the views of the early Jewish disciples of Jesus.

Williams states that,

Reading the Didache one gets the clear impression of a very early Judaeo-Christian church, refreshingly free from the influence of the exalted Christologies of Paul and John. The word ‘God‘ appears 10 times in the work but it never refers to Jesus directly or indirectly. Unexpectedly, ‘Father‘ and ‘our Father‘ also occurs 10 times but God is never described as the Father of Jesus (compare the highly coloured language of Father/Son in the Gospel of John).

He further claims that,

Nowhere in this very early first century work do we discover the Pauline ideas of atonement and redemption through Jesus’ sacrificial death. Nor do we encounter the Johannine idea of the eternal Logos. The Didache affords us priceless evidence of an undeveloped Christology characteristic of the early Jewish Christians, which contrasts the highly evolved Christ-mysticism of Paul and John. By the second century Paul’s Christology became dominant in the emerging Catholic church and Jewish ideas about Jesus were rejected in favour of exclusively Gentile ideas of a dying and rising saviour god – so similar to soteriological patterns ubiquitous in the pagan world.

It is rather unfortunate that Williams doesn’t bother to examine the presuppositions which scholars like Vermes bring to their reading of these sources. Williams seemingly thinks that Vermes and others of his ilk are unbiased in their examination of Christianity, and that their conclusions are therefore completely reliable. It is almost as if Williams views these men as inspired prophets whose positions and conclusions regarding the Christian faith are infallible, being beyond reproach or criticism. And yet when the same presuppositions and arguments of these authorities are applied to the Quran, they somehow don’t carry the same weight for Williams anymore.

With that said, we are going to analyze Vermes’ statements concerning the Didache to see whether his assessment is correct. We will also see whether the theology of the Didache is incompatible with or contradictory to Paul’s teachings, and if in fact it is closer to the message of Islam.

To start off, let us quote Vermes in context to see what Williams conveniently chose to omit:

“The vocabulary is immediately revealing. Paul was on the point of calling Jesus God [sic]: where does the Didache stand in this respect? The term ‘God’, once called in a definitely Jewish way the ‘God of David’ (Did. 10.6), appears ten times in the work. However, Jesus is never identified as God. The divine name ‘Father’ or ‘our Father’ also figures ten times, but God is never designated specifically the Father of Jesus. There is no equivocation with the title ‘Lord’. It is encountered twenty times, ALWAYS RELATING TO JESUS, NEVER TO THE HEAVENLY FATHER.

“Still with the focus on the vocabulary, in the whole sixteen chapters of the Didache, containing roughly 2,000 words, the title ‘Christ’ is nowhere mentioned on its own, nor is the messiahship of Jesus anywhere stressed. This absence of the messianic, which distinguishes the Didache even from the primitive Christology of the Acts of the Apostles, is in harmony with the unwillingness of the historical Jesus to accept the designation Christ/Messiah (see Chapter 2, p. 50). The combined title ‘Jesus Christ’ appears only once in the benediction formula, ‘For the glory and the power is yours through Jesus Christ for ever’ (Did. 9.4), where ‘Christ’ may have been quasi-automatically appended to ‘Jesus’ in the course of the transmission of the Didache in antiquity. It must also be underlined that the Didache completely avoids the use of ‘Son’ or ‘Son of God’ in relation to Jesus. The idiom ‘Son of God’, as has been observed, is found only once, where it is the self-designation of the Antichrist, the ‘seducer of the world’ (Did. 16.4).” (Vermes, p. 146; capital, italic, and underline emphasis ours)

If we were to employ the interpretive methodology of Williams and Vermes we would be forced to conclude that the compiler(s) of the Didache not only didn’t hold to the Deity of Jesus, he/they didn’t even think that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah, or that God the Father is Lord!

This in itself sufficiently highlights the problem with arguing from silence which is what Vermes has basically done, i.e. just because the Didache doesn’t explicitly mention the vicarious nature of Christ’s death or speak of his prehuman existence as the eternal Logos/Word, doesn’t mean that the author(s) didn’t hold such beliefs or that they somehow held to a less developed Christology. On the contrary, he/they did believe such doctrines, as we shall see a little later.

More importantly, these statements from the Didache are in direct opposition to the teachings of the Quran, which states that Allah would never allow for any prophet to be served and addressed as Lord:

It is not for a human [prophet] that Allah should give him the Scripture and authority and prophethood and then he would say to the people, "Be servants to me rather than Allah," but [instead, he would say], "Be pious scholars of the Lord because of what you have taught of the Scripture and because of what you have studied.” Nor could he order you to take the angels and prophets as lords. Would he order you to disbelief after you had been Muslims? S. 3:79-80 Saheeh International

The Muslim scripture also goes out of its way to deny that Allah is a father to anyone, especially Christians, even going as far as to threaten anyone who thinks otherwise with destruction:

The Jews and the Christians say: 'We are the children of God and His loved ones.' Say: 'Why then does He punish you for your sins? Surely you are mortals of His own creation. He forgives whom He will and punishes whom He pleases. God has sovereignty over the heavens and the earth and all that lies between them. All shall return to Him.' S. 5:18 N. J. Dawood

The Jews say, "Ezra is the son of Allah "; and the Christians say, "The Messiah is the son of Allah." That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded? S. 9:30 Saheeh International

In fact, the highest relationship a person can have with Allah is that of a slave:

And they say, "The Most Merciful has taken [for Himself] a son." You have done an atrocious thing. The heavens almost rupture therefrom and the earth splits open and the mountains collapse in devastation That they attribute to the Most Merciful a son. And it is not appropriate for the Most Merciful that He should take a son. There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant. S. 19:88-93 Saheeh International

Williams cannot simply brush aside this contradiction by claiming that Muhammad wasn’t objecting to God being a father in a metaphorical or spiritual sense, but rather in a biological, sexual sense. The Jews and Christians would have clearly told Muhammad that they did not think that God was a physical being who sired children sexually, which would have been just as much an abomination to them as to him, but that God is a spiritual Being and therefore produces spiritual offspring. Despite that this is what Jews and Christians believed, Muhammad still went ahead and denied this essential fact about God’s nature, since he erroneously assumed that the only way for anyone to be someone’s offspring is through sexual intercourse.

Now let us contrast this with some of the other so-called Jewish Christian writings such as the epistle of James:

“James, a servant of God AND OF the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” James 1:1

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ (tou kyriou hemon ‘Iesou Christou), the Glory (tes doxes).” James 2:1

James not only identifies himself as a servant of Christ, and refers to Jesus as “the Lord/our Lord,” he even calls the risen Lord “the Glory,” a term which clearly points to the absolute Deity of Christ!

“James speaks of our Lord by name only twice, and on both occasions he gives Him the full title of reverence: ‘the (our) Lord Jesus Christ’ (1.1, 2.1) – coupling Him in the one case on equal terms with God, and in the other adding further epithets of divine dignity. Elsewhere he speaks of Him simply as ‘the Lord’ (57,8 [14], [15]) in contexts which greatly enhance the significance of the term. The pregnant use of ‘the Name,’ absolutely, which we found current among the early Christians as reported in the Acts, recurs here; and James advises in the case of the sick people that they be prayed over, while they are anointed with oil ‘in the Name’ (514). The ‘Name’ intended is clearly that of Jesus, which is thus in Christian usage substituted for that of Jehovah. A unique epithet, equally implying the deity of the Lord, is applied to Him in the exhortation, ‘My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory, with respect to persons’ (21). ‘Glory’ seems to stand here in apposition to the name, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ,’ further defining Him in His majesty. There is here something more than merely association of our Lord with glory, as when we are told that He had glory with God before the world was (Jno 175), and after His humiliation on earth (though even on earth He manifested His glory to seeing eyes, Jno 114, 211, 1722) entered again into His glory (Lk 2426, Jno 1724, 1 Tim 316, Heb 29, cf. Mt 1928, 2531, [Mk 1037]), and is to come again in this glory (Mt 1627, 2430, 2531, Mk 838, 13.26, Lk 926, 2127, Titus 213, 1 P 413). We come nearer to what is implied when we read of Jesus being ‘the Lord of glory’ (1 Cor 28), that is He to whom glory belongs as His characterizing quality; or when He is described to us as ‘the effulgence of the glory of God’ (Heb 13). The thought of the writer seems to be fixed on those Old Testament in which Jehovah is described as ‘Glory’: e. g., ‘For I, saith Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and I will be the Glory in the midst of her’ (Zech 25). In the Lord Jesus Christ, James sees the fulfillment of these promises: He is Jehovah come to be with His people; and, as He has tabernacled among them, they have seen His glory. He is, in a word, the glory of God, the Shekinah: God manifest to men. It is thus that James thought and spoke of his own brother who died a violent and shameful death while still in His first youth! Surely there is a phenomenon here which may well waken inquiry.” (Benjamin B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory: A Classic Defense of the Deity of Jesus Christ [Solid Ground Christians Books, Birmingham, Alabama: First Printing, November 2003], The Witness of the Catholic Epistles, pp. 264-265; bold emphasis ours)

James further speaks of God being the Father of believers:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” James 3:7

James is not alone in this regard, since this is what Jude wrote in his inspired epistle:

“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:” Jude 1:1

Now let us compare this with the writings of the blessed Apostle Paul:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—” Romans 1:1

“None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8

“Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Galatians 1:1-5

Hence, we have Jewish Christian sources such as the Didache, as well as the letters from James and Jude, perfectly agreeing with Paul over against the Quran! Therefore, if Williams is going to be consistent then has no choice but to conclude that Muhammad was a deceiver and a false prophet since he contradicted the theology and message of the Jewish followers of Jesus. We will have more to say about the explicit testimony of James and Jude to the Deity of Christ a little later.

Yahweh’s Suffering Servant

Here is what Williams says concerning the Didache identifying Christ as God’s Servant:

But what strikes the reader used to traditional Christian language concerning Jesus is the Didache’s rudimentary Christology. Four times it designates Jesus as ‘your Servant‘ (according to Professor Geza Vermes, three times in the Greek text and once in the Coptic translation). This designation servant/servant of God is also found in the (possibly) later Book of Acts as one of the earliest titles applied to Jesus (Acts 3:26; 4:27, 30).

What Williams didn’t bother to mention is that the reason why the Didache refers to Jesus as God’s Servant is because it is basically portraying Christ as the Suffering Servant spoken by the prophet Isaiah. This is seen from the fact that the Greek term used for servant is pais, not doulos, as Vermes himself acknowledges:

“The most striking aspect of the Didache’s rudimentary Christology is the use of the epithet ‘your Servant,’ which accompanies the name of Jesus four times, three times in the Greek text and once in the Coptic translation. The Greek pais can be rendered either as ‘servant’ or as ‘child’, and some of the translators of the Didache, no doubt in order to cater for Christian sensibilities, prefer the second translation as it is not far distant from ‘Son’…” (Pp. 146-147; bold emphasis ours)

{Sidenote: We wonder whether the very hostile critic of the Christian faith, Bart D. Ehrman, was catering to Christian sensibilities when, in his translation of the Didache, he chose to render pais as child, not servant:

“… We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child, which you made known to us through Jesus your child… We give you thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever… We give you thanks, holy Father, for your holy name which you have made reside in our hearts, and for the knowledge, faith, and immortality that you made known to us through Jesus your child…” (Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament [Oxford University Press, Inc. 2003], Chps. 9-10, p. 215; italic emphasis ours)

One can perhaps argue that Ehrman did this so he could get Christians to buy his book!}

This is the very word employed in the book of Acts to describe Christ’s role:

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus (edoxasen ton paida autou 'Iesoun). You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One (hagion kai dikaion) and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see… When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” Acts 3:13-15, 26

The language used here clearly echoes that of the prophet Isaiah in his depiction of the Servant of Yahweh who is glorified and exalted:

Behold, MY SERVANT (ho pais mou) shall understand, and be exalted, and GLORIFIED (doxasthesetai) exceedingly. As many shall be amazed at thee, so shall thy face be without glory from men, and thy glory [shall not be honoured] by the sons of men. Thus shall many nations wonder at him; and kings shall keep their mouths shut: for they to whom no report was brought concerning him, shall see; and they who have not heard, shall consider. Isaiah 52:13-15 LXX

Here, the prophet applies the same language he uses elsewhere in reference to Yahweh’s exalted status and enthronement over creation to describe the Servant’s exaltation (cf. Isaiah 5:16; 6:1-11; 2:11-17; 33:5, 10; 57:15). This basically means that God glorifies his Servant by allowing him to share in his own rule over creation.

Isaiah goes on to declare that this same Servant will offer his own life as a vicarious sacrifice for sins:

“O Lord, who has believed our report? and to whom has the Arm of the Lord been revealed? We brought a report as [of] a child before him; [he is] as a root in a thirsty land: he has no form nor comeliness; and we saw him, but he had no form nor beauty. But his form was ignoble, and inferior to that of the children of men; [he was] a man in suffering, and acquainted with the bearing of sickness, for his face is turned from [us]: he was dishonoured, and not esteemed. He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; [and] by his bruises we were healed. All we as sheep have gone astray; every one has gone astray in his way; and the Lord gave him up for our sins. And he, because of his affliction, opens not his mouth: he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In [his] humiliation his judgment was taken away: who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death. And I will give the wicked for his burial, and the rich for his death; for he practised no iniquity, nor craft with his mouth. The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. If ye can give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed: the Lord also is pleased to take away from the travail of his soul, to shew him light, and to form [him] with understanding; to justify THE JUST ONE (dikaion) who serves many well; and he shall bear their sins. Therefore he shall inherit many, and he shall divide the spoils of the mighty; because his soul was delivered to death: and he was numbered among the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many, and was delivered because of their iniquities.” Isaiah 53:1-12 LXX

It is apparent that Acts is directly alluding to these specific texts in its depiction of Jesus as God’s Servant.

Once again, does Williams really want us to believe that this is somehow compatible with Islamic theology which denies that Jesus is the prophesied Servant who offers his life as a substitutionary atonement for his people and whom God glorifies by exalting him to share in his rule over creation?

Does he really think that these statements do not contradict the Quran’s repeated denial that Allah has a son or a partner in his dominion over the heavens and the earth?

And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and Allah is over all things competent. S. 3:189 Saheeh International

And say, "Praise to Allah, who has not taken a son and has had no partner in [His] dominion and has no [need of a] protector out of weakness; and glorify Him with [great] glorification." S. 17:111 Saheeh International

Jesus is also called God’s Servant in the same context where the Apostle Peter proclaims that salvation only comes by believing in Christ’s name:

“The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say… After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.” Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’” Acts 4:5-14, 21-30

Not only do Peter and the rest of the Apostles perform miracles in the name of the Lord Jesus in order to prove that salvation is found only in his glorious and majestic name, they even proclaim that events in Jesus’ life fulfill Psalm 2 which mentions how the nations object to God and his Christ ruling over them. What makes this particular Psalm rather interesting is that the anointed King whom God raises up to rule on his behalf is explicitly said to be God’s Son who receives the entire earth, along with all the nations, as his inheritance!

“‘Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.’ I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’” Psalm 2:6-9

In fact, the verse here which refers to God spiritually begetting the King to be his Son is explicitly cited by the Apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews in connection to Jesus’ resurrection and physical ascension into heaven to sit and reign from God’s own throne (cf. Acts 13:32-33; Hebrews 1:3-5).

The one final time where pais is used for Jesus is again in relation to Christ’s role as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant:

“Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant (ho pais mou) whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.’” Matthew 12:15-21

Matthew quotes Isaiah 42:1-4 to describe Jesus as God’s Servant whom he loves and is pleased with, the One upon whom the Spirit rests.

The fulfillment of Isaiah 42 in the life of Christ can also be seen in the following texts in which God expressly testifies that Jesus is his Son:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” Matthew 3:16-17

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” Matthew 17:1-5

The Spirit descends upon Christ in the form of a dove, and the Father proclaims his love and delight in Jesus his Son, all of which happen to fulfill what was spoken about the Servant in Isaiah 42!

What this basically means is that there is nothing incompatible with Jesus being God’s Son and Servant at the same time. If anything, these texts show that Jesus is the beloved Son of God who became God’s Servant in order to bring about the redemption of God’s people by his vicarious sacrifice on the cross.

In light of the foregoing we would like Williams to be so kind as to show us how any of this agrees with Islamic theology.

With that said it is time to move on to the second part of our rebuttal.