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. 2

Sam Shamoun

This resumes our discussion.

The Coming of Jehovah Jesus!

Contrary to the assertions of Vermes, the Didache does in fact proclaim the Deity of Christ. It even goes so far as to identify him as Yahweh!

Here is what this early Christian manual says concerning the return of the Lord Jesus:

Chapter 16. Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord. Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead -- yet not of all, but as it is said: "The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him." Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven. (The Didache, Roberts-Donaldson translation; italic and underline emphasis ours)

Before we comment we would like to provide another translation for some of the specific verses found in this particular section. The following rendering is taken from one of Williams’ favorite liberal scholars who happens to be a very hostile opponent of Christianity:

6 Then the signs of truth will be manifest:30 first a sign of a rip in the sky, then a sign of the sound of a trumpet,31 and third a resurrection of the dead.

7 But not of all the dead. For as it has been said, “The Lord will come and all of his holy ones with him.”32

8 Then the world will see the Lord coming on the clouds of the sky.…”33 (Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, p. 217; italic and underline emphasis ours)

31Cf. Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16. 32Zech 14:5; 1 Thess 3:13. 33Cf. Matt 24:30. (Ibid; bold emphasis ours)

Remarkably, the Didache cites Zechariah 14:5 to describe the return of the Lord Jesus with all his saints, a text which speaks of Yahweh himself coming with his holy ones! It even says that Yahweh’s feet will actually touch and split the Mount of Olives in half!

“A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day HIS FEET will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.” Zechariah 14:1-9

The Didache is merely echoing Paul’s views concerning Christ returning to the earth with his heavenly host:

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all HIS holy ones.” 1 Thessalonians 3:13

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with HIS powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

Now let us see what some of the so-called Jewish-Christian writers had to say concerning this issue, beginning with James:

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” James 5:7-9

There is no doubt that the Lord whom James says is coming to judge is none other than Christ himself. As the following commentator explains:

“… the word ‘coming’ translates the Gk. parousia, which means basically ‘presence’ (see 1 Cor. 16:7; 2 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 2:12). It was applied in secular Greek to the ‘arrival’ of a king or dignitary. It is probably from this background that the technical sense of the word in the NT developed, for the early Christians consistently used the word to refer to the ‘coming’ of Jesus at the end of history to judge the wicked (e.g., Matt. 24:37, 39; 2 Thess. 2:8), and deliver the saints (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23). To be sure, the exact phrase that James uses here and in v. 8 – ‘the coming of the Lord’ – occurs only one other time to depict the return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:15). And the ‘Lord’ here could, of course, be God the Father (as in vv. 4, 10 and 11 in this context). But the frequency with which NT writers apply the language to the return of Christ suggests that parousia quite early took on among the early Christians virtually a technical sense. James certainly intends, and his readers would have certainly have understood, the Lord’s coming to refer to Jesus’ return as judge and savior.” (Douglas J. Moo, The Pillar New Testament Commentary – The Letter of James [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI 2000], p. 221; bold emphasis ours)

Not to be outdone by his brother, Jude writes this concerning the risen Lord:

“It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’ … But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:14-15, 20-25 ESV

Not only does Jude speak of the coming of the Lord Jesus, he even does so by citing a passage from the pseudepigraphal book of Enoch which speaks of the eternal God coming with ten thousands of his holy ones to bring judgment!

“Concerning the elect I said, and took up my parable concerning them: THE HOLY GREAT ONE will come forth from His dwelling, And THE ETERNAL GOD will tread upon the earth, (even) on Mount Sinai, [And appear from His camp] And appear in the strength of His might from the heaven of heavens. And all shall be smitten with fear And the Watchers shall quake, And great fear and trembling shall seize them unto the ends of the earth. And the high mountains shall be shaken, And the high hills shall be made low, And shall melt like wax before the flame And the earth shall be wholly rent in sunder, And all that is upon the earth shall perish, And there shall be a judgement upon all (men). But with the righteous He will make peace. And will protect the elect, And mercy shall be upon them. And they shall all belong to GOD, And they shall be prospered, And they shall all be blessed. And HE will help them all, And light shall appear unto them, And HE will make peace with them. And behold! HE cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones To execute judgement upon all, And to destroy all the ungodly: And to convict all flesh Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” 1 Enoch 1:3-9 (Translated from the Ethiopian by R.H. Charles, 1906)

We, therefore, have, two “Jewish Christian” documents taking specific references which speak of Yahweh God coming with his hosts to judge the world, and applying them to the Lord Jesus!

If this weren’t remarkable enough, Jude even states that it was Jesus himself who saved Israel from Egypt and punished them in the desert for their rebellion, and who also destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah!

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (ton monon despoten kai kyrion hemon 'Iesoun Christon). Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that JESUS, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, HE has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude 1:4-7 English Standard Version (ESV)

Jude does two remarkable things in this passage. He first identifies Jesus as the only Master and Lord that believers have, using the words despotes and kyrios to denote this fact. This astonishing statement is written at a time when Jesus was no longer walking the earth, but dwelling in heaven. Being a monotheistic Jew himself, Jude could not have missed the fact that, according to the Hebrew Bible, the only Master and Lord that believers have in heaven is Yahweh God himself.

Here, in fact, are a couple of examples where the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible renders the words Adonay YHWH as despotes kyrios:

“And he said, Master [and] Lord (despota kyrie), how shall I know that I shall inherit it? Genesis 15:8 LXX

“And I said, O sovereign Lord (ho despota kyrie), verily thou hast deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, There shall be peace; whereas behold, the sword has reached even to their soul.” Jeremiah 4:10 LXX

And at other times, the Greek translates YHWH as despotes:

"they, fearing and shaming men, shall be tripped up; but the one yielding upon the Lord (to despote) shall be glad" Proverbs 36:25 [Eng. 29:25] LXX – cf. Isaiah 3:1; 10:24; Tobit 8:17; 2 Maccabees 5:17, 20; 15:22; Wisdom 8:3; Sir. 36:1

For Jude to, therefore, refer to Christ as our only Master and Lord would have meant that he was identifying Jesus as Yahweh Incarnate!

“… He does indeed speak of Christ in the address of his Epistle by the simpler formal title of ‘Jesus Christ,’ but in accordance with his description at this point as the ‘slave’ of this ‘Jesus Christ,’ he tends to multiply reverential titles in speaking of Him elsewhere. To Him our Lord is always 'our Lord Jesus' (17, 21), ‘Jesus Christ our Lord' (25), 'our only Master (despotes) and Lord, Jesus Christ’ (4)– a phrase, this last one, so strong that many commentators balk at it and wish to render it ‘the only Master, viz. God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.’4 But we cannot feel surprised that one who pointedly calls himself in the first verse of his Epistle ‘slave’ of Jesus Christ, should apply the correlative of that term, ‘Despotic Master and Lord,’ to Jesus Christ, three verses later. No doubt ‘no Jew could use’ such a phrase ‘without thinking of the one Master in heaven’;5 but that is only evidence that this Jew thought of Jesus who was his ‘Lord,’ and whose ‘slave’ he recognized himself as being, as, in this eminent sense, his ‘Master in heaven’ (cf. 2 Peter 21). Obviously it is the testimony of these two Epistles that Jesus was conceived by His first disciples as their divine Lord and Master.” (Warfield, Lord of Glory, pp. 265-266; bold emphasis ours)

5 The phrase is Mayor's (in loc.): who notes also the use of the word desposunoi by Julius Africanus (Eus. H. E., i, 7) to denote the kinsfolk of Jesus, and justly remarks that this implies a current earlier employment of despotes of our Lord. (Ibid, p. 266)

Jude then goes on in the next verse to speak of Jesus saving and subsequently destroying the Israelites whom he brought out of Egypt, as well as punishing the disobedient angels and Sodom and Gomorrah!

However, it is clear from the Hebrew Scriptures that these are all divine acts which were specifically carried out by Yahweh God himself:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Deuteronomy 5:6

“Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens.” Genesis 19:24

“And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.” Isaiah 13:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring cities, declares the Lord, so no man shall dwell there, and no son of man shall sojourn in her.” Jeremiah 50:40 ESV

“‘I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.” Amos 4:11 ESV

What all this shows is that Jude, like Paul, believed that Jesus Christ is actually Yahweh God Incarnate!

The following scholars explain how the variant readings and the immediate context of v. 5 conclusively establish that Jesus is the Lord who saved Israel at the time of Moses:

“The second way that Jude adapts the traditional language of the exodus is his identification of the one who accomplished this deliverance: Jesus. Repeatedly, the LXX affirms that the ‘Lord’ (kyrios; Exod. 7:5; 12:51; 13:3, 9, 14, 16; 16:6; 18:1; Deut. 1:27; 26:8; ‘LORD’ in NRSV), ‘the Lord God’ (kyrios ho theos; Exod. 20:2; 29:46; Num. 15:41; Deut. 5:6, 15; 6:12; 8:14; 13:5, 11; 29:24 [29:25 Eng.]; Dan. 9:15; Bar. 2:11), or simply ‘God’ (theos; Num. 23:22; Deut. 4:20) is the one who brought the people up out of the land of Egypt. The textual history of Jude 5a is very checkered as some MSS state that ‘the Lord’ (ho kyrios) saved the people, while others contain the reading ‘God’ (theos). But the strongest MS support (see the additional note on v. 5) favors the reading ‘Jesus’ (Iesous), with a few witnesses reading ‘God Christ’ (theos Christos) or ‘Lord Jesus’ (kyrios Iesous). ‘Jesus’ is ‘admittedly… the best attested reading among the Greek and versional witnesses,’ according to Metzger along with Wikgren and Osburn (Metzger 1994: 657-58; Wikgren 1967; Osburn 1981). This reading is decidedly the most difficult to understand but ‘in general, the more difficult reading is to be preferred, particularly when the sense appears on the surface to be erroneous but on more mature consideration proves itself to be correct’ (Metzger 1994: 12-13). Moreover, it is very hard to comprehend why an original reading of ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ would have been changed to Jesus. This difficult reading best accounts for the rise of the other variants, which either reflect the more traditional language of the exodus summaries or seek to clarify the sense.

“Nevertheless, the question remains regarding how best to interpret Jude’s striking assertion. Paul certainly understands that the preexistent Christ was with Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4), and John’s Gospel echoes the same belief in his preexistence (John 8:56; 12:41; and see Neyrey 1993: 62) as does Heb. 11:26. The Venerable Bede (AD 672/673-735) follows the reading ‘Jesus’ and comments that Jude ‘is not referring to Jesus the son of Nun but to our Lord, showing first that he did not have a beginning at his birth from the holy virgin, as the heretics have wished [to assert], but existed as the eternal God for the salvation of all believers.… For in Egypt he first so saved the humble who cried out to him from their affliction that he might afterward bring low the proud who murmured against him in the desert’ (Hurst 1985: 242-43). Jude draws the parallel between Jesus’s agency in the past and present of God's redemptive history, and he makes his case that as judgment came on those formerly delivered, so it will come on those whom Jesus has delivered now. The Savior is also the Judge.” (Gene L. Green, Jude and 2 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) [Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI 2008], pp. 64-65; bold emphasis ours)


“After speaking of Jesus Christ as ‘our only Master and Lord,’ Jude could hardly have proceeded in the very next sentence to refer to someone other than Jesus as ‘the Lord.’ The Lord who delivered his people out of Egypt, then, must be the Lord Jesus.

“In fact, this is probably what the original text of Jude explicitly said. Many of the earliest manuscripts actually say ‘Jesus’ instead of ‘the Lord’ in verse 5, and this is most likely the original reading. There are three principles of the discipline of textual criticism that, when considered together, point to this conclusion.

“The first principle concerns the external evidence of the origins of the manuscripts. All other things being equal, the earlier and more widely attested reading is to be preferred. In this case both ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ are among the earliest readings, but ‘Jesus’ is more widely attested. The Vaticanus and Alexandrinus uncials (fourth and fifth centuries, respectively) both have ‘Jesus,’ while the Sinaiticus and C uncials (also of the fourth and fifth centuries) are the major witnesses for ‘Lord.’ The reading ‘Jesus,’ though, has much greater support from the early translations of the New Testament into other languages (such as Coptic, Ethiopic, and Latin) and better support from the early church’s leading biblical scholars, including Jerome (early fifth century) and possibly the third-century Origen. The reading ‘Jesus,’ then, clearly has the edge in terms of external evidence.

“The second principle is that, all other things being equal, the harder or more difficult reading – the one that sounds the strangest, to put it crudely – is more likely to be original (since a scribe is more likely to change a text from something that sounds strange to something that doesn’t, rather than the other way around). Here, the reading ‘Jesus’ obviously has the edge. Three of the five members of the editorial committee for the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament thought, in fact, ‘that the reading was difficult to the point of impossibility.’ The other two committee members, Bruce Metzger and Allen Wikgren, agreed it was difficult but not impossible, and concluded that it was the correct reading.

“The third and most general principle is that whatever reading is more likely to have given rise to the others as alterations is probably the original reading. The answer to this question is much disputed, but we agree with those who argue that ‘Jesus’ is probably original because it is more likely that scribes would change ‘Jesus’ (the admittedly harder reading) to ‘Lord’ (or, in a few other manuscripts, ‘God’) but not vice versa.

“Whichever reading we follow, though, Jude’s immediately preceding reference to Jesus As ‘Lord’ at the end of verse 4 makes it clear that he is the subject of verse 5. According to Jude, the Lord Jesus not only existed during the time of the Exodus but was the one who both delivered Israel from Egypt and then destroyed the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness.” (Bowman & Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place –The Case for the deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Chapter 8. Jesus Has Always Been There, pp. 98-99; bold emphasis ours)

With the foregoing in perspective, it is undeniably clear that the Didache has adopted the language which the OT uses to describe the coming of Yahweh or Jehovah, and which the NT employs in reference to the return of Jesus from heaven, to describe the second coming of Christ. This shows that, for the author(s) of the Didache, the Lord Yahweh who is to come is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore perfectly agrees with Paul, James and Jude!

In light of this, how, then, could Vermes dare say that the Didache has an undeveloped Christology, if by that he means that its view concerning Jesus is that he isn’t preexistent or fully divine? Can a Christology which presents Jesus as Yahweh God of the OT coming with his holy ones to execute the ungodly be developed any further? Or what is lacking in a Christology that already presents Jesus as the Yahweh God of the OT coming with his holy ones to execute the ungodly before we can consider it to be fully “developed”?

Moreover, does Williams really expect us to believe that this proclamation of the Lord Jesus returning with his heavenly host is actually compatible with the teaching of the Quran which identifies Allah as the Lord who comes with his angels to judge all?

Do they then wait for anything other than that Allah should come to them in the shadows of the clouds and the angels? (Then) the case would be already judged. And to Allah return all matters (for decision). S. 2:210 Hilali-Khan

Nay! When the earth is ground to powder, And your Lord comes with the angels in rows, And Hell will be brought near that Day. On that Day will man remember, but how will that remembrance (then) avail him? S. 89:21-23 Hilali-Khan

There is more concerning this issue of the Deity of Christ which we will pick up in the next part of our rebuttal.