Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A Lie Upon God

A Response to Ibn Anwar’s
Anti-Trinitarian “Examination of Mark 12:29-34”

By Anthony Rogers

28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' 31 "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32 The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; 33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE'S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)

Ibn Anwar At War

In a recycled article that now appears on the Muslim Responses website1, a Muslim dawagandist named Ibn Anwar attempted to refute the Trinity and prove Islam’s peculiar brand of monotheism from the Holy Scriptures, specifically from a passage found in Mark’s account of the Gospel. This article constitutes a rebuttal.

In the opening paragraph Ibn Anwar provides the following explanation of his thesis:

There are quite a number of verses and passages throughout the New Testament that teach and propagate the absolute Oneness of God the Creator and Jesus' subservience to Him as a servant and worshipper. We will not be scrutinising all those verses here. What we will do is focus on just one passage which to my understanding as I will prove in due course succinctly refutes the Trinity and shows Jesus' admission to absolute numerical monotheism. Before we proceed it is noteworthy that Muslim apologists in general like to quote Mark 12:29 in particular whenever arguing for Jesus' monotheistic belief, but, they almost never discuss the immediate verses that follow that would indeed strengthen their case further as we shall see…

One Thesis, Two Damning Admissions

In the course of declaring his thesis, i.e. that Mark 12 “succinctly refutes the Trinity and shows Jesus’ own admission to absolute numerical monotheism,” Ibn Anwar makes at least two damning admissions of his own: 1) Muslim apologists like to quote Mark 12:29; and 2) they almost never discuss the verses that follow. Both of these observations are of course true; unfortunately, neither of them bode well for Muslims.

The first commits Muslims to at least holding to the material if not also to the formal adequacy of what is found in Mark 12:29. This means in order to account for the widespread appeal to this passage so as to support the kind of monotheism they hold to, Muslims must at least believe that this portion of Mark, not to mention what “quite a number of verses and passages throughout the New Testament” teach, reflect the original message of Jesus. If they do not, then such a widespread appeal is more than a little bit problematic, for it suggests that confirmation for Islam is not being sought and is not in fact being found in what Jesus originally taught but instead in what later scribes changed the Scriptures to teach.

The second not only admits something that Christians have often said, that is, that Muslims ignore and/or neglect the context of the Scriptures when trying to find confirmation for Islam, but it also invites a consideration of the rest of the context, and that can only mean bad news for any case Muslims might hope to make from the Bible for their new-fangled religion.

These two facts taken together limit any honest response that could be made to this paper by Ibn Anwar (and “Muslim apologists in general”) to one that maintains the basic integrity of the text as found in Mark 12, and to an interpretation of it that does not ignore and/or violate the context in which it is found. Of course I put my money on the fact that if Ibn Anwar does choose to respond, and if he cannot overcome the problems which, as I will show, this text poses for what he calls “absolute numerical monotheism,” then he will play turncoat and challenge the integrity of the message as communicated, no longer holding it to be at least basically reliable, or will somehow seek to disallow a consideration of the entire context, the very thing he calls for so long as he thinks it is advantageous to do so. But such a maneuver would only serve to expose the procrustean nature of the apologetic methodology to which Islam necessarily commits its devotees, a methodology that stretches and/or cuts off any fact that doesn’t fit what they want to believe.2

Ibn Anwar Answered

Keeping the above in mind, we turn first to a consideration of Mark 12:29-34 and Ibn Anwar’s remarks regarding it, and will then turn to a consideration of the broader context and show how it exacerbates the problems that Ibn Anwar seems to be so blissfully unaware of.

Mark 12:29-34 vs. Ibn Anwar’s Examination

Ibn Anwar begins his diatribe with the following comment:

A scribe(a learned Jewish man) approached Jesus and asked him what is the first commandment of all to which Jesus replied with the famous Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4 without a change of a dot. Thus, the number one i.e. the most important commandent [sic] of all is that God is One and as the scribe further detailed,"there is no other than he". So, after Jesus' response the scribe affirmed Jesus' quotation of Deuteronomy 6:4 and emphatically established that God is absolutely one. (Emphasis in original)

Ibn Anwar rightly notes above that Jesus quoted the Shema “without a change of a dot” but unfortunately demonstrates no ability to connect those dots, for the picture that emerges from the Shema bears scant resemblance to the picture painted by Islam.

Although it is true that the Shema rules out a plurality of deities, it doesn’t do so in the way that one would expect if unitarianism rather than Trinitarianism were true. On unitarian assumptions God is held to be one in every way and in every sense of the word. On Triniatarian assumptions the persons of the Godhead are numerically identical to the divine essence but nonetheless personally distinct from each other; a notion that is similar to the observation that God has many attributes but is not on that account a number of separate essences or things. In other words, the former presents God as a blank, a unity of nothing – a paradox if there ever was one – whereas the latter presents Him as a diversity of persons and attributes subsisting in a perfect unity of essence. What is at issue, then, is whether or not the Shema and the text of Mark 12 teach the notion of an abstract unity or the concept of diversity in unity.

When we look at the Shema, it is clearly the latter conception of “oneness” that we find, for there God is not said to be an “absolute numerical one” in the way this phrase is understood by traditional, mainstream Muslims, something one might insist upon if the passage used the Hebrew word Yachid, although even that is debatable, but a united or unified one, which is consistent with the semantic range of the Hebrew word Echad. For example, the latter is the very word used to say that “man” and “woman”, the latter being formed out of the former, and the two being united in marriage, are one flesh (Genesis 2).

When we turn to the Greek text of Mark 12 in the New Testament to see the word that is used for God being “one,” we find the very same thing. The Gospel writer uses the Greek word hen, the same word used twice in Matthew 19:3-6, which says:

… Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?’ And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh

In fact, the word for one used in the Greek text of the New Testament in Mark 12 and Matthew 19, is the same word used in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) to translate the Hebrew word for one found in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6), and in the account of the creation of man and woman (Genesis 2).

It is no wonder that Moses chose this term to describe Biblical monotheism, for the God who redeemed Israel, the God that the people of Israel were called to love with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, revealed Himself to be a Triune being. In fact the Israelites to whom Moses spoke were surrounded by evidence of God’s trinal nature, for while God spoke to them through Moses, meeting with him on the mountain or the tent of meeting, the Messenger of Yahweh, and His Spirit, were also among them, manifested by such things as the pillar of fire and the glory cloud, that accompanied them throughout their wilderness wanderings. As Isaiah the prophet said:

I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion and according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses. For He said, "Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely," so He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them. Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them, Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name, Who led them through the depths? Like the horse in the wilderness, they did not stumble; As the cattle which go down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD gave them rest so You led Your people, to make for Yourself a glorious name. Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation; where are Your zeal and Your mighty deeds? The stirrings of Your heart and Your compassion are restrained toward me. For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not recognize us You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name. (63:7-16)

The person spoken of above as “the angel of His presence” and “His glorious arm” is the same person who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, identifying Himself as the great “I AM,” the eternal God (see Exodus chapter 3), and the Spirit is the same one spoken of by Moses in the very first chapter of the Torah as being actively involved in the work of creation, a prerogative and ability which He could only have engaged in if He were God (Genesis 1:1-2). It is in the context of the saving acts of “the Father”, His “Glorious Arm” or divine Messenger, and His Holy Spirit, as the prophet Isaiah said above, and as the Torah bears out from start to finish, that Moses said: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” i.e. echad.

In light of this, it is surely significant that the only time Muhammad ever (supposedly) used the Arabic equivalent of this word, i.e. ahad, a word one would not otherwise expect a unitarian to prefer to express his position, was in Surah 112, which, according to many traditions, was occasioned by a group of Jewish Rabbis asking Muhammad about his “lord.”

‘Ikrimah has related a tradition from Ibn ‘Abbas, saying that a group of the Jews, including Ka’b bi Ashraf, Huyay bin Akhtab and others, came before the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) and said “O Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace and blessings), tell us of the attributes of your Lord, Who has sent you as a Prophet.” Thereupon Allah sent down this Surah. (Ibn Abit Hatim, Ibn Adi, Baihai in Al Asma’ was-sifat).

Hadrat Anas has stated that some Jews of Khaiber came before the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) and they said: “O Abul-Qasim, Allah created the angels from light, Adam from rotten clay, Iblis from the flame of fire, the sky from smoke, and the earth from the foam of water. Now tell us about your Lord (of what He is made).” The Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) did not give any reply to this question. Then Gabriel came and he said: “O Muhammad, say to them: Huwa Allahu ahad.”

Dahhak, Qatadah and Muqatil have stated that some Jewish rabbis came before the Holy Prophet, and they said: “O Muhammad, tell us what is your Lord like, so that we may believe in you. Allah in the Torah has sent down His description. Kindly tell us o what He is made, what is His sex, whether He is made of gold, copper, brass, iron, silver, and whether He eats and drinks. Also tell us from whom He has inherited the world, and who will inherit after Him.” Thereupon Allah sent down this Surah.3

In other words, the word that Muhammad ordinarily and most naturally used to express his position was not the word found in the Shema, which was recited daily by the Jews; and the reason is not hard to find: the word ahad, even in Arabic, means a united one (see here). The only reason Muhammad used the Arabic word ahad on the sole occasion he ever did use it appears to have been so that he could appeal to the Jews and thus confirm himself in their eyes as a prophet of the true God. Since Surah 112 was one of the earliest Surah’s written, and since the Jews subsequently rejected Muhammad’s prophetic pretensions, Muhammad, not surprisingly, threw off this word and never used it again in the Qur’an in connection to Allah’s supposed unity.

For more on the Shema, see the following articles:

With his first error – i.e. that of assuming that the Shema supports unitarianism – out of the way, Ibn Anwar, apparently not one to waste time, proceeds quickly to make several others through a series of questions and answers:

Now comes the million dollar question. When the scribe affirmed Jesus' testimony concerning God being One(heis) what concept or notion did he have in his mind? Was he thinking about some sort of a triune Godhead wherein Jesus is also God? The answer to that question should be a definite no. The reason is quite simple. If the scribe thought that Jesus was God, he would not have attested what Jesus said in the third person. He should have instead said, "You are right in saying,"You [sic] are One and there is no other than You." But, he did not say that, did he? Nope. He said, God, HE is One. Secondly, if he had believed Jesus was God, he should have worshipped him as God right there and then. At no place in time did any scribe among the Jews in the Gospels ever worshipped Jesus as God. Thirdly, we know for a fact that the Trinity is something that took over three hundred years of development. There was no established Trinity prior to that. How then can anyone claim that the scribe believed in the Trinity? The only reasonable position to take is that the scribe believed as any other Orthodox Jew would believe concerning God namely, that God is absolutely and numerically one having no partners or associates in His divinity, not even in the least bit. At times that God is addressed as the Father in a metaphorical sense. Thus, it is safe to conclude that when the scribe confirmed what Jesus said what he had in his mind(the concept) [sic] was absolute strict monotheism and that the Father and only He is God.

Here Ibn Anwar asks a “million dollar question” that he unfortunately does not have the currency to cover. In the first place, Ibn Anwar’s (loaded) question clearly confuses issues that should be kept distinct at this point in the story. It is evident that this scribe did not believe that Jesus was God, and Christians certainly make no bones about it; however, it is equally evident that this scribe did not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and Christians make no bones about that either. Yet just as this scribe could have believed in the Old Testament promise of a coming Messiah without believing that Jesus was that Messiah, as we can be sure that he did, so he may well have understood that the monotheism inculcated in the Old Testament did not reduce God to a colorless being devoid of attributes or personal distinctions even if he did not believe that Jesus was one of those persons. In other words the real question that Ibn Anwar should have asked is whether or not this scribe believed that God was Triune or whether or not the Old Testament allowed for such an understanding, not whether or not this scribe believed Jesus was the second person of the Trinity.

In the second place, as for the idea that this scribe, whatever the extent of his actual understanding really was, could not in principle have believed in the Trinity because it had not yet developed, this of course begs the question of whether or not the Trinity was revealed in the Old Testament, not to mention several other questions. Although some Christians believe that such a fuller revelation on the nature of divine monotheism as Trinitarian rather than unitarian awaited the coming of Jesus in the flesh and the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, two events that certainly bring the reality of the Trinity to the fore, the fact is that God also revealed Himself and was active throughout the Old Testament period in ways that were both similar to and anticipatory of these momentous events, as witness the many references throughout the Old Testament to God’s Word or Messenger as well as to His Spirit, something that was cursorily sketched above.

Finally, even if we assume that this scribe did not in fact understand these things, it still presents no difficulty, for Jesus Himself, the great Rabbi, as Ibn Anwar himself will remind us, thoroughly familiar not only with the authentic Judaism of the patriarchs and prophets, but also with the variegated and (largely) degenerated Judaism of first century Israel, indicates that this scribe’s understanding, though commendable, and though promising, was not complete. Jesus does this by telling the scribe that he is “not far from the kingdom of God,” a phrase that at once indicates both that the scribe could well be on his way, and also that he had not yet arrived. This observation will become very relevant later, especially since Ibn Anwar says that Jesus did not say anything that would correct and/or fill out this scribe’s understanding, something we are told He should have done if He were God.

Ibn Anwar continues:

Now that we have answered the million dollar question let us ask another. Was Jesus appraised [sic] or aware of the Jewish concept of God which the scribe had in his mind? The answer to this question ought to be yes. This is because according to Christian authorities and the texts themselves Jesus was himself a Rabbi learned in the Jewish traditions and teachings. In verse 32 we find the scribe addresses Jesus as didaskalos in Greek or teacher, master in English which is equivalent to Rabbi in Hebrew. As a teacher who was grounded in Jewish tradition it's only natural that he was thoroughly appraised [sic] of the concept of God that they held.

Ibn Anwar’s question of course assumes a different answer than was argued above: Yes, Jesus was apprised of the Jewish concept of God, which, at least in the case of this scribe, was true as far as it went, that is, in so far as it was at least monotheistic, but that isn’t the same as saying that the Judaism contemporaneous with Christ or that was held by this scribe went as far as the Old Testament would take it, as witness the previous discussion of the teaching of the Shema, or, on the supposition that the scribe’s understanding was not fully commensurate with what the Old Testament revealed about God’s trinal nature, that Jesus intended to take it no further, a fact that will appear later when we take into account the broader context.

Furthermore, not all Jews of the first century had the same exact understanding or the same depth of insight into these matters. This scribe may or may not have understood these things the same way as everyone else did or he may not have clung to them in the same spirit as those who were bent on denying the Messiah’s superior and definitive explanation of them. All we know at this point is that the scribe rightly understood the monotheistic implications of the Shema, that is, that it excludes the existence of other gods, which Christians affirm as well, along with the corresponding ethical duty resting upon man to render single-hearted love, worship, and devotion to God alone, not whether or not he had the further understanding that within God’s being there exists a distinction of persons all of whom possess the fullness of the divine powers and attributes or whether or not Jesus was one of those persons. The only thing the scribe says, and therefore the only thing that Jesus affirms, is that there is only one God, and that we are to love Him above all else and with our whole being.

Still laboring under his original confusion, Ibn Anwar continues:

In case there is still any lingering doubt, let us consider Jesus' own words,

"Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ?He is our God? " (John 8:54) (Emphasis in original)

The above is clear proof that Jesus was very much aware of the fact that they regarded God as One and that He is called the Father(and no other persons). (Emphasis in original)

When Ibn Anwar imports a statement from Jesus found in John chapter 8 to show that the Jewish concept of God was that He is the Father, something Ibn Anwar earlier explained as a mere metaphor, He is ignoring the fact that Jesus is referring in this verse to God as His Father, and therefore He is referring to Himself as the Son of God. To quote the verse again:

If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him….” (v. 54)

Furthermore, whereas Jesus asserts the special relation that He sustains to God as His Father, He flatly denies in this very chapter that his Jewish detractors – that is, those who deny His unique Sonship – are sons of God. Jesus said:

“You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” (v. 19)

“I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you hear from your father [i.e. Satan].” (v. 38)

If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, …” (v. 42)

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father …” (v. 44)

“He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” (v. 47)

According to John’s Gospel, the only way people can be considered children of God in a metaphorical or spiritual sense is by receiving God’s true Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Jesus alone fallen men and women are adopted by God.

There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He [i.e. Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)

So, for Ibn Anwar to point out that God is the Father, and for him to point to the words of Jesus to prove it, is hardly helpful to his anti-Trinitarian case.

At this juncture Ibn Anwar goes on to make a long point about Jesus not correcting any of this scribe’s understanding of God, saying, rather, that Jesus affirmed the scribe’s understanding to be complete or at least satisfactory.

So far we have established that the scribe was thinking about the Father and only Him when attesting Jesus' quotation of Deuteronomy 6:4 and also Jesus' thorough awareness of that concept which the scribe had in mind. Here comes the third question. Did Jesus correct his concept? The answer to that is an obvious no. According to the Christian Trinitarian theology the only concept of God that is accepted and true which is necessary for salvation is the Trinity which includes Jesus as deity or God. If that is so then the concept which the scribe had along with his attestation of Jesus' testimony was absolutely wrong! If that is the case Jesus being a teacher of truth, nay the embodiment of truth should have corrected him on the spot and said something like,"Yes, good scribe God is One, but what you are thinking is wrong. God is One in the sense that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one." Do we find anything like that offered as correction for the scribe's "erronuous" [sic] belief? NO! Christians usually argue that because Jesus did not correct the disciples for worshipping him that must mean he accepted it and that makes him God. They're talking about what is called tacit(silent) approval or qui tacit consentit in Latin. If we went by this premise then in Mark 12:29-32 Jesus is clearly attesting the scribe's belief since he is silent about any correction! As a matter of fact he was not silent at all. He actually affirmed the scribe's statement and position as we read explicitly stated in verse 34,

"And when Jesus saw that (he) answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And no one dared to ask him any more questions."

The verse mentions that the scribe answered with understanding. What was the understanding? The understanding was concering [sic] Jesus' statements with regards to whatever comprehension that the scribe had regarding them. We have established that what the scribe comprehended from the Shema was that the Father and only He is God. That is indeed the understanding which Jesus AFFIRMS! We read the following attestations from Bible commentaries on Jesus' validation of the scribe's words and beliefs(understanding),

".Jesus commends the scribe(34).'he is near the kingdom in the sense that he recognises [sic] the sovereignty and has the right moral and spiritual disposition." [2] (emphasis added)

"34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discretely - rather, ?intelligently' , [sic] or "sensibly"; not only in a good spirit but with a promising measure of insight into spiritual things." (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown) [3]

"1. He owned that he understood well, as far as he went, so far, so good. He answered as one that had a mind; as one that had his wits about him." [4]

The final quotation is quite clear in saying that the scribe was not simply regurgitating mechanical responses, but that he uttered them as a person who had a mind(i.e. with understanding). How can someone be close to the Kingdom of God if he does not recognise [sic] the deity of Jesus according to Christian Trinitarian theology? He will be in hell which is hardly "close" to God's Kingdom(eternal bliss).

In conclusion, a scribe asked Jesus about the first commandment, Jesus answered and gave the Shema, the scribe attested it with the thinking that God is the Father and only Him and Jesus knew this concept well and recognised [sic] it without discrimination nor correction. (Emphasis in original)

Setting aside for the moment the issue of Jesus’ (alleged) tacit approval of this scribe’s confession of unitarianism, the very sources that Ibn Anwar cited to prove that this scribe’s understanding of God was commensurate with Old Testament revelation, or with the further and fuller revelation that Jesus brought, don’t even support his point. They tell us that the scribe answered “intelligently,” “sensibly,” and as one who “had his wits about him”, but that isn’t the same as saying that his knowledge of God was adequate (much less perfect), something one would think would be easily enough understood simply from the fact that Jesus said, “you are not far from the kingdom of God,” a phrase that Ibn Anwar turns on its head. Furthermore, the sources cited by Ibn Anwar very clearly say that the scribe’s understanding was “promising,” attended as it was by the right “disposition,” and that it was correct, but only “as far as it went,” all of which is consistent with the observation that the scribe still yet fell short of that knowledge of God that is requisite to life eternal, something Ibn Anwar should have known since he concludes his article by quoting John 17:3, a verse that tells us just what is required: i.e. a saving knowledge of the Father, and of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. (For more on John 17:3, see here.)

The Broader Context of Mark 12:29-34

Having considered the discussion found in Mark 12:28-34, we now turn to look at the context in which it takes place.

According to the context, the religious leaders wanted to seize Jesus but did not do so for fear of the multitude of people who clamored after Him (v. 12). Consequently they decided to try to entrap Jesus by asking Him a barrage of carefully crafted questions, hoping Jesus would slip up and give them grounds to take action against Him (v. 13). After first outwitting the Pharisees in debate, where we are told that they were “amazed at Him” (v. 17), Jesus was then questioned by the Sadducees, who were shown to “not know the Scriptures, or the power of God” (v. 24). It is at this point that one of the scribes, i.e. one of those who were responsible for expounding the law and teaching the people, stepped forward, and after Jesus gave an excellent reply to him also, thus exhausting the collective efforts of the Jewish authorities of finding aught against Jesus, it says, “no one would venture to ask Him [i.e. Jesus] anymore questions” (v. 34). At this point Jesus turns the tables on His opponents and begins to question them, and what ensues gives the lie to Ibn Anwar’s claim that Jesus does not say anything to correct any possible deficiency that this scribe, or those that he stepped forward to represent, might have had regarding the nature of Old Testament monotheism and of the Messiah.

And Jesus answering began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? For David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put thine enemies beneath thy feet.”’ David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; and so in what sense is He his son?” (Mark 12:35ff)

The quandary that Jesus put to His opponents here – and let the reader observe that Jesus speaks of Himself, “the Christ,” in the third person, the very thing Ibn Anwar said earlier in his article showed that Jesus wasn’t God since He spoke of God in the third person – is to account for how one of David’s descendants, whom the Jews believed the Messiah was going to be, and whom they believed Psalm 110 to be about, could also be higher and greater than David himself, even his very Lord. As J. A. Alexander put it, Jesus was the Lord of David:

… yet not of David merely as a private person, nor even as an individual king, but as representing his own royal race and the house of Israel over which it reigned. The person thus described as the superior and sovereign of David and his house and of all Israel, could not possibly be David himself, nor any of his sons and successors except one who, by virtue of his twofold nature [i.e. divine and human], was at once his sovereign and his son… That the Lord here meant was universally identified with the Messiah by the ancient Jews, is clear, not only from their own traditions, but from Christ’s assuming this interpretation as the basis of his argument to prove the Messiah’s superhuman nature, and from the fact that his opponents, far from questioning this fact, were unable to answer him a word, and afraid to interrogate him further (Matt. 22, 46).4

No doubt this part of the context is not one of Ibn Anwar’s favorite places in the Bible, but it is part of the context of the section of Scripture which Ibn Anwar appealed to in order to disprove the Trinity and the deity of Christ, and since Ibn Anwar by his own admission winces at the a-contextual efforts of his co-religionists, we can expect, or at least hope, for the sake of consistency, that he will do the same thing here.

The Self-Stultifying Nature of Ibn Anwar’s Thesis

If Ibn Anwar ignores all that has been said above and still wants to cling to the idea that Mark 12 presents Jesus as teaching that God is an abstract unity, then he will only be fighting for his right to refute his own view of God, for Ibn Anwar does not even believe in the absolute, strict, numerical oneness of God that He says Jesus taught. As a Salafi Muslim, Ibn Anwar actually believes that Allah has bodily appendages, such as a face, eyes, hands, shins, etc.

For example, here is what one Salafi source says about the hands of Allah:

“This [Surah 38:75, 48:10] confirms two hands for Allah, but there is no similarity between them and anything in creation. This is the Belief of all true believers, and it was the Belief of all the Prophets of Allaah, from Nooh (Noah), Ibraaheem (Abraham), Moosaa (Moses) and ‘Eesaa (Jesus) till the last of the Prophets, Muhammad…(It is not as some people think, that Allaah is present everywhere – here there and even inside the breasts of Men.)”5 (Emphasis mine)

All of this means nothing if it doesn’t mean that Allah is made up of parts; but if Allah is made up of parts, then he is not an absolute, strict, numerical one. This certainly presents a quandary for Ibn Anwar, and, indeed, for all Salafis.

The view of God’s unity held by mainstream Muslims runs into a similar problem when it comes to explaining how God can have a multiplicity of divine attributes and still be viewed as one in every sense of the word, i.e. absolutely, but this problem is all the more apparent in the case of Salafi Muslims, who reject any attempt to interpret references to Allah’s eyes, hands, feet, and so on in a figurative way.

As it turns out, then, Mark 12 does not support Ibn Anwar’s thesis, and even if it did it would only serve to refute what Muslims like Ibn Anwar really believe. Not only is the very concept of a God who is one in every sense of the word an incoherent concept in itself, for then it would divest God of all attributes, rendering all talk of Him meaningless, and not only is such a view of divine unity at variance with the view of rank and file Muslims who ascribe divine attributes to Allah, but it especially clashes with the view of Muslims like Ibn Anwar who refuse to interpret references to such things as the face, eyes and hands of God in an “intelligent” and “sensible” way, something we can be sure the scribe that Jesus was speaking to did when it comes to this issue.

This means that Ibn Anwar either has to give up the idea that Jesus taught the “absolute” oneness of God (or else he refutes his Salafism), a maneuver that would undercut his case against the Trinity, or he has to give up his Salafism and hold to the absolute oneness of God (which means denying the attributes of God and reducing Allah to a mere abstraction), a maneuver that would falsify the view of Allah held by mainstream Muslims. Of course Ibn Anwar could extricate himself from all this confusion by simply turning to the Triune God, the God of the Shema, the God who sent His Son and Holy Spirit to redeem Israel in Old Testament times, the God who sent His Son and Spirit in New Testament times to accomplish the eternal redemption of His people, but that would require giving up his sin and the confusion that it creates. It is my prayer that he will choose to do so.

Ibn Anwar’s article has also been answered by Sam Shamoun:

Examining the Trinity in light of Mark 12:28-34: [Part 1], [Part 2]



1 The same article was published here on 1/31/09.

2 The Muslim treatment of disagreeable facts seems to closely mirror the Muslim treatment of people who fall short of agreeing with Islam or who speak out against it.

3 These traditions are cited in this article.

4 J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Mark (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, [1858], 1984), p. 337.

5 The Virtue of Tawheed (Monotheism): & a Warning Against What Contradicts It (Prepared by Darussalam Research Division, 2004), p. 8.

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