Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

How Jesus’ “Apotheosis” proves Muhammad was an antichrist!

Sam Shamoun

Paul Bilal Williams recently published a post where he cites a portion from renowned NT scholar James D. G. Dunn’s book, Beginning from Jerusalem: Christianity in the Making, Volume 1, pp. 220-221, to show how Jesus was elevated to the status of God in order to share in God’s own unique Lordship over creation. Williams’ aim is to show that the first Christians didn’t believe that Jesus was God in the flesh, but a man whom God highly exalted.

What makes this rather ironic (in fact disturbing) is that Williams’ hatred of all things Christian has blinded him from seeing how Dunn’s claims end up proving that Muhammad was an antichrist (which he actually was).

In this rebuttal, we are going to quote what this scholar wrote with some added context for further clarity, so as to show how Dunn’s statements prove that Muhammad was a false prophet. Portions of the book can be accessed here. All bold, capital and underlined emphasis will be ours.

Speaking of the first disciples’ use of Psalm 110:1 to proclaim that the crucified and risen Lord had been taken into heaven to sit at God’s right hand, Dunn states that:

“… The sesssio ad dexteram Patris is so long established in Christian creedal confession that it is difficult for those well versed in Christian tradition to appreciate how stunning a conclusion and affirmation this was when it was first made, and of one who had been crucified.241… In such a context, of course, the title 'Lord' carried with it overtones of authority, mastery and supremacy. How this was perceived as working out in the earliest community is probably indicated by the importance of 'the name' of Jesus, since it was the name which authorized baptism and effected healing.243 Those who baptized and healed acted on the authority of Jesus, that is, of Jesus raised from the dead (Acts 3.15-16; 4.10-11). And those baptized, calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus (22.16; 1 Cor. 1.2), thereby submitted to his lordship and became his bond servants. How well thought-through were the implications of this usage is unclear: is Acts 4:12244 an enthusiastic encomium expressive of what the first Christians were experiencing and beginning to appreciate, or is its 'exclusivity' reflective rather of the more developed theology of Luke's own time (cf. 10.36c)? Equally unclear is whether and how quickly this affirmation of Jesus' lordship was seen to constitute a real political threat. But it is significant that the earliest opposition recorded by Luke is of the rulers and high priestly families formally forbidding Peter and John to speak any more 'in this name' (Acts 4.17-18; 5.28, 40). The implications of a lordship which called for different priorities from those of the current rulers evidently became quickly apparent.

“The most striking aspect of attribution to Jesus of rule 'at God's right hand' is the way scriptural texts WHICH SPOKE OF GOD AS 'LORD' BEGAN TO BE USED OF JESUS. This is usually commented on in relation to Paul's theology, with particular reference to the key passages 1 Cor. 8.4-6 and Phil. 2.9-11,246 principally because it seems to indicate that Paul thought of Jesus in terms of God.247 But Phil. 2.9-11 is probably a quotation of an earlier hymn or poem. And 1 Cor. 1.2 may well be using a well-established definition of Christians as 'those who call upon the name of the Lord', in probable echo of Joel 2.32, where 'the Lord' is Yahweh. Most striking of all, the same features appear in Peter’s first speech in Acts 2. The speech is bracketed with references to Joel's prophecy (2.17-21, 39),248 and the climactic scriptural quotation is of Ps. 110.1 (2.34-35); so a logical deduction is that the Lord who calls them and on whom they call is to be understood as the exalted Lord Jesus.

“How much christological significance should we read into all this, and for the very early days of the new community? The key once again is probably Ps. 110.1, for that text envisages TWO LORDS – the Lord God, and another exalted to God's right hand and described as 'my Lord.' It would be entirely understandable if the first Christians allowed this text to determine the language they used for Jesus, and if their initial use of 'Lord' in reference to Jesus made somewhat indiscriminate use of other appropriate 'Lord' texts.249 Ps. 110.1, after all, indicated that Jesus had been elated to God's right hand, no less. Such exaltation called for full submission to one whose enemies God would soon make his footstool. It is unlikely, then, that use of 'Lord' for Jesus reflects deep thinking about the divine status or deity of the exalted Jesus, at least at this initial stage, more a somewhat unreflective use of Ps. 110.1 in reference to Jesus as the second Lord installed by the Lord God at his right hand. But, of course, the possibilities opened up by this early interpretation of Ps. 110.1 became a major seam for subsequent christology. (Pp. 219-221)

241. There are some near parallels with the legendary figures… BUT NOTHING QUITE LIKE THIS. G. Jossa, Jews or Christians? The Followers of Jesus in Search of Their Own Identity (WUNT 202; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006):  'The assertion of the heavenly exaltation of Jesus (and of Jesus crucified) in fact puts the group of his disciples in A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SITUATION FROM THAT OF THE OTHER JEWISH GROUPS OF THE TIME' (68); 'To Christ is attributed a lordship that goes FAR BEYOND THE POWERS CUSTOMARILY RECOGNIZED TO THE MESSIAH OF ISRAEL' (93). Chester also warns that earliest christology cannot be explained by a simple correlation between Jesus and any of the intermediary figures of late Second Temple Jewish theologizing, even though they attest that the barrier between the divine and human spheres was becoming increasingly permeable; he concludes that 'the phenomenon of earliest christology can only be understood as developing within a Jewish context, and that Jewish intermediary figures constitute a central and integral part of the context … [and] that it is the early visionary experiences of the resurrected Jesus, as transformed and set alongside God in the heavenly world, that are crucially important for the development of christology' (Messiah and Exaltation 119-20). Contrast J. Carleton Paget, 'Jewish Christianity', CHJ 3.731-75: 'At that early stage there was no sense on their part that a commitment to Jesus implied anything negative about their continuing commitment to their inherited faith' (742). (Pg. 219)

249. In Acts 2.20-36 'the Lord' is Yahweh in 2.20, 25 and 34a, while Christ is clearly in view in 2.34b and 36. In 2.21 and 39 'the Lord' is presumably the Yahweh of Joel 2.32 ('the Lord our God'), though Rom. 10.13 shows that the Joel text was also (subsequently?) applied to Christ. The prayer 1.24 probably addresses God as kardiognostes, 'one who knows the heart', as in the word's only other occurrence (15.8; cf. Luke 16.15) (see Fitzmyer, Acts 227 and those cited there; otherwise Barrett, Acts 1.103), though Luke does recall the episode where Jesus knows the inner thoughts of hearts (Luke 5.22; 9.47)…

And here is what Dunn says concerning Jesus’ pouring out the Holy Spirit from heaven upon his followers.

e. Bestower of the Spirit

One of the most striking, and most neglected, of the assertions made regarding the exalted Jesus is the claim attributed to Peter that on being exalted at God's right hand, Jesus had received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit and had poured out this Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2.33). That is, it was the exalted Christ, not God himself, who had poured out the end-time Spirit. Of course, Luke understands this as the fulfillment of the Baptist's prediction (1.5), itself unprecedented.251 But the exaltation of Jesus transposed this expectation onto a different plane. For now was being attributed to the exalted Jesus the role hitherto assumed to be possible ONLY for God, that of bestowing his own Spirit on human beings.252 Jewish thought was familiar with the idea that other divine roles might be attributed to human beings. In particular, the suggestion that fabled heroes of the past, like Adam and Abel, Enoch and Melchizedek, were already glorious heavenly beings sitting on thrones and ready to take part in the final judgment is one which we meet in several writings of the period.253 Jesus himself was remembered as anticipating that his immediate circle of disciples would 'sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel' (Matt. 19.28/Luke 22.30). And Paul expected the saints to judge the world (1 Cor. 6.2).  But this was qualitatively different. For where God was so uniformly understood to be the one who gives the Spirit, the reattribution of the gift of the Spirit to Christ, albeit having received the promised Spirit from the Father (2.33), was an ASTONISHING DEVELOPMENT. It is, after all, the Spirit of God we are talking about. NOTHING IN JEWISH RELIGION AND THEOLOGY PREPARES US FOR SUCH A DEVELOPMENT.254 (Pp. 221-222)

252. Classically Isa. 44.3; Eek. 36.26-27; 39.29; as well as Joel 2.28-29. Similarly, Acts 5.31 attributes the giving of repentance to the exalted Jesus, while 11.18 attributes it to God. (Pg. 221)

Pay careful attention to Dunn’s claims that the first Christians took OT texts about Yahweh and applied them to Christ, and their ascribing to the Lord the very roles, functions, and abilities which the Hebrew Bible attributes to God Almighty himself.

Note, for instance, what the first Christians proclaimed about their risen Lord.

Jesus sits enthroned alongside God in heaven as Lord of all creation (cf. Acts 2:34-35; 10:42). This is a status which the OT says belongs uniquely to Yahweh God:

“Let them know that thou alone, whose name is the Lord, art the Most High over all the earth.” Psalm 83:18

Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?” Psalm 113:5-6

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.” Psalm 148:13 – cf. Isaiah 2:11-17

Jesus is the One who pours out the Holy Spirit upon all true believers, something that only God does according to the Hebrew Bible. See above for the biblical passages.

It is Jesus’ name, and his name alone, that a person must call upon in order to be saved (cf. Acts 2:38; 4:12; 10:43). And yet the Hebrew Scriptures proclaim that a person must call upon Yahweh’s name for salvation (cf. Psalm 25:11; 54:1; 79:9; Isaiah 45:21-22; Joel 2:32).

Immediately after his heavenly ascension Jesus became an object of prayer and worship, and was even invoked to receive the spirits of his beloved saints as they faced death for his name’s sake:

“And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:59-60

“But Anani′as answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.’… And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ And all who heard him were amazed, and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.’” Acts 9:13-14, 20-21

Once again, this is something that only Yahweh does:

Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Psalm 31:5

“and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7

Thus, Jesus must be God in essence in order for him to be permitted to sit on God’s heavenly throne and do the things which only God does, as well as to receive the worship which only God is supposed to receive. And yet in order for Jesus to be God in essence he must have always been God. As Dunn’s citation from NT scholar C. K. Barrett puts it: 

250. 'We are dealing here [2.36] with an unreflecting Christology … not yet submitted to such theological criticism as Paul was able to provide. He who shares the throne of God SHARES HIS DEITY; and who is God IS WHAT HE IS FROM AND TO ETERNITY – otherwise he is not God. This truth, evident as it is, was not immediately perceived; the staggering fact of the resurrection … both marked a contrast with the earthly life of Jesus and set his disciples in search of some terminology that might not seem wholly inadequate' (Barrett, Acts 1.152). (Pp. 220-221)

As such, there is no deification taking place at Christ’s heavenly exaltation. Rather, Christ’s resurrection and heavenly ascension provide miraculous divine confirmation of who has always been, namely, the unique divine Son of God who is equal with his Father in glory, honor, majesty and essence.  

Now to say that all these claims, which Jesus’ first disciples believed and preached regarding their risen Lord, are truly remarkable (in fact astonishing!) would be putting it quite mildly.

Here is where Williams’ groans begin. According to his false prophet Muhammad, his god does not allow anyone to partake of his unique lordship over creation, nor does he allow anyone to share in his worship: 

It is not (possible) for any human being unto whom Allah had given the Scripture and wisdom and the prophethood that he should afterwards have said unto mankind: Be slaves of me instead of Allah; but (what he said was): Be ye faithful servants of the Lord by virtue of your constant teaching of the Scripture and of your constant study thereof. And he commanded you not that ye should take the angels and the prophets for lords. Would he command you to disbelieve after ye had surrendered (to Allah)? S. 3:79-80 Pickthall

He unto Whom belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth, He hath chosen no son nor hath He any partner in the Sovereignty. He hath created everything and hath meted out for it a measure. S. 25:2 Pickthall

Your Lord has said, 'Call upon Me and I will answer you. Surely those who wax too proud to do Me service shall enter Gehenna utterly abject.'… He is the Living One; there is no god but He. So call upon Him, making your religion His sincerely. Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being. S. 40:60, 65 Arberry

Muhammad further taught that Jesus’ followers were all Muslims (cf. Q. 3:52; 5:110). As such, they would not have gone around proclaiming Jesus’ death, resurrection and heavenly ascension into heaven to sit enthroned at God’s right hand in order to begin his reign as the sovereign Lord of all creation. And yet according to William’s own authority, this is precisely what Jesus’ first disciples preached!

It gets worse for both Williams and his prophet. Psalm 110:1, which both the Lord Jesus and his followers cited to affirm Christ’s exalted heavenly status, was composed by King David under inspiration of the Holy Spirit:

“And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.’ David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?’ And the great throng heard him gladly.” Mark 12:35-37

“Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.’” Acts 2:29-35

This means that the Holy Spirit made it known to David that the Messiah Jesus is more than a mere human descendant of his. God’s Spirit inspired the prophet to confess and worship the Christ as his very own Lord who reigns from God’s heavenly throne!

As such, neither David nor Jesus’ disciples could have ever possibly been Muslims since Islam denies all of these fact about the Messiah.

Therefore, Muhammad stands condemned as a false prophet and antichrist for going against the teachings about the Messiah that God gave to the prophets of the OT as well as to the blessed Apostles of Christ, whom the risen Lord sent forth with his divine power to spread this message to every creature throughout the whole world:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20

“Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.’… So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.” Mark 16:14-16, 19-20

So much for Williams’ appeal to Dunn and Jesus’ alleged "apotheosis"*.

All Biblical references taken from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Holy Bible.

*Apotheosis is the technical term that scholars have coined to denote the concept of a human creature being elevated to the status of God and/or becoming divine.