Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Revisiting the issue of Matthew 28:18 Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

Continuing from where we left off, we will now respond to Williams’ second objection.



2) New Testament scholars have long regarded this verse as a creation of the early church rather than an authentic word of Jesus himself.



By failing to qualify his blanket assertion Williams gives the misleading impression that ALL New Testament scholars believe that Matthew 28:18 is a creation of the early church. Unfortunately, this kind of sloppy and deceptive rhetoric is typical of Williams’ rant against Christianity. And yet he will not hesitate to whine and complain whenever he thinks that Christians are doing the very same thing against the Quran.

The fact is it is generally liberal, critical New Testament scholarship (the kind that would also call into question the Quran’s alleged divine origin), which views this passage as a creation of either Matthew or the church, even though there isn’t a shred of historical, textual or archaeological evidence to support such an unwarranted assumption. Conservative NT scholars, on the other hand, take this to be a genuine saying of the historical Jesus since they let the evidence speak for itself, as opposed to allowing an anti-supernatural bias or theological assumptions to guide their judgments concerning the historical veracity of this passage.       

With that said, there is evidence from Matthew itself which supports the historicity of this verse. Matthew records a saying of Jesus, which many scholars believe comes from the hypothetical Q source (hypothetical because there is absolutely no evidence that Q ever existed except in the minds of those who concocted this theory), that is reminiscent of Christ’s words in Matthew 28:18. In fact, the statements are virtually identical:  

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of MY Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 – cf. Luke 10:21-22

In words resembling those found in Matthew 28:18, Jesus claims that the Father has delivered or entrusted all things to the Son, and that the Son alone is qualified to reveal the Father to whomever he so chooses!

Not only does this sound like what we find in Matthew 28:18, it even sounds exactly like what we read in John’s Gospel!

“The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.” John 3:35

“Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me.” John 7:28-29

“Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.” John 8:19

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15

“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;” John 13:3

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, AND HAVE SEEN HIM. Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.” John 14:6-11

“All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” John 16:15

“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him… And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.” John 17:1-2, 10  

No wonder scholars call this alleged Q saying in Matthew 11:25-27 and Luke 10:21-22 the “Johannine thunderbolt”!

What makes this particular statement rather remarkable is that Jesus claims that his Father has delivered all things to him right after having just praised the Father for being the Lord of heaven and earth, meaning of the entire creation. Christ is therefore claiming absolute possession of the entire creation since, in context, this is what God would have entrusted to him!

It also includes the wisdom that the Father had kept hidden from the wise and learned of this age, i.e., all of God’s knowledge and wisdom have been entrusted to the Son which is why only the Son is qualified to make the Father known to others.

Jesus then says that the Father alone knows the Son and vice-versa which explains why the Son has to reveal the Father, something that he says he does for whomever he chooses. This statement presupposes that the Son is an incomprehensible Being, much like the Father is, which is why the Father is the only One who is capable of knowing him. Jesus is basically saying that only someone possessing an omniscient mind is able to know the Son exhaustively and perfectly. And since the Father is omniscient it only makes sense that he alone completely knows the Son.

By the same token Jesus must be omniscient since he also claims to know the Father in the same sense that the Father knows him, something which is beyond the capacity of any creature since the Holy Bible clearly teaches that God’s nature is incomprehensible:

“Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.” Job 11:7-9

“God thundereth marvellously with his voice; 
great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend.” Job 37:5 – cf. 5:9; 9:10; 36:26

“He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. Great is our LORD, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.” Psalm 147:4-5 cf. Psalm 139:1-16; 145:3

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36 – cf. Isaiah 40:13-14; 55:8-9; Ephesians 3:17-19; Philippians 4:7

Therefore, the Son must be an incomprehensible and omniscient Being since this is the only way that he could know the incomprehensible and omniscient Father in the same sense and to the same degree that the Father knows him.

That’s not all. Jesus then goes on to invite everyone who is burdened and heavy laden to turn to him so that he can give them rest. This presupposes that Christ is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent since he must know who is coming to him for rest, and must have the ability to then grant everyone the rest and comfort they seek, no matter where they’re at or how many they happen to be.

This is precisely why the inspired Scriptures describe this as a work that both Jehovah and his Spirit carry out for the people of God:

“And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” Exodus 33:14

But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him? that led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name? that led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.” Isaiah 63:14

“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” Jeremiah 6:16

And to see just how astonishing Jesus’ assertion happens to be, note what the following highly critical commentary says concerning this passage from Matthew 11:25-27:

“… To accept this subsection as authentic, we would have to assume that the earthly Jesus held a view of himself CLOSE TO THAT OF THE CREEDS FORMULATED IN THE CHURCH IN LATER CENTURIES. On the other hand, since this passage stood in Q, which is thought to have originated IN PALESTINE BY ABOUT A.D. 50, it cannot be a late product. It should be viewed as a formulation of the church on the way to the fully developed Christologies of the 2nd and 3rd cents.” (Howard Clark Glee, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible: Introduction and Commentary for Each Book of the Bible Including the Apocrypha, with General Articles, edited by Charles M. Layman [Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN 1971], p. 623; bold and capital emphasis ours)

We thus have a liberal source candidly admitting that Jesus’ self-understanding according to this text from Matthew basically reflects what the later Christian creeds taught concerning his absolute Deity and essential co-equality with the Father, which is precisely why it rejects it as an authentic saying of Christ! Talking about begging the question!

Be that as it may, what this liberal source says about the alleged place and time of composition of this saying isn’t helpful to Williams’ crusade against the Holy Bible, since the view taken by this critical commentary essentially means that this is a statement which Jesus’ original Jewish followers such as Peter composed in Palestine!

After all, to argue that Matthew 11:27 comes from Q, a source which supposedly originated in Palestine around A.D. 50, basically establishes that this saying was composed during the time when the Apostles of the risen Lord were still alive and well.

Therefore, if the position of this liberal commentary is correct then this means that it was the original Jewish disciples of Christ who went around preaching that Jesus is the incomprehensible and omniscient Son of God who was/is coequal to the Father in essence!

As such, this only reinforces what we already noted in the first part of our rebuttal, namely, the Quran is in gross error for claiming that Jesus’ disciples were Muslims (cf. Q. 3:52, 5:111), and that Muhammad was therefore a false prophet for expressly contradicting the teaching of Christ’s original Jewish followers concerning the Person and work of the Lord Jesus.

There is another text from Matthew which provides further support for taking Matthew 28:18 as a genuine saying of the historical Jesus. In Matthew 21:33-46 Jesus narrates a parable where he likens God to an owner of a vineyard (Israel/Jerusalem [cf. Isaiah 5:1-7]), which he rented out to some tenants or husbandmen (the Jewish rulers). In the parable, the owner sent his servants to collect some of the fruits from his vineyard. However, the tenants chose to beat and kill some of these servants, whom the inspired Scriptures identify as the prophets that God repeatedly sent to his people Israel (cf. Jeremiah 7:25; 26:5; 29:19; 44:4; Revelation 11:18). Jesus then says that the owner had one final person to send:

But last of all he sent unto them HIS SON, saying, They will reverence MY SON. But when the husbandmen saw THE SON, they said among themselves, THIS IS THE HEIR; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.” Matthew 21:37-41 – cf. Mark 12:6-8; Luke 20:13-15

In contrast to the prophets who were nothing more than servants, Jesus identifies himself as the Owner’s Son and Heir whom the tenants ended up killing. 

This again shows that Christ believed that everything that God owned belonged to him, which would include the prophets as well, e.g., as the Son who is the Heir of God the prophets were/are his servants as well!

Thus, these specific texts simply confirm the point made in Matthew 28:18, as we (as well?) as the Holy Bible a whole, namely that the Lord Jesus is the beloved Son whom God has appointed to be the divine Heir of everything that the Father owns. Therefore, Christ has supreme authority over the entire creation since everything was made for him as an expression of the Father’s infinite love for his Son (cf. Psalm 2:7-9; John 1:1-4, 10-11, 14, 18; 3:35; 5:20; 17:24; Colossians 1:13-18; Hebrews 1:1-14; 3:3-6).

So much for Williams’ critique of Matthew 28:18.

All Scriptural quotations taken from the Authorized King James Version (AV) of the Holy Bible. 


The Scholars Have Spoken!

We conclude our rebuttal by citing a variety of commentaries which help bring out the plain and explicit meaning of the Lord Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:27.

All things are delivered unto me of my Father - This is a great truth, and the key of the science of salvation. The man Christ Jesus receives from the Father, and in consequence of his union with the eternal Godhead becomes the Lord and sovereign Dispenser of all things. All the springs of the Divine favor are in the hands of Christ, as Priest of God, and atoning Sacrifice for men: all good proceeds from him, as Savior, Mediator, Head, Pattern, Pastor, and sovereign Judge of the whole world.

No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man, etc. - None can fully comprehend the nature and attributes of God, but Christ; and none can fully comprehend the nature, incarnation, etc., of Christ, but the Father. The full comprehension and acknowledgment of the Godhead, and the mystery of the Trinity, belong to God alone. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary; bold emphasis ours)

All things are delivered … - The same doctrine is clearly taught often in the New Testament. See John 3:35; John 6:46; John 10:15; Colossians 1:16-17. It means that Christ has control over all things for the good of his church; that the government of the universe is committed to him “as Mediator,” that he may redeem his people and guide them to glory, Ephesians 1:20-22.

No man knoweth the Son - That is, such is the nature of the Son of God, such the mystery of the union between the divine and human nature, such his exalted character as “divine,” that no mortal can fully comprehend Jesus. None but God fully knows him. If he had been only a mere man, this language surely would not have been used of him.

Neither knoweth any man the Father … - In the original this is, neither knoweth “anyone” the Father except the Son. That is, no man or angel clearly and fully comprehends the character of the infinite God; none but the Son - the Lord Jesus - and he to whom he makes him known, have any just apprehensions of his being and perfections. (Albert Barne’s Notes on the Whole Bible; bold emphasis ours)

All things have been delivered unto me of my Father (παντα μοι παρεδοτη υπο του πατρος μου — panta moi paredothē hupo tou patros mou). This sublime claim is not to be whittled down or away by explanations. It is the timeless aorist like εδοτη — edothē in Matthew 28:18 (see note) AND “POINTS BACK TO A MOMENT IN ETERNITY, and implies THE PRE-EXISTENCE of the Messiah” (Plummer). The Messianic consciousness of Christ is here as clear as a bell. It is a moment of high fellowship. Note επιγινωσκει — epiginōskei twice for “fully know.” Note also βουληται — boulētai = wills, is willing. The Son retains the power and the will to reveal the Father to men. (A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament; bold and capital emphasis ours)

All things are delivered unto me of my Father — He does not say, They are revealed - as to one who knew them not, and was an entire stranger to them save as they were discovered to Him - but, They are “delivered over,” or “committed,” to Me of My Father; meaning the whole administration of the kingdom of grace. So in John 3:35, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand” (see on John 3:35). But though the “all things” in both these passages refer properly to the kingdom of grace, they of course include all things necessary to the full execution of that trust - that is, unlimited power. (So Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Ephesians 1:22)…

to reveal him — What a saying is this, that “the Father and the Son are mutually and exclusively known to each other!” A higher claim to equality with the Father cannot be conceived. Either, then, we have here one of the revolting assumptions ever uttered, or the proper divinity of Christ should to Christians be beyond dispute… (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible; bold emphasis ours)

This passage closes with the greatest claim that Jesus ever made, the claim which is the centre of the Christian faith, that he alone can reveal God to men. Other men may be sons of God; he is The Son. John put this in a different way, when he tells us that Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). What Jesus says is this: "If you want to see what God is like, if you want to see the mind of God, the heart of God, the nature of God, if you want to see God's whole attitude to men--look at me!" It is the Christian conviction that in Jesus Christ alone we see what God is like; and it is also the Christian conviction that Jesus can give that knowledge to anyone who is humble enough and trustful enough to receive it. (William Barclay's Daily Study Bible; bold emphasis ours)

The latter passage raises a still more basic point. Cannot Jesus himself be thought to originate some things? Was the church so rich in imagination and Jesus so imaginatively poor that all new developments in titles and theology must be ascribed only to the church? If 3:17 is historical, why should not Jesus think of himself as the Son in 11:27? Is it necessary to conclude, with Hill, that 11:27 cannot be authentic because it sounds like the authority of the postresurrection Jesus in 28:18? And if the two do sound alike, why should we not therefore conclude that there is more continuity between the earthly ministry of Jesus and the resurrected Lord than most scholars are prepared to admit?

Verse 27 is a christological claim of prime importance, fitting easily into the context. After declaring that the Father gives true understanding of “these things” to “little children” (vv.25-26), Jesus now adds that he is the exclusive agent of that revelation. “All things” may have reference not to “all authority” (as in 28:18) but to “all divine knowledge,” all knowledge of “these things” (in v. 25). But because the Son has not only knowledge but the authority to choose to whom he will reveal God, probably “all things” includes authority. The reciprocal knowledge of Son and Father where the Father is God presupposes a special sonship indeed. And this unique mutual knowledge guarantees that the revelation the Son gives is true. Not least astonishing about this reciprocity is the clause “No one knows the Son except the Father.” Even if it is rendered in Jeremias’s way (above), in this exclusivistic context it makes a claim no mere mortal could honestly make. There is a self-enclosed world of Father and Son that is opened to others only by the revelation provided by the Son. “It is one thing to know by equality of nature, and another by the condescension of him who reveals” (Jerome, cited in Broadus). This revelation is not only factual (the Son reveals “these things”) but personal (the Son reveals “him”–the Father). 

The Son reveals the Father to those whom he, from time to time, wills (present subjunctive: cf. Turner, Syntax, p. 107). Just as the Son praises the Father for revealing and concealing according to his good pleasure (v.26), so the Father has authorized the Son to reveal or not according to his will. The text places enormous emphasis on Jesus’ person and authority. The thought is closely echoed both in John (3:35; 8:19; 10:15; 14:9; 16:15) and in the Synoptics (Matt 13:11; Mark 4:11–Jesus makes known the secrets of the kingdom; cf. Matt 10:37-39, 11:25; Luke 10:23-24; ch. 15 et al.). What is made clear in this passage is that sonship and messiahship are not quite the same. “Sonship precedes messiahship and is in fact the ground for the messianic mission” (Ladd, NT Theology, pp. 165-167, esp. p. 167). (Donald A. Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Frank E. Gabelein (general editor) [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 1984], Volume 8, pp. 276-277; bold emphasis ours)

11:27 All things had been delivered to Christ by His Father. This would be a presumptuous claim from anyone else, but from the Lord Jesus it is a simple statement of truth. At that moment, with opposition mounting, it did not appear that He was in control; nonetheless it was true. The program of His life was moving irresistibly toward eventual glorious triumph. “No one knows the Son except the Father.” There is incomprehensible mystery about the Person of Christ. The union of deity and humanity in one Person raises problems that boggle the human mind. God cannot die. Yet Jesus is God and Jesus died. And yet His divine and human natures are inseparable. So although we can know Him and love Him and trust Him, there is a sense in which only the Father can truly understand Him… The Father, too, is inscrutable. Ultimately, only God is great enough to understand God. Man cannot know Him by his own strength or intellect. But the Lord Jesus can and does reveal the Father to those whom He chooses. Whoever comes to know the Son comes to know the Father also (John 14:7).

Yet, after saying all this, we must confess that in seeking to explain verse 27, we are dealing with truths too high for us. We see in a mirror dimly. Not even in eternity will our finite minds be able to fully appreciate the greatness of God or understand the mystery of the Incarnation. When we read that the Father is revealed only to those whom the Son chooses, we might be tempted to think of an arbitrary selection of a favored few. The following verse guards against such an interpretation. The Lord Jesus issues a universal invitation to all who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him for rest. In other words, the ones to whom He chooses to reveal the Father are those who trust Him as Lord and Savior. As we examine this invitation of infinite tenderness, let us remember that it was issued after the blatant rejection of Jesus by the favored cities of Galilee. Man’s hate and obstinacy could not extinguish His love and grace. (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, edited by Art Farstad [Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN 1995], pp. 1245-1246; italicized and underline emphasis ours)

Now Jesus switches from talking to his Father to talking about him and their relationship to each other… “All things” knows no limits (compare the Devil's offering Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" [4:8-9]). God has given all things over to Jesus because Jesus is his Son and therefore his heir. "Except for the Father no one recognizes the Son" means that only God recognizes Jesus as his Son; for biologically speaking, Jesus has no human father (1:18-25; 2:15; 3:17). Hence, God has no heir except for Jesus. Correspondingly, "nor does anyone recognize the Father except for the Son" means that only Jesus recognizes God as his Father; for biologically speaking, no human being except for Jesus has God as his Father (see again the aforementioned passages). But to this exception of himself Jesus adds "the person to whomever the Son decides to reveal [the Father]," so that just as Jesus addressed God with "Father," he taught his disciples to do the same (6:9; see also his many references to "your Father" and 5:9, 45). "To whom the Son decides to reveal [the Father]" reemphasizes sovereign grace, only this time the Son's in addition to the Father's. Since 16:16-17 will make Jesus' identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God, the subject matter of God the Father's revelation to Simon Peter, the subject matter of the Son's revelation is the identity of God as the Father of believers in Jesus. (Robert H. Gundry, “Matthew,” Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation [Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, Peabody, Massachusetts 2010], p. 49; bold emphasis ours)

The first important truth of this verse is not so much taught as taken for granted. Jesus unequivocally equates Himself with God, calling Him My Father in a way that Jews would never do except when referring to His corporate fatherhood of Israel. Here is one of Jesus' clearest statements of His deity, disclosing the intimate and absolutely unique relationship of the Father and the Son. In essence they are one and are inseparable.

There was no doubt in the minds of Jesus' hearers that His referring to God as My Father was a claim to deity. The Jews had earlier accused Jesus of making Himself "equal with God" and sought to kill Him (John 5:18). When on another occasion He said, "I and the Father are one," the crowd wanted to stone Him to death for blasphemy (John 10:30-31; cf. vv. 15, 17-18, 25, 29, 32-38).

That Jesus is Himself God is the heart of the gospel because apart from His deity He could not save a single soul. No heresy so corrupts the gospel and robs it of its power as the teaching that Jesus is not God. Apart from His deity, there is no gospel and no salvation.

The second truth of this verse is explicit. In His deity Jesus not only was intimate with His Father but had received all things–all authority, sovereignty, truth, and power-from the Father. At some time in preexistent eternity the Father committed these things to the Son (cf. John 5:21-24).

It was because all authority had been given to Him "in heaven and on earth" that Jesus had the right to send out His followers to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:18-19).

The underlying purpose of Jesus' miracles was to demonstrate His authority over illness, disease, demons, nature, life, death, and sin. He had authority to forgive sins, to save from divine judgment, and to sovereignly control everything on earth and in heaven. All things in the universe and pertaining to the universe are under His divine sovereignty. His power displayed during His ministry was a preview of the full display in the coming earthly Millennium, when He will reign over the earth.

The third truth of this verse is that no one knows the Son except the Father. Man has no way in himself of discovering what God is like, because his finite mind cannot grasp God's infinite nature. Because the Son is divine, Jesus says, only the divine Father knows him. The obverse is equally true: nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Divine truth can only be divinely perceived and divinely imparted (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-16). (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 8-15 [Moody Publishers, Chicago 1987], p. 273; italic and underline emphasis ours)