The Debate with Alan Storky
My debate with Alan Storky on March 1, 1999 at the University of Manchester was a successful one. We debated two topics. The first topic was: “Who is God?” The second topic was: “Who is Jesus?”
Who is God?
In discussing the first topic I showed that the firm teaching that God is one is stated in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in the Glorious Qur’an. I claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity is a departure from this continuous teaching. Alan tried to refute this claim with citations from the Bible. However, I explained that his citations do not prove the point. It remains, then, that there is no passage in the Old or New Testaments that command a belief in the Trinity.
I further claimed that there is nothing in reason that would command a belief in the Trinity. In fact, reason seems to dictate a disbelief in that doctrine. In reply, Alan said that when it comes to these matters “rationality bites the dust.” Alan did not attempt to show, therefore, that the Trinity is a reasonable doctrine.
Who is Jesus?
In discussing the second topic, I showed that the continuous clear teaching about Jesus in the New Testament is that Jesus is a Servant and Messenger of God. I stressed that Muslims believe in Jesus. We believe that Jesus was the Messiah; that he was born of a virgin; that he performed many miracles by God’s leave; that God raised him up; and that God will send him again. I claimed that there is nothing in the Bible to contradict this belief. Alan was unable to produce any firm evidence from the Bible to disprove me.
The Love of God and Jesus
Alan stressed that God is love. This love is demonstrated in the passion of Jesus. In reply, I showed that if the Trinity and the Divine Sonship of Jesus are not demanded by scripture, then they are later doctrines that should be abandoned. The understanding that God is one is the very first commandment stressed in the Bible. If Christianity fails on this commandment the idea that God is love will not cancel this failure.
The discussion was a lively one, with quick interchanges between speakers. Both speakers marshalled good arguments in support of what they believe. The results of our discussion on the two topics is that the arguments presented proved that the Trinity was a teaching invented after the Bible was written and not expressed within the Bible. Moreover, the doctrine of the Divine Sonship of Jesus is also a later idea read back into the Gospels. The first commandment in the Bible cannot be abandoned.
In the discussion that followed many Christians said that Alan did not adequately represent them. This is a frequent complaint that I have heard after many debates. I hope that this matter will be looked into prior to every debate rather than be addressed as a complaint after the debate.
I have found also that frequently after a debate excuses are offered for the outcome of the debate.
In this case, there was some discussion about my reading of a verse from Luke’s Gospel during the question period. Because of the length of discussion this matter has generated, I think it best to go into some detail here.
Near the end of the debate, a questioner asked me to notice that in Luke 22:70 Jesus admitted that he is the Son of God. Instead of replying in my own words, I read the passage out loud. It so happens that the Bible version I had read from was different than what the questioner had in mind. The questioner was referring to the New International Version whereas I was referring to the New American Bible. Whereas his version showed that Jesus admitted being the Son of God, my version showed that he did not admit it. After I read it there was a roar of laughter in the audience.
Now Alan complains that, first, I was reading from an inaccurate translation. Second, I should have read the next verse which says that the Jewish scholars took Jesus’ statement for blasphemy. Third, I should have read the part about Jesus being the Son of Man.
MY READING OF LUKE 22:70
As for the first complaint, I was reading from a reputable Christian Bible. The New American Bible is not a Muslim Bible. Nor is it a Bible produced by any individual or by any fringe group of
Christians. It is a popular mainstream Bible. I cannot help it if one Bible is different from another on such a key point for Christians.
The words I read were accurate. I did not change the words in any way. When I pointed this out to Alan he protested, “But you did not pronounce it the right way!” Now the complaint has shifted to new ground.
Who to believe – Jesus or his enemies?
The next verse shows that the Jewish scholars took Jesus’ words for blasphemy. Alan thinks it was unfair of me to not read this verse also.
This complaint is unwarranted. The questioner had asked me to read Jesus’ words, not his enemies’ interpretation. That I read. The questioner had asked me to read a specific verse. That I read.
The reading of the enemies’ conclusion would not have changed to thrust of what I read. The entire passage shows that whereas Jesus did not admit being the Son of God the high priest nevertheless condemned him for blasphemy. The passage shows that they were so determined to put him to death that they kept bringing false witnesses against him to twist his words and convict him. Yet Alan thinks that the conclusion of these people is true and that I should have read it out.
On the other hand, I would think that if I had read it out to a perceptive audience they would recognize a fallacy in Alan’s position. Whereas Jesus says one thing and his enemies conclude another, Alan seems to go with the other. The audience was already convinced from my reading of Jesus’ words in Luke 22:70 in which he did not admit being the Son of God.
THE SON OF MAN & DANIEL 7:14
Alan thinks that I should have read verse 69 which shows that Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man who is spoken of in Daniel 7:14. My reply to this is fourfold.
First, “Son of Man” is not the “Son of God”. If I had read the verse it would only have lent further support to my position.
Second, as Alan agreed, many Biblical scholars say that often it seems that Jesus is speaking of the Son of Man as a future apocalyptic figure other than himself. I would say then that if Son of Man means Son of God then there is another Son of God according to such scholars. Alan’s real complaint, then, is not about what the verse says but about what Alan’s interpretation of it says. Alan would not agree with the other interpretation.
Third, Jesus did not say that he has in mind here Daniel 7:14. Alan thinks he does. Maybe Alan is right, but this is not what Jesus said. It is an interpretation of what Jesus said.
Fourth, a quick review of the Daniel passage shows that Christians have grossly misunderstood this passage. I am glad that Jesus did not commit himself to the same misunderstanding. Although the passage speaks of one likened to the Son of Man, the passage itself explains that the Son of Man is a metaphor for the true servants of God to whom God will give the kingdom. This passage does not refer to a divine being called the Son of Man. Alan and others have misunderstood this passage. It is based on this misunderstanding that Alan insists that I should have read Luke 22:69 which he thinks is a reference to Daniel.
Altogether, it has been a memorable debate. I regret that so much focus is now given to my reading of one Bible verse during the question period. Surely I read many verses from memory during the meat of the debate. Why is there no complaint about any of these verses? And these are the verses on which the debate hung. If my reading of these is right, the Trinity is not true and Jesus is not God. To disregard the meat of the debate and focus on such a peripheral issue as my pronunciation of a correct reading of a Bible verse, or my failure to read related verses that would not alter the meaning anyway, is to trivialize the issue.
I can only hope that we will keep the focus to the main matter at hand. The debate demonstrated that both Christians and Muslims are obliged on the force of the evidence before them to believe that there is only one God and that Jesus is the servant and messenger of that one God.
I hope to have more such debates with Alan in the future. I hope that other Christian representatives will also come forward.
May Allah uses this debate and other such to make plain the truth which alone will set people free. May he also guide every man and woman who witnessed the debate, reviewed the tapes, or read these words.