Sunday, 20 January 2013

He suffered under the Pontius Pilate

Have you ever wondered why instead of Abraham, David, or Peter, only one person is mentioned in this document alongside Jesus and Mary? Was he exceptional in any way? Let start with discussing who he was.

The evangelist-historian Luke tells us that Pilate was the governor of Judea in the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1). However, it is not only the New Testament that talks about Pilate, for we also find references to his existence in the writings of Philo and Josephus (for instance, see Antiquities 18.32f, 35, 39).

Not to mention, a stone was discovered in 1961 that had the name and designation of Pilate. The question is, was Pilate really a bad guy, a villain as the Church remembers him? 

Before proceeding with a discussion of Biblical texts, let me mention that even going through the secular references to the Prefect show us that he was not a good official, especially when it came to Roman-Jewish relations. 

He provoked the Jews more than once. On one occasion, he brought in idols of Roman emperors into Jerusalem, and it is also said that he once took money from the Temple to complete his administrative projects. 

This is what history tells us. But what about scripture? Let's go through some verses:

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.”  

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, (John 19) 
In all this, we actually see Pilate, a Roman governor going to the limit in order to save a Jewish carpenter from the invisible town of Nazareth. To please the Jews, he had Jesus flogged and even tried to let a Jewish criminal (Barabbas) free. Why then do we call him evil? Where did it all go wrong? The passage continues:

but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

The man who tried to show justice killed his conscious when his authority came under danger. In fear of losing his position, he let a man be crucified, someone he and his wife knew to be completely innocent. 

Only in one moment a man becomes the hero or the villain. This holds an important lesson for all of us. It is not sometimes the sum total of our lives that history will count us righteous or evil, it may only be a single critical moment. 

This brings us to our original question. Why do we remember Pilate while reciting the Creed? The answer is Jesus and not Pilate himself.

Anyone who came in contact with Jesus became immortal, whether it was a young villager who had 2 fish, or the donkey who received a king's welcome the original Palm Sunday. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Voice of the Shepherd

Christians do not have one authorized version of the Bible. One of my Muslim friends actually said that 'every Church has its own Bible'. 

Of course, these claims are far-fetched, but sometimes mature and intelligent non-Christians raise some arguments on the same grounds.

Why was the complete New Testament canonized after hundreds of years? And considering that Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Churches follow different canons, isn't this proof that Bible is not the word of God but rather an invention of the Church itself?

To begin with, let me state from the onset that Church at large has failed to address these issues. We have no reply because most of us are not even aware of how the Bible was written, compiled, and came to us. Churches in Pakistan do not address these topics in seminars and Bible studies, even though Islamic polemicists frequently bring up these charges. 

I am trying humbly to discuss these issues in this blog. So here is a simple, biblical reply for those who are looking to take a position in this debate.

Before beginning, let me spell out what the Bible means for the Christian:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.(2 Timothy 3)
See the words 'all', 'thoroughly', and 'every'. Everything that comes in the religious sphere has to be based on the Bible.But how do we know which books should be in the Bible?

The answer is simple. It is the word of God itself that defines the canon. Consider a few examples.

Jesus Christ said:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 17)

Jesus is talking about the Law and the Prophets. Later on the road to Emmaus, He refers to the "Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44).

This is internal evidence that Jesus declared the Old Testament to be the word of God. But can we say the same thing about the New Testament? 

In relation to his own words, Jesus once said "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away", making them equal to the OT.

Moving on, the Apostle Peter has to say this about the writings of St.Paul:

1Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3)

Paul, in turn, calls Matthew and Luke "scripture" in 1 Timothy 5:18. 

These examples only show that even during the lifetime of the Apostles, there was some concrete consensus on which books constituted the word of God. For instance, the 4 Gospel accounts were readily accepted from the earliest times.

Yes, its true that some books like Revelation were earlier rejected by some circles but were later accepted as scripture, whereas the opposite happened with other writings like the Shepherd of Hermas.

But this does not mean our final NT is simply the product of random picking and choosing.  Is today the Church unanimous on the books of the Bible? No, but the vast majority of the books are agreed upon by all. The most important canon, however, is Jesus Himself:

 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me" (John 10:14)
 Those who know Him can hear His voice in the Scriptures. Ask yourself, do you hear the Voice of the Shepherd when you read the Bible?

And considering the order of the Trinitarian blessing (2 Corinthian 13:14), it is Jesus that is the basis of our faith, the foundation on which everything rests.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Can Christians Use Islamic Terminology?

If you don't know me already, chances are you will not be able to figure out that I am Christian. I have a thick beard most of the time (because I hate shaving), and frequently use Arabic phrases like "Asalam Alaikum" (Peace be upon you) and "Inshallah"(If God wills").

As a young Christian, I was zealous, having nothing to do with anything 'unbiblical', Islamic in particular. This involved being loud and clear, despite the occasion, about the 'fact' that Allah is not the God of the Bible. Such statements still come to haunt me time and again. 

But as much as people lovingly (or mockingly) call me "Maulvi", some people tend to scold me off. "Don't say Inshallah" or even ""Don't talk like them!" 

Is this attitude justified practically, and more important, biblically? 

In Genesis 12, we have that promise, the covenant that was to change the world, where God will bless all people on earth. And then we know the story how Abraham went to show his faith in God despite all odds. Here is one such encounter:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty (אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔י); walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers (Genesis 17)

Here is God Almighty revealing His plan to Abraham. But note the introduction He gives, "I am God Almighty". The Hebrew "El Sheddai".

If you are a serious student of the Bible, you will know that El has Canaanite origins. But this is the name God used to introduce Himself to Abraham.

This is simply because Abraham previously was born in a pagan household, unaware of the one true God. But God used a name that he could relate to. It was 400 years later that God revealed His name by which we know Him today to Israel's greatest prophet, Moses (Exodus 3:14). 

For me this is a profound reality. If the Bible can contextualize the name of God, why do we have a problem with the name 'Allah'?