Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Development of the Concept of the Holy Spirit 3

The Holy Spirit in Church History

The church came to understand that there are 3 ‘persons’ in the Godhead. Personhood in Christian theology is not the same as our modern understanding of the word. Rather, the word comes to us from Greek theaters, where personae were masks worn by actors to suggest their different roles.

In that sense, we know the 3 persons in the triune Godhead by what they do. Who they are is a metaphysical question. We cannot deny the fact that Greek philosophy had an impact on early Christianity, which led to the tendency of defining faith systematically. ‘It became more important to reflect on what God is in himself than to consider the relationship in which people stand to God. Behind all of this lies the notion that the abstract idea is more real than the historical.[1]

In the same trend ‘the Holy Spirit became the “spirit of truth” or the “spirit of wisdom”, where one’s primary interest was in the Spirit’s original being rather than activity in history.’[2]

Coming back to their respective roles in salvation history, the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies. However, in this definition, we may be talking in modalistic terms. Modern-day oneness Pentecostals acknowledge the 3 distinct roles, but they are not willing to concede 3 distinct persons. Orthodox theology on the other hand stresses that the 3 may be appear in history at different times, yet they all exist simultaneously (Matthew 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 13:14).

In the earliest ecumenical creeds, especially the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit is not explicitly called a ‘person’, but all his attributes that definitely those of a divine person. For example, he is the ‘Lord and the Giver of Life’. Later in the Athanasian Creed (8th century), we find the word ‘person’ applies to Father, Son, and Spirit[3].

Mention should also be made of the Filioque Controversy. Alister McGrath explains:

‘One of the most significant events in the early history of the church was agreement throughout the Roman Empire, both east and west, on the Nicene Creed. This document was intended to bring doctrinal stability to the church in a period of considerable importance in its history. Part of that agreed text referred to the Holy Spirit “proceeding from the Father.” By the ninth century, however, the western church routinely altered this phrase, speaking of the Holy Spirit “proceeding from the Father and the Son”[4].

The Latin term filioque (and from the Son) has historically been a source of contention between Eastern and Western Christianity till today. On one hand, the stress is on the Father as ‘the sole and supreme cause’ of all things, while on the other hand to create a distinction between the Son and the Spirit. They both derive from the Father, ‘but in different manners’[5]. Augustine alluded to John 20:22, where Jesus breathed the Spirit on the disciples as evidence of the latter proceeding from the former. He also wrote ‘…the Holy Spirit also proceeds also from the Son. But this is something given by the Father to the Son….’ In doing so, he proposed a middle way (though he lived long before the controversy), that both camps can agree on. [6]

The Church of Pakistan comes from the Western theological tradition, and that is why we speak of the Spirit proceeding from the Father and Son. Thus we can see that the Church gradually came to define what it believes about the Holy Spirit. However, many Christians speak today as if they own the Holy Spirit, as it some supernatural force at their disposal. We must recognize the Spirit as our Lord who is worshipped with the Father and Son.
We also must long from the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit, but with the humble understanding that the Spirit has descended upon the church collectively, not on individual Christians. Sadly, in our highly politicized churches, the most divisive individuals are claiming to be agents of the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit in the Qur’an

In the final section, I will briefly comment on the Islamic understanding of the Holy Spirit. Muslim polemicists often attack our understanding of the Holy Trinity, so we can rightly investigate how well they know their own concepts of the Holy Spirit.
Islamic doctrine states that the Holy Spirit is the messenger-angel Gabriel. With this understanding, let us look at 2 verses from the Holy Qur’an:

“We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of apostles; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you an apostle with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride? - Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay! (Sura 2:87)”

‘We’ is Allah. So we have Allah, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in a single sentence. Does this parallel with what we read concerning Jesus’ baptism? The more crucial question is: How does a messenger-angel ‘strengthen’ a prophet? Note that Christ is the only one in the Qur’an to have the holy spirit backing him up. Of course, this doesn’t imply that others were not. In the New Testament we read that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, where he was cared by the angels (Matthew 4:1,11). Is the Qur’an confusing the two?

The other verse is Sura 66:12

“And Mary the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants).”
Without the brackets (i.e. what is not found in the original text), we read ‘We breathed fihi into (it) of Our spirit.’

Into what? Her ‘chastity’. And if the Holy Spirit is Gabriel, was he breathed into Mary to bear Christ. Or was he the one who breathed into Mary. But he breathed what, since he himself is the Spirit? Unless Muslims also look at this verse from the eyes of the traditional commentators, they cannot say for sure what the Holy Qur’an teaches about who the Spirit is and what he does. He also comes in the form of a man (Ibn Kathir), so how is this version purer?

[1] Rev. Luke Yang, “Mission Studies: Class Notes”, St. Thomas Theological Seminary, September-December 2016
[2] Ibid.
[3] Bruce Milne, Know the Truth (Nottingham: England, Inter-varsity Press, 1982), 76-77.
[4] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 340.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid, 341. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Development of the Concept of the Holy Spirit-2

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament

When we reach the New Testament, we still see the Spirit of God as the active force of God. The Spirit is now pnuema in Greek, and has the neuter gender (as compared to the feminine gender of ru’ach). That is why in some old English translations of the Bible, the Holy Spirit is “it” rather than “he”. Again we see that the lexicon does not do us any favor to our doctrines!

The Holy Spirit is seen at work, firstly, in the birth and ministry of Christ. Mary was conceived through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t refer anything sexual (as some critics claim), but to the Hebrew concept of God overshadowing His temple (Exodus 40:34-35). Then the Holy Spirit is seen descending on Christ at his baptism. A comparison of this event in the four gospels (Mat 3:16-17, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32) offers us 3 conclusions:

1.      The Spirit did descend bodily on Christ, but this expression is only found in Luke

2.      The Spirit descended on Christ ‘like’ a dove, which parallels with Genesis 1:2 where ‘The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’. Thus we see that the Spirit that was present at creation is now empowering the one who will bring about a new creation.

3.      The descent of the Spirit coincided with the descent of a real dove. This parallels with the descent of the fire from heaven at the day of Pentecost which preceded the outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples.

The same spirit was then given to the disciples after the resurrection of Christ (Luke 24:49), and by extension, to the church as well. In the NT, we also see the Holy Spirit predominantly from what he does rather than who he is which is why we have the ‘Gifts’ of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians and the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5. There are however some key texts that lead to our understanding of the Holy Spirit as a divine person:

1.      It is a sacrament to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). We are not being called to baptize and be baptized in the name of an impersonal divine force, are we?

2.      The Spirit is ‘another comforter’ (John 14:15) while Christ is the primary comforter (1 John 2:1). Thus, the Spirit shares characteristics with Christ, and we all agree that Christ is a divine person.

3.      The Holy Spirit is Lord and God (Acts 5:3-4, 2 Corinthians 3:16)

4.      The Holy Spirit 'groans' (Romans 8:23) which also suggests his personhood

That is why we use a masculine pronoun ‘he’ for the Holy Spirit rather than ‘it’. In all honesty though, even the New Testament doesn’t teach the clear-cut personhood of the Spirit in the triune Godhead. We are still using our creedal lenses. 

But this is not always a wrong approach, for community always precedes scripture. This is also true for the Old Testament. John Hick writes:

God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality, as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine . . . They did not think of God as an inferred entity but as an experienced reality. To them God was not . . . an idea adopted by the mind, but an experiential reality which gave significance to their lives’[1]

So let us now take a look at how the concept of the Holy Spirit developed in the early church.

[1] John Hick, "Introduction," in The Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1964), 13-14

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Development of the Concept of the Holy Spirit


The study of the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology) is essential for any student of theology. We believe that the Holy Spirit is the divine agent that drives Christian ministry and equips the clergy and lay leaders to do God’s work in the world.  Hence, it is only suitable that we try to learn as much as possible about who the Spirit really is.

Interest in pneumataology has also increased since the rise of the Charismatic and Pentecostal congregations across the globe. On one hand, we can appreciate the Pentecostal emphasis on visible demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s activity in a person’s life when s/he is baptized and becomes a believer. But on the other hand, this emphasis often comes at the expense of the traditional Biblical understanding of phenomena like miracles, gifts, and healing.

For instance, the Bible clearly teaches us that Christ is the healer, and that miraculous healing is synonymous with the forgiveness of sins and the new life. However, at any Pentecostal church service or healing crusade (at least in Pakistan), the Spirit is ‘called upon’ to heal people, and that healing is more physical in nature. You may hear a call for repentance, but divine healing nowadays comes with promises of wealth and prosperity.  

There is also an apologetic aspect to this essay. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is intrinsically linked with the doctrine of the Trinity, and hence the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit also comes under attack from Jews, Muslims, and Unitarian Christians. The objective of this essay, then, is to briefly understand how pneumatology has developed over time in Christian history. It is my prayer and sincere hope that the reader will benefit and be blessed by this humble effort.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

The Holy Spirit is introduced to us as ‘Ru’ach’ which means spirit, wind, and breath. Genesis 1:2 reads ‘the Spirit of God was moving over the water’, but the translators of the GNT have suggested ‘the power of God; or a wind from God; or an awesome wind’ as alternate translations.

This gives us an important clue for studying the Pneumatology of the Hebrew Bible. There is nothing in the text itself that tells us that we should translate ‘ru’ach YHWH’ as the Spirit and not simply a wind from God. This is also crucial to understanding Biblical linguistics, where context is as important, if not more important than the lexicon.

In the OT, the spirit is God’s power, a term for the creative (and destructive) action of God in history. It is the power and dynamism of God. Don Cupitt comments: “Spirit is the traditional word for expressing the sovereign living energy and freedom of the divine nature’’.

So for example, while we see the Spirit at work during creation, we also see it performing destructive feats in the Book of Judges (Judges 14:6).

Here we are also introduced to the concept of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The OT talks about the spirit entering and leaving individuals. This can be understood in two ways. Firstly, we may be looking at a temporary indwelling, where the Holy Spirit is only given to individuals for certain tasks, after which he no longer manifests itself in that person’s life.  

Secondly, the Holy Spirit may be present with individuals all the time, but they only utilize it momentarily. Samson, for instance, engaged in prostitution, but we cannot say that the Holy Spirit left him in a literal sense[1].

Apart from the creative and destructive functions of the Holy Spirit, a key role of the Spirit in the OT is that of anointing, especially the anointing of the coming Messiah[2]. Key texts include Isaiah 42:1 and 61:1, both of which are applied in the New Testament to Christ. But from Genesis till Malachi, we do not find clear traces of the personhood of the Holy Spirit, nor the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Sure we can draw out Trinitarian proof-texts, but that is because we are reading the OT with creedal lenses. Let us then have a look at the progression of pneumatology from the Old Testament to the New.

[1] Dr. Pervaiz Sultan, “Systematic Theology III: Class Notes”. St. Thomas Theological Seminary, September-December 2016.
[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Jointly published by IVP and Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 637.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

We Celebrate Christmas Because We are the Children of God

Throughout December, me and my friends in our weekly apologetics and evangelism fellowship have been researching on questions like ‘is Christmas pagan?’, ‘is it Biblical to celebrate Christmas’? and the like. These topics seem childish (and they are), but they have become contentious issues not only in our dealings with the Muslim majority but also with a growing minority inside the church that has suddenly become aware of its ‘hebrew roots’ IYKWIM.

This is not to deny that Christians of Indo-Pak have adopted a religious holiday that was borne out of Roman imperialism, brought to this region, by the way, through British imperialism. So why do Christians in Pakistan celebrate Christmas? The Bible has the answer.

I was going through John 1:1-13, which is one of the Gospel readings for Christmas Day in the Anglican liturgy, and it is in verses 12-13 where I found the real reason for the season:

 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

We celebrate because we are the children of God, through faith in Christ, among community of believers, and in our humanity.

Image source: Pinterest

Children of God through Faith in Christ

One of the many institutions that Christianity (along with various world religions) has created and maintained is that of family. Christian parents, Christian children. The way that western world has redefined sexual freedom has forced churches in Europe and North America to stress all the more on traditional, Biblical values of marriage and family.

In Protestantism, covenant theology is the view that children born to Christian parents are also part of the new covenant like Jewish children were in the Old Testament. This is the reason why some Protestant churches baptize infants.

But what we find in these verses completely alters our understanding of what the Christian family really us. Verse 11 says ‘He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him’. Who are his ‘own’? This can include the entire created order, because the Christ, being the Word and the Light is the creator of the universe (vs. 3, 4, 9, and 10). 

More specifically, however, we may think of his own family members and the nation of Israel at large. The word for ‘own’ is ἴδιος (idios), which carries the meaning of home, family, property, and nationality. In other words, all things that we consider part of the traditional Christian values.

But his ‘own’ rejected Christ! The extent of God’s grace in Jesus Christ permeates to each individual in this world, regardless of his status, family, ethnicity, and religion. The right to become ‘children of God’ is freely given to ‘all’ who receive him by believing in His name.

In other words, you can become a child of God if you want to. Ancestry plays no part in putting you right with God. In Matthew 3, we read how John the Baptist warns his fellow Jews: 'And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’'.

That doesn’t mean that we rebel against family and country, but it does mean that ultimately and essentially, it is faith in Christ that matters. Children born to Christian parents are ‘holy’ (1 Cor 7:14) because they are being raised in an environment of grace, but at some point in their lives, they have to make an affirmation for themselves, whether it is through adult baptism, confirmation, or in a revival meeting.

Children of God among the Community of Believers

While the grace of God in Christ extends to all individuals, we are not children of God individually. Please understand the difference.
There is a lot of stress in evangelicalism on accepting Christ as your ‘personal savior’. This is not entirely wrong, but it can give rise to a renegade spirituality. And this is what we are seeing these days in our congregations. We have somehow come to believe that we can be sanctified and charismatic apart from the community of believers. And this is exactly why the most divisive people in the church claim to be agents of the Holy Spirit!

Only Christ had the right to call God ‘my Father’. For the rest of us, Jews and Christians, God is pater hemon ‘Our Father’. That is why it is part of our creed to profess belief in the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic church, and in the communion of saints. What the Apostle John is writing here also has ecumenical overtones.  

And this gives us the true understanding of the Christian family. All believers are united as parents, siblings, and couples to each other (John 19:26-27). That is why when Jesus said that those who leave their properties and families for Him will receive hundred-fold (Matt 19:29), he was not simply talking about heaven as many suppose, but an actual community where all your needs, physical and spiritual our met.

Children of God in our Humanity

Finally, we are children of God in our humanity. The New Testament rejects ‘dualism’, where matter is evil. Hence, orthodox Christianity does not only guard itself from Gnosticism, but also from the mystical religions like Hinduism and Sufism. The latter teach that the world is an illusion (Maya), and that salvation can only be achieved by escaping our flesh.

Our faith, on the other hand, dignifies humanity. Salvation is not only for the soul, but for the body as well. ‘Not of natural descent’ only means that salvation is through Christ’s blood and not your blood-line.  But we ‘are born of God’ in our humanity through faith in Christ and as part of the Church. And when we are resurrected, we will resurrect in these very bodies that will be glorified by God.

This became possible because God Himself became man (John 1:1, 14). The son of God became human so that each man gets the right to become the children of God. 

John writes “And the word (Λόγος) became flesh (σὰρξ) and dwelt among us”. Λόγος was easy to understand in the first century. For the Greek, the word of God was ‘God’s transcendent rationality that gave the universe order and purpose. A Hellenized Jew would quickly reach the volume of wisdom literature explaining God’s wisdom, his word, provided the universe with its form and coherence’. However, the word of God ‘was foreign to human ways, above us and distant from us, guiding as from afar’. But John says that the Logos became sarx. In his own writings, sarx refers to humanity, human emotions, and even sinfulness (john 1:3, 3:6, 17:2, etc.). This is scandalous, but contains the powerful and unique message that God is near us and he has not abandoned us (William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003), 75).

That is why we sing that Christ was ‘born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth”.  So the reason for celebrating Christmas is that Christ was born, and in doing so, he made us also those who are born of God. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Genesis 3:15-Reflections on a Marian Prophecy

It’s Christmas time again, and Christians around the world will be reading the Jewish Bible and reflecting on verses they believe prophesy the birth of Jesus Christ. We like to call them ‘Messianic Prophecies’ of the Old Testament. However, we tend to forget that they are also ‘Marian Prophecies’ in the OT, i.e. verses that speak about the Messiah’s mother, Mary.

The greatest example of such prophecies is Isaiah 7:14 (the virgin shall conceive). I have already expounded this verse on my blog a week or two ago (read here) Today I will be talking about what is perhaps the first messianic prophecy in the Bible, which is also a Marian prophecy. I am talking about Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelium:

‘And I will put enmity     between you and the woman,     and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,     and you will strike his heel.”

In the exegesis of Isaiah 7:14, I stressed on the broad understanding of OT prophecy. And in this verse also, we will briefly try to discover the extensiveness of the prophecy. It is ultimately about Christ Jesus who came to destroy the works of satan (1 John 3:8). However, this prophecy also includes Eve, Mary, and all faithful women in the world.

The context of this verse is interesting. It is a context of curses. The serpent tempted Eve and she sinned along with her husband by eating the forbidden fruit. God then pronounces curses on all three convicts. What we are reading in Genesis 3:15 is a curse on the serpent, the devil.

The Offspring: Singular or Plural?

Now on the surface, this verse simply refers to the battle of good vs. evil that is going on since eternity. Humanity (the offspring of the woman) will always struggle against satan and his minions. Ultimately, however, the head of the serpent will be crushed.

Who will crush the head? The Hebrew pronoun is הוּא (hu), which is a 3rd person singular pronoun that can mean he/she/it. That is why some translations use ‘it’ for the offspring instead of ‘he’ for any particular individual. The same word is also used in the phrase he will crush your head. The word for ‘strike his heel’ is עָקֵֽב (aqeb) from the root word עִקְּבֵי which is a masculine noun meaning ‘heel’. I did an online search, and interestingly, all instances of עָקֵֽב refer to a man or men.

Also note that Eve understood this prophecy as referring to a male individual (Genesis 4:1 and 4:25). These are subtle clues that this verse is ultimately about one specific individual who although bruised by the devil will ultimately destroy him. So we start with a broad understanding of all sons of Eve and then narrowing it down to a particular individual, Jesus Christ.

In Galatians, Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us that the seed of Abraham is singular and not plural (Galatians 3:16). So we may also understand the same for the seed/offspring of the woman in Genesis 3:15. In the same epistle, Paul writes: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman……………………..

But Christ was born of the woman Mary, while Genesis 3:15 is about the woman Eve, isn’t it? 

The Identity of ‘The Woman’

‘The Woman’ is an accurate translation of the Hebrew הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה (Ha-Isha). In the text itself, it is very clear that the woman is Eve. It is true that Jesus Christ was the descendent of Adam and Eve (Luke 3:38), and therefore he is ‘her offspring’.  But that rules out Mary, so how do we make the connection? Allow me to digress a bit here.

Genesis 3:20 says that Eve was so named because ‘she will be the mother of all living’. Her name ( חַוָּה chavvah) itself means life. It can be debated whether Eve is literally the first human mother. But that’s not the point here. The point is that she ate the fruit, and she was supposed to die. But now she is not only alive, but she will bear life from her womb as well. This means that God truly forgave her sin. There is also an element of atonement in Genesis 3:21.

Also remember that after Genesis 3:15 comes the curse on the woman: ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe…………….’

Note that the curse is the severity of the pain and not the pain itself. Whether there was physical pain before the fall, I leave you to figure that out.

Coming back to Genesis 3:16, the verse suggests that the severe pain of labor is a reminder to the woman of her sin. Quite misogynistic of God, right?

Wrong! For if there is no childbirth, there is no offspring to crush the head of the serpent, and no salvation, and no end to the curse. Read that again slowly. What I am saying is that the curse on the woman is the very key to salvation of the universe!

The woman is saved by enduring the curse she was subjected to. This is what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:15 ‘But women will be saved through childbearing’. Another seemingly misogynistic verse, but only if you ignore the context that I just mentioned.

For Eve, salvation came through childbearing because though her sin made her dead, God made her alive and motherhood was the physical demonstration of her salvation.

Mary was also saved through childbirth, not only because she obeyed the word of God, but she also gave birth to the savior of the world. Through her motherhood, God’s plan of a redemption was executed, and a redeemed community came into existence of which Mary was also a part (Acts 1:14).

This redeemed community is then sustained through Christian mothers who raise their children in grace.  A great example of this is found in what Paul says to Timothy ‘I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice’ (2 Timothy 1:5).

This Christmas, when we talk about the Messiah and his male ancestors (Abraham, David etc.), let us also focus on how Eve, Mary, and every Christian mother contributes to the salvation of the world. 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Christmas and Contextualization, is there a Link?

In the past couple of years, many Christians are suggesting that we should stop celebrating Christmas, or at least celebrate it with simplicity. 2 years ago, Pakistan witnessed its most brutal terror attack on 16th December, when innocent students were gunned down in APS, Peshawar. That year, the Orthodox Church refused to celebrate Christmas to show solidarity with the victims. This is a noble cause. 

But to say that we shouldn't celebrate Christmas because it has pagan origins, that is an entirely different matter. I will approach this issue from a different perspective. 


‘Contextualization is a dynamic process of the church’s reflection, in obedience to Christ and his mission in the world, on the interaction of the text as the word of God and the context as a specific human situation. It is essentially a missiological concept’[1].

A great example is the two styles of preaching Paul uses:

·         Heavily quoting scripture for a Jewish audience (Acts 13:16-41)

·         Not quoting scripture at all for a Greek audience (Acts 17:22-31), but essentially preaching the same message

Do we start from a human situation and then interpret Biblical texts to address, or we first exegete scripture and then try to translate its message in the context of our mission field? Example: theology (Deuteronomy 10:12) vs.  justice (Micah 6:8)? A possible solution: Christ’s disciples are those who have been instructed theologically (Matthew 28:20) but carry out social justice in the world (Matthew 5-7).

Starting with the Bible text mean that we forego real-life situations. John Stott famously claimed that preachers should study for sermons with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

‘In this dialogical relationship between the biblical text and the human context all forms of idolatrous beliefs and practices, whether religious or secular, are judged and stand condemned. The church is committed to their destruction. Though all of culture is tainted with sin, it still reflects the truths and beauty of God’s general revelation. Therefore that which is compatible with the law of God must be purified, transformed and put under the Lordship of Christ’[2]

This is the beauty of Christianity. It does not impose a specific culture (Semitic or Western) on its adherents (though it does impose a specific morality). It is just like the sun, from whose heat, light, and energy, we all can benefit without giving up our indigenous distinctions. Not like other religions that impose a certain diet and uniform to make all believers look identical. That may be noble, but unity in diversity is nobler.

Does Christmas Count as an example of Contextualization?

Thus far we have established a Biblical mandate for expressing God’s truth in our specific contexts and languages. However, I don’t think that Christmas is a good example. For one thing, when Christmas was instituted, Christians were in power imposing their worldview on the pagans. It was perhaps more of an attempt to convert not just pagan people, but also pagan culture to Christianity.

The thing is, much of criticisms around celebrating Christmas are same for contextualization, specifically Bible translation. E.g. should we use the word Allah for God in our Urdu translations? Wycliffe Associates parted ways with Wycliffe on this very issue. And here we can cite 2 examples that will broaden our understanding.

·         The application of the ‘Logos’ of the Hellenistic philosophy to Christ and giving it a whole new meaning (John 1:1, 14)

·         Paul comparing Jesus to the unknown God (Acts 17:16, 23, 28)
This is contextualization inside the Bible, let alone in translation!

Should Christmas be Celebrated? Answering Objections

×        Christ was not born on the 25th of December

Everyone knows that, and that has never been the reason why we celebrate Christmas. It was about using a popular pagan festival to celebrate the Lord’s Incarnation. On a side note, can we be sure of any religious figure’s birth date?

×        The Early Church did not celebrate Christmas
The Early Church also didn’t celebrate the Jewish feasts. They did, however, choose Sunday as the official day of worship (the Lord’s Day) which was the day of the worship of the sun God.

×        The Bible doesn’t talk about Christmas
Again, everyone knows that. But the Bible does talk about Christ’s birth in human history as a special event, and that is what we are celebrating.

×        Christmas as Pagan Origins
So do the 5 pillars of Islam. Also note that Christmas is not part of our faith as much as the Hajj is for Muslims.

As far as the objection of the Hebrew Roots movement is concerned, where do we draw the line? The word ‘El’ for God is also possibly pagan (Genesis 17:2). About Sabbath, the New Bible Dictionary states “It has been held….. that the institution of the Sabbath derived from Babylonia. It is true that the Babylonian word sabbatum is related to the corresponding Hebrew word, but the force of the words is quite different.[3]

Notice that they don’t reject a parallel. What about circumcision? (Jeremiah 9:25-26). In fact, Gordon B. Fee and Douglas Stuart write: ‘Several other law codes have survived from ancient nations from times even earlier than the time the Law was given….. depending on the date of the exodus from Egypt[4]

What then is not pagan?

Is it Compulsory to Celebrate Christmas?

No. Neither is it compulsory to celebrate Jewish feasts. It is a matter of liberty (Romans 14:5-6). Notice that Paul agrees that there are some disputed matters. It is also interesting that in Paul's letters those who stress on the Mosaic law are considered the weak in faith. 

Final question: Can Christians of Pakistan, in the ultimate act of contextualization, celebrate Christmas on the day of the birth of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)?

[1] Sinclar B. Ferguson and David F. Wright, eds., Ne w Dictionary of Theology (Leicester, England: IVP, 1988), 164.
[2] Ibid, 165.
[3] Marshall, Millard, and Packer, eds. New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England: IVP, 1032), 1996.
[4] How to read the Bible for All Its Worth,  175. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

خدا ایک بیٹے کی پیدائش کے وسیلے ہمارے ساتھ ہے: یسعیاہ ۱۴:۷ کا آیتی مطالعہ

یسعیاہ ۱۴:۷ کرسمس کے موقع پر پڑھی جانے والی پسندیدہ آیات میں سے ایک ہے۔ اور اسکی وجہ یہ ہے کہ اس میں ایک بہت زور دار پیغام ہے، اور وہ یہ کہ خدا نے خود کو جسم میں ظاہر کیا تاکہ لوگ اسکی قربت محسوس کریں۔ شاگردوں نے  یسوع کا ‘‘ ایسا جلال دیکھا جیسا باپ کے اکلوتے کا’’۔ لیکن آج ایماندار یسعیاہ ۱۴:۷ کا تجربہ کیسے کرتے ہیں؟ اس سے بھی اہم سوال یہ ہے کہ اس نبوت کا آٹھوی صدی ق م میں بنی اسرایئل کے لئے کیا مطلب تھا، جب یسعیاہ نبی نے یہ الفاظ ادا کئے؟

اگر اس آیت کا اطلاق صرف یسوع مسیح پر ہوتا ہے، تو بظاہر یہ یسعیاہ کی سامعیں کے لئے بے معنی تھی۔ ناقدین بھی یہ دعوہ کرتے ہیں کہ متی رسول نے یسعیاہ ۱۴:۷ کو غلط طور ہر یسوع سے منسوب کیا ہے۔ لیکن آج ہم سیکھیں گے کہ یسعیاہ نبی کی نبوت اگرچہ صرف مسیح کا حولہ نہیں دیتی، لیکن اس کا مکمل اطلاق بے شک ہمارے خداوند پر ہی ہوتا ہے۔ یہ فرق ہمارے ذہنوں میں صاف واضح ہونا چاہئے۔ آئیں اب ہم آیت کے متن کو دیکھتے ہیں:

لیکن خُداوند آپ تُم کو ایک نِشان بخشے گا ۔ دیکھو ایک کُنواری حامِلہ ہو گی اور بیٹا پَیدا ہو گا اور وہ اُس کانام عِمّانُوایل رکھّے گی

اپنے مطالعہ کے لئے ہم اس آیت کو تین حصوں میں تقسیم کرینگے:

1.    بیٹے کی پیدایئش بطور الٰہی استحقاق

''خداوند آپ تمکو ایک نشان بخشیگا''۔۔۔۔ یہ الفاظ صاف واضح ہیں۔ عمانوایل کا وعدہ اس لئے نہیں کیا گیا تھا کہ انسان نے خدا سے رفاقت رکھنے کا مطالبہ کیا تھا، بلکہ قادرِ مطلق ہمیں بیٹا بخشنے میں اپنے اختیار کو عمل میں لاتا ہے۔ یاد رہے کہ خدا نے یہ نشان اس لئے دیا کیونکہ آخز بادشاہ نے رہائی کے الٰہی وعدوں پر یقین کرنے سے انکار کر دیا تھا۔\

آخز شدید پریشانی میں مبطلہ تھا کیونکہ ارام (شام) اور افرایئم (شمالی سلطنت) نے ساتھ مل کر یہودہ کی تباہی کا منسوبہ بنایا تھا (۱:۷ سے ۳)۔ خداوند کا وعدہ یہ تھا کہ ایسا نہ ہوگا، بلکہ یہودہ کے دشمن خد نیست و نابود ہوجائنگے (آیت ۸،۷)۔ یسعیاہ کو یہ حکم دیا گیا تھا کہ جب وہ آخز کو یہ پیغام دینے جائے تو اپنے بیٹے شیاریا شوب کو ساتھ لے جائے، اور شیاریا شوب کا مطلب ہوتا ہے ‘ایک بچا کھچا حصہ واپس آئے گا’۔ خدا نے ایک قدم آگے بڑھتے ہوئے آخز کو یہ موقع دیا کہ وہ اس وعدہ کی یقین دہانی کے لئے کوئی بھی نشان طلب کر سکتا ہے، لیکن بادشاہ اس موقع کو دھدکار دیا (آیات ۱۰ سے ۱۳)۔ لہٰذا خدا اپنے الٰہی استحقاق کو استعمال کرتے ہوئے آخز کو ایک نشان دیتا ہے، کیونکہ اسنے خود یہ موقع گوا دیا تھا۔ یہ اس آیت کا پس منظر ہے۔ 

اس آیت میں لفظ ‘‘تمکو’’ عبرانی  متن کے مظابق واحد نہیں بلکہ جمع ہے، یعنی یہ نشان تمام یہودہ کے لئے ہے (آیت ۳)۔  لہٰذا ہمیں اس بات کی تحقیق کرنی ہے کہ اس دور میں ان لوگوں کے لئے اس تبوت کی تکمیل اگر ہوئی تھی تو کس طرح ہوئی تھی۔ لیکن اس سے پہلے ایک اور غور طلب بات یہ ہے کہ اس نبوت میں عدالت کا پہلو بھی ہے (یسعیاہ ۹:۷)۔

نئے  عہد نامہ میں بھی ہم سیکھتے ہیں کہ مسیح کے وسیلہ نجات بھی الٰہی استحقاق ہے (یوحنا ۱۶:۳، رومیوں ۸:۵)، اور یہاں بھی ہم  عدالت کا پہلو دیکھتے ہیں (یوحنا ۱۸:۳)۔  

2.    بیٹے کی پیدایئش بذریعہ الٰہی قدرت
‘کنواری حاملہ ہوگی’۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔ یہ خدا کے انسانی تاریخ میں معجزانہ طور پر عمل پزیر ہونے کی بات ہے۔ عام خیال کے بر عکس، معجزہ فطری قوانین کی خلاف ورزی نہیں، کیونکہ یہ قوانین تو خدا نے خود بنائے ہیں۔ بلکہ معجزہ فطری قوانین میں الٰہی مداخلت ہے، جس کے نتیجہ میں کوئی غیر معمولی صورتِ حال پیدا ہوتی ہے۔  جب میں ہوا میں پھینکے ہوئے گیند کو زمین پر گرنے سے پہلے پکڑ لیتا ہوں، تو میں کششِ ثقل کے قانون کی خلاف ورزی نہیں کر رہا، بلکہ مداخلت کر کے ایک غیر معمولی صورتِ حال (exceptional situation) پیدا کرہا ہوں۔   بچکانا مثال، لیکن امید ہے آپ نقطہ سمجھ گئے ہونگے۔

یہ بھی یاد رہے کہ بن ملاپ کے پیدائش حیتیاتی طور پر (biologically) ناممکن نہیں، کیونکہ یہ عمل لاجنس (asexualمخلوقات میں ہر وقت واقع ہوتی ہے۔ لیکن  ظاہر ہے ستنداریوں (mammals) میں ایسا نہیں ہوتا۔ مقدسہ مریم اسکی واحد مثال ہیں۔ یہ حقیقت کہ مریم کو کنوارے پن میں حمل ٹھہرا، ہم اس کے تاریخی شواہد دے سکتے ہیں، لیکن یہ اس مضمون کا موضوع نہیں۔

لیکن آٹھوی صدی ق م میں یہودہ کی خوفزدہ بادشاہت کے نزدیک کنواری کے حاملہ ہونے کا کچھ تو مطلب ہوگا۔ یہودی (جو یسوع کو مسیحا نہیں مانتے)، آزاد خیال مسیحی (جو نبوت میں یقین نہیں رکھتے)، اور مسلمان (جو بائبل کی صداقت کے منکر ہیں) اس بات اکثر زور دیتے ہیں کہ لفظ ‘کنواری’ صحیح ترجمہ ںہیں ہے (جسکا صاف مطالب ہے کہ متی رسول غلطی پر ہیں) کیونکہ عبرانی لفظ (עַלְמָה) ‘عالماہ’ کا مطالب جوان لڑکی بھی ہوسکتا ہے۔  

لیکن اس بات کو سمجھنے میں کوئی دشواری نہیں کہ ایک اعتدال پسند معاشرے میں جوان لڑکی کنواری ہی ہوتی ہے۔ ایک مذبی معاشرےمیں تو ویسے ہی نکاح کے علاوہ اس طرح کا تعلق رکھنا حرام ہوتا ہے۔  دوسری بات یہ کہ جب یہودی علماء نے خود عہدِ عتیق کا یونانی ترجمہ کیا، تو انہوں نے لفظ (παρθένος)   ‘پارتھےنوس’ کا انتخاب کیا جسکے معنی کنواری کے ہوتے ہیں، اور اسی سے لفظ Parthenogenesis آیا ہے جو لاجنس مخلوقات کی افزائشِ نسل کے لئے استعمال ہوتا ہے۔ بحرحال، ہمیں ترجمہ پر بحث نہیں کرنی چاہئے بلکہ دونون الفاظ (جوان اور کنواری) کو مدِنظر رکھتے ہوئے اس آیت کے وسیع تر معنی تلاش کرنے کی ضرورت ہے۔

غور کریں کہ یسعیاہ کی کتاب میں یہودہ کو ایک لڑکی کے طور پر پیش کیا گیا ہے (۸:۱)۔ یہ لڑکی اب اپنے دشمنوں کے ہاتھوں مرنے کو ہے، لیکن خدا اسے بچاتا ہے اور ایک بقیہ واپس آتا ہے۔ اس وقت یہودہ کا اپنے دشمنوں سے بچنا اتنا یہ ناممکن تھا، جیسا کہ ایک کنواری کا بیٹا پیدا کرنا، لیکن یہودہ کو خدا نے بچایا۔ حتیٰ کہ اسی کتاب میں یہودہ کی رہائی کو بیٹے کی پپیدائش کے طور پر پیش کیا گیا ہے (۷:۶۶ سے ۸)۔ لیکن بات یہاں ختم نہیں ہوتی۔

 اس نبوت کے اعلان کے فورا بعد یسعیاہ نبیاہ کے پاس گیا، اور ‘وہ  حاملہ ہوئی اور بیٹا پیدا ہوا’ (۳:۸، اس فقرہ پر غور کرنے کی ضرورت ہے)۔ اور اس بیٹے کا نام مہیر شالال حاش بز تھا، جو بائبل کا سب سے لمبا نام ہے اور یہ ارام اور افرائیم کی شکست کو ظاہر کرتا ہے۔

اس سب کے بعد یہ نبوت مکمل طور پر مقدسہ مریم میں اپنی تکمیل پاتی ہے، کیونکہ وہ درحقیقت کنواری تھی۔ یہ بھی یاد رہے کہ یسعیاہ ۱۴:۷ کا وعدہ یہودہ کی بادشاہت کے ساتھ تھا، اوریسوع مسیح اسی شاہی خاندان میں پیدا ہوئے (لوقا ۲۶:۱، ۳۲)۔  یہ اس نبوت کی وسعت ہے جسے ہم عام طور پر نظر انداز کرتے ہیں۔

3.    بیٹے کی پیدائش بوجہ الٰہی موجودگی 

‘‘اسکا نام عما نوایل رکھیگی’’۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔اختتام میں ہم اس نبوت کے مقصد کو دیکھتے ہیں۔ خدا اسی بیٹا بخشتا ہے تاکہ لوگ اسکی حضوری کا حقیقی تجربہ کریں، اور یہی عمانوایل کا مطلب ہے۔ خدا کے لوگوں یعنی قوم بنی اسرائیل نے یہ تجرنہ ۷۴۱ ق م میں کیا جب غالبا یہ نبوت کی گئ تھی۔ یسعیاہ ۸ میں لکھا ہے:

5‘‘پِھر خُداوند نے مُجھ سے فرمایا۔ 6چُونکہ اِن لوگوں نے چشمۂِ شِیلو خ کے آہستہ رَو پانی کو ردّ کِیا اور رضِین اور رملیا ہ کے بیٹے پر مائِل ہُوئے۔ 7اِس لِئے اب دیکھ خُداوند دریایِ فرا ت کے سخت شدِید سَیلاب کو یعنی شاہِ اسُور اور اُس کی ساری شَوکت کواِن پر چڑھا لائے گا اور وہ اپنے سب نالوں پر اور اپنے سب کناروں سے بہہ نِکلے گا۔ 8اور وہ یہُودا ہ میں بڑھتا چلا جائے گا اور اُس کی طُغیانی بڑھتی جائے گی ۔ وہ گردن تک پُہنچے گااور اُس کے پروں کے پَھیلاؤ سے تیرے مُلک کی ساری وُسعت اَے عِمّانُوایل چُھپ جائے گی۔
9اَے لوگو دُھوم مچاؤ پر تُم ٹُکڑے ٹُکڑے کِئے جاؤ گے اور اَے دُور دُور کے مُلکوں کے باشِندوں سُنو! کمرباندھو پر تُمہارے ٹُکڑے ٹُکڑے کِئے جائیں گے ۔ کمر باندھوپر تُمہارے پُرزے پُرزے ہوں گے۔ 10تُم منصُوبہ باندھو پر وہ باطِل ہو گا ۔ تُم کُچھ کہواور اُسے قِیام نہ ہو گا کیونکہ خُدا ہمارے ساتھ ہے۔ 

یہ تب ہوا جب تقریبا ۷۲۲ ق م میں اسوریہ نے ارام اور اسرایئل کو تباہ کردیا۔ اسکے ۷۰۰ سال بعد، مسیح کے شاگردوں نے خدا کو یسوع کی پیدائیش، خدمت، موت، اور قیامت میں اپنے ساتھ پایا۔ آج ۲۰۰۰ سال کے بعد بھی کیا خدا ایک بیٹے کے وسیلہ ہمارے ساتھ ہے؟ 

اب تک ہم نے تثلیث کے صرف ۲ اقانیم کو دیکھا ہے، یعنی باپ اور بیٹا۔ روح القدس یہاں غیر حاضر لگتا ہے، لیکن وہ ہے نہیں۔  نقایہ کا عقیدہ سے دو فقرے یہاں رقم کروں گا: ۱)وہ نبیوں کی زبانی بولا اور ۲) وہ روح القدس کی قدرت سے کنواری مریم سے مجسم ہوا۔

تو، جب یسعیاہ نے یہ نبوت کی، تو روح اسکے ساتھ تھا، اور وہی روح یسوع کی پیدائیش کا سبب بھی بنا۔ یہی روح اب کلیسیا کو ملا ہے (لوقا ۳۵:۱ اور ۴۹:۲۴ کا موازنہ کریں)۔ تو ہم آج اس طرح خدا کو اپنے درمیان اسکے بیٹے کے ذریعہ محسوس کرتے ہیں۔

کرسمسِ مبارک!