God is Not Silent

Notes I took from James Anderson’s Why Should I Believe Christianity? Chapter 5: God is Not Silent: 

Christians don’t typically deduce that God is the ultimate author of the Bible via some elaborate process of reasoning. Instead, they directly perceive that God is speaking to them through the Bible. They read the Bible, or they hear it read to them, and they recognize the voice of God.

None of the above is meant to be an argument for the Bible. If you don’t already believe the Bible is divinely inspired, none of the above will give you any reason to think otherwise. At this point I’m only explaining what the Christian perspective is.

Has God Spoken?

If God is personal and unlimited in power, then surely God is also able to speak, even if the manner in which God speaks differs from ours. How could God create us with the power to verbally communicate and yet lack that power Himself? Again, the very idea is incoherent. If a personal God is going to enter into personal relationships with His personal creatures, and the normal means of initiating and sustaining personal relationships is through language, then we should expect God to speak to us. Once we connect the dots between the kind of God who must exist, the kind of beings we are, and the kind of relationship we would have with God, we can see that the idea of a silent God is lacking in coherence.

How Has God Spoken?

God would arrange for His communication to be written down. The content of a written communication is not only publically accessible and objectively verifiable; it’s also preserved for future generations.

Where Has God Spoken?

Which of all these writings are the truly inspired ones?

Any divinely authored writings would also have certain recognizable qualities.

We saw in the previous chapter that only a God who is transcendent, perfect and personal can account for the things we take for granted in our lives. So a genuine divine revelation would have to present itself as a verbal communication from that God. That immediately rules out the sacred scriptures of Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism, since those writings don’t present themselves as verbal revelations from a transcendent, perfect, personal God.

The only major religions with scriptures that present themselves as verbal communications from God are the so-called ‘Abrahamic’ religions: Christianity, Islam and  Judaism. Only these religions affirm everything we’ve established so far:

  1. God is the transcendent, absolute, personal Creator of the universe
  2. God has spoken to us
  3. God’s words have been preserved in sacred writings

However, these three religions disagree on which writings are divinely inspired.

Judaism traditionally accepts only Tanakh (the Old Testament). Christianity agrees with Judaism that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, but adds that the New Testament is also divinely inspired. In fact, the New Testament claims to be the proper fulfillment of the Old Testament. So Christianity affirms not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament, the latter bring written as a witness to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and the birth of the Christian church.

Muslims believe that the Quran is a message from God which was delivered through the prophet Muhammad in the early seventh century. However, Islam also teaches that the Quran isn’t  the only divine revelation in history and that Muhammad wasn’t the only true prophet. Rather, Muhammad was the last in a series of prophets, and God delivered earlier revelations through a number of those prophets. Those scriptures include the Tawrat and the Injil, given through the prophets Moses and Jesus, respectively. Muslims will add, however, that these earlier scriptures have become corrupted. Only the Quran is an uncorrupted and reliable divine revelation.

How would we decide between these competing claims about where God has spoken? Once again, it will help to look at things from a worldview perspective. Christianity, Islam and Judaism represent three different worldviews, each with its own understanding of who God is, what God is like, and how God has spoken to us. We we can apply to each one of the worldview tests discussed in chapter 2. Here I want to focus in particular on the coherence test. Which worldview best fits together internally?

Let’s compare Judaism and Christianity first. Judaism accepts the OT but rejects the NT. The problem, however, is that the OT appears to be incomplete as it stands. It contains many promises and prophecies, the most striking of which concern a servant-king who would be sent by God to bring salvation to people from all nations of the world, whom the Jews came to refer to as ‘the Messiah’. Yet we don’t find these messianic promises and prophecies fulfilled in the OT itself. So the OT raises the question: Where’s the completion? Where’s the fulfillment?

Christianity offers a clear and compelling answer: Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of all these promises and prophecies.

Let’s turn now to compare Islam and Christianity.

The Quran doesn’t purport to be the only communication from God. It actually affirms parts of the Bible as earlier scriptures given through divinely appointed prophets such as Moses and Jesus.

There are a number of reasons to doubt the claims of the Quran to be a genuine divine revelation. For example, not only does the Quran reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, it also misrepresents that doctrine when it does so. It implies that Christians actually worship three separate gods- Allah, Jesus and Mary, the mother of Jesus -rather than one God who exists in three distinct persons- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.The problem here is not that the Quran disagrees with what Christians believe, but rather that the God of the Quran should at least know what Christians actually believe in the first place. It’s one thing for the Quran to say what Christianity teaches is mistaken; it’s quite another for the Quran to be mistaken about what Christianity actually teaches.

The question of coherence

When it comes to claims about divine revelation, does the Islamic worldview cohere as well as the Christian worldview? The basic problem for Islam is that the Quran affirms earlier scriptures while also contradicting those same scriptures. The Quran says that the Torah was given by God to the Jews yet it contradicts the Torah in a number of places. It also speaks about ‘the Gospel’ given to Christians through Jesus, but it flatly contradicts some of the central claims made about Jesus in the Gospels of the NT. For example, the Quran denies that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and that Jesus died by crucifixion  as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Muslims claim that the earlier scriptures were changed by Jews and Christians. That’s why these conflicts exist. The earlier scriptures have become corrupted, and therefore cannot be trusted. This common answer actually raises more problems than it solves. In the first place, the Quran not only acknowledges the earlier scriptures, it encourages Jews and Christians to consult those scriptures to confirm Muhammad’s own message, which implies of course that those scriptures weren’t corrupted in Muhammad’s day. That’s a big problem, because we have physical manuscripts of the OT and NT which have been reliably dated to hundred of years before Muhammad’s  birth. These manuscripts prove that the Bible we have today is the same as the Bible that Christians had when the Quran was written. So it’s hard to reconcile the idea that the Bible has been corrupted with what the Quran actually says and apparently takes for granted.

To compound the problem, the Quran insists in several places that God’s words cannot be changed or corrupted. Yet the earlier scriptures, such as the Tawrat and the Injil, are supposed to have been delivered by God in the same way as the Quran: received through a prophet and then preserved in written form. Muslims will insist that the Quran hasn’t been changed since it was first received. Indeed, they’ll say it couldn’t be changed because (as the Quran says) God wouldn’t allow it. If God is so committed to preserving these later scriptures, why didn’t He preserve the earlier scriptures too? Or to put the point in reverse: if God allowed the earlier scriptures to be corrupted so badly that they now can’t be trusted, what assurance does anyone have that the Quran hasn’t also been corrupted?

The argument in a nutshell: Christianity and Islam both teach that God has spoken to us through inspired scriptures, and those scriptures were given through a series of prophets over a long period of time. Both affirm that there were earlier and later scriptures: Christianity identifies those scriptures as  the OT and NT, while Islam identifies them as parts of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, plus the Quran as the final revelation. Christianity teaches that all the scriptures God provided He has also preserved over the centuries, and those scriptures form a coherent whole: a story of redemption which centers on Jesus. In contrast, Islam has to maintain that all the scriptures except the last have been irremediably corrupted and lost. For some reason, God chose to preserve only the Quran, a book whose teachings deviate at major points from those of the Bible. What’s more, we know that Bible we have today is the very same Bible that Christians had in Muhammad’s day.

When it comes to claims about what God is like and how God has revealed Himself over the course of human history, the Christian worldview is more internally coherent and consistent with the evidence than its two major competitors, Judaism and Islam.

(Why Should I Believe Christianity? James Anderson)

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