Muslims often argue that the Gospels evolved over time. Many take the consensus view that the Gospel of Mark is the earliest and that over time, the accounts of Jesus' life were embellished, and by the time we get the Gospel of John, we have a very different Jesus. In their estimation, this is due to the fact that Jesus did not start out as God, but this idea was a later Christian invention.1
Before the late Nabeel Qureshi lost his courageous battle with cancer, he wrote a book called No God but One: Allah or Jesus?
In his book, Qureshi argues that "[n]ot only does Mark present Jesus as divine, but the very point of Mark's Gospel is that Jesus is Yahweh."2
In this post, it is my intent to recount Qureshi's argument for those interested in better understanding Jesus' divine claims and to challenge those who would argue that His divinity was indeed a later Christian fabrication.
Qureshi begins by explaining that, "[t]he more I learned about Mark, the more I realized that it was a very Jewish Gospel, written with the Old Testament in mind. If refers to Jewish sources over seventy times, with a strong preference for the book of Isaiah, and never once does it explicitly refer to a Graeco-Roman source."3 And with that foundation, he proceeds in arguing as follows:
"Mark starts with a reference to a passage in the Old Testament: Isaiah 40:3-5. In that passage, a voice calls out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD [Yahweh]; make straight in the desert a highway for our God!...And the glory of the LORD will be revealed.' So Isaiah prophesies that Yahweh, the God of Israel, will appear, and a voice in the wilderness will proclaim His arrival. Mark tells us in 1:4 that John the Baptist is that voice in the wilderness-the one whose arrival he proclaimed was Jesus. In other words, Mark equates Yahweh with Jesus, saying: We have been waiting for a man to proclaim the arrival of Yahweh, our God. John the Baptist is that man, and he has proclaimed the arrival of Jesus.
In fact, Mark combines his reference to Isaiah 40:3-5 with Malachi 3:1, where the text says explicitly that the messenger (again, John the Baptist) will appear before the Lord Himself comes to his temple. As in the Isaiah reference, this equates the Lord with Jesus. For added emphasis, the Book of Malachi ends a few verses later by saying that if the Israelites do not accept the messenger, God Himself will come.
Thus, at the very beginning of his Gospel, Mark equates Yahweh with Jesus using multiple Old Testament references. For the attentive Jewish reader, Mark's prologue functions very much like John: It proclaims that Jesus is God Himself.
Mark continues in 2:3-10, telling us that Jesus forgave a paralyzed man his sins. The Scribes at the scene thought to themselves, He is blaspheming, Who can forgive sins but God? For the Jews, to blaspheme against God is an accusation that someone is not giving God His due respect, most commonly by saying the name Yahweh or by claiming divine status for oneself. Clearly, Jesus neither insulted God here nor uttered the divine name. Their charge of blasphemy can mean only that Jesus thought Himself to be God by claiming the divine prerogative of forgiving sins.
In response, far from denying the blasphemous claim to be God, Jesus shows them His authority to forgive sins by healing the paralytic. Not only did this demonstrate His spiritual authority, but also it reminded the Scribes, who know well the Hebrew Scriptures, of Psalm 103:2-3, which says, 'Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits-who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases" (emphasis mine).
When Scribes charge Jesus with claiming to be God, instead of denying it, He goes even further by healing a paralytic, thereby doing what only Yahweh does in Psalms.
Later in the same chapter, referring to Himself, Jesus says, 'The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28). Unless we know the Old Testament well, it is easy to miss the fact that the Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:8). When Jesus refers to Himself as Lord of the Sabbath, He is claiming lordship over the Ten Commandments even though there is only one such Lord: Yahweh.
In Mark 4:35-41, we find the troubled disciples out on the water in the midst of a storm with waves so high they broke over the boat and began to flood it. Amid adversity they call out to Jesus. Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' whereupon the sea is claimed and waves are hushed (v. 39). The disciples ask themselves in amazement, 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!' (v. 41). By now, we should realize that Mark expects us to answer these rhetorical questions by turning to the Old Testament. In Psalm 107:25-30, men are on a stormy sea so perilous that their courage has melted and they are at their wits' end. 'Then they cried out the LORD [Yahweh] in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed' (vv.28-29).
So in the Old Testament, when men are caught in a storm at sea and fearing death, they call out to Yahweh, who calms the storms and hushes the waves. In Mark, when the disciples are caught in a storm at sea and fearing death, they call out to Jesus, who calms the storms and hushes the waves. Once again, Mark equates Jesus with Yahweh.
In another seafaring passage, Mark 6:45-52, the disciples are struggling to row against the wind. Amid the stormy waves, Jesus walks to them on the water. For those who know the Old Testament, the allusion is clear: In Job 9:8, when Job is speaking about Yahweh, he says, 'He alone stretches out the heaven and treads on the waves of the sea.' What Job says only Yahweh can do, Mark shows Jesus doing.
Having discussed the highlights of Mark 1-6, we see Mark's endeavor is clear: He portrays Jesus as Yahweh. But regardless of the clarity and multiple allusions, I was not yet convinced. What convinced me that Mark portrayed Jesus as Yahweh was the climax of the Gospel-Jesus' trail.4
"In Mark 1:55-64, Jesus has been brought before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Those who brought Jesus to this trail have been seeking to destroy Him since a time early in his ministry (3:6). They hope to incriminate Him through His words against the temple, but without sufficient witnesses or a consistent accusation against Him, the trail is going awry (14:55-59). Then the high priest stands and demands that Jesus tell them who He is. It appears the high priest hopes Jesus can be incriminated through His identity claims. When Jesus responds, He gives the Sanhedrin more than they hoped for.
Jesus' words are: 'I am...And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.' The meaning of His words will not be clear to us if we do not know the Old Testament, but for the Jewish Sanhedrin, it was so clear that they condemned Him to death for blasphemy. What exactly did Jesus says? In Mark 14:62, Jesus makes a two-fold reference to the Old Testament, claiming the privileges and position of Yahweh for Himself. The first reference is to Daniel. Jesus quotes Daniel 7:13-14, an apocalyptic vision of the prophet Daniel, which states, 'In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
In this passage from Daniel, a being who looks human (one like a son of man) approaches God. Although he looks human, his entrance is on clouds-an entrance reserved for Yahweh in the Old Testament. Then the one like a Son of Man is given everlasting dominion, glory, and a kingdom, even though only God is supposed to have dominion and glory in the everlasting kingdom. Finally, this passage says that all people will serve the Son of Man, but this word 'serve,' whether in Hebrew and in Greek, always denotes a service due to God.
Thus, Daniel 7 introduces a Son of Man who rides the clouds, as only Yahweh can; He then receives everlasting dominion and glory over His own kingdom, as only Yahweh has; there, all people will serve Him with a divine service, as only Yahweh deserves. The Son of Man in Daniel 7 is a divine Son of Man. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, starting at 2:10, Jesus has called Himself 'the Son of Man,' though He never explicitly defines what He means by the term. In Mark 14:62, the climax of the Gospel, Jesus finally reveals to everyone who He is by quoting Daniel 7:13-14: He is the Son of Man from Daniel 7. He is Yahweh.
But claiming the title 'Son of Man' was not the only blasphemous act He commits before the Sanhedrin. As if to remove all doubt, Jesus also says He has the right to sit on the throne of God. When He says that they will see the Son of Man 'sitting at the right hand of power,' He references Psalm 110:1, which says, 'The LORD says to my lord: 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'
Sitting at the right hand of God was a right that no one had dared claim, nor dared impute to anyone else, up to this point in Second Temple Jewish history. It implied sitting on the very throne of God, and it was tantamount to claiming to be God's heir, someone who shared sovereignty with God. According to a scholar of the Psalms, 'Sitting at the right hand of God,' ...has a very definite meaning: 'the king is installed into an associate rulership; in this position of honor in the power structure of God he becomes a participant in Yahweh's strength in battle and victory.'
After learning all this, I understood why the Sanhedrin wanted to crucify Jesus for blasphemy. When Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man from Daniel 7 and the Lord of David from Psalm 110, 'Both claims imply divine status, authority and power.' In response to the question 'Who are you?' Jesus' response is essentially: 'I am the One who deserves eternal worship from all mankind in My own kingdom, where I will sit on the very throne of God. I am Yahweh.'5
"After reading Mark through the lens of Jewish scripture I could not longer avoid the obvious. From introduction to climax, Mark's Gospel is an exposition of the deity of Jesus. The first biography of Jesus ever written is designed to teach that Jesus is Yahweh."6
So, when the totality of the evidence is considered, it seems that those claiming that Jesus does not become divine until the Gospel of John are mistaken. The deity of Jesus Christ is powerfully present in our earliest gospel.
For a great debate on this topic, go here
.Courage and Godspeed,
1. As Qureshi points out, this is also a position taken by famous scholar Bart Ehrman in his published work.
3. Ibid., p. 252.
4. Ibid., p. 252-255.
5. Ibid., p. 256-258.