Things Science Cannot Prove Or Disprove

There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago.

— Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind, 1921, pp. 159–60; cf. Philosophy, Norton, 1927, p. 7, where Russell acknowledges Gosse's paternity of this anti-evolutionary argument.

Does Islam Present Allah As A Deceiver? "Linguistic" Justification (PART II)

Before I resume our discussion of makr, it maybe useful to point out that the Qur'anic identification of Allah with deceit is by no means contingent upon a single word or phrase in Arabic. The Quran employs several other Arabic words to denote Allah's deceit. In this post I will cite an absolute uncontested usage. Another word in describing the deception of Allah, that word is khida/khuda/khada. It is unambiguously translated as deceive in this germane passage:

"Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them (Inna al-munafiqeena yukhadiaaoona Allaha wahuwa khadiaauhum). And when they stand up for As-Salat (the prayer), they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allah but little." S. 4:142 Hilali-Khan

Here, once again is the lexical meaning of this specific word:

Kh-Dal-Ayn = To hide/conceal, double or fold, deceive or outwit, pretend, to enter, vary in state/condition, refrain or refuse, relinquish, to be in little demand of, deviate from the right course, resist/unyield/incompliant, turn away and behave proudly
khada'a vb. (1) 
impf. act. 2:9, 8:62 
pcple. act. 4:142 
khada'a vb. (3) impf. act. 2:9, 4:142 
LL, V2, p: 344, 345, 346, 347 (Source)

The usage of Khda is rare, it only appears 5 times altogether in the Qur'an and only within 3 verses. Twice it occurs in 2:9, and then again twice in 4:142 and once in 8:62. The translators have taken this word to refer to deceit in all 5 usages. Since I've quoted the first two usages (4:142) I will proceed to quote the final 3. Notice how this term is used in the following references:

And if they intend to deceive you (yakhdaaooka), then verily, Allah is All-Sufficient for you. He it is Who has supported you with His Help and with the believers. S. 8:62 Hilali-Khan 


They (think to) deceive Allah (yukhadiaaoona) and those who believe, while they only deceive (yakhdaaoona) themselves, and perceive (it) not! S. 2:9 Hilali-Khan 

The unbelievers are depicted as trying to deceive Muhammad and the believers. So there can be no doubt from the general and specific usage and the context that Allah also uses deception in deceiving them: "Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them" (4:142).

One of the greatest Islamic exegetes Ibn Kathir who quotes this verse in the Qur'an and provides an explanation of the passage has been translated by Muslim translators unanimously as deceive:

"(Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them.) There is no doubt that Allah can never be deceived, for He has perfect knowledge of the secrets and what the hearts conceal. However, the hypocrites, due to their ignorance, scarce knowledge and weak minds, think that since they were successful in deceiving people, using Islamic Law as a cover of safety for themselves, they will acquire the same status with Allah on the Day of Resurrection and deceive Him too. Allah states that on that Day, the hypocrites will swear to Him that they were on the path of righteousness and correctness thinking that such statement will benefit them with Allah. For instance, Allah said, (but it is He Who deceives them) means, He lures them further into injustice and misguidance. He also prevents them from reaching the truth in this life and on the Day of Resurrection." (QTafsirQur'an 4:142; or translated by Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman)

The Muslim translators who translated the following commentaries into English all unanimously agree with this translation of the citation (4:142). Tafsir Al Jalalyan is translated as: "He is tricking them". Tafsir Al-Qushairi as "He is tricking them" and later quoted as explaining: "God sends astray, you will never find for him a way". Tafsir Al-Tustari "The hypocrites try to deceive God, but it is He who causes them to be deceived" Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs: "(Lo! the hypocrites) 'Abdullah Ibn Ubayy and his followers (seek to beguile Allah) they disbelieve in Him and oppose Him in secret and think that they are deceiving Him, (but it is Allah Who beguileth them)". (Tafsirs)

In this case, this rendering is supported by most translations of the Qur'an in English:

  • Ahmed: The hypocrites try to deceive God, but He (leads them to) deceive themselves. When they stand up for performing the service of prayer they do so indolently, only for show, and remember God but little, (English Translation

More than 30 English translations of the Qur'an including Muslims and non-Muslims render it this way or similarly: 

  • Muhammad Asad: Behold, the hypocrites seek to deceive God - the while it is He who causes them to be deceived [by themselves] And when they rise to pray, they rise reluctantly, only to be seen and praised by men, remembering God but seldom, 
  • M. M. Pickthall: Lo! the hypocrites seek to beguile Allah, but it is He Who beguileth them. When they stand up to worship they perform it languidly and to be seen of men, and are mindful of Allah but little; 
  • Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar: Truly, the ones who are hypocrites seek to trick God. And He is The One Who Deceives them, and when they stood up for formal prayer, they stood up lazily to make display to humanity. And they remember not God but a little, 
  • Wahiduddin KhanThe hypocrites seek to outwit God but it is He who outwits them. And when they stand up for prayer, they do so reluctantly and to be seen by others, and they hardly remember God at all. 
  • T.B.Irving: Hypocrites try to outwit God while He is outwitting them! Whenever they stand up to pray, they stand up lazily to be seen by other people and seldom mention God, 
  • Safi Kaskas: The hypocrites try to deceive God, but it is He who causes them to be deceived. They rise to pray, they rise reluctantly, only to be seen and praised by men, seldom remembering God, 
  • The Monotheist Group (2011 Edition): The hypocrites seek to deceive God, while He is deceiving them; and if they attend to the contact-method, they do so lazily, only to show the people; they do not remember God except very little. 
  • Abdel Haleem: The hypocrites try to deceive God, but it is He who causes them to be deceived. When they stand up to pray, they do so sluggishly, showing off in front of people, and remember God only a little, 
  • Abdul Majid Daryabadi: Verily the hypocrites would beguile Allah, whereas it is He who beguileth them, ; and when they stand up to prayer, they stand up languidly, making a show to the people, and they remember not Allah but little. 
  • Aisha Bewley: The hypocrites think they deceive Allah, but He is deceiving them. When they get up to pray, they get up lazily, showing off to people, and only remembering Allah a very little. 
  • Ali Ünal: The hypocrites would trick God, whereas it is God who "tricks" them (by causing them to fall into their own traps). When they rise to do the Prayer, they rise lazily, and to be seen by people (to show them that they are Muslims); and they do not remember God (within or outside the Prayer) save a little. 
  • Ali Quli Qara'i: The hypocrites indeed seek to deceive Allah, but it is He who outwits them. When they stand up for prayer, they stand up lazily, showing off to the people and not remembering Allah except a little, 
  • Hamid S. Aziz: Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but He deceives them; and when they rise up to pray, they rise up lazily to be seen of men, and little do they remember Allah; 
  • Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali: Surely the hypocrites try to deceive Allah, and He is deceiving them; and when they rise up for prayer, they rise up lazily, showing off to (other) men, and they do not remember Allah except a little. 
  • Muhammad Sarwar: The hypocrites try to deceive God but He, in fact, deceives them. They stand up in prayer lazily just to show that they pray, but, in truth they remember God very little. 
  • Muhammad Taqi Usmani: Surely, the hypocrites (try to) deceive Allah while He is the One who leaves them in deception. And when they stand for Salah, they stand up lazily, only to show people, and do not remember Allah but a little, 
  • Syed Vickar Ahamed: Surely, they, the hypocrites, search ways of deceiving Allah, but it is He Who will deceive (and reach over) them: When they stand up to prayer, they stand without sincerity, to be seen of men, but little do they hold Allah in remembrance; 
  • Umm Muhammad (Sahih International): Indeed, the hypocrites [think to] deceive Allah , but He is deceiving them. And when they stand for prayer, they stand lazily, showing [themselves to] the people and not remembering Allah except a little, 
  • Dr. Munir Munshey: The hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is actually He Who dupes them. They are lethargic (and listless) when they stand for ´salat´ _ (they) only (wish) to be noticed by others (and just go through the motions of ´salat´). Little do they remember Allah! 
  • Talal A. Itani: The hypocrites try to deceive God, but He is deceiving them. And when they stand for prayer, they stand lazily, showing off in front of people, and remembering God only a little. 
  • Maududi: Behold, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is they who are being deluded by Him. When they rise to Prayer, they rise reluctantly, and only to be seen by men. They remember Allah but little. 
  • Ali Bakhtiari Nejad: The hypocrites indeed (think that) they deceive God, while He is their deceiver, and when they perform the mandatory prayer they perform it lazily to be seen by the people and they seldom remember God. 
  • The Monotheist Group (2013 Edition): The hypocrites seek to deceive God, while He is deceiving them; and if they stand to make the contact prayer, they do so lazily, only to show the people; they do not remember God except very little. 
  • Mohammad Shafi: Indeed, the hypocrites strive to deceive Allah, and it is He, who deceives them! And when they stand up for prayer they stand with laziness. They do it only to show off to men and remember Allah but little. 
  • Faridul Haque: Undoubtedly the hypocrites, in their fancy, seek to deceive Allah whereas He will extinguish them while making them oblivious; and when they stand up for prayer, they do it unwillingly and for others to see, and they do not remember Allah except a little. 
  • Hasan Al-Fatih Qaribullah: The hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but Allah is deceiving them. When they stand up to pray, they stand up lazily, showing off to the people and do not remember Allah, except a little, 
  • Muhammad Ahmed - Samira Ahmed: That the hypocrites deceive God, and He is deceiving them, and if they got up to the prayers, they got up lazy, they pretend/show off (to) the people, and they do not mention/remember God except a little. 
  • Rashad Khalifa: The hypocrites think that they are deceiving GOD, but He is the One who leads them on. When they get up for the Contact Prayer (Salat), they get up lazily. That is because they only show off in front of the people, and rarely do they think of GOD. 
  • Muhsin Khan & Muhammad al-Hilali: Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them. And when they stand up for As-Salat (the prayer), they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allah but little. 
  • Arthur John Arberry: The hypocrites seek to trick God, but God is tricking them. When they stand up to pray they stand up lazily, showing off to the people and not remembering God save a little; 
  • Edward Henry Palmer: Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive God, but He deceives them; and when they rise up to pray, they rise up lazily to be seen of men, and do not remember God, except a few; 
  • George Sale: The hypocrites act deceitfully with God, but he will deceive them; and when they stand up to pray, they stand carelesly, affecting to be seen of men, and remember not God, unless a little, 
  • John Medows Rodwell: The hypocrites would deceive God, but He will deceive them! When they stand up for prayer, they stand carelessly, to be seen of men, and they remember God but little: 
  • N J Dawood: The hypocrites seek to deceive God, but it is He who deceives them. When they rise to pray, they stand up sluggishly: they pray for the sake of ostentation and remember God but little, 
  • Sayyid Qutb: The hypocrites seek to deceive God, the while it is He who causes them to be deceived [by themselves]. When they rise to pray, they rise reluctantly, only to be seen by people, remembering God but seldom
  • Sayyed Abbas Sadr-Ameli: Verily the hypocrites seek to trick Allah, but He is tricking them. And, when they stand up For prayer they stand up lazily; showing off to the people, and they do not remember Allah save a little. 
  • Mir Aneesuddin: The hypocrites certainly (presume to) deceive Allah but He deceives them. And when they stand up for worship (salat), they stand up as if loaded with a burden, (just) to show to human beings and they do not remember Allah save a little. (English Qurans)

Does Islam Present Allah As A Deceiver? Lexical Justification (PART I)

A highly controversial and contentious issue between some rival apologists and/or linguists is whether the Islamic deity is capable of deception, and if he is, whether this is a moral act. But even more specifically does the Scripture of Islam, namely: the Qur'an or any other authoritative Islamic source explicitly identify Allah as a deceiver or an entity that participates in deceit?

Germane to the topic is one of the key Arabic words that appears in the Qur'an "makr". The meaning of which is frequently contested or debated among these individuals. The Arabic noun: Makr comes from the triliteral root meem, kaaf, raah (Arabic: م ك ر) and occurs 43 times in the Quran. Nearly every English translation of the Qur'an whether made by Muslims or Orientalists translate the term and it's derivatives, primarily (or most often) as plotting, planning, devising or scheming. At minimum these words could appear to be taken as morally neutral translations and do not in themselves denote any nefarious intent that could be ascribed to the subjects/objects identified. I will propose that this rendering in English is not an adequate reflection of the word or it's derivatives. These translations have left it a little open ended in that they have not conveyed the full meaning of the term. In the future I will also provide an important explanation for why I think these terms are so often translated inadequately. 

Makr occurs in the Qur'an in three derived forms: 

  1. 22 times as the verb makara (مَكَرَ)
  2. 19 times as the noun makr (مَكْر)
  3. Twice as the active participle mākirīn (مَٰكِرِين)

In due time, I will cover every usage of makr in all of the passages, and in the next post I will cover some pertinent examples. Before I move into investigating the usage in some of the essential passages that will help us ascertain the meaning, firstly it may be helpful to provide the Arabic-English dictionary definition.


Our first lexicon gives us the straight forward meaning of makr from classical Arabic, and it's meaning/applicability to all 43 usages in the Qur'an:

"Miim-Kaf-Ra = To practice DECEIT OR GUILE or circumvention, practice evasion or elusion, to plot, to exercise art or craft or CUNNING, act with policy, practice stratagem.
makara vb. (1)

perf. act. 3:54, 3:54, 7:123, 13:42, 14:46, 16:26, 16:45, 27:50, 40:45, 71:22
impf. act. 6:123, 6:123, 6:124, 8:30, 8:30, 8:30, 10:21, 12:102, 16:127, 27:70, 35:10

n.vb. 7:99, 7:99, 7:123, 10:21, 10:21, 12:31, 13:33, 13:42, 14:46, 14:46, 14:46, 27:50, 27:50, 27:51, 34:33, 35:10, 35:43, 35:43, 71:22

pcple. act. 3:54, 8:30 
LL, V7, p: 256 (Project Root List)"

Here are a few excerpts from Wiki explaining Lane's Lexicon. The Arabic–English Lexicon is an Arabic–English dictionary complied by Edward William Lane (died 1876). It was published in eight volumes during the second half of the 19th century. It consists of Arabic words defined and explained in the English language. But Lane does not use his own knowledge of Arabic to give definitions to the words. Instead, the definitions are taken from older Arabic dictionaries, primarily medieval Arabic dictionaries. Lane translates these definitions into English, and he carefully notes which dictionaries are giving which definitions.Lane's lexicon is based on medieval Arabic dictionaries plus the dictionary Taj al-ʿArus ("Crown of the Bride") by al-Zabidi which was completed in the early 19th century. In total, 112 lexicographic sources are cited in the work. Lane also read widely in order to provide examples for the entries.The lexicon was designed to consist of two "Books" or Divisions: one for the common, classical words, another for the rare ones. Volume I of the First Division was published in 1863; Volume II in 1865; Volume III in 1867; Volumes IV and V in 1872. A total of 2,219 pages were proofread by Lane himself. Lane's great-nephew Stanley Lane-Poole published Volumes VI, VII and VIII from 1877–1893 using Lane's incomplete notes left behind him. Lane's work focuses on classical vocabulary, thus later scholars found it necessary to compile supplements to the work for post-classical usage. Therefore Lane's Lexicon offers us insight into both the classical and post-classical usage of the noun:

1 مَكَرَ ذ , aor. مَكُرَ , (Msb, TA,) inf. n. مَكْرٌ; (S, A, Msb, K;) and ↓ امكر ; (Msb;) He practised deceit, guile, or circumvention; or he practised deceit, guile, or circumvention, desiring to do to another a foul, an abominable, or an evil, action, clandestinely, or without his knowing whence it proceeded; syn. خَدَعَ; (Msb;) and of the inf. n. خَدِيعَةٌ: (S, A, K:) he practised an evasion or elusion, a shift, an artifice, or artful contrivance or device, a machination, a trick, a plot, a stratagem, or an expedient; he plotted; or he exercised art, craft, cunning, or skill, in the management or ordering of affairs, with excellent consideration or deliberation, and ability to manage according to his own free will; syn. of the inf. n. إِِحْتِيَالٌ: (S, TA:) or to this explanation, conveyed by احتيال as the syn. of the inf. n., should be added secretly, or privately: (Lth, TA:) مَكْرٌ is praised or dispraised according to the nature of its object. (El-Basáir.) [For further explanation, see what follows.] ― -b2- It is trans. by means of بِ: and also, accord. to Z, by itself: (MF:) [but I know not any instance of its being trans. by itself: except as meaning he plotted a thing: see مَكْرَ السَّيِّئ in the Kur, xxxv. 41, cited voce سَيِّئٌ:] you say مَكَرَ بِهِ, (S, A, TA,) aor. and inf. n. as above, (S, TA,) meaning, He deceived, beguiled, or circumvented, him; or he deceived, beguiled, or circumvented, him, and desired to do him a foul, an abominable, or an evil, action, clandestinely, or without his knowing whence it proceeded: &c.: (S, A, TA:) syn. كَادَهُ: or it differs [somewhat] from كاده, accord. to Aboo-Hilál El-'Askeree: (TA:) some say, that مكر به signifies as above with the addition of feigning the contrary of his real intentions; which كاده does not imply: or this latter signifies “ he did him harm, ” or “ mischief; ” and the former, he did him harm, or mischief, clandestinely. (MF, voce كاد.) See art. خدع. ― -b3- مَكَرَ also signifies He managed with thought, or consideration, or acted with policy, and practised stratagem, in war. (TA.) ― -b4- مَكَرَ ا@للّٰهُ and ↓ أَمْكَرَ are syn., (IKtt, Msb,) signifying, (tropical:) God recompensed, or requited, for مَكْر [or the practising deceit, &c.]: (Lth, * Msb, TA: *) or مَكْرُ ا@للّٰهِ signifies God's granting a man respite or delay, and enabling him to accomplish his worldly aims [so as to bring upon himself the punishment due to his evil actions]: (Er-Rághib, TA:) or, accord. to IAth, God's causing his trials to befall his enemies, exclusively of his friends: or his taking men by little and little, so that they do not reckon upon it, bestowing upon them renewed favours for acts of obedience which are imagined to be accepted whereas they are rejected. (TA.) An Arabic-English Lexicon. London. Williams and Norgate. 1863.

As recorded by Lane, while some of the later commentators attempt to tone or water down the direct linguistic meaning, ultimately they merely succeeded in offering theological speculation that is intended to account for how Allah is suppose to have participated in human affairs with deception e.g. whether he deceives directly and/or indirectly. However this has no direct import or bearing on the original meaning itself, but rather it points to a later theologically refined rendering of the term. This eventually influenced or caused many Islamic theologians to render makr into English based on a theological disposition rather than a purely linguistical analysis. More on this issue in a future post.

Even in our post-modern period, nothing has changed the directly deriving meaning of the term, that is the practice of guile, deceit or trickery. The classical and even modern Arabic, (as confirmed by Al-Mawrid: A Modern Arabic-English Dictionary) both attest to this usage:

In Modern Standard Arabic. Al-Mawrid is a bilingual Arabic-English dictionary, the most commonly used dictionary for English language learners, now in its
22nd edition. In Arabic word ‘makara,’ literally means to deceive, delude, cheat, double-cross, dupe. 

Raymond Ibrahim an author for the the Middle Eastern Forum (and JihadWatch) says the following: 

"In the original Arabic, the word translated (actually, euphemized) into English as "planner/plotter"—makar—most literally denotes (and, to Arabic ears, connotes) deception. Moreover, according to the definitive Hans Wehr Arabic-English dictionary, the trilateral root "m-k-r" means "to deceive, delude, cheat, dupe, gull, double-cross." One who takes on the attributes of "m-k-r"—such as Allah in the Koran—is described as "sly, crafty, wily, an impostor, a swindler." In colloquial Arabic, a makar is a sly trickster." (MEF)

Hans Wehr, author of the leading Arabic-English dictionary, defines "makara" as "deceive, delude, cheat, dupe, gull, double-cross." (Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (London: Macdonald and Evans LTD, 1974), 917.

An updated version (1979) of the same dictionary is available online. (see the above right). The 4th edition is also available here. Here is a the definition provided in text format:

makr cunning, craftiness, slyness, wiliness, double-dealing, DECEPTION, 
makr ruse, artifice, stratagem, wile, trick dodge 
makkar and… makur cunning, sly, crafty, wily, shrewd, artful; sly, crafty person, IMPOSTER, SWINDLER 
makir pl.… makara sly cunning, wily (Hans-Wehr, P. 1076)

From Lissan Al Arab 

"مكر مكر : الليث : المكر احتيال في خفية  
Makara Makara : trickery, deceiving, tricking in secret/ hiddenly 
جري مجرى هذا القول قوله تعالى : يخادعون الله وهو خادعهم و الله يستهزئ بهم ، مما جاء في كتاب الله - عز وجل . ابن سيده : المكر الخديعة والاحتيال ، مكر يمكر مكرا ومكر به . وفي حديث الدعاء : اللهم امكر لي ولا تمكر بي
 "And it can go as Allah says: They trick Allah and he tricks him and Allah mocks them"
Which came from the book of Allah the most high Ibn Sayda: Makir:  Trickery and Slyness Makara, Yumakar, Makran and Makara behi And in the Hadith Duaa (Prayer): "O  Allah deceive for me and do not deceive me."" Or as Google Translate has it: "Jerry course of this to say the verse: He Khadahm deceive Allah and God mocks them, which came in the Book of Allah - the Almighty. Son of his master: cunning deceit and fraud, deceit plotted subtle and cunning it. In an interview to pray: God Amkr me nor my Tmkr"

In addition there are two online Arabic dictionaries that report makr as as guile, trick, deception, conniving and sly in Arabic (1,2).

A literal rendering of the Qur'an into English is made by several Muslim speaking Arabic-English translators of the Qur'an: "And they cheated/deceived and God cheated/deceived, and God (is) the best (of) the cheaters/deceivers." 3:50 - Revealed in Madinah (English: Literal).

A Lexical Quran with a literal translation by Muhammad Ahmed and his daughter Samira Ahmed also translate many of the passages containing the word: Makr, literally and explicitly. e.g. "And they cheated/deceived and God cheated/deceived, and God (is) the best (of) the cheaters/deceivers." (3:54).

Google translate (along with 10 other Arabic-English translation websites; see below) whether translating, the noun, verb, or adjective have makr exactly the same as the authoritative dictionaries and lexicons:

Note: what is interesting, is that occasionally , when certain Qur'anic passages are put into the translator, the translation is often changed into planned/plotted/devised, a meaning not attested to any where by the usage in and of itself or else-where in the translator. Hence standard usage is completely unanimous. This demonstrates that possibly certain Muslims used the "suggest an edit" function in order to alter the translation when Qur'anic passages are inserted into the translator itself. This modification would be to help sustain or reckon the translation as compatible with many of the "official" mainstream English translations made by Muslims themselves, who in turn influence many orientalists to cohere as part of tradition and agree with such renderings.

Here are all of the Website Dictionary Translators:

Finally while nearly every mainstream translator of the Qur'an has not translated makr as deceit many Muslim translators, have no problem translating Arabic words as deceitful in passages of the Qur'an, outside of official translations of the Qur'an. Perhaps the most obvious reason for this is because other Islamic literature is read much less often by English speaking non-Muslims, hence soft renderings are not as required. In sources outside the Qur'ran there is no set rule, no such standardization, regulation or conformity is as perfectly required by the more "official" and common translations. These other sources that cite verses from the Qur'an and translate them more reliably/accurately with the lexicons above include commentaries, books, ahadith, and history, more on this in the coming post.

Did Jesus Claim To Be Divine? Forgiveness of Sins: Kingly, Priestly, Prophetic or Divine?

Today I'm going to address a claim made by Bart Ehrman. The claim that the historical Jesus's own statements pertaining to forgiveness could be construed as a self-designation to be apart of a priestly class:

"Someone may argue that there are other reasons, apart from explicit divine self-claims, to suspect that Jesus saw himself as divine. For example, he does amazing miracles that surely only a divine figure could do; and he forgives people’s sins, which surely is a prerogative of God alone; and he receives worship, as people bow down before him, which surely indicates that he welcomes divine honors...When Jesus forgives sins, he never says “I forgive you,” as God might say, but “your sins are forgiven,” which means that God has forgiven the sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices that worshipers made at the temple. Jesus may be claiming a priestly prerogative, but not a divine one." (How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, Kindle Edition With Calibre (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 2014.) p. 247)

Best Interpretation of the Account

Before I begin, it is worth noting that the reason why Ehrman had to appeal to the priestly office to account for the phenomenon of the forgiveness of sin is due to the fact that in ancient Israel, it was priests and not prophets (or kings) who were responsible for the forgiveness of sins. As Ehrman knows the roles of these anointed classes were always segregated. Even a king could only make pronouncements not forgiveness of sins, that was for God who appointed and reserved a priestly rank to perform such functions. There are no examples of prophets and kings forgiving sins before or contemporary to Jesus, it's solely, solemnly and exclusively the role of priests. This means if Jesus is not claiming a priestly prerogative then the only alternative is that he is definitively exclaiming an outlandish divine and supernatural prerogative by Jewish reckoning, that no other king or priest or prophet has ever attributed to himself in all the known history of Israel.

In the context of this historical account (Mark 2:1-12 cf. Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26) Jesus is not asserting, nor even hinting at a claim to be an earthly high priest. Nor is he implying or espousing he acquired any form of judeo-priestly authority, nor did his opponents (or allies) view him as a member of the priestly elite, rather the import of his statements resulted in them deducing he was making a divine claim about himself and that he personally had authority direct from God, something God alone possessed was accessible to this man from no where, the backwards town of Nazareth, a preacher from Galilee that no one had heard of. Neither the historical Jesus nor his audience viewed him as someone who had undertaken formal theological training in any setting whatsoever. He was neither a priest representing the Pharisees or Samaritans, let alone was he employed as an errand boy for the temple. 

According to Ehrman's view he was taken to be a renegade rabbi, someone who had no formal Jewish education who had never been to Yeshiva (Jewish School), he was merely from the remote village of Nazareth, along with his illiterate, village-peasant fishermen group. He had no prominence or reputation as a scholar or a priest, a scribe, or lawyer but he was a persistent public nuisance and disturbance. He was seen according to Ehrman as a controversial local who preached an apocalyptic message in every town he imparted himself upon. It is with that prolific context, we can point to the account. They ask: "how is he able to enunciate the forgiveness of sins?" They say: "who can forgive sins but God alone!". But does this imply the scribes (very educated in Jewish Law and Tradition) were exclaiming priests were excluded from their own prerogative to forgive sins? That is highly unlikely or dubious since we are talking about educated,  literate Jews who had a formal theological training. By "God alone" then, it is implied forgiveness cannot take place outside of the domain, government, kingdom or authority decreed by God, his Law or his pre-set authorities in conjunction with his temple. 

This was taken to be an infallible and permanent authority by almost every living Jew at the time. God established the systematic procedure to acquire forgiveness through Moses and ordained the temple and it's restoration for Israel, there was no negotiation with that system, rather this was a collective and universal authority given to the custodians of the Temple, the Sanhedrin, that is the Elders instilled by God himself through Moses and protected by the Priests, Prophets and Kings. God set up a system, he planned the appropriate means to declare atonement through the temple, the Sanhedrin, priests, the official rites, rituals and ceremonies associated with Torah and Jewish tradition. No one is suppose to claim they independently of God's pre-established rulings and offices are given God's very power/authority to forgive sins, that would be literal idolatry from the Jewish perspective who were co-dependent on the religious priesthood and atone made and ordained by God. 

God had already supposedly related his own divine authority to Moses and his successors, a divine authority that cannot be usurped. Now apparently the historical Jesus was contradicting what was viewed to be God's very own fixed decree. He was just a rural preacher, a Rabbi among a group of relatively unknown men who had no formal authority to usurp divinely mandated institutions given to Israel by the Almighty. How could Jesus possibly claim this? He was on the outside, he was not apart of the recognized system. He was the prophet who asserted God's kingdom, but now (according to Ehrman) he claimed he had the very authority/power belonging to this everlasting kingdom and universal government, including even the very power to forgive sin. Who exactly was this audacious character claiming to be? Not only was he merely claiming to be the prophet announcing his own coming kingdom, he was now telling his disciples he was to be the Ruler and Judge of this kingdom. But now he appeared to claim to fully represent the authority of God's kingdom on earth, evening claiming God's very own divine prerogative to forgive others without paying his dues to God's ruling priesthood and authorities as if he were even the Lord of the temple itself 

Challenging The Priestly Interpretation In Light of Bart Ehrman!

Ehrman thinks that Jesus during his public ministry never claimed he was the Anointed one, the Messianic King: 

"The first is one I have already mentioned, that “Christ” (i.e., anointed one; i.e., messiah) was far and away the most common descriptive title the early Christians used for Jesus, so much so that they often called him Christ rather than Jesus (so that, despite my little joke earlier, it really did begin to function as his name). This is very surprising, given the fact that as far as we can tell, Jesus did nothing during his life to make anyone think that he was this anointed one." (IBID: p. 225)


"Here there are two facts to bear in mind. The first is to reaffirm that we have no record of Jesus ever proclaiming himself to be the future king of the Jews, the messiah, in a public context. This is never his message. His message is about the coming kingdom to be brought by the Son of Man. He always keeps himself out of it."  (IBID: p. 236)

Rather Ehrman thinks Jesus privately shared his view of himself as the kingly Messiah with the disciples. One of them (Judas Iscariot) eventually gave this information to the Jewish authorities. Jesus was given over to the Romans as an insurrectionist and upon his trial would not deny this belief, ultimately resulting in an abrupt end to Jesus career and his death under Pilate. 

However if Jesus never proclaimed he was the anointed king of Israel in public, why would he proclaim he was an anointed priest? A belief of his which would of been even more concealed over that of his role as Messianic King! And if he was a priest, why wouldn't he just appeal to his priestly heritage upon his trial before the Sanhedrin? Why would he even put on trial, if he was among their brethren from the start? And why would he admit he is the anointed Messiah but not an anointed Priest? 

Rather if we take Ehrman's view seriously, then Jesus central public identity was that of an anointed apocalyptic prophet. Further more Ehrman makes a rather candid admission:

"But a much more common understanding of the term did not involve an angelic judge of the earth or an authoritative priest, but a different kind of ruler. Again, as we have already seen: it was the king of Israel who was understood to be God’s “anointed one” par excellence." (IBID: p. 220)

Ehrman himself admits that the term ("anointed") used for priests, prophets and kings is rarely used for priests. Not only then did Jesus not openly declare his Messianic role, but it is less than likely that Jesus claimed to be a (anointed) priest in any sense. Jesus even fails the criterion alluded to Ehrman:

"This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise *RESERVED FOR JEWISH PRIESTS* IN HONOR OF *SACRIFICES* THAT WORSHIPERS MADE *AT THE TEMPLE*"

This clearly excludes Jesus from being identified within such a category since he failed to fulfill every last one of these functions in the role of a priest. Finally in a list of factors mentioning what Jesus did not claim or believe, even Ehrman makes an incredible admission:

"That is to say, he did not come on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead; he was not a priest; and he never raised an army and drove the Romans out of the promised land to set up Israel as a sovereign state." (IBID: p. 225)

Challenging The Priestly Interpretation In Light of Historical Jesus

I believe Ehrman's assertion that Jesus may have viewed himself as a priest contradicts (or contravenes) his own view of Jesus as an Apocalyptic Prophet in many ways. Firstly there is no other passage(s) or historical sources which denote historical Jesus had a view of himself as an anointed priest. If we take some of the miracle accounts he alludes to as historical, since when does a priest, raise the dead, or supernaturally read the hearts of humankind? This fits better with a divine character or conception. If this is to be read as a priestly account then it is the one isolated case. But then that would engage a form of special pleading; that is to construct this text with a priestly interpretation, that doesn't plausibly fit the narrative. Such a view doesn't cohere with anything else we know about Jesus supposed self identification as a priest, yet we do have a variety of factors that could comport with a divine self-perception. In addition since no other references to Christ's priesthood can be found, this fails the criterion of multiple independent attestation which is essential to Ehrman's historical methodology.

Next, the priestly interpretation of the verse does not conform with Ehrman's pre-existing narrative of Jesus as an Apocalyptic Prophet and future King, there is no priestly role involved or required in Christ's identity: 

"What we can know with relative certainty about Jesus is that his public ministry and proclamation were not focused on his divinity; in fact, they were not about his divinity at all. They were about God. And about the kingdom that God was going to bring. And about the Son of Man who was soon to bring judgment upon the earth. When this happened the wicked would be destroyed and the righteous would be brought into the kingdoma kingdom in which there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering. The twelve disciples of Jesus would be rulers of this future kingdom, and Jesus would rule over them. Jesus did not declare himself to be God. He believed and taught that he was the future king of the coming kingdom of God, the messiah of God yet to be revealed. This was the message he delivered to his disciples, and in the end, it was the message that got him crucified." (IBID: p. 247). 

If Jesus is preparing for a new kingdom where he would rule, then how would a priesthood proclaiming the forgiveness of sins even be relevant to his ministry? The fallacy of irrelevance. Hence casting Jesus as an earthly Jewish priest of some type fails the criterion of congruence (also called cumulative circumstantial evidence) which is a special case of the older criterion of coherence. The criterion of coherence, also called the criterion of consistency and conformity looks back at what has already been established as historical, and tests if a new hypothesis is consistent and coherent with what is already known. Thus this criterion is not simply applied to ancient texts as a star but looks back at the results of modern analysis and considers its coherence and consistency. [1

Finally the priestly portrayal of Jesus also fails the criterion of contextual credibility, we have no examples of other figures (particularly: apocalyptic prophets) from the period claiming to forgive sins themselves personally without the appeal to the pre-existent divinely instilled paradigm, rather we have texts that demonstrate certain individuals or groups of individuals may have believed that about "other" Biblical (or otherwise) esteemed figures, but there is no evidence this is a position of any contemporaries. 

And with that said I end today's article with a quote from one of the 20th century greatest apologists, since they are germane to understanding the function of Jesus divine forgiveness:

As C.S Lewis once wrote in his work, Mere Christianity:

"And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips. One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offencesThis makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history." (source)