Once more to the brink – Jesus, Isa, and the Golden Calf

Recently, I have have the pleasure of a conversation regarding the use of Isa by Rick Warren during his ‘prayer’ at President Obama’s Inauguration.

I started here,and then moved on to here where the post began,

Peter Kirk, the Todd Bentley-ite who believes that Obama should allow himself to be assassinated to be considered great as responded to post concerning the use of ‘Isa’ by Rick Warren (which was originally a post from Ingrid at the Slice). (Why does Peter’s support for Rick not surprise me?) Peter claims,

The claim in the second paragraph quoted above is not true. I checked with a Palestinian Arab Christian, from a Roman Catholic background stretching back centuries. He confirmed my understanding (see also this comment) that “Isa” is the form of the name of Jesus which has been used by Arab Christians, or at least the great majority of them, since time immemorial. There may be some non-traditional Arab Christians who use “Yesua” but this form is never used in mainstream churches or Bible translations. “Isa” is also used by Christians in many, but not all, Muslim majority countries. This is what Rick Warren probably knows, and is the basis for what he explains in this YouTube video (sorry for the poor quality) apparently taken from a sermon yesterday.

Since then, as you can see, we have some serious conversations. Peter has even responded with a follow-up post. Peter has actually made good points,

WB, that’s a good question. But perhaps we should look first at Galatians 1:6-7, where Paul in a similarly rhetorical passage refers to “another gospel”, only to correct himself: there isn’t really another gospel, just a perverted version of the true gospel. His rhetoric is similar in 2 Corinthians 11:4. I doubt if he is really referring to another person (not even Jesus Barabbas, as in some MSS of Matthew 27:16,17). Rather “another Jesus” is a rhetorical way of saying “Jesus in another way”, not to be taken literally as referring to a separate person.

Now if you and Polycarp mean that “Isa” is “another person” in this same rhetorical sense, then fair enough. But you can’t mean it literally, unless you are seriously arguing for a “Life of Brian” type scenario in which there were two virgin births, two miracle working sons of Mariam (the New Testament Greek and Qur’anic form of “Mary”), and two people alive today in heaven. The Qur’an is not a true account of another person, but a distorted account of the same person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Doug Chaplin, at Metacatholic, has made an observation as well, which is why I want to clarify my position. I like Doug’s blog, and this is not a post against him. (I do, however, hope that he has lumped me in with the Fundamentalists that he talks about.) Doug asks, soundly,

Peter Kirk has been making some comments on what had otherwise passed me by. Rick Warren’s use of “Isa” as one name for Jesus had run into some fundamentalist criticism, since it is (among other uses) the name by which the Qur’an refers to him. I must admit that like the fundamentalists I too assumed a reference to the three Abrahamic faiths, with Hispanic culture also getting a nod. Unlike them, I thought this was in fact a good thing.

Now Tim Bulkeley reports from the other side of the world about the way Malaysian Catholics are fighting to protect the Christian right to go on calling God “Allah”.

In the US fundamentalists fight to stop using an Arabic name for Jesus, because (despite the many varieties of Arabic Christians) it’s a “Muslim” language. In Malaysia, Muslims fight to stop Christians using an Arabic name for God, because to them also Arabic is a “Muslim” language.

Does that define “unholy alliance”?

First, let me say again, I am against this public show prayers because in a democracy it is only right to appeal to the religions of the masses. So, let me clarify my position.

When Moses failed to come back down the mountain right away, the people went to Aaron. “Look,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. This man Moses, who brought us here from Egypt, has disappeared. We don’t know what has happened to him.” So Aaron said, “Tell your wives and sons and daughters to take off their gold earrings, and then bring them to me.” All the people obeyed Aaron and brought him their gold earrings. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded and tooled it into the shape of a calf. The people exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!” When Aaron saw how excited the people were about it, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD!” (Exodus 32:1-5 NLT)

In my opinion, Muhammad pulled an Aaron. It was not about using different words here, such as Allah for God, but about creating a false idol and naming it ‘Isa’. The Israelites applied the name of God to the Golden Calf – a creation of men – and gave to it the glory reserved for God. The same, in my opinion is applied to the use of Isa by Muhammad. Muhammad’s creation is not the Jesus of the Bible, but a creation (or recreation) by a man seeking to remove the glory from God.

Peter has made several good points, and sane points, and some that I just cannot agree with – and I think him for his conversation. So have other commenters. My final thought is this – if we can reach someone concerning the true Christ by using the name applied to Him in thier culture, then fine – but a pastor who professes Christianity should know better than to associated the real Jesus with Muhammad’s Isa. That is my final word.

Post By Joel Watts (10,110 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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4 thoughts on “Once more to the brink – Jesus, Isa, and the Golden Calf

  1. Thank you, Polycarp. This has indeed been an interesting conversation.

    Muslims would of course be appalled at your comparison of Isa to a golden calf. First, for them, unlike us, it is wrong to worship Jesus/Isa. And second, they have an even greater horror of idolatry than Christians have. But you do have a valid point here.

    For the sake of accuracy, I would remind you that I corrected the post of mine from which you quote. The part you quoted now reads:

    The claim in the second paragraph quoted above is not true. I checked with a Palestinian Arab Christian, from a Roman Catholic background stretching back centuries. He confirmed my understanding (see also this comment) that “Yasu” is the form of the name of Jesus which has been used by Arab Christians, or at least the great majority of them, since time immemorial. There may be some non-traditional Arab Christians who use “Yesua” but this form is never used in mainstream churches or Bible translations. “Isa” is also used by Christians in many, but not all, Muslim majority countries. This is what Rick Warren probably knows, and is the basis for what he explains in this YouTube video (sorry for the poor quality) apparently taken from a sermon yesterday.

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