A question for complementarians: Will women ever be equal?

I thank Suzanne McCarthy and John Hobbins for a two link chain leading me to Jeremy Pierce’s interesting post Ontological Equality and Functional Subordination. Here Jeremy examines the argument that both in the Trinity and in relationships between men and women eternal functional subordination, in either case a controversial doctrine, implies ontological or essential inequality, which in either case could be seen as heretical.

In his post Jeremy discusses a point made by Philip Payne, who wrote:

I believe that ontological equality is perfectly compatible with functional subordination as long as that subordination is voluntary and temporary, as was Christ’s voluntary and temporary subordination to the Father in the incarnation (e.g. Phil 2:6-11). It seems to me that if subordination in necessary and eternal, it is then an aspect of one’s essence.

Jeremy looks at this issue primarily from the perspective of the Trinity, which I will not consider in detail here. In his last paragraph he comes back to what for me is the more relevant issue, relationships between men and women. He points out that

Marriage relationships end in death, and there’s no reason to think elder-congregation relationships continue with any authoritative relationship post-death.

Therefore these relationships are not eternal, and so the argument that eternal subordination implies essential inequality, even if it is valid, does not apply here.

However, Jeremy had earlier argued that in the case of the Trinity the distinguishing issue which might make functional subordination ontological or essential is not that it is eternal, in the strict temporal sense of lasting for ever past and future. For indeed

Something’s being true at every time certainly does not imply that it had to be true.

Rather, as Jeremy suggests but does not explain in detail, what would make a particular type of subordination essential is that it is true in every possible world.

Is this true of the subordination of women, as taught by complementarians? Would they say that women are functionally subordinate in every possible world? That is an interesting question, and not an easy one to answer.

Now clearly God could have created a world in which women are not subordinate to men – in fact I believe that he did! He is able to do such things because he is able to create separate families of women and men who are ontologically different from our own human family. But the real issue has to be about whether subordination of women is an essential attribute of our own species, the notional descendants of Adam and Eve. The question is not about separately created species – any more than it is about animals, some of which naturally change their gender implying that for them gender is not an essential characteristic.

So the question really is this: are there, in the complementarian world view, possible worlds in which human women, related to us, are not functionally subordinate to human men?

Now I am sure that complementarians would hold that their rules on subordination of women would apply in any human colony in any other part of the universe which humans might in future be able to travel to. Indeed they probably already want to apply them on the International Space Station. So this subordination applies, on their view, in any world to which the descendants of Adam and Eve can travel by their own power.

But how about any world to which God might want to move them, or from where he might have moved them in the past? I know that complementarians generally hold that Eve was already subordinate to Adam in the Garden of Eden, basing this view on a misunderstanding of “helper” in Genesis 2:18,20. Do they hold that women will remain functionally subordinate to men in God’s eternal kingdom, or in the lake of fire? I guess I would accept that there is subordination of women in the place of eternal punishment, where the curse of the fall may apply with its fullest force. But in the new heavenly Jerusalem?

So, complementarians, if you want to show that women are essentially, ontologically equal to men, and that this equality is not compromised by the functional subordination you teach, then you need to tell us about a possible world in which truly human women, daughters of Eve, are not subordinate to their men, the sons of Adam. If it is indeed part of your future hope that in the coming kingdom women will fully enjoy their essential equality with men, then please tell us that openly. But if it is not, if you hold that women will remain subordinate in God’s eternal kingdom, then you are left with no possible world in which women are not functionally subordinate. And that, by Jeremy’s argument which seems convincing, implies that women are not essentially equal to men. If that’s what you really believe, admit it!

Manuscript support for the TNIV rendering of Hebrews 2:6

The TNIV Bible has been widely criticised for its rendering of the latter part of Hebrews 2:6, a quotation from Psalm 8:4. In TNIV this reads:

What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

Compare NIV:

What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

The common complaint is that TNIV has lost the reference in this verse to Jesus, the Son of Man. In response to this the CBT (I presume) have defended their rendering in one of their Most-Requested Passage Explanations, of which this is a summary:

“Son of man” is not a messianic reference in Psalm 8:4 or Hebrews 2:6. Rather, it is used of human beings in contrast to God.

Interestingly I just spotted some manuscript evidence to support this position in a post at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. Peter Head examines the slightly variant text of this verse in the very early (about 200 AD) biblical manuscript P46, and writes:

if P46 had wanted to indicate that ‘Man’ and ‘Son of Man’ were christological titles it could have used nomina sacra for ANQRWPOS [i.e. anthropos, that word again!].

In other words, the copyist of this very early manuscript did not understand “son of man” here as a reference to Jesus, because the words are written in the normal way and not marked as a divine title.

Now it would be interesting to know, but I don’t, whether Greek manuscripts are consistent in not using special nomina sacra forms (abbreviations marked by an overline) in this verse, and whether they do use those forms when “Son of Man” certainly refers to Jesus. But Wikipedia does confirm that the nomen sacrum ΑΝΟΣ for anthropos is used elsewhere in P46. (It really is amazing what obscure information can sometimes be found in that infamous online encylopaedia.) So there is certainly evidence here to support the TNIV rendering of this verse.

I certainly hope that the CBT sticks to their guns on this verse, perhaps encouraged by this further evidence, and does not bow to any pressure to change back to “son of man”.

The Trinity: he, she or they?

I hadn’t intended this to become a series, but following my posts The Word: he, she or it? and The Holy Spirit: he, she, it or they? it is beginning to look like one. In fact this post has arisen from comments by John Richardson on the Holy Spirit post, especially this one where he wrote:

The Scriptural tendency in these circumstances is, if [Calvin] is right, to give the name of God specially to the Father. To use ‘She’ of, as you put it, “the whole Trinity”, would be a contradiction of this, and to use ‘They’ would be to suggest, as the Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses assert, that we do indeed worship three gods.

So, is John right to insist that the Trinity as a whole should not be called “She” or “They”, but should rather be referred to only as “He”?

Those people who still think grammatical gender is relevant to this discussion, like Chris Bishop commenting on John’s blog, should I think conclude that the Trinity is “She”. After all, our English word “Trinity” is derived from the grammatically feminine Latin word trinitas (and the concept was first written about explicitly in Latin, by Tertullian). The Greek word used for the Trinity, trias, not in the Bible, is also feminine. As a result in Latin and Greek, also French etc, theological works about the Trinity, including those of Calvin which John quotes in translation, I would expect to find grammatically feminine pronouns used of the Trinity. But I think it should be clear that I do not consider this a valid argument for calling the Trinity “She” in English. I leave open the question of whether “She” is any less appropriate than “He”.

But I do find objectionable John’s rejection of calling the Trinity “They”. Although as orthodox Christians we do not worship three gods, we do worship three Persons, a plurality, although those Three are of one substance etc. Why is it wrong to refer to those Three as “They”? Indeed it cannot be, for Jesus used a plural pronoun for himself and the Father even as he testified to their unity: “we are one” (John 17:22). The context of this is that Jesus is praying for those who believe in him, “that they may be one as we are one” (17:22, TNIV). So the unity within the Trinity is of the same kind as that intended for believers in the body of Christ, not a unity which erases plurality and effaces personal distinctions such as gender, but a unity which preserves but also transcends this individuality and plurality.

I note that the Athanasian Creed, in the English translation in the Book of Common Prayer also calls the members of the Trinity “They”, again while affirming their unity:

So the Father is God, the Son is God : and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods : but one God.

Therefore, I conclude that we should follow Jesus’ example as followed in the creeds of the church and use a plural pronoun, “They”, to refer to the three Persons of the Trinity together.

The Holy Spirit: he, she, it or they?

Hard on the heels of the controversy which I helped to fuel with my post The Word: he, she or it? there has arisen another rather similar controversy, although apparently from a very different direction. It was prompted by a piece from Graham Kings, Bishop-Elect of Sherborne, in which he wrote, introducing a Pentecost Prose Poem:

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit may appropriately be called ‘He’ or ‘She’, but not ‘It’, for the Spirit is profoundly personal not a simple force. For a change, let’s try ‘She’.

Fellow Anglican clergyman John Richardson, the Ugley Vicar, objects to this, writing:

Personally, if he did this in a service while I was there, I’d walk out.

He seems to modify his position a little in agreeing with Tim Goodbody’s comment:

The person of the Trinity we refer to as the Spirit does not have a gender identity as Jesus did – and so should not be anthropomorphised as man or woman, as the Spirit is not human, but we have to use a pronoun of some sort.

But John doesn’t explain why he would walk out of a service in which the Spirit is anthropomorphised as “She” but presumably not one where (as in every regular Anglican liturgy) the Spirit is anthropomorphised as “He”. The best he can come up with is the logically fallacious argument that if the Spirit is called “She” then

might we not then use ‘She’ instead of ‘He’ for the whole godhead?

No one is suggesting this, John, so let’s drop the straw man approach and get back to the real issues.

So, what are the issues? I agree with John that

we cannot settle this decisively by grammatical analysis

but it is worth rehearsing the results of this analysis.

As is well known, the Greek word pneuma for “spirit”, and the Holy Spirit, is grammatically neuter, and the Hebrew word ruach is grammatically feminine. On the basis of this Hebrew usage some have tried to claim that the Holy Spirit is female and should be called “She”, but that is just as poor an argument as the one which I demolished that the Word in John 1 is male and must be called “He”.

Various different Hebrew and Greek words are used in the Bible to refer to the Holy Spirit, with all three grammatical genders. Among them is the Greek masculine noun parakletos (“Paraclete”, usually translated “comforter”, “counsellor” or “advocate”), used of the Holy Spirit only in John 14:16,26, 15:26 and 16:7. I have sometimes heard the argument that the Holy Spirit is animate, and presumably male, because the masculine (not neuter) pronoun ekeinos is used to refer to him in 14:26, 15:26 and 16:8. But it seems clear from the Greek text and the rules of Greek grammar that ekeinos is masculine because it refers back to the masculine noun parakletos. That implies that this tells us nothing about the Spirit being male, or animate.

There are good arguments from elsewhere in the Bible for the Holy Spirit being an animate and intelligent person. For example, it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and grief is not an action or attitude of which an inanimate force can be the subject. Therefore it is inappropriate, in English, to refer to the Holy Spirit as “it”, a pronoun reserved for inanimate beings, and sometimes for animals, but never used for intelligent persons.

So, we conclude that the Holy Spirit is an animate and intelligent person who is neither male nor female. What pronoun should we use to refer to such a person? I note first that this is an issue only in English, at least of all the several languages I know. Every other language either has proper grammatical gender, and so (as in Greek and Hebrew) the pronoun has the same grammatical gender as the noun used for the Holy Spirit, with no implication of real-world gender or sex; or else the language has no gender at all, neither in nouns nor in pronouns, and so the single pronoun meaning he/she/it is used for the Holy Spirit.

The problem in English is that the gender of a pronoun, i.e. whether “he” or “she” is used, is determined not by grammatical gender (English lost its grammatical gender distinctions during the Middle Ages) but by the real-world gender or sex of the referent. This leads to a problem when this real-world gender is unknown or undefined.

One solution to this problem which has been widely used in English for many centuries, but is not acceptable to some prescriptive grammarians, is the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. Another solution, to use “he” with a gender generic sense, is now also unacceptable to many English speakers, especially but not only women. It is hardly surprising that people who have rejected the use of gender generic “he” in indefinite situations, e.g. referring back to “anyone”, are also beginning to reject its use to refer to the ungendered person the Holy Spirit.

Yet there are also very good grounds for rejecting the Bishop-Elect’s solution, to use “She” for the Holy Spirit. This is simply to replace one error by an equal and opposite one. This may be seen as an attempt to produce a balance, but is more likely to cause confusion.

In a further comment on his same post John Richardson writes:

if we speak about the Holy Spirit as She, it establishes a fundamentally different relationship. Furthermore, it is based on our own selection of the terms.

Yes, in a world in which patriarchal thinking is not dead it does make a difference whether we call the Holy Spirit “He” or “She”. But the traditional use of “He” is also “based on our own selection of the terms”, or at least on the selection of those who first translated the Bible and the church’s liturgy into English (perhaps complicated by the rapid changes in English at that period). These translators left for us English speakers a tradition of understanding the Holy Spirit as male which has distorted our theology ever since. It is time to repent of our own “selection of terms” and follow true biblical understanding.

Perhaps, if I put my tongue in my cheek a little, the best solution is to call the Holy Spirit “they”. For some this will be understood as a singular “they”. But, to those who might object to the singular “they” or insist that it carries nuances of plurality, I point out the ancient Christian tradition of the sevenfold Spirit, based on Isaiah 11:2 and repeated references in Revelation (1:4, 3:1, 4:5, 5:6) to the seven Spirits of God. So there should be no objection to using an apparently plural pronoun to refer to them.

N.T. Wrong is also alive!

Sorry for a long break in my activity here. My life has been getting busy in directions not connected with blogging. This also means that I have stopped keeping up with developments on the Todd Bentley story.

There has been one interesting area of ongoing activity on this blog: the comment thread on my post Jesus is alive! Last year the pseudonymous pseudo-bishop N.T. Wrong amused the biblioblog world for several months with his blog, and he was interviewed by Jim West as Blogger of the Month for February 2009.  But then in that same month his blog abruptly disappeared, or more precisely became “protected” and so inaccessible.

At the time Wrong’s resurrection or parousia was predicted. What bibliobloggers have predicted as in a glass darkly, I now openly proclaim to you: N.T. Wrong is alive! He has appeared here at Gentle Wisdom, not just once but in no less than six comments. True to form and showing that this really is the Wrong we know and love, he has been arguing against my contention that Jesus is alive. But at least he has demonstrated one thing: that N.T. Wrong is alive.

By the way, for anyone still interested in his identity, Wrong is still using a UK e-mail address, but is currently commenting from an IP address neither in Illinois nor in Australia, as previously reported, but in Los Angeles.

The substance of my conversation with Wrong has been interesting. I started by suggesting that the only people who continued to deny the resurrection of Jesus, after examining the evidence thoroughly, were those who held philosophical presuppositions that resurrection was impossible. Wrong objected to this, claiming that he had no such presuppositions but still rejected the resurrection. The grounds he gave for doing so were that he rejected the gospel accounts of the resurrection as much later additions.

At this point I shifted my position a little. I allowed that while he might not personally presuppose that the resurrection could not happen he was relying on the work of scholars, such as those of the Jesus Seminar, who base their rejection of the gospel accounts on this very presupposition. At first Wrong seemed to accept this. But then he objected when I wrote:

I do not accept that there are good arguments for the general unreliability of the gospel traditions, only weak arguments like those of the Jesus Seminar which are based on presuppositions that miracles cannot happen.

Wrong objected to this, citing as evidence a claim that he himself does not rely on presuppositions. Wrong! Or possibly not. Here is my latest, somewhat ironic, comment on this claim to be free of presuppositions:

N.T., I don’t say that you personally rely on presuppositions. But I do say you give credence to arguments for the unreliability of the gospel accounts which depend on the work of people with presuppositions. Well, of course we all have presuppositions and often rely on them, except of course for one honourable exception being yourself. I suppose a made-up online persona might just be able to be free from what is common to all humanity, even our sinless Lord Jesus.

But since there is no one else whose arguments you can trust, I presume you do all your work from primary sources and first principles. I look forward to your presupposition-free (and bibliography-free) magnum opus proving the unreliability of the gospels and the falsity of the resurrection accounts. Until I read and am convinced I will continue to believe in the gospels and the resurrection.

Jesus is alive!

Easter is coming up, and I have been invited by Slipstream, which is the Evangelical Alliance’s leadership resource, to post about the resurrection of Jesus, and what it means to me. This is supposed to be part of a synchro blog, whatever that means. I admit that I have not listened to the Gary Habermas and Tim Keller podcast to which the synchro blog is linked, although I have read the tasters. So these are just my own thoughts. Anyway, here goes…

1. Validation

My first point about the resurrection is that it validates Jesus’ ministry. It is this that proves decisively that he was not just a good teacher, or a crazy one, but the one sent by God, indeed more than just a man.

Yes, the miracles Jesus performed also validated his ministry, but it is hard to prove that these are genuine especially after two thousand years. However, there is one miracle which cannot be doubted: that a man officially executed and formally declared dead by the Roman authorities, and buried by Jewish leaders, rose again and was seen alive by hundreds of witnesses. Even in modern times sceptical lawyers who have examined the evidence have been forced to conclude that there is no other explanation for the records, that Jesus must have truly risen from the dead. And if this can be accepted, then there should be no problem with all the other miracles.

From this evidence we are also forced to believe that Jesus really was sent by God, not just as a teacher of truth but also, according to the content of his teaching, as the one who would save us from our sins and bring us to eternal life.

2. Victory

Jesus’ resurrection was far more than a validation of his ministry. It was also the culmination of his work of bringing salvation to humankind.

God sent his Son into the world to defeat the powers of evil which had taken over so much of it, which had brought men and women down to the depths of sin and despair. God’s purpose, which is still being worked out, is to bring the world fully into his own Kingdom, where evil and sin would no longer have a place. He sent Jesus to fight and win the decisive battle to achieve this purpose.

Throughout Jesus’ time on earth he was attacked by evil, in demonic and human form. Eventually the devil thought that he won the victory, by having Jesus put to death on a cross. But he had no idea what was really happening on that cross, that Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sins was, in a way which is beyond human as well as demonic full comprehension, a key tactic in the final defeat of evil. Three days later the powers of evil were taken completely by surprise when Jesus rose from the dead, and it became clear that they had been completely defeated. The resurrection of Jesus is both the final act and the public demonstration of his complete victory over death, sin and all forms of evil.

3. Vision

It was hard to find a third “V” to summarise this third aspect of what the resurrection of Jesus means to me, not just as a past act but also as a living reality today. But certainly one aspect of it is that he gives me vision for what to do with my life.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he didn’t die again, as Lazarus presumably did. His resurrection was not just the resuscitation of a corpse. His resurrection body was taken up into heaven and so is no longer visible to us today. But he is still alive, as we celebrate every Easter. And this means that I can and do have an ongoing daily relationship with him.

In that relationship I mustn’t forget that Jesus is not just an ordinary man, not even as he was when he walked in Galilee. He is still filled with the power of his resurrection life. And, amazingly, those of us who are “in Christ”, who are Christians with that same relationship with Jesus, are also, through the Holy Spirit, filled with this resurrection life and power. In the words of a recent worship song from Hillsong (the link is to an MP3 of just one chorus):

The same power that conquered the grave
Lives in me, lives in me.
Your love that rescued the earth
Lives in me, lives in me.

Because Jesus is alive and working, demonstrating his love, in and through me, I can do even greater works than he did when he was on earth. And the same is true for you, if you truly believe in Jesus. We can do more spectacular miracles than he did, healing and even raising the dead – as long as this is not just as a public spectacle but to show God’s love and bring him glory. But probably more importantly we can continue and bring to completion the work of Jesus in reconciling the world to God.

Yes, Jesus in rising from the dead won the great victory which made this reconciliation possible. But we still see a world far from God as people allow themselves to be dominated by evil. The kingdom of God is here, but it is not yet here in its fullness. Jesus as one man on earth could only reach and bring his personal touch to a few people. But now he has a community spread throughout every nation, and he calls every one of this community, that includes you and me, to bring that touch of love in one way or another to needy people, those far from God, all around the world. This is the purpose which God has for us, his people, and the vision which he sets before us.

Of course, in our own strength we can do little to solve the great problems of the world. But as we are filled with Jesus’ resurrection power there is no limit to what we can achieve, to bring about God’s great purpose of bringing the world fully into his Kingdom.

I didn’t really mean to write a sermon, and I won’t be preaching this as one, at least this Easter. But if anyone reading this still needs an Easter sermon and wants to use this material, you are welcome – but I would prefer if you let me know.

The Church of England upholds the uniqueness of Christ

After last week’s outbreak of unity, more good news from the Anglican churches. Some of you will think “Of course, this is what any church would do”. Others of you, the more cynical, might be amazed. But, as The Times, in an article by Ruth Gledhill (see also her blog post about the debate), and Thinking Anglicans report, the General Synod of the Church of England has today approved (by 283 votes to 8 with 10 abstentions) a private member’s motion on the uniqueness of Christ in multi-faith Britain.

In fact technically the motion, as printed in full by Thinking Anglicans, does not quite affirm the uniqueness of Christ, but it does “warmly welcome” a long paper by Martin Davie (I haven’t read it!) which concludes, very sensibly,

The Church of England, and Anglicans more generally, have also taken the traditional doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation as their basis for interfaith dialogue, holding that Jesus is the source of salvation for all people everywhere (whether they are yet aware of the fact or not), but also holding that Christians are called to be God’s instruments in bringing people to explicit faith in Christ and to membership of his Church.

So Ruth is justified in how she starts her article in The Times:

Anglicans were effectively mandated today by the Church of England to go out and convert Muslims and other non-Christian believers.

For decades, their fellow Christians have joked about Anglicans that it is unfair to say they believe in nothing. They believe in anything.

But in a move that led one bishop to condemn in anger the “evangelistic rants”, the Church of England yesterday put decades of liberal political correctness behind it.

(I note the confusion between “today” in the first paragraph and “yesterday” in the third, for the same event. Presumably this article is intended for Thursday’s paper, but the online version is dated Wednesday. The BBC is more careful in these matters in avoiding words like “today” and “yesterday” in its online news.)

Meanwhile Ruth, on her blog, notes that Facebook has penetrated further than ever before. She caught a bishop, Pete Broadbent who is well known to my readers here and has in fact been one himself, communicating with the Press apparently from the floor of the Synod during a debate. Now I wouldn’t dream of publishing comments on a Facebook friend’s status without permission from the commenter. Then I suppose if I was really concerned about the privacy of my comments I wouldn’t have any journalists as my friends. But as Dave Walker is my Facebook friend as well as Pete’s and Ruth’s I can confirm that Ruth has accurately quoted the episcopal comment:

Tee hee – surrender – resistance is futile…

Ruth asks:

Is it a scandal that a bishop is using Facebook while ostensibly listening to a serious synod debate on the place of Christ in the world today? Does anyone care?

I don’t! Perhaps the scandal is that I think this important enough even to mention in the same post as the uniqueness of Christ.

By the way, today the Synod also voted, by a clear margin well over the required 2/3 (despite Ruth’s miscalculations), to take the next step in the process towards allowing women bishops.

To conclude: I rejoice that the Church of England has taken such a clear stand on this important issue, reaffirming that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ.

The Naked Dead Arise!

Nearly two years ago I caused some controversy by raising the question Does the risen Jesus have blood? This also referred more generally to resurrection bodies. Now a new question on the same lines has arisen at the blog Singing in the Reign: Will the Dead Be Raised Nude? In this Brant Pitre examines

the Jewish tradition which identified the resurrected body with the “garments of glory” that Adam and Eve had lost in the fall but would be restored to the righteous in in the messianic age

– a tradition which he sees reflected in 2 Corinthians 5:3. But he notes that Michelangelo, in his Last Judgment scene reproduced in the post, as well as Mel Gibson depicted naked resurrection bodies.

I don’t think there is any clear biblical teaching on this one. Presumably the risen Jesus appeared in appropriate clothing, even immediately after the resurrection when Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener (John 20:15). But that is not necessarily a precedent for the general resurrection. As for 2 Corinthians 5:2-4, surely the clothes mentioned here are a metaphor for the body, not to be understood literally.

Brant refers to “garments of glory” supposedly worn by Adam and Eve in the garden. But the biblical text makes it clear that these, if they existed at all, were not literal clothes:

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Genesis 2:25 (TNIV)

The resurrection life is more than a restoration of Eden, but not less than it. In it there will again be no shame, as all sins will be forgiven and everyone will have an unrestricted relationship with God (Revelation 21:3-4). The reference to robes (22:14) is surely symbolic. So, as I understand it, in the reurrection we will not be clothed in any literal sense, but only in the glory of God.

Isa = Jesus revisited, with a correction

Yesterday I posted about Praying in the name of Isa = Jesus, including a correction of some bad information which I found at other blogs. Unfortunately in the process I managed to introduce and propagate some errors of my own. My purpose in blogging again in this post is first to correct my error, and then to offer some further observations on this matter.

I wrote yesterday (but will correct shortly in the original post):

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.

Unfortunately I mis-remembered the information from my friend. As I now understand it, the form of the name of Jesus used by Arab Christians in traditional churches is neither Yesua nor Isa, but Yasu, يسوع, as in the apparently correct information here and here.

The -ua ending, characteristic of Hebrew (as in the Hebrew Yeshua for “Jesus”), and the e vowel, not found in Arabic at least in standard transliteration, show that the form Yesua is not a genuine Arabic one. It may be that Yasu is in some places pronounced more like Yesu or possibly even Yesua. But it is certainly not true that, as claimed, “the Arab Christian communities only refer to Jesus as `Yesua´”.

The form Isa, عيسى, used by Muslims worldwide, is also used by Christians and in Bible translations in many non-Arabic Muslim majority countries, including Iran, Turkey and former Soviet Central Asia. This is the only form of the name known in the national languages of these countries.

Meanwhile I can confirm that Arab Christians and Muslims, and indeed Christians and Muslims in most Muslim majority countries, use only one word for the one true God: Allah, الله. This is not a Muslim word but an Arabic word, related to the Hebrew Elohim, which has been borrowed into many other languages.

Even though Arab Christians and Muslims use different names for Jesus, this does not imply that they are referring to different people. “Simplicity in Christ” has claimed in a comment that

It doesn’t matter what word the Muslims use, the bottom line is that Isa is not Jesus. … Praying in the name of anyone other than Jesus Christ is unscriptural.

But this claim that “Isa is not Jesus” is preposterous. Consider what Islam teaches, and denies, about the one called Isa in the Qur’an

The Qur’an, believed by Muslims to be God’s final revelation, states that Jesus was born to Mary (Arabic: Maryam) as the result of virginal conception, a miraculous event which occurred by the decree of God (Arabic: Allah). To aid him in his quest, Jesus was given the ability to perform miracles, all by the permission of God. According to Islamic texts, Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but rather he was raised alive up to heaven. Islamic traditions narrate that he will return to earth near the day of judgment to restore justice and defeat al-Masīḥ ad-Dajjāl (lit. “the false messiah”, also known as the Antichrist).Islam rejects that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God, stating that he was an ordinary man who, like other prophets, had been divinely chosen to spread God’s message. … Numerous titles are given to Jesus in the Qur’an, such as al-Masīḥ (“the messiah; the anointed one” i.e. by means of blessings) …

Much of this agrees with the biblical account. Of course “Jesus was neither killed nor crucified” and “Islam rejects that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God” go against biblical and Christian teaching. But the very texts in the Qur’an where the Christian teaching is explicitly contradicted demonstrate that the Islamic Isa is the same person as the Christian Jesus (Qur’an passages quoted from here):

And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger — they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them

O followers of the Book! [The Bible] do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium [Jesus son of Mary] is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Marium and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His apostles, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be It from His glory that He should have a son …

Apparently the uneducated Muhammad, or whoever actually compiled the Qur’an, knew corrupted versions of Bible stories (as in their time there was no Arabic Bible to read), and put them together in a sometimes confused way. The early Muslims may have made further changes to the stories to serve their religious and nationalistic purposes, for example making Abraham nearly sacrifice Ishmael, ancestor of the Arabs, rather than Isaac, ancestor of the Jews, and omitting stories that put those they consider prophets in a bad light. It was probably for this reason, as well as because they had no understanding of Christian teaching on the atonement, that they denied the crucifixion of Jesus. Then, probably after the move to Medina, the early Muslims became more familiar with Christian and Jewish teaching and so added to their proto-Qur’an explicit denials of this teaching.

So, what we have in the Qur’an is not teaching about a person Isa who is different from the Jesus Christ whom Christians know and love. Rather, we have corrupted and false teaching about the true Jesus. This teaching is, I would suppose, so seriously wrong that it cannot in itself lead anyone to saving faith. Nevertheless there have been many testimonies of Muslims who have come to Christian faith by starting with an interest in Jesus as presented in Islam and then finding out more about him through the Bible or from Christians.

So I applaud Rick Warren for making it clear, in his prayer at the presidential inauguration, that Isa is simply another form of the name of Jesus.

Praying in the name of Isa = Jesus

CORRECTED VERSION, 27th January, see my follow-up post.

Daniel Cordell has sadly spread some false information in his post Praying in the Name of Isa. In response to Rick Warren’s prayer at President Obama’s inauguration, he wrote:

Today, in his Presidential Inauguration prayer, Rick Warren prayed in the name of “Yeshua”, “Isa” and “Jesus”. …

Even Arab Christians don´t refer to Isa,´ but to `Yesua.´ I´ve lived and studied Arabic in one of the same Muslim countries that Warren has visited, and I think he probably knows that the Arab Christian communities only refer to Jesus as `Yesua´ and not `Isa´ as the Muslims.

This has been quoted here and here. So the false information is spreading. And although this has been pointed out to Daniel, he has failed to correct his error in later posts.

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” “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.

The following information at this Wikipedia page is also incorrect:

Arabic-speaking Christians refer to Jesus as Yasu

This may be true for a minority, but not for all as the page suggests.