As I followed the live Covid-19 country-by-country update chart on a daily basis, and continued to see the rise in the number of cases and the deaths that followed, it was a stark reminder that each death was that of a family member or friend whose loved ones were now mourning. Although over 165,000 persons die each day, which comes to 60 million deaths a year, I had not experienced a live global cases/death chart before. The chart made the experiences of those who are suffering and the reality of ultimate destiny real and tangible in a way I hadn’t known before. I couldn’t help thinking of the ripple effect that was taking place in the lives of the loved ones who were still here. My prayer was for both those who passed and those who remained, that through the suffering, pain and loss they would be drawn to the saving knowledge of Jesus’ redemptive and comforting power, so they would not “grieve like people who have no hope,” but would rest in the “full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” (1 Thess. 4:13; Col. 2:2)

In praying and thinking more about this time in world history, I felt led to immerse myself in a study of what has been referred to as “the problem of evil and suffering.” Even though I was familiar with the Christian theodicy in answering the ‘problem’, I felt I needed a deeper understanding of the answers that the Christian worldview provides. The need was two fold: to be personally strengthened in trusting in God’s plan for the world; and being knowledgeable, confident and ready to “give an answer” with clarity and compassion to people who were either hurting or simply trying to process the why’s and wherefore’s of the situation. As I still correspond with and meet people during this time, I have found that people are asking ‘why’? and are searching for the answer. I’ve also found that even if the person doesn’t voice it, with a little prodding via a question or two, the ‘why’ question will surface quickly. (See my previous article, “God’s Megaphone to Rouse a Deaf World-C. S. Lewis”.)

Although my study led me to a number of excellent resources, my primary resource was the book by Dr. Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil?—Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions. Professor and author Sean McDowell states, “If you are looking for one book to make sense of the problem of evil, this book is for you.” I wholeheartedly agree and highly recommend this book as a vital equipping resource. (See Dr. Clay Jones bio here.)

In his book, Jones makes a persuasive case of the need for Christians to be equipped, both personally and evangelistically to “answer the hard questions” of evil, suffering and death:

We need to know God’s plan so that we can make sense of tsunamis, fires, cancers, strokes, rapes, tortures, and the fact that, except for the Lord’s return, the only thing that will prevent us from watching everyone we know die will be our own death. If we don’t understand that our good God can have a good purpose in allowing evil, we’ll live confused Christian lives. We cannot, after all, love the Lord with all our minds and secretly suspect that Christianity can’t answer the hard questions. We may repress doubts, but in time, they will wedge us from real confidence in Christ. Joy, peace, and boldness to witness, on the other hand, spring from a sense that God loves us through evil, suffering, and death, and that He will exalt us to inherit His kingdom and to reign over it with Jesus forever and ever…There is no bigger problem for Christians living in Western society than a shortsighted, this-world- focused Christianity. But those with a robust view of eternal life don’t find the questions of life—even questions regarding why God allows evil—that difficult to consider. (end of excerpt)

I found the following excerpts from Dr. Jones book to be helpful and instructive, both personally and preparatory in “giving an answer during these times of pandemic to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Pet. 3:15) These quotations are focused on “natural evil” such as what we are now experiencing with COVID-19 and are only a glimpse into this rich and robust resource that is available in Kindle format on Amazon.com here.

Excerpts from the book, Why Does God Allow Evil?—Compelling Answers for Life’s Most Compelling Questions, by Dr. Clay Jones

What I seek to do, then, is much more than lay out tenets in a cerebral manner to create intellectual assent. Hopefully I do that! But I also seek to illustrate, as much as my limited skills allow, the horrors of evil, the glories of heaven, and the glory of Him who reigns over all things.

I’m not alone in seeing human sinfulness and the glory that awaits us in heaven as central to understanding God’s grand plan. The renowned Bible expositor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Most of our troubles are due to the fact that we are guilty of a double failure; we fail on the one hand to realize the depth of sin, and on the other hand we fail to realize the greatness and the height and the glory of our salvation.” I couldn’t agree more. [W]hen it comes to eternity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain that does not do so can be called a Christian one.” The evil we now experience can only be understood from the perspective of where we, as Christians, have come and where we are going for all eternity.

Comprehending human evil is hard, and comprehending the other end of the spectrum—the glory that awaits us in heaven forever—is much harder. My perspective on why God allows evil isn’t unique. It’s within the great tradition from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas that was well articulated by C.S. Lewis. Mostly what I’m doing differently is trying to illustrate and emphasize some teachings that are often not given the attention they deserve.

When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they plunged us, their descendants, into a lifelong education of good and evil. This isn’t a Bible sidebar topic…

The various forms of the words good and evil appear in the Bible almost 1100 times. Then when we add in the synonyms like sin, wicked, holy, right, wrong, righteous, unrighteous, love, hate, obey, and disobey, that brings the number to more than 5000 times. And this does not include other variations of words for evil like bad, iniquity, corrupt, immoral, depraved, or profane. Nor does this include words for particular evils like covet, adultery, idolatry, pride, lying, lust, and so on. Nor words of particular types of goodness like honor, truthfulness, faithfulness, and humility. Nor words describing the inclination to do evil like temptation or seduction. Nor words about one’s getting in good standing again with God after one has done evil, such as atonement, sacrifice (and the entire sacrificial system), repentance, and forgiveness. Nor words about the effects of evil, such as sorrow, sadness, sickness, pain, and death. Nor lengthy accounts of people sinning, like David and Bathsheba; of people suffering for their sin, like Judas; or of Jesus’ atonement for sin like the crucifixion accounts. Nor does it include words describing the final destinations of the evil and the good, such as judgment, hell, and heaven. Nor words describing the goodness of God. In other words, the Bible is largely about the knowledge of good and evil. We learn from it that God is good, that evil is horrific, and how to overcome evil with good. There is a problem of evil, all right. But it’s not God’s problem: It’s ours.

God cannot give beings free will and not allow them to use it wrongly (that’s as logical as it gets). Further, it was a greater good for God to create beings with free will than to not create them.

Definition of Terms

If we are to understand the relevant literature on the problem of evil and suffering we need clarity on some core terms of the discussion.

Evil. As I wrote in The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, “Just as dark is defined in regards to the absence of light, so Christian thought has often defined evil as the absence of good; or to use Augustine’s (AD 354–430) words, the privation of good (privatio boni).” In short, “Evil then is what ought not to be, for evil is at the least unpleasant (as in a rotten peach) if not harmful or deadly (as in cancer or murder).”

I’m often asked where evil came from, or why God created evil, but evil is not a thing. There is no blob somewhere in the universe named evil. If there were such a blob, it would be difficult to explain why God would create such a blob. But evil is a corruption of the good, and evil arises from the misuse of the will. The will is misused for evil whenever we will things that are in contradiction to God’s will…there’s nothing mysterious here.

As C.S. Lewis explains: “The moment you have a self at all, there is the possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the centre—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan and that was the sin he taught to the human race.”

The Origin of Natural Evil

In Genesis 3:17-19 the Lord told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” So in response to Adam’s sin, the Lord cursed the ground. Old Testament professor Robert R. Gonzalez points out that “just as ‘childbearing’ is a synecdoche for the woman’s larger role of mother and wife, so ‘the soil’ does not limit God’s curse merely to the sphere of agriculture…

God is withdrawing his unqualified blessing and imposing a curse upon the filling and the subduing of the earth…”

Thus later in Genesis 5:29 we read about “the ground that the LORD has cursed.” Natural evil entered the world because God cursed the earth in response to Adam’s sin. In fact, what pestilence—mold, decay, cancer, and so on—can’t have ensued from God looking at planet Earth and saying, “I curse you”?

That creation is under a curse is further explained in Romans 8:19-23:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves…

Notice several things…creation’s subjection to futility and corruption clearly occurred because of the Fall. Otherwise one would have to argue that although in Genesis 1 the Lord called each day of His creation “good” (Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,25), and then summed up His overall creative work as “very good” (verse 31), what He meant by “very good” was that it was subject to “futility” and “corruption,” and it was “groaning” and that animals were dying of cancer, etc. Nothing in the creation narrative suggests that.

In addition, the apostle Paul related creation’s futility and corruption to man. As New Testament professor James D.G. Dunn explains:

The point Paul is presumably making, through somewhat obscure language, is that God followed the logic of his purposed subjecting of creation to man by subjecting it yet further in consequence of man’s fall, so that it might serve as an appropriate context for fallen man: a futile world to engage the futile mind of man…There is an out-of-sortedness, a disjointedness about the created order which makes it a suitable habitation for man at odds with his creator.

 
This indeed is our experience with planet Earth. There is something desperately wrong with creation, and the hope for its renewal is linked to the revelation of the sons of God. Creation is groaning, and man groans while interacting with creation.

The phenomenon of creation being freed from corruption, as stated in Romans 8, is elucidated in Colossians 1. There, Jesus is identified as “the image of the invisible God,” and we are told that “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (verses 15-16). Verses 19-20 go on to say, “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Clearly, something must have happened to Jesus’ relationship to creation—otherwise, why would “all things…in heaven and on earth” need to be reconciled to Jesus unless they were previously not reconciled? “All things” must include everything in subhuman creation, but if God originally created everything futile and corrupted, but called it “very good,” then what is there for Jesus to reconcile to Himself? No one needs to be reconciled to anything unless previously they were at odds with each other. Thus, the separation of “all things,” of creation, from Jesus, could only have occurred because of the fall of Adam.

God subjected creation to corruption. As Murray points out, “Neither Satan nor man could have subjected it in hope; only God could have subjected it with such a design.” Likewise, Moo writes that “Paul must be referring to God, who alone had the right and the power to condemn all of creation to frustration because of human sin.”

But human woes don’t stop with the Lord cursing the ground. Then the Lord did one final thing that sealed humankind’s fate. In Genesis 3:22-23 we read, “The LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” So the Lord cursed the ground, presumably enabling all kinds of pestilence, and then He kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, removing them from the rejuvenating power of the Tree of Life. And we’ve been attending funerals ever since.

When it comes to natural evil, many people wrongly assume that when God said, “On the day that you eat of it you will surely die,” He added, “in your sleep at a ripe old age of natural causes.” But He didn’t. He only said “you will surely die.” And whether one dies at eight months old, or eighteen years old, or eighty-eight years old, we are all going to die. Here’s some hard news: Only one thing is going to prevent you from watching absolutely every person you know die from murder, accident, or disease, and that will be your own death from murder, accident, or disease. Have a nice day! But, seriously, that’s a hard truth.

Epilogue: The Short Answer on Why God Allows Evil

In the classes that I teach, I ask my students to come up with a dinner-table summary of what they have learned. As Christians, we should all be able to summarize the important truths of the faith, such as the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, or reasons as to why God allows evil. Indeed, when I tell people that I teach on why God allows evil, I’m almost always asked, very intently, “So what’s the answer?” In what follows, I’m going to give my short answer to what I’ve written in this book.

Because free will is valuable (in fact, it’s hard to conceive of humans not having free will), God created beings that had free will and gave them paradise. God gave these beings—Adam and Eve—only one prohibition: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” It’s important to note that it is impossible to give beings free will and not allow them to use it wrongly—that’s as logical as it gets. So Adam and Eve had everything going for them, but they distrusted God and rebelled against Him. So God cursed the ground, thus enabling all kinds of disease and pestilence—this was the origin of natural evil—and then God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, thus removing them from the rejuvenating power of the Tree of Life. And we’ve been attending funerals ever since.

Once removed from the Garden, Adam and Eve had children who were physical and spiritual reproductions of themselves. Adam and Eve couldn’t have chosen to reproduce children that were in some way better than themselves; they could only reproduce themselves. Therefore all humans are born like their first parents—desperately inclined to sin, alienated from relationship with God, and destined to always suffer and die. God could not simply excuse Adam and Eve’s sin because the lesson to free beings would then be “Sin is okay, God will overlook it.”

But to demonstrate His love for us and to atone for the grave seriousness of sin, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for rebellious humans. Now, we humans who trust God and accept Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins learn the horror of rebellion through experiencing rebellion’s devastating results. We are also learning to overcome evil with good. This knowledge prepares us to be fit inheritors of God’s kingdom, where—because we are learning the horror and stupidity of sin here on earth—we will be able to use our free will rightly as we reign with Jesus forever and ever.

There it is—a short explanation as to why God allows evil. Of course, there are many aspects of this topic that require further explanation, and that’s what this book provides. (end of excerpts)

As you peruse the table of contents from the book, the breadth and depth of this book will become evident. It’s a great time to “love the Lord our God with all our mind.” (Matt. 22:37)

Why Does God Allow Evil?—Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions—by Dr. Clay Jones
Table of Contents
Preface
Introduction: In Search of Answers About God and Evil
1. Why Do We Suffer for Adam’s Sin?
2. Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
3. Are There No Good People?
4. What Is the Destiny of the Unevangelized?
5. How Can Eternal Punishment Be Fair?
6. Is Free Will Worth It?
7. Wasn’t There Another Way?
8. Will We Have Free Will in Heaven?
9. Will Eternity Be Boring?
10. How Does Eternity Relate to Our Suffering Now?
11. How Does Suffering Relate to Our Eternal Occupation?
Epilogue: The Short Answer on Why God Allows Evil
Appendix: Satan’s Rebellion and God’s Response
Notes

“I have read a number of books on the problem of evil, but this is one of the very best yet produced. Professor Clay Jones fearlessly and deftly addresses all the hard questions head-on with rational responses to them. There is no ducking of issues. Moreover, Jones skillfully weaves theology, biblical studies, and philosophy into a coherent, well-integrated book that is suited for both the scholar and the layperson. I highly recommend it.” J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University; author of The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters

Why Does God Allow the Coronavirus? A Live Conversation with Dr. Clay Jones and Sean McDowell

Where is God in a Coronavirus World?-John Lennox and Michael Ramsden-rzim.org

Suffering and Evil: The Logical Problem-Pt. 1—Dr. William Lane Craig videos—here

Suffering and Evil: The Probability Version-Pt. 2—Dr. William Lane Craig videos—here

Equipping Resources

Why Would God Allow Diseases and Other Natural Evils-RZIM PODCAST-Vince & Jo Vitale, here
The Problemless Problem of Evil-PODCAST-Alan Shlemon-str.org, here
IF GOD, WHY SUFFERING? THOUGHTS ON THEODICY-by Jonathan McLatchie, here
We Can Find Peace During Pandemic-by Clay Jones, here
God’s Megaphone to Rouse a Deaf World-C. S. Lewis-by Lane, here

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I just wanted to share a personal word regarding Ravi’s passing. My wife and I had the privilege of attending the RZIM All Nature Sings-God and the Natural World Conference last July at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. We had planned our vacation around the conference and were mightily blessed by the RZIM team and the privilege of hearing Ravi speak on the last night of the conference. After speaking, Ravi (and Abdu) took questions from the audience. It was both instructive and an example of how Ravi would address each person, knowing that behind every question was a questioner with a heart and mind that was searching for an answer to the deeper issues of life.

As many have already stated, Ravi’s influence will live on through the RZIM team. I have met a number of the RZIM team and have been impressed with the compassion, wisdom and humility that they afford each person. Ravi’s legacy is in good hands, praise God!

I will miss Ravi as he has been such a big part of my life, but I rejoice in his home going and that he is now in the presence of his first love, Jesus Christ. Ravi certainly fulfilled Paul’s letter to Timothy in which he said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7–8)

Together for His glory,
Lane

Obituary: Ravi Zacharias (1946 – 2020)

When Ravi Zacharias was a cricket-loving boy on the streets of India, his mother called him in to meet the local sari-seller-turned-palm reader. “Looking at your future, Ravi Baba, you will not travel far or very much in your life,” he declared. “That’s what the lines on your hand tell me. There is no future for you abroad.”

By the time a 37-year-old Zacharias preached, at the invitation of Billy Graham, to the inaugural International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam in 1983, he was on his way to becoming one of the foremost defenders of Christianity’s intellectual credibility. A year later, he founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), with the mission of “helping the thinker believe and the believer think.”

In the time between the sari seller’s prediction and the founding of RZIM, Zacharias had immigrated to Canada, taken the gospel across North America, prayed with military prisoners in Vietnam and ministered to students in a Cambodia on the brink of collapse. He had also undertaken a global preaching trip as a newly licensed minister with The Christian and Missionary Alliance, along with his wife, Margie, and eldest daughter, Sarah. This trip started in England, worked eastwards through Europe and the Middle East and finished on the Pacific Rim; all-in-all that year, Zacharias preached nearly 600 times in over a dozen countries.

It was the culmination of a remarkable transformation set in motion when Zacharias, recovering in a Delhi hospital from a suicide attempt at age 17, was read the words of Jesus recorded in the Bible by the apostle John: “Because I live, you will also live.” In response, Zacharias surrendered his life to Christ and offered up a prayer that if he emerged from the hospital, he would leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of truth. Once Zacharias found the truth of the gospel, his passion for sharing it burned bright until the very end. Even as he returned home from the hospital in Texas, where he had been undergoing chemotherapy, Zacharias was sharing the hope of Jesus to the three nurses who tucked him into his transport.

Frederick Antony Ravi Kumar Zacharias was born in Madras, now Chennai, in 1946, in the shadow of the resting place of the apostle Thomas, known to the world as the “Doubter” but to Zacharias as the “Great Questioner.” Zacharias’s affinity with Thomas meant he was always more interested in the questioner than the question itself. His mother, Isabella, was a teacher. His father, Oscar, who was studying labor relations at the University of Nottingham in England when Zacharias was born, rose through the ranks of the Indian civil service throughout Zacharias’s adolescence.

An unremarkable student, Zacharias was more interested in cricket than books, until his encounter with the gospel in that hospital bed. Nevertheless, a bold, radical faith ran in his genes. In the Indian state of Kerala, his paternal great-grandfather and grandfather produced the 20th century’s first Malayalam-English dictionary. This dictionary served as the cornerstone of the first Malayalam translation of the Bible. Further back, Zacharias’s great-great-great-grandmother shocked her Nambudiri family, the highest caste of the Hindu priesthood, by converting to Christianity. With conversion came a new surname, Zacharias, and a new path that started her descendants on a road to the Christian faith.

Zacharias saw the Lord’s hand at work in his family’s tapestry and he infused RZIM with the same transgenerational and transcultural heart for the gospel. He created a ministry that transcended his personality, where every speaker, whatever their background, presented the truth in the context of the contemporary. Zacharias believed if you achieved that, your message would always be necessary. Thirty-six years since its establishment, the ministry still bears the name chosen for Zacharias’s ancestor. However, where once there was a single speaker, now there are nearly 100 gifted speakers who on any given night can be found sharing the gospel at events across the globe; where once it was run from Zacharias’s home, now the ministry has a presence in 17 countries on five continents.

Zacharias’s passion and urgency to take the gospel to all nations was forged in Vietnam, throughout the summer of ’71. Zacharias had immigrated to Canada in 1966, a year after winning a preaching award at a Youth for Christ congress in Hyderabad. It was there, in Toronto, that Ruth Jeffrey, the veteran missionary to Vietnam, heard him preach. She invited him to her adopted land. That summer, Zacharias—only just 25—found himself flown across the country by helicopter gunship to preach at military bases, in hospitals and in prisons to the Vietcong. Most nights Zacharias and his translator Hien Pham would fall asleep to the sound of gunfire.

On one trip across remote land, Zacharias and his travel companions’ car broke down. The lone jeep that passed ignored their roadside waves. They finally cranked the engine to life and set off, only to come across the same jeep a few miles on, overturned and riddled with bullets, all four passengers dead. He later said of this moment, “God will stop our steps when it is not our time, and He will lead us when it is.” Days later, Zacharias and his translator stood at the graves of six missionaries, killed unarmed when the Vietcong stormed their compound. Zacharias knew some of their children. It was that level of trust in God, and the desire to stand beside those who minister in areas of great risk, that is a hallmark of RZIM. Its support for Christian evangelists in places where many ministries fear to tread, including northern Nigeria, Pakistan, South African townships, the Middle East and North Africa, can be traced back to that formative graveside moment.

After this formative trip, Zacharias and his new bride, Margie, moved to Deerfield, Illinois, to study for a Master of Divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Here the young couple lived two doors down from Zacharias’s classmate and friend William Lane Craig. After graduating, Zacharias taught at the Alliance Theological Seminary in New York and continued to travel the country preaching on weekends. Full-time teaching combined with his extensive travel and itinerant preaching led Zacharias to describe these three years as the toughest in his 48-year marriage to Margie. He felt his job at the seminary was changing him and his preaching far more than he was changing lives with the hope of the gospel.

It was at that point that Graham invited Zacharias to speak at his inaugural International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam in 1983. Zacharias didn’t realize Graham even knew who he was, let alone knew about his preaching. In front of 3,800 evangelists from 133 countries, Zacharias opened with the line, “My message is a very difficult one….” He went on to tell them that religions, 20th-century cultures and philosophies had formed “vast chasms between the message of Christ and the mind of man.” Even more difficult was his message, which received a mid-talk ovation, about his fear that, “in certain strands of evangelicalism, we sometimes think it is necessary to so humiliate someone of a different worldview that we think unless we destroy everything he holds valuable, we cannot preach to him the gospel of Christ…what I am saying is this, when you are trying to reach someone, please be sensitive to what he holds valuable.”

That talk changed Zacharias’s future and arguably the future of apologetics, dealing with the hard questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny that every worldview must answer. Flying back to the U.S., Zacharias shared his thoughts with Margie. As one colleague has expressed, “He saw the objections and questions of others not as something to be rebuffed, but as a cry of the heart that had to be answered. People weren’t logical problems waiting to be solved; they were people who needed the person of Christ.” No one was reaching out to the thinker, to the questioner. It was on that flight that Zacharias and Margie planted the seed of a ministry intended to meet the thinker where they were, to train cultural evangelist-apologists to reach those opinion makers of society. The seed was watered and nurtured through its early years by the businessman DD Davis, a man who became a father figure to Zacharias. With the establishment of the ministry, the Zacharias family moved south to Atlanta. By now, the family had grown with the addition of a second daughter, Naomi, and a son, Nathan. Atlanta was the city Zacharias would call home for the last 36 years of his life.

Meeting the thinker face-to-face was an intrinsic part of Zacharias’s ministry, with post-event Q&A sessions often lasting long into the night. Not to be quelled in the sharing of the gospel, Zacharias also took to the airwaves in the 1980s. Many people, not just in the U.S. but across the world, came to hear the message of Christ for the first time through Zacharias’s radio program, Let My People Think. In weekly half-hour slots, Zacharias explored issues such as the credibility of the Christian message and the Bible, the weakness of modern intellectual movements, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Today, Let My People Think is syndicated to over 2,000 stations in 32 countries and has also been downloaded 15.6 million times as a podcast over the last year.

As the ministry grew so did the demands on Zacharias. In 1990, he followed in his father’s footsteps to England. He took a sabbatical at Ridley Hall in Cambridge. It was a time surrounded by family, and where he wrote the first of his 28 books, A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism. It was no coincidence that throughout the rhythm of his itinerant life, it was among his family and Margie, in particular, that his writing was at its most productive. Margie inspired each of Zacharias’s books. With her eagle eye and keen mind, she read the first draft of every manuscript, from The Logic of God, which was this year awarded the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) Christian Book Award in the category of Bible study, and his latest work, Seeing Jesus from the East, co-authored with colleague Abdu Murray. Others among that list include the ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award winner, Can Man Live Without God?, and Christian bestsellers, Jesus Among Other Gods and The Grand Weaver. Zacharias’s books have sold millions of copies worldwide and have been translated into over a dozen languages.

Zacharias’s desire to train evangelists undergirded with apologetics, in order to engage with culture shapers, had been happening informally over the years but finally became formal in 2004. It was a momentous year for Zacharias and the ministry with the establishment of OCCA, the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics; the launch of Wellspring International; and Zacharias’s appearance at the United Nations Annual International Prayer Breakfast. OCCA was founded with the help of Professor Alister McGrath, the RZIM team and the staff at Wycliffe Hall, a Permanent Private Hall of Oxford University, where Zacharias was an honorary Senior Research Fellow between 2007 and 2015. Over his lifetime Zacharias would receive 10 honorary doctorates in recognition of his public commitment to Christian thought, including one from the National University of San Marcos, the oldest established university in the Americas.

Over the years, OCCA has trained over 400 students from 50 countries who have gone on to carry the gospel in many arenas across the world. Some have continued to follow an explicit calling as evangelists and apologists in Christian settings, and many others have gone on to take up roles in each of the spheres of influence Zacharias always dreamed of reaching: the arts, academia, business, media and politics. In 2017, another apologetics training facility, the Zacharias Institute, was established at the ministry’s headquarters in Atlanta, to continue the work of equipping all who desire to effectively share the gospel and answer the common objections to Christianity with gentleness and respect. In 2014, the same heart lay behind the creation of the RZIM Academy, an online apologetics training curriculum. Across 140 countries, the Academy’s courses have been accessed by thousands in multiple languages.

In the same year OCCA was founded, Zacharias launched Wellspring International, the humanitarian division of the ministry. Wellspring International was shaped by the memory of his mother’s heart to work with the destitute and is led by his daughter Naomi. Founded on the principle that love is the most powerful apologetic, it exists to come alongside local partners that meet critical needs of vulnerable women and children around the world.

Zacharias’s appearance at the U.N. in 2004 was the second of four that he made in the 21st century and represented his increasing impact in the arena of global leadership. He had first made his mark as the Cold War was coming to an end. His internationalist outlook and ease among his fellow man, whether Soviet military leader or precocious Ivy League undergraduate, opened doors that had been closed for many years. One such military leader was General Yuri Kirshin, who in 1992 paved the way for Zacharias to speak at the Lenin Military Academy in Moscow. Zacharias saw the cost of enforced atheism in the Soviet Union; the abandonment of religion had created the illusion of power and the reality of self-destruction.

A year later, Zacharias traveled to Colombia, where he spoke to members of the judiciary on the necessity of a moral framework to make sense of the incoherent worldview that had taken hold in the South American nation. Zacharias’s standing on the world stage spanned the continents and the decades. In January 2020, as part of his final foreign trip, he was invited by eight division world champion boxer and Philippines Senator Manny Pacquiao to speak at the National Bible Day Prayer Breakfast in Manila. It was an invitation that followed Zacharias’s November 2019 appearance at The National Theatre in Abu Dhabi as part of the United Arab Emirates’ Year of Tolerance.

In 1992, Zacharias’s apologetics ministry expanded from the political arena to academia with the launching of the first ever Veritas Forum, hosted on the campus of Harvard University. Zacharias was asked to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural event. The lectures Zacharias delivered that weekend would form the basis of the best-selling book, Can Man Live Without God?, and would open up opportunities to speak at university campuses across the world. The invitations that followed exposed Zacharias to the intense longing of young people for meaning and identity. Twenty-eight years after that first Veritas Forum event, in what would prove to be his last speaking engagement, Zacharias spoke to a crowd of over 7,000 at the University of Miami’s Watsco Center on the subject of “Does God Exist?”

It is a question also asked behind the walls of Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola Prison, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. Zacharias had prayed with prisoners of war all those years ago in Vietnam but walking through Death Row left an even deeper impression. Zacharias believed the gospel shined with grace and power, especially in the darkest places, and praying with those on Death Row “makes it impossible to block the tears.” It was his third visit to Angola and, such is his deep connection, the inmates have made Zacharias the coffin in which he will be buried. As he writes in Seeing Jesus from the East, “These prisoners know that this world is not their home and that no coffin could ever be their final destination. Jesus assured us of that.”

In November last year, a few months after his last visit to Angola, Zacharias stepped down as President of RZIM to focus on his worldwide speaking commitments and writing projects. He passed the leadership to his daughter Sarah Davis as Global CEO and long-time colleague Michael Ramsden as President. Davis had served as the ministry’s Global Executive Director since 2011, while Ramsden had established the European wing of the ministry in Oxford in 1997. It was there in 2018, Zacharias told the story of standing with his successor in front of Lazarus’s grave in Cyprus. The stone simply reads, “Lazarus, four days dead, friend of Christ.” Zacharias turned to Ramsden and said if he was remembered as “a friend of Christ, that would be all I want.”

Ravi Zacharias, who died of cancer on May 19, 2020, at age 74, is survived by Margie, his wife of 48-years; his three children: Sarah, the Global CEO of RZIM, Naomi, Director of Wellspring International, and Nathan, RZIM’s Creative Director for Media; and five grandchildren.

By Matthew Fearon, RZIM UK content manager and former journalist with The Sunday Times of London
Margie and the Zacharias family have asked that in lieu of flowers gifts be made to the ongoing work of RZIM. Ravi’s heart was people. His passion and life’s work centered on helping people understand the beauty of the gospel message of salvation. Our prayer is that, at his passing, more people will come to know the saving grace found in Jesus through Ravi’s legacy and the global team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

In Remembrance of Ravi

Just Thinking: At All Times—by Ravi Zacharias after hearing of his cancer diagnosis, here
The Bible assures us that at all times God is with us. He is our comforter; He is our healer. He is our physician; He is our provider. He knows better than we do.

Ravi Zacharias, Now with Jesus—by Ravi’s daughter, Sarah Davis on behalf of the Zacharias family, here

Leading Apologists React to Passing of Ravi Zacharias

I have noticed a marked change in people since the COVID-19 virus has appeared on the world stage. People are scared, confused, disoriented, despairing, uncertain, which has resulted in a an unsettling and rearranging of their worldview—the world has changed in a drastic way and has touched each person in a personal way through the disruption of their daily routines, loss of their job resulting in financial uncertainty, etc. Many people are searching for answers and how to make sense of it all, which is where we as God’s ambassadors come in. The Christian worldview is the ONLY worldview that addresses life’s most pressing questions of what it means to be human, purpose and meaning of life, ultimate destiny, and the problem of evil and pain. Whether in times of prosperity or in times of “famines and pestilence”, the Gospel remains “the Way the Truth and the Life”, a light that shines even brighter in the midst of the darkness of troubling times (John 14:6; John 1:5; Matt. 5:15).

I have found that the unsettling of many people’s worldview has brought about an increased openness to entering into spiritual conversations. I will highlight two such examples that I have personally experienced:

I work part-time for a transport company in which I have opportunities to engage in spiritual conversations with my co-workers throughout the day. Some are open to such conversations, others are not. However, in light of the COVID-19 event, those who before said that they weren’t interested, have begun to ask deeper life-issue questions, which in turn has led to deeper worldview conversations.

One such conversation began with a formerly ‘don’t waste your time’ colleague who asked me, “What do you think is happening? Do you think God has something to do with this?” [This was in a group of 8 people.] I replied, “Oh I see, now you want to talk about God,” which brought a few nervous laughs from the others. I then asked, “Are you saying that God’s to blame for this situation?” He replied, “No, but doesn’t the Bible say something about God’s judgments falling on people who don’t follow Him?” I said, “Yes, that has been the case at times throughout history, but more often than not, God allows life-changing events to occur to wake people up so as to get their attention and realign their priorities. God is love, and as such, He is a relational God who wants people to enter into a personal relationship with Him as He knows that that is the only way people will experience true peace and happiness. As C. S. Lewis once said, “God cannot give us a peace and happiness apart from Himself; there is no such thing, it does not exist.” I went on to say that sadly most people are too distracted to even think about God or the deeper issues of life, such as the origin of life, life’s meaning and purpose, and ultimate destiny, etc. I ended by saying, “I can think of no better answer than that of C. S. Lewis, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” [I have found that committing quotes to memory (such as the C. S. Lewis quotes) is very helpful when addressing peoples questions and inquiries.]

This was followed by a long, quiet, and reflective pause by all those present. The fellow sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for sharing that.” I have had a number of deeper conversations since that time which have been very rewarding. As a side note, I began to greet my colleagues when arriving for work in the morning with, “God is good all the time, all the time God is good.” (This is the theme of the movie series, “God is NOT Dead.” If you haven’t seen this series, I highly recommend it.) Now several of them greet me in the same way in the morning, which in itself is a major step of progress considering the atmosphere of the workplace.

Another exchange I had was with a cashier at No Frills. She was obviously stressed as her countenance was quite somber. Cashiers at super markets are very much on the “front lines” of the fight that we are now engaged in and I can’t help but admire them for being there so that the rest of us can still buy the essentials we need to carry on in our daily lives. They certainly need our encouragement and prayers. As she handed me the receipt, I said, “This is for you” and handed her a tract entitled, “Someone Cares For You.” This excellent tract from Crossway Publishers begins with:

You are not alone. God’s strong and loving hand is reaching down right now to grasp your weak and trembling one. He knows all about your present circumstances, and His voice is whispering, “Do not let you hearts be troubled.” (John 14:1) God stands ready to comfort and strengthen you no matter what the need. Yes, the promise of God’s presence is a wonderful assurance to all who are His. he has said, “Never will I leave you: never will I forsake you”. (Hebrews 13:5)

 
She paused, opened the tract, and read for a few seconds. As she looked up she smiled and said, “Thank you so much!” This type of reaction mirrors that of almost every person I share a tract with. People are looking for a hope they can put their trust in and a peace that transcends circumstances. I have found tracts to be an essential evangelism tool that God uses to not only spread the truth of the Gospel message, but also act as an encouraging “lifter of spirits” to those who are stressed and downhearted. Tracts are also a great conversation starter. About half of those I offer a tract too will ask me, “oh, what is this about?”, a question that opens the door to share the truth and love of Christ with them. As Billy Graham so rightly said, “Nothing surpasses a tract for sowing the seed of the Good News.” Joey Hancock of the American Tract Society said, “Fifty-three percent of all who come to Christ worldwide come through the use of printed gospel literature. If we really care about the eternal salvation of those around us, how could we not carry tracts everywhere we go?” The ‘prince of preachers,’ Charles Spurgeon stated, “When preaching and private talk are not available, you need to have a tract ready…a touching gospel tract may be the seed of eternal life. Let each one of us, if we have done nothing for Christ, begin to do something now. The distribution of tracts is the first thing. Therefore, do not go out without your tracts.” [Tracts on various topics can be ordered from Crossway Publishers, here Let’s be prepared to sow the seeds of the Kingdom in the hearts and minds of those God brings across our path each day. As Paul exhorted Timothy, “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season.” (2 Tim. 4:2)]

The following are excellent resources for personal reflection/devotions as well as evangelism equipping tools for becoming effective ambassadors for Christ during these unsettling times. “Conduct yourselves in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Col. 4:5-6)

Resources

5 Tips for Living from Love, Not Fear-by Nathan Betts
Nathan Betts shares five tips for living in love and not fear during the COVID-19 pandemic-article, here

Coronavirus: A Biblical, Historical Perspective-by Christian Hofreiter
As COVID-19 suspends public life around the world, Austrian Christian Hofreiter reminds us of “the many times in history where the light of Christian charity has shone with dazzling brightness amidst dark times of infectious disease and societal upheaval-article, here

5 Lessons from Spurgeon’s Ministry in a Cholera Outbreak-by Geoff Chang-article, here

A World in Search of an Ending-by Cameron McAllister
We make sense of difficult or unstable situations by finding a fitting ending. But there seems to be no end in sight with the COVID-19 crisis. What can we do?-article here

Gospel Thoughts on Covid-19-Apologetics Canada-podcast here

Essential or Non-Essential-by Vlad Criznic-article, here

A Prayer of Lament over the Coronavirus Pandemic-by Trina Dofflemyer-article, here

If God, Why the Coronavirus?-Vince Vitale-rzim.org

Pouring Out Our Care and Anxiety to God in Uncertain Times-Michael Ramsden-[I highly recommend Michael Ramsden’s “Take Five” video series that focus’ on navigating the challenges that we are now facing in light of the COVID-19 situation. The “Take Five” series can be found, here]

Ravi Zacharias: True Love in a Time of Crisis

Mirza Ghulum Ahmad’s self-understanding as the ‘Promised Messiah’ and incarnation of all prophets

Professor Adil Hussain Khan sums up the extraordinary self-understanding of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslims, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad:

I would argue that the totality of this unprecedented combination of divinely bestowed honors truly reflected Ghulam Ahmad’s extraordinary self-image. He unreservedly propagated his mission and teachings in this fashion with no regard for potential inconsistencies. He saw his status as exceptional, august, and utterly unique, wholly different from those who came before him. He believed that he was the fulfillment of all previous divine prophecies of the latter days and the culmination of every true religious tradition.[1]

 
Ahmad’s self-understanding is directly tied to his ahistorical worldview. By inserting himself into and claiming the prophecies of both the Bible and the Qur’an for himself, that of the Promised Messiah and the Madhi, Ahmad creates a narrative that does not correlate to the texts or history, and thereby elevates himself to prophet status by proclaiming:

“…God has revealed unto me that the real promised Messiah who is also the Mahdi, tidings of whose appearance are to be found in the Bible and the Holy Qur’an and whose coming is also promised in the ahadith is none other than myself…I alone am the light of this age of darkness. He who follows me will be saved from falling into the pits prepared by the Devil for those who walk in the dark.” [2]

 
Like a drum roll, these self-proclamations, “God has revealed unto me,” “God almighty has conveyed to me…”, are repeated extensively throughout his writings.

However, Ahmad not only proclaims himself to be the Promised Messiah (and Mahdi), but also the incarnation of all prophets of all time!

No prophets came into this world whose name was not given to me. In Burahin-i-Ahmadiya God has affirmed me as Adam, Noah, Ibrahim, Ishaque, Yaqub, Ismail, Moses, Dawud, Isa, son of Mary, and Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). I am the incarnation of all those Prophets.” [3]

 
One of Ahmad’s most bizarre claims concerns God giving him the name of Mariam, the mother of Jesus, and then claiming to have become pregnant, metaphorically speaking, and subsequently giving birth to himself as Christ:

“In the third Vol. of Baraheen Ahmadiyya he (God) named me as Mariam. Then, as is evident from Baraheen… I was reared in the image of Mary for two years… Then I was filled with the soul of Christ and I became pregnant in a metaphorical sense. At last after a period of many months – I was delivered from Mary into the form of Christ… Hence in this way I became the Son of Mary.” [4]

 
It must be noted here that the rationalizing of Ahmad’s extreme claims by his followers is almost always through the ‘metaphorical’ lens. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains the dynamics of metaphor: “When we resort to metaphor, we contrive to talk about two things at once; two different and disparate subject matters are mingled to rich and unpredictable effect.”

By relegating Ahmad’s truth claims to ‘metaphorically speaking,’ both Ahmad and his followers have no base line to distinguish between that which is true and that which is false, as within a metaphorical world any claim can be rationalized. When Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin and was asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus didn’t respond by saying, “Well, metaphorically speaking, I am.” He was clear in who He was: “I am (THE Christ, the Son of the Blessed), and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” (Mark 14:61–62)

Unlike Ahmad’s claims which are cloaked in metaphor and result in an “unpredictable effect”, Jesus’ claims as the Messiah, the Christ, were unambiguous and unequivocal, leaving no room for misinterpretation.

Ahmad also extended his ‘incarnational’ status to that of Krishna in the Haqiqat-ul-Wahi:

“I am Krishna whose advent the Aryans are waiting for in these days. I do not make this claim on my own. God Almighty has conveyed to me repeatedly that I am Krishna, King of the Aryans, who was to appear in the latter days.” [5]

 
Ahmad asserts that God “has told me repeatedly that I am Krishna of the Hindus and the promised Messiah for the Muslims and Christians…Spiritually, Krishna and the promised Messiah are one and the same person.”[6] Ahmad proclaimed himself not merely the Promised Messiah and the Mahdi, but also “an incarnation of Jesus Christ.” [7] Moreover, he claims that his grandeur “excels [that of] Jesus by a thousand measures.”[8]

As one can see, the confusion within Ahmad’s understanding as to who he was is revelatory in itself. In fact, this confused, contradictory and ill-defined self perception is what eventually led to a split within the Ahmadiyya movement as professor Adil Hussain Khan explains:

It is not surprising that by 1891, only two years after he began taking bay῾at (allegiance) and accepting disciples, people were still confused about Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s mission and spiritual status. It is surprising, however, that more than a decade after the formation of Jama῾at-i Ahmadiyya, his own Ahmadi disciples were still unsure about his spiritual status relating to prophethood. In 1901, the confusion of Ahmadis about the spiritual status of their leader prompted Ghulam Ahmad to write Ek Ghalatī kā Izāla (The Correction of an Error), in which he attempted, once again, to clarify his spiritual claims to followers. At present, the Qadiani branch of the Jama῾at treats this short booklet as the definitive tract affirming Ghulam Ahmad’s prophethood, while the Lahori branch in contrast uses Ek Ghalatī kā Izāla to show that Ghulam Ahmad denied being a prophet. The two branches use the same booklet to draw opposite conclusions. The only reason why this is possible is that Ghulam Ahmad’s presentation of his prophetic status remained muddled with contradictions, with clear statements affirming his prophetic status and clear statements denying it.[9]

 
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s self-MISunderstanding: “Contrary beliefs can exist, contrary truths cannot”

In the Ahmadi publication, The Messiah Has Come-The Man-The Message-The Movement, the question is posed, “Where is the Prophet all religions foretold for our time?” One-line references are then given from the sacred scriptures of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism, followed by the claim that,

“God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to reinstitute morality, justice and peace on earth. Divinely guided, he began an unprecedented religious revival by explaining Islam’s true teachings, and the true teachings of all the great religious founders, such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, and Guru Nanak. He explained how these teachings converged into the one true Islam and toward One God.”

 
The absurdity of this claim is evident when one considers the contradictory truth claims of each of these religions/ideologies. Even a perfunctory overview of the belief systems mentioned, exposes Ahmad’s deficient knowledge of the core tenets of these belief systems. In his short work “The Creed”, English writer and poet Steve Turner answers the question of whether all religions ‘converge’ into one united happy ‘theological family’:

Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
We believe that all religions are basically the same
At least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.[10]

 
As one can see, all religions may be wrong, but they cannot all be right. Every religion differs vastly on ‘matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation,’ and as such, the law of non-contradiction rules out the ‘truth’ claims that ‘all paths lead to God’ and that ‘all religions are the same.’ Even though pluralistic interpretations of religion, such as the Ahmadi’s espouse, possess a strong intuitive appeal, nevertheless, they possess two deficiencies which in the final analysis render them unacceptable:

First, they are unable to adequately account for the conflicting truth-claims among various religions.

Second, in order to avoid the latter problem, the Ahmadi’s radically reinterpret the beliefs of specific traditions in ways that fundamentally distort these beliefs.

The Achilles’ heel of the assumption that all paths lead to the same destination, or as the Ahmadi state, “these teachings converge into the true Islam and toward the One God,” is the problem of conflicting truth-claims. Every religious tradition makes truth-claims and some of these truth-claims contradict the truth-claims of other religious traditions. (See my article, All paths lead to God…or do they?, here)

The stark contradictions within Ahmad’s claims of being the various incarnations of prophets/leaders of contradictory belief systems expose the incoherence of Ahmad’s worldview, mental state, and extreme cognitive dissonance in holding an array of contradictory beliefs, ideas, values, and truth claims. Contrary to the pluralistic ideology of Ahmad and the Ahmadiyya movement, all religions are not fundamentally the same and only superficially different, but they are all fundamentally different, and at best, superficially the same.

Take Christianity and Islam for instance. The eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ 1st century disciples, and those presiding over His crucifixion, multiply attest to His death on the cross (Luke 23:46; Mark 15:37). Scholars of all stripes, whether they be antagonistic to religion, atheist, liberal, conservative, religious, or non-religious, agree on this historical fact—that Jesus died by crucifixion. However, the Qur’an states, “but they did not kill him, nor crucify him, but so it was made to appear to them…” (Sura 4:157)

Both of these statements cannot be true—either Jesus was crucified and died or he didn’t. (Ahmadi favor a more creative rendition of the crucifixion verse, which is most apparent in the interpretive translation by Malik Ghulam Farid. I have included the comparison of the two translations in the Reference section below entitled: The Qur’an-Comparing translations of Ahmadiyya and Orthodox Qur’an)

Ghulam Ahmad’s claim to a prophetic role in all religions has been rejected by each of the religions he professes to represent–Islam, Hinduism, Sikism and Buddhism. I will offer one example of such a refutation here. In his treatise, A Buddhist Response to Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (of Qadian), Dr. Adrian Chan-Wyles reveals Ahmad’s nescience of both Buddhism and Christianity, as well as his motives in trying to conflate the two religions to support his claim as the Promised Messiah:

Furthermore, as he viewed himself as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ (effectively the ‘Second Coming’), and something akin to a combined representation of the ‘Messiah’ of Christian prophecy and future ‘Maitreya’ of Buddhist scripture. Ahmad requires (the otherwise ‘heathen’) Buddhist teachings to legitimise his claim to being the new manifestation of Jesus Christ, through the Buddhist prophecy of Maitreya, because he is a Muslim (with fair-skin) born in North India. Without his conflation of Buddhism with Christianity, and the merging of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ with the future Buddha Maitreya, Ahmad would have no more a claim to being an incarnation of Jesus than any other person, religious or otherwise. The faulty scholarship begins here with his incorrect assertion that the name ‘Mettayya’ (or ‘Maitreya’) has the same meaning as the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ (Ahmad uses the transliteration of ‘Mashiha’ see Page 92). In both Pali and Sanskrit, the term ‘Mettayya’ (or ‘Maitreya’) simply means ‘he who possesses loving kindness’, or ‘metta’, whereas ‘messiah’ translates as the ‘anointed one’, or ‘one touched by god’s grace’. The progression of argument that Ahmad believes he has revealed is that the historical Buddha foretold the coming of Jesus Christ to India, and that he was not talking about simply another enlightened being…It is the Buddha’s ancient prophecy in India that Ahmad uses to facilitate this transformation from Buddha, to Christ to the modern Islamic reincarnation of Christ. This is why Ahmad makes this point one of his central issues, and dedicates such time and effort to prove it correct. Buddhism is the doorway to his status as the revealed reincarnation of Jesus Christ – albeit from an Islamic perspective. This is why it is imperative that Jesus Christ is seen to have survived the cross and visited India, eventually dying and being buried there, in a tomb in Kashmir.

Ahmad’s assumptions are obviously incorrect in their conclusions, as he is trying to co-opt the non-Islamic, and non-theological teachings of the logical and rational Buddha, into the theology of Islam, via the person of Jesus Christ…To do this he must misinterpret Buddhist history and philosophy, reducing both to Islamic theological rhetoric…Ahmad clearly demonstrates this tendency by both embracing certain aspects of Buddhism that serve his cause, and firmly rejecting those aspects of Buddhism that contradict his cause. The problem with Ahmad’s research is that what he embraces within Buddhism, he misinterprets (from a Buddhist perspective), and what he rejects (as being un-Islamic and against god) is the very functional essence of what makes Buddhism unique amongst emancipatory world philosophies and religions. [11]

In regard to Ahmad’s self-proclamations and the contradictions entailed therein, professor Alfred Mall offers an explanation which highlights Ahmad’s lack of knowledge of religio-philosophical traditions:

In his claim Mirza Ghulam Ahmad confused the Eastern and Indian traditions. In the Indian tradition one does not have to prove himself through miraculous works; one can be merely a great thinker and claim to be an avatar of Krishna or a reincarnation of a deity. There are no hard and fast rules for his acceptance. His claims suggest a Hindu base, but he attempts to penetrate the Muslim or Eastern concept. The Hindus and the Muslims have nothing in common. In the Hindu tradition prophecy is open, and will always remain open; in Muslim theology prophecy is closed forever. The rejection by the Muslims of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s claims also closed for him the doors to the Hindu population. There is no evidence that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad ever gained any followers from the Hindu majority.[12]

 
Although I have not highlighted Ahmad’s political activism and how it influenced his revelations, I find Professor Mall’s comment insightful as to the role that political posturing played in at least one of Ahmad’s self-proclamations of being the incarnation of Krishna, the Hindu avatar:

The activities of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, throughout his career, were directed toward counter-attacking the legitimacy of the national movements. In reply to every new effort and proposal made by the nationalists, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad presented his own case with new interpretative approaches and revelations. His philosophy encompasses such a vast and contradictory approach that one really has to question his sincerity. The activities of the Arya Smaj movement were a threat to the interests of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The British Government felt threatened by the principles and unifying force which this movement exerted upon the Hindu population. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad decided to thwart the unity of the Hindus by declaring himself to be the Avatar of Krishna. He hoped that he might thus be able to win a segment of the population, but his claim was not convincing to the Hindus. He was rejected. The result is that today the Ahmadi no longer present Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Avatar of Krishna.[13]

 
A True Prophet Cannot Lie

Another stark example of Ahmad’s state of mind was his confusion about his age:

He became confused about his age and began contradicting his own testimonies and statements, hoping that he will be able to compensate for his prophecy and the confused state of his mind…Mirza Ghulam Ahmad died on May 2, 1908. Thus at the time of his death he did not exceed sixty-nine years of age. He had prophesied about his age in these words: “You will be eighty years of age, approximately, or a few years more.” (1) And further: “God has told me that you will be eighty years of age or little over.” (2) In view of all these facts, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has passed judgment on himself by saying: “If you can prove that out of one hundred prophecies there is one prophecy which is false, I will accept that I am a liar.” (3) [14]

 
Considering the above failed prophecy, should one consider Ahmad a true prophet, or the Promised Messiah if he continued to change his age to coincide to prophetic predictions?. This is one example of a number of failed prophecies by Ghulam Ahmad. As the Bible states, “[W]hen a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. (Deuteronomy 18:22)

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and Jesus Christ

Ahmad’s attempts to create an affinity between himself and Jesus plays a prominent role in Ahmad’s polemics against Christianity, and is highly significant in the worldview of the Ahmadi movement. The restoration of the superiority of Islam over Christianity was perceived by Ahmad as a principal goal of his mission. As Yohanan Friedman concluded:

“In his early years he believed that the best way to bring about this change in the relative strength of the two religions was by engaging the missionaries in public disputations. His faith in the efficacy of this method weakened with the passage of time; in 1902 he wrote that people are not capable of understanding the arguments employed, and the debates therefore fail to convince them. [Ahmad stated] Christianity is, “the most perfect manifestation of Satan (mazhar-i atamm shaytan ka nasraniyyat hay) [15] and it is necessary to prove its falsehood in a way that would be evident to everybody and would strike at the core of the Christian faith. [16] By claiming that Jesus died a natural death, Ghulam Ahmad tried to deprive Christianity of the all important crucifixion of its founder. In doing this he was following classic Muslim tradition. By claiming affinity with Jesus, he went one step further: he tried to deprive Christianity of Jesus Himself.” [17]

 
Ahmadi are zealously committed to disproving Jesus’ death on the cross and his bodily resurrection and ascension, since this would destroy their faith and position as the following statement from Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, the second successor to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, confirms:

“It is impossible for us to think that Jesus the Messiah, is alive in Heaven while Muhammad, our Holy Prophet, lies buried in the earth. We cannot think so… If it is true that Jesus is alive in Heaven, we cannot feel more dead. We cannot tolerate the thought that our Master is dead and buried, while Jesus is alive and in Heaven. We feel humiliated before Christians.” [18]

 
Ahmad made claims about the historical Jesus as described in the Bible which would be considered blasphemous to both Christians and Muslims. He believed the Jesus of the Qur’an was a sinless prophet, but the Jesus of the Bible was an alcoholic, a liar, and a false prophet who had gone insane:

• “Jesus could not portray himself as a pious man because people knew he was a gluttonous alcoholic and these bad habits … [began] from early age.”[19]
• Jesus in the New Testament “had the habit of uttering obscenities and frequently using foul language…he had also to some extent the habit of lying.”[20]
• “Alas!…three prophecies of the Messiah proved to be outrightly false!”[21]
• The Gospels provide “clear proof that Jesus had actually become insane due to epilepsy.”[22]

 
Ahmad also denied the miracles of Jesus and the prophets. His reason for denying the miraculous nature of the Prophets’ lives becomes obvious from his own words:

A matter which is not possible for the Holy prophet [Muhammad] – the best of prophets… how can it be so for the Messiah! [Jesus]? It would be so derogatory to the Holy prophet to think that what is impossible for him to attain, is possible for the Messiah. [23]

 
In his attempt to further denigrate the Jesus of the New Testament (and Qur’an), Ahmad relegates Jesus miracles to ‘mesmerism’ and naturalistic means:

“…if he (Jesus) performed any miracles at all, they were not his miracles, rather those attributable to this pond. He (Jesus) had nothing to his credit except cunning and deceit.”[24]
“The Christians have written about many miracles of Jesus, but the fact is that he performed no miracles.”[25]
“Let it be known that this practice (of mesmerism) is not as honorable as it is deemed by the public. If I had not regarded this practice as detestable and hateful, I would hope that, by the grace of God Almighty, this humble one (me) would not have been inferior to Messiah, the son of Mary, in showing wonderful acts (of mesmerism).” [26]

 
Thus, Ahmad denies both the Biblical and the Quranic evidence for Jesus’ miracles (cf. Sura 5:110, 3:50; Mark 1:34; 3:10; Matthew 4:23-24; Luke 6:18-19)

As I mentioned above, Orthodox Muslims will find these statements blasphemous. The vast majority of Ahmadiyya members are not aware of Ahmad’s degradation of Jesus, who in orthodox Islam is the most revered prophet, only surpassed by Muhammad himself. The reason for this is that Ahmad’s most offensive statements are available only in Urdu and have never been officially translated into English.

The Ahmadiyya worldview is essentially the worldview of Ghulam Ahmad. In proclaiming himself as the ‘Promised Messiah,’ and the second coming of Jesus, he was in a position among his followers to rewrite the 1st century history of the Jesus of the Gospels and remake the historical Jesus into an ahistorical 19th century caricature of Ahmad’s confused imagination.

In regards to the second coming of the historical Jesus of the Bible, the prophetic record given by Jesus Himself is unmistakably clear as to what signs will proceed and be manifest at His second coming:

And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray…For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.–Mark 13:5–27 (See also Matthew 24:23–31; Acts 1:9–11; Revelation 1:4–7.)

 
The only sign proceeding Jesus’ Second Coming that Ghulam Ahmad has fulfilled is that of Jesus’ warnings of false christs and false prophets arising before His return. Ahmad fails to fulfill the performing of “great signs and wonders,” but even without these, he has “led many astray.”

Mirza Ghulum Ahmad’s missional strategy vs Christianity

Ahmad’s motivation and purpose in detaching the historical Jesus from history is summed up in Ahmad’s missional strategy of engaging Christians:

“Prove to Christians that Christ in reality is forever dead. Through the victory to be gained by this argument you will be able to wipe the Christian religion off the face of the earth…Do not entangle with other ideas to talk about with Christians. Just concentrate upon the arguments regarding the death of Jesus Christ, and by the use of powerful arguments put the Christians to silence. The day you will imprint this fact on the minds of Christians, you will know that the Christian religion has made its exit from the world.” [27]

 
The Ahmadiyya publication, Death on the Cross–Ten Arguments from the Bible, (published in 2011) affirms this claim:

Christianity rests on the belief that Jesus died on the cross. But if it is proved that he did not die on the cross nor did he rise from the dead, then the whole edifice of Christianity crumbles to the ground. Paul, who is the real founder of modern Christianity, himself says, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain.” (1 Cor. 15:14) The late Dr. Zwemer, the well-known American missionary, says, “If our belief in the death of Christ on the cross is wrong then the whole of Christianity is a farce.”

 
Once again, the Ahmadi lack of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and the wresting and editing of scripture is glaring. (Definition of wresting: distort the meaning or interpretation of (something) to suit one’s own interests or views.) The wresting of sacred texts, regardless of the religion, is standard fare within the Ahmadiyya interpretive methodology.

As I covered in my two part series, Was Paul an Apostle or a ‘Hijacker’?, Paul was not “the real founder of Christianity.” In fact, Ibn Ishaq in his authoritative biography, The Life of Muhammad (written in the 8th century), confirms Paul as a follower of Christ along with the other apostles. If Paul was “the real founder of Christianity” and corrupter of Jesus’ message, surely he would not be included with the rest of the disciples in the early Islamic traditions. The Ahmadi publication takes the above scripture, 1 Cor. 15:14, out of the context to bolster their claim that Jesus did not die, and as such, did not rise from the dead which means that the Christian faith is futile. However, the Ahmadi conveniently left out the conclusion of Paul’s argument for Jesus’ death and resurrection:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.(1 Corinthians 15:12–26)

My Ahmadi friends may object to my choice of quotes and claim that I am ‘cherry picking’ from Ahmad’s writings. However, I do not believe that to be the case. Considering the number of current publications that are designed to fulfill Ahmad’s position on engaging Christianity as stated in the above quotes, there certainly is evidence that Ahmad’s mission to “prove to Christians that Christ is forever dead” and thereby “wipe the Christian religion off the face of the earth,” is continuing to be carried out be the current Ahmadiyya members.

Conclusion

The story is told that when reviewing a scientific paper, physicist Wolfgang Pauli remarked, “This isn’t right. This isn’t even wrong.” By this Dr. Pauli meant that the paper had no grounding in scientific reality. In a similar way, Ahmadiyya Muslim beliefs about Jesus (and every other religion Ahmad claims to represent) have no grounding in historic reality. They are grounded in the ahistorical worldview of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whereby he prevaricates, interpolates, and rationalizes in order to adapt prophecies to his method of interpretation. By way of contrast, the Christian faith and worldview is grounded in historically verifiable evidence, both within the historical eyewitness narratives of the New Testament and that of extra-biblical sources, that coheres with reality as we know it. The value of eyewitness testimony is stated by the pre-Christian Roman dramatist Plautus:

Pluris est oculatus testis unus, quam auriti decerm: Qui audiunt, audita dicunt, qui vident, plane sciunt. [One eyewitness is worth more than ten purveyors of hearsay; Those who only hear about things say what they’ve heard, but those who see, know the score.]

 
In summary, Ahmad’s credibility fails on numerous counts:

(1) He made predictions that did not come to pass.[28]
(2) He contradicts, reinterprets, and edits the Bible (and the Qur’an) to suit his own agenda.
(3) His prophetic roles do not square with reality—Moses and Jesus were monotheists, while Krishna is considered one of a pantheon of millions of gods by Hindus, and Buddha was agnostic.
(4) His mystical claims to be God, Jesus incarnate, Mary, Muhammad, and other spiritual leaders border on mental illness. [29]
(5) His assertions that Jesus was a false prophet, an alcoholic, a liar, a profane person, and insane are plainly blasphemous. In attacking the Bible to defend the Qur’an, Ahmad shows that he cannot be relied on for sound judgment or fundamental honesty.

 
As professor Alfred Mall concluded,

The truth of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s case is attested only by himself. He is both the attester and the attestee, both the truth and the criteria by which it is attested. He has no conception of the truth of reality, by which he could enhance his case and set the standard in accordance with which later claims and beliefs could form a continuous relationship to truth. [30]

 
A Message to my Ahmadi friends

When speaking with one of my Ahmadi friends, I said, “You realize that you’re alone on a worldview ‘island’. There is no one, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, etc., that finds your position as per Ahmad’s claims credible.” His answer was, “Oh, we don’t mind being on an island.”

I invite you, my Ahmadi friends to please step off your worldview ‘island’ and consider with an open mind, the true evidence for the historical Jesus, the one and only promised Messiah as found in the Holy Bible. I ask that you read, without prevaricating, interpolating, and rationalizing the scriptures through the ahistorical worldview lens of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Find or ask your Christian friends for a copy of the Injeel/New Testament and read the exciting and awe inspiring 1st century eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ disciples and followers, who walked with Jesus and were witnesses to His teaching, power and majesty. As you read, let Jesus’ words speak to your heart and mind. As Jesus said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life… if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 6:63; 8:31-32) As Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples testified:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16–18; Luke 9:28-36)

 
When Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious leaders) He spoke plainly and truthfully as to who He was/is:

“Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’.” (Mark 14:61–62)

 
Jesus declares under oath before the high priest that He indeed is the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy and is the Messiah, the Anointed of God:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14)

 
This is one of over 300 prophecies given by the prophets which Jesus fulfilled. (See article: Did Jesus Fulfill Old Testament Prophecy?) Which prophecies did Mirza Ghulam Ahmad fulfill? Are you willing to stake your life and eternity on the claims of a man whose claims are incoherent and whose mental state was one of contradictions and confusion, living in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance? If you love truth, and you are willing to follow the evidence where it truly leads, then you will find the truth as Jesus promised:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7–8)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17)

References
[1] Adil Hussain Khan, From Sufism to Ahmaddiyya—A Muslim Minority Movement South Asia, Indiana University Press, 2015, pg. 60
[2] Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India, Islam International Publication, (republished) 2015, pg. 12, 13
[3] Maududi, The Qadiani Problem, p. 119
[4] Kashti-Noh, pp. 46-47
[5] (Appendix, p. 85)
[6] The Ahmadiyya Movement, 2.
[7] A Short Sketch, 11.
[8] Our Teaching, 13.
[9] ibid, Adil Hussain Khan, pg. 51-52
[10] Steve Turner, The Creed, 1993, here
[11] Adrian Chan-Wyles, A Buddhist Response to Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (of Qadian), 2016, here
[12] Alfred Mall, A Critical Study of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, 1977, pg. 128
[13] ibid, Mall, pg. 22, 23
[14] ibid, Mall, pg. 69
Ahmad’s recorded confusion of his age: 1) Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Albashari (Publication at Qadian, n.d.), Vol. ii, p. 2. 2) Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Mawahib al-Rahman (Publication at Qadian, n.d.), p. 21. 3) Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Arbain (Publication at Qadian, 1900), p. 30.
[15] Haqiqat al-wahy, pg. 39
[16] Tiryaq al-qulub, pg. 35, 36
[17] Yohanan Friedman, Prophecy Continuous-Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and its Medieval Background, University of California Press, 1989, pg. 117-118
[18] Bashir-ud-din, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p. 15
[19] Roohani Khazain (Satt-Bachan), 10:296, as quoted in Syed Rashid Ali, “Jesus (pbuh) in Ahmadiyyat,” Anti Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, March 2005, http://alhafeez.org/rashid/jesus.htm (accessed 2010-02-27).
[20] Roohani Khazain (Anjam Aatham), 11:289, cited in S. Ali.
[21] Roohani Khazain (Ijaz-e-Ahmadi), 19:121, cited in S. Ali.
[22] Roohani Khazain (Satt-Bachan), 10:295 footnote, cited in S. Ali.
[23] Anjam-i-Atham, Roohany Khazaen, Vol. 11, P. 291, addenda
[24] Anjam-i-Atham, Roohany Khazaen, Vol. 11, P. 290, Addenda
[25] Azalah-i-Auham, Roohany Khazaen, Vol. 3, P. 257
[26] Tawzih Miram, English tr. pp. 6-77
[27] Ghulam, Azala Auham, pp. 560-61
[28] See http://www.irshad.org/exposed/false.php for a list of failed prophecies.
[29] The best way to appreciate this is to read large swaths from the Tadhkirah,
available online at http://www.alislam.org/books/.
The 22-volume set of Roohani Khazain (“Spiritual Treasures”), cited above, is available in PDF format in the Urdu section.
[30] ibid, Alfred Mall, pg. 137

Research books, papers, articles re the Ahmadiyya movement

Aaron Goerner, Is the Qur’an the Word of God?, here-This is an excellent book in which Pastor Goerner addresses the challenges put forth by Ahmadiyya members via his email correspondence with them.
Eric Pemet, The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Watchman Fellowship Profile, 2010, here
Dr. Alfred Mall, A Critical Study of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, 1977, here
Mirza Ghulam’s Tirade against Jesus Christ-In light of His own words, Compilation, here
Tahir Hussain, The Last Avatar, here

The Qur’an-Comparing translations of Ahmadiyya and Orthodox Qur’an

From Adil Hussain Khan’s book, From Sufism to Ahmaddiyya—A Muslim Minority Movement South Asia, pg. 44-46:

A synopsis of the current position begins with the assertion that it is impossible
for any human being to physically ascend to heaven. It may be worth
mentioning here that most Ahmadis would also reject the physical ascent of the
Prophet Muhammad to heaven during the night journey (isrā and mi῾rāj). To explain
the whereabouts of Jesus, Ahmadis argue that Jesus did not die from crucifixion,
even though he was indeed hung on the cross and crucified. The problem
with this position for many mainstream Muslims is that it appears to be a direct
contradiction of the Qur᾽an. This can be illustrated quite clearly by comparing
different translations of the Qur᾽anic account of the crucifixion. (Sura 4:157) Abdel Haleem
translates the crucifixion verse like this:

. . . and [they] said, “We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger
of God.” (They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was
made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of
doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not
kill him . . .

 
Ahmadis favor a more creative rendition of the crucifixion verse, which is most
apparent in the interpretive translation by Malik Ghulam Farid:

And for their saying, “We did slay the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger
of Allāh”; whereas they slew him not, nor did they bring about his death
on the cross, but he was made to appear to them like one crucified; and those
who differ therein are certainly in a state of doubt about it; they have no certain
knowledge thereof, but only pursue a conjecture; and they did not arrive at a
certainty concerning it.

 
The Ahmadi translation of the next verse, (Sura 4:158) which describes Jesus’s ascension
to heaven following the crucifixion, is also worth comparing to non-Ahmadi
translations. Abdel Haleem translated the verse: “God raised him [Jesus] up to
Himself (rafa῾ahu ᾽llāhu ilayhi).” The Ahmadi translation of the verse reads:
“On the contrary, Allāh exalted him [Jesus] to Himself.” The traditional interpretation—
as seen when comparing the two translations—is that Jesus was physically
raised to the heavens. This view is consistent with the Christian account of
Jesus’s ascension. The Ahmadi rendition reinterprets the verse to show that Jesus
was only raised in spiritual status and not raised physically to the heavens.

Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to get to know and dialogue with members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. In spite of our differences in regard to our worldviews and beliefs, I consider these members as friends, as I believe they do me. Our discussions have been framed in ”gentleness and respect,” (1 Pet. 3:15) and we’ve come to understand each other’s beliefs in a more comprehensive way than we did before our dialogue began. I have also had the opportunity to peruse several of the books written by the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, that were gifted to me. It is from these writings that I will offer my assessment of the truth claims of the Ahmadiyya faith and where I, and many religious scholars, see an incoherence in their worldview.

Scripture instructs us to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15). Sharing the truth with a friend or acquaintance is the greatest manifestation of love one can offer, as Jesus so aptly stated, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…who the Son has set free, is free indeed’ (John 8:31-32, 36). In this two-part series, I will use the definition of truth as that which corresponds to reality, or to use the standard definition from philosophy put forth by Aristotle:

To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false,
while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.[1]

 
Professor of Philosophy Douglas R. Groothuis adds clarity to the definition of truth as to that which corresponds to factual reality:

Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Jesus Christ made this statement after Pontius Pilate had interrogated him prior to the crucifixion (John 18:37, NIV). Pilate then famously replied, “What is truth?” and left the scene…This historic exchange raises the perennial question of the very nature of truth itself. What does it mean for a statement to be true? Or, to put it another way: What does it take for a statement to achieve truthfulness?

The correspondence view of truth, held by the vast majority of philosophers and theologians throughout history, holds that any declarative statement is true if and only if it corresponds to or agrees with factual reality, with the way things are. The statement, “The desk in my study is brown”, is true only if there is, in fact, a brown desk in my study. If indeed there is a brown desk in my study, then the statement, “there is no brown desk in my study”, is false because it fails to correspond to any objective state of affairs…So, “What is truth?” Truth is what corresponds to reality. When this is established, we can move on to considering which particular statements are true and reasonable and which are not.[2]

I posit these definitions to determine what truth is and is not, and its vital importance to any discussion of history or worldviews.

The focus of this series will be two-fold:

1) The disregard of the historical evidence of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, resulting in an ahistorical worldview.
2) Mirza Ghulum Ahmad’s self-understanding as the ‘Promised Messiah’.

 
Defining what ‘appeal to authority’ is and is not

As a brief preface to this series, I will address an objection my Ahmadi friends have raised during our discussions, which is the reference to experts in the field of history when presenting the historicity of Jesus’ death by crucifixion and His resurrection. In doing so, I have been told that just because a person says something is true, that doesn’t necessarily make it true, to which I agree, as this would be using the ‘appeal to authority fallacy’ and could therefore weaken my position. However, this is not the case in my use of the experts in the field which I am presenting, as these experts fulfill the criteria of appeal to a legitimate authority, and the claims being made by the individual authority are consistent with other experts in the field. The fallacious appeal to authority most often occurs when an illicit appeal is made to the authority’s competence from one field to another which is not the case with the scholars cited in this article.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s ahistorical worldview
[Definition: ahistorical: not concerned with or related to history, historical development, or tradition; historically inaccurate.]

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad begins his book Jesus in India by stating,

“I have written this book so that by adducing proofs from established facts, conclusive historical evidence of proven value, and ancient documents of other nations, I might dispel the serious misconceptions which are current among Christians and most Muslim sects regarding the earlier and later life of Jesus.”[3]

 
In reading Jesus in India, it becomes apparent early on that the “proofs, established facts and historical evidence” Ahmad claims to be privy to regarding the later life of Jesus are speculation and conjecture at best, and a blatant disregard of the true “proofs, established facts and historical evidence.” Ahmad relies on legends and documents which include a number of clear historical errors, in an attempt to make a case for Jesus surviving crucifixion and eventually traveling to India, where He supposedly died. This is in contradiction to the historical evidence, the analysis of preeminent historians (see below), the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ followers of His life, death, resurrection and ascension, found in the historical, and independently attested narratives of the New Testament, as well as the extra-biblical sources found in the writings of historians and scholars of the 1st century.

As I mentioned in previous posts, The Jesus Seminar–A ‘New Gospel, New Fiction’-The Making of a Fabricated Jesus, and Did Jesus Die on the Cross?, the claim by Ahmadiyya Muslims can be concisely summarized as:

* After surviving crucifixion, Jesus fled to Galilee (along with several disciples);
* He later left Palestine to further preach the Gospel to the Lost Tribes of Israel that had scattered as far as Afghanistan and northern India (mistakenly using John 10:16 as support);
* where he eventually settled in Kashmir and was given the name Yuz Asaf, meaning ‘Leader of the Healed’/ ‘Son of Joseph’, and there died.

 
While this fictional narrative may be of interest to some, there is no historically reliable evidence for the claim that Jesus traveled to India, Tibet or the surrounding areas as the following list of preeminent scholars affirm:

• J. Gordon Melton–Religious historian, Baylor University, states that having assumed the mujaddid (faith renewer) appellation in the 1880s, and having declared himself the Promised Messiah for the Christians, Ghulam Ahmad simply picked up the legend that Jesus had visited India to increase his self-identification with Jesus.
• Gerald O’Collins–Research professor, Jesuit Theological College, Australia, states that, “no historical evidence has been provided to support Ghulam Ahmad’s theory that Jesus died in India.”
• Simon Ross Valentine–Professor at Leeds University and Bradford University, classifies the theory as a legend and considers the burial of Jesus in Roza Bal a myth in the scale of the legend of Joseph of Arimathea taking the Holy Grail to Britain.
• Paul C. Pappas–West Virginia Institute of Technology, states that from a historical perspective, the Ahmadi identification of Yuzasaf with Jesus was derived from legends and documents which include a number of clear historical errors… (e.g. confusing the reign of Gondophares) and that “it is almost impossible to identify Yuz Asaf with Jesus”.
• Robert Van Voorst–Professor, states that modern scholarship has “almost unanimously agreed” that claims of the travels of Jesus to Tibet, Kashmir or rest of India contain “nothing of value”.
• Marcus Borg–Co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, states that the suggestions that an adult Jesus traveled to Egypt or India and came into contact with Buddhism are “without historical foundation”.[9]
• John Dominic Crossan–Co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, states that none of the theories presented about the travels of Jesus to fill the gap between his early life and the start of his ministry have been supported by modern scholarship.
• Leslie Houlden–British Anglicam scholar, states that although modern parallels between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha have been drawn, these comparisons emerged after missionary contacts in the 19th century and there is no historically reliable evidence of contacts between Buddhism and Jesus.
• Paula Fredriksen–Historian and religious scholar, Boston University, states that no serious scholarly work places Jesus outside the backdrop of 1st century Palestinian Judaism.
* Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, states, “I cannot prove a negative. I cannot prove that Jesus never traveled. But there is absolutely no evidence from the ancient record that he went to India. It seems unlikely that he visited India, because if there had been even the slightest vague memory of an ancient tradition claiming that Jesus visited India—then the Christians living in India would not have claimed that Thomas founded their church. They would have claimed that Jesus founded it. And the tradition about Thomas as founder has distinct, well-known, long-running historical roots”

As one can see from this list of the broad range of scholars, there is no historical basis to substantiate Ahmad’s claim that Jesus traveled to and died in India. The Ahmadi logic and position does not find any support in early historical evidence and is therefore ahistorical. As the preeminent New Testament scholar N. T. Wright so aptly stated, “Historical facts prevent faith from becoming fantasy.” In jettisoning the historical facts, Ahmad has created an ahistorical worldview of fantasy of his own making.

A particular point of interest regarding the ‘lost years of Jesus’ and his having traveled to India after crucifixion is that a number of these narratives were being floated by others during Ahmad’s lifetime, including Louis Jacolliot (1869), Nicolas Notovich (1887), Levi H. Dowling (1908) and Swami Abhedananda (1922). It would appear that Ahmad found support from these narratives while developing his own reinterpretation of the historical Jesus. These attempts to link Jesus with the East were found to be historically and evidentially unsubstantiated, and were therefore discarded.

The failed ‘swoon theory’

The pillar on which Ahmad’s theory of Jesus surviving crucifixion and traveling to and dying in India is the ‘swoon theory’. Proposed by Heinrich E.G. Paulus in The Life of Jesus published in 1828 (just seven years before Ahmad’s birth), the swoon theory proposes that Jesus was not actually dead when He was removed from the cross. Instead, He had fallen into a coma-like state (a swoon) on the cross and was then buried in a tomb in that condition. He later revived, rolled away the tombstone from the inside, evaded the Roman guards, and escaped. He then appeared to His disciples proclaiming He had conquered death.[4]

J. N. D. Anderson says this theory, “…has been resuscitated in recent years in a slightly different form by a heterodox group of Muslims called the Ahmadiyya. Their explanation runs like this:

Christ was indeed nailed to the cross. He suffered terribly from shock, loss of blood, and pain, and He swooned away; but He didn’t actually die. Medical knowledge was not very great at that time, and the apostles thought He was dead. We are told, are we not, that Pilate was surprised that He was dead already. The explanation assertedly is that He was taken down from the cross in a state of swoon by those who wrongly believed Him to be dead, and laid in the sepulchre. And the cool restfulness of the sepulchre so far revived Him that He was eventually able to issue forth from the grave. His ignorant disciples couldn’t believe that this was a mere resuscitation. They insisted it was a resurrection from the dead.[5]

 
No reputable historian denies the fact of Jesus’ death by Roman crucifixion under Pontius Pilate—not even the most liberal scholars (i.e. Jesus Seminar) dispute this. John Dominic Crossan states, “Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.”[6]

According to Cambridge scholar Murray Harris: “the ‘swoon theory’ or the ‘apparent death theory,’ enjoyed considerable popularity among eighteenth and nineteenth-century German rationalists… but the theory is now totally discredited.”[7] As John Foster reports, claims that Jesus didn’t die on the cross “have been laughed out of court by serious scholars.”[8] J. N. D. Anderson concludes: “This theory does not stand up to investigation.”

Jesus’ death by crucifixion is affirmed for principally three reasons:

(1) Jesus’ crucifixion and death are abundantly attested in multiple, early, independent sources.
(2) Had Jesus not died via crucifixion, it is unfathomable that the early Christian movement would have invented a story about his end so repelling to those they sought to win, both Jews and Gentiles alike.
(3) Paul’s dramatic reversal of worldviews, from persecutor to proclaimer. Paul experienced a glorious appearance of the risen Jesus—a swooned Jesus, even if healed, would not appear gloriously and therefore be unconvincing.

 
The evidence for the historicity of Jesus’ death by crucifixion is so powerful that one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians, the late Pinchas Lapide, who taught at Hebrew University in Israel, declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead![9]

T. J. Thorburn describes what Christ suffered at the hands of Pilate as follows:

“The Agony in the Garden, the arrest at midnight, the brutal treatment in the hall of the High Priest’s palace and at the praetorium of Pilate, the exhausting journeys backwards and forwards between Pilate and Herod, the terrible Roman scourging, the journey to Calvary, during which He fell exhausted by the strain upon His powers, the agonizing torture of the Crucifixion, and the thirst and feverishness which followed…It would be difficult to imagine even the most powerful of men, after enduring all these, not succumbing to death. Moreover, it is recorded that the victims of crucifixion seldom recovered, even under the most favourable circumstance”[10]

 
Let’s review the historical facts of the crucifixion as reported by the eyewitnesses and 1st century historians:

• Jesus was severely beaten by the whip used by the Roman guards. Jesus was so weak after His torture that He couldn’t carry the patibulum of His cross to the crucifixion site.
• Jesus had spikes driven through His wrists and feet and hung bleeding for six hours.
• The Romans thrust a spear deep into Jesus’ side, confirming beyond doubt that Jesus was dead.
• Jesus was prepared for burial according to exacting Jewish custom. His body was encased in wrapped linen and spices.
• Jesus was then entombed, and a massive, heavy rock was rolled across the tomb entrance. A unit of highly trained Roman guards vigilantly guarded the entrance—knowing they would be punished if Jesus’ body went AWOL.
• The ‘swoon theory’ suggests that the cool, damp air of the tomb somehow revived Jesus after three days and He decided to exit. Despite not having access to desperately needed medical care and nourishment, Jesus supposedly managed to unwrap His dressings and then, in the total darkness of the tomb, locate and roll away the mammoth stone sealing the tomb entrance. Still unnoticed by the guards, Jesus then supposedly walked away, on feet punctured by the cross nails, to rejoin His disciples.

The most significant problem with this theory is that it greatly underestimates the severity of Jesus’ wounds. Historical sources confirm that Jesus was horribly tortured—and declared dead by several sources before He was removed from the cross. Jesus died more quickly than other crucifixion victims because of his unique pre-crucifixion experience. As a result, his early death is reasonable and expected.

The ‘swoon theory’ dies from lack of explanatory power

The swoon theory entails the hypothesis that, after somehow duping the disciples into thinking he was resurrected (and somehow duping them into thinking that he’d ascended to God the Father), Jesus “abandoned all those who loved and trusted him, leaving them to their own fate, and crept away out of Palestine with his tail between his legs . . .” Such a theory is ad hoc, implausible, and strongly disconfirmed by our evidence about Jesus’ character. Finally, any suggestion that Jesus had help—whether divine (according to some Muslims) or secular (according to Drange)—turns the swoon theory into a conspiracy theory. Indeed, to explain away the reports of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, the swoon theory requires (and is thus a worse explanation than) either a conspiracy theory or some sort of delusion theory, since “the disciples testified that Jesus did not swoon, but really died and really rose.” [11]

As many scholars observe, a Jesus who swooned on the cross lacks the explanatory causal power to account for the resurrection appearances or the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection:

• J.N.D. Anderson is skeptical that “instead of proving the inevitable end to His flickering life, that he would have been able to loose Himself from yards of grave-clothes weighted with pounds of spices, roll away a stone that three women felt incapable of tackling, and walk miles on wounded feet.” [12]

• Gary R. Habermas: “A crucified but still-living Jesus would have been in horrible physical shape: bloodied, bruised, pale, limping, unwashed, and in obvious need of medical assistance. Such a condition would have hopelessly contradicted the disciples’ belief that Jesus had appeared to them in a resurrected body.” [13]

• J.P. Holding asks us to consider “the fact that the temperature in the tomb was probably about 56–58 degrees Fahrenheit, which would cause death by exposure on its own after 36 hours (note that linen is not much of a protector in this context) . . . lain out shivering and losing energy in a tomb . . . after hanging for hours on a cross (how do those dislocated shoulders and/or strained muscles feel about pushing anything?).” [14]

• Karl Theodor Keim: “Then there is the most impossible thing of all; the poor, weak, sick Jesus, with difficulty holding himself erect, in hiding, disguised, and finally dying—this Jesus an object object of faith, of exalted emotion, of the triumph of his adherents, a risen conqueror, the Son of God! Here, in fact, the theory begins to grow paltry, absurd, worthy only of rejection.” [15]

• John Stott: “are we to believe that after the rigours and pains of . . . flogging and crucifixion He could survive thirty-six hours in a stone sepulchre . . . then rally sufficiently to perform the superhuman feat of shifting the boulder which secured the mouth of the tomb.” [16]

Christ did indeed die on the cross, according to the judgment of the soldiers, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus. Jesus’ disciples did not perceive Him as having merely revived from a swoon. Skeptic David Friedrich Strauss, himself certainly no believer in the resurrection, gave the deathblow to any thought that Jesus revived from a swoon:

It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.[17]

 
In regards to the medical evidence that confirms Jesus dying while on the cross, Doctor William D. Edwards and his team at the Mayo Clinic offer the following evaluation:

“Thus, it remains unsettled whether Jesus died of cardiac rupture or of cardiorespiratory failure. However, the important feature may be not how he died but rather whether he died. Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” [18]

 
Professor Charles Foster states, “The overwhelming conclusion of the mainstream literature, even that written by virulent opponents of Christianity, is that Jesus did indeed die on the cross.”[19] The historical assessment of the following scholars, some virulent opponents of Christianity, attest to the historicity of Jesus death by crucifixion:

• Reza Aslan: “Jesus was executed by the Roman state for the crime of sedition.”[20]
• Raymond E. Brown: “Except for the romantic few who think that Jesus did not die on the cross but woke up in the tomb and ran off to India with Mary Magdalene, most scholars accept the uniform testimony of the Gospels that Jesus died . . .”[21]
• John Dominic Crossan: “Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”[22]
• Bart Erhman: “Was Jesus killed? Yes. By the Romans? Yes. By crucifixion? Yes.”[23]
• A.N. Wilson: “The Cross, and the Crucifixion, are at the very centre of this religious vision, not as an airy concept or a metaphor, but as a bloody death actually recollected.”[24]
Paul Little: “It is significant that not a suggestion of this kind has come down from antiquity among all the violent attacks which have been made on Christianity. All of the earliest records are emphatic about Jesus’ death.” [25]

As a final conclusive point of evidence for Jesus’ death from crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers approached Jesus’ cross, he was no longer pulling himself up in order to breath, which means he was dead, a fact the centurion confirmed and reported to Pilate. (John 19:32-37; Mark 15:42–45).

Jesus Foretells of His Death

Claims by Ghulam Ahmad, and current members of the Ahmadiyya community, that Jesus was ‘speaking metaphorically of His death’ and that He was referring only to His suffering, extreme physical hardship, or near death experience, are by definition completely unfounded and should therefore be dismissed. Such claims lack an exegetical and/or hermeneutical treatment of the text, and instead use an eisegetical approach of interpreting the text, or portion of the text, in such a way that introduces the Ahmadiyya’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text, based on Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s writings. (For more on the historicity of the crucifixion, please see my page on the topic, here.)

Muslims who support the ‘theistic swoon theory’ (or the substitution hypothesis) have a choice to make—either Jesus was a true prophet or He was a false prophet. We know that a true prophet, which the Qur’an states that Jesus was, cannot lie. If one holds to the position that Jesus only ‘swooned’ (or was substituted) and did not die on the cross as He clearly stated He would, then they have no other choice but to declare Jesus (Isa) a liar and false prophet. However, if one holds to the words and prophecies of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel regarding His death and resurrection, then they can confidently declare Him to be a true prophet, and His death and resurrection did indeed happen as He said they would. Even the Jesus (Isa) of the Qur’an said, “And peace be on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised alive.” (Sura 19:33)

[Before reading the following scriptures, it must be noted that every time the word ‘kill(ed)’ or ‘die’ or ‘slain/slew’ is found in the Gospels (Injeel), it is a direct translation from the Greek word, apokteino—which means: To kill in any way whatever, To destroy, to allow to perish, To inflict mortal death— In the New Testament apokteino is used: Kill (55x), slay/slew (14x), put to death (6x) There is therefore no ambiguity as to what the New Testament writers mean when they use the word apokteino.]

All four eyewitness Gospel narratives attest to Jesus foretelling of His death: Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33, 34; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22, 23; Luke 9:22; Luke 18:31, 32; John 12:30-33

The New Testament clearly states that Christ “died” (Mark 15:44–45, Acts 3:15, Rom. 5:8) and rose “from the dead” on the third day (Acts 10:40–41, 1 Cor. 15:3–4, 1 Pet. 1:21) as Jesus himself stated. Scripture never says he only “appeared” or “seemed” to die, nor do any extra-biblical sources make such a claim. As per the scriptures above, on a number of occasions, Jesus predicted his death and resurrection—not his injury and recovery (Mark 8:31, 9:9, 31, 10:34, 45, 12:1-12, 14:22-25).

It is interesting to note that Ahmad contradicts himself on a point held by Ahmadi apologists as one of the proofs that Jesus did not die on the cross: the time that Jesus was on the cross. It is clear from Mark 15:24–37 that Jesus spent at least six hours on the cross:

And it was the third hour (9 AM) when they crucified him…And when the sixth hour (12 noon) had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (3 PM) And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”…And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.

 
However, instead of relying on the multiply attested eyewitness accounts of this historical event, 1800+ years later, Ahmad develops two contradictory time sequences regarding the time that Jesus hung on the cross:

It was only after a few minutes that Jesus was taken down from the cross. Ahmadiyya publication-Izalatal-Auham, 1891, p. 380

Jesus hung on the cross for two hours. (Ahmadiyya publication-Review of Religion, Vol. ii, p. 49, between, 1902-1908)

Clearly both these statements cannot be true; however, both statements can be false, which in light of the eyewitness testimony and extra-biblical material, they are. This is one of many examples in which Ahmad is the “attester and the attestee, both the truth and the criteria by which it is attested.” In so doing, he fabricates an historically unhinged narrative of his own choosing.

Ahmad’s solution to Jesus’ ‘resuscitation’– The ‘ointment of Jesus’

Ghulam Ahmad has staked his claim of Jesus resuscitating in the tomb on what he refers to as the ‘ointment of Jesus,’ or, Marham-i-Isa. Although he places a great deal of importance on the ‘ointment’, stating that this was the burial spices referred to in John 19:39–40 and Luke 23:56–24:1, these spices were not an “ointment” for healing Jesus’ wounds as he was already dead. It was Jewish custom to use spices to mask the smell of decay (see John 19:40, 2 Chron. 16:14).

Also, the ‘ointment of Jesus’ which is more commonly referred to as the ‘Apostles’ Ointment’ or the ‘Ointment of Venus’ was commonly used for skin diseases and other such maladies, but certainly not for healing the wounds inflicted by Roman torture, flagellation and crucifixion. If this ointment could achieve such a feat, it seems that every doctor and hospital in the world would be utilizing it to heal third degree burns, resuscitating the comatose, etc. The formula for the ointment was first attributed to Avicenna, a Persian physician who lived in the 10th and 11th century, 1,000 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial! Although Ahmad excitedly lists a number of books in which the ‘ointment of Jesus’ is mentioned, once again he has detached himself from history and is ‘grasping at unsupported straws’ to support his misplaced historical worldview, as a number of the books he lists are from the 10th century or later, with several as late as the 19th century.

After making the claim that the list of books and references of the prescription for the ‘ointment of Jesus’ “was known to millions of people of different nationalities”, Ahmad claims that “this ointment was prepared for Jesus by his disciples.” Ahmad states that the ‘revelation’ of the ‘ointment of Jesus’ is one of the proofs of his claim to be the Promised Messiah! He states, “True, until the coming of the Promised Messiah, it did not occur to any of these people to make use of the historical importance of this ointment…” [26] Ahmad’s claim is another example of recreating an historical event in his own image. There are no 1st century historical documents that validate Ahmad’s claims regarding the use of the ‘ointment of Jesus’ as it pertains to Jesus’ crucifixion.

In his book, Masih Hindustan Main, Jesus in India, Ahmad claimed to have invented the ‘ointment of Jesus’ under the influence of divine inspiration. He believed this to be the ointment which had been used to heal Jesus’ wounds. He even suggested that the ointment was a remedy for a plague that was spreading in India at the time. This ointment disappeared from the market when government officials started raiding the bogus medicine shops, pursuant to an order from the deputy commissioner of Lahore, dated 19th October 1899, which was later upheld by a decision of the Chief Court of the Punjab, in an appeal case dated 8th June 1900.

In his excellent book, From Sufism to Ahmaddiyya—A Muslim Minority Movement South Asia, professor Adil Hussain Khan, confirms that there is no evidence to substantiate Ahmad’s claims relating to the ‘ointment of Jesus’, either in history, or in connection with Jesus’ burial:

Although the notion of dressing the wounds of the dead may be counterintuitive, the historical authenticity of the marham-i ῾īsā is difficult to verify. I was unable to find further discussion of the marham-i ῾īsā in more appropriate sources, such as in the works of scholars of early Christianity, regarding the origins and intended uses of the marham-i ῾īsā in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus. Even though the name of the ointment suggests some link to Jesus, the original marham-i ῾īsā might not have been used to dress Jesus’s wounds after crucifixion. Many products, including miracle ointments, have been falsely attributed to great religious figures, like Jesus, in the past. It is difficult to find references to the ointment of Jesus prior to the medieval period, aside from the expected accounts of perfumes and oils routinely used in ancient burials. For this reason, there are no conclusive testimonials to substantiate the origins of the marham-i ῾īsā and Ghulam Ahmad’s claim. [27]

 
Conclusion

In his milestone work, The Resurrection of Jesus — A New Historiographical Approach, Dr. Michael Licona posits the following conclusion regarding the ‘swoon theory’:

While open to possibilities, historians must be guided by probabilities. Given the strong evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion, without good evidence to the contrary the historian must conclude that the process killed him. This is the conclusion shared by virtually all scholars who have studied the subject. John McIntyre comments, “Even those scholars and critics who have been moved to depart from almost everything else within the historical content of Christ’s presence on earth have found it impossible to think away the factuality of the death of Christ.” McIntyre is quite correct. Atheist Gerd Lüdemann writes, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” Crossan, who denies the authenticity of a large majority of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the canonical Gospels, comments that there is not the “slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate” and, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” For the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, “The passion of Jesus is part of history.” The rather skeptical scholar Paula Fredriksen writes, “The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for political insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion.”

In summary, the historical evidence is very strong that Jesus died by crucifixion. The event is multiply attested by a number of ancient sources, some of which are non-Christian and thus not biased toward a Christian interpretation of events. They appear in multiple literary forms, being found in annals, historiography, biography, letters, and tradition in the form of creeds, oral formulas, and hymns. Some of the reports are from very early and can reasonably be traced to the Jerusalem apostles. Finally, the probability of surviving crucifixion was very low. Only a few have ventured to suggest that Jesus may not have died as a result of his crucifixion. Their proposals have not received a following from either the academic or medical communities…It is one thing to claim that a person who has been “severely injured” and is nearly dead as a result may be restored to full health given proper medical care and time. However, it is an entirely different thing to claim that a victim of severe torture and crucifixion may have been restored to full health, especially when there is no evidence that Jesus was removed from his cross alive or that he was provided any medical care whatsoever. D. F. Strauss’s critique is every bit as pertinent today as it was on the day he offered it.[28]

In his doctrinal thesis, A Critical Study of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam professor Dr. Alfred Mall concludes:

The truth of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s case is attested only by himself. He is both the attester and the attestee, both the truth and the criteria by which it is attested. He has no conception of the truth of reality, by which he could enhance his case and set the standard in accordance with which later claims and beliefs could form a continuous relationship to truth…The strength of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad rests in his prophecies, not in his person, deeds, and words. Therefore he prevaricates, interpolates, and rationalizes, in order to adapt the prophecies to his method of interpretation. The attempt at scholarship on the part of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his followers is…to find references in the Quran and in the Bible, and by rationalizing them they extract the appropriate meanings for their own ends.[29]

 
The ahistorical position of Ahmad is highlighted by his complete disregard of the earliest and trustworthy records of Jesus’ death in favor of a patchwork of late questionable and error prone documents of persons thousands of miles and centuries removed from the actual event.

John W. Montgomery writes, concerning history and Christianity, that “the weight of historical probability lies on the side of the validity of Jesus’ claim to be God incarnate, the Savior of man, and the coming Judge of the world. If probability does in fact support these claims (and can we really deny it, having studied the evidence?), then we must act in behalf of them.” [30]

You may be asking why Ahmad is so zealous in making his case for the ‘swoon theory’ and positing an ahistorical account of Jesus traveling to India and dying there? One notable point is the vested interest Ahmad had in attempting to substantiate his claim that Jesus Christ, the true promised Messiah of history is dead and buried, so as to proclaim himself the Promised Messiah, even if his claim is attested only by himself. In part 2 of this series we will explore the self-understanding and self-proclamations of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

Why We Can Be Sure Jesus Really Died on the Cross-J. Warner Wallace

Swoon (and substitution) Theory Refuted-Nabeel Qureshi

Is the “swoon theory” adequate to counter the biblical accounts of the resurrection?-Dr. Gary Habermas & Dr. Anthony Flew

Alternate theories about the resurrection proposed by secular scholars?-Dr. William Lane Craig

References

[1] Aristotle, Metaphysics 10 11b 25
[2] Douglas Groothuis, What is Truth? (on the Nature and Importance of Truth Today), 2007, here
[3] Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India, Islam International Publications, 1908, pgs. 12, 13
[4] Tim Chaffey, Faking Death, 2013, here
[5] J.N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History, Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1970, pg. 7
[6] John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperOne, 1995, pg.145
[7] Murray Harris, From Grave to Glory, Zondervan, 1990, pg. 114
[8] John Foster, The Jesus Inquest, Thomas Nelson, 2011, pg. 72
[9] Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus-A Jewish Perspective, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002, pg. 92
[10] Thomas Jame Thorburn, The Resurrection Narratives and Modern Criticism, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd, 1910, pg. 183-85
[11] Peter S. Williams, Getting at Jesus: A Comprehensive Critique of Neo-Atheist Nonsense about the Jesus of History, Wipf & Stock, 2019, pg. 316
[12] J. N. D. Anderson, The Resurrection of Christ, pg. 7
[13] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003, pg. 16
[14] J. P. Holding, Defending the Resurrection, Xulon Press, 2010, pg 382
[15] Karl Theodor Keim, Jesus of Nazareth, Forgotten Books, 2015, pg. 327-28
[16] John Stott, Basic Christianity, Eerdmans Publishing, 2008, pg.48-49
Christopher Bryan, The Resurrection of the Messiah, Oxford University Press, 2011, pg. 163
[17] David Strauss, A New Life of Jesus, Ulan Press, 2012, pg. 412
[18] William D. Edwards, MD, On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ, Journal of the American Medical Association 255:11, 1986
[19] ibid, Foster
[20] Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Random House, 2013, pg. 156
[21] Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Yale University Press, 1998, pg. 1373
[22] ibid, Crossan, pg. 145
[23] Bart Ehrman, Bart Ehrman Interview, 2018
[24] A. N. Wilson, Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, W. W. Norton & Co, 1998, pg. 117
[25] Paul Little, Know Why You Believe, Wheaton Scripture Press, 1987, pg. 65
[26] Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India, Islam International Publications, 1908, pg. 73
[27] Adil Hussain Khan, From Sufism to Ahmaddiyya—A Muslim Minority Movement South Asia, Indiana University Press, 2015, pg. 47
[28] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus-A New Historiographical Approach, Inter-Varsity Press, 2010, pg. 311-313
[29] Alfred Mall, A Critical Study of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, 1997, pg. 44, 137
[30] John W. Montgomery, History & Christianity, InterVarsity Press, 1971, pg. 19

When addressing religious pluralism, Dr. Frank Turek offered this succinct refutation: “Contrary beliefs can exist, but contrary truths cannot.” [1] To set the stage for the rest of this article, let’s first listen to Bobby Conway as he defines religious pluralism and what our responsibility is as Christian case-makers and truth bearers in the pluralistic milieu in which we now live.

What is religious pluralism?-Bobby Conway-oneminuteapologist.com

Living here in Canada, where religious pluralism flourishes in an extreme form, I often hear, as I’m sure you have, the following sound bites masquerading as truth claims: “All paths lead to God” [Question: What God is this claim referring to?], “all religions are the same,” “all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different,” etc. This pluralistic view of religion thrives in places like Canada or Europe where the reinvented definition of tolerance is valued above everything else. With the redefining of tolerance, it’s very easy to slip from the truth claim, ”all people have equal value”, to the false claim that “all ideas/beliefs have equal merit/value.” These are two very different claims entirely, and it is vital for us, as adherents of “the way, the truth and the life,” (John 14:6) to help others to understand the difference.

Philosopher and author Mortimer J. Adler once stated, “In the sphere of matters subject to individual thought and decision, pluralism is desirable and tolerable only in those areas that are matters of taste rather than matters of truth.”

As ambassadors for Christ, and as such, ambassadors for the truth, what should our response to religious pluralism be? When our friends or colleagues inject a truth claim into the conversation such as, “I believe that all religions are basically the same, each providing a different path to God. As the saying goes, ‘different strokes for different folks’,” how should we respond?

The following is one of my “real-life” experiences in which I was able to deconstruct religious pluralism and bring the person I was conversing with to understand the difference between a belief and that which is true:

While taking an Uber, I opened a conversation with the driver, asking him where he was from, did he have a family, etc. I found out that Ali was from Pakistan and he and his family now resided in Canada. After a bit more conversation, I asked if he was a Muslim, to which he responded yes. I then told him that I was a Christian to which he responded, “Oh, we both worship the same God, we both love the same Jesus.” Well, considering how wide Ali opened the door, I simply couldn’t help walking through it.

I first asked Ali a question as to who Jesus was. Letting him know that Jesus once asked this question of His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Ali responded that Jesus was a great prophet. I then affirmed Ali’s answer by stating that Jesus was a great prophet, but that He was much more than that. I then brought it back to Ali’s original statement of Muslims and Christians loving the same Jesus. I said, “Ali, you said that we love the same Jesus, but I don’t see how that could be true considering that the Jesus that you love is only a prophet, whereas the Jesus that I love is the Word of God who took on human form, the Son of God who gave His life as a ransom for you and me so that our sins could be forgiven.” I then pointed out that the Qur’an states that Jesus was never crucified, but that the Bible, as well as many extra-biblical sources, affirm that He was. I then asked Ali if Jesus could be both crucified and not-crucified, to which he answered no. I could see from the change in his expression that Ali had just come to a stark realization–he and I didn’t love the same Jesus, and if that was the case, which Jesus was the true Jesus? Was it the Jesus of the Qur’an or the Jesus of the Bible?Image result for jesus of the bible jesus of the Qur'an"

At this point we came to the end of my ride. I left Ali with a tract, Jesus & the Qur’an,[2] and a Gospel of John. I asked him to please read both of these and to ask God to show him who Jesus truly is, and that I would also be praying for him and his family. Ali said he would read them both and thanked me for the conversation saying, “I have learned something new today.”

The above is one of many “all paths lead to God” conversations that I have had over the years. Some have been more lengthy and in depth than the one I shared here, but for those of us who are living in Western countries where relativism is rife and the driving force behind religious pluralism, it behooves us to embrace Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness [that] God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24–25-ESV)

When entering into a conversation where religious pluralism is the topic, we must always keep the person of Christ at the forefront of our minds. It is the Jesus of history, the Word made flesh, whose life, death and resurrection differentiate the Christian faith from all other religious worldviews. Author and apologist Dr. Kenneth Samples offers the following explanation on what makes the Christian faith stand out from all others:

Whether a person is inclined to accept them or not, the truth-claims of Christianity are historical and factual in nature…The historic Christian faith consistently resists and defies all attempts to homogenize and mythologize its central characters and truth-claims. The apostles had an empirical encounter with the resurrected Jesus and reported it as a historical-factual event (1 Cor. 15:3-8). The disciples consistently referred to themselves as “witnesses” or “eyewitnesses” of the great events of Jesus’ life (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39; 1 John 1:1-3) As the apostle Peter proclaimed, “We did not follow cleverly invented fables and myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16).[3]

 
The following video clips from Ravi Zacharias and Andy Bannister, offer an in-depth insight into the issue of religious pluralism and tips on how we as Christian case-makers can address the topic when it comes up in conversation.

Aren’t all religions the same? And isn’t Jesus just one of many prophets?-Ravi Zacharias

Aren’t all religions basically the same?-Andy Bannister

References:
[1] Frank Turek-his site is an excellent resource–crossexamined.org
[2] Jesus and the Qur’an-by Jospeh P. Gudel-Tract from Crossway publishers-it can be ordered online, here
[3] Kenneth R. Samples, Without a Doubt-Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions, Baker Books, 2004, pg. 169

More resources:
Christianity & Religious Pluralism-Are There Multiple Ways to Heaven?-by Rick Wade, article here
Aren’t All Religions Equally Valid? by Andy Bannister-article, here
True for you but not for me…but can that be true?-by Lane, here

When sharing the historical evidence for Jesus’ life, death and resurrection from the Gospel narratives with my friends or curious acquaintances, I am at times challenged with, “That’s all very interesting, but is there any extra-biblical evidence, evidence outside the Bible for Jesus’ life, or that he even existed?” When a person raises this objection, they are basically saying, “I don’t believe that the New Testament documents are historically reliable because they were written by Christians, which means they were written by people with a bias, an ulterior motive.” [As the focus of this article is the evidence for Jesus outside the Bible, I won’t cover the historical reliability of the Gospels here. However, I have included equipping resources on this topic at the end of this article which address that issue.]

In reply to my friend’s question regarding whether there is any extra-biblical evidence of Jesus’ life and existence, I generally respond along the lines of, “That’s a good question and one that I hear from time to time. And the answer to your question is a resounding, YES, there certainly is evidence outside the Bible for Jesus life.” I have found that most people who raise this challenge are simply ‘parroting’ the sound bites they’ve picked up from agnostics or skeptics which have been bantered around message boards on the internet. I am then in a position to present the historical extra-biblical sources that they are inquiring about, but don’t think exist. Most people are somewhat taken aback (and at times dumbfounded) when I list just a few of the ancient extra-biblical sources which include the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata, Jewish historian Josephus, the Jewish Talmud, etc., all of which include information regarding Jesus’ life, His death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, His teachings, His power to perform miracles, His disciples worship of Him as God, etc.

In his book, Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus-Historical Records of His Death and Resurrection, New Testament scholar and author, Gary Habermas, offers the following summary regarding extra-biblical sources as they relate to the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth:

“[A]ncient extra-biblical sources do present a surprisingly large amount of detail concerning both the life of Jesus and the nature of early Christianity. While many of these facts are quite well known, we must remember that they have been documented here apart from the usage of the New Testament. When viewed in that light, we should realize that it is quite extraordinary that we could provide a broad outline of most of the major facts of Jesus’ life from “secular” history alone. Such is surely significant. Using only the information gleaned from these ancient extra-biblical sources, what can we conclude concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus? Can these events be historically established based on these sources alone? Of the seventeen documents examined in this chapter, eleven different works speak of the death of Jesus in varying amounts of detail, with five of these specifying crucifixion as the mode. When these sources are examined by normal historical procedures used with other ancient documents, the result is conclusive. It is this author’s view that the death of Jesus by crucifixion can be asserted as historical fact from this data.”

 
In his article, Is There Any Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible, author and Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace outlines the specific points of Jesus’ life that are included in the data from the extra-biblical historical sources. The list is quite extensive, which makes the case for the historical Jesus based only on extra-biblical sources even more impressive:

“Let’s review what we’ve learned from hostile pagan and Jewish sources describing Jesus. We’ll do our best to discount the anti-Christian bias we see in the sources, just as we discounted the pro-Christian bias we think might exist in some versions of the writing of Josephus. Many elements of the Biblical record are confirmed by these hostile accounts, in spite of the fact they deny the supernatural power of Jesus:

1) Jesus was born and lived in Palestine. 2) He was born, supposedly, to a virgin and had an earthly father who was a carpenter. 3) He was a teacher who taught that through repentance and belief, all followers would become brothers and sisters. 4) He led the Jews away from their beliefs. 5) He was a wise man who claimed to be God and the Messiah. 6) He had unusual magical powers and performed miraculous deeds. 7) He healed the lame. 8) He accurately predicted the future. 9) He was persecuted by the Jews for what He said, betrayed by Judas Iscariot. 10) He was beaten with rods, forced to drink vinegar and wear a crown of thorns. 11) He was crucified on the eve of the Passover and this crucifixion occurred under the direction of Pontius Pilate, during the time of Tiberius. 12) On the day of His crucifixion, the sky grew dark and there was an earthquake. 13) Afterward, He was buried in a tomb and the tomb was later found to be empty. 14) He appeared to His disciples resurrected from the grave and showed them His wounds. 15) These disciples then told others Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven. 16) Jesus’ disciples and followers upheld a high moral code. One of them was named Matthai. 17) The disciples were also persecuted for their faith but were martyred without changing their claims. 18) They met regularly to worship Jesus, even after His death.

 
Not bad, given this information is coming from ancient accounts hostile to the Biblical record. While these non-Christian sources interpret the claims of Christianity differently, they affirm the initial, evidential claims of the Biblical authors…[and] the basic facts of the historical events. Is there any evidence for Jesus outside the Bible? Yes, and the ancient non-Christian interpretations (and critical commentaries) of the Gospel accounts serve to strengthen the core claims of the New Testament.”

(For complete article by J. Warner Wallace, Is There Any Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible?, here)

Is there any evidence for Jesus outside the Bible?-J. Warner Wallace

Is there any evidence for Jesus outside the Bible-Peter Williams-The Veritas Forum

Did Jesus even exist?-Andy Bannister-RZIM

Did Jesus exist?-Sean McDowell

Resources

Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus-Historical Records of His Death and Resurrection-by Gary Habermas-found on Amazon, here
Eyewitness testimony in the New Testament, untrustworthy or reliable?-by Lane, here
The Case for the Early dating of the Gospels-countering scholarly laziness and blindness-by Lane, here

I am highlighting i2 Ministries as I have found it to be one of the best, if not the best equipping resource for reaching our Muslim neighbors with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Ravi Zacharias (President, RZIM Ministries) states, “I don’t know if there is a more strategic ministry involved now, in our world, than i2 Ministries to reach the Muslims, to find a bridge, and to communicate to them. It is one of those hinges I think that will determine the future of the world.”

The following are i2 Ministry endorsements from some of the outstanding evangelists and apologists of our day:

“As the Iron Curtain fell in the twentieth century, so the Islamic Curtain shielding the Muslim world from the proclamation of the Gospel is destined to fall in the twenty-first. The courses contained in i2 Ministries curriculum will help to equip churches and individuals to reach Muslims effectively with the life-changing message of Christ.”-Dr. William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy Biola University/Talbot School of Theology and Reasonable Faith President

“Having personally reviewed the proposals and teaching materials I can see that this organization will provide an educational and resourcing framework for the church that currently does not exist. The resources created by this strategic vision are essential to equip and train missionaries and lay leaders on and off the field in addition to bolstering the ministries of hundreds of organizations….I am personally committed to doing all that I can to serve the success of this ministry….Church based training is a trend and reality today…. There is no ministry that provides better training in churches for Ministry to Muslims than i2 Ministries. i2 Ministries’ “Mission Muslim World: Foundations” not only radicalizes the nominal church attender, but equips them to fulfill the great commission in their own life.”-Josh McDowell, President Josh McDowell Ministries

“For a number of years now, I have had the privilege of working with Joshua Lingel in his capacity as a dedicated Christian communicator to Muslims. Josh’s passion, scholarship, and vision have been translated into making helpful evangelistic, cultural and apologetic resources available to the wider church in a highly accessible way. I commend Josh and i2 Ministries for their efforts to foster biblical reflection on mission, to maintain high standards of biblical integrity and cultural sensitivity in the methods as well as the mission, and to engage Islamic thought in terms that are clear, faithful to the scripture and which offer a truly grace-based alternative for life.”-Stuart McAllister, Vice President of Training and Special Projects Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

 
I highly recommend the equipping resources at i2 Ministries for churches, whether small or large group, as well as for individuals who the Lord has called to the Muslim harvest field which is “white unto harvest.” The i2 Ministries site and resources can be found at: https://i2ministries.org

i2 Ministries video courses can be found at: https://thewadi.org The courses address a wide range of topics, such as:

Islam’s Issues, Agendas, and the Great Commission-Dr. Joshua Lingel
Radical Evangelism to Muslims-Dr. Jay Smith
Muslim Evangelism and Discipleship-Rev. Georges Houssney
The Cutting Edge Between Islam and Christianity-Dr. John Gilchrist

 
…and much, much more. If you want to be equipped in meeting the Muslim challenge and being the ambassador for Christ that He has called you to be, this is the program for you!

i2 Ministry Vision-Dr. Joshua Lingel, president of i2 Ministries

CRESCENT PROJECT NATIONAL CONFERENCE 2019

NC 2019 Logo.png

October 22 – 24 | Nashville, TN-USA

 

Conference highlights:

Workshops and keynotes taught by some of the world’s foremost experts in Muslim ministry

Content at different levels for audiences of all types, from first-timers to experienced leaders

Powerful first-hand stories and testimonies from Believers from a Muslim Background

For more information and how to register for the conference, here

 

From RZIM:
“We are pleased to announce our third annual RZIM Summit taking place July 10-13, 2019 at Acadia Divinity College in beautiful Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. This year, the Summit focus is “All Nature Sings: God and the Natural World”.

Speakers include: Ravi Zacharias, Andy Bannister, Abdu Murray, Logan Gates, Anna Robbins, Alycia Wood, Margaret Manning Shull and many more.

More about the conference & how to register, here