A Follower of Islam and a Disciple of Jesus:
A Public Discussion
Summary Review of the Beck-Ahmed debate
On the nights of December 3, 4, 5, 1998, each night beginning at 7.P.M., and lasting until approximately 9:30 P.M., David Beck, gospel preacher located with the church of Christ that meets at Paris Ave. (Peoria, IL), and Nadir Ahmed, head of the Islamic Student Society of Bradley University, debated which was in fact the word of God, the Bible or the Qur'an. As is stated above, this review is intended to be a summary. It is not intended to be an outline, nor to be a teaching tool, but rather to report as objectively as possible the events that took place during said debate.
Set-up and Flow: As debates go, the Beck-Ahmed debate was certainly unique in form. There was only one moderator rather than two, that being Brother Ken Thomas, gospel preacher located in Pekin, IL. There was one timekeeper, Sean Randleman, member of the Paris Ave. church of Christ. Stranger still was the setup of the propositions themselves. Each of the first two nights saw each man affirming a negative statement on one night, and denying a negative on the other, which led to quite a bit of overlap and general confusion over what should be discussed when, for both debaters. This setup was as per the requests of Mr. Ahmed, and led to a third night which found both men offering affirmatives to different statements - again, quite unique. The general setup follows below:
7:00 P.M. - Statement of Rules; Introduction of Speakers - Ken Thomas
7:05 - 7:50 P.M. - Affirmation of a negative statement (Thurs./Fri.), positive statement (Sat.)
7:50 - 8:35 P.M. - Denial of a negative statement (Thurs./Fri.) Affirmation of positive (Sat.)
8:35 - 8:45 - Intermission
8:45 - 8:55 - 1st speaker offers 10-minute rebuttal
8:55 - 9:05 - 2nd speaker offers 10-minute rebuttal
9:05 - 9:30 - Q & A from the audience for both Mr. Beck and Mr. Ahmed
First Night - "The Bible is NOT the Word of God."
Affirm: Nadir Ahmed
Deny: David Beck
The debate began with Mr. Ahmed's affirmation that the Bible is NOT the Word of God. The crux of the proof offered by Mr. Ahmed centered around the word of "23 scholars and 50 denominational leaderships of the Protestant churches" responsible for the translation of the RSV, and the NRSV of the Bible. Mr. Ahmed repeatedly demonstrated his seeming lack of understanding between the words "translation" and "version" by holding up a KJV Bible and a NRSV Bible and asking Mr. Beck which one was, in fact, the Word of God. Also critical to the proof offered by Mr. Ahmed were the changes that were made from the RSV to the NRSV of the Bible, which are commonly named "interpolations" amongst the hermeneutically-inclined. Mr. Ahmed stated repeatedly that "interpolation" is just a fabrication, never actually discussing what an interpolation (those Greek texts present in some, but not all older manuscripts, and thus marginalized to footnotes or center-column notes) is.
Mr. Ahmed's argument against the Bible being the Word of God ended with the bringing up of several disconnected ideas that he lumped into the same category, calling all of them contradictions of the Bible. One of these, which most Christians know of and clearly understand, was the alleged contradiction between the two accounts of the death of Judas. Another had to do with the use of the word "moros" (fool) by Christ, once telling others not to use this term, and later using it Himself, ignoring context altogether. Mr. Ahmed would return again and again to this passage throughout the debate. A third "contradiction" cited by Mr. Ahmed had to do with the fact that Matt 9:9 refers to the apostle Matthew (Levi) in the third person. Mr. Ahmed stated that this fact proved Matthew could not have written the gospel, for no one refers to oneself in third person. A final "contradiction" had to do with the graphic language God uses concerning the sins of Judah and Samaria (Israel) in Ezekiel 23:1-20. Mr Ahmed feigned horror at what he termed "pornography" in the Word of God. A final "contradiction" dealt with the use of the word "begotten" to describe Christ in John 3:16. It was Mr. Ahmed's opinion that this word dealt with "lower sexual functions" and proved that Jesus was human rather than divine.
David Beck's denial of the proposition that "The Bible is NOT the Word of God," was sound and logically intact, contrary to what the logic-discerning listeners heard in the first forty-five minutes. David Beck's first major point showed a verse in the Qur'an that tells the followers of Muhammed to listen to the Scriptures given to many OT prophets, as well as the gospel given to Jesus. Mr Beck would return each night and each opportunity to this point, and for good cause. Mr. Beck discussed rationally, yet aggressively, each "contradiction" pointed out by Mr. Ahmed, laying aside all dispute quickly and easily. Mr. Beck asked passionately that each listener pay attention to the "quality of the arguments for and against the Bible" and judge by that "quality". This reviewer's prayer is that it was so. Mr. Beck spent some time reviewing accurate Bible history and origins, and freely admitted that there are some parts of passages that one cannot judge by existing manuscripts to be definitively part of God's word, or definitively additions. Mr. Beck asked what would make more sense than to give the reader access to these words, and give the reader the knowledge that these words do not appear in all manuscripts. Mr. Beck chided Mr. Ahmed lovingly yet sternly for offering his opinion as to why the changes in the NRSV version of the Bible appeared, and yet offering no evidence for it.
Finally, and most importantly to this reviewer, Mr. Beck answered the challenging questions that surround interpolation honestly, succinctly, and directly. He did not sidestep around any facts, nor cover anything in smoke and mist so as to confuse any less knowledgeable attendees. At the same time, he accurately defined interpolation via the definition of Biblical scholars, and clearly stated the existence of these passages. At the same time, his overriding point on this issue struck home; that being, Absolutely none of the passages considered interpolations affect doctrine in any way, and there is no teaching presented in any of them that is not also found in other verses of the New Testament. Accept them, reject them... the Bible still teaches what it teaches.
The rebuttals were both, for the most part, unmemorable. Both participants were rushed to cover 45 minutes worth of objections in 10 minutes, and both thus sacrificed detail on each point that they tried to discuss for the favor of discussing more points. Coming up in the rebuttal was another main point of Mr. Ahmed, that is, the Muslims' view of the Godhead, which he had also discussed before, though to no great length. Muslims do not accept the deity of Christ, nor his death and resurrection, though they somehow do accept his virgin birth. They consider him a prophet, no more, no less. The question period was also, for the most part, the least memorable of the three nights. Mr. Ahmed more than a few times would answer only 10% of a question, as he did to the question of this reviewer concerning his earlier point about "third person." He gave answers that were not answers, at least not to the questions that were asked, and instead used that time to repeat earlier statements. David Beck had less questions, as he did each night, and they covered a multitude of topics, some of which he answered, literally, with a word, and others that took almost the allotted 3 minutes per. All in all, the first night was both edifying and informative to all present.
Night 2 - Proposition: "The Qur'an is NOT the Word of God."
The second night began with David Beck affirming the above proposition. There were several points, and those listed herein are not inclusive. Mr. Beck began by discussing scientific evidence found in God's Word - evidence of wisdom higher than that of the wisest men at the time of writing. He discussed Psalm 8:8 and Matthew F. Maury. He discussed several other passages dealing with the shape of the earth, and etc. The problem is, especially to the non-believer, these passages can be written off as simply being "poetic language" - however, Mr Ahmed also wanted to introduce what he called scientific evidence from the Qur'an, and he could not logically claim one was "poetic" while the other was not. Mr. Beck also mentioned that he had a large amount of material discussing false scientific claims found in the Qur'an, but since he had an agreement with Mr. Ahmed to give him all information he would be discussing, and since the above information was not included, he declined to bring it up.
After the scientific evidence, Mr. Beck went on to discuss the idea that many different Qur'anic texts were eventually combined into one. A chart he used made it quite simple to understand, that there were several families of Qur'anic texts that were eventually combined into one, with 4 copies kept and all others burned. He used this idea to refute Mr. Ahmed's notion that the Qur'an has never undergone any changes. Following that, he moved on to the real crux of his affirmation, contradictions. Mr. Beck showed where 1) The Qur'an contradicted the Old Testament, which book the Qur'an holds in high esteem, 2) The Qur'an contradicted the Gospel of Jesus, which book the Qur'an holds in high esteem, and 3) The Qur'an contradicted the Qur'an within its own pages. The first two were very strong proofs, the last seemed to this observer to be similar to some charges critics bring against the Bible. In context, the three passages mentioned in the Qur'an did not seem all that contradictory to this observer.
Mr. Beck's final argument was a wonderful one. He discussed several different changes that the Qur'an makes in God/Allah of heaven, and was quick to point out that while Muslims claim that Allah and the Christian God are the same, the Bible and the Qur'an depict Him in a completely different manner. One of these includes the idea of abrogation/cancellation in the Qur'an, where God will change His mind about a command and reverse it, or add to it. (A clumsy parallel was later drawn by Mr. Ahmed to the O.T./N.T., which shows abjectly a lack of understanding concerning God's ONE plan.) He pointed out that the God of the Qur'an is tolerant of sin and worldliness, unjust in that he is a respecter of persons, and indecisive, as some in the Islam belief will go first to hell and then to heaven.
Mr. Ahmed's rebuttal, truly and objectively, showed his lack of preparation for this debate and/or experience as a debater. His proof that the Qur'an was the word of God existed of basically two ideas. The first is that there are some people in the Middle East who Mr. Ahmed claims have been blessed with "the miracle of Hafiz", in that they are able to memorize the Qur'an front to back with no mistakes, and that they have passed the word on in that fashion. I had to restrain myself from asking Mr. Ahmed if he had ever played the American game of "Telephone", where just one word or phrase becomes distorted or twisted after twenty people have handled it. Couple this with the fact that Mr. Ahmed never heard of the information Mr. Beck brought up concerning the different families of Qur'anic texts, and you have the gist of the denial, which took forty-five minutes. Mr Ahmed also spent some time discussing the scientific proof found in the Qur'an, though he talked more in generalities about most ideas rather than going to the text, which he only did two or three times. He also spent much time discussing context in the Qur'an, and did do an adequate job of showing how Mr. Beck's contradiction within the Qur'an were taken out of context.
The rebuttal periods went as rebuttal periods will, both sides answering arguments in a relatively good fashion. The question and answer period, however, brought an incendiary quality to this debate. One of the questions (as luck would have it, this observer wrote the particular question) dealt with the subject of context that Mr. Ahmed had introduced, and applied the question of context to Ezekiel 23:1-20, which Mr. Ahmed had called pornography the previous night. Mr Ahmed apologized that he had to do this, claimed he would read the text of Ezekiel 23:20, and then instead paraphrased it in the most vulgar terms one could imagine. It took a comment from an audience member, which was, of course, out of order, to get some order restored. I personally approached Mr.Ahmed just after the debate and in no uncertain terms informed him of his grave error - to his credit, he apologized personally to Mr. Beck, Mr. Thomas, myself, and the audience member the next night.
Night 3 - Two affirmations - The plan of salvation according to the Qur'an/the Bible.
Mr. Ahmed went first, and spent literally 15 of his 45 minutes discussing the plan of salvation according to the Qur'an. All that was necessary was repentance (which does not indicate obedience, according to the definition used) and that one give alms, pray 5 times daily, observe fasts, and believe only in the Qur'an. Mr. Ahmed spent the rest of his time (though he cut it short, to allow Mr. Beck more time if needed) denying the plan of salvation according to the Bible. This was done mainly by ridiculing the idea of blood atonement, picturing God as an idiot who would only allow repentance after he killed His own Son. Misunderstandings were in abundance, as Mr. Ahmed repeatedly confused the Lord's Church with first Catholicism and then other denominations.
Mr. Beck's affirmation was, in fact, an affirmation. He spent 45 minutes well discussing God's plan of salvation in the Bible, the necessity of atonement for sin, and the only way atonement could be made on such a grand and perfect scale. It was basically similar to listening to a sermon on God's plan of salvation, as well it should have been, and for 45 minutes people who would likely never have desired to have heard a gospel sermon heard one. For this reason alone, the debate would have been successful. Since that time, however, Mr. Beck has been contacted and asked to speak again on what was a new idea to most of the Muslims in attendance, simply following Jesus and being His church. The rebuttal and Q & A periods went without incident, with both men doing what they had done all week, one offering thoughtful and intuitive answers, and one simply not answering the question that was asked, but setting up straw men.
By Gregg Purcell
The Final Page
From Expository Files 6.1; January 1999