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What Did the Pope Actually Say?

written by Asher Intrater
September 05, 2006

We continue to see a bizarre theater of the absurd on the world stage. Iranian demagogue Ahmadenajad was given a forum to speak at the United Nations building in New York. Venezuelan leftist President Chavez crossed himself on the same forum, voiced support for Muslims, and called President Bush a Satan. In addition, death threats have been issued by Palestinian terrorist groups in response to the Pope suggesting that radical Islam leads to violence.

The Kafkaesque love affair between Western leftist humanists and the Islamic radical Jihadists is beyond what rational intelligence or even imagination can fathom. The continued attacks against three men in particular – the U.S. President, the Israeli Prime Minister, and the Catholic Pope – border on hysteria. In this regard, I decided to get a copy of the full text of the Pope’s teaching that caused such an uproar, to find out just what exactly he said.

A large part of the Pope’s teaching and its conclusions, I strongly disagree with. However, his comment on Islam was quite insightful. In any case his comments were taken out of context and distorted. His teaching was to a group of professors at Regensburg University, and was given in an academic style of the highest scholarly level, using theological terminology and references that I am confident that neither the Liberal press, nor the Muslim terrorists had any idea of what he was talking about.

The Pope’s message was an appeal for reconciliation between “faith” and “reason.” He believes that all faith is in accord with other intellectual pursuits and that theology should be studied along side other sciences in the University method. His conclusion was an invitation to those of different religious backgrounds to discuss theological differences on a logical and rational basis, and through that method we can become “partners in the dialogue of cultures.” Here is a summary of some of the Pope’s salient points:

The biblical starting point of the message was John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word.” The “Word” in Greek is LOGOS. This concept includes not only “word,” but also “reason.” From logos, we find logic, theology, biology, psychology, etc. Therefore God has identified Himself with reason and associated faith with Western rationality. (He used the Macedonian call of Acts 16 as a proof text of God’s purposeful intention to blend the ancient Hebraic faith with Greek philosophical analysis. The presentation of the New Testament revelation in the systematic and ordered thought processes developed in Europe was essential to the message of the Gospel.)

The Pope even pointed to the famous translation of the Hebrew Old Testament by seventy rabbis at Alexandria during the inter-testamental period to the Greek language, called the Septuagint, as a necessary and divinely ordained preparation to the New Testament revelation. The Septuagint was not only a literal translation but laid the groundwork for understanding the biblical events in Greek concepts and thought patterns. He also saw a parallel in the Mosaic proclamation of One God against Middle Eastern idolatry and the Greek philosophers’ battle against ancient Greek polytheism.

The Pope also described a progressive understanding of the nature of God throughout the history of the Old Testament period. The exilic prophets had to explain their faith in God in a way in which it was not entirely bound to the land of Israel and the Temple priesthood. Therefore, they found more universal and enlightened aspects to the faith. This enlightenment process continued in the encounter with Greek philosophical concepts and reached its culmination in John’s revelation of God as the LOGOS.

As the LOGOS, God entered into the human world through Jesus. As man was made in the image of God, God now entered into the human world which He made, and presented Himself in a way that is totally in accord with human rationality and morality. The progressive revelation of God to man becomes more humanely attainable through Jesus, bridges the gap between God and man, and therefore also bridges the gap between faith revelation on the one hand and human morality and reason on the other. Revelation and rationality become one in the final stage in which God’s LOGOS becomes flesh through Jesus. Therefore there is no conflict between philosophy and theology.

The opposite would also hold true. The further we distance God from the incarnate LOGOS the greater the gap we see between faith and morality, between revelation and rationality. God is both transcendent (distant, different, unattainable), but He is also immanent (with us, near, approachable, understandable). God’s revelation starts with the transcendent, and becomes ultimately immanent in the agape love expressed by Jesus. If one’s theology has ONLY a transcendent view of God, then one’s personal faith reaction to that God becomes separate from human morality and rationality.

If God is totally transcendent, totally sovereign, without ANY connection to human understandable behavior, then those who believe in Him are dismissed from having their faith and behavior conformed to any kind of moral or rational standards. Here is where the Pope makes a comment about Islam. The Koran presents a God who is totally sovereign, transcendent, unattainable, doing whatever He wishes. This kind of Islamic theology disconnects Muslim believers from any responsibility to evaluate their faith in normal rational or moral standards.

(The Pope sees this kind of disconnection of faith with reason in Catholicism of the Middle Ages and in the “anti-intellectualism” of certain forms of modern reformers seeking a more “primitive” kind of Christianity.)

If a theological concept of God is ONLY transcendent, and therefore not connected to human morality and rationality, then it is in danger of falling into either idolatry or violence. In this context comes the remark about the violence in Islam. Since Islam has a transcendent-sovereign, non-logos view of God, they not only do not evaluate their faith in moral and rational terms, but they have no reason not to use violence as a means of spreading their faith. In short, the extreme transcendent-sovereign concept of Allah found in the Koran necessarily leads to violence in enforcing its beliefs.

In this long erudite dissertation on the nature of God, faith, and reason, the history of progressive revelation ending up in the LOGOS, and the reconciliation of biblical theology with Greek philosophy, the Pope quotes a sharp and pointed statement by Byzantine emperor Manuel II in 1391, responding to the phenomenon of Islamic Holy War, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

[Well, not very “politically correct,” but in some sense, the very violent response to the Pope’s remarks only go to prove this statement rather than refute it. We are still waiting for someone to “show” us something “new” other than holy religious war coming out of Islam. While I disagree with the Pope’s European-Catholic world view and his synthesis of Christianity and Greek philosophy, I do think He has made a penetrating analysis of one of the aspects of the theological roots of violence found in Islam.]

The Pope went on to say that since the gospel is a revelation of the LOGOS Jesus, it must be done through an appeal to the LOGOS of reason. Violent conversion is a contradiction in terms to one who believes that God has revealed Himself through LOGOS.

Perhaps this explains why radical liberal leftist atheists seem to be so supportive of radical Islamic fundamental Jihadists. They are both missing the LOGOS. They are missing the Immanuel, God with us, the Word of God made flesh, the perfect incarnation of the love of God, the morality of God, and the wisdom of God – Yeshua. Without Him, without the revelation of the scriptures and the Spirit of God, the world will fall into either Western atheist decadence or Islamic terrorism. The only answer is to preach the real gospel. Yeshua was and always will be the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

Asher serves as president of Tikkun Global family of ministries and congregations, dedicated to the dual restoration of Israel and the Church. He is founder of the Revive Israel five-fold ministry team, and oversees both Ahavat Yeshua and Tiferet Yeshua congregations in Israel.

He and his wife Betty share a passion for personal prayer and devotion, local evangelism and discipleship in Hebrew, and unity of the Body of believers worldwide.

Asher was raised in a conservative Jewish home and holds degrees from Harvard University, Baltimore Hebrew College and Messiah Biblical Institute. He has authored numerous books, tracts and articles.

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