Thursday, March 12, 2009

Consistent and Sensitive Translations of “Allah”

To the Editor of the Sun,

Christians harbor the hope that Muslims who express their views on the ‘Allah’ issue will focus on the academic issues rather than rely on emotional rhetoric. That we now have a contribution to the ‘Allah’ controversy from the Vice-Chancellor of USM, Tan Sri Professor Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, is indeed most welcome. However, with due respect to the learned professor, I beg to differ with his views for the following reasons:

First, Prof. Dzulkifli violates Aristotle’s dictum that one should critique a text on its own terms and that benefit of doubt should be extended to the text. He does so when he rejects the Christian use of the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God simply because he considers Christian usage insensitive and shows no regard for Muslim teaching about the Quranic Tauhidic concept. His judgment begs the question. But why should people of other faiths be dictated by an alien text (in this case, the Quran) in their use of their Holy Scriptures? It is surely an inept academic exercise to impose Islamic teachings onto the Bible or to impose Christian teachings onto the Quran.

Second, Dzulkifli’s stricture is indefensible in the light of history. Indeed, if legitimacy is to be accorded to the first user of the word ‘Alah’, then Muslims should not be allowed to call their God ‘Allah’. After all, the pre-Islamic Arabs and speakers of Arabic cognate languages (like Syriac and Nabatean) had already been calling their God ‘Allah’ (with equivalent cognates), and the Muslims who came later used the term ‘Allah’ in a sense that deviates from its historical usage.

Third, Dzulkifli’s stricture is irrelevant. Christians have never pretended that the Bible is an Islamic book. Although Christians and Muslims both believe in the same Creator God, nevertheless they have different understandings of his attributes and his gift of salvation.

Dzulkifli’s criticisms fail to carry weight because he has not undertaken both a diachronic and synchronic analysis of lexical terms used in the original texts. Without this prior exercise he has no grounds to justify why he cannot accept certain translations of Biblical terms, which are based on objective principles of linguistics.

Dzulkifli’s criticism of how Christians use the word ‘Tuhan’ and ‘Allah’ in describing ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ shows that he has prejudged how Christians should translate their Scriptures even though he displays no knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek languages. Biblical translators chose the word ‘Allah’ to translate the word ‘God’ since the word was originally used in Arabic as a generic designation for God. But for Christians this God has specifically revealed himself as ‘Yahweh’ (YHWH), a term that emphasizes his eternal existence and unlimited power when used in the original context. The semantic range of the word ‘Lord’ allowed Jews and Christians to apply the word Kurios (Lord) to Yahweh in the 3rd century BC Greek translation of the Bible, called the Septuagint. A careful reading of the Malay Bible will show that the translator consistently translated ‘God’ as ‘Allah’ and ‘Lord’ as Tuhan. It is interesting to note that the Quran also uses two words ‘Allah’ and ‘Rabb’ to describe God as ‘Allah’ and ‘Lord’.

There is then a semantic overlap and yet difference between ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ in the Hebrew and Greek languages. For Christians both terms may apply to the Creator God and to Jesus Christ on account of the Christian belief that Jesus is God’s manifestation for salvation of mankind (Titus 2:13). It is only natural that Christians, who from the very beginning understood Jesus as God, also apply the term Kurios (Lord) to Jesus. Thus Jesus is referred to as ‘My Lord and My God!’ (John 20:28) – rendered in Bahasa Malaysia as Tomas menjawab Dia: “Ya Tuhanku dan Allahku!”

Dzulkifli’s manifest confusion in his reading or rather misreading of the Bahasa Bible could easily be avoided if he just follows Aristotle’s dictum and attempts an internally coherent reading of the text on its own terms. In the light of this fundamental error, Dzulkifli’s gripe about how other names should be used are minor issues – like Jerusalem/Yerusalem (which is actually a small matter of phonetics), Torah/Taurat Musa/Hukum Musa or Abraham/Ibrahim (which is a matter of transliteration and there are no absolute rules governing how languages are transliterated from one language to another). It is not surprising that Dzulkifli’s criticism of Christian translation of the Bible strayed into these secondary issues since he violates the basic dictum of literary and linguistic criticism right from the start.

It becomes evident that so long as Muslims like Dzulkifli insist that the meaning of words be strictly restricted to a historically contingent usage found in one particular text (the Quran), they will fail to understand, much less empathize or accept that people of other faiths have as much right to address their God as they see fit. Indeed, at best, Dzulkifli comes across as only seeking to cast aspersions that question the competence of Christians to translate and read their very own Holy texts in their mother tongues. At worse, his discussion amounts to an attempt at linguistic imperialism.

Dr. Ng Kam Weng
Kairos Research Centre

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The Sun, Malaysia
Updated: 10:20AM Wed, 11 Mar 2009

Inconsistent, insensitive translations of ‘Allah’
Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

THE use of the term "Allah" has captured the attention of the media again. Of late, even a newspaper from down south carried a commentary on the issue. The slant is usually political, and not religious, and does not throw any new light on the issue. It also does not appeal to the intellect; instead, it seems to border more on emotions that further confuse the issue.
To all Muslims the term "Allah" is laden with the concept of Tauhid – that Allah is "the One and Only" as defined in the Quranic language, which happens to be Arabic. Allah cannot be understood without this concept of his oneness. Any attempt to do so will amount to a vulgarism of sort, and an affront to Muslims.

Moving forward, let us briefly try and understand the reasons for Muslim misgivings by using the Bahasa Indonesia version which is translated from the English New King James Version and authorised by Konperensi Waligerja Indonesia (Edition, 2004). Let us randomly take The Gospel according to Luke, translated as Injil Lukas, to briefly illustrate the point.

In Luke, "God" is generally substituted by "Allah", whereas "Tuhan" is commonly used to substitute "the Lord". Note the article "the" applies to "Tuhan," but not to "Allah". Hence, where there is "the Lord God" in the English version, it becomes "Tuhan Allah". "The Lord their God" becomes "Tuhan, Allah mereka". Note the use of a comma!

On some occasions though, "God" is also translated as "Tuhan", though "God" in this example does not carry the article "the" as in "the Lord". So does it mean there is a time when "God" is not "Allah"? Or that "Tuhan" is "Allah" after all?

Yet, on other occasions, "Allah" is used as substitute for "the LESUS." But then, "the LESUS your God" is rendered as "Tuhan, Allahmu" – note again the comma!

Just from these few random examples, one can already sense the complexity and confusion in the use of "Allah" in the translated version.

To make matters even more confusing, the biblical name "Mary" is rendered as "Maria" – when the Quranic equivalent would have been "Maryam"; And "John" as "Yohanes" instead of "Yahaya." Or for that matter "Gabriel" is not even translated but kept as it is. The Quranic "Jibrail" as an equivalent is not even considered! How about "Jesus" himself? Why is this rendered as "Yesus", rather than "Isa"? In the Quran both are the son of Mary or Maryam.

If the worry is that the use of the word "Isa" in the Quran is limited only to him being the son of man and not of Allah; unlike what is understood for the biblical "Jesus" – then should not the same consideration and sensitivity for Muslim feeling be shown when "Allah" is used in the translation, without any concern for the Quranic Tauhidic concept. This inconsistency, indifference and arrogance is rather obvious when it comes to the biblical "the Son of God" and the use of "Anak Allah" as an equivalent in the translation – something which is conceptually outright not acceptable to Muslims. In fact, it tantamounts to the denial of the concept of "Allah" as explained in the Quran, Surah Al-Ikhlas 112: 3 that "He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is none co-equal or comparable to Him".

The consequence of this translation will be that Muslims will be confronted with blasphemous ideas that Allah has a son; that Allah’s son was born in the manger; that Allah’s son was crucified; that Allah’s son died for all of us. This may have public order implications under section 298 of the Malaysian Penal Code which forbids the wounding of religious feelings.

As it stands, the use of "Allah" the way it is can only arouse suspicions as to why an Arabic word is used for an Indonesia-Malay translation of the Gospel. Why not use the Hebrew or Armenia equivalents, instead?

To add on to this suspicion is why there is no insistence that examples in the fore-mentioned names be substituted with the Arabic equivalent, including places like "Jerusalem" which is substituted by "Yerusalem" which is not the name in Arabic either.

On the contrary, there are biblical names that are readily rendered to the equivalent Arabic in the translation. The examples are numerous, for instance: David as Daud; Zacharias as Zakharia; Aaron as Harun; Joseph as Yusuf; Moses as Musa; law of Moses as Taurat Musa (though, more appropriately it should have been "hukum Musa", since there is the specific term

"Torah" for "Taurat").

The final straw is when the patriarch "Abraham" who is the fountain head for Judaism, Christianity and Islam is also not rendered to Arabic "Ibrahim" – but left as "Abraham". Here, the inconsistencies, inaccuracies and insensitivities in the use and misuse of the word "Allah" become even clearer. And this must be the concern of all.

Tan Sri Professor Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is Vice-Chancellor of USM

7 comments:

arah said...

Dr Ng Kam Weng wrote:
"...After all, the pre-Islamic Arabs and speakers of Arabic cognate languages (like Syriac and Nabatean) had already been calling their God ‘Allah’ (with equivalent cognates), and the Muslims who came later used the term ‘Allah’ in a sense that deviates from its historical usage. ..."

Mohammad (peace be upon him) is not the founder of Islam but he is the last or seal of the Prophets.

We believe that Adam was the first prophet of Islam. We also believe that Abraham, Moses and Jesus are prophet of Islam.

Kaabah, the house of God in Mekkah was build by Abraham and his son Ismael.

Jesus never called his followers Christian and Jesus never teach TRINITY or asked anyone to pray or serve him.

Allah is the Almighty Creator, and if the Christian want to used the word Allah, they must obey the following:

Allah warned the Christian in the Quran but why many fail to understand:

5:14 (Y. Ali) From those, too, who call themselves Christians, We did
take a covenant, but they forgot a good part of the message that was
sent them: so we estranged them, with enmity and hatred between the
one and the other, to the day of judgment. And soon will Allah show
them what it is they have done.

5:15 (Y. Ali) O people of the Book! There hath come to you our
Messenger, revealing to you much that ye used to hide in the Book, and
passing over much (that is now unnecessary). There hath come to you
from Allah a (new) light and a perspicuous Book,-

5:16 (Y. Ali) Wherewith Allah guideth all who seek His good pleasure
to ways of peace and safety, and leadeth them out of darkness, by His
will, unto the light,- guideth them to a path that is straight.

5:17 (Y. Ali) In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is
Christ the son of Mary. Say: “Who then hath the least power against
Allah, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother,
and all every - one that is on the earth? For to Allah belongeth the
dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He
createth what He pleaseth. For Allah hath power over all things.”


However, threre are positive note from Allah to all Christians

Surah 5:Ayat: 82-83 “And thou wilt find the nearest of them in
affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are
Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks,
and because they are not proud. When they listen to that which hath
been revealed unto the messenger, thou seest their eyes overflow with
tears because of their recognition of the Truth. They say: Our Lord,
we believe. Inscribe us as among the witnesses”

The following sites are the proof:
http://www.usislam.org/converts/converts.htm
http://www.scribd. com/doc/2731984/ Jesus-the- Bible-Rashad- Abdul-Muhaimin

Cheers

Trinitarian Tawheedian said...

Hi Arah

Even granting that konsep ketuhanan in both religions are different, why should only bahasa speaking Christians be banned from calling God Allah since they used the term first? What abt the other 98 names of Allah? :)

It's a historical fact that even Muslim scholars ie ulama council of PAS recognize pre-Islamic Arabs call God "Allah" before Mohammad.

The govt should not be the arbiter of theological disputes

Sue Bohlin said...

Sue Bohlin

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


[Note: The following essay was written in response to a friend's request: "Can you tell me where in the Bible Jesus claimed to be God?"]


This article is not an exhaustive list of Christ's claims to be God, but it does cover the major ones. I suggest you read this with a Bible open, as I have not posted all the scriptures listed.

1. Mark 2:1-12--Jesus heals a paralytic. He had authority to forgive sins, which is something only God Himself can do. Then, to authenticate His claim, He demonstrated His power by healing the paralytic.

2. The miracles Jesus performed are a very strong indication of His divinity (because no mere human can work actual miracles by his own power). Jesus referred to the miracles in John 10:24-39 as proof that he was telling the truth. This passage is Christ's own response to the unbelieving Jews' charge of blasphemy (dishonoring God by claiming to be God). Incidentally, this section also includes a beautiful promise that once you are saved/born again/become a Christian, you can never lose your salvation. Verses 28-29 say we will "never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (Here is another strong statement that He is God.) We can have the assurance of eternal security because we didn't earn salvation in the first place; it is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8,9).

3. During Christ's trial, the chief priests asked Him point blank, "Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." And He said,


"I am." (Mark 14:60-62)
"Yes, it is as you say." (Matt. 26: 63-65)
"You are right in saying I am." (Luke 22:67-70)
These are all ways of saying the same thing, written by different authors.


In John's gospel, he recounts Jesus' interview with Pontius Pilate (John 18:33-37). Pilate wanted to know if He were the King of the Jews. Jesus then talked about how His kingdom was not of this world. Pilate said, "You are a king, then!" Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king..." The truth is, he is King of the whole universe.


4. Jesus says in John 10:11-18 that he is the Good Shepherd. When you read this passage along with Ezekiel 34:1-16, you can see that Jesus was identifying Himself with God, who pronounced Himself Shepherd over Israel. The Jewish people, being an agrarian and shepherding society, knew and dearly loved this section of the Old Testament because God was using a metaphor they lived every day. So when Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd," and that whole John passage so clearly parallels the Ezekiel passage, there was no doubt that He was claiming to be God.

5. John 4:25-26. This is where the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus went to meet at the well, gets into a discussion of "living water" with Jesus. He pinpoints her sinful lifestyle (knowledge He would not have had as a mere human passerby), then He admits that He is the long-awaited Messiah: "I who speak to you am He."


6. John 5:1-18. Jesus heals a lame man on the Sabbath, which the unbelieving Jews gave Him a hard time about. His answer was, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working." It was a well-known Jewish line of thought that, although God rested on the seventh day after Creation week, He continued to "work" in being loving, compassionate, and just, as well as keeping the earth producing, keeping the sun moving, etc. In other words, although the creating had stopped, the maintenance went on--even on the Sabbath, and that was the only "work" allowed on that day. So Jesus is putting Himself on the same level as his Father in working on the Sabbath. And by calling God "My Father" (instead of "Our Father"), He was claiming an intimate relationship with God that far exceeded anyone else's. So in these two ways, He was making Himself equal with God.

7. John 16:28. "I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father." What Christ is saying here is that he existed along with the Father before being born. He "entered the world" by wrapping Himself in human flesh and being born as a baby. He grew up, fulfilled His mission/ministry, was crucified and raised from the dead (all part of the "mission") and then left the world to go back to the Father in heaven, where He is now seated at the right hand of God (the place of honor). He is the only person who ever existed before conception. That Christ was in a "pre-incarnate state" means that He is God.

8. (This is many people's favorite argument for the deity of Christ, including the author's.)

First, turn to Exodus 3, where Moses encounters God in the burning bush. God tells Moses that he is the one He has chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses says to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me 'What is His name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God replies to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God has said that His own name, His personal name, is "I AM."


Now...



a) Turn to John 8:56-58. Jesus is talking to the unbelieving Jews. "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad." "You are not yet 50 years old," they said to Him, "and you have seen Abraham?" "I tell you the truth," Jesus announced, "before Abraham was, I AM!" Jesus was the great I AM from before the beginning of time; He existed before Abraham ever was. He is claiming here to be the I AM of the Old Testament. Verse 59 says the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, but the Lord Jesus slipped away. The reason they wanted to stone Him was because stoning was the death penalty for blasphemy. He was claiming to be Yahweh--Jehovah--Almighty God--I AM. (Of course, it wasn't blasphemy when Christ claimed to be who He truly was!)


b) John 8:24. "I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I AM, you will indeed die in your sins." In your Bible, it may read "if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be...." The extra words are supplied by the editors; they're not in the original text. If you're familiar with Exodus 3 you don't need the extra words for it to make grammatical sense. The Lord Jesus is again claiming to be God.

c) John 18:4. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas and some priests and soldiers are about to take Jesus prisoner. "Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, 'Who is it that you want?' 'Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied. 'I AM,' Jesus said. When He said, 'I AM,' they drew back and fell to the ground." (Again, in your Bible the editors may have supplied "I am [he]" to make it grammatically correct. The Greek just says, "I AM.")
The force of Jesus' claim to be Yahweh (I AM) was so powerful that it literally knocked the arresting officers and the Jewish priests off their feet!




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



The above points are by no means exhaustive, and are given to contribute to the reader's understanding that Jesus Christ is Lord because He is God. In this vein, I would like to close with one of the most powerful quotes ever written on the subject, by noted author C.S. Lewis in his classic, Mere Christianity:



I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come away with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
© 1992 Probe Ministries International


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About the Author
Sue Bohlin is an associate speaker with Probe Ministries. She attended the University of Illinois, and has been a Bible teacher and conference speaker for over 25 years. She serves as a Mentoring Mom for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers), and on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered outreach to those wanting to leave homosexuality. She is also a professional calligrapher and the webservant for Probe Ministries; but most importantly, she is the wife of Dr. Ray Bohlin and the mother of their two college-age sons. She can be reached via e-mail at sue@probe.org.

arah said...

My dear Sue Bohlin.

Many Christian will get upset if we tell them the bible contradict. Moses and Jesus clearly mentioned that there is Only One God, the Almighty Creator but why there are many Christian who believe in Trinity or ALmighty God have a son?

Why not we compare the Bible and the Quran.
The Bible, The Qur'an and Science
by Dr. Maurice Bucaille
http://www.witness-pioneer.org/vil/Books/MB_BQS/default.htm

Cheers

Dave said...

Hi Arah,

The God Moses and Jesus taught is not one who is so transcendent above history and the world that he is not involved at all. He gets intimately involved with the world and in history...

Not only does he send messengers, He himself rolled up his sleeves and acted in space-time. The prophets use the language of Wisdom, the Torah, the temple to describe how this one God creates, guides, rallies the ummah and dwells (!) in the midst of his people.

When Jesus came, he did not claim to be just a prophet (He said John the baptist is the greatest of the prophets but He himself is one whose sandals John is unworthy to untie, so Jesus must be more than a prophet)...

In Jesus ministry, He says and does things that only God could do. He will be the One who constitutes the people of God, He will be the temple (destroy it and he will raise it in 3 days), He will be the true lawgiver (see the Sermon on the Mount), He himself is Wisdom incarnate.

That's radical stuffs and no wonder the monotheistic Jews and Muslims get upset and say it's blasphemy. Bcos Jesus won't fit into the stereotype of a mere good teacher... No human cud claim that, unless Jesus is also God incarnate.

Muslims often ignore these clear teachings in the New Testament because the Koran is used to superimpose its views on the NT rather than allowing to speak on its on terms. But if you read the NT on its on terms, new surprising insights will appear :)

arah said...

My dear Dave

Many who claim the follower of Jesus didn't even know his most important commandment

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (NIV, Mark 12:28-31).

"Love your neighbor as yourself" was part of the Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:18). But the Jewish teachers had often interpreted "neighbor" to include only people of their own nationality and religion. In Luke, the man who asked Jesus about the greatest of the commandments wanted justification for that interpretation, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" In response, Jesus told the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish man had been beaten by robbers and left half dead beside the road. Two different religious leaders passed by but did nothing to help. Finally, a Samaritan man came by and took pity on the injured man. He gave him water, patched up his wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he could rest and recover:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." (NIV, Luke 10:25-37 )

However Jesus is a pious messenger of Allah who don't even have a house to stay

Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

Did Jesus ever taught anything about Trinity?

Did Jesus ever called those who follow him as Christian?

Let check the bible.

Cheers

Hedonese said...

Jesus never called those who follow his teachings 'muslims' either :) Let us turn to what Jesus says abt this God whom we ought to love with all our being.

Some if his disciples...Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."

Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.