The Integrity of the Bible
The Textual Authenticity of the Quran and the Bible
1.1 The Ancient Biblical Manuscripts
Muslim: Your Bible does not contain the original scriptures revealed to Moses, Jesus and the other prophets. It has been changed many times. Our learned maulanas have taught us this. What proofs do you have that your Bible is totally authentic and reliable?
Many years ago a young Muslim woman asked me "Has the Bible ever been changed?" I answered that it most certainly had not, to which she responded "But does it not teach that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?" I confirmed that it does – again and again – to which she replied "Then it must have been changed".
Any Christian who reads through the Muslim publications in the bibliography at the end of this book will be surprised to find that the arguments produced to disprove the integrity of the Bible are often extremely weak and unconvincing. There is only one reason for this – the Muslims do not believe that the Bible has been changed because they have discovered adequate evidences that it has but because they have to disprove its authenticity to maintain their conviction that the Quran is the Word of God. Two conflicting books cannot both be the Word of God. Once the Muslims discovered, in the early centuries of Islam, that the Bible emphatically taught fundamental Christian doctrines such as the deity and redeeming work of Jesus Christ they could no longer approach it objectively. Ever since they have sought to prove what is nothing more than a presupposition. The Bible must have been changed! The major reason why Muslims do not believe in its integrity is that they have no choice but to do so if they are to sustain their confidence in the Quran.
It is important to know what the evidences are for the Bibles textual authenticity, especially the fact that we have actual manuscripts going back centuries before Islam that show that the Bible we have in our hands today is precisely that which the Jews and Christians of ancient times alone knew as their holy scripture.
The Three Great Ancient Codices
There are three great manuscripts still existing of the Bible in Greek (containing the Septuagint of the Old Testament and original Greek text of the New) dating centuries before the time of Muhammad. They are:
1. Codex Alexandrinus
This volume, written in the fifth century after Christ, contains the whole Bible except for a few leaves lost from the New Testament (Matthew 1:1 - 25:6, John 6:50 - 8:52 and 2 Corinthians 4:13 - 12:6). Nothing is contained in it that is not part of our current Bible. The manuscript is in the British Museum in London.
2. Codex Sinaiticus
This very ancient text, dating from the late fourth century, contains the whole of the New Testament and much of the Old. Preserved for centuries in the Imperial Library at St. Petersburg in Russia, it was sold for one hundred thousand pounds to the British Government and is also now kept in the British Museum.
3. Codex Vaticanus
Probably the oldest surviving manuscript of the whole Bible, it was written in the fourth century and is preserved in the Vatican Library in Rome. The last part of the New Testament from Hebrews 9:14 to the end of Revelation is written in a different hand to the rest of the manuscript (the original scribe probably was not able to complete the text through death or some other cause).
These manuscripts prove conclusively that the only scriptures in the hands of the Church at least two hundred years prior to Muhammads time were the Old and New Testaments as we know them.
Other Early Evidences of the Integrity of the Bible
There are numerous other evidences for the integrity of the Bible dating from many centuries before Islam. In discussion with Muslims you should emphasise the following:
1. The Hebrew Massoretic Texts
Not only do Christians possess early Biblical manuscripts but Jews likewise, who hold to the Old Testament as the only scripture ever written for them, possess texts in the original Hebrew language in which the Old Testament was originally written, going back at least a thousand years. They are known as the Massoretic texts.
2. The Dead Sea Scrolls
First discovered in caves in the wilderness of Qumran around the Dead Sea in Israel, these contain numerous portions of the Old Testament in the original Hebrew dating back to the second century before Christ. No less than two copies of the Book of Isaiah were included in this collection containing predictions of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:1-12), his virgin-birth (Isaiah 7:14) and his deity (Isaiah 9:6-7).
3. The Septuagint
This is the title of the first translation of the Old Testament into Greek. It was likewise transcribed in the second century before Christ, containing all the great prophecies to the coming of the Messiah, the fact that he is the Son of God (Psalm 2:7, 1 Chronicles 17:11-14), as well as details of his suffering and atoning death (Psalms 22 and 69). The early Church freely used the Septuagint.
4. The Latin Vulgate
The Roman Catholic Church translated the whole Bible into Latin in the fourth century after Christ using the Septuagint and ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The Vulgate dates from the fourth century after Christ and contains the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as we know them. It was established as the standard text for the Roman Church.
5. Portions of the Greek New Testament
There are numerous pages, fragments and portions of the original Greek New Testament surviving from as early as the second century after Christ. They all, taken together, form the contents of the New Testament as we know it. It is very interesting to compare this wealth of evidence with the texts which exist for the oldest of the Greek and Roman classics, many of which date not earlier than a thousand years after Christ. In fact no other ancient writings from the same era have such a mass of manuscript evidence as that for the Greek New Testament.
What is most important and must be emphasised with Muslims is that there is no alternative source of evidence suggesting that the life and teachings of Jesus Christ were substantially other than that which is recorded in the Bible. All the apocryphal writings rejected by the Church at least generally follow the same threads as those in the New Testament manuscripts. Certainly no historical evidence from the same period exists to suggest that he was really the prophet of Islam which the Quran makes him out to be.
In conclusion it is useful to challenge the Muslim to produce historical evidences to substantiate their argument that the Bible as we know it has been changed. What was it originally? What, precisely, was changed to make it the book it is today? Who made these changes? When were they made? Once you challenge any Muslim to identify the actual people who are supposed to have corrupted the Bible, at what time in history it took place, and precisely what textual changes were made to original manuscripts, you will find them entirely unable to do so. Such evidences quite simply do not exist. Always remember – the Muslim onslaught comes not from a scholarly examination of the evidences but from a necessary presupposition. The Bible, in their minds, must have been changed if it contradicts the Quran and unfortunately Muslims all too often pick up a Bible, not to read it or understand its teachings, but purely to find fault with it to justify their prejudices against it.
1.2 The Early Different Quran Codices
Muslim: Fortunately our Quran has been preserved intact without so much as a letter being lost or out of place. It has never been changed, unlike the Bible, and this proves undoubtedly that the Quran is the infallible Word of God.
From early childhood Muslims are taught one of the greatest of all fallacies – that the Bible has been corrupted while the Quran has been miraculously safeguarded from change. The truth is that the evidence for the textual authenticity of the Bible is far greater than that for the Quran. Considering also the fact that the Bible contains sixty-six books compiled over a period of nearly two thousand years while the Quran, a much newer book, derives from only one man during a short period of twenty-three years, there is every good reason to believe that it is the Bible that has a greater claim to be the preserved Word of God. Let us consider, in contrast to the evidences we have for Biblical manuscripts, what happened to the earliest codices of the Quran.
The Original Compilation of the Quran Text
During Muhammads lifetime the Quran was fully never written down or collected into a single text. In one of the most reliable records of Muhammads life and teachings it is stated that the Quran came down to him most abundantly just before his death and that this period was the time of the greatest part of its revelation (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 474). Thus there was no reason to attempt to collect it into one book, especially as more portions could be expected as long as Muhammad remained alive.
It was only after Muhammads death that the first attempts were made to compile written manuscripts of the whole Quran text. The same source states that Abu Bakr, Muhammads immediate successor, encouraged a well-known reciter of the Quran, Zaid ibn-Thabit, to collect it. This young man recorded that he had to acquire it from various sources, namely palm-leaf stalks, thin white stones and other materials upon which parts of it had been recorded as well as from the memories from those who learnt it by heart. At least one verse was found with only one person, Abi Khuzaima al-Ansari (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 478). Taken together, these were hardly the ideal source for a perfect, inerrant compilation.
At the time this manuscript had very little significance other than being commissioned by the Caliph himself. It receded into the private custody of Hafsah, one of the widows of Muhammad (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 478). Other codices were soon put together by close companions of Muhammad and it is important to be familiar with the most well-known.
1. Abdullah ibn Masud
He was one of the earliest converts to Islam and it is recorded that when Muhammad mentioned the four greatest authorities of the Quran from whom it should be learned, he deliberately mentioned Abdullah first (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, p. 96). It is well-known that he compiled his own manuscript of the Quran while at Kufa where it became the official text. He is recorded as saying that no one knew the book better than he did (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 488).
2. Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa
He was the second person Muhammad mentioned in the list of four authorities. Although he was killed at the Battle of Yamama not long after Muhammads death, it is reported that he was the first to collect the Quran into a mushaf – a manuscript or written codex (As Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Quran, Vol. 1, p. 135).
3. Ubayy ibn Kab
Also named among the four, Muhammad is said to have been commanded by Allah to hear him recite portions of the Quran. He was known as the sayid al-qurra (the master reciter) and also compiled his own text of the Quran which became the preferred text in Syria.
Numerous other codices were transcribed at the same time. Of these the manuscripts of Ali, Ibn Abbas, Abu Musa, Anas ibn Malik and Ibn az-Zubair are well-documented.
Uthmans Order to Destroy the Other Codices
During the reign of Uthman, the third successor (caliph) to Muhammad, word came to him that the Muslims in the various provinces were differing considerably in their reading of the Quran. Uthman decided to unite the people on a mushaf wahid (single text) and, after calling for Zaids codex which was conveniently in Medina in Hafsahs possession where the caliph had his seat of government, he ordered Zaid with three others to transcribe his manuscript into seven exact replica copies and to send one copy to each province with the order that all the other manuscripts of the Quran in existence be burnt (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 479). The codices of Abdullah ibn Masud and Ubayy ibn Kab were specially singled out and both were destroyed.
Abdullah ibn Masud at first strongly resisted the order. Zaids copy had never been standardised as an official text and it was used purely as a matter of convenience, being close at hand in Medina and not identified with any particular group of Muslims. Abdullah complained that he had directly obtained seventy surahs from Muhammad while Zaid was still a young child – why should he now forsake what he had acquired? (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p. 15). He also plainly stated that he preferred the Quranic recitation of Muhammad himself to that of Zaid, implying that he did not regard Zaids codex as completely authentic and adding that "the people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Quran" (Ibn Sad, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p. 444).
Although there is abundant evidence that Zaids codex was only one of a number of early manuscripts and had no grounds for being regarded as the best available, least of all a totally authentic copy, it became standardised by Uthman as the official text of the Quran and remains so to this day. Later in this chapter a comparison will be drawn of the hundreds of textual variant readings between all the early codices of the Quran and the few of the Bible. At this point, however, we need only consider the action of Uthman in consigning to the flames a number of handwritten manuscripts of the Quran compiled by some of the closest companions of Muhammad including two of the four he named as those who knew the Quran best and from whom it should be learned.
The Bible has only been burnt by its enemies. Uthman burnt every other manuscript of the Quran other than the one he conveniently had at hand. Codices that had been widely recognised as authoritative texts in the various provinces were burnt in favour of a manuscript that Hafsah had simply kept under her bed! This action contrasts most unfavourably with the evidences we have considered for the Biblical texts.
1.3 The Passages in Mark 16 and John 8
Muslim: There are two passages in the Gospels which appear in some of the ancient manuscripts but not in others. Some editions of the RSV Bible include them in the text while others omit them. Does this not prove conclusively the Bible has been changed?
Despite the great length of the Bible (it is five times the length of the Quran) there are only two passages about which there can be any question of their authenticity. They fill less than a page of a book consisting of more than a thousand pages. Let us consider them.
Mark 16:9-20: The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus
This passage describes a number of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and his ascension to heaven. It does not appear in the very oldest manuscripts of Marks Gospel but concludes the book in many of the Greek texts dating shortly after those manuscripts. Did someone interpolate Marks Gospel with this short passage? As no other case is known of the possible addition of any passage to the Christian scriptures making up the New Testament (other than John 8:1-11) it is highly unlikely that this section was fabricated some centuries after the book was originally written and that it gained acceptance somehow as part of the text. It is far more probable that it is authentic and was omitted from the earliest texts as a result of unknown circumstances.
Each of the four Gospels has a conclusion. Without this passage Marks Gospel ends abruptly. It records an appearance to three women by an angel who tells them to go to Galilee where they would see Jesus. It is most unlikely that the Gospel would end here without further reference to what happened to him. Another issue is whether it teaches anything contrary to the rest of the New Testament. These points are relevant:
1. Jesus Appearance to Mary Magdalene
Verses 9-11 record that he first appeared on the day of his resurrection to Mary Magdalene. The incident is reported in greater detail in John 20:11-18.
2. A Further Appearance to Two Followers
Another brief reference follows outlining Jesus interaction with two of his disciples later the same day. This incident is likewise outlined in specific detail in Luke 24:13-35.
3. His Commission to his Eleven Disciples
Following this is an appearance to his eleven remaining disciples (after the demise of Judas) where he met with them as they sat at table. A commission to preach the Gospel to the whole creation follows with certain statements about it. The incident, once again, has parallels in Matthew 28:19 and Luke 24:36-43.
4. Jesus Ascension to Heaven
The passage concludes with a brief statement that Jesus thereafter ascended to heaven while his disciples went out and preached his message everywhere. This likewise is confirmed in the first chapter of Acts.
There is nothing in this passage which is not repeated elsewhere in the New Testament. What the Muslims need is to prove that the present teachings of the Christian Bible are not what was originally recorded and that the whole book has been changed from what was allegedly a scripture originally consistent with Islam. Arguments around this passage do not remotely canvass the real issue. Nothing here conflicts with the overall contents of the New Testament and, as has been seen, every incident recorded has parallels elsewhere in the book.
John 8:1-11: The Woman Caught in Adultery
The only other passage about which there is any uncertainty in the New Testament is the story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery recorded in John 8:1-11. Some ancient manuscripts include it right here, others omit it completely while some others have added it as an appendix to Lukes Gospel. There seems to have been a general consensus in early Christian times that it was genuine save that its exact location was disputed. There are, in fact, a number of reasons to conclude that it was originally part of Johns Gospel just where it stands today – at the beginning of the eighth chapter.
1. The Contrasting Ministry of Moses and Jesus
Throughout this Gospel a contrast is drawn between the limited ministry of Moses and the fulfilment of all Gods purposes in Jesus Christ. "The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17) sums this principle up. For example, although Moses fed the people with bread for forty years, they still died. He who feeds on Jesus who is the bread of eternal life will, however, live forever (John 6:31-35). Likewise people could be circumcised on the sabbath simply to comply with the law of Moses – how much more could a mans whole body be made well on the sabbath by Jesus. (John 7:23) So in this passage the law of Moses convicted the woman involved of adultery but, under the light of Jesus teaching and presence, all present left the scene convicted of sin (John 8:7-9). The woman, however, was left to experience the saving grace that Jesus brought (John 8:10-11).
2. Jesus Use of the Term "Woman"
When all the Jewish leaders had departed from the scene Jesus addressed the adulterous woman "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" (John 8:10). This unusual use of the vocative "Woman" by Jesus as a personal mark of respect (like "Sir") appears again in Johns Gospel on a number of occasions (John 2:4, 4:21, 20:15) but does not appear in the other Gospels.
3. The Logical Sequence of Events
The Pharisees, who are not mentioned in this Gospel until now, suddenly appear without introduction in discussion with Jesus in John 8:13. The introduction clearly appears in John 8:3. Likewise the heated debate between them and Jesus which follows in the rest of the chapter is obviously a consequence of the narrative recorded in John 8:1-11. Throughout his Gospel John records incidents in the life of Jesus which gave rise to discourses and debates with the Jewish leaders (cf. John 6:1-59) and without the story of the woman caught in adultery and subsequent interaction of Jesus with them this trend is uncharacteristically broken.
4. Jesus and Moses: Conviction of Sin
In the debate with these leaders Jesus interjected "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46). This statement would be somewhat isolated had the incident with the woman not occurred. It is here that Jesus boldly declares to them "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her" (John 8:7). One by one, in response to this challenge, they left the scene, beginning from the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman before him. The thrust is clear – he had convicted them all of sin – which one of them could do the same to him in return?
There is considerable, if not convincing, evidence that John 8:1-11 belongs just where it is found. In any event yet again there is nothing in the incident which conflicts with anything else taught in the New Testament. There is, therefore, no significant or relevant evidence anywhere to show that passages have been omitted from or added to the Bible which have changed its overall teaching from an originally Islamic basis to a Christian theme. Arguments around the two passages considered here do not begin to prove the Muslim case. As said already they fill less than half a page – hardly the kind of proof that the Bible as a whole has been changed.
On the contrary we will proceed to show that there are far greater evidences for passages from the Quran that were said to have originally formed part of the text but have since been omitted. It will be seen yet again that the Qurans original textual integrity is far more questionable than that of the Bible – even though the Bible is five times the length of the Quran and was compiled over a much longer period many centuries earlier.
1.4 Missing Passages from the Quran
Muslim: The Quran is a complete book, just as it was originally revealed to our holy Prophet. Nothing has ever been added nor is anything missing from it. This also proves that it is the infallible Word of Allah.
Contrary to popular Muslim belief there are numerous evidences to prove that the Quran is incomplete as it stands today. Abdullah ibn Umar had this to say in the very early days of Islam:
Let none of you say "I have acquired the whole of the Quran". How does he know what all of it is when much of the Quran has disappeared? Rather let him say "I have acquired what has survived." (As-Suyuti, Al Itqan fii Ulum al-Quran, p. 524).
There are many records of verses, passages and even whole sections that are said to have originally been part of the Quran which are no longer there. Some important examples follow.
Whole Surahs Missing from the Quran
Abu Musa al-Ashari, a close companion of Muhammad and one of the earliest authorities of the Quran, is recorded as teaching the Quran-reciters (qurra) in Basra:
We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Baraat. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: "If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust". (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, p. 501)
The tradition is preserved in one of the two most recognised collections of the sayings of Muhammad. Next to the Sahih al-Bukhari the Sahih Muslim is regarded as the most authentic record of his life. Other companions, such as Anas ibn Malik and Ibn Abbas, also reported that Muhammad used to recite the verse quoted but were not certain whether it was from the Quran or not.
Abu Musa also mentioned another surah which was recited in the early days of Islam by Muhammads companions:
And we used to recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it, but remember (this much) out of it: "O people who believe, why do you say that which you do not practise" (61:2) and "that is recorded in your necks as a witness (against you) and you would be asked about it on the Day of Resurrection" (17:13). (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, p. 501)
The Musabbihaat are a group of five surahs (57, 59, 61, 62 and 64) which begin with the words "Let everything praise (sabbahu or yusabbihu) Allah that is in the heavens and the earth". These records of at least two lost surahs are proof that the Quran is not perfect and complete as Muslims claim. When they raise arguments against the passages in Marks and Johns Gospels which we have considered, it will be useful to mention these in return.
Verses Missing from the Quran
In addition to the verses mentioned in the two traditions from the Sahih Muslim, there are evidences of others missing today from the Quran. Some of these are the following:
1. The Religion of Allah is al-Hanifiyyah
There is a tradition from the Jami as-Sahih of at-Tirmidhi that the following verse once formed part of Suratul-Bayyinah (Surah 98) of the Quran:
The religion with Allah is al-Hanifiyyah (the Upright Way) rather than that of the Jews or the Christians, and those who do good will not go unrewarded. (As-Suyuti, Al Itqan fii Ulum al-Quran, p. 525).
This passage could well have once belonged to the Surah as it fits well into its context and contains words found elsewhere in it, namely din (religion, v. 5), aml, (to do, v. 7) and hunafa (upright, v. 4). The Surah also contrasts the way of Allah with the Jews and Christians in other passages in the text and it is a good example of a verse now missing from the Quran.
2. Stoning of Adulterers to Death
Umar ibn al-Khattab, one of the very closest companions of Muhammad and his second successor, taught plainly from the pulpit in Medina while he was Caliph that whereas Surah 24:2 teaches that adulterers should be lashed with a hundred stripes, a verse in the Quran originally stipulated that married men and women who commit adultery were to be stoned to death:
See that you do not forget the verse about stoning and say: We do not find it in the Book of Allah; the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) had ordered stoning and we too have done so, after him. By the Lord Who holds possession of my life, if people should not accuse me of adding to the Book of Allah, I would have had this transcribed therein: "The adult men and women who commit adultery, stone them". We have read this verse. (Muwatta Imam Malik, p. 352)
Various other sources confirm that this verse was originally part of the Quran but is now missing from it. One quotes Umar as saying that part of the scripture revealed to Muhammad was the ayatur-rajam (the Stoning Verse) and that they memorised, understood and recited it. He added that he feared people in time to come, on finding no mention of the verse in the Quran, would forget the ordinance (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, p. 539).
3. Being the Offspring of Fathers Alone
Another verse said by Umar to have been originally part of the kitabullah (the "Book of Allah", that is, the Quran) but which, by his time as caliph, had been lost from its text read as follows:
O people! Do not claim to be the offspring of other than your fathers, as it is disbelief on your part that you claim to be the offspring of other than your real father. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, p. 540)
4. The Good Pleasure of Allah
Anas ibn Malik, another companion of Muhammad, taught that the following verse originally formed part of the Quran but was later abrogated and deleted from its text:
Convey to our people on our behalf the information that we have met our Lord, and He is pleased with us, and has made us pleased. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, p. 288)
It is also recorded that this text was "sent down in a Quran verse until it was withdrawn" (As-Suyuti, Al Itqan fii Ulum al-Quran, p. 527). It is yet another proof that the Quran has not been preserved free from any change, alteration or omission as Muslims believe. Instead the evidences for missing passages from the Quran are, as we can see, far greater than those for the Bible.
5. Marriage Between People Fed by the same Mother
Yet another tradition reported from Ayishah, one of Muhammads wives, states that there was once a passage in the Quran which taught that, if two people had been fed at the breast of the same mother at least ten times, they could not marry. Later, she said, it was reduced to five:
Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that it had been revealed in the Holy Quran that ten clear sucklings made the marriage unlawful, then it was abrogated by five sucklings and Allahs Apostle (saw) died and it was before that time in the Holy Quran. (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, p. 740)
These are only a selection of evidences that the Quran is an incomplete book. Christians should use these proofs with Muslims to show that their challenges about the textual integrity of the Bible can very easily – and far more effectively – be turned on the Quran. As the saying goes, people in glass houses should not throw stones.
1.5 Variant Readings in the New Testament
Muslim: There are a number of examples in the Bible of verses that appear in some manuscripts and not in others. Other types of variant reading can also be found. How can your Bible be the true Word of God if its text cannot be completely verified?
Muslims fondly believe that the Quran is a perfect book, that not a dot or letter has been altered or omitted, and that this miraculous state of preservation of the book proves it is the Word of God. At the same time any proof whatsoever is sought to show that the Bible has been changed and cannot therefore be regarded as reliable. We do not believe a book has to be perfectly intact to be the authentic Word of God but rather that, if it has been protected and handed down in its original form with only a few copyist errors, negligible variant readings and one or two uncertain passages, its overall integrity cannot be challenged. As we have seen and will again see in the next section, the Quran in any event has not been perfectly transcribed and in fact suffers from far more variant readings, lost passages and the like than the Bible.
The Few Variants in the New Testament
It is remarkable that the Biblical text as it has been preserved has no more than a few variant readings, about twenty in all, and that they all come from the New Testament. As Kenneth Cragg has pointed out, only a one-thousandth part of the book is affected. This is hardly the sort of proof the Muslims need to prove that the Bible, as a whole, has been so dramatically changed that it no longer contains what was originally written.
What is more, none of the New Testament variants remotely affects the teaching of the book as a whole and some of them in any event have parallels in other Gospels where the text is virtually repeated. Let us consider some of these variant readings as typical examples.
1. Mark 15:28: A Quote from Isaiah 53:12
A verse, found in some of the ancient copies of Marks Gospel but not in others, reads: "And the scripture was fulfilled which says He was reckoned with the transgressors" (Mark 15:28). The passage referred to is from the great passage of Messianic suffering in Isaiah 53:12. It is repeated, however, in much the same form in the following quote which appears in every surviving copy of Lukes Gospel: "For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, And he was reckoned with the transgressors; for what is written about me has its fulfilment" (Luke 22:37).
This passage from Marks Gospel, like all the others in the New Testament, in no way disturbs the overall text. A scratch on a Rolls-Royce may slightly impair its perfection, but it does not stop the car from being a Rolls-Royce or turn it into some other vehicle.
2. Matthew 21:44: Being Broken by a Falling Stone
In the parable of the tenants in the vineyard recorded in Matthews Gospel the following saying of Jesus is found in a few of the most ancient manuscripts of the book but not in the rest: "And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him" (Matthew 21:44).
The text, however, is repeated almost word-for-word in Luke 20:18. Thus the variant has no affect on the text as a whole. The same applies to Matthew 23:14 which contains another saying of Jesus pronouncing a woe upon the Pharisees for devouring widows houses. It is only found in some of the earliest manuscripts of Matthews Gospel but is again repeated in every manuscript of Marks Gospel (Mark 12:40).
3. Matthew 27:49: The Piercing of Jesus Side
Once again in some manuscripts of Matthews Gospel these words appear: "And another took a spear and pierced his side, and out came water and blood" (Matthew 27:49). The statement is paralleled in John 19:34 where it appears in every manuscript of the Gospel.
4. 1 John 5:7: The Father, Word and Holy Ghost
In this case we consider a verse which appears in none of the ancient Greek manuscripts, the original language of the New Testament scriptures, but which can be traced back to the Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate. From here it appears in much later Greek transcripts of the New Testament and, as the King James Version of the Bible (best defined as the King James English translation) was based on these texts, it found its way into the translation.
The verse reads: "For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one" (1 John 5:7). As the verse does not appear in any of the oldest texts of Johns First Epistle it is probable that it was a marginal note of a scribe, a complement to the rest of the verse which reads "There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree".
Muslims have made great efforts to discredit the integrity of the Bible text with the disputed verse, claiming it is the only passage in the Bible which teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. Conveniently overlooked is an equally dogmatic trinitarian statement, "Baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19) as well as similar statements in 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Ephesians 2:18.
There are a number of cases in the New Testament, mainly in the four Gospels, where slight variant readings occur affecting single words, brief expressions or short clauses. Once again, none of them affects the teaching of the book as a whole or its overall authenticity.
The variant readings in the Bible are so easily accounted for and of such little importance that they in no way affect the integrity of the book as a whole. The scriptures, in their entirety, have been preserved for us virtually unaltered, unlike the Quran where every manuscript transcribed by Muhammads own companions except one was cast into the flames to be destroyed.
1.6 Evidences of Quranic Variant Readings
Muslim: There are no variant readings affecting the actual text of the Quran. In the early days the Quran was recited in different dialects which only affected the pronunciation of its verses. That is why the early manuscripts were burnt – to eliminate these differences of pronunciation alone.
This statement, which is self-evidently illogical, is typical of most Muslim explanations for the burning by Uthman of all but one of the codices compiled by Muhammads companions which contained a variety of variant readings. Pronunciations have nothing to do with written texts. You cannot burn differences of dialect in common speech! There must have been real textual differences between the various written manuscripts for such a drastic order to be given.
During the time of Uthman the Quran was still best known in the memories of most of the Muslims and the burning order did not eliminate the knowledge of what the variant readings were. Over a period of time historians of the text of the Quran such as Ibn Abi Dawud who compiled a record of these variants which he titled Kitab al-Masahif (Book of the Manuscripts), and Muhammad Abu Jafar at-Tabari, author of the monumental work on the Quran titled Jami al-Bayan fii Tafsir al-Quran (A Comprehensive Compilation for a Commentary of the Quran), preserved a record of all the known variants between the various texts.
The Differences Between the Earliest Texts
The evidences, especially from at-Tabaris extensive records, show that there were literally hundreds of variant readings between the early manuscripts. Arthur Jeffery, who compiled a catalogue of the different readings mainly from Ibn Abi Dawuds and at-Tabaris works, listed them over no less than three hundred and sixty-two pages of his book Materials for the History of the Text of the Quran. His book also contains the whole text of Ibn Abi Dawuds Kitab al-Masahif. They make the number of Biblical variants seem negligible in comparison and, once again, it has to be remembered that the Bible is centuries older than the Quran, five times its length, and was compiled by numerous authors over a two-thousand year period.
When Muslims argue that the Bible has been changed it will be very useful to mention some of the numerous variant readings known from these early writings. Some interesting examples are the following:
1. The Day of Resurrection
Surah 2:275 begins with the words "Those who devour usury will not stand" (Allathiina yaakuluunar-ribaa laa yaquumuuna). The reading of Ibn Masud was the same except that he added the words yawmal qiyaamati – "on the Day of Resurrection". This variant is mentioned in Abu Ubaids Kitab Fadhail al-Quran and was also recorded in the codex of Talha ibn Musarrif.
2. Fasting for Three Successive Days
Surah 5:91 as it stands in the Quran today contains the exhortation "Fast for three days" (fasiyaamu thalaathatiu ayyaamin). Ibn Masuds text included the adjective mutataabiaatin, meaning "fast for three successive days". At-Tabari records the variant (7.19.11) as did Abu Ubaid. Ubayy ibn Kab also recorded it as did Ibn Abbas and Ar-Rabi ibn Khuthaim.
3. The Path of Allah
Surah 6:153 in the Quran begins "Verily this is my path" (wa anna haathaa siraati). Ibn Masud, in place of this clause, read "This is the path of your Lord" (wa haathaa siraatu rabbakum). At-Tabari is once again the source of the variant (8.60.16). Ubayy ibn Kab, the other great expert of the Quran text and close companion of Muhammad, had the same reading except that he read rabbika for rabbakum. Other variants around this text have also been recorded.
4. The Mothers of the Believers
Surah 33:6 says of Muhammad and all believing Muslims "his wives are their mothers" (azwaajuhuu ummahaatuhuu). At-Tabari once again records a major variant reading (21.70.8), namely that Ibn Masud and Ubayy ibn Kab included the words apparently now missing from the Quran text "and he is their father" (wa huwa abuu laahum). Ibn Abbas, Ikrima and Mujahid ibn Jabir also recorded it. The number of witnesses to its conclusion suggests that Zaids text (the current Quran) overlooked its inclusion.
These are merely four of the vast collection of variant readings that exist. There are so many (well over two thousand in fact) that it is remarkable to behold the confidence with which Muslims attack the integrity of the Bible. Most of the time they have quite simply been kept in the dark about the manner in which the Quran was standardised from a wealth of variant readings into the text we have today.
Changes to the Quran made by Al-Hajjaj
There is clear evidence in the Kitab al-Masahif of Ibn Abi Dawud that no less than eleven changes were made to individual words in the Quran by the scribe al-Hajjaj on the orders of his caliph, Abd al-Malik. His book contains a chapter headed Bab: Ma Ghaira al-Hajjaj fii Mushaf Uthman ("Chapter: What was Changed by Al-Hajjaj in the Uthmanic text"). His text begins:
Altogether al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf made eleven modifications in the reading of the Uthmanic text. In al-Baqarah (Surah 2:259) it originally read Lam yatassana waandhur, but it was altered to Lam yatassanah. (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p. 117)
Some of the other changes to the Quran made at this time as recorded in this chapter were the following:
In each of these cases, as in the other seven recorded, the variant reading is generally only of a letter or two, but it once again is not confined to pronunciation but reflects an actual change in the consonantal text, thus undermining the Muslim claim that not even one letter in the Quran has ever been altered. The word Ibn Abi Dawud always uses in between each alternative is faghyirah meaning "changed, altered, replaced by, or varied" – words Muslims would not like to find used at such an early date to explain alterations in the Quran!
Dialects and the Text of the Quran
It is very important to know that there were no vowel points in the earliest Quran manuscripts. Written Arabic has no vowels and it took centuries before vowel points were added to the Quran. The oldest Quran texts surviving to this day date not earlier than at least a hundred and fifty years after Muhammads death and are written in the al-mail script of Medina. Most other ancient Quran scripts surviving are in kufic script, a bold form of writing which first came from Kufa in Iraq.
Claims are made to this day that original Uthmanic manuscripts survive, even with his bloodstains on a page he was reading when he was assassinated. One such manuscript is in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul and another is the famous Samarqand Codex of Tashkent. Both were written in kufic script and date at least a century after Uthmans time.
As stated already, the favourite Muslim argument used to sustain the hypothesis that the Quran text today is an exact replica of the original is that the only variant readings which existed in the early years were in dialectal pronunciation. The evidences prove conclusively otherwise. Such differences would not have appeared in the written text and, in fact, countless different forms of reading survived for at least three centuries until Ibn Mujahid, a well-known authority on the Quran at the Abbasid court in Baghdad, ordered that only seven be authorised in terms of a tradition from Muhammad himself that the Quran had been revealed in "seven different ways" and that each Muslim could choose whichever was easiest for him to read (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 510).
All the variant readings recorded in at-Tabaris Jami and Ibn Abi Dawuds Kitab al-Masahif as well as other similar records are of substantial differences in the actual written text, its words and expressions, its consonants and clauses. There were so many that Uthman simply had no alternative but to order the destruction of all but one which was conveniently standardised as the only official text of the Quran. This sequence of events in the early days makes the history of the Quran text appear decidedly unfavourable when compared with the text of the Bible.
Biblical Contents and Teaching
1.7 Apparent Errors in Biblical Numerics
Muslim: There are occasions in the Bible where obvious contradictions appear between parallel passages where the figures given are not the same. These discrepancies and factual errors prove the Bible is unreliable and cannot be the Word of God.
Muslim writers often fasten on to a few parallel passages in the Old Testament where there certainly are apparent contradictions between the numbers and ages given in narratives of specific events. It is not only important to know them but also to be aware, once again, of precisely the same phenomenon in the Quran!
Copyist Errors in the Old Testament
There are four examples from the whole text of the book which we will consider as typical of the problem. In each case, although Muslims claim that they are evidences of wholesale contradictions which must be the errors of the original authors, it will be obvious that the problem arises solely from copyist errors made during transmission of the text.
1. The Reigns of Jehoiachin and Ahaziah, Kings of Judah
In one passage the Bible states that "Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king" (2 Kings 24:8) while in another it says "Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign" (2 Chronicles 36:9). All that has happened here is that the single Jewish letter for "ten" was omitted during copying of the text of 2 Chronicles by a Jewish scribe over two thousand years ago.
A similar distinction occurs here between one passage which states that "Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign" (2 Kings 8:26) and another which records "Ahaziah was forty-two years old when he began to reign" (2 Chronicles 22:2). Apart from this discrepancy the texts agree that he reigned only one year and that his mother was Athaliah, the granddaughter of Omri. Once again, in the original Hebrew, the difference between the two ages is represented in only one letter. Again the error would have occurred solely in the copying of the text. It is obvious that the second age is incorrect for, if Ahaziah had been forty-two years old when his reign began he would have been two years older than his father!
2. Davids Charioteers and Solomons Stalls
In one passage in the Old Testament it says that "David slew of the Syrians the men of seven hundred chariots" (2 Samuel 10:18) while in another it is recorded that "David slew of the Syrians the men of seven thousand chariots" (1 Chronicles 19:18). There are marked resemblances between Jewish numerical letters and here, as in the other examples quoted, the difference in the original text affects but one letter which is very similar in each book. We have but another case of an obvious copyist error which in no way affects the text of the Bible or its teaching in any significant way. The same applies to a verse which states that Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses (1 Kings 4:26) in comparison with another which states that the number was four thousand (2 Chronicles 9:25).
In all these cases and others Muslims might quote the issue is often a fractional difference in the transcribing of a letter in the original Hebrew text. This sort of hair-splitting argument does not begin to deal with the key issue which is the integrity of the Bible as a whole, especially its Christian (rather than Islamic) content and emphasis.
Contradictions in Quranic Numerics
There are more obvious discrepancies in certain similar numerical excerpts from the Quran. Here we do not find the problem confined to single, very similar letters but rather to whole words which create obvious contradictions. Two examples should be learned by Christians and quoted whenever Muslims attack the numerical differences we have mentioned.
1. The Length of the Day of Judgment
According to one text the Great Day of God will be "a thousand years of your reckoning" (Surah 32:5) while in another it is said that the measure of the same Day will be "as fifty thousand years" (Surah 70:4). In this case the distinction is far more obvious for it is not confined to one letter but a whole word, namely khamsiina ("fifty") which appears in the second text in addition to the words alfa sanatin ("A thousand years"). Muslims hide in the clouds by explaining the contradiction away as an example of "mystical", "cosmic" or "allegorical" language. But, as the first text states clearly that the length of the Day will be a thousand years "of your reckoning" (meaning precisely as we would measure it on earth), there is a very real contradiction between the two texts that cannot easily be explained. How can one thousand and fifty thousand revolutions of the earth around the sun be exactly the same?
2. The Original Creation of the Heavens and the Earth.
In one Quranic passage it is said that the heavens, the earth, and all that is between them were created in six days (Surah 50:38) while another teaches that the earth was made in two days, the heavens likewise in two, and the earths sustenance between them in four days (Surah 41:9-12), making eight days in all in anyones simple mathematics. Once again it is hard to reconcile the two texts with the contradiction being found not in solitary letters but in a whole calculation of different time periods.
One of the problems Christians experience in witness with Muslims is the tendency of the latter to set unreasonable standards for the authenticity of the Bible which they somehow cannot see can be applied with greater forcefulness against the Quran. They begin with the premise that to be the Word of God a book cannot have numerical errors, variant readings and the like. Fondly believing the Quran is free from such defects they freely launch into attacks on the integrity of the Biblical text.
Christians need to know the evidences that show that the textual integrity of the Quran can be challenged on precisely the same grounds as the Muslims live under the fond illusion (and are taught by their maulanas and leaders from childhood) that the Quran is a perfect book without contradictions, different readings and the like. The aim must be not to win an argument or discredit the Quran but simply to counter false and unjustifiable attacks on the Bible.
1.8 The Authorship of Matthews Gospel
Muslim: Matthew was not the author of the Gospel attributed to him. There are proofs that it was written long after his time by another author whose identity is unknown.
At time it seems Muslims will use any argument they can to discredit the Bible. More than once I have heard Muslims challenge the authorship of Matthews Gospel. The argument is usually centred on the following text from the Gospel itself:
As Jesus passed on from there he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me". And he rose and followed him. Matthew 9:9
Although the earliest Christian sources all attribute this Gospel to the Apostle Matthew, Muslims argue that he cannot have written it because he describes his own conversion in the third person in this verse. More than one Muslim author has claimed that a first-person account of the incident should have been given if Matthew himself was the author of the Gospel attributed to him.
One can only marvel at times at the manner in which Muslims set themselves up as judges of the Biblical text and prescribe what should have been done. When approaching any book like the Bible or the Quran, a far better approach is to let the book speak for itself and to apply a scholarly approach to its contents. Too often the aim is purely to find fault by whatever means possible.
In response to a Muslim who once challenged me on this very issue during a personal conversation I replied "Who is the author of the Quran?" He immediately answered "Allah" to which I responded "How is it, then, that Allah likewise constantly refers to himself in the third person in the book?" I used the following verse as an example:
He is Allah and there is no god besides who He is. Surah 59:22
The Arabic begins Huwallaah ("He is Allah") and finishes with the same pronoun it begins with, huwa ("he is"). In both cases the pronoun used is the third person singular. Allah, too, is mentioned by name just as he is nearly three thousand other times in the book. If Matthew cannot be the author of his Gospel because he both names and speaks of himself in the third person in the book, then Allah – by the same Muslim reasoning – cannot be the author of the Quran. There is quite simply no difference between these two uses of the third person in the Bible and the Quran.
Christians often justifiably become frustrated at the manner in which Muslims try to discredit the Bible. Often their arguments are extremely weak and can be turned equally effectively against the Quran. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that they are trying to prove a case by whatever means they can and that they base their arguments on convenient presuppositions rather than solid evidences. Christianity stands on its own and its historical records of the life of Jesus as found in the Gospels. It does not need to disprove a religion which only came six hundred years later. Islam, on the other hand, because it acknowledges Jesus but has no alternative historical records of his life, has to disprove Christianity to establish itself. This is why the Quran itself constantly argues against Christian beliefs and practices and is also why Muslims try so hard to discredit the Bible. As long as Christians remember this they will be patient in dealing with argumentative Muslims, especially when they tend to resort to any means they can to attempt to prove their point.
Other Arguments Against Matthews Gospel
Very often Muslims acquire arguments against the integrity of the Bible from the writings of modern liberal Western scholars basing their conclusions on what has become known as "higher criticism" of the Biblical text. Almost invariably this source is highly questionable as such authors do not simply assess the evidences but work on all manner of assumptions.
A typical example is the hypothesis in many such works that behind the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) there was an original source of traditions about the life of Jesus. It is presumed that it had been compiled in a written collation of teachings and events derived from the disciples of Jesus some time earlier than the writing of the four Gospels and has been called "Q" purely because no proper name or source can be applied to such a text conveniently assumed to have existed. It is then concluded, perforce, that Matthew could not have been the author of the Gospel attributed to him. There are three very good reasons to challenge not only this conclusion but the very means used by such scholars to prefer their own subjective reasonings to factual evidences to the contrary.
1. The Evidences of Early Christian Writings
All the earliest Christian sources, as stated already, attribute this Gospel to Matthew. The subjective reasonings of modern scholars who prize twentieth-century speculations over factual, contemporary evidences, cannot be preferred to the testimonies of those who lived at the time when this Gospel was first copied and distributed. These same scholars challenge the original story of creation, write off the flood of Noah as a myth, scoff at the sojourn of Jonah in a fish for three days, and reject the virgin-birth of Jesus for the same reason – pure speculation, this time on rational grounds. Muslim scholars, who know that the Quran confirms all these events, cannot honestly rely on sources that also discredit Islam for the same reasons.
2. No Alternative Authorship for Matthews Gospel
J.B, Phillips, in his introduction to this Gospel, while confirming that some modern scholars reject the traditional sources for the authorship of this Gospel, states that he can still conveniently be called Matthew. This is because there is quite frankly no reasonable alternative to his authorship, nor has the history of the early Church ever suggested another possible author.
3. The Supposed Oral Traditions behind this Gospel
Phillips also states, without any proofs, that the author has plainly drawn on the "mysterious Q" for much of the material in his Gospel. There is no evidence anywhere in early Christian history that such a body of oral traditions was ever collected into a written collection. Its identity is not so much a mystery as a historical myth. The very title "Q" testifies to the whole speculative nature of this supposed source behind the Synoptic Gospels.
At this point we are dealing no longer with actual evidences but with pure speculation. These modern scholars generally do not take the textual evidences for the Bible as they stand but rely on nothing more than their own convenient assumptions. Christians, in discussion with Muslims, must encourage them to stick to the facts and avoid resorting to conjectures which cannot possibly be proved.
1.9 The Variety of English Translations
Muslim: Why are their so many different versions of the Bible? There are the King James Version, Revised Standard Version, New International Version amongst others. Fortunately we have only one Quran which has never been revised.
This argument is only common in English-speaking countries, usually those where Muslims are in the minority. When Muslims hear of all these different English translations of the Bible, especially when they are titled "Versions", they immediately assume each one is a changed edition from a previous one – obvious proof that the Bible is still being changed by Christian priests and leaders to suit themselves.
English Translations: No Revision of the Bible Itself
For some reason Muslims who raise the kind of argument which is presented here cannot see its immediate irrelevance. They compare what are no more than English translations of the Bible to the Arabic original of the Quran. With patience Christians need to point out that all our translations are based on the oldest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts we have for the Old and New Testaments respectively. These have never been altered or replaced and each "Version" is no more than a particular translation into another language. There have been numerous translations of the Quran into English as well over recent decades but no one suggests these are different "versions" of the book. Each one has its own character.
During a debate with Yusuf Buckas, a local Muslim propagandist, in Durban, South Africa, in 1985 on the integrity of the Bible he quoted from the Preface to the Revised Standard Version of the Bible as follows: "Yet the King James Version has grave defects ... these defects are so many and so serious as to call for revision" and there he stopped, saying "unquote" as he concluded. He used this as an argument to prove that the Bible has been undergoing various changes to remedy its many defects. In reply I had to point out that his "unquote" was no unquote at all and that he had not finished the sentence which reads "to call for revision of the English translation" (my emphasis). A few minutes had to be used to show the Muslims present that the Bible was not being revised but only an English translation and that the purpose was not to corrupt the original text but rather to get as close to it as the translators possibly could.
Certain Differences in Translation
Muslims do, however, endeavour to make something of certain differences between the King James Version and Revised Standard Version. Two passages will be mentioned and dealt with as typical of the type of arguments Christians can expect to hear with indications of how to respond to them.
1. Isaiah 7:14: Young Woman or Virgin?
In the King James Version this verse states that a virgin would conceive and bear a son whereas the same text in the Revised Standard Version states that a young woman would do so. These are merely differences in translations of the original Hebrew word almah but Muslims have endeavoured to use the different choice of words as a proof of a change in the Bible.
The argument goes that the Bible originally taught that Jesus would be born of a virgin-woman but that a later edition has revised the text, eliminating a fundamental truth supported by the Quran (Surah 3:47, 19:20-21). The Christian response to this argument is quite simple. Firstly the original Hebrew word in the original text is almah and that it has never been changed. Therefore the issue is purely one of translation.
Secondly, the word literally translated means a young woman and the Revised Standard Versions translation is perfectly accurate. The normal Hebrew word for "virgin" is bethulah. On the other hand, from the context of the passage it is quite obvious that the conception by a young woman would be unique and a dramatic sign to the people of Israel and the King James Version quite fairly interprets this to mean what is obviously intended, namely that a virgin would conceive. The Greek Septuagint of the Old Testament, dating nearly two thousand years before the King James Version, also translated it "virgin" and either term is quite acceptable. There is, therefore, no question of a "change" to the Bible at this point.
2. John 3:16: Gods Only Begotten Son
A similar argument centres on the translation of this verse in the same two Versions. In the former, the King James Version which dates back to 1611 AD, the verse states that God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. In the Revised Standard Version, dating from 1952, the verse simply says that God would send his only Son, leaving out the word "begotten".
Muslims argue that the Bible has been changed to remove the objectionable idea that God has "begotten" a Son, a concept very forcefully rejected in the Quran which states:
Say he is Allah the One, Allah the Eternal One. He does not beget, nor is he begotten, and like unto him there is not one. Surah 112:1-4
Once again the Muslims are making capital of absolutely nothing. The Greek word in the original text is monogenae which means "the one" (mono) "coming from" (genae) the Father. It is quite correct to translate this as "only" or "only begotten". Both expressions mean the same thing – the only son coming from the Father.
The word begotten is an old English word freely used in the seventeenth century when the King James Version was written but one which is not part of twentieth-century spoken English. This is why the Revised Standard Version omits it. Yet again there is no question of a "change" in the original text – the issue is purely one of interpretation in English translations.
Over the years I have heard an assortment of arguments against the Bible which have taxed my patience with Muslims. "Why are there four Bibles in your New Testament?" is one, another being "Why do your Popes change the Bible every year? It is not only the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope of the Baptist Church does the same". Another classic: "According to the Quran only one Injil, the "Gospel", was revealed to Jesus. But in your Bible there are many Gospels. Matthew wrote a Gospel, so did Mark, Luke, John and Acts. Romans wrote a Gospel and Corinthians wrote two"!
While you may wish to focus purely on the actual Gospel itself and the effect of Gods love as revealed in Jesus Christ it is important to answer Muslim arguments against the Bible, even when they are poor and irrelevant to the real issues between us. It is my personal experience that a positive, effective answer to each point patiently argued can go a long way to convincing the Muslim that the message you really want to present needs to be seriously considered.
1.10 The Genealogy of Jesus in the Gospels
Muslim: The genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels give very different lines of descent. How do you explain this contradiction? Also, some of the women mentioned among his ancestors were very great sinners – how could the perfectly pure Son of God have been descended from such an impure ancestry?
Very often Muslim arguments against the Bible reveal little more than a serious lack of awareness of what Christianity is really all about. In answering these two objections Christians not only have an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings but also to witness to the Muslims who raise them of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It needs to be emphasised again and again that every Muslim argument against the Bible should be seen as an open door to witness to its essential message.
The Two Different Genealogies
The Hebrew line of Jesus descent is recorded in both Matthew 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23-38. There is no difference between these two records from Abraham to David but thereafter they diverge considerably. Matthew traces the line of Jesus genealogy through Davids son Solomon while Luke takes it through his son Nathan. From there on the two accounts are very different. Muslim writers have summarily concluded that they are contradictory and cannot be reconciled. The following points should be raised in reply whenever Muslims raise this issue:
1. Every Child has Two Genealogies
It is hardly necessary to say that every man on earth has two lines of ancestry, one through his father and another through his mother. The one obvious thing about the two genealogies in the Gospels is that each is traced to a common source, David, and from there consistently to Abraham. What the two lines reveal, upon a close study of their context in each respective Gospel, is that Joseph, the legal guardian and registered father of Jesus (although not his natural father) was descended from David through Solomon while his mother Mary was descended from the same ancestor through Nathan. Thus there is no contradiction between them.
2. Matthew and Luke Clearly State their Lines of Descent
It is not a convenient assumption that these two Gospel writers are recording the paternal and maternal sequences of Jesus ancestry respectively. Matthew makes it plain that he is recording the line of Joseph (Matthew 1:16) and throughout the first two chapters of his Gospel we find Joseph to be the central character. Each appearance of the Angel Gabriel recorded here is to Joseph. In Lukes Gospel, however, Mary is always the central personality and only the appearance of Gabriel to her is mentioned.
3. Luke Deliberately Qualifies his Genealogy
Luke himself states specifically that Jesus was the son, "as was supposed", of Joseph (Luke 3:23) and it is in this little expression that the key to Jesus genealogy in his Gospel is found. Unlike Matthew he mentions no women in Jesus ancestry and, to maintain the general practice of outlining the masculine order only, Luke records Joseph as the supposed father of Jesus. He very carefully qualified Josephs role so that it would be clear that he was not recording the genealogy of Jesus through his representative father but rather his actual genealogy through his real mother Mary.
The Four Women Named in Matthews Genealogy
Muslim writers have often tried to discredit the absolute purity of Jesus as the Son of God by referring to the four women Matthew names in his record of Jesus ancestry. They are Tamar, who committed incest with her father Judah from which Perez was born as a forefather of Jesus; Rahab, the prostitute and Gentile woman who helped Joshua and the Israelites at the conquest of Jericho; Ruth, the wife of Boaz who was also a Gentile; and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah who committed adultery with David and from whom Solomon was born.
It is obvious that Matthew has deliberately named the very four women who disturbed the genealogy of Jesus by having moral or ethnic defects. He, clearly, did not think he was undermining the dignity of Jesus in doing so. Had there been any stigma attaching to such an ancestry he would assuredly have named some of more famous Hebrew women from whom Jesus was descended like Sarah and Rebecca. Why, therefore, did he specifically name the four women who supposedly unsettled the "purity" of his ancestry? The Apostle gives the answer himself. He records that, when the Angel Gabriel came to Joseph, he said of the child to be born:
You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21
It was precisely for people such as incestuous Tamar, Rahab the harlot, Ruth the Gentile and Bathsheba the adulteress that Jesus came into the world. He descended from the holy portals of heaven and took human form in a sinful and decaying world so that he could save his people from their iniquities and make his salvation available to all men and women, Jew and Gentile alike. In another passage recorded in the same Gospel we find Jesus making his purpose very clear:
Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice". For I came not to call the righteous but sinners. Matthew 9:12-13
Jesus did not come to set an upright example for pious, religious people to follow. He came, primarily, to save all who turn to him from their sins and to make it possible for them to receive the Holy Spirit so that they might have power to live genuinely holy lives. Here it is obvious how effectively an argument against the Bible can be turned into a very good opportunity for witness. Whenever a Muslim challenges the Bible on a point such as this it is essential that we look not only for ways of refuting the objection but also for openings to share what our faith is really all about.
1.11 Biblical "Pornography" and Obscenities
Muslim: How can a book which is supposed to be Gods Holy Word have stories about Judahs incest, Davids adultery, Hoseas marriage to a prostitute as well as passages where God speaks in terms that are clearly obscene and pornographic?
This line of argument has become increasingly common in recent times. It derives from a Muslim assumption that all the prophets were sinless and that God would never use blunt language to describe the infidelity of his people or, to put it another way, to "call a spade a spade". Let us begin with the first part of the argument.
The Supposed Sinlessness of the Prophets
The Bible records many stories of moral failure on the part of the prophets and patriarchs of ancient times. Judah committed incest with his daughter Tamar (Genesis 38:12-26) just as Lot had done with both of his daughters some time before (Genesis 19:30-38). David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and subsequently arranged to have her husband deliberately killed in the forefront of battle (2 Samuel 11:14-21). Other prophets sinned in different ways – Moses murdered an Egyptian, Jacob lied to his father Isaac, and Solomon took wives and concubines from the Egyptians and other Gentile nations. Muslims recoil at such stories as they have been taught that all the prophets, from Adam to Muhammad, were sinless. This teaching, known as the doctrine of isma ("sinlessness"), is not founded on the Quran but is derived from orthodox Muslim creeds such as the Fiqh Akbar II of later centuries. It was established to counter the Christian teaching that Jesus alone was without sin.
When Muslims raise this argument Christians need to point out that the Quran teaches that the prophets also committed sins. Many of them in the Quran are recorded as praying for the forgiveness of their sins or were commanded to do so. For example:
1. Abraham. He said of God, the Rabb al-Alamin ("Lord of the Worlds") that he was the one "who, I hope, will forgive me my sins on the Day of Judgment" (Surah 26:81).
Muslim writers try to dilute statements like these, saying he was only praying for protection from mistakes and faults, but the words used here are yaghfira, which is the standard Arabic word for "to forgive", and khatiati, a strong word plainly meaning "sins" and never mistakes or minor errors. It is so used in another passage which states that the people of Noahs time were drowned "because of their sins" (Surah 71:25).
2. Moses. The Quran confirms that Moses killed one of his enemies but immediately thereafter prayed "O my Lord! I have wronged my soul, so forgive me!" (Surah 28:15-16). Allah duly did so because he is Al-Ghafur, the "Forgiving One".
3. David. The story of his adultery is not repeated in the Quran but the challenge of Nathan to him afterwards (2 Samuel 12:1-15) is in a somewhat varied form. The parable of the man with many flocks and herds who deprived a poor man of his one ewe lamb, used by Nathan to expose Davids wickedness in taking Uriahs only wife from him while he had many wives of his own, is repeated in a short passage in the Quran (Surah 38:21-25). It concludes with a statement that David "asked forgiveness" (fastaghfara) and that Allah duly forgave him (faghafar), the standard word for forgiveness of sin again being used. Muslim writers use all manner of arguments to avoid the implications of such passages, denying that the parable relates to Davids adultery, but not being able to provide an alternative explanation for it (as the Quran does not place it in a context as the Bible does). Very significantly, however, Allah then commands David not to "follow your own lust" as others do who will face a grievous punishment (Surah 38:26) on the Day of Reckoning (Yawmal-Hisab).
4. Muhammad. The Prophet of Islam himself is ordered to "ask forgiveness of your sins" as well as for those of all believing men and women (Surah 47:19), the words used here being wastaghfir lithanbik which are exactly the same words used when Zulaykah (the Muslim name for Potiphars wife) is commanded to repent of her desire to seduce Joseph (Surah 12:29).
The Bible quite simply does not gloss over the faults of the prophets and its fundamental opinion of all men is that none of them is righteous, that all have gone astray, have sinned against God and turned aside to their own ways (Romans 3:9-18). For this reason Jesus Christ came into the world, the only sinless man who ever lived, so that all might be saved. Once again there is an obvious opportunity here for witness and it is important to point out to Muslims that the Quran is much closer to the Bible than they are when it freely concedes the sins of the prophets.
Alleged Pornographic Passages in the Bible
The second part of the argument presented here is based on passages like the following which certain Muslim writers claim contains obscene and pornographic language:
She did not give up her harlotry which she had practised since her days in Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her and handled her virgin bosom and poured out their lust upon her. Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians upon whom she doted. These uncovered her nakedness; they seized her sons and her daughters; and her they slew with the sword; and she became a byword among women, when judgment had been executed upon her. Ezekiel 23:8-10
The whole chapter is cited as an example of impure language which, it is claimed, is unbecoming of a holy God to use. Another typical passage to which exception is taken is the following:
Plead with your mother, plead – for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband – that she put away her harlotry from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born. Hosea 2:2-3
Both of these passages are illustrative of the extreme anger of God at the unfaithfulness of his people, Israel, towards him. This is why he told Hosea to take a prostitute as his wife because it would symbolise how God felt about his own people. They were constantly turning away from him to false gods and idols and adopted the lewd practices of the nations around them instead of submitting to his holiness.
The language God uses in these passages is designed to shock his people into an awareness and consciousness of how defiled they are in his sight. Their behaviour toward him is like that of an adulterous wife who freely gives herself up to other lovers. It required strong, emphatic language to make them realise the ugliness of their foolish ways. On the Day of Judgment God will declare all filthy practices to be precisely what they are – sodomy, sexual perversion, prostitution, lewdness and the like. He will not use nice terms to describe immoral behaviour as some Muslims seem to think he should if he is to be God. He has seen all the perverse passions of the human race and nothing shocks him. He will deal with them for what they are.
Muslims must be encouraged to let God be who he is and to speak as he wishes. No one on earth can prescribe to him how he should describe unfaithfulness and infidelity. When a Muslim tells you that such language in the Bible encourages young people to think impure thoughts and creates all sorts of lustful desires you need only to quote the following verse in reply to them:
To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15
Such impurity is only in the mind of the reader, not in the scripture. It is amazing to hear the Bible – a book which has turned millions away from perverse practices – described as pornographic or obscene. It is Christians, people who believe in the book, who have always been at the forefront of campaigns to ban real pornographic literature.
Once again you have here an opportunity to make an impact on Muslims. When they raise such passages ask them if they have read the whole Bible through from cover to cover. Encourage them to do so – and to desist from paying attention only to passages which have to be wrenched totally out of context to be made to appear "obscene" or "pornographic".
The Quran in Relation to the Bible
1.12 The Jewish and Christian Scriptures
Muslim: The Quran itself confirms that the Bible has been changed. The Old and New Testaments are not the books that were revealed originally to Moses and Jesus. Where are those books today? What you have in your hands is no longer the Word of God.
Throughout the world Muslims are taught that the Quran accuses the Jews and Christians of having tampered with their scriptures. The charge that the Bible has been changed is one of the greatest falsehoods ever proclaimed in the cause of truth as we have seen already. Yet what is most interesting is to find that the Quran, in contrast with the general Muslim attitude, actually speaks very highly of the Jewish and Christian scriptures and positively confirms their authenticity.
The Tawraat: The Jewish Scripture
The common title for the whole Jewish scripture in the Quran is at-Tawraat, "the Law". It is said to be specifically the kitab (book) which was given to Moses (Surah 11:110). Its integrity and existence in the hands of the Jews at the time of Muhammad is confirmed in this verse:
How will they make you their judge seeing they have the Tawraat, wherein is Allahs judgment, then afterwards turn their backs. Surah 5:46
This passage quite plainly teaches that the Jews (specifically named as the people being referred to in Surah 5:44) actually have the Tawraat. The words used in the original Arabic text confirm this. The book is said to be inda hum – "with them". It is quite clear that the Quran, in this verse, teaches that the book was in their possession at the time of Muhammad. As the verse speaks of Jews who were actually coming to him for judicial decisions it is obvious that it speaks of Jews who were in the environment of Medina. The passage goes on to describe the Tawraat as a "guidance and light" which the former prophets used to apply the law of God to the Jews, their rabbis and judges (Surah 5:47). Further appeals are made to judge by what has been revealed therein.
Throughout their history the Jews of the world have known only one scripture – the books of the Old Testament as we know them today. We have already seen that as far back as the second century before Christ (eight centuries before Muhammads time) the Hebrew Old Testament had already been translated into Greek in what is known as the Septuagint. The New Testament scriptures quote from the Old Testament books at length and our earliest extant manuscripts also date centuries before Islam. There can be no doubt, then, that the scripture to which the Quran refers can only be the Old Testament.
The Quran always speaks of the former scriptures with great reverence. It would hardly exhort the Jews to judge by them if they were corrupted and unreliable. Significantly it uses the very word, Tawraat (Torah), which the Jews themselves use to describe the first five books of Moses in the Bible.
The Injil: The Christian Scripture
The Quran once again, when describing the Christian scripture, uses a word with which Christians are very familiar. It calls it al-Injil, "the Gospel", and says it was revealed to Jesus:
And following them we sent Jesus the son of Mary confirming what came before him in the Tawraat, and we gave him the Injil in which are guidance and light and confirming what came before him in the Tawraat. Surah 5:49
From this text and other similar passages (Surah 3:3) it is clear that the Quran regards the Tawraat and Injil as the sum total of the Jewish and Christian scriptures respectively. Once again we find the Quran confirming the existence of the second scripture in the hands of the Christians at Muhammads time:
Let the people of the Injil judge by what Allah has revealed therein. Surah 5:50
If the book was not intact in their hands, how could the Quran exhort the Christians to make their judgments by its guidance and light? It is significant that this text calls the Christians ahlul-Injil, the "People of the Gospel" – a further confirmation of the existence of the book in their hands at the time of Muhammad. Yet, as with the Jews, the Christians have known only one scripture throughout their history – the books of the New Testament as we know it today. In another passage the Quran again confirms that the two scriptures were in the possession of the Jews and Christians during Muhammads days:
Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered prophet, will find him mentioned in the Tawraat and Injil with them. Surah 7:157
Again the Quran states that these scriptures are inda hum, Arabic words meaning very specifically "with them". It is obvious that Muhammad never doubted the integrity of the books which the Jews and Christians of his day regarded as their holy scripture. He had no reservations about confirming their integrity. Another passage from the Quran emphasises this fact very clearly:
Say, O People of the Scripture. You have no ground to stand on unless you stand fast by the Tawraat and the Injil and what has been sent down to you from your Lord. Surah 5:71
How could they stand fast by these scriptures if, firstly, they did not possess them and, secondly, if they were not completely authentic? It is undeniable that the Quran teaches that the Jewish and Christian scriptures were intact at the time of Muhammad. In another verse Muhammad is encouraged, if he was in doubt about anything revealed to him, to consult those who had been reading the scriptures before him, namely the Jews and Christians. (Surah 10:94)
It is important, in discussion with Muslims, to know these Quranic passages which witness to the integrity of the Bible. The Quran testifies quite unequivocally to its authority as the revealed Word of God whether Muslims like it or not. In the light of the reverence and respect which their book shows for ours we should not hesitate to challenge Muslims to show the same esteem towards it and to read it for their own hudan and nur – "guidance and light".
1.13 Tahrif – The Allegations of Corruption
Muslim: There are a number of passages in the Quran which clearly teach that the former scriptures have been changed and corrupted. How can you say that the Quran testifies to the integrity of the Christian Bible?
There are a number of passages in the Quran which, at first sight, do appear to teach that some misrepresentation of the former scriptures did indeed take place. On investigation, however, it is obvious that each one deals with instances where the Ahl al-Kitab (the "People of the Book", viz. Jews and Christians) are accused of misinterpreting the teachings of their holy books. None of these passages ever suggests that the texts of the Tawraat or the Injil themselves ever became corrupted. Let us begin with texts specifically aimed at the spoken word.
A Twist of Their Tongues
A number of texts invariably quoted by Muslims to prove that the Bible has been changed according to the Quran are, on close inspection, found to deal solely with verbal misquotes of the sacred texts and never of the written word itself. A typical example is this verse:
From among the Jews there are those who displace words from their places, and say: "We hear and we disobey"; and "Hear what is not heard"; and raina; with a twist of their tongues and an insult to religion. Surah 4:46
This passage is alleged by Muslims to teach that the Jews have removed parts of the original text of their scripture and replaced it with other passages of their own invention. The following points prove otherwise:
1. The Twists were purely Verbal
The charge in this verse is solely one of verbally changing the true meaning of words. "They twist with their tongues", the text says. There is no allegation of tampering with or changing the actual written text. A similar charge against the Jews of "changing words from their places" appears again in Surah 5:44 where, as in Surah 4:46, actual quotations of sayings of the Jews are mentioned to show how they did this.
2. The Charge is Against Discourses of Jews of Muhammads Time
The word raina in Surah 4:46 is an Arabic word meaning "Please attend to us" but, with a subtle twist, can be turned into an insult. As the original Jewish scriptures were in Hebrew it is obvious that the Quran is referring to Jews of Muhammads own time who conversed with Arabs in Arabic. Once again it is obvious it is the conversation of Jews, where they subtly played on words, that is the issue here, not an alteration of their actual scriptures.
A Verbal Misrepresentation
Another typical verse which has been raised as a supposed proof that Jews and Christians have changed their original scriptures is this one:
Do you hope that they will believe you while a party of them heard the word of God and consciously perverted it after they had understood it? Surah 2:75
Here again there are a number of points that show that this verse is concerned only with verbal misrepresentation and not with an actual change in the text of the early scriptures.
1. The Opinion of Great Muslim Scholars
Both the great early Muslim scholars Razi and Baidawi taught that this passage deals only with what they called tahrifi-manawi, corruption of the meaning of the word of God, and not tahrifi-lafzi, an alteration of the actual scripture itself. Nowhere does the Quran teach that either the Jews or the Christians engaged in a tahrif (corruption) of their holy books and such a charge was never levelled against them in the early centuries of Islam.
2. The Spoken Word of Allah
In this verse the Quran expressly states that it was the kalam of Allah that was being perverted. This is the spoken word which they "heard" as the verse clearly states. It was not the kitab, the written book, that was being changed. When referring to the Jewish and the Christian scriptures the Quran always refers to them as the kitab of Allah. Here it is solely a preached message that is in issue.
3. The Word is the Word Preached by Muhammad
It is obvious that it was the preaching of the Quran that was being misrepresented. A group of people who had heard it preached by Muhammad are said to have perverted it afterwards – how, then, could he hope that they would believe him? It requires a fair stretch of the imagination to turn this into a proof of a corruption of the written text of the Bible!
4. Only a Party of His Hearers Perverted It
It is obviously only a group of Jews from Muhammads own time who are being charged with misrepresenting his message. The very next verse accuses them of claiming to believe when they meet with Muslims only to privately work out afterwards how to twist the message. Once again it is obvious that this verse does not even remotely deal with any supposed corruption of the Jewish and Christian scriptures.
Verbally Twisting the Word of God
Another very similar passage used by Muslim writers as a proof that the Bible has been changed according to the Quran but which deals solely with verbal distortions is this one:
There is a party of them who twist the Book with their tongues to make you think it is part of the Book, while it is not from the Book, and they say it is from Allah when it is not from Allah, and they consciously lie against Allah. Surah 3:78
It is quite obvious, once again, that the charge is not one of actually corrupting the text of the Bible. The word used to describe what has taken place are yaluwnal-sinatahum meaning very simply "tongue twisting". The use of the Arabic word lisan (tongue) shows clearly that it is only a verbal misrepresentation that is in issue. The issue is purely one of quoting non-Biblical passages as if they were in fact part of the Bible.
Other Passages Relating to the Charge of Tahrif
There are a few other texts Muslims use to further their arguments against the integrity of the Bible. One which they think really supports their cause is this one:
Then woe to those who write the scripture with their own hands and then say: "This is from Allah" to sell it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands write! And woe for what they gain thereby! Surah 2:79
This time there is a clear statement about actually writing a text purporting to be scripture for resale and profit. It is only small portions of passages compiled by an unnamed group of people that is referred to, however, and yet again there is no charge that the Bible itself was being changed. The original Tawraat and Injil are always spoken of with great reverence and there is not a hint here that these books themselves were being altered. It is other writings that are mentioned. Furthermore the text is too vague, like many of the others, to determine exactly what is being dealt with here. There is no statement as to what was being written, who was actually doing it or precisely when it occurred.
The last verse we need to consider which is often quoted by Muslims to show that the Quran teaches that the Bible has been changed is this one:
O People of the Book! Why do clothe the truth with falsehood and conceal the truth when you know otherwise? Surah 3:71
Yet again, however, it is a general charge of misrepresentation of the truth and in no way can be said to teach that the Bible itself has been changed. The actual scriptures of the Jews and Christians are not even mentioned. It is no wonder that early Muslim scholars only claimed that the Quran taught that the tahrif of which it speaks was solely of the meaning and teaching of the scriptures, never of the text itself. Muslims who claim otherwise are consciously "clothing the truth with falsehood" themselves and it is perhaps they who "conceal the truth" when they likewise know otherwise!
1.14 The Tawraat, Injil and Quran
Muslim: The Bible you have today is not the original Tawraat and Injil which were revealed to Moses and Jesus respectively. You have the books of Paul and other writers but not the Word of God. Where are the original Tawraat and Injil?
There are no historical evidences whatsoever that books revealed to Moses and Jesus, in the form of the Quran, ever existed. Not so much as a page can be found anywhere to support the Muslim claim that these were the original scriptures. This is all the more strange in the light of the Muslim belief that the Quran has been perfectly preserved, dot for dot and letter for letter, in its original form. If Allah could so preserve one book, why could he not preserve even so much as a shred of evidence that the other two actually existed? This teaching of the Quran has no support at all in the factual records of human history.
The Nature of the Tawraat and Injil
The Quran, in addition to stating that these two books were actually sent down to Moses and Jesus, also teaches that they were very similar to the Quran:
He has sent down to you the Scripture (al-Kitab) with truth, confirming what came before it, and he sent down the Law (at-Tawraat) and the Gospel (al-Injil) before it, a guidance to mankind. Surah 3:3
As we have seen the Quran is quite correct in dividing the book of the Jews and Christians into two sections even though it often refers to both books collectively as al-Kitab (the Book) and followers of both religions as Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book). We have also observed very clearly that the Quran freely recognises the scriptures that were in the possession of the Jews and Christians of Muhammads day as the actual, unchanged Tawraat and Injil respectively.
The problem for the Muslims is that the only two books the Jews and Christians have ever known as their holy scripture are the Old and New Testaments respectively. They are very similar in form and style to each other and the latter consistently quotes from the former. Each contains narrative works, prophetic material, quotations from prophets and apostles, the actual words of God and instructive teaching. Neither, however, is remotely like the Quran.
Muslims spend much time trying to discredit the Bible or prove it has been changed without, perhaps, tackling the key issue. As our two books are so different to any Tawraat and Injil in the form the Quran presupposes them to have been, the real task before them is to produce the original books or at least some evidence of their former state. Until they do so it can only be presumed that such books never existed.
In turn Muslims will argue that as the Quran is the Word of God its statements are the only evidence needed to prove their original existence. On the contrary the absolute silence of history on what would have been the most important books ever to have been handed down militates against the supposed divine origin of the Quran. The logical conclusion is that Muhammad knew there had been two former scriptures and that the Jews and Christians had them in their hands and read them daily. He had no reason to doubt their authenticity but wrongly assumed that they were in the form of his Quran.
More than once Muslims have said to me "Where are the original Tawraat and Injil? Produce them for us to see". My response has always been very emphatic: "No, you produce them! It is your book that alleges their existence, not ours. We have no interest in such books and do not believe they were ever revealed. The obligation rests on you to present them to us so that we may examine them".
The Law and the Gospel
Once again, however, the issue is not one of point-scoring off Muslims. Our ultimate aim is to witness to the grace of God as it has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ and, whenever Muslims raise the issue of the former scriptures, it is an opportunity to ask the quite simply what the titles Tawraat and Injil actually mean. Every Muslim translation of the Quran translates these two words "Law" and "Gospel" respectively. What, it might be asked, were they? Why was the Law revealed to Moses and what was the Gospel that came through Jesus? Here is an opportunity to show how no man can be saved by the Law and why salvation is purely by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This verse sums up the contrast:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17
Throughout his Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, Paul concentrates on the fact that sin has caused such a devastating breach between God and men that the Law, as revealed to Moses, could not save anybody. The Israelites in the wilderness rejected it entirely by making a golden calf and breaking virtually every one of the ten commandments in one fell swoop through dancing and partying – a bold way of saying to God "We will not obey your laws".
Deep within the human heart there is an instinctive resistance to the holy laws of God. Often I have asked Muslims very simply "Is sin acceptable to God or not? Can it be justified in any way?" The answer has always been "No", to which I have responded "Then why dont you, upon waking tomorrow morning, pledge to God that you will never sin again for the rest of your life?" The response to that has never been quite so emphatic! Muslims know sin dwells deep within them no matter how much Islam may teach them it is only a choice to do a wrong deed as opposed to an equal choice to do right instead. Much can be achieved by showing them that, although sinful man cannot reach up to God, in his kindness and mercy God reached down to us in his Son Jesus Christ.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
That is the Gospel, that is what the expression Injil means. So likewise the very name Jesus means "God is our Saviour" (cf. Matthew 1:15). Let the Muslim know precisely what the Good News (the meaning of "Gospel") of Gods salvation really is. Whenever a Muslim questions you as to the whereabouts of the original Injil, tell him it is everywhere! When he asks you to produce it, share the good news of the true Gospel with him. Ask him in return what the Arabic expression means and why it is always used in conjunction with the person of Jesus in Islam. Once again be aware of how Muslim arguments can be transformed into wonderful opportunities to witness effectively to them.
1.15 The Old and New Testaments in the Bible
Muslim: No matter what you say we are satisfied that the Old and New Testaments are not the true Word of God. At some time in the centuries before Islam they must have been corrupted. Muslims have always unanimously held this view.
There are a few points in conclusion that Christians should master to counter the Muslim arguments against the integrity of the Bible.
Prophecies to Jesus in the Old Testament
Although the Old Testament is the Jewish Scripture and was completed some centuries before Jesus Christ came to earth, it contains numerous prophecies to Jesus, especially the following two essential features of Christian belief and New Testament teaching:
1. The Deity of Jesus Christ
This is foretold in 1 Chronicles 17:13, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 89:26-27, Isaiah 9:6 and many other passages of the Old Testament. The Jews could never have allowed the Christians to interpolate such teachings into their holy scripture.
2. The Crucifixion and Atonement
The actual event of the crucifixion of Jesus is clearly foretold in Psalm 22:1-21 and Psalm 69:1-29 while the atonement is also set out in Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 as well as in other Old Testament passages. This is once again a strong testimony to the integrity of the book for the Jews would surely have replaced these texts first if they had corrupted their scripture at any time.
Who Corrupted the Former Scriptures?
The Muslims have never been able to produce so much as an iota of historical evidence to show who actually corrupted the scriptures and when this took place. It needs to be remembered that the Christian world has freely accepted the Old Testament of the Jews as the unchanged Word of God together with the New Testament. We do not believe that God ever allowed any portion of his Word to be changed. All of it has been preserved intact, not just one portion of it as Muslims believe.
As we have seen the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament into Greek was done two centuries before the time of Jesus Christ. It is completely consistent with the oldest Hebrew texts and there can be no doubt that the Old Testament today is the scripture held sacred by the Jews before the times of both Jesus and Muhammad. Yet this same book contains prophecies of both the divinity and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the two New Testament teachings that the Quran so strongly denies.
Judaism and Christianity are very different, at times strongly opposing religions. Both religions have had their own internal divisions. Are we to seriously believe that, at some unknown point in history, they all came together to change their scriptures by complete agreement? Such an event could hardly have gone undocumented, let alone the possibility of such an improbable conspiracy. Had representatives of even one of the two major religions decided unanimously to pervert the Old Testament, they could never have persuaded the other to do likewise. There is quite simply no logic, evidence or reason in the Muslim contention that the Bible has been changed. It is one of the great illusions of history.
Early Muslim Scholars and the Bible
It is very significant that, in the early centuries of Islam, the authenticity of the Old and New Testaments was freely acknowledged and their identity as the Tawraat and Injil of the Quran was never disputed. Even though the Bible did not take the form of the Quran Muslim scholars accepted it, partly because they knew the Jews and Christians had known no other scripture and partly because the book is an awesome record of Gods dealings with his people from Adam to Jesus Christ. After all, if the Bible does not contain the original books, where did it come from? Why would the Jews and the Christians over so many centuries forge a book of such holy teachings in defiance of the very books of God if they had them in their hands?
The attitudes of some of the great Muslim scholars of the earlier centuries of Islam can be contrasted with the prejudicial arguments set forth in modern Muslim publications.
1. Ali Tabari
He was a well-known physician at the court of the Abbasid Caliph Mutawakkil about two hundred and fifty years after Muhammads death and wrote a defence of the Prophet of Islam including a study of numerous Biblical prophecies which he believed all referred to him. He freely taught that the first book which came into existence was the Tawraat of the Jews and that it was in their possession. He taught the same about the Injil which he likewise conceded was in the hands of the Christians. When speaking of their contents, however, he outlined the contents of the Old and New Testaments respectively.
2. Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali
He is one of the most original thinkers the Muslim world has ever known and is generally regarded as its greatest theologian. He wrote a long exposition on the Trinity and, although he lived some five centuries after Muhammad when other radical scholars such as Ibn Hazm were attacking the integrity of the Bible text, he also freely accepted its authenticity. He argued only that the Christians had misinterpreted their scriptures. He died in the year 1111 AD.
3. Fakhruddin Razi
Another great and famous theologian, he lived a hundred years after al-Ghazzali and died in 1209 AD. He was quite emphatic about the Biblical text – that it had not been changed and that the teaching and narratives of the Quran were perfectly consistent with those of the Bible.
These great scholars only perpetuated the position the Quran itself takes on the former scriptures – that they are the authentic Word of God and have not been changed. It is important for Christians to know these facts in response to the relentless challenge one experiences these days from Muslim writers who do all they can to undermine the genuineness of the Bible.
Facing the Muslim Challenge [Table of Contents]
Materials by John Gilchrist
Answering Islam Home Page