[Part 1], [Part 2], [Part 3], [Part 4], [Part 5], [Part 6], [Part 7], [Appendix]
The following series are a rebuttal to the claims set forth by "Johnny Bravo" against the reliability and authenticity of the NT documents. Bravo's article can be found at various places (e.g. , , ). [Please be aware that "Johnny Bravo" is a copyrighted character from the Cartoon Network.]
"Johnny's" article is essentially a rehashing of material posted by Dr. M.S.M. Saifullah and the staff at Islamic Awareness. Saifullah's material can be found here. Dave Walston also wrote another thorough rebuttal to Johnny Bravo's article which we highly recommend to our readers.
We will address each of Bravo's main points without doing so in a chronological fashion. We chose to address Bravo's claims directly since in refuting Bravo, we will inevitably be refuting Saifullah's material also. It will become evident throughout this series that Bravo is guilty of misquoting, misunderstanding and/or misinterpreting his sources. Bravo often draws wrong conclusions or inferences from the very sources he cites to attack the veracity of the NT.
We begin with Bravo's citation of Sir Frederic Kenyon regarding the textual transmission of the NT:
"Besides the larger discrepancies, such as these, there is scarcely a verse in which there is not some variation of phrase in some copies [of the ancient manuscripts from which the Bible has been collected]. No one can say that these additions or omissions or alterations are matters of mere indifference" [Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, Dr. Frederic Kenyon, Eyre and Spottiswoode, p. 3]
By quoting Kenyon out of context, Bravo gives the misleading impression that Kenyon did not believe that the NT has been faithfully preserved and accurately transmitted. Yet here is what Kenyon said in context, continuing where Bravo conveniently left off:
"... It is true (and it cannot be TOO emphatically stated) that NONE of the fundamental truths of Christianity rests on passages of which the genuineness is doubtful; but it still remains a matter of concern to us to that our Bible, as we have it to-day, represents as closely as may be the actual words used by the writers of the sacred books. It is the object of this volume to present, within a moderate compass and as closely as possible, the means we have for knowing THAT IT DOES SO ..." (Kenyon, pp. 3-4; bold and capital emphasis ours)
"One word of warning, already referred to, must be emphasized in conclusion. No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. Constant references to mistakes and divergencies of reading, such as the plan of this book necessitates, MIGHT GIVE RISE TO THE DOUBT WHETHER THE SUBSTANCE, AS WELL AS THE LANGUAGE, OF THE BIBLE IS NOT OPEN TO QUESTION. It cannot be TOO STRONGLY ASSERTED that in substance, THE TEXT OF THE BIBLE IS CERTAIN. ESPECIALLY IS THIS THE CASE WITH THE NEW TESTAMENT. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations of it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church is so large that it is PRACTICALLY CERTAIN that the true reading of every doubtful passage IS PRESERVED in some one or other of these ancient authorities. THIS CAN BE SAID OF NO OTHER ANCIENT BOOK IN THE WORLD. Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Vigil, yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament ARE COUNTED BY HUNDREDS, AND EVEN THOUSANDS. In the case of the Old Testament we are not quite in such a good position, as will be shown presently. In some passages it seems certain that the true reading has not been preserved by any ancient authority, and we are driven to conjecture in order to supply it. But such passages are an infinitesimal portion of the whole and may be disregarded. The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say WITHOUT FEAR OR HESITATION THAT HE HOLDS IN IT THE TRUE WORD OF GOD, FAITHFULLY HANDED DOWN FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION THROUGHOUT THE CENTURIES." (Kenyon, pp. 10-11; bold and capital emphasis ours)
Kenyon has a note on p. 10 regarding Dr. Hort's view of the New Testament:
* Dr. Hort, whose authority on the point is quite incontestable, estimates the proportion of words about which there is some doubt at about one-eight of the whole; but by far the greater part of these consists merely of differences in order and other unimportant variations, and "the amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation ... can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text." (Introduction to The New Testament in the Original Greek, p. 2) [bold emphasis ours]
"When we pass from the Old Testament to the New, we pass from obscurity into a region of comparative light. Light, indeed, is plentiful on most of its history; our danger is rather lest we should be confused by a multiplicity of illumination from different quarters, as the electric search-lights of a fleet often bewilder those who use them. We know, within narrow limits, the dates of the various books of the New Testament were written; we have a multitude of manuscripts, some of them reaching back within 250 years of the date the composition of the books; we have evidence from various and the early Christian writers which carry us almost into the apostolic age itself. We shall find many more disputes as to minor points concerning the text of the New Testament than we do in the Old, just because the evidence IS SO PLENTIFUL and comes from so many different quarters; but we shall find FEWER DOUBTS affecting its general integrity." (Kenyon, p. 93; bold and capital emphasis ours)
It should be pointed out that when Kenyon wrote his book, neither the Dead Sea Scrolls nor the John Rylands or Chester Beatty Papyrus had been discovered. These discoveries have brought us closer to the original writings, serving to reinforce Kenyon's conclusions above. Yet even without these important discoveries Kenyon could say that Christians had an accurate and faithful copy of the Holy Bible in their possessions.
Let us now turn the tables on Bravo and see if the Quran passes his test. Muslim translator Muhammad Hamidullah states in the introduction to his French translation of the Quran:
"... Finally, a third source of variants comes from the Arabic writing of the first times before diacritical marks came into general use: it is then sometimes possible to read a word as an active or passive verb, as masculine or feminine, and the context sometimes allows several possibilities. For example yas'al (God) will ask, can be read: yus'al (it) will be asked - tus'al (she) will be asked. A small number of cases have been found, but in none of these cases does the meaning of the verse change, and one wonders if the discovery of such variants does not sometimes come from the ingenuity of exegetes. Even Bukhari gives some examples of this: (Arabic text here) instead of (Arabic text here) of the vulgate text (see Qur'an 2/259. Bukhari 65, sura 2, ch./44); or (Arabic text here) instead of (Arabic text here) of the vulgate text 7/57 (see Bukhari 65, sura 7, ch. 1). But there are cases, indeed very rare, which cannot be explained either by dialectal variability, or by intercalation of a gloss, or by an error in the deciphering to the text without diacritical marks made by a reader who later became a great teacher. Thus Bukhari (65, sura 92, stories 1 and 2) mention that in the Quran 92/3, great Companions like Abu'd-Darda' and Ibn Mas'ud insisted on reciting (Arabic text appears here) instead of (Arabic text appears here) of the vulgate text, and affirmed that it was the Prophet himself who had taught them thus. One cannot say that this is a revision of the style. One cannot say that God revises His style, nor that Gabriel, this "faithful Spirit", could make errors, even if he were to correct them later. One could not think that the human nature of the Prophet has some role to play in this. Was he absent-minded, did he forget? We can think of the Hadith mentioned by Bukhari (52/11/1 and 80/19/5), Muslim (6/224 no. 788), Ibn Hanbal (6/138) where the Prophet says: "God have mercy on this man who by his nightly recitation reminded me of such a verse which I had forgotten (or dropped) from such a sura." Or is it because when the divine things are revealed to him - not in writing, as with Moses' tablets, but - orally, sometimes some small shade of meaning escapes him? (Then during the yearly collections ('arda) of the month of Ramadan, when Gabriel is present, and the Prophet is momentarily transported again in a heavenly setting, he understands a more correct reading, and he "corrects" himself.) Let us remember that Abu'd-Darda' and Ibn Mas'ud are Muslims since the beginning of Islam, and sura 92 is chronologically No. 9. As for the annual collections by the Prophet, they seem to have begun in Medina only after the institution of the fast of Ramadan in 2 A.H. Hence the few divergences without importance, for example, between Abu'd-Darda' and Ibn Mas'ud on the one hand and Zaid ibn Thabit on the other, THE VETERANS BEING UNWILLING TO YIELD TO A YOUNG MAN, even though he is the scribe of the Prophet, concerning the writing down of revelations of the Qur'an. There may be other and better explanations for this problem. I remain extremely hesitant." (From "The Problem of Variants" in LE SAINT CORAN, Traduction et commentaire de Muhammad Hamidullah, avec la collaboration de M. Léturmy, nouvelle édition 1989 corrigée et augmentée, pp. xxix-xxx, as quoted in the article On the Integrity of the Qur'an; bold and capital emphasis ours)
The Encyclopedia of Religion, Volume 12 (PROC-SAIC), Macmillan Publishing Company, New York (Collier Macmillan Publishers, London), 1987, p. 164 writes:
Variant Versions. When the Uthmanic codex of the Quran was assembled, there were already a number of other versions of the Quran associated with some of the Prophets companions in circulation among the Muslims. Some of these codices continued to be used and preferred until the fourth Islamic century, when the Uthmanic codex finally won out over them and came to be accepted as canonical. Some of these early written collections were preferred in particular cities or regions of the Muslim domains. Three of the best known among them, the versions of Ibn Masud, Ubayy ibn Kab, and Abu Musa, for instance, are associated with Kufa, Syria, and Basra respectively. As the story of the origins of Uthmans Quran shows, it was disagreement among Muslim troops from different regions about the reading of the text that provoked Uthmans action.
Although Muslims of the present time generally have forgotten the very existence of these variant versions of the Quran, in the early days they were a lively focus of interest, and the differences among them produced a considerable literature. In his Materials for a History of the Text of the Quran Arthur Jeffery has listed fifteen primary codices (i.e., from the companions) and a large number of secondary ones (i.e., from the generation after the companions). The abundance of the material leads one to imagine a situation in which a number of the companions had put together a body of Quranic material known to them personally and which they would have used for their own purposes and taught to others. Far from there being any danger of losing the Quran, the problem was rather to decide which, IF ANY, of these many versions was the authentic Quran. It has been suggested that Uthmans collection was finally accepted as canonical perhaps because it represented the tradition of Medina where the Prophet had lived the latter part of his life and was therefore considered closer to the original revelations.
The variant versions exhibited differences among themselves and from the Uthmanic version in the reading of particular verses and in the number, names, and order of the chapters. Most notable perhaps is the absence of the Fatihah from Ibn Masuds version. That fact, together with peculiarities of language and its character as a prayer, has led some scholars to see the Fatihah as a later addition to the corpus. Some versions also lack the last two chapters in the Uthmanic Quran; other versions (e.g., Ubayy) include chapters not found there. On the whole, however, despite their differences from the received Uthmanic version, the variant codices of the Quran tend to support its authenticity and prophetic character.
Recent Views. In recent times two scholars in Britain, John Wansbrough and John Burton, have attacked the entire body of the traditions relative to the formation of the Quran and the variant versions as fabrications from whole cloth. Burton believes that Muhammad himself prepared and sanctioned a complete written Quran, which he left behind him. In his view, the Muslim lawyers (fuqaha) found themselves deprived of flexibility in their rulings by the need to honor this text, and in response they invented variant versions and the story of Uthmans collection as a means to suppress it. Wansbrough sees these traditions from a polar opposite but no less negative point of view. He considers the Quran not to have achieved a final form until the third Islamic century, since the prior period was too fluid to yield any agreement among the Muslims. He holds that the traditions were fabricated after the formation of the text in order to push it back into an earlier period and give it greater authenticity. Neither of these scholarly views has won wide support among students of the Quran since they involve the wholesale rejection of the Muslim historical tradition with all of the problems that this raises.
Variant Readings. In the variant versions of the Quran there were a large number of differences among particular verses. Although the codices themselves have not survived, we have abundant information on the subject from Quran commentators such as al-Tabari or from historical sources. Very many of the differences were insignificant and in no way affected the meaning of the text. Some had to do only with orthography, which is somewhat peculiar even in the Uthmanic version. Others involved vocalization and pronunciation or the substitution of synonyms for words in the text. So small a thing as reading a word with an accusative ending rather than a genitive ending could determine the nature of ablutions before prayers as in one famous case (5:6). As Goldziher has shown in his Richtungen der Islamischen Koranauslegung, some of these variant readings reflected the theological preferences of different groups among the Muslims. It must be emphasized that from the time of Uthmans commission, LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF VARIANT READINGS OF PARTICULAR VERSES WERE KNOWN TO THE MUSLIMS IN THE FIRST THREE CENTURIES AH. These variants affected even the Uthmanic codex, MAKING IT DIFFICULT TO KNOW WHAT ITS TRUE ORIGINAL FORM MAY HAVE BEEN. It is not unfair to say that by the third century a state of confusion began to obtain because of the number of variant readings and the continued preference of some Muslims for codices other than the Uthmanic. (bold and capital emphasis ours)
Noted European archaeologist Arthur Jeffery wrote a book, Material for the History of the Text of the Qur'an, documenting the variant readings between the competing codices in circulation prior to the Quran's standardization under Uthman. Jeffery claims that,
"when we come to the accounts of 'Uthman's recension, it quickly becomes clear that his work was no mere matter of removing dialectal peculiarities in reading [as many Muslims claim], but was a necessary stroke of policy to establish a standard text for the whole empire."
"there were wide divergences between the collections that had been digested into Codices in the great Metropolitan centres of Madina, Mecca, Basra, Kufa and Damascus."
"Uthman's solution was to canonize the Madinan Codex and order all others to be destroyed."
Jeffery then states,
"there can be little doubt that the text canonized by 'Uthman was only one among several types of text in existence at the time." (Jeffery, pp. 7-8; bold emphasis ours)
"it is quite clear that the text which Uthman canonized was only one out of many rival text... [and] there is grave suspicion that Uthman may have seriously edited the text he canonized." (Ibid. ix-x; bold emphasis ours)
The well-known scholar W. Montgomery Watt, commenting on the variant readings between the codices of Abdullah Ibn Masud and Ubay Ibn Kab, writes:
"No copies exist of any of the early codices, but the list of variant readings from THE TWO JUST MENTIONED is extensive, running to A THOUSAND OR MORE ITEMS in both cases." (Watt, Bell's Introduction to the Qur'an [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1970], p. 45; bold and capital emphasis ours)
British Scholar Sir Norman Anderson states:
"So, although it is true that today the Kufan text of Hafs is accepted almost everywhere in the Muslim world, the claim commonly made by Muslims that they have ipsissima verba of what Muhammad actually said, without any variant readings, rests upon an ignorance of the facts of history." (Anderson, Islam in the Modern World [Leicester: Apollos, 1990], p. 47; bold emphasis ours)
Islamicist Alfred Guillaume notes that:
"The truth is that the textual history of the Qur'an is very similar to that of the Bible. Both books have been preserved remarkably well. Each is, in its basic structure and content, a very fair record of what was originally there. But neither book has been preserved totally without error or textual defect. Both have suffered here and there from variant readings in the early codices known to us but neither has in any way been corrupted. Sincere Christians and Muslims will honestly acknowledge these facts."
"The only difference between the Qur'an and the Bible today is that the Christian Church in the interest of truth, carefully preserved the variant readings ... whereas the Muslims at the time of Uthman deemed it expedient to destroy as far as possible all the evidences of different readings of the Qur'an in the cause of standardizing one text for the whole of the Muslim world ... These facts must also always be considered against the background of further evidence from the Hadith that the Qur'an today is still not complete." (as quoted by Anderson, pp. 20-21; bold emphasis ours)
L. Bevan Jones sums it up:
"... while it may be true that no other work has remained for twelve centuries with so pure a text, it is probably equally true that no other has suffered so drastic a purging." (Jones, The People of the Mosque [London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1932], p. 62; bold emphasis ours)
One Muslim scholar, Ibn Khaldun affirms that the Quran had been corrupted due to mistakes made by scribes, whether intentional or not:
"Arabic writing at the beginning of Islam was, therefore, not of the best quality nor of the greatest accuracy and excellence. It was not (even) of medium quality, because the Arabs possessed the savage desert attitude and were not familiar with crafts. One may compare what happened to the orthography of the Qur'an on account of this situation. The men around Muhammad wrote the Qur'an in their own script which was not of a firmly established, good quality. MOST OF THE LETTERS WERE IN CONTRADICTION TO THE ORTHOGRAPHY REQUIRED BY PERSONS VERSED IN THE CRAFT OF WRITING ... Consequently, (the Qur'anic orthography of the men around Muhammad was followed and became established, and the scholars acquainted with it have called attention to passages where (this is noticeable).
No attention should be paid in this connection with those incompetent (scholars) that (the men around Muhammad) knew well the art of writing and that the alleged discrepancies between their writing and the principles of orthography are not discrepancies, as has been alleged, but have a reason. For instance, they explain the addition of the alif in la 'adhbahannahU 'I shall indeed slaughter him' as indication that the slaughtering did not take place ( lA 'adhbahannahU ). The addition of the ya in bi-ayydin 'with hands (power),' they explain as an indication that the divine power is perfect. There are similar things based on nothing but purely arbitrary assumptions. The only reason that caused them to (assume such things) is their belief that (their explanations) would free the men around Muhammad from the suspicion of deficiency, in the sense that they were not able to write well. They think that good writing is perfection. Thus, they do not admit the fact that the men around Muhammad were deficient in writing." (The Muqaddima, Ibn Khaldun, vol. 2, p. 382, as quoted in A Perfect Qur'an: found here; bold and capital emphasis ours)
The preceding citations clearly demonstrate that scholars are aware that the Quran contains hundreds, if not thousands, of variant readings. If Bravo naively assumes that the variant readings of the NT cast doubts on its reliability, then he must also conclude that the variant readings of the Quran proves that the Quran is unreliable.
To summarize, the Holy Bible is vastly superior to either the Quran or the other ancient books. This is because the Holy Bible has a larger number of manuscripts and better historical evidence supporting its reliability.
This ends Part 1. Continue with Part 2.
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