A. THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE CHRISTIAN BIBLE.
1. Principles Underlying the Integrity of the Bible.
Some years ago a young Muslim woman asked me, "Has the Bible ever been changed?" When I answered that it had not, she went on, "But does the Bible not teach that Jesus is the Son of God?" I replied that indeed it does, to which she responded, "Then it must have been changed".
In that conclusion we find the sole reason for the Muslim unwillingness to accept the integrity of the Bible. Because it contradicts the Qur'an by teaching consistently that Jesus is the Son of God and that he was crucified and rose from the dead on the third day, Muslims cannot approach it objectively and presuppose that it has been altered. "It must have been changed" is their assumption and, proceeding upon it, they seek evidences to justify their stand.
The Qur'an teaches that the Scriptures of the Jews and the Christians were intact and authentic at the time of Muhammad and there was no suggestion during his lifetime that these texts had been altered. It was only in the succeeding generation, when the Muslims ventured into neighbouring Christian lands, that they found that the Bible itself was the authority for Christian beliefs about Jesus and not that these beliefs had risen contrary to its teaching as Muhammad had supposed. There were only two possible responses to this discovery - they either had to accept that their prophet had erred or to work on the presupposition that the text itself had been changed and interpolated. Unfortunately they chose the latter course.
His way out of a hopeless position is to assert that one of the Books must have been corrupted and is, therefore, now untrustworthy. This, he argues, cannot be the Qur'an for it belongs (so he persuades himself) to an altogether superior category; therefore it must be the Bible; accordingly, he accuses the Christians with having corrupted it. (Bevan-Jones, Christianity Explained to Muslims, p. 15).
In the early days of my ministry among Muslims, when I first came across some of their publications challenging the integrity of the Bible, I was surprised to find that the evidences offered in these works were extremely weak and unconvincing and, on many occasions, irrelevant. I shall give some examples later in this chapter to show why I could draw only one possible conclusion - the Muslims do not believe the Bible has been changed because they have found adequate evidence to warrant such a belief, they believe it has been altered because they have to in order to maintain the conviction that the Qur'an is the Word of God. If the Bible is the unchanged Word of God, the Qur'an automatically falls to the ground because it contradicts it on its key issues.
Muslims thus base their attitudes on a presupposition and evidences are sought to justify it. Before a Muslim ever picks up a Bible he is led to believe it is no longer an authentic book. How many there are who, when they obtain a copy, do not read it to discover and understand its teaching but only to find fault. That their attitude is purely presumptuous can be seen from a study of the evidences themselves for, when these are honestly and objectively considered, the only conclusion that can be reached is that the Bible is a remarkably intact book and one of certain authenticity. We shall begin by considering some of the basic principles underlying its integrity and shall then press on to a brief study of the evidences that exist for its textual history in the oldest manuscripts available to us. We shall see just how strong the evidences are in favour of its authenticity.
One of the great themes of the New Testament is that the covenant recorded in its pages which came through the revelation of Jesus Christ was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, the Scripture of the Jewish peoples which was completed at least four centuries before Jesus was born. The teaching of the New Testament that Jesus is the Son of God, for example, is constantly justified by quotes from the Old Testament. In Psalm 2.7 God speaks of his coming anointed one and says, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee" and, in 2 Samuel 7.14, when telling David that this same anointed one would be one of his own offspring, God said "I will be his father and he shall be my son". Both these texts are quoted in Hebrews 1.5 to show that the coming of the Son of God as God's anointed ruler and deliverer among men was foretold in the earlier scriptures. There are numerous other examples in the New Testament but let these suffice to prove the point.
To this day the relevant texts remain in the Old Testament, the cherished Scripture of the Jews, a people who no more believe that God has a Son than the Muslims do. The doctrine of Jesus as the Son of God is as vehemently rejected by the Jews as it is by the Muslims, even more so by the Jews as they do not believe in Jesus at all, whereas the Muslims at least acknowledge that he was a true prophet. Yet the very texts foretelling the coming of God's Son into the world remain intact in the Jewish Scriptures. Could the Christians have written these prophecies into the Jewish Scriptures? Have the Jews expunged them to suit their purposes? Even if either group sought to do such things the circumstances would render the attempt impossible.
Furthermore the Old Testament has been in the hands of both the Jews and the Christians throughout the world ever since the time of Christ. A falsification of any portion of the text would only have been possible if the two groups had come together and mutually conspired to alter it. As their basic beliefs are so different the suggestion is hardly worthy of serious consideration.
The Old Testament, written originally in Hebrew (with a portion of Daniel in Aramaic), was translated into Greek about two hundred years before the time of Christ. The Septuagint (as this translation came to be known) was likewise widely disseminated. Its complete consistency with the Massoretic text of the Old Testament, right down to this day, testifies to the authenticity of the Old Testament centuries before the times of both Jesus and Muhammad. It is this same Old Testament that predicted the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in such fine detail (Isaiah 53, Psalms 22 and 69 in particular), as well as the fact that he would be the Son of God. In principle alone the suggestion that the Scripture of the Jews, the Old Testament, could ever have been corrupted cannot be sustained.
In the same way, as the Christian Church has, from early times, had its divisions, is it likely that its leaders ever came together to agree on a falsification of the New Testament text and, if so, for what purpose? Mediaeval Christian writers constantly levelled the practical impossibility of such falsifications against Muslim objectors. Peter of Poitiers was one such writer:
Ricoldo, a famous Christian author who defended the faith vigorously against the Muslim charges of his day, was another who used this same argument. He asked how the various Christian groupings of his day, such as the Roman Church, the Nestorians, the Byzantine Orthodox Church and others, could at any time in history have congregated together with the express purpose of manipulating the Scriptures to produce a new text acceptable to them all.
To this day the Muslims have never been able to bring forward any evidences to show at what point in history the alleged corruptions of the text of the Bible took place and by whom the changes were made. Peter the Venerable, another strong defender of the Bible against Muslim claims that it had been altered, took up the same theme.
No Muslim has ever been able to uncover factual evidences to show how the Bible came to be changed, precisely when these changes were made, exactly who made them, and what the changes were. Their attitude is occasioned purely by a necessary presupposition to maintain the validity of their own Scripture, the Qur'an. It is not the result of a scholarly assessment of the evidences. Let us press on to see what the evidences are for the actual text of the Bible as they exist today to see whether there is any support here for their charges against it.
2. The Earliest Surviving Manuscripts of the Scriptures.
We have already mentioned some of the authorities we have for the text of the Old Testament. The oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the whole book are the Massoretic texts dating back to the tenth century A. D., but the evidences for the authenticity of the text can be traced right back to pre-Christian times. The Dead Sea Scrolls, dating back to the first century before Christ, yielded two copies of the Book of Isaiah together with numerous other fragments of other Old Testament books. The Septuagint Greek translation, dating back to about two centuries before Christ, likewise proves the existence of the Old Testament in its original form at that time.
There are more than four thousand New Testament manuscripts, either of the whole book or of specific books in the New Testament or fragments thereof, dating no later than the fourth century A. D. Indeed we have three complete manuscripts of the whole Bible in Greek (namely the Septuagint of the Old Testament coupled with the original Greek texts of the New Testament) going back to some centuries before Islam. The Codex Alexandrinus is in the British Museum in London and dates from the fifth century after Christ - two centuries before the advent of Islam. The Codex Sinaiticus now also rests in the British Museum. This manuscript was purchased from Russia in 1933 for _100,000 and dates a hundred years before the first-mentioned codex. It was accordingly transcribed nearly three centuries before the rise of Islam. The third complete text is the Codex Vaticanus, now in the Vatican Library, which dates from the fourth century A. D. as well and was written at about the same time as the Codex Sinaiticus.
All three of the codices we have mentioned were written on vellum, a durable skin material, and there is no dispute among the experts as to their antiquity. In addition to the Septuagint we also possess other translations of the Bible, such as the Latin Vulgate, which were done long before the time of Muhammad. There are also numerous quotations from the Scriptures in the very earliest Christian writings, dating back as far as the second century A. D. All our modern translations are based on the oldest texts available and as these date from before the time of Islam, no one can honestly suggest that the Bible has been changed in the intervening centuries. The evidences thus show that the Bible as it now exists is precisely that which the Christians of early times had in their possession.
Are there any variations in the texts of the Old and New Testaments that have been preserved over so many centuries? There are, but they are so few and their influence so negligible on the text itself that the authenticity of the Bible as a whole cannot be seriously questioned. Most of these variations are only found in individual texts. There are only two passages comprising a number of verses about which there is any doubt regarding their authenticity. The last twelve verses of Mark's Gospel (Mark 16.9-20) appear in many of the old manuscripts but are absent from the very earliest manuscripts, while the story of the woman caught in adultery which appears in most manuscripts as John 8.1-11 is also absent from some of the earliest texts and appears in others either as an appendix to the Gospel or after Luke 21.38. Apart from these two passages, which make up not more than half-a-page of the Bible (the full length of which exceeds one thousand, two hundred and fifty pages), there is no other passage of the Old or New Testament Scriptures for which there is any textual evidence to suggest suspicion as to its authenticity.
Let us briefly consider the two passages we have mentioned to see whether their questioned authenticity affects the Bible as a whole. The passage at the end of Mark's Gospel records the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. Verses 9-11 record that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene which is confirmed in John 20.16. Verses 12-13 record an appearance to two of Jesus' disciples as they were walking into the country, a brief reference which is confirmed by a full narrative of the event in Luke 24.13-35. Verses 14-18 record Jesus' subsequent appearance to all his disciples (the sequence being confirmed in Luke 24.36-43 including the reproach they received from Jesus) and his commission to preach the Gospel to the whole creation, confirmed in Matthew 28.19 (including the command to baptise those who believed). The signs referred to in Mark 16.17-18 are all mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures, while the ascension mentioned in verse 19 is confirmed in Acts 1.9. Verse 20 concludes the passage by mentioning the fact that the disciples went out and preached everywhere while the Lord confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. This twofold ministry is expressly recorded in Acts 14.3 where we read that Paul and Barnabas remained at Iconium, "speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands".
There is nothing in Mark 16.9-20 that does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament, so there can be no suggestion here that any suspicion regarding the authenticity of this passage affects the New Testament as a whole.
There are solid evidences that the story of the woman caught in adultery belongs just where it is found in most of the early manuscripts, namely at the beginning of John 8. The narrative briefly records how the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. Charging that Moses had ordered such people to be stoned, they commanded Jesus to pass his own judgment on her. He replied:
They all went out, one by one, until Jesus was left alone with the woman. When she testified that no one had condemned her, Jesus said that he too would not condemn her, commanding her not to commit the same sin again. There are five compelling reasons to support the contention that this passage belongs at the beginning of John 8.
Firstly, the author shows throughout his Gospel that there is a sharp contrast between the limited effect of the ministry of Moses and the pre-eminent and greater glory of the ministry of Jesus. This story fits very neatly into this theme. The law of Moses could only convict the adulterous woman of sin, but Jesus convicted every single man in his presence of sin.
Secondly, when all the leaders of the Jews had gone out, Jesus said to the woman "Woman, where are they?" (John 8.10). This introduction of the vocative "woman" is found in this Gospel alone (cf. John 2.4, 4.21, 20.15). It was a mark of respect that it is found in this narrative argues strongly for its inclusion in the Gospel of John.
Thirdly, in this passage we find the Pharisees coming face-to-face with Jesus for the first time in this Gospel. The author slowly brings them into the narrative of his Gospel but at no time before John 8 are they found in the presence of Jesus. Nevertheless in the debate immediately following this passage they are suddenly found in open argument with him (John 8.13). Without this passage the careful development in the Gospel of John regarding the gradual clash between Jesus and these leaders loses its consistency.
Fourthly, the heated debate between Jesus and these leaders which follows throughout the chapter is obviously the consequence of the incident outlined in this passage. Throughout this Gospel the author records incidents in the life of Jesus which gave rise to discourses and debates with the Jews and this narrative and the subsequent debate clearly fit this pattern. Without this passage this trend is unjustifiably broken in the eighth chapter of the Gospel.
Fifthly, in the ensuing debate Jesus said to the Jews "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8.46). This statement would be rather isolated without the passage under review but it is obviously linked with his earlier statement "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a I stone at her". He had convicted them all of sin - which one of them could do the same to him?
There is, therefore, substantial evidence to show that John 8.1-11 is a genuine passage and that it almost certainly appeared in the original texts of John's Gospel at this very point. Thus there is no factual or textual evidence of any nature to show that the Bible as a whole has ever been changed. The only two brief passages about which there can be any dispute are remarkably consistent with the text of the book as a whole.
3. Variant Readings in the Early Manuscripts.
It is quite remarkable to find that in a book the length of the Bible, which consists of sixty-six separate works of great antiquity by a variety of authors, there are only a negligible number of variant readings. In most modern translations these are noted in footnotes and a brief perusal of the New Testament (where these variants generally occur) will soon reveal how few and far between they are, and will also show how authentic the text generally is.
Not only are these variant readings very few in number - only a handful, to be exact - but they do not affect the teaching of the New Testament as a whole. Invariably their contents are found repeated elsewhere in the New Testament text. For example Mark 15.28, a variant reading found only in a few ancient manuscripts, reads: "And the scripture was fulfilled which says 'He was reckoned with the transgressors "'. In Luke 22.37, however, a text found in all the ancient manuscripts of Luke's Gospel without variants of any kind, we read that Jesus said "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".
Another typical example is the variant reading found in the parable of the tenants of the vineyard in Matthew's Gospel where Jesus is recorded as saying:
This text appears likewise only in a few of the ancient manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel, yet it is also found in every manuscript of Luke's Gospel as Luke 20.18. In the same way the woe pronounced on the Pharisees for devouring widows' houses found as variant in Matthew 23.14 appears in every ancient manuscript of Mark's Gospel as Mark 12.40. The mention of a guard who pierced Jesus' side with a spear so that water and blood came out, found as a variant in Matthew 27.49, appears without any variants in John 19.34. There is, even in the other variants, not a single detail which conflicts with the teaching of the New Testament as a whole.
There are as in almost all books copied by hand a very few variant readings. These variations of text are entirely questions of detail, not of essential substance, as competent scholars bear witness. (Harris, How to Lead Moslems to Christ, p. 21)
The one verse we should perhaps consider in closing is 1 John 5.7 which reads in the King James Version, an English translation of the seventeenth century: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one". This text is not even mentioned as a possible variant in more recent translations as it does not appear in any of the early Greek manuscripts and first made its appearance in the Latin Vulgate translation some centuries after 1 John was written. It is probable that it was a marginal gloss of a scribe who noted a comparison between the three witnesses of heaven and the three on earth, the spirit, the water and the blood, mentioned in the next verse (1 John 5.8). This text has been pounced on by Muslim writers who claim that it is the only reference, or at least the most obvious reference, to the Trinity in the New Testament.
It is argued that by deleting 1 John 5.7 from modern translations the doctrine of the Trinity has been summarily expunged from the New Testament. This is a typical example of the tendency of Muslim writers to make mountains out of molehills in their endeavours to discredit the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity has been formulated from the teaching of the New Testament as a whole and was defined before 1 John 5.7 ever appeared in the Vulgate. That verse is a reflection of a teaching already derived from the rest of the New Testament as a whole, it is not the basis for the doctrine.
There are specific references to the Triune God in Matthew 28.19 (where we read of "the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", the singular implying a clear unity of essence and nature), Ephesians 2.18 (where it is said that we have access to the Father through the Son in the Spirit) and 2 Corinthians 13.14 (which speaks of the grace of the Son, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Spirit in one breath), to name but a few examples.
The textual evidences testify to the authenticity of the Christian Bible. The book has over one thousand, two hundred pages, yet the only passages and variant readings found in it, when put together, hardly fill a page! No one can honestly question the integrity of the Bible on the grounds of the manuscript records which have been preserved through many centuries without alteration or corruption.
4. The Muslim Failure to Rise to the Challenge.
When I first read Muslim publications against the Bible, as I have pointed out, I very soon realised that their authors were trying to prove a hypothesis and that their approach to the subject was purely subjective. Working from the presupposition that the Bible must have been changed, they sought evidences to justify their presumptions. As we have seen, the textual records preserved to us in the most ancient manuscripts do not even begin to provide them with the kind of evidences they require. To prove that the Bible has been changed they will have to produce proof that wholesale corruptions of the text took place, for the Christian character of the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments pervades every page of the text. The foundation of all New Testament teaching is the fact that Jesus Christ is "our Lord and Saviour", the Son of God who became our Redeemer by being crucified for our sins and rising from the dead on the third day. The Muslims have not even begun to tackle this issue, and it will only be through the presentation of substantial proofs that the whole Bible has been changed that their case will stand. Reliance on a negligible number of variant readings which in no way affect the teaching of the whole cannot suffice to prove the point.
The Muslim dilemma is aggravated further by the teaching of the Qur'an about the previous Scriptures. As we shall see it confirms that those Scriptures which were in the possession of the Jews and Christians at the time of Muhammad were the unchanged Word of God, but it speaks of the Jewish Scriptures purely as at-Tawroat, "the Law", which was but one single book revealed to Moses. In the same way it regards the whole Christian Scripture as al-Injil, "the Gospel", which was also a book given to Jesus. It appears that Muhammad was considerably ignorant of the character of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures (the Old and New Testaments respectively) and believed that his concept of revelation applied to them as well.
Just as al-Qur'an, "the Recitation", was being revealed to him, so he presumed that the previous scriptures had been revealed to the former prophets in the same way. The Qur'an says to Muhammad, Nazzala alaykal-kitaaba bil-haqq . . . we anzalat-Tawraata wal-Injiil - "(He) sent down to you the Scripture in truth . . . and (He) sent down the Torah and the Gospel" (Surah 3.3). He thus presumed that the form of the previous scriptures was the same as that of the Qur'an- in each case a book "sent down" to the relevant prophet.
Elsewhere the Qur'an says "We sent down the Torah" (Surah 5.47) and, going on to speak of Jesus, it says "We sent him the Gospel" (Surah 5.49). According to the Qur'an the former Scriptures were books sent down to Moses and Jesus. Now any Muslim reading the Bible for the first time will not fail to notice immediately that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures do not take this form at all but, in both cases, the Scripture takes the form of a series of books written by a variety of authors as their own works. The concept of inspiration in both the Old and New Testaments is the same - "All scripture is inspired by God" (2 Timothy 3.16), and "no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1.21) - but it is vastly different to the Qur'anic concept which sees the revelation of scripture as coming purely from God alone to his prophets and imposes this concept on the former revelations.
Here there is a real problem for the Muslims. What they really have to do is to prove that the Old and New Testament Scriptures have replaced the original Tawraat and Injil of which the Qur'an speaks. The problem is that there is not a shred of evidence to prove such a hypothesis. Not only do no such "Torah" and "Gospel" exist in any form whatsoever (that is, whole books revealed to Moses and Jesus through the medium of the angel Gabriel, Jibril), but there is no record in history to support the contention that such books ever existed. Can we seriously consider the testimony of one man, Muhammad, against the total silence of history?
The problem is compounded by the fact that the Qur'an plainly states that the Tawraat and Injil were those very scriptures in the hands of the Jews and Christians at the time of Muhammad as we shall see shortly, whereas the only scriptures ever known to these two faiths are the books of the Old and New Testaments respectively. Muslims claim that God has preserved the Qur'an without so much as a change to a letter or dot - how then could that same God have failed to preserve so much as a record in history that his former revelations ever existed, let alone preserve the actual books themselves?
How do the Muslim circumvent these problems which they cannot solve? The general practice is to avoid them, to ignore the key issues completely, and rely on irrelevancies instead. They start with the presumption that the Qur'an has been completely unchanged and therefore, if they can find so much as one or two variant readings or uncertain passages in the Bible, even though these may not fill a page, they persuade themselves that they have adequate proof that the Bible has been changed. The irony of all this is that the Qur'an itself has likewise suffered from variant readings - far more in fact than the Bible has - and I have given substantial evidence of this in the companion volume to this book (Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, pp. 176-199). Why then are these variants not found in the Qur'an text today? The answer is that the Caliph Uthman, to eliminate them, ordered all other copies of the Qur'an in existence at his time, even those of the most prominent qurra (readers) and companions of Muhammad, to be burnt and at the same time he standardised the text compiled by Zaid-ibn-Thabit in his own possession as the official text. The only difference between the texts of the Bible and the Qur'an as they exist today is not that one is free from variant readings and the other not, it is that those readings once found in the Qur'an were suppressed in the interests of standardising one harmonious text while those found in the Bible were preserved in the interests of maintaining the whole record.
As Jimmy Swaggart, a leading American Christian evangelist, said in a recent debate with Ahmed Deedat on the integrity of the Bible, the only people who have ever burnt the Bible were its sworn enemies. The companions of Muhammad who were best-read in the Qur'an, such as Abdullah-ibn-Mas'ud and Ubayy-ibn-Ka'b, must have recoiled at the command to burn the cherished texts of the Qur'an in their possession, especially when the command came from a fellow-companion far- less instructed in the text than themselves.
The shortage of space here prevents us from refuting all the charges brought against the Bible in various Muslim publications, not on the grounds of its textual evidences but of its teachings, but in the next section I will mention a few to show how equally unconvincing they are. I have never yet heard an argument from a Muslim against the Bible to which no satisfactory answer can be given. For the present, however, a mere handful of examples will have to suffice.
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