B. TYPICAL MUSLIM OBJECTIONS TO THE SCRIPTURES.
1. Apparent Contradictions in Biblical Numerics.
Very few Muslim critics of the Bible fail to mention a few cases in the Old Testament where there are numerical discrepancies in the narratives of events recorded in different books. For example 2 Kings 24.8 states that Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, whereas 2 Chronicles 36.9 says that he was only eight years old when he became king of Judah. In the same way 2 Kings 8.26 says that Ahaziah was twenty-two years old and 2 Chronicles 22.2 that he was forty-two years old when he began to reign. Again 2 Samuel 10.18 says that David slew seven hundred charioteers among the Syrians whereas 1 Chronicles 19.18 says that the number was seven thousand. Then we find further that 1 Kings 4.26 says that Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses while 2 Chronicles 9.25 says he only had four thousand. One Muslim writer says of this last example:
Such publications as the one quoted level charges that the Bible is thus full of contradictions which must be the mistakes of the authors of the relevant books, and accordingly conclude that it cannot be the Word of God. There is no reason to suppose that the differences we have mentioned were caused by anything other than copyist errors. It is probable that ancient scribes, and not the original authors of the books, made copyist errors when transcribing the relevant texts. It required little more than the erroneous rendering of a single letter to cause the apparent contradiction in each case and the error - only obvious because the number wrongly transcribed in one book appears in sharp contrast with the one correctly transcribed in the other - is of such a minor nature that it has no effect on the teaching of the Bible as a whole. There is a big difference between a copyist error and a deliberate interpolation intended to corrupt the text or a contradiction caused by the author's own mistakes.
It is said that people in glass houses should not throw stones. Here, as in so many similar cases, the Muslims are arguing against themselves for their objections can be turned with equal force against the Qur'an. We read in one verse that the time period of the great Day of God to come will be "a thousand years of your reckoning" (Surah 32.5) whereas in another place it says it will be fifty thousand years (Surah 70.4). Deedat speaks of "a staggering discrepancy (sic) of 36000" in the case of Solomon's stalls - what then can one make here of an equally obvious discrepancy of 49000 years in the Qur'an? In the original Arabic Surah 32.5 speaks of alfa sanatin ("a thousand years") whereas Surah 70.4 speaks of khamsiina alfa sanatin ("fifty thousand years"). In the Biblical quotes referred to it is invariably only a letter that differs in the variant numbers, yet here it is a whole word, khamsun, that distinguishes the two time periods. Muslim writers have advanced a host of different arguments to resolve the apparent contradiction.
After his recent debate with Jimmy Swaggart on the Bible in which the Christian evangelist raised these two Qur'anic texts and the contradiction between them, Ahmed Deedat edited Swaggart's comments by inserting his own explanation in the video-tape of the debate, saying that the Qur'an was using "allegorical, cosmic, divine language". This appears to be a somewhat flowery way of circumventing an obvious textual contradiction, especially as the Qur'an itself states that it is not speaking in allegorical, cosmic terms at all but rather of a thousand years "of your reckoning", and there is no way that we, in our earthly assessment of the time-periods we are bound by, can make one thousand years and fifty thousand years become one and the same thing. The proposed solutions to the problem put forward by the Muslims should be weighed against this comment by a Muslim critic on a selection of supposed contradictions in the Bible including some of the numerical differences in the texts we have already quoted:
Yet, when it comes to similar contradictions in the Qur'an, Muslim writers immediately resort to this very same defence, claiming that the verses have "mystical significances". Yusuf Ali, commenting on Surah 32.5, speaks of "the immense mystery of Time . . . Our Day may be a thousand or fifty thousand years, and our years in proportion" (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an, p. 1093), while Deedat, as we have seen, speaks likewise of "cosmic" language.
We do not deny that a reasonable explanation can be given of the apparent contradiction in the Qur'an, nor do we suggest that Christians should quote such passages in a tit-for-tat response to Muslim objections. Rather they should be mentioned solely to check Muslim criticisms by showing that they cannot validly be made against the Bible without equally validly coming back on the Qur'an as well, and that just as Muslim authors have endeavoured to produce plausible explanations of such contradictions (another appears in Surah 50.38 which says God created the heavens, the earth, and all that is between them in six days, whereas Surah 41.9-12 says that the earth was made in two days, the heavens in two days, and the earth's sustenance between them in four days, a total of eight days), so it is just as easy for Christians to supply adequate explanations of such contradictions in the Bible,
2. The Authorship of Matthew's Gospel.
During a recent discussion in a Muslim home, in which the conversation was constantly directed by the Muslims present towards the integrity of the Bible, one of them suddenly said to me, "What about Matthew 9.9?" As I considered the text, I wondered just how he proposed to use it in evidence against the Bible. It reads simply:
After reading it out the Muslim enquired, "Who wrote this Gospel?", to which I replied that the early Christian records testify unanimously to the authorship of the Apostle Matthew. "That is not possible", he said, "how can he speak of himself in the third person?" This argument appears in various Muslim publications written to undermine the authenticity of the Bible, for example:
Another Muslim writer uses much the same argument, seeking solely by the description of the Apostle Matthew in the third person to discredit the whole of the Gospel bearing his name. He says:
It is arguments like these that persuade me that the Muslim rejection of the Bible comes not from a scholarly analysis of its contents but from prejudices for which they will seek any kind of support. The argument here is really threadbare and flimsy. I replied to the Muslim who raised this issue, "Who is the author of the Qur'an?" He promptly answered "Allah". I then responded, "How is it then that Allah likewise constantly refers to himself in the third person in the Qur'an, as in the following verse: Huwallaahullathii la ilaha illahuwa - 'He is Allah, there is no god except Him' (Surah 59.22)?" The verse begins and ends with a pronoun in the third person singular.
Deedat comments in his booklet that the use of the third person in words like "he" and "him" in Matthew 9.9 and John 19.35 respectively proves that these Gospels could not have been written by the Apostles Matthew and John. If the same logic and reasoning is applied to the Qur'an, surely the use of the very same pronouns "he" and "him" for Allah in Surah 59.22 would be similar proof that he was not the author of the book? There is quite simply no difference between these two uses of the third person singular in the Bible and the Qur'an.
When Muslims have to resort to arguments like these to create a case against the integrity of the Bible one can see that, firstly, they are hard-pressed to find real evidences against it and, secondly, that their arguments arise from a desire to prove a hypothesis and a presupposition and not from an objective study of the teaching and contents of the book or its textual history.
Deedat goes on to query the authorship of Matthew's Gospel on other grounds and quotes the introduction to the J. B. Phillips translation of this Gospel which reads:
Deedat's response to this quotation is quite simply: "In other words, St. Matthew did not write the Gospel bearing his name" (p. 26). One only needs to give thoughtful consideration to the following facts.
Firstly, early Christian tradition unanimously ascribed this Gospel to Matthew. The subjective beliefs of some "modern scholars" cannot seriously be weighed against the objective testimony of those who lived at the time when this Gospel was first copied and distributed. In any event we question very seriously the charge that almost all scholars reject the authorship of Matthew for this Gospel. It is only a particular school of scholars which does this - those who do not believe in the story of creation, who write off the story of Noah and the flood as a myth, and who scoff at the idea that Jonah ever spent three days in the stomach of a fish. On the contrary those scholars who accept that these stories are historically true practically without exception also accept that Matthew was the author of this Gospel.
Secondly, Phillips says that the author can still conveniently be called Matthew purely because there is no reasonable alternative to his authorship, nor has the history of the early Church ever suggested another author.
Thirdly, it appears to us that the mysterious "Q" is only mysterious because it is the figment of the imagination of modern "scholars". It is not a mystery - it is a myth. There is no evidence of an historical nature whatsoever that such a collection of oral traditions ever existed.
Muslim objections to the authorship of Matthew's Gospel are typical of the kind of arguments that appear regularly in their publications against the Bible - they are shallow, often based on pure guesswork and speculation, can be applied with equal force to the Qur'an, and can be refuted by Christians with considerable ease.
3. Playing on Words in English Translations.
On page 14 of his booklet Is the Bible God's Word? Ahmed Deedat claims that there are some fifty thousand errors in the Bible (that would be more than forty on each and every page!) and, saying that he "does not have the time and space" to go into these "tens of thousands" of defects, he quotes just four examples to prove the point. It is to be presumed that anyone who has such a wealth of errors at his disposal, fifty thousand no less, would, when choosing just a few, pick some of the best examples. Let us consider just the first two he proposes.
He begins with Isaiah 7.14 which, in the King James Version, a seventeenth-century English translation, states that a virgin will conceive and bear a son, whereas the Revised Standard Version states that it would be a young woman. Now the original Hebrew word in every text of Isaiah that survives in its original language is almah, a word commonly meaning "a young woman" but which is correctly interpreted, in the light of the sign of which the text speaks, to be a virgin in the King James Version and other similar translations. There is therefore no question whatsoever of a change in the Bible at this point. Any so-called "changes" in the Bible text must surely be proved to exist in the manuscripts of the texts available to us in the original languages in which they were written. Because Muslim writers cannot find such changes they play on words instead, seeking to make some capital out of interpretations of the original words in English translations.
We find exactly the same thing with the second "error" he sets forth, claiming that John 3.16 has been changed because the King James Version says that God gave "his only begotten Son" whereas the Revised Standard Version simply says "his only Son". The omission of the word "begotten" in the later translation leads this Muslim critic to say:
The writer endeavours to cover up the weakness of his case by using brash language and an air of super-confidence to make his point. Once again it is purely a matter of interpretation. In every single manuscript of John's Gospel in the original Greek the word used is monogenae, meaning "the one" (mono) "coming from" (genae) the Father. It would be quite correct to translate this word as "only", "only begotten" or "unique". Where, then, is the "change" in the Bible? Where is the "fraud"?
If these are the two foremost errors out of a supposed stock of no less than fifty thousand, well, we do not think any Christian should fear losing any sleep over the rest! Deedat's arguments are quite irrelevant. We need evidences that the original texts have been changed but, because he cannot find such evidences, he tries to make something of what are otherwise perfectly fair differences in interpretation, such as one can find in all Muslim translations of the Qur'an as well.
Arguments such as these can only lead to the conclusion that such Muslims who seek to discredit the Bible do so solely to further their own prejudices, especially when they have to resort to such feeble "proofs" to make their points.
4. The Genealogy of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
Another favourite object of criticism in Muslim writings is the genealogy of Jesus Christ as it is found in Matthew 1.2-16 and Luke 3.23-38. From Abraham to David there is no division between the two but, whereas Matthew then traces the genealogy of Jesus through David's son Solomon, Luke takes it through his son Nathan. From here on the two genealogies are totally different. This leads Muslim writers to conclude without further reflection that there is a contradiction between the two records.
To begin with it goes without saying that every man has two genealogies, one through his father and one through his mother. The one obvious thing that appears from an analysis of the two respective genealogies is that both are traced back to one common source, David, and from there consistently to Abraham. Surely no one can deny the possibility that Joseph, the legal guardian of Jesus and his putative father, was descended from David through Solomon while Mary, his mother, was descended from David through Nathan.
Matthew makes it plain that he is recording the genealogy of Joseph (Matthew 1.16) and throughout the narratives relating the appearances of the Angel Gabriel and the birth of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel we find Joseph taking the part of the central character. In Luke's Gospel, however, the narratives of the same events set forth Mary as the primary figure and Luke himself states specifically, at the beginning of his genealogy, that Jesus was the son, "as was supposed", of Joseph (Luke 3.23).
Here, in this one word "supposed", lies the key to the genealogy of Jesus in Luke's Gospel. Throughout the list of ancestors he names we find no mention of a woman. Although he concentrates on Mary's role in the birth of Jesus, when he comes to her genealogy he does not describe Jesus as the son of Mary but as the supposed son of Joseph, meaning that, for the sake of sustaining a masculine genealogy, Joseph was being named in her place. Luke has very carefully included the word "supposed" in his genealogy so that there could be no confusion about it and so that his readers would know that it was not the actual genealogy of Joseph that was being recorded. This very simple explanation does away immediately with alleged contradictions or problems. It only requires a measure of objective sincerity to get the point.
Even though the true facts have been explained for centuries, men blinded by prejudice continue to make this puerile charge for contradiction against the writers Matthew and Luke. (Finley, Face the Facts, p. 102).
In the introduction to this book I have suggested that Muslim objections to the Bible and Christian doctrines should never be seen purely as points that have to be refuted but rather as opportunities for witness. In the Muslim objections to the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel we have a golden opportunity to transform our answers into an avenue for effective witness. Deedat states that in the genealogy we find a number of "adulterers and offsprings of incest" and he concludes that Jesus therefore has an "ignoble ancestry" (Is the Bible God's Word?, p. 52).
Four women are named in the genealogy of Jesus in this Gospel. They are Tamar, who committed incest with Judah; Rahab, who was a prostitute and a Gentile; Ruth, who was also a Gentile; and Bathsheba, who was an adulteress. Very significantly Matthew has named the four women in the ancestry of Jesus who had moral or ethnic defects. He has obviously done so deliberately and clearly did not think he was dishonouring Jesus by naming such women. If there was any stigma attached to such an ancestry he would surely have named some of the more holy women he was descended from, like Sarah and Rebecca. Why did he specifically name the very four women who disturbed the "purity" of his ancestry? Matthew very quickly gives us his own answer. When the angel came to Joseph he said of the child to be born:
It was precisely for such people as Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba that Jesus came into the world. He came to save such people from their sins and to make his salvation available to all men, both Jew and Gentile alike. "I came not to call the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9.13), Jesus said, showing that he had come for the very purpose of redeeming people from their sins and moral defects.
Here we can see how effectively a Christian can turn a Muslim objection into an opportunity for witness. An argument against the Bible can become a medium for a testimony to God's saving grace in his Son Jesus Christ. Christians will at times become exasperated with weak and irrelevant arguments against the Scriptures but they must never lose hope that truth and reason will prevail. By patiently refuting such arguments and by seeking to use them as avenues for positive witness, Christians can give profitable effect to such times of discussion with Muslims.
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