Al-Tabari’s Notes on the Veracity of the Bible

Sam Shamoun

Muhammad ibn Jarir ibn Yazid ibn Kathir, Abu Ja`far al-Tabari (d. 310) is esteemed as one of the greatest Muslim exegetes and historians of all times. His commentary on the Quran is still considered one of the premiere reference works for any Muslim scholar/student seeking to properly understand the correct meaning and interpretation of the Quran.

In this article we will be posting some of his comments on specific Quranic verses which deal with the veracity of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures to see whether the author(s) and/or compiler(s) of the Quran believed that the holy Scriptures in the hands of the Jews and Christians were the uncorrupt revelations given by God.

The following citations were translated directly from the Arabic version of al-Tabari’s Quranic commentary by our dear Christian brother and convert Mutee’a Al-Fadi (*). All bold, capital and underline emphasis ours.

Q. 2:113

… Ibn Abbas said: when Christians from Najran came to meet with the messenger of Allah (saw), they were met by Rabbinic Jews, and both sides argued with each other before the messenger of Allah. Then, one of the Jewish men (Rafia bin Horimylah) said to the Christians: you have nothing to stand on; then he denied Isa (Jesus) son of Mary as a prophet and the Injil. Then another man from the Christians of Najran said to the Jews; you have nothing to stand on; and he too denied Musa (Moses) as a prophet and the Torah. That’s when Allah revealed this verse.

… Al-Rabia said: This verse refers to the people of the book at the time of Muhammad. In interpreting this verse, he said: Allah revealed this to the Muslim believers to let them know that both Christians and Jews ignored the commandments of Allah in their books which clearly testify to the authenticity of these books, that they were revealed by Allah. The Injil, which the Christians believe in its authenticity, testifies to the truth which was revealed in the Torah regarding Moses’ prophethood, and Allah’s commandments to the Children of Israel. And the Torah, which the Jews believe in its authenticity, testifies to the truth which was revealed in the Injil of Jesus’ prophethood, and Allah’s commandments… yet both sides told each other that each one of them has nothing to stand on despite the testimony of their books. So the most high (Allah) revealed this verse because what they claimed against each is not true.

… their denial of each other is a denial of the prophethood of the messenger (saw).

… Qatadah said: this verse means that early Christians were correct, then they invented new things and went astray, same was true for the Jews.

{yet they study the book}

Means the books of Allah, the Torah and the Injil, which testify against the denial of the Jews and the Christians.

… Ibn Abbas said: they both read in their own book the truth which testify against both of their claims; meaning the Jews denying Jesus even though THEY HAVE THE TORAH, in which Allah took an oath from them through Moses to believe in Jesus. And in the Injil Jesus testified about Moses and what was revealed to him in the Torah as being from Allah.

{Like unto their word is what those say who know not}

The commentators differed in their opinion of this verse. Some said it is about the Christians saying the similar things to what the Jews before them had claimed… others said, it is a reference to other nations before the Christians and the Jews… yet others said it is a reference to the pagan Arabs… (Source)


The foregoing statements assume, in fact take for granted, that the scriptures which the Jews and Christians possessed during Muhammad’s lifetime were the very uncorrupted revelations given through Moses and Jesus. We know historically that the Jews and Christians of that time possessed the very same scriptures that are currently contained within both the Old and New Testaments, indicating that these are those books which the Quran confirms to be the very inspired revelations from God.

Q. 5:46

…We sent Jesus at the footsteps of those prophets before you Muhammad. We sent him (Jesus) as a prophet testifying to the truth which was revealed to Moses before him, and to obey those commandments in the Torah which have not been abrogated by the Injil.

… Allah revealed his book to Jesus which is called the Injil as guidance and light to those who were blinded by ignorance, and testifying to the truth of the books which were revealed by Allah before Jesus, and confirming the laws which were revealed to the previous prophets of each nation. These laws were sent by Allah in order for their people to obey them.

… A guidance to his (Jesus) people who fear Allah. Those who followed Allah’s commandments, and avoided what Allah warned them of. (Source)

Q. 5:47

… A command from Allah to the people of the Injil to judge among themselves by what was revealed in the Injil of Allah’s commandments… Allah revealed books to each prophet in order for their people to obey the commandments of Allah revealed in their book.

…those who change Allah’s commandments are those who are lost, because they deviated away from Allah’s guidance. They are the liars (al fasiqoon). (Source)


The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 provides us with the archaeological basis to know what the prophetic scriptures that Jesus had access to looked like; they are none other than that which is found in our modern Hebrew Bibles, the very OT books which are still available to us today. In other words, the Old Testament books that we now possess are the same books which the Quran claims Jesus confirmed as the very words of God!

By the same token, seeing that we have manuscripts of the New Testament, specifically of the four Gospels, which were written at different times and places, many of which even predate Islam, we definitely know what Gospel the Christians at Muhammad’s time had access to; it is none other than the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This shows that the Quran is essentially confirming that these are the Gospels which contain the very inspired words that God gave to Jesus to pass on to his followers.

Q. 5:66

… If the people of the book would apply what was revealed in the Torah and Injil, and what was revealed to them from their God in the criterion that came down to Muhammad. And if someone asks: how can they apply what is in the Torah. the Injil, and what was revealed to them by Muhammad, since all of these books are different and some of them abrogated the other ones, then the reply would be: even though they are different in some of their commandments, they all still agree with each other as they command faith in Allah’s messengers, and the belief in what was revealed to these messengers as being from Allah.

… if they would have done so, then Allah would have blessed them with rain from above, and growth of crops on the ground.

{Some of them are a just nation}

Some of the people of the book are believers. They say Jesus is a messenger of Allah and his Word.

{but many of them -- evil are the things they do}

… Mujahid said: The Children of Israel split into sects, some of them said: Jesus is the Son of Allah, some said he is Allah, and another said he is the servant of Allah and his Spirit. The latter one is the just nation.

Many of the people of the book have rejected Allah. The Christians have denied Muhammad and claimed that the Messiah is the Son of Allah, and the Jews denied Jesus and Muhammad. (Source)

Q. 5:68

{Say: 'People of the Book, you do not stand on anything, until you perform the Torah and the Gospel, and what was sent down to you from your Lord.' And what has been sent down to thee from thy Lord will surely increase many of them in insolence and unbelief; so grieve not for the people of the unbelievers.}

This is the command from Allah through his prophet to Jews and Christians. Allah said: O Muhammad tell these Jews and Christians you do not stand on any thing of what you claim that was revealed to you by Moses or Jesus, until you perform the Torah and the Injil and what was revealed in these books from Allah, and what was revealed to you by Muhammad, and believe in what was revealed in them, including believing in Muhammad, and admit that all of these revelations are from Allah. And you do not deny any part of them and do not separate between Allah’s messengers; so that you believe in some and reject some, as the rejection of one of these books equals to rejection of all of them. Since all of Allah’s books testify to the truth of each other, if one rejects some of these books he has then rejected all of them.

…Ibn Abbas narrated: Rafia bin Harithah, Salam bin Mishkam, Malik bin Al-Sayf, and Rafia bin Horimylah came to the messenger of Allah and said to him: O Muhammad, do you not claim that you are a follower of Abraham and his religion, and you believe in our Torah, and you testify that it is the truth from Allah? The messenger of Allah said: YES. But you denied what is in it and went astray, and you hid the commandments that you were supposed to reveal to your people, and for that I am innocent of what you have done! They said: We follow what we have between our hands, we follow the truth and the guidance, and we do not believe in you and will not follow you. That’s why Allah revealed this verse.

And Allah revealed that many of them will reject what was revealed to Muhammad: "… so do not grieve over them, O Muhammad." (Source)


The first point that the reader should notice is how Muhammad claimed that he believed in the very Torah which the Jews in his day possessed! Interestingly, he says nothing about the text of the Torah being corrupted even though he rebuked the Jews for some of the sins and evils they committed against their scriptures. This would have been the perfect time to mention the textual corruption of the Torah if in fact Muhammad had really believed that the previous scriptures had been tampered with.

In fact, the only way the Jews and Christians of Muhammad’s time would be able to follow the revelations found in the Torah and the Injil is if these books were still extant and available to them. It would make little sense for them to be told to believe in corrupted books which no longer accurately reflected what the original prophetic scriptures taught.

Moreover, al-Tabari sees the dilemma in carrying out these specific Quranic injunctions since it is not possible to believe in the Torah, the Injil, and the Quran when the latter clearly contradicts the fundamental doctrines of the former books, i.e. the nature of God, the person and work of Christ, the manner of salvation etc. Yet he doesn’t opt for the common Muslim tactic of claiming that the previous books have been corrupted in order to explain away the discrepancies, as convenient as it maybe, since he is aware that the Quran presupposes their veracity and inspiration.

Finally, since the true Gospel that the Quran confirms expressly testifies that Jesus is indeed the unique, Divine of Son of God this means that the two groups which believed that Christ is God and the Son of God were in fact the true believers; those that denied these truths were actually the unbelievers!

Q. 10:37

This verse is stating that this Quran is revealed from Allah to his servant Muhammad, to expose the lies of the idolaters who said: it is nothing but a mere poem and magic. They claim that Muhammad is learning this Quran from Yaish the Roman. Allah is telling them (the idolaters) in this verse: No one can invent this Quran other than Allah, as no one of his creations can do so.

Allah said: this Quran is revealed from him to Muhammad attesting to the truth of WHAT IS BETWEEN HIS (Muhammad’s) HANDS of the previous books, which were revealed by Allah to his prophets before Muhammad, SUCH AS THE TORAH AND THE INJIL and the other books which were sent down by Allah to his prophets.

The Quran is the guidance to Muhammad’s followers, in it are Allah’s commandments, which were ordained for them according to Allah’s foreknowledge.

There is no doubt that this Quran is testifying to the truth of WHAT IS BETWEEN MUHAMMAD’S HANDS of the previous books without any fabrication. (Source)


This, again, takes for granted that Muhammad had access to the original, uncorrupted revelations of the prophets, which once more shows that the Quran is essentially testifying that the books of the Holy Bible are God’s inspired words since these were the scriptures available at that time.

Q. 6:115

The word of God meant in this verse is the Quran. This word is complete in truth and justice. Nothing can change Allah’s word which he revealed in his BOOKS. The liars cannot add or delete from Allah’s BOOKS. This is referring without a doubt to the Jews and Christians because they are the people of the books which were revealed to their prophets. Allah is revealing that the words they (the people of the book) are corrupting were not revealed by Allah, but Allah’s word cannot be changed or substituted. (Source)


It is rather obvious from al-Tabari’s comments that the original Torah and Injil could not be corrupted seeing that they are the words of Allah. This, therefore, further presupposes that these books were extant in an uncorrupt form during Muhammad’s time. The only Torah and Injil that have ever existed in the hands of both the Jews and Christians before, during and after Muhammad’s time are those books that are contained within the Holy Bible, which therefore proves that these are the very scriptures which the Quran testifies to be the uncorrupted words of Allah. This, perhaps, explains al-Tabari’s statement that the Jews and Christians weren’t corrupting Allah’s word, i.e. the books of the prophets such as the Torah and Injil found in the Holy Bible, but some other documents, perhaps writings such as the Talmud and/or the Apocrypha.

Further Reading

The Qur'an About the Bible
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page