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Outline:

  1. A Historical Overview of Views of the Old and New Testament by Muslim Apologists
  2. The Qur’an’s statements about the Old and new Testament
  3. The Reliability of the Qur’an

 

  1. A Historical Overview of Views of the Old and New Testament by Muslim Apologists

Before examining the Qur’an’s understanding of the previous revelation in the Old and New Testament a brief overview of the views of contemporary Muslim apologists will be given.  These statements are frequently stated or paraphrased when talking to Muslims about their worldview.  The best summary of the contemporary Muslim view of the Old and New Testament (that they are corrupted) is presented in the famous Muslim apologetic reference written as a refutation to Christian missionaries in India, Izhar Ul-Haq (Truth Revealed),

“From all that has preceded it is quite clear that we can claim without the fear of being wrong that the original Pentateuch [books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy] and the original Evangel [Gospel] have disappeared and become extinct from the world.  The books we have today which go by these names are no more than historical accounts containing both true and false accounts of past ages.  We strictly deny that the original Torah (Pentateuch) and the original Evangel existed at the time of the prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and that they were not changed until later.  As far as the Epistles of Paul are concerned, even if we grant that they were really written by him, they are still not acceptable to us because it is well-founded opinion that Paul was a traitor and a liar who introduced a completely new concept of Christianity, absolutely different from what Jesus himself preached” [1].

This viewpoint is reiterated by all contemporary Muslim apologetic references in response to Christianity.

“It is an extreme position, held only by some Christian groups that the Bible – in its entirety – cover to cover, is the revealed word of God in every word.  But they do a clever thing when they mention this, or make this claim.  They will say that the Bible, in its entirety, is the word of God; inerrant (no mistakes) in the original writings.  So, if you go to the Bible and point out some mistakes that are in it, you are going to be told:  Those mistakes were not there in the original manuscript, they have crept in, so that we see them today.  They are running into problems by taking that position.  There is a verse in the Bible, Isaiah 40:8 which, in fact, is so well known that some Bibles printed it on the inside front cover as an introduction, and it says, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God endures for evermore.”  Here is a claim, in the Bible, that the word of God will stand forever, it will not be corrupted, and it will not be lost.  So, if today you find a mistake in the Bible, you have two choices.  Either that promise was false; that when God said my word won’t fade away, he was mistaken; or that the portion which has the mistake in it, was not part of the word of God in the first place.  For the promise was that it would be safeguarded, it would not be corrupted” [2].

“The “gospel” is a frequently-used word, but what Gospel did Jesus preach? Of the 27 books of the New Testament, only a small fraction can be accepted as the words of Jesus.  The Christians boast about the Gospels according to St. Matthew, according to St. Mark, according to St. Luke and according to St. John, but there is not a single Gospel “according” to (St.) Jesus himself!  We sincerely believe that everything Christ (May the peace and blessings of God be upon him) preached was from God.  That was the Injeel, the good news and guidance of God for the Children of Israel.  In his life-time Jesus never wrote a single word, nor did he instruct anyone to do so.  What passes off as the “GOSPELS” today are the works of anonymous hands!” [3]

There is a crucial flaw in the views presented by contemporary Muslims apologists because this view of the corruption of the Old and New Testament was not widely held by early Muslim apologists.  It is a novel and recent view in Islam starting in the 19th century, prior to this shift the majority view of Muslims viewed the OT & NT as corrupted in its meaning (tahrif al mana) rather than the actual texts being corrupted (tahrif al-nas),

 

“In the mid-19th century, the Muslim accusation of tahrif al-nass took a kind of quantum leap through the controversy between Indian Muslim scholars and European Christian missionaries in the India of the British Raj…Mawlana Rahmat Alllah Kayranawi (“al-Hini,” 1818-91) is credited with moving the textual corruption accusation forward through a famous public debate and through a widely published book.  Interestingly, the most influential Indian theologian of the modern period, Shah Wali Allah (1703-62), had previously declared that he did not believe in the corruption of the text of the Torah…Rahmat Allah seized upon a strategic plan for publicly confounding European Christian missionaries…For the first time in the history of Muslim polemic, the Indian theologian used works of historical criticism written in Europe to support the claim that Christians themselves knew of the corruption of the Bible.  The substance of Rahmat Allah’s polemic in the debate…appeared in print…in the Arabic Izhar ul-haq…20th century Arabic authors did not add substantially to Rahmat Allah’s polemic” [4].

 

2. The Qur’an’s statements about the Old and New Testament

A major problem with the Muslim argument that the Bible is corrupted is that the Quran commands the People of the book (Ahl-al-Kitab) to judges by their scriptures, but how can they judge by their scriptures (Old and New Testament) if they are already corrupted?  There are two different types of corruption: corruption of meaning (tahrif al-mana) and corruption of the text (tahrif al-nas/al-lafz).  In light of the context of Surah 5:42-48, 65-68 and other Quranic texts which explicitly deny that the words of God can be corrupted (Surah 6:114-115, 18:27), and other Surat stating that the People of the Book have concealed the truth (Surah 3:69-72).  Corruption of meaning (tahrif al-mana) provides the most consistent explanation without making the Quran contradict itself since Surah 5:42-48, 65-68, would be a useless command to the people of the book (Jews and Christians) if the Torah and Injil [Gospel] were already corrupted (tahrif al-nas/al-lafz) by the time of Muhammad[5].  In the context of Surah 5:43-47, the Jews come to Muhammad who is ruling in Medina and ask him about how to judge over a dispute they are having and Muhammad tells them to judge by what God has given them in the Torah, and he addresses the Christians and tells them to judge by what God has revealed to them as well,

Surah 5:43-47 (Surat Al-Mā’idah) “[43] But how is it that they come to you for judgment while they have the Torah, in which is the judgment of Allah ? Then they turn away, [even] after that; but those are not [in fact] believers. [44] Indeed, We sent down the Torah, in which was guidance and light. The prophets who submitted [to Allah] judged by it for the Jews, as did the rabbis and scholars by that with which they were entrusted of the Scripture of Allah, and they were witnesses thereto. So do not fear the people but fear Me, and do not exchange My verses for a small price. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the disbelievers. [45] And We ordained for them therein a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives [up his right as] charity, it is an expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.  [46] And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. [47] And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.”

The argument continues a few verses (ayat) later, Muhammad commands the Christians to test the Quran by what has come before it, the Old and New Testament,

Surah 5:65-68 (Surat Al-Mā’idah) , “[65]And if only the People of the Scripture had believed and feared Allah , We would have removed from them their misdeeds and admitted them to Gardens of Pleasure. [66] And if only they upheld [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to them from their Lord, they would have consumed [provision] from above them and from beneath their feet. Among them are a moderate community, but many of them – evil is that which they do. [67] O Messenger, announce that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message. And Allah will protect you from the people. Indeed, Allah does not guide the disbelieving people. [68] Say, “O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord.” And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. So do not grieve over the disbelieving people.”

This provides the route by which we directly challenge a Muslims’ affirmation of the authority of the Quran as well as the incorrect view that the Trinity consists of Allah, Mary, and Jesus.  Muslims are using a double standard when they cite Bart Erhman or other skeptics to attack the reliability of the Bible, when the Quran commands Christians to judge by what God has revealed in the Bible.  The same is true of Muslims citing Gnostic gospels such as the Gospel of Barnabas or Thomas, the Gnostic view of God is not the God of the Quran, Gnostics view all matter as evil, which would make all of the prophets of God, including Muhammad evil.  Likewise we must be cautious that we don’t use secular sources to attack the Qur’an from a secular worldview, thereby abandoning our Christian worldview in the process.

 

3. The Reliability of the Qur’an

This section will provide a brief overview of the transmission of the Qur’an and focus on the important historical event in Islam known as the Uthmanic Revision[6].  This section will not cover various early manuscripts of the Qur’an attesting to alternate variations of Qur’anic verses, for an overview of those details read chapters 10 & 11 of What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an by James White.  This overview of the history of the Qur’an of how it was collected and written down is attested by the most reliable Hadeeth, Sahih Al-Bukhari vol. 6:509-10, which is the earliest record of how the Qur’an was collected.

After Muhammad’s death there was no written Qur’an; it had been memorized by some of his followers, and portions had been written, but no complete written form was yet recorded.

Sahih Al-Bukhari 5:104, “Narrated by ’Abdullah bin ’Amr: Allah’s Apostle neither talked in an insulting manner nor did he ever speak evil intentionally.  He used to say, “The most beloved to me amongst you is the one who has the best character and manners.”  He added, “Learn the Qur’an from (any of these) four persons. ’Abdullah bin Mas’ud, Salim the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa, Ubai bin Ka’b, and Mu’adh bin Jabal”.

Problems however arose as a result of this form of transmission when many of those who had memorized the Qur’an died in battle and there was still no manuscript of the entire Qur’an written yet.

“Narrated by Zaid bin Thabit: Abu Bakr As-Siddiq sent for me when the people of Yamama had been killed.  (I went to him) and found ’Umar bin Al-Khattab sitting with him.  Abu Bakr then said (to me), “Umar has come to me and said: ‘Casualties were heavy among the Qurra’ of the Qur’an (i.e., those who knew the Qur’an by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yamama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra’ on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur’an may be lost” [7].

Sahih Al-Bukhari clearly testifies to the fact that Muhammad had not collected and made an official version of the Qur’an,

“Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur’an be collected.”  I said to ’Umar, “How can you do something which Allah’s Apostle did not do?” ’Umar said, “By Allah, that is a good project.” ’Umar kept on urging me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my chest for it and I began to realize the good in the idea which ’Umar had realized” [8].

The key event in the transmission of the Qur’an occurred about 18 years later in AD 650, when Uthman called for a revision to make a finalized and authoritative version of the Qur’an due to differences amongst Muslims and different versions of Qur’ans.

“So ’Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, “send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.”  Hafsa sent it to ’Uthman.  ’Uthman then ordered Zaid ibn Thabit, ’Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and ’Abdur-Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies.  ’Uthman said to the three Qurashi men, “In case you disagree with Zaid ibn Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue” [9].

James White summarizes the key issues behind the Uthmanic revision and how it affects the reliability of the Qur’an,

“With revision and a controlled transmission, one would expect a much “cleaner”, more unanimous text.  Combine governmental propagation with the Qur’an being shorter than the New Testament and undergoing around six hundred years less time in pre-modern transcription, and the results should be obvious: a very stable text with few textual variants.  And by and large, this is what we find with the Qur’an.  Muslims see this as a great advantage, even an example of divine inspiration and preservation.  In reality, just the opposite is the case.                                                                                                                               When a text has a major interruption in transmission-as with Uthman, his committee, and the effort to suppress competing versions-one’s certainty of being able to obtain the original text becomes limited to the materials that escape the revisionist pen.  For the Muslim, Uthman had to get it right, because if he was wrong, there is little hope for undoing his work.  Yes, we have evidence, as we will see below, of other text types, but not enough to have a sound basis, at least at this point in history, of re-creating a pre-Uthmanic text.  So if Uthman was at all biased, at all influenced by the debates and struggles of his times, the resulting text could be altered forever.  And how would anyone know?” [10]

 

Conclusion:

In Conclusion we have observed how the Qur’an views the Old and New Testament and the reliability of the Qur’an.  This is an essential issue since the Qur’an is an important source of authority in the Islamic worldview.  However we have observed that the Qur’an undermines its own authorities for 2 reasons.  First, the Quran commands Christians to judge the teachings of the Qur’an according to the Bible (which assumes it is a valid revelation from God and hasn’t been corrupted).  Second, the Uthmanic Revision undermined the reliability of the Qur’an which was revised by Utham with any competing versions of the Qur’an being burned.  These contrasts provide an important means for Christians to witness to Muslims since we are not stuck in a stale mate position of the Bible vs. the Qur’an being co-equal authorities due to these two facts.  The first observation provides a useful means to undercut any Muslim apologetic arguments about the Bible’s corruption and allows Christians to go directly to Scripture to demonstrate to Muslims man’s depravity and the true person and work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Who is our only hope for eternal life, not our own merits.

[1] Maulana M. Rahmatullah Kairanvi, Izhar-Ul-Haq (Truth revealed): Distortion and Abrogation in the Bible and the Trinity Refuted Part 2, 2nd Edition (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Word of Knowledge for Publishing & Distribution, 1992), 30

[2] Hamza Mustafa Njozi, The Sources of the Qur’an: A Critical Review of the Authorship Theories 2nd edition (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: International Islamic Publishing House, 2005), 114-5

[3] Ahmed Deedat, Is the Bible God’s Word? (Chicago, IL: Kazi Publications, 1981), 5-6

[4] Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries on the Quran (Leiden: Brill, 2011): 24-25; cited in James White’s book, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 190

[5] For further discussion on this topic see chapter 8, Did the “People of the Book” Corrupt the Gospel? In James White’s book, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an, 165-192

[6] This section is a summary of the content on pg. 254-263 of What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an.

[7] Cited by James White, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an, 255

[8] Cited in Ibid, 256

[9] Cited in Ibid, 260

[10] Ibid, 262-3