What every Muslim should know about the Bible
What should every Muslim know about the Bible
1. The Bible is the Word of God.1
2. The Bible was written by about 40 human authors by divine inspiration over about 1,600 years (1500 B.C. [Moses] to about 100 A.D. [Apostle John]).
3. The Bible is both a text that is a testimony to God’s work in history culminating in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven (see What is Christianity?),
The Christian faith is . . . an historical faith . . . it is bound up with certain happenings in the past, and if these happenings could be shown never to have occurred . . . then the . . . Christian faith . . . would be found to have been built on sand.2
4. The biblical teaching about Jesus’ death on the cross is much clearer than the Quranic account. Islam’s denial of Jesus’ death on the cross is not historical. Islam’s denial of Jesus’ death on the cross may have been newsworthy in the 7th century because it is a record of what Muhammad recited in the 7th century. But Muhammad’s recitation was not newsworthy in the 1st century because it did not happen. This is important because events that happen in history are true for everyone. Events that do not happen in history are not true for everyone.
Since the Muslim account concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection did not happen in history, Islam is not true for everyone. More importantly, Islam is untrue because it denies what God has done in history through Jesus.
What about textual variants?
5. Every Muslim (and Christian) should know that copies of the Bible (and Quran) contain copyist errors. These errors do not call into question any doctrine of the Christian faith nor do they deny Jesus’ death on the cross. The field of textual criticism deals with differences in biblical manuscripts, so that we might know what was original.
Craig Blomberg, a New Testament scholar, wrote,
“the consensus among textual critics is that in the modern critical editions of the Greek New Testament we have, either in the text itself or in the footnotes upwards of 97% of what the original authors wrote reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and that no doctrine of the Christian faith depends solely on one or more textually uncertain passages” (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels [revised 2007], 333).3
Copyist errors are not, by themselves, an argument against the Bible being the Word of God.
A slightly imperfect $100 bill does not make it counterfeit. It is still legal tender. Likewise, imperfect copies of biblical manuscripts are not proof that the Bible is counterfeit.
6. The Gospels don’t contain the names of those who wrote down the events and teachings about Jesus’ life: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. But this does not undermine their authority just as the authority of the Quran is not undermined because it does not contain the names of those who compiled it.
7. Muslim belief that the text of Christian Scriptures was intentionally changed/corrupted was first espoused by Ibn Hazm about four hundred years after Muhammad,
it can be demonstrated that until the time of Ibn Hazm in the eleventh century, the accusation of tahrif in the sense of ‘intentional corruption of the Holy Scriptures’ was virtually non-existent. Even where some grave and serious suspicions were raised against the integrity of the text, the accusation can certainly not be considered to have been a central or foundational element of the Muslim discourse against Christianity. If it has become the starting point of that discourse today, it is certainly worth knowing that it has not always been the case, and that it is therefore possible to think otherwise. Even after Ibn Hazm, as late as the fourteenth century, Ibn Taymiyya recognized that the Islamic position towards tahrif as textual corruption was still diverse and ambiguous (Martin Accad, “The Gospels in the Muslim Discourse of the Ninth to the Fourteenth Centuries” in A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighboredited by Miroslav Volf, Ghazi bin Muhammad, and Melissa Yarrington; [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010], 59).5
- The great proof for the Bible being the Word of God is Jesus. Jesus lived by the Bible, and Jesus is alive. His tomb is empty (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). [↩]
- Alan Richardson, Christian Apologetics (London: SCM, 1947), 91, cited in Ronald H. Nash, Christian Faith and Historical Understanding, [Dallas: Word Publishing/Probe Books, 1984], 12. [↩]
- For an introductory treatment on New Testament textual criticism see the series of videos available from Daniel Wallace, “The Basics of New Testament Textual Criticism” from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Also see Daniel Wallace’s iTunes video “What Christian Beliefs are Based on Textually Dubious Passages? [↩]
- Textual variants in the Quran is a highly controversial subject (For articles on this subject see Perfect Preservation?). Suffice it to say that academic scholars do not have free access to all of the relevant Quranic manuscript evidence (See comments by Stefan Wild on the Sana’a manuscripts). Keith Small highlights a major difference between textual criticism of the Quran and textual criticism of the Bible,“The primary task in New Testament textual criticism has been to recover one text from among many – to recover the first published text of each New Testament book from among the textual variants and text-types that have accumulated throughout the history of the transmission of the text. The primary task in Qur’anic textual criticism, as practiced historically in Islam has been instead to justify one form of the text against many others. These efforts to establish and justify one text from among a group of collections of material, both oral and written, has resulted in irreparable loss of the earliest authoritative forms of the text. The entire shape of the text of the Qur’an shows it to be an intentionally developed text” (Holy Books Have a History: Textual Histories of the New Testament & the Qur’an, [Avant Ministries, 2010], pp.78f.). See also Keith Small, Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts, (Lexington, 2011). [↩]
- See Gordon Nickel, Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries on the Qur’an, Brill Academic Publishers, 2010. [↩]