Have the Christian Scriptures Been Falsified? –Evaluating an Islamic Critique

I originally wrote this post last spring, but, for whatever reason, never got around to publishing it. So, long over do, here it is.


Falsified?

Prominent among Muslims is the belief that the Christian and Jewish (implied) scriptures have been falsified, the text having been changed and corrupted. They seek support for this in the Qur’an and the Hadith (their two authoritative texts). This is how Muslims explain that, although Muhammad was predicted in the Christian and Jewish scriptures, he was rejected by both groups.

But is this a legitimate claim? The evidence argues to the contrary.[1]

1. The word of God reflecting the character of God.

The falsification of scripture is incompatible with the character of God as recognized by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. God is truthful, trustworthy, and faithful. Therefore, His word cannot be corrupted or become unreliable. God is sovereignly powerful. But a God who intends to communicate yet fails to preserve His message from falsification is not a sovereignly powerful God.[2]

The Qur’an itself says,

We [referring to God with a “royal we”] have sent down the Qur’an Ourself, and We Ourself will guard it. – Sura 15:9.

Or again,

[Prophet], follow what has been revealed to you of your Lord’s Scripture: there is no changing His words…. – Sura 18:27.[3]

And the witness of the Christian scriptures correspond to this.

So, I ask, how does a falsification of scripture fit with this theology?

2. The manuscript evidence.

There are more manuscripts for the Biblical text than any other ancient document. And when we examine these manuscripts, we can confidently determine that the Biblical text has been transmitted with incredible accuracy.

In early Islam, when seeking to establish the definitive collection of Qur’anic suras (what is now the Qur’an), Muslim were faced with discrepancies between the Qur’anic readings. After making their conclusions regarding which readings were authentic, they destroyed all variant readings so as to establish a unified collection.

In contrast to Islam, Christians do not view the multiplicity of Biblical manuscripts (which contain variants) as troublesome, but rather assuring. These discrepancies do not mean Christians have more than one Bible.[4] Yes, the Biblical manuscripts contain discrepancies; but among these variants, only one reading can be original/correct. And given the multiplicity of Biblical manuscripts, we are able to determine the original reading. Quite the opposite of causing doubts, the multitude of Biblical manuscripts provides confidence!

In sum, when we examine the manuscript evidence we see that the text has not been falsified. Particularly, it has not been changed in order to reject Muhammad or Islam. In fact, it appears that the Christian scriptures could even be qualified as having been transmitted according to tawatur (cf. the conclusion of Razi, the great Islamic theologian).[5]

3. Falsification is counter-intuitive and simply does not make sense.

First, the falsification of scriptures would be nearly impossible on a practical level.

The widespread propagation of the Scriptures made it highly unlikely that anyone could have tampered with them. Any attempt was not only doomed to failure for practical reasons, but bound to be discovered and disowned. …

Modifying the texts would have been an impossible task. Not only were the Scriptures widely scattered but they had been translated into different languages. By the time of Christ the Old Testament was available in Greek, and by the end of the third century most of the New Testament had been translated into Latin, Syriac and Coptic. The New Testament was also quoted in Christian writings as easily as the second century. (Moucarry)

Second, one has to ask why Christians (and Jews) who hold scripture so dearly, would intentionally corrupt those very scriptures?

Conclusion

So, in sum, the Christian scripture have not been falsified. As such, Muslims (who recognize this Scripture as God’s word) must grapple with its message — e.g., Jesus’ and his disciples’ claim that He is God, that He died on the cross, and that He resurrected from that death. If Jesus is who He claimed to be and if He in fact rose from the dead, this changes everything.

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[1] The following four arguments are taken from Chawkat Moucarry’s The Prophet and the Messiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 72-79. Citations are from this source as well. The above is my summary and elaboration of his argument but contains many of my own thoughts as well.

[2] Keep in mind, this argument is directed to Muslims who believe that the Bible is God’s word and hold to a view of God that has some similarities with the Christian God.

[3] Citations are from M. A. S. Abdel Haleem’s translation (New York, NY: Oxford University Press,2010). Emphasis added.

[4] And although Christians have various translations of the Bible, these should not be thought of as “different Bibles” as if Christians have more than one Bible. Unlike Islam, in which the Qur’an is necessarily Arabic and all translations of it are at best something like paraphrases, in Christian thought translations of the Bible are the Bible in as much as they correspond to the original Biblical text in the original languages.

[5] Tawatur means ‘successive transmission’ and refers to the Islamic concept of a transmission not liable to textual corruption which is established by an unbroken chain of  trustworthy individuals. I make this observation not to affirm the concept of tawatur as Christian, but for polemical purposes.

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