We will next take a quick look at the sources supporting
both Christianity and Islam. A prevelant
criticism within Islam is that both the Torah and Bible have become corrupted. But is this true? We’ll start with an examination of the Bible,
and by extension the Torah (Pentateuch) as it is also contained within the
first five books of the Old Testament.
But first we’ll open with three passages from the Qur’an, the first two
of which say that the truth comes from Allah, and that the Bible and Torah come
from Him. The last several verses of the
second passage state that the Qur’an contains the same truth as in the earlier
scriptures – the Bible and Torah.
‘Say: We believe in Allah
and that which is revealed unto Us and that which was revealed unto Abraham,
and Ishmael and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and
Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from the Lord. We make no distinction between any of them,
and unto Him we have surrendered.’ (S2, 136)
‘Lo! We did reveal the Torah, wherein is guidance and a
light, by which the Prophets who surrendered (unto Allah) judged the Jews, and
the rabbis and the priests (judged) by such of Allah’s Scripture as they were
bidden to observe, and thereunto were they witnesses. So fear not mankind, but fear Me. And barter not My revelations for a little
gain. Who judges not by that which Allah
has revealed: such are disbelievers.
‘And we prescribed for them therein: a
life for a life, and eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, and ear for an ear, a
tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is retaliation. But who forgoes it (in the way of charity) it
shall be expiation for him. Who judges
not by that which Allah has revealed:
such are wrongdoers.
‘And We caused Jesus son of Mary to
follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him, and
We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that
which was (revealed) before it in the Torah a guidance and an admonition unto
those who ward off (evil).
‘Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah has
revealed therein. Who judges not by that
which Allah has revealed; such are evildoers.
‘And unto you have We revealed the
Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a
watcher over it. So judge between them
by that which Allah has revealed, and follow not their desires away from the
truth which has come unto you. For each
We have appointed a divine law and a traced out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one
community. But that He may try you by
that which He has given you (He has made you as you are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah you will all return, and He will
then inform you of that wherein you differ.
‘So judge between them by that which Allah has revealed, and
follow not their desires, but beware of them lest they seduce you from some
part of that which Allah has revealed unto you.
And if they turn away, then know that Allah’s will is to smite them for
some sin of theirs. Lo! Many of mankind
are evildoers.’ (S 5, 44-49)
The third verse is as follows:
‘And if you (Muhammad) are in doubt concerning that which We
reveal unto you, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before
you. Verily the Truth from your Lord has
come unto you. So be not you of the
waverers.’ (S 10, 94)
Muhammad is told if he doubts any of the revelations he has
received, to consult the truth that came before him – the Torah and the
Bible. Would Allah refer Muhammad to a
source that was corrupted? If not, then
the Bible and Torah of Muhammad’s day must have been the truth; not just parts
of these documents, but these documents in their entirety. So the question becomes are the Bible and
Torah of Muhammad’s day the same as those documents we have today?
Consider the following.
There are over 5,300 manuscripts for the New Testament alone that have
been discovered to date. The earliest of
these was written about 114 AD, within a generation of the events documented by
the New Testament. Some books of the New
Testament come from manuscripts written within one hundred years of the events
they document, and the entire New Testament comes from manuscripts written in
less than three hundred years – over two hundred and fifty years before
Muhammad received his first revelation.
Further, even if these manuscripts did not exist, with the exception of
eleven verses, the entire New Testament could be reconstructed from the writings
of the early Fathers of the Church; also written over several hundred years
before Muhammad’s birth.
The accuracy of these manuscripts also matters. Many misunderstand the so-called errors
within these texts. It is estimated that
there are as many as 200,000 of these errors.
The majority of these are not errors but only variant readings, similar
to the variant readings of verses found within the Qur’an itself, and the vast
majority are strictly grammatical in nature.
The way these errors are counted also matters. If a single variation of one word occurs
within three thousand of the fifty three hundred documents, they are counted as
three thousand errors and not simply one.
In effect, the Bible is penalized for having many more manuscripts than
any other book from the ancient world.
So do these differences matter from a doctrinal
perspective? The noted nineteenth
century historian Philip Schaff calculated that ‘only about 400 of the 100,000
or 150,000 variations materially affect the sense. Of these, again, not more than about fifty
are really important for some reason or other; and even of these fifty not one
affects an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly
sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture
teaching.’ Among ancient texts; the
number of manuscripts, the short time between the events and the date the
manuscripts were written, and the consistency of those manuscripts is
astonishing, and unheard of from documents of the ancient world. Finally, most of the books in the New
Testament were written by contemporaries of the events they wrote about. The Gospels of Mathew and John and the
letters of Peter were written by three of Christ’s disciples. The Gospel of Mark was written by a disciple
of Peter who was an eyewitness to some of the events contained within the New
Testament. Luke and Paul were both
contemporaries of Christ, and Paul was a witness to the resurrection – as were
As for the Old Testament and Torah, we have the Dead Sea
scrolls which were written in the first or second century BC, from documents
that were far older, and confirm the later writings that we have of many books
from the Old Testament. In addition,
many of the people, places, and events occurring within the Old Testament have
been confirmed by archeology.
But one can say, these manuscripts are all in Greek and
Hebrew, the books within today’s Bible are written in many other
languages. That is true, but it comes
from the belief that man’s purpose is to know his Creator. To accomplish that purpose requires
communication between man and Creator, and God’s revelations are one way He
communicates with us. It is therefore
important that communication occur in such a way that the reader can understand
it, and this is best done in his or her own language. After all, if there is any doubt about the
way a specific verse has been translated, the original sources are available for
anyone to read in an inter-lineal Bible which contains both the Greek and Hebrew
texts and their literal translations.
From the above, there is no doubt that the Bibles of today are the same
as the Bible and Torah existing during Muhammad’s life.
To be fair and honest, one must do a similar analysis of the
Qur’an as well, and we’ll turn to that next.
There are only a few dozen known original manuscripts of the
Qur’an. The Arabic language at the time this
manuscript was written (Medinan codex) did not yet contain the pointing or
diacritical marks necessary to distinguish between certain consonants, or the
presence and type of vowels (long or short).
These marks came later. The only
ways to correctly interpret readings from this period were to either: (1) be present at the event itself, (2)
receive the content and context of the event from a trusted source (such as the
isnad used within the hadith), or (3) rely on the text itself to develop the
Shortly after Muhammad’s death, several codices and many variant
readings of the Qur’an developed, and there was concern that the meaning of the
Qur’an might be lost. It was the third
caliph, Uthman, who selected the Medinan codex as the official Qur’an. The other codices were ordered to be
destroyed. It is this codex of the
Qur’an that all others have been based upon.
However, variant readings still occurred. Consensus and reasoning was applied in the later
half of the 8th century to develop rules to limit the insertion of
the pointing and diacritical marks, and thereby limit the number of variant readings that could be generated. This resulted in the system of the seven,
each of which had two transmitters.
Additional variant readings still came into being and it was not until
the tenth century, over three hundred years after Muhammad’s death that Islamic
scholars developed a final definitive canonization of one system of consonants
and a limit was placed on the variations in vowel usage. There will be more about this process in the
The Qur’an is unlike the Bible and Torah in several
respects. First, there is no sense of
chronology or history within the Qur’an, even within the Surah’s themselves;
the Surah’s are ordered from longest to shortest. As many of the longer Surahs were written in
Medina, many of the later passages appear earlier in the Qur’an. Second, there is little context around the
passages within the Qur’an. That context,
and the understanding derived from it, is provided by the Hadith, Sunnah, and
The Hadith are similar to the Sunnah in that they describe
situations and events in Muhammad’s life.
They sketch what he said, who it was said to, the context, who else was
involved, etc. The two are similar but
distinct. The Hadith are oral
communications given by Muhammad, whereas the Sunnah comprise the traditions
and customs used to model how one is to live.
The Sunnah is also the source of shari’a based upon Muhammad’s actions,
approval, and statements. The earliest
of the Hadith was written almost two hundred and fifty years after Muhammad’s
death. The Hadith were collections
compiled by scholars who read and evaluated all of the ahadith they could
find. Al-Burkhari spent sixteen years
compiling his work, and it is thought that he reviewed close to a hundred
thousand ahadith in completing his final work containing 3,295. These compilations were necessary as the
number of sayings attributed to Muhammad increased in the centuries after his
death. These compilations brought some consistency and structure to the
accepted sayings. The Sirat are the
biographies of Muhammad’s life. These
were written between one hundred and twenty and two hundred and seventy five
years after Muhammad’s death. The
earliest of these is the one written by Ibn Ishaq mentioned above.
There is one final difference that should be mentioned. The Qur’an contains many verses that are
inconsistent. Over time some of the
revelations spoken by Muhammad changed, to the point that some of his followers
questioned his authority. In response,
he recited ‘Such of Our revelations as We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we
bring (in place) one better or the like.
Do not you know that Allah is Able to do all things?’ (S 2, 106) The result of this is that some earlier
passages within the Qur’an have been abrogated – their meaning has been changed
or replaced by a later passage.
A question was posed at the beginning of this post. That is whether the claim that the Bible and
Torah have been corrupted is true. For
those who say the Bible and Torah are corrupt, I have a simple challenge: read them in their entirety. The truth can always stand on its own. The Qur’an says that these two books are
truth, and the truth they speak today is the same they spoke in Muhammad’s
day. Also, if you have not done so, read
the Qur’an. If you do not speak Arabic,
then read one of the accepted translations of the meaning of the Qur’an, such
as the translations of M. Pickthall and Y. Ali; and A. Guillaume’s translation
of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah
provides an excellent context to the Qur’an’s content. Then ask yourself, where did you find the