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Sources

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 the disciples.

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 meaning.

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 next post.

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 Sirat. 

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 truth?

Posted in: Islam

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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.