The Bible and the Qur’an work with different presuppositions. At times they agree, at times they disagree, often, they neither agree nor disagree. They have their own logic. But the idea of a wholesome alteration of the Biblical texts, looks like a conspiracy-theory. Discover why in the sixth episode of Reasons for Our Hope
Is the Bible reliable? A common answer among Muslims is that it is not. It has been falsified by Jews and Christians. This is a highly sensitive issue in any Islamic-Christian conversation, because it effectively nullifies the Qur’anic recognition of previous divine scriptures. In fact, so the argument goes, if these Scriptures agree with the Qur’an, they are redundant. If they disagree, they are falsified.
This is that while some Muslims appreciate the Bible, many others do not read it and are not familiar with its content. We suggest that this argument is simplistic. The Bible and the Qur’an work with different presuppositions. At times they agree. At times they disagree. Often, they neither agree nor disagree. They have their own logic.
But the idea of a wholesome alteration of the Biblical texts, put forth by certain polemicists, looks like a conspiracy-theory. Even many Muslims would differ with it, for two reasons.
The first is historical and is well explained by the acclaimed Egyptian thinker Muhammad ‘Abduh. In times when communication was difficult, how could one group of Christians decide to change scripture and then pass on their changes to all of the Christians and Jews in other parts of the world?
The second reason, more psychological, is put forth by the great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, who wrote: “Custom prevents people who have a revealed religion from dealing with their divine scripture in such a manner.” We may add a third reason. Over the past centuries Jews and Christians have sharply disagreed over the interpretation of the Old Testament. If one of the two parties could have pointed to serious alterations in the other’s scripture, they certainly would have done so. In fact, this kind of polemic is largely missing.
There are of course questions of textual criticism of Biblical manuscripts—scholars are always trying to achieve the most ancient version possible. Today there are similar questions for the Qur’an.
What’s at stake with serious manuscript research on the Bible or the Qur’an is how to understand the history of the text—it is not whether Jews, Christians, or Muslims, intentionally changed their scripture. There’s no conspiracy to be found.
But after all, why does the issue of alteration matter? Today we have easy ways to preserve speeches without changes. We can record a speech, for example, with our smartphones. But many of these recordings or videos are not relevant to others or even to ourselves, and so we forget them (or we delete them because of storage limits!). A message does not count because it is well preserved. Rather, it is because the message counts, that we care about its preservation.
There is much to be said about the composition of the Gospels—notice the beginning of Luke’s Gospel where he explains that he means to write an “orderly” account on the basis of “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” But in thinking about the message of the Christian Gospels it is important to remember that they point outside themselves. For example, while the Qur’an stresses the quality of its Arabic language, the Gospels do not speak of their Greek language.
The Gospels point to something else, or rather, to someone else. The message, in other words, is Christ.
In partnership with