Answering Missionaries

May 11, 2006

Rambo strikes back – a reply to Patrick Chan

Filed under: Debate reviews,Dialogue/Debates,Shabir Ally vs James White — answeringmissionaries @ 1:57 am

Me

In response to my comments in his blog, Mr. Patrick Chan later decided to write a detailed and a very polite response to my questions in a blog entry entitled: A little rumba with Rambo. As you will see, Patrick mostly raised irrelevant issues, but I like him due to his decent and friendly behaviour, which is difficult to find in Christian apologists these days. So, later I also decided to write a friendly reply to Patrick as well. Below is my response:

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Hello Patrick

I am honoured that you decided to address my comments in a separate entry! Sorry again for misspelling your name. Hopefully I should be getting the debate soon and would then be in a better position to write a review. But for now I will attempt to respond to some of your comments as best I can.

First, you ask:

    “All other things being equal, if we can prove that 50% of an ancient text is historically authentic, will that in turn suffice to prove the reliability of the text to you? What about 75%? 85%? 90%?”

I think the problem here is that you confuse historical reliability of a document with his textual integrity. A text can be 100% textually authentic, but that does not follow that it is historically reliable in all the statements it has to make. Thus historical reliability and textual reliability are not one and the same. However, I suppose that if a text is known to be textually uncertain, whatever the percentage, then we would naturally have to study all of its statements more carefully in order to ensure as best we can that the text in question is “original” and not the product of adaptation by a later scribe before we decide whether or not the claims are historically plausible.

Please note that I was not discussing the historical reliability of the New Testament documents.

You ask:

    “Archaeological discoveries? Accurate times and dates, or economic or other facts and figures? Social and cultural descriptions in line with known practices and customs of the period?”

- well, sure, all of these factors together assist historians in judging the HISTORICAL reliability of a document. As I said before, in my original post, I was not at all commenting upon the historical reliability of the New Testament or the lack of it.

Coming to the illiteracy of Muhammed, you write:

    “Sorry if this sounds naive, but I honestly am not adequately familiar with the history of Islam and the Qur’an: if Muhammed was indeed illiterate, then why do Muslims attribute authorship of the Qur’an to him (albeit via the angel Gabriel or is it Allah)? Or do they attempt to negotiate the dilemma by asserting that he dictated the revelation to a scribe? Or am I way off-base here?”

- According to Muslims, Muhammed was illiterate, he could not read and write, and so he had scribes to whom he dictated the surahs and they wrote them in his presence and then recited them back to him for verification. Muhammed had over 30 or 40 scribes (sorry I can’t remember the exact figures right now), who were basically his followers and companions. Thus Muslims believe that the Quran is the verbatim word of God, revealed to Muhammed though the angel Gibrael, which Muhammed then recited to the scribes for transcription. If you are interested to pursue this topic in-depth, I would suggest you take a look at the following book: M. M. Azami, The History Of The Qur’anic Text From Revelation To Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, 2003, UK Islamic Academy.

You then state that if Muslims believe that:

    “if Muslims believe that Muhammed “received” the text of the Qur’an “as is” from heaven, then, I would argue, the burden of proof is upon the Muslim to demonstrate this, not for the non-Muslim to deny it.”

Well Patrick, that is irrelevant in the present topic of discussion. Nonetheless, you are right, Christians can also make similar claims about the Bible. So how do you “prove” such claims? I think we can’t offer absolute “proofs” in support of these incredible claims. Nonetheless, we can study a document and then decide on our own if the claims it makes are likely to be true or not. So all I can say is that you study the Quran on your own and then come to your own conclusion. By “studying” I do not mean that you go to a polemical website and just accept every anti-Islamic statement it has to make. Instead, familiarise yourself with what Muslims have to say about their own book and religion, then by all means refer to critical writings, assess the arguments back and forth, then decide for yourself. That’s my approach.

You ask:

    “Now, using the same criteria to judge the Qur’an as we do the NT, if it is true that Muhammed was illiterate, and furthermore, did not know about the corruption of the NT, then how would he know what the authentic version of the NT stories should look like? How do we know his telling of the stories about Jesus and the apostles contained in the Qur’an are in fact the correct, authoritative ones?”

Now again I think you are raising certain issues that have no bearing on the original discussion. Whatever the “authentic version” of New Testament stories looked like, the point is that Muhammed was correct in believing that the New Testament text underwent corruption during its transmission. But then, how do we know that the stories about Jesus within the Quran are “authoritative”? I suppose you are trying to ask how do we establish if the stories about Jesus within the Quran are HISTORICALLY ACCURATE. Well, that’s a different matter altogether. For me personally, I cannot “prove” that the virgin birth is an historical event even though I accept it as a real actual event. This acceptance is based on my faith and belief in the Quran as God’s word. Basically, we cannot “prove” scientifically, historically or archaeologically that miracles such as the virgin birth of Jesus did take place. It takes faith to accept these stories.

Nonetheless, having said this, I will state that my confidence in the general Quranic outline of Jesus and his mission was immensely raised after I read a couple of books on the subject of the historical Jesus, books by E. P. Sanders, Paula Fredriksen, Geza Vermes, C. M. Tuckett and many other scholars. Currently, I feel that even if I were to leave Islam, my view of Jesus would still be eerily similar to the general Quranic view of Jesus. That is to say, I would probably not believe that Jesus was born miraculously, that he did miracles etc., but the general Quranic presentation of Jesus would be quite easily acceptable to me. But again, this is my personal view and it is up to you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

You ask:

    “And given that the Qur’an was written centuries after even the latest, arguably most diluted texts of the NT were already established, and far later than the OT, and given that the Qur’an’s version of the people, places, and events significantly deviate from the accounts in these earlier OT and NT texts, why should the historian trust the later Qur’anic versions over and above these earlier, arguably corrupted NT texts?”

For me the miracle is precisely this: how could the Quran get so much right despite the fact that it came about centuries and centuries after the Biblical writings and has offered a presentation of Jesus which would be broadly readily acceptable to most critical scholars today? How could it also be right about the textual corruption of the earlier writings? All this led me to take the statement of the Quran seriously, that it is a revelation from God. But then again, this is my personal view.

Also note that the original discussion, as I have said many times before, was about the TEXTUAL RELIABILITY of the New Testament and not its HISTORICAL reliability. Even though I feel you have geared away from the original discussion, I will try to comment as much as I can.

You ask:

    “Furthermore, wouldn’t it likewise impinge upon the reliability of the Qur’an itself to press the above issue that the Qur’an’s version is more historically reliable than the NT’s? Certainly the objective researcher would have to ask whether Muhammed (or whoever wrote the Qur’an) got his facts about the NT right when they disagree with earlier written accounts in the NT. In establishing history, timing is everything; and the earlier, the better.”

I don’t think it impinges upon the reliability of the Quran especially when the Quran is shown to be quite accurate at the end. I struggled with similar questions and so in order to acquire the answers I had to conduct my own research. I looked at what the Quran had to say about Jesus for instance, compared that with the New Testament accounts, and later tried to familiarise myself with the criteria used by scholars to judge the historical reliability of passages within the gospels. Again, if you are serious in knowing the truth, which I am sure you are, then it is up to you to conduct your study.

Then you talk about oral transmission, the sources used by Muhammed etc, which are all irrelevant to my original posting. You ask, why not allow the New Testament to be divinely revealed as well. Correct me if I am wrong, the last time I checked Christians were in quite a disagreement over the issue whether or not the New Testament is divinely revealed. According to most Christians, the plenary verbal view of inspiration is not a valid model. Hardly any Christian would be willing to state that the New Testament was “revealed”. Most Christians adopt a model of inspiration according to which the New Testament are documents composed by human authors, not “revealed” documents, but that somehow the Holy Spirit “guided” these authors. Apart from the author of Revelation, no author of the New Testament claims to be writing “inspired” documents. Moreover, once we compare these writings, we note that the authors occasionally make grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, sometimes write in confused Greek as well. So, the documents do not appear to be “special” on a prima facia level. Why then should I start off with the presupposition that they are “inspired” or “revealed” writings, especially when none of the authors – apart from 1 – claimed to have been “inspired”? Also, coming to the Quran, I do not ask to you just accept its claim that it is “inspired” and revealed. Instead, I only ask you to study yourself and decide for yourself.

Now we move on to the original topic of discussion, the textual integrity of the New Testament writings. You ask:

    “What do you mean by “corruption”? Do you mean simply that there are textual variants which do not effect essential Christian teachings or doctrines? Or do you mean that portions of the NT have changed so much as to utterly change the original author’s message? Or do you mean something between the two, perhaps, such as that the text has been corrupted as to at least somewhat drone out the origial author’s voice, though it’s still audible in certain places?”

- Patrick, I don’t think I said anything so difficult. By “corruption” I simply mean what every textual scholar states – corruption is the changing of a particular text – intentionally or unintentionally. That’s all. Some corruptions or changes are minor, such as spelling mistakes, mistakenly copying a line twice etc., whereas some are major. Also, I disagree with your statement that the textual variants “do not effect essential Christian teachings or doctrines.”

You ask:

    “Moreover, as an unprejudiced, judicious truth-seeker, would you allow for a certain amount of corruption in an ancient text or document, given that it is historically well-attested that virtually every single ancient document has been “corrupted” to some extent? It would be “only fair” from the perspective of an impartial historian.”

- well, yes.

You ask:

    “And if so, what would qualify for you as an acceptable amount of corruption?”

Well, if I understand you correctly, I suppose “acceptable” corruptions would be the minor corruptions and changes I alluded to above, where the meaning of passages is not changed and the scribal error – which is unintentional – is spotted in the recopying process and thus is not propagated on to other manuscripts.

You ask:

    “Or if not, if you would instead argue that the revealed Word of God must have no corruption whatsoever, and must be 100% pure, then may I ask, would you make the claim that the NT is 100% without corruption? Of course, it is evident in your remarks you wouldn’t. So, let me follow-up by asking, upon what basis would you claim the NT is corrupt — remembering that whatever standard you use to judge the NT should likewise be applied to judge the Qur’an?”

- To me you seem to be giving the impression as if “made up” or “invented” the claim or idea of New Testament textual corruption. On what basis would I claim that the New Testament documents underwent corruptions during the course of their transmission? Well, the same basis which has convinced all textual critics – the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, particularly the earliest ones. We look at manuscripts, compare them and so know how texts were adapted at times.

You ask:

    “I suppose if a Christian of the ancient period had burned all copies of the NT except for one, as Uthman did with the Qur’an, then the NT would have no textual variants either…”

You are evading responding to my statement, which was “An increasingly growing number of scholars are now even questioning the extant and significance of the variants in the NT mss and whether or not there was any such thing as an “original” to begin with.” I don’t see how your statement relates to this reality. But coming to your statement, I answered this misinformation regarding Uthman on another blog and am more than happy to debate/discuss this issue with you if you like in the future. Let me reproduce my reply:

“White is also grossly inaccurate when he asserts that Uthman “burned” the “rivals” and “standardized” the Quran. There are no historical reports mentioning such a scene. Instead, Uthman only reproduced the Quran in multiple copies – in a COMMUNITY EFFORT – and, later, with the SUPPORT OF THE COMMUNITY, the fragments and partial copies of this SAME QURAN were burnt in the open since proper copies were now available for all to read. That’s why Uthman was always praised by the Muslims and supported by them.”

You ask:

    “So what you’re arguing is that, since Muhammed did not know the NT underwent corruption, that’s one proof he must’ve been inspired by God? Surely there’s something you’re not telling me, or that I’m plainly missing?”

- No, I was arguing that, as you also stated, Muhammed, who lived centuries and centuries after the composition of the New Testament and Old Testament writings, who could not speak a work of Greek either, and who was illiterate, could have been in no position to conduct painstaking studies to know that the previous writings had underwent corruption during the course of their transmission. Yet, despite all these hurdles, his claim turns out to be rock solid…so, this is just one indication for me personally that he was being inspired by God. Of course, this isn’t the only reason why I accept him as a Prophet, but it does make me wonder how he could have gotten so many facts right.

You ask:

    “I’m curious, which NT scholars would you cite to support this assertion?”

- the assertion being: “Also, contrary to the impression you give, there is much evidence at our disposal to show that the NT writings did underwent corruptions, particularly in the form of the earliest mss evidence. There are scholars who endorse the “substantial” integrity of the NT text or its “basic” integrity, while allowing the presence of at least some uncertainties within the texts. Then there are scholars who question this rosy picture. So, the fact that the NT was corrupted is not a “disputed” point, only the extant of the corruption is disputed.”

The following is a list of some of the scholars whose writings I have read or am still reading: Bart D. Ehrman, David C. Parker, Michael W. Holmes, William L. Petersen, Helmut Koester, Kim Haines-Eitzen, James D. Miller, John J. Brogan, Eldon J. Epp, Harry Y. Gamble.

Personally, I would recommend you take a look at: D. C. Parker, The living text of the Gospels, 1997, Cambridge University Press.

Also, check the article by a leading Evangelical scholar on textual criticism: John J. Brogan, “Can I Have Your Autograph? Uses and Abuses of Textual Critisism in Formulating an Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture,” in Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez, Dennis L. Okholm (Editors), Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, 2004, InterVarsity Press.

As for the Jewish Bible, I would recommend the following reference by one of the leading scholars on the Qumran scrolls: Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature), 1999, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

You write:

    “For what it’s worth, you might want to have a look at chapter 3 of James White’s The King James Only Controversy if you’re interested in NT textual issues. I note that Fred Butler has provided a fuller list of books about NT textual issues, too, in one of his comments. I’ve not read any others listed therein, but I think it’d be fair to say that The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration by Bruce Metzger is the most academic one of the lot. I don’t know that other NT scholars necessarily agree with everything Metzger writes, but, then again, he is widely regarded as one of, if not the, foremost living NT scholar.”

Thanks a lot Patrick for these references. I will get hold of the one by James White. As for Metzger, I have his book and I also have the intro to NT textual criticism by the Alands. Metzger is without a doubt the “daddy” of textual criticism, second to none, but, of course, some scholars would differ with some of his views. Nonetheless, I would also recommend you the LATEST edition of Metzger’s book, particularly because it is co-authored with none other than Prof. Bart Ehrman:

Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press.

Again, Metzger agrees in the latest edition that there are many variants which are of immense theological and historical significance within the New Testament, over which the entire meaning of passages hinders, so that they cannot just be conveniently ignored. Moreover, he has an interesting section on the “original text” as well.

Well, that’s about all I have to say. No need to apologise at all, I thoroughly enjoyed your response and even though we obviously disagree over a lot of issues, there is no reason why we should not be able to discuss issues in a polite and friendly way. My approach is simple: if Islam is false, I have no desire to live with it. I am after the truth and so far in my life I am reasonably certain that I am with the truth – Islam. However, I still try to be a truth seeker and if I am shown to be wrong, then I will accept my mistake and change my views. I think that should be the outlook of all who seek the truth.

I hope you didn’t mind my comments and were not offended by anything I had to say. I regard you as a nice fellow, a friend, and did not mind anything you had to say.

Best wishes and all the best!

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1 Comment »

  1. Hey Rambo,

    What’s up?

    Thanks for starting a weblog, in part at least, as a reaction to the James White-Shabir Ally debate, etc. Debate can be fruitful.

    With that in mind, I just wanted to point out to you that I’ve responded to your latest post:

    http://merbc.invigorated.org/archives/2006/05/13/rambo-drawing-first-blood

    Far more importantly, Steve Hays has as well:

    http://merbc.invigorated.org/archives/2006/05/14/rambo-addio

    And, I think you already know, Fred Butler has responded, too, via his hip and groovy weblog:

    http://hipandthigh.blogspot.com/2006/05/what-meta.html

    BTW, what happened to being an open-minded truth seeker — with a weblog called “Answering Missionaries,” it would seem like you’ve already made up your mind, no?! ;-)

    Patrick

    [NOTE: Hello Partick and thanks for passing me the links as that made it easy for me to keep an eye on the papers. My replies to them will be posted soon. As for the blog name, then my original purpose was to respond to some of the missionary polemics to be found on a site called "Answering-Islam" and the likes of shoddy writers such as Robert Morey. But then the debate came up and instead of opening a separate blog, I decided to post my views on it here. In fact, I plan to post here a variety of papers, even some movie reviews :)

    No, I don't think that having a name such as "answeringmissionaries" follows one is not a truth seeker.

    Finally, since I am having my exams and assignment deadlines these weeks, I am not online often and so comment moderation would be a slow process for now. Keep in touch and thanks again.]

    Comment by Patrick Chan — May 16, 2006 @ 5:51 pm | Reply


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