Answering Missionaries

May 24, 2006

Rambo Part II – the second strike: A Reply to Patrick Chan’s “Rambo, drawing first blood”

Filed under: Bible Text,Dialogue/Debates,Quran polemics — answeringmissionaries @ 6:54 pm

Some time ago I posted my reply to Patrick which is to be found here.

Patrick recently replied to this response of mine in a blog entry entitled: “Rambo, drawing first blood”

Besides Patrick, Mr. Steven Hays has also offered a brief reply to my thoughts. Another reply was offered by Chris in the comments section of Patrick’s earlier paper. Chris’ reply was quite complimentary and he did not really disagree with much of what I had to say and, in fact, largely agreed with me. Let me quote a part of Chris’ reaction:

I was amazed that Rambo was able to sum up the Christian understanding of the NT pretty well, maybe even better than may Christians would do it:

    “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”?”

I essentially agree with this. The books of the Bible are inspired, but in most parts not “literally inspired.” How they were written down was very different from how the authors of the Quran or the “book of Mormon” claim these books came into being. The books of the Bible were written by many different authors, in many different styles and in different languages, and different forms of literature styles, in many different places, and over a very long period. Some of the authors are unknown, and most of them did not know or claim they were writing a “book of the Bible.” Only later, what they wrote was added to the canon because people started to understand that the authors had been inspired (not literally, but regarding the content) and contained the Word of God. So, on the one side, most of the Bible books were written in a completely natural way by human beings. But on the other side, miraculously, they contain the Word of God.

I think that Mr. Hays was not pleased with such a reply and I feel that Patrick also felt a little uncomfortable with such a reaction from a fellow Christian; hence their more confrontational recent responses. Be that as it may, I have found Patrick to be an extremely polite and decent fellow and enjoy having these discussions with him. Moreover, he is a prolific writer and I hope to improve my writing style by following his writings, not to mention learning more about the beliefs, arguments and thoughts of conservative and evangelical Christians.

This will be my reply to Patrick’s latest response. My original words will be followed by “>” whereas Patrick’s response will be in italics, followed by my reply in normal text.

    “The following is a response to Rambo’s own response in the comments of my “A little rumba with Rambo” post:”
      > 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.

    “Thanks as well for your thorough response.

    No worries about the name. I’ve had people call me virtually every name under the sun — from Peter and Paul (but thankfully not Mary) to others I probably shouldn’t repeat here!

    By the way, are you British? You needn’t say if you’d rather not, of course. But if you’re not, I wonder why an American weblog with a predominantly American audience must be subjected to spelling lessons from the Crown?! It’s not honorable (note: “u” is absent)! Or at least have the courtesy to warn us beforehand. “No misallocation [of vowels] without notification!” (Totally kidding. And at this point, I suppose Americans could decry being subjected to my gnarly Californian lingo, dude!)”

You may think of me as the British Rambo 🙂

      > I think the problem here is that you confuse and mix
      > 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.

    “Although it wasn’t necessarily part of my original tack to draw the distinction, the point is nevertheless well taken.”

Fine so far.

      > 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.

    “Of course what you said is true, but by the same token there’s such a thing as missing the forest for the trees. Paying attention to the wrong or insignificant details might cause us to miss the otherwise plain, unmistakable facts underneath our noses. E.g., quibbling over whether or not a certain text states that “Jesus is Messiah” when Jesus’ Messiahship is not established by a single verse but a multitude of passages. Not the most sterling example, but anyway, it gets the point across.”

There are times when textual variations are such that the meaning of a passage remains unaffected and so we may say that the textual variation, on such an instance, is insignificant. Coming to your specific example, of course, it may be that many other texts say that Jesus is the messiah, but since we are interested in knowing the words of the author, it would still be important to ascertain whether or not a particular author also referred to Jesus as the messiah, or quoted Jesus as claiming to be the messiah, in a specific passage whose wording is uncertain. As stated before, this is simply because we would like to know what the author said originally on this particular instance. Unfortunately, there are also times when the variations are such that the meaning of the passage is affected. Thus, they cannot be ignored.

    “Also, at times historical evidence contained within the text will aid in the establishment of a text. So the two are not of necessity separate from one another.”

I presume that by “historical evidence within a text” you mean internal factors which textual scholars may consider, at times, while deciding the earlier form of a particular text, factors such as paying attention to the style of the author; his theology; demands of the context etc. Such a method, where attention is focused almost exclusively on internal considerations, is known as “thoroughgoing eclecticism.” More commonly, textual scholars usually follow “reasoned eclecticism,” where both the internal and external factors are given equal weight while deciding upon an earlier reading. I don’t see how a text may be deemed to be historically reliable, to any extent, just because textual uncertainties within it, on occasions, are decided by considering the style and theology of the author, as well as by considering the requirements of the immediate context of the passage. This is very different from “historical reliability.” For instance, we may emend the text of a fictional book by considering such types of internal factors.

Therefore, I feel like I must reiterate my initial point: textual reliability and historical reliability are not one and the same. Just because a book may be textually reliable does not follow that it is historically reliable.

    “It’s evident, too, that there are a multitude of other issues which bear upon the authenticity of the original text. E.g., what sort of text are we dealing with — history, poetry, etc.; what suffices for credible evidence in reaching a specific conclusion about a text; and so on.

    And as far as I’m aware, no text from antiquity is indisputably without textual variance.”

Of course, variations crept within all the ancient texts during the course of their transmission. Some were corrupted more than others. In the case of the gospels, for instance, we are faced with books which proclaim Jesus (P) and have a particular theological message offer. Sort of like ancient biographies, but also highly theologised books. I think the nature of these books explains the reason why their texts were unstable in the earlier period of their transmission – there were more reasons and motivations to change their texts at times.

      > Not a problem. 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.

    “Thanks, that certainly clears things up a bit more for me.

    I would mention, however, that because of the course of history, markedly different intellectual and political ideologies, social-cultural factors, and so forth, it does not appear to me that Middle Eastern scholarship is as openly critical towards Islam in the same way and to the same degree that Western scholarship is as openly critical towards Christianity.”

I think the problem here is mixing and transposing two very different areas of studies and imposing ones terminology and norms upon another. When we deal with Christianity and the Bible, we need to view the subject in its context and according to the norms of its scholarship. Likewise, when we consider Islamic studies, we need to consider it within its own context and environment.

I don’t know what you mean by “openly critical”? If you mean by this “hostile,” then no, Islamic scholarship, while critical right from the outset, is not hostile towards the Quran and its textual integrity is fully endorsed. I must add here that even Orientalists in general – non-Muslim scholars of Islam – also generally accept the Qurans textual authenticity. That is because, as I later realized, the Quran is based on vastly stronger foundations. I will try to elaborate on this later.

I disagree with your statement that “Middle Eastern” scholarship, rather, it should be Islamic scholarship, is “uncritical.” In every sphere we have had Muslim scholars from the earliest times devising critical methods to test the authenticity of reports, ensure authentic transmission of books etc. Let me try to give some examples and brief elaborations:

    Muslim scholars devised an elaborate critical science – a critical methodology – in order to critically analyse each and every historical report to determine its level of authenticity. A hadith is a transmitted report, coming from varying numbers of chains, or channels, of transmissions. It may contain, for instance, historical information heard, remembered or acquired by the transmitter(s). For example, when the Prophet (P) said or taught something, it was learnt, memorized or noted by one or more individuals present at the time, who then transmitted the wording or the general story to others. A hadith consists of two parts: 1. matn (text) 2. isnad (chain of transmission). The two are critically studied and examined by hadith scholars to determine the grade of authenticity of reports. All the narrators in the chain are studied critically. They must be proven trustworthy, reliable, with good memories, good character etc. Even one blemish on their character renders their information suspect. The chain must be unbroken. Person C must be proven to have acquired his information from Person B, and Person B must be shown to have acquired his information from Person A. Their dates of birth and death are verified to make sure they could have met one another to acquire their information. Their literacy, background and knowledge are meticulously examined. All this data is used to cross-reference the narrations and the various narrators. But this is not the end; the text of the tradition itself is then put through meticulous critical examination. The wording of the text is studied to the minute details, all variations recorded and examined; it is compared with known and unchallengably authentic reports etc. This, in a nutshell, is a very general and brief summarisation of the mechanisms put in place by Muslims to ensure accurate transmission of traditions. They produced detailed biographies about the transmitters containing information such as their dates of birth and demise, education level, knowledge, the strength and reliability of their memories, their friends, teachers, students, relatives, and more importantly, information relating to their character and trustworthiness. Examining these and many other aspects, a hadith is graded accordingly. A report is looked upon with great suspicion and is unacceptable if it emanates from an unknown source or from an anonymous person and is not accepted at all if it derives from a known dishonest individual. A report is not accepted or dismissed simply on face value, it is critically analysed, both its text – noting the variations within texts – and its chain as well.

    Consider the critical methodology applied to the transmission of books: Here too we note the deep desire of Muslim scholars to apply a number of critical tools to preserve authentic transmission of books and to ascertain the identity of the transmitters/transcribers and the related details. For example, anyone relaying a collection of hadith had to be in direct contact with the person he was transmitting from. To use a book without hearing it directly from the author made the person guilty of giving false witness. Thus every authentic hadith collection and book possessed its own chain of transmitters leading back to the author who originally compiled the work. This chain was included within the book. Interpolations were never tolerated, thus if a student desired to add some notes in a book for personal clarification purposes, he/she was required to provide signatures and even a fresh isnad at times. This ensured integrity of the original text of the book by keeping the notes and commentaries on particular passages separate from the body of the text and with the source of the new material always made clear. One of the methods devised by Muslim scholars to transmit books was the ijaza system: this is where the author of a book, or an authorized guarantor of any text or whole book (his own work or who in turn received copying permission through a chain of transmitters going back to the first transmitter or to the author), granted authorization to someone else to transmit the book in his/her turn. This was one, among the many, systems to control the copying and transmission of books – specifying who could make a copy and for what particular use. The date of copying, identification of preceding transmitters/copiers and location of copying all had to be disclosed in the authorization certificates. Any book without an ijaza, that is, detailing the proper permission of copying and the unbroken chain of transmission, was not accepted as authentic and the copier labelled a thief and forger. This is a very brief summary from 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, Leicester, England, pp. 177-193.

    Consider literary criticism – In this field, it was the Arab grammarians who helped the Jews in the resuscitation of the Hebrew language. They analyzed the style and structure of the Quran, made in-depth literary analysis and studies of the Quranic text and this knowledge, in turn, allowed them to assist the Jews in the revival of their language. Besides this, Muslim grammarians produced tons of books on Arabic rhetoric, grammar etc. Literary criticism includes analysing the Arabic of the Quran in detail, studying the dialects, the use of specific words and their origin (Arabic and non-Arabic words) etc.

    Orthography, textual criticism and qiraat – Here also we have a rich amount of critical contribution from Muslim scholars, which includes books on the ways of reading the Quran; styles of writing the Quran; comparisons of different Quranic manuscripts and the listing of the similarities and differences; open critical analysis of Quranic variant readings (rather, multiple readings) etc.

The above is a very, very quick and brief listing of the history of some of the critical scholarship conducted by Muslims from an early time. Note that these critical studies were rampant in the Islamic world at a time when criticising the Bible was a punishable capital crime. Muslims, on the other hand, sought to conduct critical studies, as is seen from the rich history of hadith studies, as they were motivated by the constant Quranic teaching of seeking knowledge and pondering over questions. Yet, despite all this, the Quran’s status remained unaltered and it is still seen as a source of encouragement. Whereas the Bible ended up becoming an object of criticism, the Quran’s status remained high, being an ideal of criticism. The Quran, rather than condemning criticism, called for criticism, by even challenging people to produce something like it. Literary criticism, in fact, is derived from the Quran.

In my personal experience, I feel very comfortable with the acceptance of the Quran as scripture since I have seen that it is a defendable book – a book which stands on its own feet and withstands criticism over and over again. I don’t see the same with the Bible.

    “I note this because it has an influence upon our discussions here. To what extent, I can’t quite say. But for example, witness that a Salman Rushdie is forced away from his homeland, and worse, for taking certain views on the Qur’an while a John Dominican Crossan is a well-respected, tenured professor for taking arguably just as contrary views on the NT from a Christian perspective.”

Patrick, with all due respect, it is quite absurd to compare Prof. Crossan with the likes of Salman Rushdie. Crossan is an acknowledged, qualified and well respected scholar in New Testament studies, particularly in the study of parables, and now on the historical Jesus studies, whereas Salman Rushdie is no scholar of Islamic studies and has no qualifications in this field. I am pretty sure that Mr. Rushdie does not even speak Arabic. Rushdie is a fictional book/novel writer and in the 80’s he wrote a fictional novel (“The Satanic Verses”) which Muslims rightfully found quite offensive and insultive and thus the hoopla. Crossan is acknowledged as a scholar and an expert by friends and foes alike – such as for instance by N. T. Wright – even if you may disagree with his conclusions and methods. Personally, I do not agree with everything that Crossan has to say, nor with his dating of the sources. However, he is no doubt a well-respected scholar. I didn’t out of the blue just made up the fact that Crossan is a respected scholar. Instead, I read scholars describe Crossan as such, including scholars who disagree with his arguments, methodology and conclusions.

      > Well Patrick, that is irrelevant to 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.

    “Yes, this makes sense, too.”

I am glad we agree on this point.

        >> “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 stating that the
      > New Testament text underwent corruption during its
      > transmission.

    “How do we know Muhammed was correct in stating that the NT underwent corruption during its transmission?”

Because of the manuscript evidence. We can compare the manuscripts, note their differences and see both major and minor variations within the texts and the ways scribes altered passages at this. As I said before, that the New Testament text underwent corruption during the course of its transmission is denied BY NO ONE. The only difference of opinion is over the range of corruptions. Please note carefully the name of Metzger’s classical book on textual criticism (emphasis added):

The Text of the New Testament: its transmission, corruption and restoration.

Not even conservative scholars (and Metzger, by the way, is a conservative evangelical scholar) would deny that the New Testament writings underwent corruption during the course of their transmission. But, of course, they would still usually conclude that the current text is “generally” authentic.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that many early Christians were also aware of the corruption of the New Testament texts. Let me quote the statement of one such Christian, Origen, who said:

It is an obvious fact today that there is much diversity among the manuscripts, due either to the carelessness of the scribes, or to the perverse audacity of some people in correcting the text, or again to the fact that there are those who add or delete as they please, setting themselves up as correctors.

[In Matthaeum XV, 14, PG 13, col. 1293 – quoted in Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux, (Trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 96]

      > Second, how did Muhammed know which was the correct
      > version, well, God inspired him and so he knew. Now, to
      > verify this statement of mine, you would have to undertake
      > your own research and come to your own conclusion.

    “Isn’t this begging the question? Muhammed knew x to be true because God inspired him to know x is true. Muhammed knew that the NT underwent corruption during its transmission because God inspired him to know that the NT underwent corruption during its transmission.

    Obviously, a Christian could say the same thing about the Bible: the apostle Paul knew the Bible to be true because God inspired him to know that the Bible is true.

    Somehow I suspect this line of reasoning wouldn’t go very far in a debate!

    (You mention conducting one’s own research, which is fair; however, since this dialogue we’re having is in part conducted as an argument, I’m merely pointing out that the statement isn’t a sound one.)”

Well, yes, it is circular logic but you missed my point. Of course, as a Muslim, I believe Muhammed (P) knew that the New Testament underwent corruption, which is a fact, because God was the source of his knowledge. But I am not asking you to accept this claim and belief of mine at face value. Instead, this is what I am saying: verify the claim. Either Muhammed (P) was lying when he said God inspired him or he was telling the truth. How do we find this out? Well, we need to do our own research and then decide don’t we? So, I hope you can see I am not asking you to just blindly take my word for it, i.e., that Muhammed (P) was inspired. Instead, we are faced with his claim and so it is up to us to study it.

You rightfully point out that a Christian could say the same about Paul as well – that he was inspired. Again, we would have to study his words and claims and then decide whether or not Paul was telling the truth.

Assuming, for arguments sake, if Muhammed (P) was not inspired, it still remains that he was right to point out that the previous writings had underwent textual corruptions. How did he find this out? I don’t know…may be it was just a darn good guess? Well, personally, I think God was his source of knowledge. But then again, it is up to you to investigate this claim and then decide for yourself.

      > You also enquire 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.

    “Sort of, so let me clarify. I’m actually asking how Muslims know that the stories about Jesus and the apostles, etc., within the Qur’an are more historically accurate than the stories about Jesus and the apostles, etc., within the NT, without appealing to the divine inspiration of the Qur’an?”

Of course, as a believer I have to accept that the Quranic accounts are historically reliable because it is the word of God. Thus, it would be a faith based decision. Don’t worry, I won’t use such arguments in my discussions with you or any other Christian. Now, pondering over your question purely as a historian and putting my Islamic presuppositions aside, to make such a determination – whether or not the Quranic accounts about Jesus (P) are historically plausible – I would do what all historians do. That is, study the Quranic accounts and claims, check earlier historical sources, do the comparison and then see where the results take me. This is what I tried to do in the recent past and I was amazed with the results. It vastly increased my belief and confidence in the Quran. For instance, we can now see that the Quranic presentation of Jesus is generally more reliable by considering the reconstructions of the historical Jesus produced by a variety of critical scholars using different methodologies and who are in no way influenced by the Quran. As I said before, even if I were to ever leave Islam, my view of Jesus would still remain pretty much similar to the general Quranic presentation of Jesus (P). That is to say, I would not believe that Jesus (P) claimed to be God, the second person of the Trinity, that he claimed to die for the sins of mankind, that he claimed to be “the Son of God” – as in “more than a man”, that he predicted his resurrection. I would also believe that Jesus’ (P) mission was aimed primarily towards the Jewish people – although on occasions he had some contacts with Gentiles – that he saw himself as no more than a prophet and servant of God. This is the type of reconstruction which is supported by most New Testament scholars. This, therefore, raises my confidence in the Quran and I have reasons, therefore, to trust its accounts. Of course, there are certain things which I accept on faith alone, such as Jesus’ virgin birth, his miracles etc.

    “Let’s take one example. The Qur’an declares that Jesus was not killed. The NT declares that Jesus was killed. Why should we believe the Qur’an on this point rather than the NT? And not only the NT, but why should we believe the Qur’an over other contemporaneous sources as the NT such as Josephus and Tacitus? Even the Jewish Talmud mentions that Jesus was killed.”

I think that’s a fair question. Why should we believe the Quran when the New Testament writings, and other sources, declare that Jesus (P) was crucified. In my case, when I note that so many of the other things which the Quran relates about Jesus (P) are generally readily accepted by scholars and that, in fact, the general Quranic presentation of Jesus (P) would be acceptable to most critical scholars without too many qualms, that raises my trust in the Quran and so I can accept something’s within the Quran which cannot be absolutely demonstrated based on my faith alone. This is similar to my acceptance of the virgin birth of Jesus (P) and the miracles of Jesus (P). From a purely historical perspective, I have no reason whatsoever to suppose that Jesus (P) was indeed born to a virgin and that he did many miracles. Nonetheless, based on faith, I accept these claims. The same goes for the denial of crucifixion; I believe that God did miraculously save Jesus (P) from death. From my perspective, it is not much of a “stretch” for me to accept the Quran’s claim that Jesus (P) was not killed and that he was born to a virgin.

Moreover, we should note that there is no archaeological, historical and scientific “proof” and “evidence” to show that the event of the crucifixion really did take place. Instead, almost all New Testament scholars believe that Jesus (P) was crucified not because there is any solid proof to demonstrate it, but only because it is most unlikely that Christians would have invented such a story. Therefore, it is supposed that the crucifixion was most likely a historical event. I do believe that an attempt was made to kill Jesus (P) and so the Christians did not invent or forge the story of the crucifixion, but that God miraculously saved Jesus (P) from death. This, of course, I accept based on my faith. As you would know as a Christian, there are something’s the acceptance of which requires faith alone.

Both Muslims and Christians agree that something miraculous did occur near the very end of Jesus’ (P) ministry – according to Christians Jesus (P) came back from death and was resurrected, whereas for Muslims, Jesus (P) was saved by God from a humiliating death on the cross.

Finally, a few words regarding Tacitus, Josephus and the Talmud. All of these are late sources – Josephus = the last decade of the first century; Tacitus = the early second century; and the Talmud much, much later! All of these sources were composed a long time after the occurrence of the alleged events and thus do not constitute nor provide eyewitness testimony. They come at a time when it was already generally believed that Jesus (P) was crucified and so they merely repeat this claim, without making any effort to critically analyse it since there was really no need or reason for them to deny or doubt the crucifixion. For instance, let me quote from a highly conservative evangelical reference the comments pertaining to Tacitus:

. . . Tacitus is only repeating what Christians in his day were saying about their origins.

[Dr Richard Baukham, Rev, Dr R. T. France, Melba Maggay, Dr James Stamodis, Dr Carsten Peter Thiede (Consulting Editors), Jesus 2000: A major investigation into history’s most intriguing figure, 1989, Lion Publishing plc, pp. 10-11]

Similarly, the Talmudic references to Jesus (P), which are also coming at a late date, are nothing more than angry Jewish reactions and polemics.

Having said this, I will just add that among the early Christians, there is indeed some evidence of Christians who did deny the event of the crucifixion, but I wouldn’t like to get into that long discussion for now.

      > 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.

    “As a Christian and a Muslim, I presume we would share the following commonalities (among others): belief in a single God; belief that God has revealed His Word to us (whether in the Bible or Qur’an); and belief that miracles are possible. The possible occurrence of miracles is therefore not in dispute.”

Yes, I agree with you entirely and I am glad that you acknowledge that Muslims do worship One God since many Christians, unfortunately, these days commonly deny this. Of course, I do accept the occurrence of miracles, but, I think that we cannot really “prove” that a particular miracle did take place in the past and thus we accept it based on our faith alone.

      > 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 by NON-MUSLIM
      > scholars, books by scholars such as 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 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.

    “Based on the scholars you cited, that does indeed speak volumes, at least to me, regarding your view on Jesus.

    If I limit my companions only to those in high society, or only to sailors, for example, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if in turn I began to think, act, dress, and speak as they do. It’s not an absolute given, of course, that this will always be the case, but certainly it wouldn’t be terribly shocking if it did take place.

    Now, regarding these scholars, they may indeed be well-respected scholars within Western society, with its rampant secularism and humanism, but that, to me as a Christian, is about as significant as Syria heading the United Nations’ Security Council. No offense to Syria, because they at least have the moral compunction to actualize their beliefs. These scholars are from a select spectrum of what can only loosely be defined as Christianity, except for Vermes who isn’t a Christian. Thus their opinions carry little if any weight with me.

    Particularly since there exist other scholars who have taken them to task for their muddled meanderings through the NT text. One need look no further than Daniel Wallace or Don Carson. Even James White debated John Dominic Crossan on issues relevant to the reliability of the NT as well as its picture of Jesus Christ.”

One can raise a similar case against you – Carson, Wallace and White are all evangelicals, all Protestants as far as I know, and do not really represent that many Christians anyway. Therefore, you limit your companions to a particular type; you limit yourself to a select fringe spectrum. In contrast, although I have read the writings of many more scholars, and continue to do so even now, even the few that I mentioned represent a more diverse spectrum of historical Jesus scholarship, thus, being more representative of mainstream scholarship.

Prof. Vermes is a Jewish scholar of course, although a former Christian, but E. P. Sanders, for instance, is a Protestant scholar. C. M Tuckett is also a Christian and currently I am reading a book by Prof. Stanton, who is also a devout Christian and whose reconstruction of the historical Jesus (P) is also similar to the Quranic presentation. This also brings to my mind another practising Christian scholar, James Dunn, who has also authored a massive volume on the historical Jesus and whose reconstruction is, again, quite similar to the Quranic one. Thus, we see many different scholars, Jewish, Christians and those who do not subscribe to these religions, all coming from different backgrounds and applying different methodologies and coming to basically the same types of historical reconstructions, with minor differences here and there. Also note that many of these scholars accept the “general” reliability of the gospels and have a generally positive outlook towards them (Sanders and Dunn in particular).

I also find problematic your insinuation that the above referred scholars have come up with their historical Jesus reconstructions due to “rampant secularism and humanism.” I don’t see how that works. I don’t understand how being secular and humanist would lead them, and many others, to conclude that Jesus (P) is unlikely to have claimed to be God after examining the gospels, or how secularism and humanism plays a role in reconstructions contrary to the evangelical ones. In fact, using a similar argument, one might also suggest that evangelical scholars come up with a certain image of Jesus (P) due to their evangelical presuppositions and a priori beliefs which govern/control the way they analyse data. It seems to me that evangelicals are happy to arrogantly believe that their conclusions and historical Jesus reconstructions emanate from the most honest, pure and utterly unbiased investigations/analysis of the data, whereas all opposing reconstructions come about solely as a result of the hordes of alleged “presuppositions” held by those scholars. I do not find such logic very persuasive. In my reading I have not found that the reconstructions of the historical Jesus by scholars in general, which, as I noted many times before, is quite similar to the Quranic presentation, is due “rampant secularism and humanism” or presuppositions such as opposition of miracles etc. I invite you to read E. P. Sanders: “The Historical Figure of Jesus” – Sanders is no Jesus-Seminar scholar.

Coming briefly to the scholars you refer to, I do not think that Wallace and Carson have written anything against the scholars I mentioned earlier on, unless, of course, you can refer to particular writings of theirs.

    “In addition, C.S. Lewis’ short essay, “Fern-seed and Elephants,” might be worth reading. Not that I agree with everything in it, but it’s an amusing and poignant take on the topic. There is likewise another essay entitled “The Identity of the Pseudo-Bunyan” by Ronald Knox that pokes fun at such scholarship as well — spoofing searches for the historical Jesus, the Q document, etc. with an appreciable degree of sophistication and intelligence.”

Thank you for bringing these essays to my notice. I will try to acquire them through my local libraries in the near future.

    “And fashionable theories du jour aside, fit only for itching ears — whether popular, such as The Da Vinci Code, or more academic, such as the NPP — it’s not as if the NT were a shrouded, mysterious work from the past that requires a secret initiate to crack its code in order to understand its meaning, nor do arcane teachings unknown to past generations of Christians lay beneath its heavy sheaves, awaiting the astute mental faculties of a 20th or 21st century academic to unearth and shed some much needed light on them.

    No, the NT is today freely available for any person, scholar or layman, to simply “take up and read.” A person can thus come to his own conclusion about the person and work of Jesus Christ without particular reference to secondary source materials from scholars. Scholars obviously have their place, and I’m not discounting scholarship by any means, but in regard to the specific topic of the person and work of Jesus Christ, I’m suggesting it would be better to take a look at the text of the NT itself before allowing oneself to view it through a contemporary scholar’s interpretative lense. In other words, since I believe the text of the NT as we possess it today is reliable and accurate, sufficient and complete, it would make the most sense to simply see what it teaches about Jesus Christ.”

Well, I partially agree. Of course, the first step to take is to read the actual writings themselves before referring to any other writings, such as the scholarly writings. That is to say, read the gospels and the other New Testament documents in order to try to understand what the authors are saying. However, we have four gospels in the New Testament and as we read one gospel after another, we can immediately notice the similarities and differences between them. How do we explain these similarities and differences? Moreover, in order to understand the meanings of certain terms, key words and phrases – and remember that meanings change over time so that what a particular word meant 2000 years ago may carry a very different meaning today – we need to consider the environmental context/social as well. Moreover, since the gospels are theological writings which aim to bring forth the theological views and beliefs of their authors, we know that they are not entirely historical and thus we need to read them carefully bearing in mind their genre. In order to understand what is likely historical and non-historical in these documents, I think it is wise to refer to the scholarly literature and understand the tools and criteria applied by scholars.

Now, when you assert that “I believe that the text of the NT as we possess it today is reliable and accurate, sufficient and complete,” you are begging the question. How do you know that the New Testament writings are historically and textually reliable and accurate? Let me add that even evangelical scholars generally acknowledge that not everything within the gospels is historical. If we wish to know what the New Testament authors teach about Jesus (P), then we can simply read their writings and end it at that. But if we wish to ascertain what Jesus (P) himself actually taught and said, then we need to refer to the various methods devised painstakingly by scholars and attempt to apply them upon the gospels.

      > 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
      > 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.

    “For me the miracle is precisely this: how could the sacred scriptures of the Baha’i get so much right despite the fact that it came about centuries and centuries after the Qur’an and has offered a presentation of Muhammed and other religious leaders which would be broadly 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 statements of the sacred scriptures of the Baha’i seriously, that it is a revelation from God. But then again, this is my personal view.

    (Yes, Steve Hays was my muse here.)”

Patrick, this is a very juvenile “response” to my statement. There is no attempt to engage with it and your friend merely reacts in a very superficial manner. I cannot see how the example of the Bhai is even remotely similar and comparable with Muhammed (P). Let me explain: the Bhai faith began in the mid 19th century. The founder and first adherents of this faith were Muslims, coming from within Islam (although Shiah) – they were raised as Muslims and were conversant with the Quran and other Islamic sources. Moreover, they didn’t come up with any particular “image” or “presentation” of Muhammed (P), so the statement “how could the sacred scriptures of the Baha’i get so much right” (any examples?) is just nonsense. Muhammed (P), on the other hand, did not come from within the Christian or Jewish tradition. As James White acknowledged numerous times, Muhammed (P) had no access to the Bible, he could not speak Greek and Hebrew, and he knew nothing about the contents of these writings. In fact, his society was a pagan one. Yet what he claims turns out to be true even though he had no way of ascertaining these facts – the corruption of the earlier writings and the presentation of Jesus (P) being one which would be generally acceptable to most scholars today. It could be that Muhammed (P) just made a darn good guess, but I doubt that. Now, this in no way is even remotely comparable and in anyway similar to the example of the Bhai so ignorantly brought up by your friend, who obviously didn’t bother even to research about the Bhais.

      > Aso 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.

    “These two are again not necessarily separate entities, never without any reference whatsoever to one another. At times I don’t see why one can’t be allowed to support the other: no construct of reliability is an island, entire of itself.”

Well, I am not yet convinced by your explanation. I mean, how? That a document is textually reliable does not follow that it is historically reliable in everything it has to say. How are the two linked? Perhaps you can try to explain your perspective better the next time.

      > Yes, an objective researcher would ask such questions,
      > so did I. For me it did not impinges upon the reliability
      > of the Quran especially when the Quran was 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.

    “I agree.

    However, everybody involved in a debate will sooner or later invoke the entreaty you’ve invoked, that “if you are serious in knowing the truth…then it is up to you to conduct your study.”

    With that in mind, let’s not forget that there’s a dividing line between seeking the truth for the truth’s sake and spoon-feeding oneself with data in order to do the opposite of seeking the truth, in order to, perhaps, appear wise, tolerant, and understanding towards others while remaining completely opposed to the truth in one’s heart.

    This is known as rebellion against God.”

I can say the same thing to you as well I guess, but we cannot get inside each others heart and mind to know for sure how the other fellow truly feels. I don’t think that I am being “rebellious” by merely disagreeing with your perspective. As I have attempted to show, I have my own reasons and arguments in support of my viewpoint even if you may disagree with them. My outlook is simple: if Islam is false, I have no desire to live according to its teachings. If the Bible is shown to be entirely reliable in everything it has to say, then I would very much like to follow it. However, thus far I have not been convinced that Islam is false and that the Bible is entirely accurate, let alone inspired.

[Note: Removing the citation of Romans 3:10-18]

      > 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, but
      > 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.

    “If by Christians you mean the whole of Christendom, from Roman Catholics to Eastern Orthodox to Protestants, and everyone in between, then I suppose it is true that Christians are in disagreement over the inspiration of the NT.

    If by Christians you mean Protestants in the United States, ranging from liberal to conservative, then I suppose it is true that Christians are in disagreement over the inspiration of the NT.

    If by Christians you mean those Protestants who consider themselves Reformed and Calvinistic, then I do not suppose there is any disagreement over the inspiration of the NT.

    That view of inspiration, and the one I myself commend, can be found here:

    http://www.aomin.org/THEOPNEU.html”

Fine, I guess that proves my point. Different sects have different understanding and conception of the inspiration of the New Testament. Most, however, despite disagreements over many issues, do nonetheless agree that the Bible is not inspired in the plenary verbal manner and thus it is not “revealed.” Furthermore, correct me if I am wrong, but I doubt that reformed Calvinists really represent a large portion of Christians.

The paper you invite me to read is absolutely huge and I am having difficulty reading it. Nonetheless, I have read a little on Warfield and disagree with his views about the inerrancy of the Bible. Most Christians, whatever the denomination, would also disagree with Warfield in this regard.

      > 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.

    “It may very well be that most modern day Christians do not accept the NT as revealed, but the quantity of scholars in consensus on a topic or issue is thankfully not what determines the truth.”

I know. Majority does not determine the truth. Likewise, neither does a minority. In any case, I wasn’t referring to the quantity of scholars, but Christians in general. Also, I doubt that Christians in the early centuries regarded the New Testament writings to be “revealed” or inspired in a plenary verbal manner. A few names are popping up in my mind right now, that of Papias, who described the gospels in a way that leaves little doubt that he saw them as no more than historical documents, but certainly not as “inerrant inspired Scriptures.” Moreover, I also wonder how Matthew and Luke would have viewed Mark, whose stories they borrowed and adapted for theological and other reasons – something readily acknowledged by most conservative scholars as well. I think it is most unlikely that Matthew and Luke regarded Mark as “inerrant” or even “inspired Scripture” and we may even say that they would be likely shocked upon learning that Mark ended up being their neighbour besides them in the canon.

      > 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 you just to accept its claim that it is
      > “inspired” and revealed. Instead, I only ask you to study
      > yourself and decide for yourself.

    “Your position that outsiders should not “start off with the presupposition that [whatever religious text is] ‘inspired’ or ‘revealed’ writings” but rather “study and decide for yourself” is no different than any fair-minded position on nearly any particular issue, and certainly no different than the Christian position in regard to the Bible.”

I see we agree on this matter.

      > 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.”

    “Thanks for the clarification.”

Fine thus far.

      > To me you seem to be giving the impression as if I
      > “made up” or “invented” the claim or idea of New Testament
      > textual corruption.

    “If I did, it was not my intention.”

Fine.

      > 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.

    “By “corruption,” I think you mean more than what I mean when I say “corruption.”

No. By “corruption” I mean “corruption.” Period. There is no hidden meaning in my mind. I’ve already described how I understand textual corruption, which is the way how all textual scholars understand it.

    “And by “all” textual critics, I think you mean “some.””

No. By “all” textual critics I do indeed mean ALL textual critics. Patrick, I really don’t play such types of semantics; I say exactly what’s on my mind without any hidden meanings. You know, even James White would not deny that the text of the New Testament writings underwent corruption during transmission. However, he would argue that the corruptions are supposedly largely known, that no variations of theological significance exist (I disagree, of course) and that the present form of the text is virtually authentic (I would disagree!). Thus, the fact of corruption, itself, is not in dispute.

      > 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.

    “Let me again point out that sheer numbers do not necessarily define the truth. If most the scholars of the ancient world believed the earth was flat, would that have made the earth flat?”

Of course, I did not suggest that sheer numbers by themselves “prove” that something is true and your analogy is not in anyway similar to what I was attempting to say. Instead, I merely drew your attention to the fact that many textual scholars are now beginning to more increasingly question the assertions made by some textual scholars in the past, so as to say that we should consider their arguments seriously as well. I didn’t ask you to close your eyes and accept what they are saying without question.

    “Moreover it wouldn’t surpise me if most of these same scholars who all but censure the NT would, if given the opportunity, likewise all but censure the Qur’an.

    Liberal scholarship cuts both ways.”

They do not “censure” the New Testament; but only bring to light the data and the arguments drawn from it. That is not “censuring.” You give the impression as if they say what they say about the text of the New Testament merely for the sake of “censuring” due to their “hate” and “contempt” towards the New Testament. I do not buy such types of arguments. Interestingly enough, I should have included Metzger, a conservative evangelical Christian, to the list as he has many revealing things to say about the textual transmission of the New Testament writings in his latest edition “The Text of the New Testament: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration.” Also, I did include the name of a prominent evangelical and conservative textual scholar, John Brogan, who discusses modern textual criticism, the emerging trends among textual scholars, and questions the exaggerated assertions of his fellow evangelists. Check his essay:

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 these scholars allegedly “censuring” the textual integrity of the Quran in a “similar” manner, as if they do it for “fun,” then that reveals your lack of knowledge pertaining to the differences between the textual integrity and transmission mode of the Quran and that of the New Testament writings. This is just your “inner-feeling”; you have no way of demonstrating it. I think many, if not all, of these scholars would refrain from commenting upon the textual integrity of the Quran since they aren’t its scholars. Nonetheless, as I said before, most Orientalists – the non-Muslim scholars of Islam – do generally accept the textual integrity of the Quran even though they do not accept it as the Word of God. Thus, from this factual observation we can see that the textual basis of the Quran is far stronger and firmer than that of the New Testament as even those approaching the Quran from outside of Islam do not generally doubt its textual authenticity. I will try to elaborate upon this in a while.

[Note: deleting two short paragraphs since I’ve already addressed those types of points above]

      > “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.”

    “Whether by good will or ill, or whether by the consent of an entire community or the inclination of a single individual, it is an established fact that copies of the Qur’an were destroyed, is it not?”

Patrick, they were not copies of a “different” Quran, nor were all destroyed. What was destroyed was basically fragments and incomplete copies, containing the same Quran which was reproduced in the masahif (masahif = books; mushaf = book) on the orders of Uthman, who consulted openly with the Muslims and sought their advice. Once the masahif were produced, they were publicly recited, compared with the existing fragments and copies of this same Quran, and once the two were seen to be identical, these hadcover books were distributed and the old worn out fragments, incomplete copies etc., containing the same Quran, were burnt in the open. This was not Uthman’s personal decision, it was a community decision and Uthman was much praised for his conduct on this occasion since he freely consulted with the people. So, Uthman did not impose upon the people something that was unknown or utterly alien to them. This is seen from the widespread public support and praise enjoyed by Uthman at this time. Please remember that Uthman was later violently opposed by the people over matters which pale in significance when compared to the Quran. But never did Uthman’s opponents made primary the accusation against him of allegedly “altering” the Quran. What is more, during the time of Uthman Islam had spread far and wide, well beyond the confines of Arabia, all the way to India, with many thousands, if not millions, coming to the fold of Islam. How could Uthman, who is known to be a very gentle and meek old man, impose something entirely “different” upon a people spread so far and wide without so much as getting a street protest? As you might know, the Quran, from day one, was of the utmost importance to all Muslims and people were willing to die for its protection and honour. Yet, Uthman faced no opposition worth mention regarding the matter of the Quran. Furthermore, after Uthman’s martyrdom, we had a situation where two opposing groups come to power, one led by Ali and the other led by Muawiyah, and they had a huge battle which cost the lives of around 90,000 souls. Yet no one at this time fussed over the matter of the Quran. All opposing sides followed the same book, appealed to the same book and differed over the interpretation of the same book.

For these and other reasons, even Orientalists, generally, consider Uthman to have been an honest individual who did no wrong and who did not impose anything “new” and “unknown” or in anyway “different” upon the people.

    “The only question, then, is what those copies contained. You submit that the copies were no different than the current copies of the Qur’an. Other historians differ in their opinion.”

Yes, a FEW Orientalists do differ, such as the late Arthur Jeffery for instance. But Orientalists GENERALLY agree that nothing “new” was introduced by Uthman since he was in no position to do so for some of the reasons enumerated above. Moreover, Muslim scholars, on the other hand, are even more unanimous in this stance, with hardly any difference of opinion on this matter.

    “Perhaps you’re right, perhaps they’re right. But we’ll never know since the other copies of the Qur’an were destroyed.”

But we do know that they are wrong and mainstream scholarship correct since we can investigate the historical reports and the data, as countless many have done sp in the past. As I said before, what was destroyed, and all other copies, were compared in the open with the masahif, and read out aloud, and once the two were seen to be identical, only then were the masahif distributed.

    “Hence, however we slice it, by my count, and for all practical intents and purposes, that would only leave a single Qur’an with no past but a textual history that essentially begins with Uthman.”

There has always ever been a single Quran and not multiple Qurans. Let me explain why your argument is unpersuasive: the Quran was revealed to Muhammed (P), it was memorised by him and by his followers and then recited multiple times in prayers continuously. At the same time, this Quran was also transcribed. Some individuals wrote portions of it in their personal notebooks, whereas Muhammed (P) himself had a large group of scribes who transcribed the verses for him. During Uthman’s time, all of these notebooks and other materials, together with the memorizers of the Quran, were gathered together and proper book type (mushaf) hardcover copies of this same Quran were produced. Thereafter, these mushaf were read out in the public and compared with the prior material and the memories of the reciters, consisting and containing the same Quran. Once they were seen to be identical, the masahif were distributed. Therefore, the history of the Quran does not start from Uthman; it goes back to Muhammed (P) in an unbroken chain of transmission.

Moreover, some people do not seem to realise who Uthman really was. He was the son in law of Muhammed (P) and, himself, a complete memorizer of the Quran. Uthman is among one of the closest companions of Muhammed (P). His equivalent in Christianity would be someone like Peter or John, or any others of the very close disciples of Jesus (P). I am sure you would be absolutely thrilled if you had something from Peter and John themselves, not doubting it for a second. I am also sure you would not be impressed if I hit back and said something like, “well, John’s writing and testimony goes back only to him and ends at him.” (just assuming, for arguments sake, if we had his writing). Uthman, in contrast, served Muhammed (P) for far many more years than Peter or John served Jesus (P). Uthman was a complete memorizer of the Quran as well. Moreover, at this time, Uthman was readily assisted and supported by other close companions of Muhammed (P) as well, including the cousin of Muhammed (P), Ali. Yet we are asked to “doubt” Uthman and, for no reason whatsoever, asked to “just believe” that he “somehow” managed to impose upon a huge empire and a vast people, with no one noticing it of course, something that was entirely or substantially “unknown” to them and “different” from what Muhammed (P) had left!

The burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate that such a close companion of Muhammed (P) as Uthman, known widely for his good character, gentleness and honesty, introduced something “new” during his caliphate which was somehow “different” from the Quran left by Muhammed (P).

I should also point out here that double standards are actually used by Christians in their arguments and discussions with Muslims, contrary to what James White proclaimed numerous times. This has become obvious to me after having discussions with you and other Christians. For instance, I think I would be right if I say that you have probably never in your life read any introductory book on the Quran and Islam by a Muslim scholar. Thus, you really know nothing much about the compilation and transmission of the Quran and how it differs from that of the New Testament, which is readily obvious to me from your statements. Nonetheless, you came across assertions made by Christian polemicists online against the integrity of the Quran and you immediately convinced yourself that they “must be true” and you are now willing to defend those polemics to death. That indicates to me that you, unfortunately, are happy to endorse just about anything negative against Islam and the Quran because you really would like them to be true. This is your natural inclination. Contrast this with my approach to Christianity and the Bible: I have gone out of my way to purchase books by believing Christians such as Craig Bloomberg, Josh McDowell, F. F. Bruce, William Lane Craig, John Drane, Donald Guthrie, Howard I. Marshall and many others. I start by understanding what Christians themselves have to say about their faith, about their books etc. Thereafter, I do refer to opposing writings. But I do not just accept everything they have to say blindly. Instead, I compare the two sides and then try to figure out for myself as to which is the stronger side. As such, I do not, for instance, accept everything that Crossan has to say, or fully endorse the methodology of the Jesus Seminar (I also read writings opposing their methodology), or accept everything that everyone else has to say. I see little of this taking place on the Christian side. But I hope that now, as a result of our discussion, you might be at least a little interested to pursue Islam seriously instead of just venturing into online polemical writings against it.

    “Contrast this to the NT in which there are literally thousands of extant copies, dating from different periods, in different places around the known world, by different groups of people, translated into different languages, often transcribed under great duress and persecution, yet, not only are the different textual families of the NT nearly identical to one another, but even in the variants, as Prof. Gordon Fee indicates, “It is noteworthy that for most scholars over 90 percent of all the variations to the NT text are resolved, because in most instances the variant that best explains the origin of the others is also supported by the earliest and best witnesses.”“

I think you are suffering from the mistaken impression that there are no or few extant copies of the Quran dating from different periods, different places, in different languages etc. Well, let me correct you right now: while there are a mere 5000+ Greek manuscripts of the New Testament extant today (the earliest ones being fragmentary and well over 90% dating from the medieval period and onwards), the number of extant Quranic manuscripts is easily more than ten folds this figure. According to the estimation of one of the leading scholars in the field of Quranic and hadith studies today, Prof. Azami, there are likely to be about a quarter of a million partial or complete Quranic manuscripts covering all eras. Prof. Azami describes this as a conservative figure, and also makes mention of the collection at Turk ve Islam Eserleri Muzesi, in Istanbul, estimated to have around 210,000 folios. Moreover, in the Sanaa manuscripts alone, we have around 40,000 sheets of Old parchment and paper of Quranic text. There are many other sizable collections of Quranic manuscripts elsewhere in the world. (See 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, pp. 315-316). While there is no manuscript evidence and no documentary evidence for any part of the New Testament from the first Christian century, there is solid and substantial documentary evidence for the Quran, in the form of both manuscripts and inscriptions, going back well within the first Islamic century. For instance, see the discussion, collection of manuscripts and dates of Quranic manuscripts here. You are welcome to compare this with the manuscript evidence of the New Testament as you will see that the Quran is in a far better position.

Moving on, I am familiar with Prof. Fee and have his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles as well. Please pass me the proper reference where we find the quote you present. I understand that some scholars claim that 99.8% of the New Testament text is textually reliable, whereas others claim its 95% and yet others claim its 90%. So, there seems to be no agreement over this matter and I am sure there would be scholars around who would disagree with Prof. Fee’s observation. Personally, I do not see how these scholars determine the percentages. If the text of the book of Acts alone is some 8-10% longer in the Western type of text, then I wonder how anyone can assert that the textual reliability of the New Testament is in the region of over 90%? Furthermore, Fee’s assertion appears to be challenged in Metzger’s aforementioned latest edition of his introduction to textual criticism. We read therein:

In 1966, after a decade of work by an international committee, five bible societies published an edition of the Greek New Testament designed for the use of Bible translators and students. The textual apparatus, which provided a relatively full citation of manuscript evidence, included about 1,440 sets of variant readings, chosen especially for their exegetical significance… Meanwhile, plans had already been made for the fourth edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. In 1981, at a meeting of the five members of the editorial committee (the places left vacant by the retirement of Matthew Black and Allen Wikgren were filled by Barbara Aland and John Karavidopoulos of Salonica), decisions were made to introduce into the apparatus 284 additional sets of variant readings for passages of exegetical importance. Furthermore, though no change was voted to alter the wording of the scriptural text, it was agreed that in some cases a modification needed to be made in the assignment of the categories of A, B, C and D relating to the certainty of readings adopted in the text…

[Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 192-194]

Thus we learn that the 1,440 and 284 sets of variant readings have exegetical significance – they are important for the interpretation of various passages and so cannot be just dismissed or casually caste aside. Thus challenges the assertion that “over 90%” of the variations within the New Testament text are “resolved” and that the variations are of little significance. Nonetheless, I hope you pass me the precise reference of the essay/book from which you derived the citation so I may try to obtain it for my own reading.

Furthermore, in light of the fact that the earlier we go the more fluidity we encounter, be it in the quotations and allusions of the fathers or in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, I doubt that we have the “original” text and that all of the corruptions inserted within the New Testament texts are known. Therefore, there are still more than likely to be corruptions within the New Testament text which may or may not come to light depending upon the discovery of earlier manuscripts (this is not to say that the original text was absolutely or radically different from the current restored form of the text).

    “It’s a different beast altogether to claim that a text is reliable when there is essentially only a single source (and evidence of the destruction of past sources), mandated by a particular person and/or community, upon which to base the assertion, and to claim that a text is reliable when there is an abundance of textual and other evidences for concluding so.”

I have responded to this misundersanding above in detail.

      > 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 word of Greek either, and who was basically
      > 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.

    “How interesting. I, in turn, might argue that Joseph Smith, who lived centuries and centuries after the composition of the Qur’an and other Muslim writings, who could not speak a word of Arabic either, and who was basically illiterate, could have been in no position to conduct painstaking studies to know that all previous sacred writings had underwent corruption during the course of their transmission, so only The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, and (maybe) the KJV of the Bible should be authoritative. Yet, despite all these hurdles, Joseph’s Smith’s 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.”

Again, you respond with an entirely different example which is not even remotely similar to the example of Muhammed (P). I was hoping you would make a serious attempt to engage with my viewpoint, but for some reason I see you wish to avoid it. Coming to your superficial example, Joseph Smith was not “basically illiterate” as you erroneously assert; he could read and write English. So what if Smith could not speak a word of Arabic and had no access to the Muslim writings? He was not, afterall, coming up with statements pertaining to Islam, the Quran or Muhammed (P) was he? If he was, then you would have a point, but he wasn’t. Hence it is simply meaningless to state that Smith could not read and write Arabic and had no access to Muslim writings. I am sure Smith also could not read and write Chinese, nor could Muhammed (P), so? That is entirely beside the point and meaningless, making no sense whatsoever. Smith came from within the Christian tradition, was raised as a Christian, he read both the Jewish Bible and the New Testament writings. Therefore, he was familiar with their contents and the writings pertaining to them at the time. I am not sure if Smith believed that the text of the Jewish and Christian writings had been corrupted, but during this time, voices were beginning to emerge which questioned the textual integrity of these writings to different degrees. None of this is in anyway comparable or similar to the example of Muhammed (P): who was literally illiterate – not knowing how to read and write his own language (Arabic), nor knowing how to read or write or even speak Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Aramaic. Moreover, Muhammed (P) emerged from a pagan society, he was not raised in the Jewish or Christian tradition nor did he know anything about the writings of these people. This, therefore, leads one to wonder how Muhammed (P) went on to make certain statements which are today generally accepted as such by most scholars?

So I hope you can see that your counter example again makes no sense at all and is very dissimilar from that of Muhammed (P).

      > 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:

    “Some would come to the opposite conclusion for the exact same reason! (I wonder if Van Til ever stewed over Sproul’s dedication of Classical Apologetics to him?) But since I’ve not read either edition of Metzger, sans Ehrman or with him, I’m forced to withhold judgment.”

I am sure you and other Christians would have immediately asked me to refer to Metzger, in fact you did previously, but now that Christians know that he has co-authored a book with Ehrman, they will probably express disappointment towards Metzger as well and call him an “evil liberal”! Nonetheless, I hope you acquire the latest edition.

      > 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.

    “To be honest, I was somewhat reluctant to respond because of the incivility in your response to others, here and elsewhere, but because you’ve been civil toward me, albeit we’ve only had one exchange thus far, I warily decided to proffer another response.”

I think I was largely civil in most of my responses and discussions with Christians, with two exceptions only, and for one particular incident I did immediately apologise as you may recall. Nonetheless, I am not in the habit of just abusing those who oppose me. I always try to be civil and polite towards those who are civil and polite towards me. I think I have had most discussions with you even though we’ve just exchanged a few responses, albeit with very detailed contents.

      > 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 keep an open mind and if I am shown
      > to be wrong, then I will accept my mistake and revise my
      > views accodingly. I think that should be the outlook of all
      > who seek the truth.

    “If there is another outlook, then they are not seeking the truth.”

Glad we agree.

      > 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.

    “Thanks.

    You’ve treated me civilly; I do appreciate that.

    And I hope you’ll treat others civilly as well.”

Best wishes and feel free to reply anytime you like.

As for being civil towards others, certainly, I will never be uncivil towards anyone who is being polite, but as for others who right from the outset maintain an overly arrogant and patronizing tone, no guarantees, but I will try my best! 🙂

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