Answering Missionaries

June 16, 2006

Shabir Ally Vs James White debate: critical review and summarisation of arguments

“Is the New Testament as it exists today the inspired word of God?”

Debate summarisation and critical review

Shabir Ally and James White had a debate at the Biola University on 7th May, 2006. As is rather obvious from the topic, the purpose of the debate was to determine whether or not the New Testament, as it exists today, is the inspired word of God.

I will say a few words about the speakers. Shabir Ally is a very eloquent speaker, a fine debater, and highly knowledgeable when it comes to comparative religion. Shabir Ally is currently completing his Phd in Quranic interpretation. In the past he has debated people ranging from Robert Morey, Joseph Smith, to the well-known Christian philosopher, scholar and debater, Dr William Lane Craig. Moreover, Shabir Ally is an exceedingly polite and gentle speaker. Having watched over a dozen of his talks and debates, I can’t recall an instance where he was harsh or rude towards an opponent. James White, on the other hand, is also a fine debater and a rather fast speaker, having recently debated New Testament scholars such as Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. Dr. White has also authored a number of books on the Bible.

Long before the debate itself, James White had been writing against Shabir Ally on his website. Shabir Ally, however, had not written anything in response. Thus, the debate finally gave Shabir Ally an opportunity to respond to the claims made by James White and, thereby, bring some balance to a very one sided scenario.

Soon after the debate a number of Christian reviews began popping up on the internet. Once again, the discussion was turning rather one sided since there were hardly any Muslim voices to be heard relating their view of the debate. Therefore, I decided to make a little attempt to change this situation and, after viewing the debate, decided to write a detailed critical review of it.

The structure of the debate was as follows:

    Opening statements

      Shabir Ally speaks first – 20 minutes
      James White offers his response – 20 minutes

    Rebuttals

      Shabir Ally – 9 minutes
      James White – 9 minutes

    Break-time

    Cross examination – speakers take turn to cross examine each other for 13 minutes

      Shabir Ally cross examines James White – 13 minutes
      James White cross examines Shabir Ally – 13 minutes

    A few selected students pose their questions to Shabir Ally and James White. 4 questions in total – 22 minutes

    Closing statements

      James White – 7 minutes
      Shabir Ally – 7 minutes

Originally, my plan was to offer a plain review of the debate. However, later it occurred to me that the majority of the review readers would be quite likely to have seen the debate and would likely view it only later. Therefore, for the benefit of the readers, I decided to summarise the arguments of the speakers in order to convey the main issues that came up in all of the segments of the debate. Moreover, such a summary would also enable me to more forcefully engage with some of the assertions made by a few Christian reviewers which I found to be highly misleading.

Please note that I do not plan to quote the speakers verbatim or to present a debate transcript. Instead, I only plan to present a summary of their main arguments. As you will discover, however, my summary turns out to be quite literal, since I often produce the wordings used by the speakers. Nonetheless, I will be extremely grateful if readers who have seen the debate would inform me about any possible errors in my summary and presentation of the arguments.

After a summary of every segment, I will then offer some critical comments regarding what was said and highlight what I thought were some of the important and interesting points. Moreover, since James White has written quite a bit of polemic on Islam and the Quran on his website – with, as far as I know, no counter responses from Muslims – and repeated a number of those polemics in his debate as well, I decided to offer a critique of those claims in this review as well. Thus, this review can also be viewed as the first detailed online critique of the different arguments and points utilised by James White, which I am sure Muslims will find quite useful.

In the final section of this critical review, entitled “Conclusion,” I will attempt to comment upon the debate as a whole, sum up my thoughts, and offer a critique of some of the arguments applied by the two speakers.

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1st opening statement – Shabir Ally – 20 minutes: Summarisation of the main points

    Shabir Ally begins by praising God and by thanking the debate organizers. He says that either the New Testament is the word of God, the word of man, or both. In Shabir Ally’s view, the New Testament is both the word of God and the creative work of man, the work of those who wrote the individual books, and also the copyists who copied the texts. Shabbir says he won’t spend much time on the copying of the New Testament documents and refers the audience to Bruce Metzger’s book in order to pursue the topic further. Shabir Ally mentions Bart Ehrman’s recent book, “Misquoting Jesus,” and also, the more technical, “The Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures,” for those who might be interested to study in detail the copying of the New Testament text. Shabir Ally says that Bart Ehrman, in his latest book, refers to the ways in which scribes changed the New Testament documents over time and how this led him to investigate the changes in the stories about Jesus as they are related in the four canonical Gospels. The later is what Shabir says he will concentrate upon – the way the New Testament writers modified information about Jesus (P) overtime. Shabir says that as a Muslim he wants to know what Jesus (P) said, did, teach, and who exactly he was.

    Shabir proceeds: The Gospels are like biographies of Jesus (P), informing us where Jesus (P) began, where he ended up and what he did in between. The gospel of John is recognized from the time of Irenaeus as a spiritual gospel, a different gospel from the rest. John presents Jesus (P) in a very different way than the other gospels. The synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) are grouped together because of the singular way in which they can be reviewed. And so John is the odd one out. So, how is John different? It is different because it presents Jesus (P) in a more “Christian” way or manner or understanding, and this understanding developed over time. John has modified important factors regarding the life and teachings of Jesus (P).

    Shabir continues: most people read the gospels vertically, reading from the beginning and going to the end and then they start a new gospel. But we have to read the gospels across horizontally, from one gospel to another as well. That is to say, when we come to an episode in a gospel, we should check out the similar account in the other gospels and note their similarities as well as their differences. If read in this way, we will note that John is very different than the other gospels. Shabir presents an example, for instance, in Mark Jesus (P) does not reveal his true identity and does not reveal who he is. Jesus (P) does not publicly declare that he is the messiah throughout his ministry; he eventually makes this claim when he is on trial. But in John, Jesus (P) right from the start declares who he is, and even John the Baptist (P) makes such a declaration for Jesus (P). So we hear a specifically Christian formulation from the lips of John the Baptist (P) as to who Jesus (P) was. Furthermore, Shabir states that in chapter 4, Jesus (P) speaks to a Samaritan woman and declares he is the messiah. There is no doubt about this. So Jesus (P) either has the messianic secret as in Mark’s gospel or he declared right from the start he was the messiah as we find in John. Therefore, there are two different presentations of Jesus (P) in Mark and John.

    Shabir goes on to say that in John, Jesus (P) is presented as more divine and in John it is more clearly shown that Jesus (P) came to die for the sins of the world, John makes it more clear that Jesus (P) definitely died on the cross, and, finally, Jesus (P) really did resurrect and reappear to his disciples many times. While these themes appear in other gospels as well, the manner of emphasis in John is new; a modification of the story. For instance, in John Jesus (P) came to die deliberately for the sins of the world, which is clear right from the start. However, in his prayer in the garden in Gethsemane, Jesus (P) requests God to save him and asks for the cup to pass away. This story is found in Mark, followed by Matthew. But is not found in John. Why? Because in John, Jesus (P) came deliberately to die for the sins of the world and is a glorified figure and so why would he need to make such a prayer in John? In John, when Jesus (P) enters Jerusalem, Jesus says words which remind us of this prayer. But Jesus (P) says that it is for this reason that he came. Thus, the story has been modified and so we find a different presentation of Jesus (P) in John. This is not because something was wrong with the previous story, but because John has a different theology – the theology about Jesus (P) is being developed and people are coming up with different understandings. Thus the story of Jesus (P) is being modified to suit the theology. Another example is presented by Shabir: Judas, a follower of Jesus (P), kisses Jesus (P) in the Synoptics so that Roman soldiers will recognize Jesus (P) and arrest him. But in John (chapter 18), when Judas comes in with the soldiers, Jesus (P) comes forward to meet them and asks who they are looking for? The soldiers say, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Jesus (P) replies, “I am he,” and they all fall backwards by the fall of his pronouncement. John says Judas was among them, and so Jesus (P) was identified before Judas could give his kiss of betrayal. So Jesus (P) hands himself over. In John, Jesus (P) says that no one takes his life from him because he gives it up on his own accord because he has been given the authority to lay down his life and take it up again. Again, a very different presentation of Jesus (P). It is this picture which is more familiar to Christians.

    After explaining briefly how the gospel authors formulated their books and how they were probably geared towards certain theological orientations, Shabir presents another example of a difference between the gospels. He relates the story of Jarius’ daughter; all four gospels agree that Jesus (P) raised someone to life. But they disagree on details – in Mark Jarius asks Jesus (P) to heal his daughter because she is at the point of death (Mark chapter 5). But the girl dies as they are on the way, but Jesus (P) insists that she is asleep and goes in and tells the girl to get up and she gets up. In Matthew, who is following Mark [At this point Shabir quickly explains that the vast majority of scholars acknowledge that Matthew and Luke used Mark. Furthermore, that with the exception of a very few, even conservative scholars are coming to accept this more and more. As examples he names evangelical scholars F. F. Bruce and William Lane Craig. Shabir explains that Matthew and Luke often reproduce the words of Mark but also, occasionally, make major changes. For instance, making Jesus (P) appear more divine in Matthew and Luke; Matthew and Luke make Jesus (P) heal more people if less people were healed in Mark and so on.], when the ruler comes to Jesus (P), he says that his daughter is already dead – she has just died, and so requests Jesus (P) to raise her up (Matthew chapter 9). Therefore, Matthew modifies the story so the girl has been dead for a longer period of time. In Luke, there is no story of the raising of Jarius’ daughter, but there is another story of the raising of a dead man (Luke chapter 7). This man was being taken to his burial and Jesus (P) told him to rise up and he arose. In John, there is also a story of the resurrection of Lazarus (chapter 11), it is said that Lazarus had been dead for 4 days and he had been rotting. So, all gospels agree that Jesus (P) raised someone from the dead, but John is of a different character. While one may argue that in the synoptic gospels the persons in question were not really dead and that Jesus (P) was given some knowledge by God to heal and revive, or to resuscitate them – which would still be a miracle – but in John the person is definitely dead – at the point of no return. And so the story of Jesus (P) is being modified over time in the gospels as we move from Mark, to Matthew, to Luke to John. In John the story takes a new dimension which is more definable of the Christian faith. Thus, the Bible is both the inspired word of God as well as the creative work of the men who wrote these gospels.

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James White opening statement – 20 minutes: Summarisation of the main points

    White begins by thanking the audience. He says that such a debate could not have taken place in many parts of the world. James White acknowledges that both Muslims and Christians are monotheists. He says that both representatives recognize and believe strongly that the issues touch upon our very eternal destinies and define what it means to worship God in truth and spirit today. Is the New Testament we posses today inspired? White says that this question can only be debated in the context of monothiesm – that both Muslims and Christians believe that God not only can but has spoken and has demonstrated his ability to preserve what He has revealed in scriptures. So, the argument is between two monotheists and the listeners should bear this in mind. White goes on to say that he does believe that the New and Old Testaments are the words of God and that he does not believe that the Quran, which has no connection with the Old and New Testaments, is the word of God, inspired or a document that supersedes the Old and New Testaments. He alleges that Shabir Ally applies one standard upon the New Testament and another upon the Quran. He asks, on what consistent basis can a Muslim reject the inspiration of the New Testament? You cannot apply one standard upon the New Testament and another upon the Quran. Therefore, according to White, inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.

    White says that he has listened carefully to Shabir Ally’s presentations on Islam, Muhammed, Quran and Islamic history, hadith etc., and that he has realized that Shabir is aware of the difference between humanistic/naturalistic scholarship – which begins with the assumption that God cannot speak – and scholarship which allows for faith and does not say what God cannot do right from the start. White says he does not expect Shabir Ally to identify as sound and mainstream Islamic scholarship the scholarship which starts by assuming the inconsistency of the Quran and says that the Quran developed slowly in the early Muslim community, and then posits a variety of possible theoretical sources, without offering any documentary evidence. Shabir Ally would not accept this as sound mainstream scholarship. Therefore, if Shabir Ally uses one standard upon the Quran and another upon the New Testament, then his position is untenable. White says that, as far as he can tell, for around a decade or so, Shabir Ally has been applying one set of standards upon the Quran and another upon the New Testament. For example, Shabir Ally uses the most conservative type of sources in defence of the Quran whereas he uses the most radically liberal and naturalistic type of sources upon the New Testament. Shabir uses the most conservative type of dating for the Quran, whereas he pushes the date of the gospels late and uses the Jesus seminar type of late dating for the gospels. While the heirs of the Quran are said to have spotless memories and can convey the words of Muhammed with accuracy, just the opposite is said about the New Testament writers. Though the Jews valued memorisation from the days of Christ, somehow his true message cannot survive nearly as long as the teachings of Muhammed. While the original followers of Jesus capitulated to the dreaded apostle Paul, who perverted the teachings of Christ and somehow came up with a Jesus who was the son of god, the second person of the Trinity, and truly god, and yet, according to Shabir, this is not what the original followers of Jesus believed. White says that Shabir uses nothing more than fancy hypothesis and relies upon the liberal sceptical scholarship, which is rejected when it comes to the Quran, and has no historical documentation to support his theories. So, according to Shabir, we have to depend upon the Quran which was written half a millennium after Jesus. White makes mention of the contrast between original Christians, who could not remember the teachings of Jesus, and the early Muslims, who had perfection in remembering the words of Muhammed, and calls this very striking. Thereafter, White asks the audience not to misunderstand him. His argument is that we need to be consistent when dealing with the New Testament and the Quran, that we should apply scholarship upon both, but we should be consistent and we should not allow secularism and humanism and the spirit of our age to determine the outcome.

    White says that sound scholarship tells us that the New Testament writers quoted and made allusions to books which they themselves did not consider canonical scripture. At the same time, the Quran gives credence to myths found in the infancy gospel of Thomas or drawn from the Jewish Talmud. We should then ask if the Christian view of inspiration allows for such references in the writings of the New Testament and whether the Islamic view of the Quran can allow for its utilisation of external uninspired and mythical sources.

    White says that Shabir Ally cannot argue with White’s assertion that we cannot rely upon the conclusion of those who begin with the wrong world view. Then he quotes Shabir Ally’s statement from his debate with Robert Morey, in which Shabir Ally insisted that we should not make use of scholarship which denies God and inspiration. White also makes mention of Shabir Ally’s insistence that the Quran should be studied in its own context etc. White says that the same should take place when it comes to the New Testament.

    When it comes to the textual history and transmission of the New Testament, White alleges that we again find the possibility of double standard in Shabir Ally’s argument. He says that the textual history and transmission of the Quran and that of the New Testament are very different. For example, even taking the most conservative view, less than a millennium passed between the Quran’s codification and the invention of the printing press whereas a millennium and a half passed between the completion of the New Testament and the printing press. Moreover, the New Testament, White continues, is the work of multiple authors who wrote at different times, in multiple locations and directed towards multiple people. While the Quran’s text was determined by a governmental action, in an Uthmanian revision, where other versions of the Quran were burnt, and a single authorised text was created, the New Testament text was distributed and copied widely even during the times of persecutions. During the time of persecution, the New Testament was copied by non-professionals. Also, if the existence of textual variations is a sign that the New Testament is not inspired and not the word of God and that it cannot be trusted, then why do we find differences even between the printed Qurans today? While Christians strived to preserve the manuscripts, welcome new manuscripts, study and collate manuscripts, Muslims, in the most conservative reconstructions, can only go back to Uthman and no further back. By destroying the early codices which differed from Uthman’s understanding, Uthman did damage to the means by which the original text of the Quran could be determined. White says that he is thankful that the Sanaa manuscripts may shed light on the earlier period, but many conservative Muslims are not joyful about having these manuscripts examined. James White then narrates the story of Ibn Masud receiving a beating and eventually dying when he refused to hand over his copy of the Quran. So, if Shabir applies the same standards upon the Quran as he does upon the New Testament, then he would have to reject the Quran on even stronger grounds, but he does not do that. Why?

    White then asserts that fair and in-depth examination of the wealth of the New Testament text will show the tenacity of the New Testament text. That is, as Kurt and Barbara Aland explain, if a mistake is made it does not disappear. It remains in the manuscript tradition. A reading in the tradition remains in the manuscript tradition, this means that the original readings are still there. The majority of the variances, White asserts, are easily determined, but in some cases we need to examine the variances. But we can be confident that one of the readings is original. But due to Uthmanian revision, Muslims cannot have this confidence and one would have to believe that Uthman was as inspired as Muhammed.

    White then refers to early manuscripts such as p46, p52, p66 and p72, which are said to show that whole sale corruption of the New Testament text did not take place. Massive changes in later manuscripts can be easily detectible in comparison with these primitive manuscripts. Also, we can be certain and determine without question the form of the text which existed during the time when Muhammed said the following words – White quotes surah 5:46-47. After quoting the passages, White asks: how could the people of the gospel judge by what Allah has revealed if they no longer could tell what was true or false in the New Testament? Since we do know without question the state of the text in the early 7th century, does that not show that Muhammed felt that the people of the gospel possessed the truth revealed from God and that it was sufficient basis to judge his own claim?

    Moving on, White says that another allegation of Islamic apologists against the New Testament is the use of redaction criticism, using references such as the “Interpreters One Volume Bible Commentary,” with the Introduction to the Roman Catholic New American Bible, which are not even-handed and fair sources. White says that we are told that the gospels are the result of lengthy periods of editing and redaction, so you have proto-Luke and intermediary Mark, but these scholars, White insists, are not working with hard material and use nothing but guess works. All of these scholars come up with different conclusions, motivations and contexts and this, therefore, tells us something about the validity of these kinds of pursuits. But, White claims, they share one thing in common, that Jesus could not be whatever the New Testament writers said he was. So, these scholars start with this presupposition. So theories about the relationship of the gospels are taken as cold hard facts. So, somehow we know that Matthew had Mark and we can get into Matthews mind and determine why Matthew did what he did with Mark’s text.

    White then refers to the New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright, who is said to have said forcefully in his discussion with Marcus Borg that we don’t know when the gospels were written and we don’t know who wrote them. White says that we should all repeat this before the breakfast table – that we don’t know who wrote the gospels and when they were written just as we do not know if there was a Q, which is a hypothesis and a guess. White says that speculation is one thing but to deny the martyrs testimony on the inspiration of scripture based upon speculation rather than a shred of documentary evidence behind them, is not a worthy means of argumentation. White claims that Shabir Ally would not apply such redactional arguments upon the Quran. For example, one could make a similar argument against the Quran by noting the vocabulary differences between the longer and smaller surahs and then make a believable argument. Why won’t Shabir accept such a theory?

    White says that some Muslim apologists argue that Matthew and Luke make Jesus look bigger to Mark. Matthew puts Lord in places where Mark has a lesser term for Jesus. So, the view of Jesus is growing like a snowball. For example, in the mount of transfiguration, Mark has Peter calling Jesus Rabbi whereas Matthew has Lord and this shows redaction or change. But, they forget that Luke gives us a third term, which shows that all three are giving Greek synonyms for a single Aramaic term for respect and honour. White goes on to say that ironically, Shabir Ally dismisses the different readings of surah 1 of the Quran by arguing that they are synonyms, but when it comes to the New Testament, it is evidence of corruption and unreliability. Once again, inconsistency is the mark of a failed argument.

    Finally, White says that another final argument used by Muslims is that of the alleged contradictions in the Biblical text. He says that Christians cannot help but recognize that these are the same allegations of contradictions that we find being used by Atheists against the Bible. White says he will deal with things that have already been said in his rebuttal time. He says that Islamic apologists should show the same respect to context and language of the Bible as they ask for the Quran, and that we should allow harmonizations and read the text fairly. White refers to the example of where Shabir Ally, in a past debate, asserted that women, according Shabir Ally’s reading of the book of Revelation, will not go to heaven. White then attempts to correct Shabir Ally. So Shabir Ally uses inconsistent arguments and different standards upon the Bible and the Quran.

    White quotes surah 2:136, according to which, Muslims believe in the revelations that were revealed to Jesus, Moses, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and that Muslims make no distinctions between the prophets. After this, White asks if the Muslims have a consistent basis to deny the inspiration of the New Testament while continuing to insist upon the inspiration of the Quran. White says that, first, Muslims use double standards – one standard for the Quran and another contradictory standard for the dismissal of the New Testament. Therefore, inconsistency is the mark of a failed argument. Second, Muhammed did not have access to the Christian writings and he wrongly believed that what he was teaching was consistent with what was revealed before. Later, when Muslims studied the Bible and noted the differences between the Quran and the Bible, they concluded by denying the inspiration of the Bible. This is the only reason why Muslims deny the inspiration of the New Testament. White says that Muslims reject the testimony of the martyrs and those who were eyewitnesses and those in the first generation after Christ and, instead, accept the testimony of one man who did not even have access to the documents, who spoke a different language, who was dependent solely upon second hand sources, in a different culture and writing over 6 centuries later. Similarly, would any Muslim reject the Quran based upon the testimony of a man who was writing 6 centuries later who did not even have access to the Quran in Arabic? This is the question which James White would like Muslims to consider.

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Critical observations

I will note a few critical points here and will later comment upon some of the other statements made by James White.

  • First, James White made no attempt whatsoever to engage with the arguments presented by Shabir Ally. The topic of the debate was: “Is the New Testament as it exists today the inspired word of God?” and not “Are Shabir Ally and Muslims consistent?” White’s entire presentation can be summed up as follows: Shabir Ally is inconsistent and applies one standard upon the Quran and another upon the New Testament. Period. Even if, for arguments sake, we accept that Shabir Ally was inconsistent, that does nothing to “disprove” his arguments pertaining to the Bible. Nor does it “show” that the New Testament is inspired. For a response to White’s charge of “inconsistency” upon Shabir Ally, see:

    THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN AN INCONSISTENT PERSON AND AN INCONSISTENT ARGUMENT

  • Second, since White says that the Quran and the New Testament are very different books – different with respect to their textual transmission, compilation as well as their make up (the Bible being a collection of multiple writings authored by multiple authors in different locations and at different times, whereas the Quran being one book with one author) – how then can he insist that we apply exactly the same and identical types of standards and criteria upon these very different writings? Surely, the criteria would need to suit the nature of the writings, taking into account their distinctive aspects and contexts. While some criteria would be the same, some might be different. Naturally, for different books we would have to use somewhat different tools and take into considerations the factors unique to them. To disregard the context and nature of the different texts and to treat them all alike, as if they are identicle, would be quite unscholarly to say the least.
  • Third, White argues that Shabir Ally makes use of “liberal” sources against the New Testament, sources which deny the existence of God and revelation. White then mentioned the Interpreters One Volume Bible Commentary and the Introduction to the Roman Catholic New American Bible. Yet none of these are atheistic sources. On the contrary, in his opening presentation, Shabir Ally referred to conservative scholars such as F.F. Bruce, Bruce Metzger, and William Lane Craig, while discussing Marcan priority. Shabir Ally did not use Ehrman to base any particular argument, although he did rightfully present Ehrman as a reliable and respective textual scholar. Moreover, Shabir Ally presented the argument of redaction which is readily accepted by conservative scholars in general as well (for example see this). Thus, he hardly presented a “radical” case. It is true, however, that later Shabir Ally did positively refer to atheist scholar Michael Goulder and the atheist British biographer A. N. Wilson. However, this was an exeption. His general presentation and arguments are firmly rooted in mainstream scholarship, be it conservative or liberal.
  • Fourth, contrary to White’s allegation, Shabir Ally has always presented the dates for the gospels which are readily recognized and accepted as such by mainstream scholarship and not just the Jesus Seminar scholars. Moreover, White makes no attempt to explain what a “liberal” and “conservative” dating of the Quran is.
  • Fifth, why should we suppose and believe that the New Testament is fully inspired? This is what White was supposed to explain. Judging from the topic of the debate, one would have expected White to offer some positive arguments and reasons for believing the New Testament to be entirely inspired. But he did not do this.
  • Sixth, White is heavily reliant upon circular arguments. White says that the New Testament writers made quotations and allusions to non-canonical writings even though they did not consider them canonical scripture. How does White know this? Because these early Christians were were Protestants? The Quran, White proceeds, is said to allegedly give credence to “myths” and “legends” found in non-canonical writings such as the infancy gospel of Thomas and Jewish sources such as the Talmud. But where is his evidence that the parts which are confirmed by the Quran constitute no more than “myths” and “legends” whereas the parts of the non-canonical writings which the New Testament authors quote and allude to do not constitute “myths” and “legends”? How did White come to this conclusion? You need not be particularly bright to figure out that White is making circular arguments.
  • Seventh, White’s comments pertaining to Ibn Masud are false. There are no authentic reports which narrate the story of his alleged beating and subsequent death. Instead, all the authentic reports inform us that Ibn Masud, while upset in the beginning for not being included in the committee, later calmed down and apologised for his behaviour. He and Uthman remained close friends and Ibn Masud later died peacefully (see this and this for response to White’s misuse of sources). It is interesting to note that Ibn Masud is among one of the transmitters of the Quran. His students are also the transmitters of this Quran. It should also be noted that Ibn Masud never dismissed or rejected the masahif (copies of the Quran). Likewise, White’s assertions about Uthman, the compilation of the Quran etc., are littered with confusions. I will address these later in a separate paper. For some responses to these types of polemics, see:

    http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Gilchrist/
    http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Qiraat/hafs.html
    http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Qiraat/green.html

  • Eighth, White makes emotional arguments when he appeals to the “martyrs” and the “eyewitnesses” for the acceptance of the New Testament record. He never identifies these “martyrs” and “eyewitnesses.” He never brings to our attention any piece of writing authored by them. The reason for this is simple: we have nothing from “eyewitnesses” to any of the events alleged within the Gospels. Moreover, if we go along with White and say that we do not know who wrote the gospels and when, how then can we be certain that the authors were “eyewitnesses?” Later White presents Ignatius as a “martyr,” but Ignatius did not witness any of the events alleged within the New Testament writings and, therefore, he was not an eyewitness. That he truly believed that his beliefs were true and the fact that he was willing to die for them only means that he sincerely believed that his beliefs were true. This tells us nothing about the historicity and accuracy of his beliefs. Will James White convert to Hinduism if he comes across a Hindu who is willing to die for his/her belief in Rama and the Kali?
  • Ninth, White asserts that we know for sure what the text of the New Testament looked like during the time of Muhammed (P) and that Muhammed (P) allegedly “affirmed” this text. This is an odd statement given White’s repeated claim that Muhammed (P) did not have access to the New Testament writings, that he (P) could not read them, and that they were not even available in Arabic during his (P) lifetime. Be that as it may, since we are talking about the text, then it should be made quite clear that we know for certain that the form of the text to be found in Nestle-Aland 27th edition, or any other critical edition for that matter, did not exist at any point in time in the past. This form of the text was unknown to the previous generations of Christians. It is a unique text form. Christians, in the past, merely relied upon a host of manuscripts, all of which differed from one another with respect to content and quality. The vast majority did not possess “all” of the canonical writings. Different communities and individuals were in possession of different number of books and reliant upon manuscripts of varying quality. So, we are left wondering what form of the text the Quran allegedly “affirms” and, of course, which exact and precise number of books does it supposedly “affirm?”
  • Tenth, as an example of Shabir Ally’s alleged double standard, White says that while Muslims are said to have accurately transmitted the words of Muhammed (P) and remembered the Quran, Muslims deny that the New Testament writers remembered the words of Jesus (P) and accurately passed them along. This statement by White borders on the absurd. Yes, the New Testament writers, like any human being, possessed the ability to remember the words of Jesus. But did they actually pass along Jesus’ words in a memorised form? These are two different issues. Christians could have memorised the words of Jesus accurately, but did they do precisely this? With the exception of inerranists such as White, it is Christian scholars who have concluded with a “no” in response to this question, though disagreeing over the degree of creativity on the part of the early Christians. Thus, White is being quite unfair for blaming Muslims. To determine whether or not the earliest Christians accurately memorised and passed on the words of Jesus in a static form, we would have to study their writings and only then make this determination. We cannot say that they memorised the words of Jesus (P) accurately because Muslims accurately memorised the Quran or the words of Muhammed (P). Muslim memorisation of their own texts tells us nothing about what the Christians did or did not do with the words of Jesus (P).
  • Eleventh, regarding the Sanaa manuscripts, White asserts that Muslims are allegedly not “joyful” about having them examined. But he does not reveal the identity of these “unjoyful” Muslims. On the contrary, Muslims have been particularly happy and pleased with the discovery, study and examination of the Sanaa manuscripts as they add to the early manuscript base of the Quran. They provide us with hard evidence to further refute the revisionist hypotheses about the late formation of the Quran. Moreover, they confirm the textual integrity and authentic transmission of the Quran from an early time. A number of first century Sanaa manuscripts are to be found very joyfully in M. M. Azami’s “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. Moreover, many Sanaa manuscripts are to be found displayed in the following premier Islamic website (very joyfully may I add 🙂 ):

    http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Mss/

It is clear that James White merely read out his prepared speech, which was composed at a time when he couldn’t have known what Shabir Ally would say in the debate. White ended up “responding” to points that were never raised by Shabir Ally to begin with. White seemed more interested to respond to a few statements made by Shabir Ally in some of his previous debates, which was, of course, quite irrelevant in the present debate.

James White also made some interesting statements which we should bear in mind:

  • First, White accepts that Muslims worship One God whom the Jews and Christians also worship and that Muslims are monotheists. I am sure that not many evangelists and Christian apologists would be pleased with this acknowledgement. So White should be commended for his bravery.
  • Second, White referred to N. T. Wright, who admits that we do not know who wrote the Gospels and when exactly they were written. White says that we should repeat this before breakfast – that we do not know who wrote the gospels and when exactly they were written. Clearly, White endorses this position. This will also likely upset many Evangelists and Christian apologists who usually insist that the authors of the gospels are known and endorse the various Christian traditions in this regard.
  • Third, unlike many other Evangelists and apologists, who insist that Muhammed (P) had a copy of the Bible tucked right under his arms, White acknowledges multiple times that Muhammed (P) did not have access to the New and Old Testament writings and he never read them, in fact, he could not possibly read them since they were in other languages. Of course, he insists, without evidence, that Muhammed (P) received information from “second hand sources,” but his aforementioned acknowledgement is worth noting.

To sum up, not only did White basically ignore the overwhelming content of Shabir Ally’s presentation, he also failed to provide a single positive reason, argument or evidence to explain why the New Testament may be considered to be inspired as a whole.

I will now summarise the second segment talks by both speakers, their 9 minute rebuttals, followed by some critical analysis.

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Shabir Ally – 9 minutes response

    Shabir Ally begins by saying that he argued in his opening statement that the Bible was both inspired and the creative word of the authors as well as the scribes who copied the text. Shabir says that he does believe that the Bible contains some inspired teachings of God, but James White gave no positive evidence to show that the Bible was inspired and the word of God in general. James White only argued that Shabir Ally’s argument is inconsistent and that Muslims use inconsistent arguments. Shabir says that if a book is said to be inspired, then a person needs to present some positive reasons for believing that the book is inspired. But James does not do that at all.

    Coming to the charge of using different standards, Shabir says that James White merely comes with a prepared speech “rebutting” things which he thought Shabir Ally “might” say in the debate. Shabir Ally says that he has not been inconsistent in his standards. He says that in his study of the Bible and the Quran, he found that the Quran cannot be subjected to the same sort of criticism which we have seen applied upon the Bible. Shabir says that he is familiar with the writings of non-Muslim and Islamic scholars and is also familiar with the Yemeni Quranic manuscripts, and is aware of the issues surrounding the Quran. However, Shabir proceeds, these are irrelevant discussions in this topic of the debate. There is nothing that James White has said that leads a Muslims to doubt the integrity of the Quran and its status as inspired scripture.

    Regarding Paul, Shabir Ally says that many non-Muslim scholars have also noted that Paul needs to be regarded as the second founder of Christianity. Shabir names a M. Goulder and says that many others have also shown that Paul developed the teachings about Jesus which later became the normative teachings of developing Christianity. These teachings could not be so much credited to Jesus. Shabir also mentions A. N Wilson’s biography of Paul.

    Coming to the Quran, can we trust and believe it even though it has come 600 years after Jesus? Shabir says yes: if there are positive reasons to believe that it is the word of God. Shabir continues that he explained how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had each in their own way inserted their own thoughts and modified the information accordingly. So, a Muslim feels more confident relying upon the Quran which he/she knows to be the preserved Word of God.

    Regarding the Quran’s mention of information which is not contained in the New Testament, does that go against the Quranic doctrine of inspiration? Shabir answers no, because apocryphal material can also contain some correct historical information. Apocryphal material is not entirely false or non-historical. So some information outside of the New Testament about Jesus can be historically accurate.

    Contrary to White’s assertion, Shabir says that it is possible to discover a gospel earlier than Mark. In fact, according to Shabir, the Gospel of Thomas is believed to be earlier than Mark. Moreover, we may find documents on which Mark itself was based. So, just as Matthew and Luke modified Mark, we may be able to find a document used by Mark from which we may discern how Mark modified it.

    So, altogether, Shabir Ally says that James White failed to show that the New Testament is generally the word of God and that the New Testament is the inspired word of God as it exists today.

    James White referred to the tenacity of the New Testament manuscript tradition, saying that the errors are well preserved in the manuscript tradition. However, some of the errors are now represented in our Bibles. Sometimes, certain passages are marked off as being doubtful. Shabir Ally refers to 1 John 5:7, explaining that it is universally regarded as a later insertion into the Biblical text. But other errors are still there, however, such as the closing of the gospel of Mark. The earliest manuscript of Mark ends at verse 16:8, verses 9-20 are later additions into the gospel.

    Finally, the Quranic instruction to judge according to the Gospel is true. That is because if the Christians study the gospels and the rest of the New Testament and study the life of Jesus and the history and development of Christian doctrine, they will come to understand the main teachings of Islam – that God is One, that Jesus is the servant and messenger of God, and that the original truth was later modified, particularly in the gospel according to John.

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James White – 9 minutes response

    James White begins by saying that he believes that he made a fairly compelling argument. He says that he is not debating an atheist, but is debating someone who accepts that God has spoken and that the Quran refers to Moses, Jesus, the Injil, and the Torah, and refers to the followers of Jesus. White says that he does not need to quote 2 Peter, which says that men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, and Paul taught in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is inspired and God breath. This was the belief of all the early Christians and Jesus. The question is not if the New Testament teaches its own inspiration, but on what basis do Muslim apologists reject the absolute perfection and full inspiration of the text of the New Testament? White then refers to one of Shabir Ally’s examples of development between the gospels, the reporting to the death of Jarius’ daughter. He argues that Matthew is “telescoping” the event. That is, Matthew gives a shorter version of the events. Matthew simply tells us that Jesus gets to the house and they find out that death has taken place. But Mark is giving a fuller account. Each gospel was written for a specific purpose, and even though Mark usually presents shorter accounts as he seems to be in a hurry, but here Mark provides a longer account. All the gospels were directed towards different audiences and used different terms. This explains the difference between Mark and Matthew regarding the example of Jarius’ daughter. According to White, you need to consider the context and once you do that you learn that you can trust the Synoptic gospels.

    Moving on to textual criticism, White says that we can examine all the different manuscript information listed in a New Testament critical edition. That we have tremendously early amount of manuscripts and may also find even earlier manuscripts. White says that he would like to have a critical edition of the Quran, but he can’t as there is no Arabic edition of a critical Quran that has all the information within it that would allow us to examine the early codices. Uthman burnt these codices and Ibn Masud died because he was not willing to give up his copy.

    Regarding the New Testament, White says that God has given us the solid basis for refuting accusations. He refers to p72, the earliest manuscript of 1, 2 Peter and Jude, and says that it was written 1800 years ago by a fellow believer. 1 John 5:7 is a well known textual variant and there is no question that it was not a part of the original, says White. So, we have a manuscript tradition to determine the exact phrase. However, White continues, Muslims cannot do this, they can only go back to Uthman.

    Responding to Shabir Ally’s claim that James White is bringing up irrelevant issues, White insists that his thesis from the start has been about the use of consistent standards. If we apply a standard upon the Quran then we should apply that upon the New Testament as well. If we do that, then the Muslim arguments against the inspiration of the New Testament will be seen to be inconsistent and self-refuting.

    Regarding the gospel of John, James White says that John is writing at a different time and to a different audience. Matthew is also writing at a different time and to a different audience. Instead of modifying anything, what if John is writing at a different time and to a completely different audience and with a different purpose of writing, and writing long after the time the people which the earlier gospel writers were protecting were long gone? So, there is no reason for John now to protect them. John can now reveal all the inside discussions among the disciples and so he has a different purpose, a different audience and more freedom in writing. Therefore, White explains that if we keep all these aspects in mind, the different purposes of writing, the different audiences, the different times of the writers, then it is not a question of “modification.” Instead, this is simply the recognition that these writers need to be given the same freedom that anyone of us should be given. White says that he would use different language when he is writing a letter to his daughter and when he is writing one to the President. This does not mean that he is contradicting himself. There are simply different contexts that need to be kept in mind.

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Critical observations:

I will begin with a critique of a claim made by Shabir Ally. According to Shabir Ally, the Gospel of Thomas is earlier than Mark and that “many” scholars recognize this. This is wrong. While some scholars might place the gospel of Thomas in the first century, the vast majority do not, in fact, recognize Thomas to be earlier than the canonical gospels. At most, a number of scholars have indeed argued that certain sayings in Thomas could be more primitive (or early) than their Synoptic parallels. This does not mean that the whole of the Gospel of Thomas is earlier than the Synoptic gospels.

Second, Shabir Ally’s response to White’s argument of tenacity was somewhat unclear at least to me. It could have been countered by pointing out the fragmentary nature of the earliest New Testament manuscripts.

Moving on to James White, we note:

  • White again fails to present a single positive reason, evidence and argument to explain why the New Testament may be considered in whole as an inspired document. White correctly points out that the question is not if the New Testament teaches its own inspiration. But this is precisely what Shabir Ally did not ask for. So I am not sure why White made this statement. Shabir’s question was: what reason is there to think that the New Testament as a whole is inspired? This has nothing to do with “if the New Testament teaches its own inspiration.” According to White, he made a “fairly compelling argument.” “Fairly compelling argument” pertaining to what? Keeping with the topic of the debate, White was required to make an argument as to why we should regard the New Testament to be fully inspired. Unfortunately, such an argument was entirely lacking from White.

  • One might have expected James White to respond to at least a few arguments presented by Shabir Ally in his opening statement. But besides offering a brief reply to the example of Jarius’ daughter and pointing out Shabir’s erroneous statement about the date of the Gospel of Thomas, White pretty much ignored the rest of Shabir Ally’s talk.
  • James White insists upon raising the irrelevant issue of the alleged problem of “inconsistency” on the part of Shabir Ally and Muslims. He says this was his thesis from the start. So? From the start White indulged in an irrelevant activity. Interestingly enough, White did nothing to address Shabir Ally’s dismissal of the charge of alleged “inconsistency”. White merely repeated his charge. As was noted, that Shabir Ally is supposedly “inconsistent” does not disprove his arguments regarding the Bible.

  • James White once again resorts to heavy circular arguments. Just because 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter claim that “scripture” is “inspired” does not follow that they are right. Why is White not willing to take the Quran to be inspired just because the Quran says it is inspired? More importantly, what exact books do the authors of 2 Timothy and 2 Peter have in mind? If James White says the “Protestant canon,” then he will be guilty of again applying circular reasoning. In 2 Timothy 3:16 and the passage referred to in 2 Peter, the authors only have the Jewish writings (the Septuagint) in mind – the scope of which is not spelled out – and have nothing to say about the inspiration of any New Testament writing.
  • White’s explanation to account for the differences between the gospels, in particular between the Synoptics and John, is not much convincing. Even if we agree that the different gospel authors wrote with a different purpose, for a different audience and at a different time – something which is quite valid and acceptable – why is it inconceivable to suppose that they altered and modified certain stories on occasions precisely for these reasons – in light of their own particular views, their audiences’ needs, theology etc? How do we explain the difference between John and Mark – in Mark Jesus is presented as keeping his identity a secret throughout his ministry, revealing it only during the trial, whereas in John, Jesus is presented as revealing his true identity right from the start and openly declaring himself to the people from day one? How does the “telescoping” argument harmonise the two portraits? How do we explain away this difference by supposing that John was writing long after the time the people the earlier gospel writers were attempting to “protect” had passed away, thus, having more freedom and having nothing to hide about the inner discussions among the disciples? Were the earlier gospel writers not telling the entire truth due to security concerns? This explanation is unhelpful to account for the differences between the Synoptics and between them and John. It is based upon the unfounded assumption of “security concerns.” How does White know this when he says we do not know who wrote the gospels and when? Clearly, one author has decided to change the story. Both Mark and John cannot be right.

  • White ignores the fact that conservative scholars also generally acknowledge that Matthew and Luke did alter and modify the accounts within the gospel according to Mark.

  • White asks for a critical edition of the Quran but does not explain why one is required? As he acknowledged in his opening statement, both the New Testament and the Quran are different books with different textual histories. Bearing this in mind, we need to consider both writings individually in their own respective contexts, taking into account their particular issues and distinctive aspects; not just blindly treating them as if they are identical. While in the case of the New Testament, we come across doubtful passages, can see the many differences between the manuscripts, and know the fact that the New Testament was transmitted purely in the written mode, thus the requirement of a critical edition. The same is not the case with the Quran. The Quran has come down to us both through oral recitation and the parallel written transmission. There are no examples of scribes deliberately altering the Quran for theological or dogmatic reasons during its transmission. Errors of copying which do occur are accidental copying mistakes (spelling mistakes, mistakenly missing/adding a line etc) which are always known and do not get propagated like fire into other manuscripts during recopying, as a result of the parallel oral transmission of the text. Both (oral and written transmission) go hand in hand, keeping a check on each other, and cannot be seperated. Thus, we do not just rely upon manuscripts for the transmission of the Quran.

It is clear that once again White pretty much ignored most of what Shabir Ally had to say. For some reason White appears to be in no mood to engage with Shabir Ally in a meaningful way.

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Cross Examination

In this segment of the debate, both speakers cross examined each other for 13 minutes. I won’t be offering a detailed account of the cross examination. Instead, I will note a few points, summarise the questions and responses very briefly, followed by some critical comments.

Shabir Ally’s cross examination of James White – 13 minutes

  • First question: Shabir Ally began by asking what James White thought about Mark 16:9-20, passages which are recognized by all scholars as being interpolations.

    White answered that the longer ending was not original – he briefly explained why. James White argued that Mark originally ended at verse 8.
  • Second question: Shabir Ally asked if Mark ended on a note of fear – the women fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone since they were afraid?

    James White replied that Mark was writing at high speed, there may have been reasons why he didn’t go into more detail.
  • Third question: Shabir asks about another passage, this time in John’s gospel, which is marked off as a doubtful passage in the NIV.

    James White agrees with that decision.
  • Fourth question: Shabir Ally said that scribes made doctrinal changes to the New Testament texts and referred to Bruce Metzger as support, and asked if it was possible whether there are still scribal mistakes within the Bible, mistakes which cannot be removed since we do not have as early manuscripts as we would like?

    James White asks for specific examples, and says that Metzger also says that most of the times scribes misunderstood the texts which they changed. And, in light of the very early manuscripts of the Bible, he is opposed to the spinning of the issues in Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus.” According to White, Ehrman gave the worst case scenarios.
  • Fifth question: Shabir Ally questions White on “telescoping.” Shabir says that although Mark is the shorter gospel, episode per episode it is longer than Matthew. Matthew is longer for including material not found in Mark, but when the material is in both Matthew and Mark, Matthew is shorter. Even if we accept that Matthew “telescoped” Mark, does that not change the information? Thus, a man says to Jesus that his daughter is at the point of dying, but Matthew changes that to say that his daughter has just died. They are two different things.

    James White says that once he gets back home, he would write about the debate on his website. In the process, he would telescope what Shabir Ally has said and would also telescope his own statements. This won’t be “distortion,” according to James White. He says that he will simply be giving information in short version and would later expand it. Thus, argued James White, Mark is giving a specific blow by blow account – he comes, he says whats happenings, the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, then the elders come and say don’t bother, the daughter has died – and so Mark gives the whole story. All Matthew says is, “come, my daughter has died.” Matthew just puts the two together. Matthew has a limited amount of paper to write and so he telescoped. James White says that Shabir Ally also harmonizes hadiths in Bukhari and Muslim in this manner.
  • Sixth question: Shabir Ally says that Muslims acknowledge that hadith narrators changed the text over time, so we critically analyse every hadith and then decide which are strong, which are weak and which are inauthentic. So, in a similar manner, can we also say that one report in Mark is strong whereas Matthew is weak in the sense that he has changed the story, even if by “telescoping?”

    James White replies that Matthew is still conveying to us the same story, albeit in a shorter version, as Mark does. Matthew takes only two events, the beginning of Jesus’ going and then in the midst of his going the meeting of the elders, he takes the elders out. When Jesus gets to the house, he has the exact same information that a death has taken place.
  • Seventh question: Shabir Ally asks James White about Bart Ehrman’s recent book, “Misquoting Jesus.” If the writers of the New Testament did not present the exact original words of Jesus, then how can we insist that Jesus said precisely this and that this man said precisely this?

    James White answers that the Muslim and Christian concept of inspiration differs. Christians believe that scriptures are God breathed, God uses the entire range of human experience as a result of that writing. Second, James White claims that Ehrman says that the only way he can believe that God has spoken and given revelation is if every single manuscript is absolutely identical to every other manuscript. In other words, there could never be a scribal error, there could never have been an Uthmanian revision, and he would reject the Quran also. This is an irrational standard to apply.
  • Eighth question: Shabir says that Ehrman is wrong to believe that because there are variations in a text that it follows that it is not the word of God. It could be that the writing was originally the word of God and later scribes made changes to it. Here James White interjects and says that this is not Ehrman’s position. Instead, according to James White, Ehrman believes that if it was ever the word of God, the scribes would never be able to make changes to the text and God would strike them down if they dared make any changes. Shabir agrees this is a weak argument. However, Shabir asks, if writers did not take care to report precisely what people said, then you cannot have confidence in your sermons what Jesus precisely said because you cannot have confidence that the writers present the original words. That is because Mark may have telescoped, Matthew may have telescoped, Luke may have telescoped and John may have telescoped. How do you guard against this telescope?

    James White says that this is what the Holy Spirit would have us to have in the scriptures. You have to prove a contradiction where one says X is true and another says X is not true. That would be an issue. Not one writer writing a shorter account, using different language and writing to different audiences … [I think James White probably said a few more words, but the audio recording ends at this point.]

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A few critical comments:

  • There was a little too much of Bart Ehrman bashing going on here. Having read a number of his books, including “Misquoting Jesus,” I have yet to come across a passage where Ehrman says something like, “if it was the word of God it could never be altered,” or insisting that scribes would have been struck down by God had they dared make any type of change to the text. Instead, Ehrman recognizes that no text from antiquity can come down to us without scribal errors. Scribes can make spelling mistakes, accidentally copy lines twice, miss lines and words etc. Ehrman does not have any problem with such types of copying mistakes. However, besides such errors, the text was also altered for theological and dogmatic concerns. Ehrman has argued that there are also significant textual differences between the New Testament manuscripts which are of theological and historical significance. Moreover, Ehrman says that the text of the New Testament was in a state of flux in the earliest period of transmission, something which textual critics generally acknowledge. Ehrman compares the scribal act of corruption of the New Testament text with the modification of the Marcan text by Matthew and Luke. He also comments upon the different theological beliefs propagated by the different New Testament writers and their disagreements with each other. He discusses the different presentations and images of Jesus within the gospels. Thus, in light of all of these and other factors, Ehrman seriously doubts that the New Testament writers were “inspired.” Ehrman wants to know why we should believe that writers who disagreed with each other over a host of issues were “inspired”? Therefore, I believe that James White distorts Bart Ehrman’s position and attempts to present it in the most simplistic form.
  • I did not quite follow James White’s response to the question pertaining to telescoping. That is to say that if Mark telescoped, Luke telescoped, Matthew telescoped and John telescoped, how then can we be certain that we have the actual original words of the individuals, including Jesus, referred to in the gospels? White appears to offer another circular answer to this, by appealing to the Holy Spirit. White also suggests that Matthew telescoped because he had a “limited amount of paper.” How does White know this for sure? Why could it not be that Matthew changed the wording of the story in Mark to make it more dramatic and effective?

  • Finally, although James White insists that there is “very early” and “substantial” manuscript evidence of the New Testament text, the fact is that the evidence is not as good as he would have us imagine. For a detailed discussion of the New Testament manuscripts, their quality and age see:

    http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Bibaccuracy.html

Finally, I think that there are many other interesting textual variations within the New Testament text which Shabir Ally could also have brought up in his cross examination of James White. I will refer to some of these in the “Conclusion” section of this review.

I will advice the readers to listen to the actual audio of the cross examination in order to fully see what Shabir Ally and James White said.

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James White’s cross examination of Shabir Ally – 13 minutes

  • James White’s first question: Shabir Ally has taught that Paul gave false and misleading view of Jesus in his letters i.e., Son of God, crucified on the cross etc?

    Shabir answers that Paul has presented Jesus as an intermediary between man and God and that in this Paul is following the Greek philosophers. In 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul talks about one Father and one Lord. Therefore, Paul differentiates between the one God (Father) and the one Lord (Jesus). However, Paul fuzzies the picture.
  • Second question by James White: The original followers of Jesus, were they victorious or were they defeated by the followers of Paul?

    Shabir says that this question reminds him of a verse in surah 61 in the Quran, according to which, God aided those who followed Jesus so that they would become victorious. Shabir says that his understanding of this passage is that God has taken people as they are with the experiences they are privy to, with the knowledge and learning that they have been exposed to, and God is judging them according to that. Therefore, God does not judge everyone according to Muslim standards because not everyone has been privy to a Muslim education. Shabir proceeds, if we take this understanding, the earliest Christians, including those who later came to be influenced by the teachings of Paul, would be judged according to the options that were available before them. There were good people and bad people and God helped the God people, those who could be called the followers of Jesus, even if with modifications.

  • James White’s third question: Is there anyway Shabir Ally can explain to us how we can determine what is still inspired and what is not inspired in the New Testament?

    Shabir says that Muslims have a simple answer to this, namely, whatever is in the Quran would be a judge over what is in the Bible. That is to say that whatever in the Bible agrees with the Quran would be inspired, what is contradictory would not be inspired, and that which neither disagrees nor agrees may be treated with silence. Shabir says that Muslims who are familiar with the gospels and familiar with the development of the text can also make their own judgements.
  • Fourth question by James White: So everything about the cross, atonement and deity of Christ etc., all of this is uninspired and a corruption?

    Shabir says that a Muslim would say that the Quran is the pristine word of God and it teaches that Jesus is God’s messiah, nonetheless, a servant and messenger of the One God, and so anything that is contrary to that would be deemed a later development. But this could be studied from a different angel as well. For example, one could study the history and development of Christian teaching, one can look at the gospels without Islamic presuppositions, and, Shabir proceeds, it seems to him that many Biblical scholars are now coming to conclusions which are very close to the main conclusions which Muslims insist upon, such as Jesus being an apocalyptic prophet like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus preaching the belief in God similar to the one taught by the Jewish prophets. Shabir says that Jesus himself was Jewish and lived in the Jewish milieu . . . here James White interrupts Shabir Ally and says (paraphrasing): “you mean people like the Jesus Seminar, such as John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg . . . “ Shabir Ally quickly jumps back in and adds that it does not have to be the Jesus Seminar and that the scholars are so numerous that it would be hard to list and name them.

  • Fifth question: Is there any New Testament book, Mark, for instance, which clearly identifies Jesus as the Son of God and puts words in his mouth, Shabir would never be able to accept as a Muslim. Isn’t this correct?

    Shabir says that Mark also must have suffered from a similar sort of phenomenon that we see in Matthew and John Bowden makes this point in his book “Jesus the Unanswered Questions.” Shabir says that if we look at Mark chapter 1 verse 1, which in many Bibles begins with, “beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God,” the NIV notes that the title “Son of God” is not to be found in some of the ancient and reliable manuscripts of Mark. Shabir says that he is not saying that the gospel according to Mark does not present Jesus as the Son of God, but we have to be aware of the scribal changes that have effected Mark in places as well. Moreover, Shabir says that we are working with the gospel according to Mark only as it has come down to us. Knowing the history of scribal changes, we would not be out of our grounds to wonder if, in fact, we do really have the original Marcan gospel.
  • Sixth question: James White asks if Shabir Ally would admit that he has no hard manuscript evidence from the first and second centuries that gives us a New Testament that looks like what a Muslim would expect it to look like.

    Shabir Ally replies that we do not have such a document. But, what we have are documents which, when compared with each other, show a certain trend and development away from what Muslims understand to be the true teachings, and toward what our Christian friends differ with Muslims about – issues such as the deity of Christ, that Jesus died for the sins of mankind and so on. So if we take that trend and extrapolate a little bit backward to pre-Marcan gospel traditions, it looks like we are dealing with something like Q or even prior to Q. In Q there is no mention of Jesus dying for the sins of the world, there is nothing that promotes him to the unique and divine Son of God, it seems Q is closer to Islam than Mark is. And if we can go even prior to Q, to the earlier decades of Christianity, we may find something that is very, very close to what Muslims do believe even now.
  • Seventh question: James White asks if Shabir Ally believes that the gospel of Thomas is earlier than Mark?

    Shabir Ally says that this has been claimed by many scholars, including Pheme Perkins, in the book “Reading the New Testament.” It is generally believed that the gospel according to Mark was written somewhere between 66 to 75 AD and that the gospel of Thomas was written some where in the 50’s. Therefore, Thomas is definitely earlier than Mark, even though the manuscripts of Thomas are from the second century.
  • Eighth question: James White asks: how could the gospel according to Thomas be earlier than Mark when it presents Valentinian Gnosticism which didn’t develop until at least 145 AD?

    Shabir answers that the current gospel of Thomas that we do have does, in fact, contain some of these teachings, but where the gospel of Thomas touches upon information that is contained within the Synoptic gospels, it is found that the gospel of Thomas preserves an earlier form of some of the sayings and parables which are found in the gospel according to Mark.
  • Ninth question: So, this is a theoretical redaction of the gospel according to Thomas that no one has ever seen?

    Shabir says that no one has seen Mark sitting down to write a gospel and that James White himself said that N. T. Wright has said that we do not know who wrote the gospels and we do not know when they were written. James White has said this as a positive statement in his favour, but, Shabir says, he wonders if James White thought about the implications of this? – James White tries to interject but then stops – Shabir proceeds: if we don’t know who is Mark, who is Matthew, how they wrote, when they wrote, where they were, then how can we know and claim that these are inspired writers on behalf of God?
  • Tenth question: James White says that Shabir says that Matthew is trying to elevate the position of Jesus by changing the words in Mark? Specifically the term kyrios.

    Shabir Ally says that this is one term. The term kyrios, which means lord, is a specific title which can refer to an ordinary human being and can also refer to God. So it is ambiguous. If Mark has a clear teaching that somebody comes up to Jesus and addresses him as “teacher,” or “master,” and then Matthew, reporting the same event, with almost the same wording, changes “master” to “Lord,” then he is using ambiguity. So a later Christian can read Matthew and say, “oh, Christians were calling Jesus Lord.”
  • Eleventh question: James White asks: would one example of that be Mark 13:35, where Mark has “master of the house” and then Matthew 24:42 where he says “Lord?”

    Shabir Ally says that he does not remember the scriptural references, but the passages as a whole makes sense, that in Mark Jesus says “master of the house” and Matthew has changed it to “Lord.”
  • Twelfth question: White asks Shabir if he has ever used a synoptic gospel parallel. White refers to the one used by Shabir Ally, which is based on the RSV, and asks if Shabir has ever looked at a Greek parallel?

    Shabir says he has not and that he left learning Greek some time ago but plans to start learning it again as he has been stimulated by James White in this regard – some laughs and claps from the audience.
  • Thirteenth question: White says that if you look at the Greek parallel, the Greek term in question in both passages is exactly the same. Shabir interjects at this point and asks (paraphrasing): “so you are saying Mark uses the same term?” James White replies “identical.” Shabir Ally says: “In that case, I will have to submit that point.” – some claps from the audience.

  • Fourteenth question: James White says that Shabir Ally in his talks about the alleged corruption of the New Testament text has said, pointing to Luke, that Luke says “it seemed good to me to record these things” and that Shabir says that certain scribes felt that this was inappropriate and so added “the Holy Spirit.” So, does Shabir think that there is any question as to what the original text was? Shabir is said to have referred to Metzger, so does he think that Metzger had any questions as to what the original text was?

    Shabir replies no and explains the context, that Luke says that as many have drawn up gospel accounts prior to him, he has reviewed them and has decided that “it seemed good to me also” to write a connected account . . . Shabir then relates the concluding words of Luke and says “of course, I am telescoping his words.” This generates laughter among the audience. Shabir continues, Luke has left it like this and one may ask that if Luke was writing under inspiration, then why didn’t he say so right at this point? Therefore, one of the scribes who had this question inserted a phrase to make us feel that Luke wrote under inspiration. This is what Metzger also points out. Shabir says that he did not say that Metzger believes that the original text here was something else, which we do not have.

    At this point James White interjects and says that his point was that there is not a single Greek manuscript that has that addition, it is only one translation. White says that his point is that when Metzger makes note of these variations, most of the time he is doing so to illustrate the fact that we know what the original was. And the manuscript tradition is so rich that we are able to detect these things very easily and they are not even challenged. Isn’t this how Shabir read Metzger, asks James White? Shabir jumps back in and says that he never raised this point to say that the verse could be read in this particular way with reference to this particular verse in the gospel according to Luke. But Metzger does in giving these numerous ways in which scribes altered the text in a deliberate manner has left the impression that since the gospels have been written and copied, and we do not have the original documents, we have copies of copies of copies, then, since we notice this trend in copying, that people have changed things along this way, we should have that in the back of our minds that the general trend when dealing with the entire New Testament tradition because . . . [the rest of Shabir Ally’s reply has been snipped out of the audio unfortunately]

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A few critical comments:

  • It appears to me that James White believes that anyone who comes up with a reconstruction of the historical Jesus that is contrary to the evangelical beliefs about Jesus can be no more than a “Jesus Seminar type” of scholar. In fact, what Shabir Ally said – that Jesus was a Jew, who preached belief in God similar to the belief in God as taught by previous Jewish prophets, that Jesus needs to be seen in his Jewish context etc. – is something that is readily accepted as such by almost all historical Jesus scholars. This is not just the view of merely those associated with the Jesus Seminar. That Jesus needs to be viewed in his first century Jewish context is a point made forcefully by ED Sanders, N.T. Wright, James Dunn, Chilton, Vermes, Evans, and a host of other scholars.
  • One of the most interesting exchanges of the segment was when Shabir Ally referred to James White’s reference to N. T. Wright to say that “we do not know who wrote the gospels and we do not know when they were written.” James White said in his opening statement that we should repeat this statement before breakfast. Therefore, Shabir asked: if we do not know who wrote the gospels and when they were written, why then should we suppose that the authors of these writings are “inspired?” James White remained silent, he did not offer any reply and just moved on to the next question. One might say that James White did not offer a reply because the rules of the debate did not permit the questioner to interject and offer a reply or clarification. But this would be a very weak reply since James White did, on other instances, interject and clarified his position or reasserted his point even when Shabir Ally was in the midst of presenting his answer. This takes us back to my initial observation – James White’s utter inability to offer even a single positive reason why the New Testament as a whole should be deemed inspired. Indeed, if we do not even know the identity of the authors and do not know when the books were written, what reason is there to suppose that these writers were “inspired?”
  • Also interesting to note was the exchange pertaining to Mark 13:35 and Matthew 24:42. Shabir Ally did not bring up this example in his presentation. However, the impression one gets from at least one Christian reviewer is that Shabir Ally brought up this example during the debate and that, subsequently, James White responded to it when it was his turn to talk. For example, we read:
      • “One of Ally’s proofs that the NT was redacted by later writers was that in the Gospel of Mark (which was written earlier), Jesus is addressed as “master” while in the Gospel of Matthew (which was written later) Jesus is addressed as “Lord.” Hence, Ally was contending, Jesus was not always regarded as “Lord,” i.e., God in the flesh. White simply pointed out that both words are the exact same identical word in Greek. To me, this displayed a sort of superficiality in scholarship from Ally, unless I misunderstood something here.”

    Putting aside the basic fact that “Lord” does not mean “God in the flesh” and is applied in a variety of ways in the New Testament (and the Jewish Bible), we can now see that Shabir never presented this example in the debate with James White. Instead, we may say that James White tricked Shabir Ally into commenting upon this passage during the Q&A session. During the cross examination period, it was James White who initially asked Shabir Ally if Mark 13:35 and Matthew 24:42 would also constitute an example of Matthew changing Mark to elevate the status of Jesus? Shabir Ally – who had made no reference to these passages in his talks – not having this passage in mind, replied that if Mark said “master” and the same passage in Matthew said “Lord,” then this would also constitute an example of Matthew altering Mark. When James White said that the underlying Greek word was exactly the same in both passages, Shabir Ally politely conceded the point without making any fuss – which is quite unlike the example presented by James White, who had to subsequently invent a story in order to defend his erroneous assertions (e.g., his misuse of Yasir Qadhi’s book despite being politely corrected by Shabir). As it later turned out, James White, who knows Greek, was not entirely correct even in this instance. See Shabir Ally’s reply here:

    A REASSERTION THAT MATTHEW 24:42 IMPROVES THE IMAGE OF JESUS OVER THAT OF MARK 13:35

    Instead of dealing with what Shabir Ally had to say in this debate, White appeared to be more interested to engage with statements which Shabir Ally had made in his previous debates with other individuals. Moreover, Shabir Ally presented many examples of Matthew altering Mark out of which only one was superficially “dealt” with by James White, the example of the raising of Jarius’ daughter.

Finally, Shabir Ally was wrong again to assert that the gospel of Thomas is earlier than Mark and that this is “generally” accepted by New Testament scholars. On the contrary, almost all scholars deem Thomas to be a second century gospel, although it is quite possible that it may contain certain primitive or early sayings going back to the first century. Apart from this one little bit of potty – which he later appeared to be clearing up by acknowledging that Thomas came to acquire its final form in the second century – Shabir Ally gave clear answers to all of White’s question in my opinion.

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A few selected students pose their questions to Shabir Ally and James White – 22 minutes

I will, again, very briefly, summarise the questions and the responses offered by the speakers. Moreover, I will provide some critical comments where necessary (in italics).

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  • Q1. The first question was posed to Shabir Ally in which a student asked him about the reliability of the Quran and whether the Quran as it is today the inspired word of Allah and whether Shabir Ally would be interested in having a debate on this question?

    Shabir replied that he would be interested to have a debate on this question. He then briefly explained the textual history of the Quran and how it was memorised. Shabir explained that in the case of the Quran, we are dealing with a book that is very different from the New Testament and that we would need to explain its entire history i.e., manner of compilation, transmission etc. To discuss all of these issues would be to sidetrack since the debate is not about the Quran. Shabir then corrected James White’s erroneous assertion that Ibn Masud was allegedly killed and clarified some details regarding variations in the recitation of the Quran – that these are all valid and revealed variations.

    James White’s 1 minute rebuttal: In his one minute rebuttal, James White, once again, insisted that Ibn Masud was killed and, moreover, that this is reported in a book by Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi book. White also repeated that Uthman ordered the burning of the other Quranic copies precisely because there were variations in the text and that this issue needs to be discussed. Furthermore, White said that that we need to be fair in our standards – that we should apply the same methodology and standard upon the Quran as we would upon the New Testament writings. According to White, the New Testament manuscript tradition stands up better in giving us the testimony in the earliest form than the Quranic one does.


My observations: It is strange why James White would talk about the Quran since he has already made it rather clear that he has no interest and desire to discuss the Quran in a debate. See his Dividing Line address. If White believes that he is incapable and lacks the knowledge to discuss the Quran, then why bring it up in a debate about the New Testament? Even more interesting is White’s silence to Shabir Ally’s willingness to debate the Quran. All White says is that the Quran needs to be “discussed,” but he does not say if he will “discuss” it in a debate with Shabir Ally. Will White clearly and categorically state that he is willing to debate the authenticity, compilation and transmission of the Quran with Shabir Ally?

Second, for a response of White’s assertion pertaining to Ibn Masud and the mistaken reference to Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi’s book, see:

Third, since White is fond of comparing the Quranic and New Testament manuscript traditions, it should be pointed out that a comparison would show that the Quranic manuscript tradition is far superior than that of the New Testament in terms of quality, quantity, age, content and uniformity. There are, for instance, no manuscripts of the New Testament from the first century, whereas there is solid manuscript and documentary evidence for the Quran and its circulation from well within the first Islamic century. This can be seen here:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Mss/

Moreover, the New Testament is lacking in early manuscripts. For the first century and the major part of the second century (except for that tiny p52) we have a complete absence of New Testament manuscripts. Substantial portions only begin to surface from c. 200. The earliest manuscripts happen to be quite fragmentary as well. How many changes crept into the New Testament text in this period from which no manuscripts survive? Scholarly opinion is divided on this matter. Be that as is may, apart from one or two exceptions, no textual scholar is willing to equate the Nestle-Aland27 with the “original” New Testament text.

Fifth, even if we, for arguments sake, accept White’s unsubstantiated assertion that the Quran goes only as far back as Uthman – the son in law of Muhammed (P), one of his closest companions and himself a complete memorizer of the Quran – and no more – a claim that is not even made by Western scholars in general – we are still hardly 15 years separated from Muhammed (P), possessing a text coming from the period of his trusted companions and confidents. In sharp contrast, we are faced with a gap of at least three to six decades between Jesus and the dating of the gospels widely accepted by New Testament scholars. It is generally agreed by Christian scholars that eyewitnesses did not produce the canonical gospels. And let’s not forget the words of Tom Wright which White would have us repeat every morning: we do not know who wrote the gospels and when they were written.

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  • Q2. The second question is directed towards James White. He is asked that there is so much scholarship from people who identify themselves as Christians who openly question the New Testament text and its presentation of Jesus. To what would James White attribute this rejection?

    James White responded that this is something we face in Western society, that we have our Bart Ehrman’s and he then referred to his debate with Crossan and Borg. White said that there is much popularity for these writings, so much so that if Ehrman sneezes, CNN is there to cover it. He also expressed his disappointment over National Geographic’s coverage of a recently discovered Gnostic gospel [the Gospel according to Judas, I presume]. White compared this with the mainstream media’s alleged lack of coverage when New Testament manuscripts are discovered, which are said to verify the text of the New Testament. Moreover, White claimed that you are unlikely to get published in too many journals if you write something confirming traditional Christianity. So we live in a day and age where we are being trained to be sceptical about everything. White attributes this to the presupposition of scholars. That is to say that when you start scratching the surface, you learn that these scholars believe that Jesus could not have been who he was, he could not have been God in human flesh. Therefore, due to this presupposition, they have to come up with someway of explaining this, by casting doubts on the New Testament. White goes on to say that in debates with Muslims, who also believe in One God, we need to discuss the issues within the context of our shared belief that God can speak.

    Shabir Ally’s 1 minute rebuttal: In his one minute rebuttal, Shabir Ally agreed with James White that we cannot just blindly take what naturalistic and materialistic scholars say and run with it, whether it is Ehrman, the Jesus Seminar or anyone else. Shabir said that in reading Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus,” he felt that Ehrman had come a long way; he started out as a Christian who believed that the New Testament was the word of God in totality, he read and studied the New Testament in order to prove that to the world, but eventually his studies led him to a different sort of conclusion. Shabir Ally believes that Ehrman’s new conclusion has shifted him to the other extreme and that the correct way is to be balanced in between. While there is information offered by these scholars to which we should pay attention, we should, however, differentiate between the demonstratable proofs which they are presenting and the materialistic presuppositions which we must necessarily reject.

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My observations: White made a number of problematic claims in his answer. To begin with, his description of the attention given to scholars such as Ehrman, Crossan and Borg, by the media is surely exaggerated. Ehrman, for instance, was seen on a number of occasions on TV programs due to his recent book, “Misquoting Jesus.” Before that, however, there was no significant coverage given to him. White claims that the media does not give coverage when “New Testament manuscripts are discovered.” But he fails to provide any examples. For instance, precisely which New Testament manuscripts were discovered lately which the media failed to report about? The major and most significant manuscript finds of the New Testament were made in the 19th (Codex Sinaiticus) and early-mid 20th (the earliest Greek papyrus manuscripts) centuries. White needs to inform us about the problematic coverage of these discoveries by the media of those times. The Gospel of Judas, on the other hand, is a fairly recent 21st century discovery and, as far as I know, the National Geographic did not promote it as a “first century” gospel or argue for its substantial historicity. White should have explained the specific problems he had with the National Geographic’s coverage of the Gospel of Judas instead of making vague generalized claims. Moreover, White seems to be quite unfamiliar about the significant amount of media coverage and the sensational reporting of the claims that fragments of the gospels were discovered in the Qumran scrolls as well as the proposed re-dating of p66. Thus, we may say that the media is guilty at times of promoting and sensationalising both types of claims – claims which deny as well as support Christian beliefs. Both types of claims, on occasions, have been promoted in the media. Similarly, White again did nothing more than to make a very vague and generalized assertion when he said that writings supporting/confirming “traditional Christianity” are unlikely to get published in journals. This is false and quite misleading. Numerous conservative and Evangelical scholars contribute actively within all of the mainstream New Testament studies journals. From the top of my head, the following names immediately come to my mind: Tom Wright, Howard I. Marshall, Baukham, Porter, Fee, Stein, Blomberg, Carson, Evans, Metzger…I am sure many, many, more conservative and Evangelical scholars can be discovered who write in New Testament journals if one were to spend a few minutes doing a search.

White complains that we live in a age where we are being taught to be sceptical about everything. This is ironic coming from a man who is even more sceptical than Orientalist scholars in general when it comes to the Quran – vehemently denying that it goes back to Muhammed (P) and insisting that Uthman foisted upon the masses something new and unknown. What is more, White merely demonstrates that he is the one guilty of applying double standards and inconsistent criteria. This can be easily deduced from the fact that everything he has to say about the Sanaa manuscripts in order to attack the authenticity of the Quran stems from stray media reports, internet rumours, and heresy rather than from strictly scholarly books and articles. Thus, in the case of the Quran White is more than happy to take the media’s word for it, but in the case of the New Testament we are asked not to trust the media.

Finally, White would have us believe that anyone who disagrees with his views and the ones shared by his fellow apologists do so purely out of their secular and materialistic “presuppositions” and not because they sincerely believe that the data castes doubt over the conclusions cherished by some evangelists. At the same time, White gives the impression as if his fellow like minded inerranists have no presuppositions whatsoever in their acceptance of the Bible as the inerrant word of God. White wants us to believe that he arrived upon this conclusion only after a sincere examination of the evidence. Could it not be that a scholar sincerely believes that Jesus is not God based on his/her honest analysis of the information within the gospels? White has already concluded that this is impossible and, therefore, it appears that for him anyone who has a contrary argument to offer is by default misled by his/her “presuppositions.”


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  • Q3. This question is for Shabir Ally. The questioner asks about abrogation in the Quran. Reference is made to a passage in the Quran which says that no change can be made to the word of Allah. The questioner asks how abrogation fits into the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Quran and it being preserved in tablets in heaven? Shabir Ally reminds the student that the topic of the debate is whether or not the New Testament, as it exists today, is the inspired word of God. The subject is not the Quran. Yet, Shabir continues, we are getting questions about the Quran. While Shabir welcomes the question, it is irrelevant to the topic of the debate. Shabir Ally explains that we are really taking shots in the dark since we need to have a debate that covers the Quran so that it could be explained in detail what the Quran is, issues pertaining to its revelation, the manner of its compilation and so on. Shabir Ally then briefly responds to the question of abrogation and discusses the classical interpretation and his own understanding of it. After explaining the concept of abrogation, Shabir Ally says that, in a similar fashion, the New Testament abrogates the Old Testament. He refers to the book of Hebrews, which says many commandments and regulations have been laid aside due to their imperfection. It is understood that the laws and commandments given to the Jews was for a limited period, and then a new dispensation came from God.

    James White’s 1 minute rebuttal: White begins by saying that he understands Shabir Ally’s frustration at being asked a difficult question and that in many of his debates with Roman Catholics, White is asked to explain the entire canonisation process in 60 seconds. White then says that the argument of the book of Hebrews does not parallel the Islamic concept of abrogation because Hebrews does not say that you were once told this and now you are being told this. Instead, it says that this is what you were told and this is why you were told, and now it is fulfilled in Christ, this is what it was pointing to, and fulfillment is not the same as abrogation.

    White then says that the issue of abrogation would be relevant if we were discussing the Quran and it seems to White that this can be paralleled with the argument which is made by Shabir Ally about the writers of the New Testament, how they handled the information.

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My observations: Coming to White’s claim that Hebrews does not mention abrogation of the Law, while doing a search online, I quickly came across plenty of Christian literature which specifically mentions the “abrogation” of the previous Law according to the book of Hebrews:

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-01/calhb-11.txt
http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Hebrews+7
http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=1360
http://www.pbministries.org/Landmark_Baptist/Seminary/Bible_Study_Courses/Hebrews/gills_exposition/heb_expo_introduction.htm
http://www.raystedman.org/hebrews2/heb2intro.html
http://bible.cc/hebrews/7-18.htm
http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Hebrews/hebrews_038.htm
http://www.godrules.net/library/clarke/clarkeheb7.htm
http://www.hope.edu/academic/religion/bandstra/BIBLE/HEB/HEB7.HTM
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom44.xx.xxv.html
http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/1878_russell_parousia/russell_parousia_02l.html
http://www.soundofgrace.com/hebrews/h1v01-2.htm
http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?b=58&c=7&com=wes
http://www.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=heb&chapter=8&verse=6
http://www.godrules.net/library/vincent/vincentheb8.htm

As we can see, numerous Christian commentators have mentioned specifically the ABROGATION of the Law, or the “old covenant.” Thus, the fulfillment caused the ABROGATION of the Law.

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  • Q4. This was the final question and it was directed towards James White. The questioner asked about the mention of the last supper in Mark chapter 22. James White informs him that there is no chapter 22 in Mark. The audience is laughing…James White screams: “I think we found that early manuscript!” The questioner, obviously embarrassed, then finds the correct reference, its Luke chapter 22. He asks about a phrase in this chapter: “which has been given to you,” and asks if it took 2000 years to find this addition to the text, how does that coincide with the belief that the New Testament was preserved throughout this time and how is this argument pertinent with regards to how this is the only passage which talks about Jesus to die for man’s sin?

    James White is not certain about the specific reference, but it later appears to be Luke 22:19, where it says “This is my body which is given for you.” James White replies that he does not understand what it means when it is said that it took 2000 years to discover that this is an addition to the text because if you look at the textual data at the bottom of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition, you will see that there are a number of parallel corruptions and that, interestingly enough, later scribes thought that Matthew, Mark and Luke should say things in the same way and so they made changes to the text. Even though White admits this is a problem, he says that he does not understand what the questioner’s statement means, that it took 2000 years to discover that this was an addition because there are many manuscripts that read exactly along those lines and, hence, it was not a matter of it being unknown. White says that he understands why some people want to have a standardised text, but the notes at the bottom of the page allow people to respond to people such as Bart Ehrman. White says that Christians are open with their text and do not hide it from anyone’s examination. Once you do the examinations, you can then say that here are the manuscripts and we can examine what they have to say and examine the reasons behind the variations. But, White proceeds, if we only had one single text which someone created and burnt everything else, then that is as far back as we can go. Therefore, White thanks God that there are textual variations in the New Testament text.

    Shabir Ally’s 1 minute rebuttal: Shabir begins by saying that James is right about what is written at the bottom of the page and once we look at the bottom of the page, it says that the text in question is of dubious origin – Shabir says he is telescoping what is written – generating some laughter’s among the audience. Shabir continues that the most important Western textual manuscripts do not have this passage but other manuscripts and papyruses have it. What does this mean? Here we have an instruction from Jesus where he says to “do this always in memory of me” when he passes around the cup and everyone does this in memory of him. But does this instruction go back to him? Why is this instruction not in every gospel? Why did the other writers miss this and not consider it to be important? Shabir explains that if the passage is originally from Luke, then it would seem that he got it from Paul, which was written before, which then emphasizes the point that Pauline teachings have influenced the gospels. But if the passage is not from Luke and added by a scribe, the same point holds – that it has now become a part of Christian teaching about Jesus that he said that do this in memory of me, whereas, in fact, his saying . . . [the rest of Shabir Ally’s reply is snipped out in the audio]

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My observations: Even though I think that the questioner started off by embarrassing himself, he ended up with a decent and sensible question. The passage (Luke 22:19-20) in question is one of immense theological significance. The passage in question is the sole passage which determines whether or not the author of the Gospel of Luke accepted the doctrine of atonement – that is, that Jesus’ death was an atonement for sins. Thus, a major theological issue rests upon a dubious passage. For a detailed discussion of this passage see:

    Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, 1993, Oxford University Press, pp. 197-211.

    David C. Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels, 1997, Cambridge University Press, pp. 151-157.

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Further comments on the Q&A session

  • Two questions were directed towards Shabir Ally and both were related to the Quran – its history of transmission and issues about abrogation. This was entirely irrelevant to the debate. Even though Shabir Ally answered both questions adequately, the moderators should not have allowed such types of irrelevant questions. Furthermore, I get the impression that the main aim of James White, and, I think, the debate organizers (based on the questions they allowed), was to “corner” Shabir Ally and question him about issues which he had discussed with others in his previous debates.

  • As noted above, inerranists and apologists commonly impute the charge of “presuppositions” upon anyone who disagrees with their views. James White appears to seriously believe that no one can ever disagree with his beliefs, views, and arguments unless and until they carry a large baggage of “presuppositions.” Thus, everyone who doubts the complete inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible does so solely because of their “presuppositions.” But, of course, inerranists such as James White, who believe that the Bible contains no imaginable errors, have no presuppositions whatsoever. We are supposed to believe that inerranists deem the Bible to be an inerrant document not due to their presuppositions, but only because they have sincerely and objectively studied the evidence without any biases and concluded in favour of inerrancy. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for individuals such as James White to come to terms with the reality that it could also be that someone else may sincerely believe, based on their honest analysis of the evidence, that the Bible is not inerrant and that the gospel writers do not always provide us with brute historical details about Jesus.

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Final segment of the debate – the 7 minute concluding remarks

Here the speakers attempt to sum up their arguments and offer a conclusion. James White will go first and then Shabir Ally. Once again, I will briefly summarise their main points and arguments, followed by some critical comments.

James White – 7 minute concluding remarks

    James White starts by responding to Shabir Ally’s 1 minute rebuttal to the last question. He says that what Shabir Ally said is the exact kind of reasoning that resulted in scribal emendations. In other words, “why didn’t all the other gospel writers say this?” Because, White explains, they didn’t have to. The idea that they all had to say the exact same thing in the exact same way is what led to so much of the parallel corruption that later takes place. In response to Shabir Ally’s claim that the previously discussed passage in Luke’s gospel may have come from Paul, White says that that means that it goes back to the 40’s and goes back to the lifetime of the people who heard this who were still alive. So why should we presuppose that they would allow Paul to corrupt that? White proceeds, if we are to be consistent, then that would mean that the recitation of the Quran within the first 10 to 20 years could be completely corrupted as well. White says that his point is that consistency in the application of these things needs to be our goal and when we are consistent; the vast majority of arguments used against the inspiration of the New Testament are not going to follow.

    White then thanks Shabir Ally for coming to the debate all the way from Toronto and informs us that he will also be travelling to Toronto soon. Moreover, White says that he is hoping to have another debate with Shabir Ally in the University of Glasgow in next May, adding that he would wear a kilt if Shabir agrees to debate him in Glasgow. White then gives Shabir Ally a gift, a copy of his book “The Forgotten Trinity,” a book called “Scripture Alone,” as well as the “New American Standard Bible.”

    White again thanks the audience for attending the debate. He says that tonight the debate was not about whether God could inspire anything. Nor was the debate about whether the New Testament claims to be inspired. Moreover, White asserts that there is no question that the early Church believed that the New Testament was inspired, when you look at the very earliest of the writers outside the New Testament, they are quoting Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul as “Scripture.” We even have within the New Testament canon people quoting each other as “Scripture.” So this is not the issue. The issue is, why would a Muslim, who is a supernaturalist, deny the inspiration of the New Testament? White refers to surah 5:46-47, the phrase “let the people of the gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein.” White asks, how can we do this? How could the Christians during the days of Muhammed have followed the exhortations of surah 5:46-47, if what Shabir Ally said is true? White says that he asked Shabir Ally in the cross examination if he could point to any book in the New Testament which he believed gives us the pure word of God and Shabir replied that only as long as it agrees with the Quran. But how can you prove, asks White, that Muhammed is really a prophet of God except from the Quran, if the actual argument is that as long as it agrees with the Quran it is inspired? It does not work. White says that a strong argument could be made that the Quran does not teach the corruption of the New Testament because Muhammed did not know enough about the New Testament. It wasn’t even translated into his language. Therefore, the question is not if we can find references to the inspiration of the New Testament and prove the inspiration of the New Testament to an atheist. The question is, to a Muslim, who believes that God has spoken, on what basis does he reject the inspiration of the New Testament?

    White repeats his earlier argument: we are told to accept the word of a man who wrote over 600 years after the Christ event, who had no access to original languages of the Old and New Testaments, with no direct knowledge of the Christian scriptures. We are to take this and allow it to supersede that which is found in the first century and that which is found in the very earliest external writings of the New Testament, the consistent testimony of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We are to take the words of someone far removed and have it supersede the testimony of the martyrs. White asks: would any Muslim accept the word of a man who came centuries after Muhammed, who never read the Quran, had no access to the Quran, who then misrepresents the Quran, shows he does not even understand the Quran, would any Muslim take the word of this individual if he claimed to be a prophet of God and have him supersede the Quran? White replies: no Muslim would do this. White continues: we need to be consistent and should apply the same standards upon the Quran and the New Testament. If we do this, the objections raised against the text and teachings of the New Testament would simply not hold true. So Muslims have no basis to deny the inspiration of the New Testament.

    White ends by telling the audience to do their own research into the subject.

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Shabir Ally – 7 minutes concluding remarks

    Shabir Ally begins by thanking the audience for attending the debate and thanks the debate organizers for arranging a cordial discussion. He thanks James White for all the gifts and calls him a scholar and a gentleman.

    Shabir says that he would like to say a few words about the Quran as the revealed word of God since so much has been asked about the Quran. What positive reasons do we have for believing that the Quran is a revelation from God? Shabir explains there are several and even though he does not have the time to detail them all, he will briefly mention some. The Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammed around 1400 years ago and if it was his own work, then we would have expected to see his own mental acumen being translated into the text. On the contrary, what we find is that the Quran speaks about past history, revealing information that was not known to Muhammed, speaks about the future and only God knows the future, it describes things which are seen to be accurate from the modern scientific point of view, which indicates that this is a revelation from God. Shabir says that he could go on and on about this, but the point is that the topic of the debate was not the Quran and whether or not it is the Word of God. But because questions were being asked about the Quran, therefore, he is trying to balance the picture in this way.

    Second, the Quran has been preserved over time in the memories of people as well as in manuscripts, many of which are now available to us, very old and ancient manuscripts. Shabir Ally informs us that in the past he debated individuals such as Joseph Smith who denied that any manuscripts of the Quran existed from the first century, and he [Smith] saw that as a basis for questioning the integrity of the Quran. But, since then, manuscripts from the first century of Islam have been found, especially in Sanaa in Yemen. Moreover, it has been seen that these manuscripts do not show any significant variations from the Quran as Muslims read it today. Variations that have been catalogued and shown, such as by Jeffery, have not shown any reliable reported variations from the ancient scholars such as Ibn Masud, or anyone else, that affects the integrity of the text we have today. Scholars have reported variations from reciters such as Ibn Masud, Ubay bin Kab and others, and these relate to a time when the Quranic text was known by some a little vaguely. But the scholars who were contemporaneous with the Prophet Muhammed (P), who lived with him, walked with him and had memorised the Quran directly from him, gathered together as a group and compiled the written text from the pieces that were available with the writers, who copied these directly from Prophet Muhammed (P), within a few years after the death of Prophet Muhammed (P). They have produced a text which we are reading today all over the Muslim world.

    Shabir Ally goes on to say that what is very clear, whether the Quran is studied from the point of view of Muslims and non-Muslims, it has never been shown that any Muslim, over time, copying the Quran, or reciting the Quran, has deliberately altered it in order to satisfy doctrinal considerations. Whereas we find in the writings of scholars such as Bruce Metzger and, most recently, Bart Ehrman, that in the past, scribes of the New Testament have, in fact, changed its text specifically for doctrinal considerations.

    Moreover, Shabir Ally says that in his opening presentation, it was shown that not only have scribes done this, but, in fact, Matthew, Luke and John have also done this when we compare them with Mark. In specific cases, we can see that Matthew has telescoped what was written in Mark – he has changed the wording of a certain person’s speech. Therefore, what we read in quotation marks in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament gospels, cannot be taken to be the gospel truth. We cannot say that Jesus said specifically this. Thus, when delivering a sermon, we cannot say and believe that Jesus said exactly this because it may have been telescoped.

    When the man came to Jesus, according to Matthew, and said that his daughter had just died, Mark reported that the man informed Jesus that his daughter was at the point of dying. These are two different things.

    Shabir Ally proceeded: what positive reasons do we have for thinking that the New Testament is the inspired word of God? Even if he [Shabir] is fully wrong in anything he has said, even if the Quran is not the word of God, how can we still know that the New Testament is the word of God, which is our topic tonight? Shabir Ally says that James White referred to 2 Peter and 2 Timothy, but none of these passages say that the Bible, especially the New Testament, is entirely the word of God. We did not have a presentation from James White that showed that the Bible according to the Bible itself is entirely the word of God, specifically the New Testament. Furthermore, 2 Timothy 3:16 talks about the inspiration of scriptures which Timothy knew from childhood, which was the Old Testament. The New Testament documents were not yet compiled in the lifetime of Paul. Similarly, Shabir Ally explains that 2 Peter refers to the prophecies of the old, again, referring to the Old Testament. So, where in the New Testament does it say that the entire New Testament is the revealed word of God, inspired holy scripture, absolutely and perfectly true? Nothing in the New Testament says that. Therefore, we should not attribute to God something He did not inspire and did not reveal.

    Shabir Ally says that we can say that the New Testament contains revealed knowledge and inspiration, but it also contains the creative works of man. We have seen this creative work in the gospels, particularly in the gospel according to John, where a new presentation of Jesus is given. Shabir says that we have four raising stories in the gospels, but three are quite similar yet the gospel according to John is very different. The story has changed from Mark, to Matthew and Luke, and then further along to John. If we follow this trend and go back a little bit, we will find what the Quran is calling us to look at, to judge by the gospel and find out what exactly did Jesus (P) really say and did before the creative work of human beings transformed it into something else.

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A few critical remarks:

  • White says that the debate was not about “whether God could inspire anything.” Nor was it about “whether the New Testament claims to be inspired.” True, but why then did he argue that the New Testament is inspired because the New Testament says so (allegedly)? Yes, God “could” inspire, but did He? And how can we know this? This was the topic of the debate and as we can see, White avoided it completely. His entire presentation was irrelevant to the topic of the debate. White’s approach is heavily circular. He is essentially arguing that the New Testament is inspired because it (allegedly) says so. White asked: on what basis Muslims do not accept the New Testament to be fully inspired? Well, on what basis should they regard it to be fully inspired? This is what I wanted White to explain. Unfortunately, he did not. White did nothing more than to resort to hollow arguments, such as: demanding Muslims accept the New Testament as inspired because they are “supernaturalists” i.e., they believe that God can and has Spoken to humans in the past through Messengers and Prophets. But how do we know that He has Spoken to the New Testament writers? What is the evidence? There is a deafening silence from White. Using this “logic,” should we also accept the book of Mormon as inspired scripture simply for being supernaturalists? White’s demand is irrational. There is no requirement for Muslims – or any other supernaturalist – to instantly accept each and every piece of writing as “inspired” just because it is either believed to be inspired by its followers or because the writing itself claims to be inspired. A writing can wrongly claim to be inspired and people can wrongfully believe that a certain writing is inspired.
  • White asserts that the “early Church” believed that the New Testament was inspired and that the writers outside the New Testament quote Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul as “Scripture.” The earliest writings outside the New Testament are known as the “Apostolic Fathers” – these include: 1 Clement, Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius, Epistle/Martyrdom of Polycarp, Barnabas, Papias, II Clement. Unfortunately White does not present examples to substantiate this assertion. As far as I can tell, there are only 2 instances within the Apostolic Fathers where the designation “Scripture” is applied to a New Testament writing (Ephesians in Polycarp 12:1) and to introduce a sentence found within the gospel of Matthew (2 Clement 2:4), with some disagreement as to whether the author of 2 Clement quoted from Matthew or another document. Compare this with White’s exagerrated claim. Metzger, for instance, explains:

    For early Jewish Christians the Bible consisted of the Old Testament and some Jewish apocryphal literature. Along with this written authority went traditions, chiefly oral, of sayings attributed to Jesus. On the other hand, authors who belonged to the ‘Hellenistic Wing’ of the Church refer more frequently to writings that later came to be included in the New Testament. At the same time, however, they very rarely regarded such documents as ‘Scripture’.

    Furthermore, there was as yet no conception of the duty of exact quotation from books that were not yet in the full sense canonical. Consequently, it is sometimes exceedingly difficult to ascertain which New Testament books were known to early Christian writers; our evidence does not become clear until the end of second century.

    [Bruce M Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 72-73]

    According to White, the New Testament writers quote each other as “Scripture.” Where? There are, at most, only 2 examples of this, one whose interpretation is vigorously debated: 1 Timothy 5:18 (the debated passage) and 2 Peter 3:16 – where an untold number of Pauline letters are addressed as “Scripture.” Interestingly enough, noneof these passages refer to all of the books of the New Testament and, more interesting, White ended up referring to passages which had nothing to say about any New Testament writing to begin with! But, for arguments sake, what if White is correct in all of his claims? So what? Essentially, White is using circular argument: the New Testament is inspired because it says so. I wonder how happily he would react were a Muslim to use such circular reasoning for the inspiration of the Quran?

  • White manages to reveal more of his inconsistencies in his final presentation. For example, since a passage may go back to Paul and thus be placed in the 40’s of the first century – when people who heard Jesus were still alive – White enquires why we should suppose that these witnesses would allow Paul to corrupt what Jesus had said to them? Why should we start with this presupposition, White enquires? But then White goes ahead and applies precisely this sceptical presupposition in his polemic upon the Quran in which he would have us believe that the eyewitnesses and the companions of Muhammed, who heard him speak for years and who learnt the Quran from him, somehow managed to allow Uthman – himself a complete memorizer of the Quran from Muhammed’s lifetime and his son in-law – to completely change the Quran so much so that it no longer went back to Muhammed and was an entirely new entity – even though numerous companions of Muhammed worked on producing the copies. Hence, in the case of the New Testament, White is willing to be quite considerate but in the case of the Quran he will conviniently disregard the evidence and transform into a radical sceptic. Moreover, coming to the specific example commented upon by White, it is not a question of “allowing” Paul to corrupt something. Paul was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus and he had very strong views about Jesus’ role, so much so that he was willing to scold even the disciples of Jesus (such as Peter) for daring to disagree with him. It is not that the ones who heard Jesus “allowed” Paul to change something, but simply that Paul was not willing to listen to contrary views. He had already decided: it was either his way or the highway. In striking contrast, we have Muhammed’s students and companions – familiar with the Quran – who are involved in producing it in multiple copies and whose work was widely praised by the community at large.
  • White also appears to have seriously misunderstood Shabir Ally’s argument when he asks: how can you prove that Muhammed is really a prophet of God except from the Quran, if the actual argument is that as long as it agrees with the Quran it is inspired? There is a serious misunderstanding here. Shabir Ally was previously asked by White: which parts of the New Testament he deemed inspired? Shabir Ally replied: as a Muslim he would accept the parts which agreed with the Quran. Please note that White had not asked Shabir Ally: “how can you prove that Muhammed is really a prophet?” This question was never posed and Shabir Ally, as far as I can tell, has never replied to such a question with the reply: “as long as it agrees with the Quran.” Such a reaction would be just weird as the “answer” is irrelevant to the question. So no, it has NEVER been Shabir’s argument that Muhammed is a prophet because “as long as it agrees with the Quran.” I don’t understand how White could come up with something like this and misread Shabir Ally so drastically.
  • White’s primary argument, that why should the word of Muhammed (P) to supersede the New Testament when he (P) came 600 years after Jesus (P) and had no access to any New Testament writings etc., has been addressed in detail in the following paper:
  • Dissecting James White’s mother of all arguments

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Conclusion

Beginning on a positive note, this was a very cordial debate. Both speakers were polite towards each other and presented their case in a sober fashion. Certainly, this is how Muslims and Christians (and others) should engage in debates and dialogues.

Having said this, when we come to the arguments of the speakers themselves, it becomes quite clear that James White largely ignored the major part of Shabir Ally’s presentation. In fact, with one or two exceptions, everything that Shabir Ally had to say went by ignored and unanswered by James White. White spent the vast majority of his time repeating that Shabir Ally allegedly applied “double standards” in his arguments and that he was “inconsistent” with his approach. However, this was not the topic of the discussion. Even if, for arguments sake, we suppose that White is correct (which he is not), that does not “disprove” Shabir Ally’s claims pertaining to the New Testament nor does it “prove” that the New Testament is the inspired word of God in its entirety (see this).

According to the topic of the debate, James White was required to present positive evidence and arguments in order to explain to non-Christians why the New Testament may be regarded as the inspired word of God in its entirety. Unfortunately, White never attempted this. The closest he got to this ended up being a circular argument: that the New Testament is fully inspired because it says so. Not only was this argument circular, even the passages referred to by White had nothing to say about the status of any New Testament document!

A few comments on the use of sources by the two speakers is in order. While Shabir Ally was largely reliant upon mainstream scholarship, both with regards to the Quran and the New Testament, James While, on the other hand, was utilising purely polemical internet sources in his arguments against the Quran. Is this “scholarship?” Recall that during the debate, in order to back up the assertion about Ibn Masud’s fictitious beating, James White could do nothing more than to present a century old essay and refer to a polemical Christian writing, which was also written over a century ago! White appears to believe that everything about Islam on polemical Christian websites “must” be true. That there could be no concievable reason for such sources to contain disinformation of questionable claims. White comes across as someone who displays no desire whatsoever to sincerely study a subject in a scholarly manner with an open mind.

At this point, I will offer a reply to certain claims made by some Christian reviewers about the sources used by Shabir Ally. According to one reviewer:

    “In addition Ally made much use of liberal Christian scholarship (most prominently citing Bart Ehrman several times) to allege that the NT Christians have in their possession today is not the same NT that was originally written in the first century.”

Similarly, another Christian reviewer wrote:

    “He appealed heavily to redaction criticism and apostate research by such men like media darling Bart Ehrman and the writings of the Jesus Seminary cranks to prove his point.”

In my view both of these reviewers are guilty of distorting the truth. In his main presentation, far from appealing “heavily” to Bart Ehrman, only briefly and in the passing did Shabir Ally refer to Bart Ehrman, as a reliable and authoritative textual critic. The major part of Shabir Ally’s presentation lacked any mention of Ehrman. On the contrary, the bulk of his talk was based on arguments and discussions which receive support from mainstream New Testament scholarship. Shabir made more references to conservative Christian scholars, such as Bruce Metzger, William Lane Craig and the late F.F. Bruce. The argument of “redaction” – that Matthew and Luke altered Mark – is widely accepted by mainstream scholars, both liberal and conservatives alike. The second reviewer, unfortunately, is either embarrassingly unfamiliar with New Testament scholarship or is deliberately throwing cheap shots at Shabir Ally. That is because Shabir did not refer to any “apostate” Jesus Seminar scholar in his talks. However, Shabir Ally did positively refer to Wilson and Goulder (atheists) in his talks; but this constituted a very small part, not even a fraction, of his presentations. Bottom line: his general presention on the New Testament, far from being “radical,” was quite sober and reliant upon mainstream scholarship.

Likewise, another Christian reviewer wrote:

    “James showed how what Shabir referred to – the anti-supernatural bias that was operating among the fringe secular scholars – had distorted their work in textual criticism and left their arguments against the Bible seriously lacking.”

This is an unfair charge upon Shabir Ally since he was not heavily dependent upon such scholars, though he did in one or two instances refer to atheists such as Wilson and Goulder as noted above. To reiterate, his main thesis, about the alteration of Mark by Matthew and Luke and the different image of Jesus (P) within the gospels, is thoroughly supported by mainstream scholarship. While scholars may differ over the extant of changes, there is no major dispute concerning the fact that the gospel authors modified the image and presentation of Jesus (P) in their writings. We can be absolutely supernatural and came to these conclusions by an objective study of the gospel data.

The same reviewer went on to say:

    “Furthermore, James argued that those same “scholars” had the same issues against the Quran and if Shabir wanted to use them against the Bible he needed to consistently use them against the Quran as well.”

We are not informed who these “same scholars” are. I doubt most scholar would operate with such a mindset and if some do, then that would be very unscholarly of them. This is a crucial aspect of scholarship: to derive conclusions based on an examination of the data. Not to start off with conclusions and subsequently shape the data to suit it. A scholar would, rather should, likely argue that he or she cannot comment upon the Quran for not being a Quranic scholar and would need to study the Quran first before coming to any particular conclusion. At least this is how a scholar should react.

Coming back to James White, he kept attacking the integrity of the Quran throughout his talk even though this was not the topic of the discussion. It is interesting to note that while James White is more than happy to give questionable sermons on the Quran in his Dividing Line addresses and is very happy to use internet polemics against the Quran in his debate, he has made it quite clear that he is not at all willing to debate and discuss the Quran with Shabir Ally. For example, in one of his Dividing Line address which came out a few days after the debate, James White made it rather clear that he had no desire to debate the Quran, hadith, Muhammed (P) and other Islam related issues with Shabir Ally and that he would only be interested in debating Biblical and Christianity related topics. Presumably, this is because of his lack of knowledge pertaining to the Quran, hadith and Islam in general. If that is the case, then why does he bring up the Quran in his talks, writings, and in the recent debate with Shabir Ally? I get the impression that James White is very eager to talk about the Quran just as long as no one is there or in a position to challenge his assertions. He wants to talk about the Quran when no one can have the opportunity and the required time to deal with his assertions in an adequate and complete manner. The way I see it, White has only two options, either he does not talk about the Quran’s transmission and compilation at all, or if his urge is too intense to discuss it, then he should also be willing to discuss it head on in a debate dedicated solely to this topic. We know that Shabir Ally is willing to debate James White on the authenticity of the Quran, but is James White willing to accept this proposal?

Coming to the arguments against the total inspiration of the New Testament, we note that Shabir Ally primarily referred to Matthew and Luke’s creative use of Mark and how the image of Jesus (P) develops and evolves the further in time we go. John, for instance, has the most developed image of Jesus (P). Out of all the specific examples Shabir Ally produced, only one was “dealt” with by James White, the example of the raising of Jarius’ daughter. But even here, White’s explanation of “telescoping” made the issue more unclear. That is because if Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were telescoping, then that means that they were changing the words. Therefore, we can no longer be confident that when we read words which are attributed to Jesus (P) within the gospels, that Jesus (P) really used those exact same words. It was quite unfortunate that with one exception, White ignored all of the examples of differences brought up by Shabir Ally.

Despite this reality, a previously quoted Christian reviewer insists (italics mine):

    “Rather, Shabir attempted to argue that there were irreconcilable contradictions in the Bible and the presence of these contradictions proved that the Bible couldn’t be trusted. The only problem for Shabir was that he was debating a person whose expertise was in textual criticism. James knew the original languages the Bible was written in and had extensively studied the many manuscripts that we possess of the Bible today. James had no problem expositing the texts Shabir referred to in the original languages to show that the allegations of corruption weren’t enough to challenge the reliability of the Bible.”

The reviewer is probably confused between textual criticism and redaction criticism. With only one exception (see A REASSERTION THAT MATTHEW 24:42 IMPROVES THE IMAGE OF JESUS OVER THAT OF MARK 13:35), I do not recall James White “expositing” any differences, or contradictions, between the gospel accounts brought up by Shabir Ally.

As for textual criticism, then that constituted a minor part of Shabir Ally’s presentation. But, more importantly, I did not think that James White did any authoritative “expositing” of what Shabir Ally had to say about the transmission of the New Testament. In short, James White did little to “show” that the New Testament is historically reliable and his statement about “telescoping” merely ended up casting more doubts over the reliability of the New Testament.

Moving on, White made use of a number of overly lame arguments as well. This is particularly interesting since these lame arguments are coming from a person who is supposed to be a scholar and familiar with critical thinking/reasoning. Here I will briefly summarise White’s lame arguments which were applied to show Shabir Ally’s “inconsistency”:

White insists that the New Testament is inspired because some of the New Testament writers supposedly said so, not withstanding the above discussed problems with those passages. Nonetheless, to argue that the New Testament is entirely inspired because some of its writers (allegedly) said so is circular reasoning. White cannot use this argument with non-Christians though he may apply it when having discussions with his fellow Christians.

White comes across as being genuinely confused and puzzled upon learning that Muslims do not accept the New Testament as a fully inspired document. But why, wonders White? If Muslims are “supernaturalists” and believe that God has and can speak, then should they not just accept the complete inspiration and inerrancy of the New Testament writings? It never occurred him that no supernaturalist is required to accept any document as fully inspired just because that document makes such a claim for itself or because is believed by others to be inspired. We have to study the document and only then make up our minds.

Similarly, White innocently enquired why Muslims doubt that the “eyewitnesses” accurately remembered and passed along the words and teachings of Jesus (P) when they (Muslims) believe that the Quran and Muhammed’s (P) words and teachings were memorised, taught, and passed along accurately by the early Muslims? White does not seem to understand the basic fact that Muslim memorisation of their own book and traditions tells us nothing about what Christians did or did not do with regard to their own book and traditions. Instead of demonstrating that the earliest Christians accurately remembered and transmitted the words and teachings of Jesus (P), White merely demanded Muslims to accept this belief of his in light of their claims pertaining to the accurate rememberance and transmission of the Quran and Islamic traditions. In short, that X did something tells us absolutely nothing about what Y may or may not have done. The Muslim memorisation and rememberance of the Quran and the teachings of Muhammed (P) tells us nothing about the success, or failure, of Christians in memorising the words of Jesus (P) and remembering his teachings. The two are separate issues and need to be studied and considered individually on the basis of the evidence.

Another lame argument by White was as follows: why should we accept the word of a man coming 600 years after Jesus (P) and who did not have access to the New Testament? Simple: we study his claims and then decide. Period. Some time ago I addressed this argument in detail in the following paper:

Dissecting James White’s mother of all arguments

Here I should also add White’s complaint that Muslims reject the testimony of the “eyewitnesses” and of the “martyrs.” Who are these “eyewitnesses?” Please remember that, at the same time, White also tells us to repeat N. T. Wright’s following statement every morning: we do not know who wrote the gospels and we do not know when they were written. Well, if that is the case, how then can White be certain that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses? How can White be certain that these were honest and trustworthy individuals? How can he be certain that the gospels are “inspired” if we do not know who wrote them and when? White repeated a number of times that Muslims rejected “eyewitness” testimony, but he never informed us which “eyewitnesses” he had in mind, let alone presenting the evidence to back-up this assertion. Similarly, he does not tell us which “martyrs” he has in mind. The only martyr he named in his debate was Ignatius, but Ignatius was not an “eyewitness” to any of the events alleged within the New Testament writings.

Another lame argument was as follows: the New Testament writers made quotations from and allusions to non-canonical writings even though they did not consider them to be inspired canonical scriptures. This too is a circular argument. Because James White is a Protestant who does not accept these non-canonical writings as “inspired scripture,” he, therefore, conveniently assumes that the New Testament writers who quoted and alluded to them also did not deem them “inspired Scripture,” as if they were hardcore Protestants!

Now to a few words about Shabir Ally specifically. Although Shabir Ally made a strong and clear case against the total inspiration of the New Testament and presented clear examples of how Matthew and Luke altered Mark, together with highlighting the differences between John and the synoptic gospels, he could have presented more examples to show how Mark was used by the authors of Matthew and Luke. Similarly, he could also have presented more examples to show how significantly John differs from the rest of the gospels in terms of its presentation of Jesus (P). In particular, it would have been informative had Shabir Ally brought to light the following types of differences between the gospels: the difference between Mark and John on the time of Jesus’ (P) death; the differences between the narratives on the baptism of Jesus (P); how the negative image of the disciples in Mark is improved by Matthew and Luke; problem with the food laws in Mark; presentation and image of Jesus (P) in the passion narratives in the gospels, to mention a few.

Similarly, regarding the textual criticism of the New Testament, Shabir Ally commented upon five textually uncertain passage, the ending of Mark, 1 John 5:7, Luke 22:19, the opening of the gospel of Mark and a passage in John. In his cross-examination of James White, Shabir Ally brought up the ending of Mark as well as a passage from the gospel according to John. However, many other passages could also have been brought up, particularly in light of their theological significance. A few examples of these are presented by Metzger and Ehrman:

Just within the Gospels, reference can be made to the Prologue of John (e.g., 1.18), the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke (e.g., Matt. 1.16, 18; Luke 1.35), the baptism accounts (e.g., Mark 15.34; Luke 3.22; John 1.34), and the various passion narratives (e.g., Mark 15.34; Luke 22.43-44; John 19.36). Moreover, a number of variants effect a range of issues that continue to interest historians and exegetes of the New Testament, including such questions as whether the Gospels could have been used to support “adoptionistic” Christology (e.g., Mark 1.1; Luke 3.22; John 1.34) or one that was “antidocetic” (e.g., the Western noninterpolations), whether Luke has a doctrine of the atonement (e.g., Luke 22.19-20), whether members of the Johannine community embraced a gnostic Christology (e.g., 1 John 4.3), and whether any of the authors of the New Testament characterizes Jesus as God (e.g., Heb. 1.8).

[Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 284-285, footnote no. 52]

Furthermore, in my view, there was only one weak statement made by Shabir Ally during the debate, that being the dating of the gospel of Thomas. Although Shabir Ally later tried to clarify his position, he did, however, assert that scholars “generally” dated Thomas earlier than Mark. Of course, this is not the case. Instead of placing the gospel of Thomas before Mark, some scholars only argue for the more primitive character of certain sayings within Thomas which are paralleled in the Synoptic gospels.

Finally, when Shabir Ally said that the New Testament contained some inspired teachings, he did not inform us whether he had all of the New Testament books in mind or just a few. In my opinion, besides the gospels and the book of Acts, the rest of the New Testament writings (excluding Revelation) are nothing more than occasional letters authored by Paul and certain unknown writers and are not deemed particularly helpful by scholars who wish to ascertain what the historical Jesus (P) said, did and taught. We are largely restricted to the gospels, primarily the Synoptic gospels, to learn about the historical Jesus (P). I believe that it is quite possible that the gospels, including John, present some inspired teachings of Jesus (P) and that documents such as Acts may well contain remnants of Jesus’ (P) inspired teachings as well.

At the end, it would be no exaggeration to confidently conclude that Shabir Ally, without a shadow of a doubt, had the upper hand throughout the debate. Shabir presented his arguments clearly, answered the questions directed towards him adequately, and did not drag in irrelevancies during his presentations. His case against the complete inerrancy and inspiration of the New Testament writings was well formulated. In sharp contrast, a major part of James White’s presentation was completely off the topic. Worse, he barely made an effort to engage with the arguments presented by Shabir Ally. Thus, a lot of what Shabir Ally said, in fact most of it, went by completely unanswered by James White.

Moreover, as I have noted a couple of times, James White did not present any positive evidence and argument to show why the New Testament could be considered as inspired in its entirety. A Christian reviewer writes:

    “James White made a case for the reliability of the Bible”

Having seen the debate, I really don’t know what that “case” was and why anyone should regard the New Testament to be entirely inspired and inerrant. I really wish James White had done this; unfortunately, he made no attempt towards the attainment of this goal :(.

At most, White opened the Pandora box of “telescoping” while explaining a discrepancy between the gospels, which suggested that we do not necessarily have Jesus’ actual words in the gospels. He also weakened his claim about the reliability of the gospels when he asked us to repeat every morning that we do not know who wrote the gospels and when they were written.

What we did hear from James White were a series of questionable and exaggerated assertions about the New Testament, which I highlighted above, as well as a series of rather lame and circular arguments.

In the end, it was a very poor performance by James White and I hope that he tries to stick to the topic in his future debate/s with Shabir Ally and refrains from presenting circular arguments.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate Shabir Ally on another very successful debate and wish him all the best in his upcoming debate with James White which, I think, will likely take place in Glasgow.

Bubye

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8 Comments

  1. As-salamu ‘alaykum,

    I have a lot of thoughts on thes issue of the Qur’an’s view of the Torah and Gospel, which is an important one, so I’d like to share them with you sometime, insha’llah.

    Somewhere on your blog I read a (mis)use of Qur’an 61:14 and a response to this attempted misapplication. Christian apologists try to use this verse to show that the Qur’an confirms that the disciples of Jesus whose message won out over the others (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Peter, John, James) were the true Christians. Therefore, since these disciples also believed in the Divinity of Jesus…then Muslims are in a bind since the Qur’an seems to be either in error–and may God save us from all that–or confirming that Trinitarian Christians are the true Christians.

    The confusion here–whether deviously intentional or otherwise–comes from the last word in Qur’an 61:14, which is “aZHaahireen”. This last phrase of the ayah in question has been variously translated as “…they became the ones that prevailed” (Yusuf Ali); “…they became the uppermost” (Pickthall); “…and they became uppermost” (Shakir); and “…and they became the uppermost” (Hilali/Khan). However, a quick look at “Lisan al-‘Arab”, or Lane’s Lexicon, shows that the root ZH-Ha-Ra has many, many meanings. Indeed, in Lane’s Lexicon entries for this root amount to just shy of five pages!!!

    Some of the main meanings of this word are “emerged”, “became distinct from”, “became manifest”, “helpers” and “apparent”. Indeed, when learning about the interpretation of Qur’an and hadith, we are often taught we should interpret a verse with its “ZHahir”, meaning it’s “manifest” meaning, unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise. Even though I’ve only looked at Tafsir al-Jalalayn so far (and I plan to check the other major tafasir this evening, insha’llah), it seems to me that a more accurate (or at least another acceptable) translation would be that “…they were made distinct” (i.e. they were made distinct, or manifest from, their enemies from the Bani Isra’il who disbelieved).

    This understanding of the verse could have multiple correct meanings:

    1) They were distinct group from the Jews who rejected Jesus (as) during his lifetime;
    2) They were distinct group from Jews who oppressed them after Jesus’ (as) ascension;
    3) They were distinct group from all other groups of disbelieving Jews, including Saul of Tarsus and others.

    However, in conjunction with the above it could also mean:

    1) They were those who followed the “manifest”, as opposed to ambiguous, teachings of Jesus (as), as distinct from others who disbelieved since they didn’t adhere to the manifest. Is there a more succinct and accurate description of what went wrong with Trinitarian Christianity than this (i.e. the focused on ambiguous verses in order to prove their doctrines, while ignoring the manifest)?!?!? I’m sure that some more research into how the Qur’an employs words based on the root ZH-Ha-Ra would add further useful details to this.

    In short, the Qur’an is telling us here just what the Christians don’t want to hear…but what history bears out. History has preserved the fact that the true followers of Jesus, which still practiced the Law and were led by James in Jerusalem, were a distinct and manifestly different group from others like Saul of Tarsus.

    Now “distinct” and “manifest from” related to “their enemies”, which brings up the question whether it means ALL of their enemies or just their enemies amongst the Bani Isra’il, which is the context of the ayah. Either way would work actually, but we should bear in mind that (St.) Paul’s message, with all of its ambiguity in regards to Divinity, failed amongst the monotheistic Jews and only succeeded amongst polytheistic pagans.

    That’s all I have time for now, but please shoot me an email if you wish. I would have sent you one but couldn’t find it on your page…

    Wasalam,

    Abdurrahman R. Squires

    Comment by Abdurrahman R. Squires — June 20, 2006 @ 8:27 pm

  2. Walaikum Assalam Br. Squires

    Thank you for your very informative comments. Here is my email:

    answeringmissionaries@gmail.com

    My apologies to all the readers for not submitting this before.

    Regarding the common missionary argument of the Quran “affirming” the “Bible,” I have also, over the years, collected some information on this subject. Unfortunately, I need to conduct more research on this subject and collect more references before I am in a position to publish anything on it. A very interesting article on this subject was presented by one of my favourite writer, Dr. Gibrael Haddad, a few years ago:

    http://groups.google.co.uk/group/soc.religion.islam/browse_frm/thread/9267c31281624b46/1aa28c1d2dba7f8e?lnk=st&q=Scripture+Corruption+in+Qur'an&rnum=1#1aa28c1d2dba7f8e

    wassalam.

    Comment by answeringmissionaries — June 20, 2006 @ 10:11 pm

  3. http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Shabir-Ally/master_lord.htm

    It seems that the missionaries are saying that White “cornered” Ally. Do you have a response? I wasn’t at the debate, and I’ve only heard about the debate through your review. What are your opinions about their review?

    Wasalaam

    [Response: Assalam Alaikum. I have given a very detailed account of the debate in my critical review, summarising the arguments presented by both the speakers. I think it should be obvious to all reasonable individuals that, far from “cornering” Shabir Ally, James White basically avoided engaging with Shabir Ally and spent the vast majority of his time discussing irrelevant issues and heavily utilising circular/incoherent arguments. The problem with the missionaries, such as the one whose writing you refer to, is that they are not willing to accept reality even if it smacks them across the face. Such individuals have already made up their mind and are not willing soberly consider other views or even for a second put aside their presuppositions. Thus, there is little point having discussion with such types of individuals, particularly ones known to be openly abusive. You can read the review again, it is quite detailed, and see the arguments presented by the two speakers and then decide for yourself. That’s all I can say.

    Wassalam]

    Comment by AJ Qureshi — June 24, 2006 @ 7:25 pm

  4. “He refers specifically to the earliest writings outside the New Testament, presumably, the apostolic fathers. White also asserts that these writers quote Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul as “Scripture.” However, in this assertion, White ends up opposing many conservative scholars. ”

    Who are these “apostolic” Christians? And where do they name any book now in the NT, much less hail any book by name as “holy scripture”?

    > In fact there is enough quoted material that is not from scripture
    > that quotes the NT, both secular and Christian, that we can
    > confidently reconstruct 99% of the New Testament from these and have a
    > copy that matches.

    Not true. The quotations are in a worse condition than the manuscripts, and almost never help us in reconstructing the originals. In fact, they very frequently get it wrong. In some cases, like the manuscripts of Irenaeus, we don’t even know what the quote originally was–for example, all the manuscripts of Irenaeus disagree as to what the Bible said. Scholars have found that later scribes often doctored Irenaeus and others to force their quotes to conform to what the scribe thought
    the Bible said. Also, most of the NT is *not* found in quotation before the Middle Ages, and by that point we already have much more reliable complete manuscripts by the hundreds, and so don’t need the quotes.

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

    [Moderator: Assalam Alaikum Imran and thank you very much for these interesting comments. I have some thoughts on this subject as well and I will add some of my comments on this subject perhaps in a few hours or, more probably, tomorow. Make sure to check this section as I would really like to know about your views once you read my input.]

    Comment by imran — September 14, 2006 @ 6:34 pm

  5. Assalam Alaikum everyone

    Here are some of my thoughts on this subject (they are still developing as I continue to read more).

    1. The following writings are usually classified as the apostolic fathers: 1 Clement, 2 Clement, Polycarp (an epistle and the martyrdom of Polycarp), Ignatius (seven epistles), the Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, and Barnabas (a few other writings are sometimes added to this corpus). In case some readers do not know this, these are the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament. The vast majority of scholars do not believe that any of the authors of these documents were personally in touch with any of the disciples of Jesus. Most are anonymous writings. The question is as follows: do these writings quote, refer, and allude to the writings which subsequently became the “New Testament”? Here, the conclusions derived by various scholars depend upon the type of methodology and criteria they adopt. Generally speaking, most scholars recognize that it is very difficult to conclusively demonstrate the use of the canonical gospels in the apostolic fathers (this does not mean that these fathers were unaware of these or other New Testament writings, but only that we simply cannot show that they made use of the gospels in their extant writings). Briefly, the evidence for the use of Mark, Luke and John is quite slender and it is only the gospel of Matthew for which there is some evidence of use among some of the apostolic fathers, although this also continues to be debated among scholars. For example, in a recent article, Tuckett concludes that the Didachest reflects elements of Matthew’s redactional activity and, therefore, presupposes Matthew’s finished gospel (he adds that the “agreements” between the Didache and Matthew are only at the level of “allusions” and that the dependence on Matthew is not necessarily direct dependence; the dependence is likely indirect, meditated through the process of oral tradition and/or memory). See Christopher M. Tuckett, “The Didache and the Writings that later formed the New Testament,” in Andrew F. Gregory, Christopher M. Tuckett (Editors), The New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, 2005, Oxford University Press. Milavec, on the other hand, the author of a massive book on the Didache, concludes that the Didache is not dependent upon Matthew and he offers detailed arguments in support of his position. See Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E., 2003, Paulist Press. So, the data is such that you will find scholars arguing both for and against the use of Matthew in some of the apostolic fathers. The use of Mark, Luke and John, on the other hand, as noted above, is even slimmer and scanty.

    So, it is very difficult to determine whether a writer is dependent upon another writing and the many problems one has to encounter in this regard can be read in the following essay by Gregory and Tuckett, who discuss the criteria and methodology.

    2. Now, considering the New Testament writings which can be demonstrated with reasonable certainty to have been used by some of the apostolic fathers, is there any evidence to show that these writings were deemed “Scripture” by them? First, it should be pointed out that none of the canonical gospels are actually named by the authors. According to the studies conducted by Metzger and Grant, rarely are these writings used and referred to as “Scripture” by the apostolic fathers. In the case of 1 Clement, Ignatius, Didache and the Shepherd, there is no evidence to indicate that the fathers regarded any of the New Testament writings known to them as “Scripture,” on a par with the Jewish Bible. But there is evidence to show that Polycarp, whose writings are an exception in that they contain many allusions to a number of New Testament writings (primarily the epistles of Paul – no firm evidence that he used the canonical Gospels), likely viewed at least Ephesians as “Scripture” (12.1).

    There might be evidence in Barnabas that the author considered Matthew to be “Scripture.” However, it is not clear if Barnabas was dependent upon Matthew in that instance. But if he was, then it is possible that Matthew was deemed “Scripture” by him. In Barnabas 4.14, we read ‘…as it is written, “many called, but few chosen”‘ In Matthew 22:14, we read: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Is Barnabas quoting/alluding to Matthew? If so, he uses the formula “it is written,” which is a traditional formula used to quote from authoritative texts. Barnabas does not inform us WHERE “it is written.” It is possible that both Barnabas and Matthew are drawing upon a common source; that Barnabas quoted/alluded to an unknown apocalypse which contained a citation similar to the one in his epistle and Matthew; Barnabas could have mistaken the text as coming from the Old Testament. So a number of possibilities exist and it is not clear if the author was quoting/alluding to Matthew. As Milavec points out in the above referred book, verbal agreement and similarity between two texts does not necessarily mean literary dependency, especially when it comes to such a brief statement.

    Finally, in 2 Clement, which is generally placed between A.D. 120 and 170, the unknown author writes: ‘Another Scripture also says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”‘ (2.4). Matthew 9:13 reads: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Here it is possible that the author presupposes the knowledge of Matthew’s gospel and refers to it as “Scripture.” However, some scholars have also argued that the saying was a “floating tradition” and so its use in 2 Clement is due to the use of common tradition and not dependence upon Matthew. But it is more likely that 2 Clement is taking the statement from a written source in light of its opening statement. So, there appears to be no reason to rule out the possibility of dependence, direct or indirect, upon Matthew in this instance.

    It is interesting to note that, as Metzger points out, of the 11 times that the unknown author cites/alludes to the words of Jesus, five are not to be found in the canonical gospels. The author also cites an apocryphal Old Testament writing. This indicates that the author has no canonical ideas. I quote here part of the conclusion reached by Tuckett and Gregory — who argue that 2 Clement presupposes the redactional activity of both Matthew and Luke — who conduct a detailed examination of 2 Clement:

    “… we cannot say that 2 Clement necessarily used the gospels of Matthew and Luke as we have them, or even directly. It may be that the gospels were available ‘Clement’ in a textual form not quite the same as the ones many use today . . . But much more important is the evidence suggesting that 2 Clement may be accessing the synoptic tradition via a harmonized form of that tradition, a form which may also be attested in writers such as Justin. Thus 2 Clement may well be accessing the tradition of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels only indirectly. Further, it is clear that 2 Clement also has access to, and uses, other gospel texts which are not now extant …”

    Gregory & Tuckett, “2 Clement and the Writings that later formed the New Testament,” in Andrew F. Gregory, Christopher M. Tuckett (Editors), The New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, 2005, Oxford University Press, p. 277.

    So, I would go along with Metzger’s conclusion that generally the apostolic fathers do not refer to any New Testament writing as “Scripture,” although there are some rare cases. Besides the apostolic fathers named above, it is rather clear that Papias did not deem any written Christian document as “Scripture,” but only regarded them as historical documents. After Papias, we see Tatian freely altering the text of the gospels in order to compose his Diatesseron, thus indicating that he did not deem the text to be sacrosanct, although he certainly valued the writings as historical sources.

    3. Reconstruction of the New Testament text through reliance upon the apostolic fathers. As you pointed out, this is not possible. There is nothing like exact quotations of any part of the New Testament writings in the corpus of the apostolic fathers. At most, what we find are similarities between ideas, thoughts, phrases, some similarity of wording of different degrees at times, and, on occasions, a few verbally similar sentences. Therefore, textual scholars do not use the “allusions” within the apostolic fathers for the reconstruction of any part of the New Testament text since they are seen unfit for this purpose. If all the New Testament manuscripts were to disappear and all we had were the writings of the apostolic fathers, a very, very large portion of the New Testament, in fact, all of the New Testament books, would disappear for good, with the exception of odd phrases and thoughts here and there from within some of them (assuming the apostolic fathers were dependent upon some New Testament books). At most, the apostolic fathers may only display awareness of certain New Testament documents, and not the reconstruction of their text. J. K. Elliott, however, has recently argued that there are some sections within Ignatius, Barnabas, the Didache, 1 Clement, and Polycarp, which could be used as witnesses for some minor wordings within some New Testament writings. He gives examples of a few passages and we can see that they relate to, often, the use of one word for another, adjustments of small phrases here and there etc., nothing remotely similar to the reconstruction of sizable portions and sentences. So, if we accept his proposal, a small material (one word, a few phrases etc.) within the apostolic fathers could be used as witness for some wording within a few New Testament writings. See J. K. Elliott, “Absent Witnesses? The Critical Apparatus to the Greek New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers,” in Andrew F. Gregory, Christopher M. Tuckett (Editors), The New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, 2005, Oxford University Press, pp. 55-56. Scholars such as Petersen, on the other hand, have argued that we ought to take the apostolic fathers seriously and consider them as evidence for the reconstruction of parts of text of the New Testament, including them among the witnesses to the text. Petersen argues that it is very unlikely that all of the apostolic fathers were merely “alluding” to and “paraphrasing” some wordings of the New Testament, being almost entirely incapable of quoting the writings accurately with minor exceptions. Instead, he argues, that the apostolic fathers shed light on an earlier textual form of some of the New Testament documents, indicating the fluid state of the text, and that they were not “alluding” but actually quoting earlier forms of the text. So, this debate continues among scholars.

    In short, if the apostolic fathers were merely “alluding” to some of the contents within certain New Testament writings, then their allusions are of no use to textual scholars who are interested in reconstructing the early text of the New Testament. But if we accept the argument that the apostolic fathers were actually quoting texts, then that would indicate the New Testament was not fixed. In the words of Petersen, “… there was neither a fixed canon nor a fixed text for any of the New Testament documents. Rather, ‘clusters’ of sayings/episodes/parts of (what later became our canonical) gospels and epistles circulated, initially (for the gospels, at least) probably without a title, and then, later, with a title. But the contents of the ‘cluster’ bearing the title ‘Mark’ or ‘Romans’ was still very much in flux and subject to change. Additions were still being made,35 as were deletions; the sequence of the text was still being modified.36” p. 40. In the same volume, see William L. Petersen, “Textual Traditions Examined: What the Text of the Apostolic Fathers tells us about the Text of the New Testament in the Second Century.”

    Looking forward to your input and critique.

    wassalam

    Comment by answeringmissionaries — September 15, 2006 @ 11:10 pm

  6. this is a very good response to “different audeince” argument.i have copied it from here

    http://www.theskepticalreview.com/Miller/speculation3.html

    we also ask about jesus’s ” i am ” speeches, why are they only found in gospel of john and not the other gospels? if you and your friends were going to write about martin luther kings biography would you omit his famous ” i have a dream” speech?

    —————————————–
    “Why? Surely, Turkel who has the answers to everything else can answer that question. If, for example, Mark chose to report that John the Baptist was clothed with a camel-hair garment and wore a leather girdle around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6), which Matthew also recorded (Matt. 3:4), why couldn’t he have also reported the earthquake that shook open the tombs and the resurrection of the many saints that followed these events? Is Turkel actually going to quibble that it was far more important to Mark’s objective to tell his readers what John the Baptist wore and ate than it was to tell about two remarkable signs that happened on crucifixion day to vindicate the divinity of Jesus? Likewise, if Luke could tell about the disciples of Jesus plucking grain on the sabbath day (Luke 6:1-5), which both Matthew (Matt. 12:1-8) and Mark (Mark 2:23-28) also recorded, why couldn’t Luke have reported the resurrection of the “many saints” too? Is Turkel going to claim that it was more important for Luke to report a dispute over plucking grain, which two other writers had already reported, than it was to tell about a sensational event that had caused nonbelieving Roman soldiers to declare that Jesus was surely the son of God?

    Well, let’s pursue this point into “John’s” gospel. If “John” could tell about Jesus’s chasing the money exchangers from the temple (John 2:13-22) as “Matthew” (Matt. 21:12-16), Mark (Mark 11:15-17), and Luke (Luke 19:45-46), all three synoptic writers, had reported, why couldn’t “John” have clipped this tale out of his crowded-for-space scroll so that he could have had room to report the three miracles on crucifixion day that caused the nonbelieving Romans to declare that Jesus was surely the son of God? That was the result that “John” wanted, wasn’t it? Why, then, did “John” think it more likely that his readers would see the expulsion of the money exchangers and say, “By golly, this guy Jesus must have been the son of God”?”
    ——————– ——————- ——-

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

    [Moderator comments: Assalam Alaikum Riaz. I basically agree with the argument presented by Mr. Till to demonstrate the inadequacies of the typical apologetic “answers” to explain away the many differences between John and the Synoptics. The apologetic “explanations” which seek to account for the very clear and overall differences between the gospels, particularly between the Synoptics and John, in a way so as to mash them into one account, are not at all convincing. Your quoted passages remind me of Ed. Sanders following words:

    It is impossible to think that Jesus spent his short ministry teaching in two such completely different ways, conveying such different contents, and there were simply two traditions, each going back to Jesus, one transmitting 50 per cent of what he said and another one the other 50 per cent, with almost no overlaps. Consequently, for the last 150 or so years scholars have had to choose. They have almost unanimously, and I think entirely correctly, concluded that the teaching of the historical Jesus is to be sought in the synoptic gospels and that John represents an advanced theological development, in which meditations on the person and work of Christ are presented in the first person, as if Jesus said them.

    [E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure Of Jesus, 1993, Penguin Books, pp. 70-71]

    Comment by riaz — September 17, 2006 @ 6:25 pm

  7. salam’alaykum

    It’s interesting all right but more attention needs to be given to what material the qur’an addresses as being ‘with them’. This is also present in hadith: ‘don’t these jews and Xtians have the torah and the injeel without knowing a thing about their contents?’

    What did they hav? there is understandable resistance of course as identifying it as the bible (whichever canon). But equally prevalent Xtian process: ‘your book is false but incidentally says my book is true..therefore your book is crazy.’
    Moreover if the torah is revelation to Moses (a.s.) quranically, then why call Isaiah 42 ‘torah’ in islamic tradition, ie. abdulla b amr b al-aas, bukhari, chapter on being calm in the markets.

    wa salam alayk

    Comment by Cerulean — February 5, 2007 @ 9:30 pm

  8. Walaikum Assalam

    Without the exact references I cannot discuss the texts to which you allude. But, in brief, I will just add that the term “Torah” does not necessarily mean a specific Jewish writing. It is used to refer to the entire corpus of Jewish writings – canonical, non-canonical, Talmud etc. – as well as the oral traditions. Thus, the term encompasses all sources of Jewish learning. The early Muslims, who did not have easy access to the Jewish writings, took any piece of information/report acquired from the Jews (and Christians) – or known to be linked with Judaism – as eminating from the “torah”. If they came to learn of something which was actually within, say, the Talmud (which the Muslims didn’t know about), they would say, “the Torah says…” Similarly, when they reported any Jewish tradition that they had heard of, whether it be actually oral or coming from a non-canonical document etc., they would likewise simply say, “the Torah says…”

    Moreover, as far as I know, the Quran no where says that the writings *in the hands* of the Jews and Christians are accurate in their entirety. References to corruption (tahrif) are to be found within the Quran. At its simplest, you may recall that the Quran denies certain Christian beliefs such as the crucifixion, Jesus (P) being divine/God, “Son of God” etc. The Christians who were conversing with Muhammed (P) carried all of these beliefs and it is only reasonable to suppose that their books (and traditions), whatever they were, contained these teachings. Yet the Quran denies them, the Author being fully aware what the Christians (and Jews) are saying and conciously denying those assertions and beliefs. Thus, to say the Quran “endorses” the Bible, as some Christians do, is not a very convincing argument.

    I plan to write some on this subject in the near future. I am already in the midst of collecting references.

    wassalam

    Comment by answeringmissionaries — February 6, 2007 @ 12:47 am


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