Thursday, July 10, 2008

Has The Bible Been Changed?

1. The Doctrine of Tahrif

Most Sunni Muslims today maintain that the previous scriptures have been corrupted. This accusation is called tahrif (in Turkish also). Turkish textbooks teach this doctrine to schoolchildren in religion lessons and imams teach it in mosques throughout the country. In Turkey, it is an almost universal assumption that the Bible has been changed or corrupted. It is common to hear something like this: “Allah revealed the Injil to Isa but it was eventually lost. By the time the Christians came together at Iznik (Nicea) in 325 to decide on their Bible, there were dozens and dozens of books claiming to be the Injil. Since the Christians couldn’t agree which one was the original, they kept four: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They decided on these because they wanted to teach that Jesus was the son of God, etc...”

Historically, the doctrine of tahrif didn’t appear until the 11th century with the writings of Ibn Hazm. Since Muslims had accepted the Qur’an as the final installment in a series of revelations that began with the Torah and continued with the Zabur (Psalms), and Injil (Gospels), they had to reconcile the profound discrepancies between the messages of those books and that of the Qur’an. If the Qur’an is the perfect word of Allah, and it doesn’t agree with the holy books that preceded it, then the only explanation is that the previous books have been corrupted. From that argument, Islamic theology proceeded to explain that the Qur’an was necessary because the previous scriptures had been corrupted.

However, the Qur’an never claims that the Bible has been changed.

2. The Problem in Evangelism

When Christians begin to share the gospel in Turkey, the question of whether the Bible has been changed inevitably surfaces. If a person is convinced that the Bible has been changed, then it will of course be difficult for them to take seriously the claims of Jesus, for example; and they won’t be surprised to see discrepancies between the Qur’an and the Bible.

For some people, it is enough to initially respond simply by saying: “No, the Bible has never been changed,” and ask them to consider the claims of Scripture. For others, a more involved argument is necessary. In any case, of course, a single objection shouldn’t prevent us from continuing to share the message of the gospel. The Holy Spirit doesn’t have to defeat every objection before moving a person’s heart. On the other hand, it is important for believers and seekers to know the truth about the Bible. If Christians could turn the tide of public opinion about whether the Bible has been changed, a significant barrier to the gospel would be lifted.

3. Responding to the Accusation: Has the Bible been changed?

When a Muslim claims that the Bible has been changed, it is useful to turn the question around and ask “When and Where was the Bible changed? Was it before Muhammad or after Muhammad?

If a Muslim claims that it was changed before Muhammad, there are a number of verses from the Qur’an that are helpful in showing that the Qur’an disagrees with that accusation:

· Several verses say that God’s word doesn’t change:
Sura 6.34; 10.64; 50.28-29
· Some verses instruct Muslims to ask Christians about the Bible:
Sura 10.94; 21.7
· Several verses instruct Muslims and Christians to believe the Bible:
Sura 4.136; Sura 5.46-47, 68

Would Allah refer people to a corrupted book? Why is there no warning in the Qur’an about the Bible’s corruption? Why did the accusation of corruption not appear until the 11th century?

If a Muslim claims that it was corrupted after Muhammad, how can we explain the manuscript evidence that supports the trustworthiness of the New Testament?

There are more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts in existence. (The original was written in Greek). Some are as old as 125 AD, and 230 are older than Muhammad.

• John Rylands Fragment: Some verses of the Gospel of John. Found in
Egypt, far from Asia Minor where it was written. The oldest existing manuscript, from around 125.
• Bodmer Papyrus II: Most of John, Jude, 1 Peter and 2 Peter. From around 150 - 200 AD.
• Chester Beatty Papyri: Most of the NT. From around 250 AD.

We have more than 9,000 ancient manusripts of the New Testament in other languages, including Arabic, Latin, Coptic, Aramaic.

The first Christian writers after the apostles, called the “Early Church Fathers,” wrote hundreds of books and letters beginning with Clement in 96 and ending with Eusebius in 339. These men included a total of 36,289 quotations of the New Testament in their writings. From these quotations alone, the entire New Testament can be reconstructed except for 11 verses.

All of the New Testament manuscripts agree with eachother, with some minor discrepancies that amount to about a half page of Greek text. And even if all of our old Greek manuscripts were destroyed we would still have the translations. And if all of the translations were destroyed we would still have an ancient testimony to the trustworthiness of the New Testament in the writings of the Church Fathers.

If the Old Testament was corrupted after Muhammad, who changed it? Jews or Christians? Why do they use the same Hebrew Bible?

4. Some Simple Responses: Has the Bible been changed?
A simple answer is often enough to move the conversation forward

· There has never been any evidence that the Bible was changed. Do you have evidence?

· The accusation of corruption did not appear until long after Islam arrived. Why do you think that is?

· Why would God protect some of His books and not the others? It sounds like you are saying that God made a mistake with the Tevrat, Zebur, and Injil and he corrected it with the Quran.

· If the New Testament account of Jesus isn’t accurate, is there any historical evidence to support what the Qur’an says about Jesus? If I want to learn about something that happened in the 1st century why would I believe a 7th century book instead of a 1st century book?

5. Some verses about the Bible’s immutability

Seekers often find these verses signficant as they consider the claims of the Bible.

Matthew 5:18
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Luke 21:33
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Mezmur 119:89
Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.

6. Some helpful facts about the Bible

  • The New Testament was completed within the lifetimes of the apostles (John died in 90 AD)

  • The apostles supervised the compilation of the New Testament, preventing errors or fraud

  • There were always 4 Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.

  • The councils (including the Council of Nicea) didn’t “decide” on scripture, it only officially recognized what was already decided by the church as a whole.

  • Jesus didn’t come to bring the Word of God, he is the Word of God.

  • God used the experiences and individual perspectives of the Biblical authors, inspiring them to write scripture. This is a more miraculous view of inspiration than receiving revelation verbatim.

    [i] I am indebted to Jay Smith for this strategy.

1 comment:

Quid Quintessa said...

This is so easy to knock down though. No one is saying that the Bible as we now have it is corrupted. What was corrupted was the actual teachings of Jesus (as). The Injil is _not_ the gospel that is written on paper, it was the teaching of Jesus, which is scarcely reflected in the text of the New Testament that we have today. Most scholarly assessments don't even have the so-called Gospels being written down until 80 years after the fact. And the Muslim argument you cited actually is true -- as evidenced by the emergence of the dozens of Nag Hammadi and other "gospels" which cast crippling doubt on the legitimacy of the four "Gospels" that we now have today.

Another key piece of evidence for tahrif of the Injil, and I use that term in the broadest sense for sure, is that no part of the Bible agrees with any other part, whether in moral laws, cosmology, or statements of historical fact. That is the most problematic and to my mind insurmountable challenge of the Bible. It can be made to say just about anything, because it _does_ say just about everything. It's an anthology of nearly 4,000 years of Middle Eastern religious thought and as such is practically meaningless if we seek a solitary unifying idea, other than the concept of salvation history. That's why there are over 30,000 discrete Christian sects -- the central idea cannot be located in their shared text.