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Are The Qur’an & Bible Really So Different?
The Qur’an presents itself as the Bible’s sequel and always refers to the biblical Torah (al-tawrat), Psalms (al-zabur) and New Testament (al-injil) with honor and respect. It says it confirms, clarifies and guards them from misinterpretation. The Qur’an asserts that it was revealed by the God of the Bible, which it claims predicted Muhammad’s coming. The Qur’an also suggests that the Bible was revealed in the same manner and form as it was. All these things imply a trustworthy Bible.
In many respects, however, the Bible and Qur’an are profoundly different. The qur’anic concept of revelation excludes any notion of human authorship. Yet the biblical texts all had human authors, though angelic mediators were sometimes involved. In addition, the Qur’an
- Calls humankind to a far more distant relationship with God than does the Bible
- Never presents God as ever coming to earth, as the Bible clearly does
- Says nothing of God’s atoning work on our behalf, a central biblical theme
- Doesn’t suggest that God accepts sinners on the basis of his grace alone, another key biblical theme
- Denies that Jesus is God’s Son, while the New Testament presents him as God’s Son in a radically different sense from what the Qur’an denies
- Presents the Christian scripture (al-injil), or New Testament, as a single book received by Jesus, but it’s always been a collection of books written by his followers
- Speaks so little of Jesus’ death and resurrection that most Muslims now deny that they happened, yet their historicity is central to the New Testament
These tensions demand resolution. Though it wasn’t always the case, Muslim scholars today almost universally attack the Bible, asserting that its texts originally conformed to qur’anic expectations, but were later falsified. Many consider the New Testament fabricated and claim the qur’anic injil refers to a no longer extant “original Gospel,” which Jesus allegedly received. Due solely to its polemical power, nearly all Muslims now accept the falsification theory, with most convinced it’s an indisputable fact.
But despite its immense popularity, the falsification theory isn’t true, as can easily be shown. First, what the Qur’an says of the biblical scriptures strongly supports the view that they were intact in Muhammad’s time. In addition to the implicit points with which we began,
- Q 5:46-48 commands Christians to judge by what their scripture says, so it doesn’t consider the New Testament falsified.
- Likewise, the passage says the Qur’an stands as guardian over the Christian scripture: it’s not claiming to guard a falsified New Testament.
- Q 3:84 and 4:136 say Muslims must and do believe the biblical scriptures: it doesn’t caution them to believe only what those scriptures originally were
- Most early commentators say the qur’anic texts now taken to refer to falsification accused Jews and Christians of misquoting or misinterpreting—not altering—their texts.
Second, not only does the falsification theory lack sound evidence in the Qur’an and early qur’anic commentary, but a veritable mountain of manuscript evidence also directly contradicts it. Given the scope and nature of the changes allegedly made to the Bible, the scale of the forgery would have been massive. However,
- Thousands of early, carbon-dated manuscripts, clearly demonstrate the authenticity of the scriptures Jews and Christians possessed in Muhammad’s day, as now
- Not one early manuscript points to the sort of changes necessary for the Muslim falsification theory to be true
- There’s absolutely no evidence that Jesus received a no-longer-extant “original Gospel”
Christian scholars candidly admit that many variants exist within the myriad of biblical texts. But with so many manuscripts to compare, errors are easily spotted. And most of those are minor copyist’s mistakes, typical of all ancient manuscripts—the Qur’an included. For as with all scripture, the belief that it was sacred instilled in the Bible’s custodians a passion to preserve its text from corruption.
Last, not only is the falsification theory contradicted by both the Bible’s textual evidence and the Qur’an itself, it’s also illogical. For no scripture-based community would deliberately alter its scriptures on the scale the theory demands. Knowing that, leading Muslim scholars like Ibn Qutayba, Ibn Kathir and Wahb bin Munabih rejected the falsification theory as untenable. In addition, Christians could never have changed their scriptures radically, identically and universally without leaving a trace. For Christianity had spread as far afield as Ireland and India well before Muhammad’s time. The same is true of Jews, who were equally widespread. Radical changes to the biblical scriptures would have generated fierce controversy within their communities, and there’s no evidence for that in either Christianity or Judaism’s well-documented histories. Nevertheless, the Muslim community embraced the falsification theory—simply due to its polemical force. Likewise, many Muslims today accept the Gospel of Barnabas as authentic, though reputable Muslim scholars acknowledge it to be spurious.
The Muslim community’s embrace of the falsification theory—with its implicit accusation that Jews and Christians promulgate corrupted scriptures—is tragic because it:
- Falsely impugns the Bible, disinheriting Muslims of a vast wealth of scriptural wisdom
- Often undermines friendship between our communities and shuts down interfaith dialogue
- Frequently encourages Muslim hostility—including violent aggression—toward Jews and Christians, even today
Anyone disturbed by this realization can take comfort in God’s promise to guide all who seek him with an undivided heart. No community is infallible, deserving unquestioning loyalty—however captivating or imposing its claims. But by the same token, we aren’t responsible for our community’s response to God’s guidance—just our own response.
The Bible and Qur’an differ most radically on Jesus. Like the Bible, the Qur’an calls him the Messiah, but Muslim scholars don’t agree at all on what that title means. The Jewish scriptures—which Christians also believe—present the Messiah as the man God promised to send to restore justice on earth and reign as king. The New Testament says Jesus fulfilled that promise, though very differently than expected. It also boldly declares that everyone’s eternal destiny will be decided precisely by their response to the Messiah. And that makes it of the utmost importance that we understand what the Bible says the Messiah came to do.
This article was originally published on www.understandingchristianity.today. This article was reposted on the Zwemer Center site with the author’s permission.