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The basis of evaluation of any
(story or report) in Islam of any text concerned particularly with religion is
based on the study of matn (i.e., text) and its isnad (i.e., chain
A hadīth (pl. ahādīth)
is composed of two parts: the matn (text) and the isnad (chain of reporters).
A text may seem to be logical and reasonable but it needs an authentic
isnad with reliable reporters to be acceptable;
b. al-Mubārak (d. 181 AH), one of the illustrious teachers of Imām al-Bukhārī,
said, "The isnad is part of the religion: had it not been for the
isnad, whoever wished to would have said whatever he liked."
The Christian 'hadīth' is composed of
matn (text) but no isnad (chain of narration). Without isnad,
b. al-Mubarak said, anyone can claim anything saying that it is coming from the
authority. The authorities in the case of Christian 'hadīth' are the Apostles
and later day Church Fathers. But how can one be sure that the Christian 'hadīth'
is not mixed with falsehood without the proper isnad and its
The Old Testament, to certain extent and the New
Testament in toto lack chain of narration. When this argument was put forward,
the Christian missionary Jochen Katz wrote:
On 8 Oct 1998, Jochen Katz wrote (on a different
> That is a bogus argument from an Islamic point of view.
Missionaries when cornered try to wiggle out of
the argument by calling names. According to Katz, the Islamic argument of using
the chain of narration, i.e., isnad, is 'bogus' because the New Testament
and major part of Old Testament lacks it and above all it is a Muslim argument.
By calling the Islamic argument of isnad 'bogus' Katz thought that he is
already refuted it. Unfortunately, the Orientalists like Bernard Lewis who read
this 'bogus' Islamic tradition and compares it with the Christian scholarship
From an early date Muslim scholars
recognized the danger of false testimony and hence false doctrine, and
developed an elaborate science for criticizing tradition. "Traditional
science", as it was called, differed in many respects from modern historical
source criticism, and modern scholarship has always disagreed with evaluations
of traditional scientists about the authenticity and accuracy of ancient
narratives. But their careful scrutiny of the chains of transmission and
their meticulous collection and preservation of variants in the transmitted
narratives give to medieval Arabic historiography a professionalism and
sophistication without precedent in antiquity and without parallel in the
contemporary medieval West. By comparison, the historiography of Latin
Christendom seems poor and meagre, and even the more advanced and complex
historiography of Greek Christendom still falls short of the historical
literature of Islam in volume, variety and analytical depth.
So, after all this Islamic science of hadīth,
called 'bogus' by Katz, was so advanced that its Christian counterparts were far
far away from its sophistication. Futher where does it sophistication lie?
. . . it would have been easy to
invent sayings of Muhammad. Because the cultural background of the Arabs had
been oral the evidence that came to be expected was the chain of names of
those who had passed on the anecdote containing the saying . . . The study of
Traditions rapidly became a distinct branch of the studies of the general
religious movement. It was soon realized that false Traditions were in
circulation with sayings that Muhammad could not possibly have uttered. The
chains of transmitters were therefore carefully scrutinised to make sure that
the persons named could in fact have met one another, that they could be
trusted to repeat the story accurately, and that they did not hold any
heretical views. This implied extensive biographical studies; and many
biographical dictionaries have been preserved giving the basic information
about a man's teachers and pupils, the views of later scholars (on his
reliability as a transmitter) and the date of his death. This
biography-based critique of Traditions helped considerably to form a more or
less common mind among many men throughout the caliphate about what was to be
accepted and what rejected.
If the Muslim traditions have been bogus, how
come the Jews did not understand this and went on to use the great works
composed by Muslims? Saadia Gaon, the famous Jewish linguist, says:
Saadia expresses himself
unreservedly about his indebtness to Arabic authors, who served him as models
in the composition of his work. "It is reported," he says, "that one of the
worthies among the Ishmaelites, realizing to his sorrow that the people do not
use the Arabic language correctly, wrote a short treatise for them. From which
they might learn proper usages. Similarly, I have noticed that many of the
Israelites even the common rules for the correct usage of our (Hebrew)
language, much less the more difficult rules, so that when they speak in prose
most of it is faulty, and when they write poetry only a few of the ancient
rules are observed, and majority of them are neglected. This has induced me to
compose a work in two parts containing most of the (Hebrew) words.
Guillaume informs us in his preface of the book
The Legacy Of Islam:
Since the beginning of the
nineteenth century there has been a constant recourse to Arabic for the
explanation of rare words and forms in Hebrew; for Arabic though more than a
thousand years junior as a literary language, is the senior philosophically by
countless centuries. Perplexing phenomenon in Hebrew can often be explained as
solitary and archaic survivals of the form which are frequent and common in
the cognate Arabic. Words and idioms whose precise sense had been lost in
Jewish tradition, receive a ready and convincing explanation from the same
source. Indeed no serious student of the Old Testament can afford to dispense
with a first-hand knowledge in Arabic. The pages of any critical commentary on
the Old Testament will illustrate the debt of the Biblical exegesis owes to
It turns out that the same tradition which Katz
addressed as 'bogus' result in the exegesis of his own scriptures, the Old
Since Christianity did not have anything like the 'tradition' to evaluate their
own material, we see quite a lot of differences. Let us now examine the great
tradition of the Church which Katz wants Muslims to trust and also to see which
tradition is really bogus.
It must be made clear that there is nothing like one Bible with a set of books.
The number of books in the Bible actually depend upon the Church one follows.
Therefore if we follow the Church tradition we end with following Bibles. They
differ in number of books in both the Old Testament and the New Testament:
Historically, Protestant churches
have recognized the Hebrew canon as their Old Testament, although differently
ordered, and with some books divided so that the total number of books is
thirty-nine. These books, as arranged in the traditional English Bible, fall
into three types of literature: seventeen historical books (Genesis to
Esther), five poetical books ( Job to Song of Solomon), and seventeen
prophetical books. With the addition of another twenty-seven books (the four
Gospels, Acts, twenty-one letters, and the book of Revelation), called the New
Testament, the Christian scriptures are complete.
Roman Catholic Church
The Protestant canon took shape by
rejecting a number of books and parts of books that had for centuries been
part of the Old Testament in the Greek Septuagint and in the Latin Vulgate,
and had gained wide acceptance within the Roman Catholic church. In response
to the Protestant Reformation, at the Council of Trent (1546) the Catholic
church accepted, as deuterocanonical, Tobit, Judith, the Greek additions to
Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, three
Greek additions to Daniel (the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three
Jews, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon), and I and 2 Maccabees. These books,
together with those in the Jewish canon and the New Testament, constitute the
total of seventy three books accepted by the Roman Catholic church.
The Anglican church falls between
the Catholic church and many Protestant denominations by accepting only the
Jewish canon and the New Testament as authoritative, but also by accepting
segments of the apocryphal writings in the lectionary and liturgy. At one time
all copies of the Authorized or King James Version of 1611 included the
Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments.
Greek Orthodox Church
The Bible of the Greek Orthodox
church comprises all of the books accepted by the Roman Catholic church, plus
I Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, and 3 Maccabees. The Slavonic
canon adds 2 Esdras, but designates I and 2 Esdras as 2 and 3 Esdras. Other
Eastern churches have 4 Maccabees as well.
Athanasius issued his Thirty-Ninth
Festal Epistle not only in the Greek but also in Coptic, in a slightly
different form - though the list of the twenty seven books of the New
Testament is the same in both languages. How far, however the list remained
authoritative for the Copts is problematical. The Coptic (Bohairic)
translation of the collection knowns as the Eighty-Five Apostlic Canons
concludes with a different sequence of the books of the New Testament and is
enlarged by the addition of two others: the four Gospels; the Acts of the
Apostles; the fourteen Epistles of Paul (not mentioned individually); two
Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; the Apocalypse of
John; the two Epistles of Clement.
Ethiopic (Abyssinian) Church
Until 1959, the Ethiopic Church
was under the jurisdiction of the head of Coptic Church. Hence it is not
surprising that its canon of Scripture should parallel in some respects that of
the Coptic Church.
The Ethiopic church has the
largest Bible of all, and distinguishes different canons, the "narrower" and
the "broader," according to the extent of the New Testament. The Ethiopic Old
Testament comprises the books of the Hebrew Bible as well as all of the
deuterocanonical books listed above, along with Jubilees, I Enoch, and Joseph
ben Gorion's (Josippon's) medieval history of the Jews and other nations. The
New Testament in what is referred to as the "broader" canon is made up of
thirty-five books, joining to the usual twenty-seven books eight additional
texts, namely four sections of church order from a compilation called Sinodos,
two sections from the Ethiopic Book of the Covenant, Ethiopic Clement, and
Ethiopic Didascalia. When the "narrower" New Testament canon is followed, it
is made up of only the familiar twenty-seven books, but then the Old Testament
books are divided differently so that they make up 54 books instead of 46. In
both the narrower and broader canon, the total number of books comes to 81.
Bruce Metzger in his book
The Canon Of The New Testament:
Its Origin, Significance & Development
elaborates more on the books accepted by Ethiopic Church. The'broader' Canon of
Ethiopic New Testament consists of the following thirty five books:
The four Gospels
The (seven) Catholic Epistles
The (fourteen) Epistles of Paul
The Book of Revelation
Sinodos (four sections)
The Book of the Covenant (two
The contents of the last four
titles in the list are as follows. The Sinodos is a book of church
order, comprising an extensive collection of canons, prayers, and instructions
attributed to Clement of Rome.
Clement (Qalementos) is a
book in seven parts, communicated by Peter to Clement. It is not the Roman or
Corinthian correspondence, nor one of the three parts of the Sinodos that are
sometimes called 1, 2, and 3 Clement, nor part of the Syriac Octateuch of
The Book of Covenant (Mashafa
kidan) is counted as two parts. The first part of sixty sections comprises
chiefly material on church order; section 61 is a discourse of the Lord to his
disciples after his resurrection, similar to the Testamentum Domini.
The Ethiopic Didascalia (Didesqelya)
is a book of Church order in forty-three chapters, distinct from the
Didascalia Apostolorum, but similar to books I-VII of so-called Apostlic
Let us also not forget the
Syriac Churches which used to deal with Diatesseron, the four-in-one
Gospel, introduced by Tatian which was read in the Syriac Churches for quite
some time before it was replaced by Peshitta. Peshitta has again a different
number of Books in the New Testament.
This represents for the New
Testament an accomodation of the canon of the Syrians with that of the Greeks.
Third Corinthians was rejected, and, in addition to the fourteen Pauline
Epistles (including Hebrews, following Philemon), three longer Catholic
Epistles (James, 1 Peter, and 1 John) were included. The four shorter Catholic
Epistles (2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude) and the Apocalypse are absent from
the Peshitta Syriac version, and thus the Syriac canon of the New Testament
contained but twenty-two writings. For a large part of the Syrian Church this
constituted the closing of the canon, for after the Council of Ephesus (AD
431) the East Syrians separated themselves as Nestorians from the Great
Peshitta is still followed by
the Christians in the sourthern state of Kerala in India.
Still today the official
lectionary followed by the Syrian Orthodox Church, with headquarters at
Kottayam (Kerala), and the Chaldean Syriac Church, also known as the the
Church of the East (Nestorian), with headquarters at Trichur (Kerala),
presents lessons from only the twenty-two books of Peshitta, the version to
which appeal is made for the settlement of doctrinal questions.
To make the issue clearer, we
are here dealing with different number of books of New Testament followed by
different churches all over the world. These are not the different translations
of the Bible, the argument which Christian missionaries use to brush the problem
under the carpet. Calling another church heretical is not going to work the
problem out because there was no single book right from the beginning of
Christianity which constituted the New Testament as we would see later,
inshallah. The New Testament as we see today, depends upon the Church
again(!), is a product of centuries worth of metamorphosis.
Under "Canon of the New
The idea of a complete and
clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from
Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament,
like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once
stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and
retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not
reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council.
So, the great Church tradition has not made up
her mind on the Bible.
Now this would be big enough
problem for the Christian missionaries to
ruminate, inshallah. Let us now go into the issue of what the Apostolic
Fathers refer to during their time.
2. Church Tradition & Apostolic
It is a frequent claim by the Christian missionaries that the Church Fathers
believed that the New Testament was considered as 'inspired' Scripture.
Bruce M Metzger, a noted authority on the New
Testament, analyzing the Apostolic Fathers viz., Clement of Rome, Ignatius, the
Didache, fragments of Papias, Barnabas, Hermas of Rome, and the so-called 2
Clement concludes the following:
Clement Of Rome
By way of summary, we see that
Clement's Bible is the Old Testament, to which he refers repeated as
Scripture, quoting it with more or less exactness. Clement also makes
occasional reference to certain words of Jesus; though they are authoritative
to him, he does not appear to enquire how their authenticity is ensured. In
two of the three instances that he speaks of remembering 'the words' of Christ
or of the Lord Jesus, it seems that he has a written record in mind, but he
does not call it a 'gospel'. He knows several of Paul's epistles, and
values them highly for their content; the same can be said of the Epistle of
the Hebrews with which he is well acquainted. Although these writings
obviously possess for Clement considerable significance, he never refers to
them as authoritative 'Scripture'.
Ignatius Of Antioch
The upshot of all this is that the
primary authority for Ignatius was the apostolic preaching about the life,
death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, though it made little difference to
him whether it was oral or written. He certainly knew a collection of
Paul's epistles, including (in the order of frequency of his use of them) 1
Corinthians, Ephesians, Romans, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1
Thessalonians. It is probable that he knew the Gospels according to Matthew
and John, and perhaps also Luke. There is no evidence that he regarded any of
these Gospels or Epistles as 'Scripture'.
The Didache is a short manual or moral
instruction and Church practice. The Church history writer Eusebius and
Athanasius even considered to be on the fringe of the New Testament Canon.
Assigning the composition of Didache has ranged from first century to fourth
century by the scholars, but most of them prefer to assign it in the first half
of the second century.
Metzger summarizes the book as:
By way of summary, we can see from
Didache that itinerant apostles and Prophets still find an important place in
the life of the Church, but this authority is declining. Their activity is
surrounded by all sorts of precautions and rests ultimately on the authority
of the traditional teaching deriving from the Lord, whose manner they must
exhibit: 'Not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the
ways of the Lord. By their ways, then, the false prophet and the true prophet
shall be distinguished' (xi. 8). The author refers to the gospel, but he cites
only words of Jesus. This 'gospel', which is without doubt the Gospel
according to Matthew, is not regarded as a necessary source from which the
words of the Lord, with indispensable warrants, come to the faithful, but
quite simply as a convenient collection of these words.
Papias Of Heirapolis
By way of summary, Papias stands
as a kind of bridge between the oral and written stages in the transmission of
the gospel tradition. Although he professes to have a marked preference for
the oral tradition, one nevertheless sees at work the causes that, more and
more, would lead to the rejection of that form of tradition in favour of
written gospels. On the whole, therefore, the testimony of Papias
concerning the development of the canon of the New Testament is significant
chiefly in reflecting the usage of the community in which devotion to oral
tradition hindered the development of a clear idea of canonicity.
Epistle of Barnabas is a theological tract. Both
Clement of Alexandria and Origen valued the work highly and attributed its
composition Barnabas, the companion and co-worker of the apostle Paul.
Metzger summarizes the position of Barnabas
concerning the scripture as the following.
By way of summary, one can see
that for Barnabas the Scriptures are what we call the Old Testament, including
several books outside the Hebrew canon. Most of his contacts with the Synoptic
traditions involve simple sentences that might well have been known to a
Christian of that time from oral tradition. As against the single instance
of his using the formula, 'it is written', in introducing the statement, 'Many
are called, but few are chosen', must be placed his virtual neglect of the New
Testament. If, on the other hand, he wrote shortly before or after 130, the
focus of his subject matter would not make it necessary to do much quoting
from New Testament books - if indeed he knew many of them. In either case he
provides no evidence for the development of the New Testament canon.
Polycarp Of Smyrna
By way of summary, the short
Epistle of Polycarp contains proportionately far more allusions to the
writings of the New Testament than are present in any other of the Apostolic
Fathers. He certainly had a collection of at least eight Pauline Epistles
(including two of the Pastorals), and was acquainted as well with Hebrews, 1
Peter, and 1 John. As for the Gospels, he cites as sayings of the Lord phrases
that we find in Matthew and Luke. With one exception, none of Polycarp's
many allusions is cited as Scripture - and that exception, as we have seen, is
held by some to have been mistakenly attributed to the Old Testament. At the
same time Polycarp's mind is not only saturated with ideas and phrases derived
from a considerable number of writings that later came to be regarded as New
Testament Scriptures, but he also displays latent respect for these apostolic
documents as possessing an authority lacking in other writings. Polycarp,
as Grant remarks, 'clearly differentiates the apostolic age from his own time
and, presumably for this reason, does not use the letters of Ignatius as
authoritiesóeven though they "contain faith, endurance, and all the
edification which pertains to our Lord" (xiii. 2)'.
Hermas Of Rome
By way of summary, it is obvious
that Hermas was not given to making quotations from literature; in fact, the
only actual book anywhere named and quoted in the Shepherd ( Vis. ii.
3) is an obscure Jewish apocalypse known as the book of Eldad and Modat.
Despite reminiscences from Matthew, Ephesians, and James, Hermas makes no
comment that would lead us to think that he regarded them as canonical
Scripture. From the testimony contained in the Shepherd, it can in any case be
observed how uneven during the course of the second century was the
development of the idea of the canon.
The So-Called Second Epistle Of Clement
This work is not the genuine
work of Clement of Rome. This is regarded as an early Christian sermon. The
style of this work is different from that of 1 Clement. Both date and
composition of this work are difficult to determine. It was probably written
around 150 CE. Metzger summarizes the contents of this work as:
By way of recapitulation, the
unknown author of 2 Clement certainly knew and used Matthew and Luke, 1
Corinthians and Ephesians. There is no trace of the Johannine Gospel or
Epistles, or of the Book of Acts. And one can not say more than that he may
have known Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter. Of the eleven times he cites words
of Jesus, five are not to be found in the canonical Gospels. The presence of
these latter, as well as the citation in xi. 2-4 of an apocryphal book of the
Old Testament, introduced as 'the prophetic word', shows that our homilist's
quotations of divinely authoritative words are not controlled by any strict
canonical idea, even in relation to Old Testament writings.
After studying the writings of all the Apostolic
Fathers, Bruce Metzger concludes that:
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.
We have evidence of the spotty development and
treatment of the writings later regarded as the New Testament in the second and
third centuries CE. Gradually written Gospels, and collections of epistles,
different ones in different regions, became to be more highly regarded.
So for 200 years or so there was nothing like New Testament to begin with. The
great Church tradition did not even bother to collect the 'Scriptures' between
3. Church Tradition & The Early
Lists Of The Books Of The New Testament
Now when the Church tradition finally started to
make up her mind on compiling the New Testament various lists of books in the
Canons of the Bible were drawn. Bruce Metzger gives the following list of the
Canons of the Bible drawn at different times in the 'western' Church. Please
note that we still do not have the great deal of idea about how many lists were
drawn in the Eastern Churches such as Coptic and Ethiopic. The following are the
canons drawn at various points of time in the Church history.
To complete the thoughts about how the New
Testament evolved, a brief survey of early lists of the books of the New
Testament is necessary. The list is taken from Appendix IV of Bruce Metzger's
The Canon Of The New
Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development.
The earliest exact reference to the 'complete'
New Testament as we now know it was in the year 367 CE, in a letter by
Athanasius. This did not settle the matter. Varying lists continued to be drawn
up by different church authorities as can be seen from above.
The Catholic Church proclaims itself to be the authority for the Canon and the
interpretation of scripture, therefore the owner of the list of 27 books.
Nevertheless, according to the
entry "Canon of NT"
proclaims that 20 books of the New Testament are inherently worth more than the
7 deuterocanonical books (Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James, Jude,
Revelation), acknowledging that the authenticity or reliability of them had
already been challenged by ancient Christian authorities.
The Catholic New Testament, as
defined by the Council of Trent, does not differ, as regards the books
contained, from that of all Christian bodies at present. Like the Old
Testament, the New has its deuterocanonical books and portions of books, their
canonicity having formerly been a subject of some controversy in the Church.
These are for the entire books: the Epistle to the Hebrews, that of James, the
Second of St. Peter, the Second and Third of John, Jude, and Apocalypse;
giving seven in all as the number of the New Testament contested books. The
formerly disputed passages are three: the closing section of St. Mark's
Gospel, xvi, 9-20 about the apparitions of Christ after the Resurrection; the
verses in Luke about the bloody sweat of Jesus, xxii, 43, 44; the Pericope
Adulterę, or narrative of the woman taken in adultery, St. John, vii, 53 to
viii, 11. Since the Council of Trent it is not permitted for a Catholic to
question the inspiration of these passages.
We will deal more with the individual books
(i.e., Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James, Jude, Revelation) later,
4. Church Tradition &
'Inspiration' Of New Testament Books
Whatever this word 'inspiration' means in the Church tradition to select the
books, it does not mean what it actually means. A small list of the following
books which are not there in the present day New Testament were at once
time considered 'inspired'. Going further in history as the concept of New
Testament 'Canon' evolved many books were considered 'inspired' which we do not
see in the Bibles of 20th century. A brief survey of those books would be
Several of the writings of the
Apostolic Fathers were for a time regarded in some localities as
authoritative. The Didache was used both by Clement of Alexandria and by
Origen as Scripture, and there is evidence that during the following century
it continued to be so regarded in Egypt.
Epistle of Clement:
The text of the (First) Epistle of
Clement is contained, along with a portion of the so-called Second Epistle of
Clement, at the end of the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus of the Greek Bible
(the manuscript is defective at the end). Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and
Origen all made use of the epistle. We know that about A.D. 170 it was
customary to read 1 Clement in public services of worship at Corinth.
Epistle of Barnabas:
The Epistle of Barnabas was for a
time on the fringe of the canon. Clement of Alexandria regarded it as of
sufficient importance to write a commentary on it in his Hypotyposes,
now lost. Origen calls it 'catholic', a term that he elsewhere applies to 1
Peter and 1 John. It stands after the New Testament in the fourth-century
Codex Sinaiticus of the Greek Bible.
Shepherd of Hermas:
The Shepherd of Hermas was used as
Scripture by Irenaeus, Tertullian (before his conversion to Montanism),
Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, though according to Origen it was not
generally read in church. The Muratorian Canon reflects the esteem in which
the work was held at the time that list was compiled, but according to the
unknown compiler, it might be read but not proclaimed as Scripture in church.
Furthermore, Clement of Alexandria had a very
'open' canon, i.e., he did not mind using the materials of pagans, 'heretics'
and other Christian literature.
It is worthwhile reminding here that we have already seen different set of books
in Ethiopic and Coptic Church.
5. Church Tradition &
As much as there is a variation is the canons of the Bible as well as in its
'inspiration', it is reflected in the manuscripts too. Below is some material
taken from The
Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible,
Under "Text, NT".
Interestingly enough, this section starts with The Problem. Many
Christian apologists prefer to brush this well-known problem under the carpet as
if it does not exist!
THE PROBLEM. The NT is now
known, whole or in part, in nearly five thousand Greek MSS alone. Every one of
these handwritten copics differ from every other one. In addition to these
Greek MSS, the NT has been preserved in more than ten thousand MSS of the
early versions and in thousands of quotations of the Church Fathers. These MSS
of the versions and quotations of the Church Fathers differ from one another
just as widely as do the Greek MSS. Only a fraction of this great mass of
material has been fully collated and carefully studied. Until this task is
completed, the uncertainty regarding the text of the NT will remain.
It has been estimated that these MSS and quotations differ among themselves
between 150,000 and 250,000 times. The actual figure is, perhaps, much higher.
A study of 150 Greek MSS of the Gospel of Luke has revealed more than 30,000
different readings. It is true, of course, that the addition of the readings
from another 150 MSS of Luke would not add another 30,000 readings to the
list. But each MS studied does add substantially to the list of variants.
It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS
tradition is wholly uniform.
Many thousands of these different readings are variants in orthography or
grammar or style and however effect upon the meaning of the text. But there
are many thousands which have a definite effect upon the meaning of the text.
It is true that not one of these variant readings affects the substance of
Christian dogma. It is equally true that many of them do have theological
significance and were introduced into the text intentionally. It may not,
e.g., affect the substance of Christian dogma to accept the reading "Jacob the
father of Joseph, and Joseph (to whom the virgin Mary was betrothed) the
father of Jesus who is called 'Christ'" (Matt. 1:16), as does the Sinaitic
Syriac; but it gives rise to a theological problem.
It has been said that the great majority of the variant readings in the text
of the NT arose before the books of the NT were canonized and that after those
books were canonized, they were very carefully copied because they were
scripture. This, however, is far from being the case.
It is true, of course, that many variants arose in the very earliest period.
There is no reason to suppose, e.g., that the first person who ever made a
copy of the autograph of thc Gospel of Luke did not change his copy to conform
to the particular tradition with which he was familiar. But he was under no
compulsion to do so. Once the Gospel of Luke had become scripture, however,
the picture was changed completely. Then the copyist was under compulsion to
change his copy, to correct it. Because it was scripture, it had to be right.
After reading all this, does not the Muslim
position of the corruption of the Bible hold water? And of course, again which
Bible manuscript is inspired?
Now we all know that none of the variants that are there in the Bible have a
chain of narration or isnad. So it is very hard to say which one or ones
is the true reading and the other the bogus one. So, futher on we read:
Many thousands of the variants
which are found in the MSS of the NT were put there deliberately. They are not
merely the result of error or of careless handling of the text. Many were
created for theological or dogmatic reasons (even though they may not affect
the substance of Christian dogma). It is because the books of the NT are
religious books, sacred books, canonical books, that they were changed to
conform to what the copyist believed to be the true reading. His interest was
not in the "original reading but in the "true reading." This is precisely the
attitude toward the NT which prevailed from the earliest times to the
Renaissance, the Reformation, and the invention of printing. The thousands of
Greek MSS, MSS of the versions, and quotations of the Church Fathers provide
the source for our knowledge of the earliest or original text of the NT and of
the history of the transmission of that text before the invention of printing.
Now if you do not know what the "original
reading" is, then there is no point talking about 'believing' in what is
supposed to be the "original" reading. So, this is the great Christian Church
tradition which cannot even produce two identical manuscripts! Furthermore on
"original" reading one can say that since there are no original manuscripts,
there is not point talking about "original" reading at all. This
search for "original" reading would be a guess work
or 'consensus'. Indeed the Acts of
Apostles has earned the notoriety for the variant readings.
In fact no book of the NT gives
evidence of so much verbal variation as does the Acts of Apostles. Besides the
text represented in the oldest uncial Greek MSS, begin with the Codex
Vaticanus, often called the Neutral Text and dating back to the second century
AD, there is evidence either of a consistent alternative text equally old, or
of a series of early miscellaneous variants, to which the name Western text is
traditionally applied. The ancient authorities of the Western Text of Acts
include only one Greek (or rather bilingual Greek and Latin) uncial MS, Codex
Bezae of the fifth or sixth century. But the variants often have striking
content and strong early support from Latin writers and Latin NT MSS. It now
appears that while both the Neutral and Western texts were in circulation, the
former is the more likely of the two to represent the original.
Apart from the notorious variation, we also have
the problem of which text is the original text. Since we do not know which one
is original, the guess work in pressed into service. This is one such example of
guess work. And how come guess work leads to truth?
We have already seen that the there is no
original document of the Bible available to us to verify its inerrancy
doctrine. Concerning the New Testament documents
The Interpreter's Dictionary Of
The Bible confirms that:
The original copies of the NT
books have, of course, long since disappeared. This fact should not cause
surprise. In the first place, they were written on papyrus, a very fragile and
persihable material. In the second place, and probably of even more
importance, the original copies of the NT books were not looked upon as
scripture by those of the early Christian communities.
So, the Qur'an in this aspect is far more better
placed than the Bible with all the Qiraa'a associated with it clearly listed
with detailed chain of narrations going back to the Companions of the Prophet(P)
who in turn learnt the Qur'an from the Prophet(P)
6. Church Tradition & The Six
As we have seen above that the books of Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James,
Jude and Revelation had quite a dubious history of the entry into the canon, it
is time that we have a cursory glance over their comparatively recent history.
Zwingli, at the Berne disputation of 1528, denied that Revelation was a book of
the New Testament.
Martin Luther condemned the Epistle of James as worthless, an 'epistle of
straw.' Furthermore, he denigrated Jude, Hebrews, and the Apocalypse
(Revelation). He did not omit them from his German Bible, but drew a line in the
table of contents, putting them on a lower level than the rest of the New
Testament. In Prefaces to each of these books, Luther explains his doubts as to
their apostolic as well as canonical authority.
The reformer known as Andreas Bodenstein of Karlstadt (1480-1541) divided the
New Testament into three ranks of differing dignity. On the lowest level are the
seven disputed books of James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, and the
Oecolampadius in 1531 under Wurttemberg
Confession declared that while all 27 books should be received, the Apocalypse
(Revelation), James, Jude, 2 Peter 2 and 3 John should not be compared to the
rest of the books.
Early in his career, Erasmus (d. 1536) doubted
that Paul was the author of Hebrews, and James of the epistle bearing the name.
He also questioned the authorship of 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. The style
of Revelation precludes it from being written by the author of the Fourth
The same four books are labeled 'Apocrypha' in a
Bible from Hamburg in 1596. In Sweden, beginning in 1618, the Gustavus Adolphus
Bible labels the four dubious books as 'Apocryphal New Testament.' This
arrangement lasted for more than a century.
With all the gory details of the Church history and the Bible are out, with no
clear cut indication of the Bible and its 'inspiration', why would any Muslim
even bother to read it? And above all why should a Christian missionaries would
push such a dubious set of scriptures down the throat of Muslims? And above all
why call it injil?
the well known Companion of the Prophet(P),
is reported to have said:
Do not ask the ahl al-kitab
about anything (in tafsir), for they cannot guide you and are themselves in
If Christianity has got the biographies of the
people who transmitted their New Testament or Old Testament as well as their
traditions, it would compete with the Islamic science of hadīth. Alas, with no
isnad, who is going to believe in their Bible and what is in it? And as
the illustrious teacher of Imaam Bukhari had said:
"The isnad is part of
the religion: had it not been for the isnad, whoever wished to would
have said whatever he liked."
The lack of isnad and people drawing
different Canons of the Bible seem to be the problem of people saying whatever
they wished. Any one would claim anything and the Bible canon seems to reflect
And look how bogus the missionary argument
turned out to be!
A Few Questions
As Muslims we are obliged to ask:
Which Bible or the books are inspired? Is it
the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Ethiopic, Coptic or the Syriac?
Please remember that they contain different number of books. It is just
not the "oh! those are different translations".
How can we trust the Church tradition when
she herself cannot produce a reliable bunch of books worth calling a Bible?
Why should we trust the Church which cannot
even produce a set of manuscripts throughout the centuries which can be relied
on instead of the guess work to find which reading is the original?
How do we know that Jesus(P)
said what is there in the Bible as there is no way of confirm how his words
got transmitted? This is one of the major argument of Islamic traditionalists
against the Older scriptures which deal with Israa'iliyat stuff. And they were
rejected outright for very obvious reasons.
And if Christian missionaries cannot answer
these question, there is no point calling the Bible as a reliable document.
Therefore, an unreliable document is worth not calling a 'Scripture'.
Other Articles Related To The
Textual Reliability Of The Bible
The Canon Of The New Testament:
Its Origin, Significance & Development,
Op.Cit, pp. 187-188.
 Ibid., p. 188.
 Ibid., pp.130-135.
 George Arthur Buttrick (Ed.),
The Interpreter's Dictionary Of
The Bible, Volume 4, 1962 (1996 Print),
Abingdon Press, Nashville, pp. 594-595 (Under
 George Arthur Buttrick (Ed.),
The Interpreter's Dictionary Of
The Bible, Volume 1, pp. 41 (Under "Acts
of the Apostles").
 Ibid., p. 599 (Under "Text,
The Canon Of The New Testament:
Its Origin, Significance & Development,
Op.Cit, p. 273.
 Ibid., p. 243.
 Ibid., pp. 241-242.
 Ibid., p. 244.
 Ibid., p. 241.
 Ibid., pp. 244-245.
 Ahmad von Denffer,
al-Qur'an, 1994, The Islamic Foundation,
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