The following is taken from Josh McDowell and John Gilchrist’s book, The Islam Debate, pages 37-46 and 50-53.
- Josh McDowell is a magna cum laude graduate of Talbot Theological Seminary and member of two national honor societies. As a traveling speaker, he has spoken to more than 7 million students and faculty at 600 universities in 62 countries. He’s an instructor at the Julian Center in California.
- John Gilchrist is an attorney at law in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Director of Jesus to the Muslims. He’s written and spoken extensively on Christianity versus Islam issues.
- Ahmed Deedat is President of the Islamic Propagation Centre in Durban, South Africa.
“Muslims believe that the Bible has been changed many times, altered, corrected, and edited down through the centuries. But is this true?
Christians freely admit that there are variant readings in the biblical manuscripts available to us (they are often listed in footnotes in many modern English translations of the Bible) but no one has ever been able to show that these small and usually obvious variants affect the message of the Bible as a whole.
Muslims know that the Bible not only agrees with all major Christian doctrines but in fact is the source of all Christian doctrine. Due to this, they argue that the Bible must have been changed because Islam teaches that the prophets prior to Muhammad, all of whom are recorded in the Bible, were all Muslims in creed, thought, and message.
History shows that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that the Bible has been changed from a Muslim book to a Christian book. Frankly, the contrary is strongly supported. It is the Bible, which is the foundation – the Qur’an takes its background from both the Old and New Testament Scriptures and other sources. When the Muslim tries to prove his point, we believe his evidence is lacking. Let us examine his claims.
Ahmed Deedat denies that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures constituting the Holy Bible are those honored by the Qur’an as the Taurat and Injil respectively (the Law and the Gospels – i.e., the Old and New Testaments). Instead, he suggests that the real Taurat and Injil were different books entirely which were allegedly revealed to Moses and Jesus.
This attempt to distinguish between the books of the Bible and those referred to in the Qur’an has little evidence to support it. At no time in history has there ever been any proof that any Taurat (Law) or Injil (Gospel) other than the books of the Old and New Testaments ever existed. Furthermore, as we shall show, the Qur’an itself does not distinguish these books from the Scriptures of the Jews and the Christians, but on the contrary, clearly testifies that they are those books of which the Jews and Christians themselves hold to be the Word of God.
In passing, we must comment that, in light of Deedat’s claim that the Qur’an has been perfectly preserved and protected from human tampering by God Himself for 14 centuries, it is rather astonishing to discover that the same God proved incapable of preserving even a record of the fact that such a Taurat or an Injil ever even existed – let alone preserve the books themselves! We find such a paradox incredible.
In any event, the Qur’an itself unambiguously confirms that the Taurat of the Jews at the time of Muhammad was what we know as the Old Testament. The Injil likewise was the book in the possession of the Christians at that time and was what we know today as the New Testament. At no time in history have Jews and Christians ever regarded any books other than those constituting the Old and New Testaments, as we know them today, as the sacred Word of God. Useful Qur’anic texts proving the point are:
‘How come they (i.e., the Jews) turn unto thee for judgment when they have the Torah (Taurat in the original Arabic) wherein Allah hath revealed judgment?’ (Surah 5:43).
‘Let the People (i.e., the Christians) of the Gospel (Injil in original Arabic) judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein’ (Surah 5:47).
It is difficult to consider how the Christians of Muhammad’s time could ever judge by the Injil if they were not in possession of it. In Surah 7:157, the Qur’an again admits that the Taurat and Injil were in the possession of the Jews and Christians at the time of Muhammad and that they were those books which these two groups themselves accepted as the Law and the Gospel, respectively.
Distinguished commentators like Baidawi and Zamakshari openly admit that Injil is not an original Arabic word but is borrowed from the Syriac word used by the Christians themselves to describe the gospel. Indeed, whereas some early Qur’anic scholars tried to find an Arabic origin for it, these two men of authority reject the theory (Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an, Lahore, Al-Biruni, 1977, p. 71). This substantiates the conclusion that the Injil was not a phantom book revealed as such to Jesus, all trace of which has strangely disappeared, but rather the New Testament itself precisely as we know it today. The same can be said for the Taurat as the word is obviously of Hebrew origin and is the title which the Jews themselves have always given to the books of the Old Testament as we know it today.
Therefore, the Qur’an claims that the Bible itself is the true Word of God. Deedat realizes the validity here, and thus, tries to circumvent the implications by suggesting that there are “multiple” Bible versions in circulation today. He speaks of the King James Version (KJV), Revised Version (RV), and Revised Standard Version (RSV), but it is clear that these are not conflicting editions of the Bible but simply different English translations of it. All three versions are compatible with the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments, which have been preserved intact by the Christian Church since centuries before the time of Muhammad.
Deedat then charges that the Protestants have bravely expunged 7 whole books from the Bible – the books being those which constitute the Apocrypha. It seems that there is very poor information about the Bible at Deedat’s disposal for these books are of Jewish origin. The Jews as a body never accepted them as Scripture. Therefore, they have not been “expunged” from the Bible as Deedat concludes. Only the Roman Catholic Church, at a much later time, gave them the authority of Scripture. And this authority was only given by the pope following the Protestant Reformation. At the Council of Trent (1560’s A. D.), the [Catholic] Church had adopted these books in order to legitimize some doctrines the Protestants were taking issue with.
In his booklet, Deedat challenges the believing Christian to prepare himself for the unkindest blow of all. He quotes these words from the preface to the RSV and underlines them in his booklet:
‘Yet the King James Version has grave defects…these defects are so many and so serious as to call for revision’ (p. 11).
These “defects” are nothing but a number of insignificant variant readings, which were generally unknown to the translators who composed the KJV early in the 17th century. The RSV of this century has identified these readings, and they are noted as footnotes on the relevant pages of its text. We must again point out that the KJV and RSV are English translations of the original Greek texts and that these texts, as they are preserved for us, have in no significant way been changed. (We have over 5, 000 Greek texts, some dating back to more than 500 years before Muhammad and Islam).
Second, there is no material alteration of any doctrine of the Bible in the translations referred to. Throughout the translations, the essence and substance of the Bible is totally consistent and unchanged.
Third, these are not differing versions of the Bible. These “versions” are compatible English translations of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, and a cursory comparison of these will immediately show that we have just one Bible. There are many such English translations of the Qur’an as well, but no one suggests that these are “different versions” of the Qur’an.
Deedat produces a reproduction of a page from a magazine entitled “Awake” dating back some 23 years (published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a non-Christian cult), which quotes a secular magazine “Look” to the effect that there are some “modern students” who “say” that there are probably “50, 000” errors in the Bible.” Very significantly, no mention is made of the identity of these so-called modern students, nor is any evidence given of these alleged errors.
We find Deedat hard to believe when he says:
‘We do not have the time and space to go into the tens of thousands of – grave or minor – defects that the authors of the RSV have attempted to revise. ‘
Of these alleged 50, 000 defects, he produces just 4 for our consideration, without even listing the others or giving his primary source. Now, it would follow, with so many errors that in the 4 cases presented the best evidence of corruption should be cited. Let’s see!
The first – and presumably foremost – “error” in the Bible is found in Isaiah 7:14 which reads in the KJV:
‘Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. ‘
In the RSV, we read instead of the word ‘virgin’ that a ‘young woman’ shall conceive and bear a son. According to Deedat, this is supposed to be one of the foremost defects in the Bible.
The word for virgin in the original Hebrew is ‘almah’ – a word found in every Hebrew text of Isaiah. Therefore, there is no change of any nature in the original text. The issue is purely one of interpretation and translation. The common Hebrew word for virgin is ‘bethulah’ whereas ‘almah’ often refers to a young woman – and always an unmarried one. So, the RSV translation is a perfectly good literal rendering of the word. But, as there are always difficulties translating from one language to another, and as a good translator will try to convey the real meaning of the original, almost all English translators translate the word as ‘virgin’. The reason is that the context of the word demands such an interpretation. (Muslims who have translated the Qur’an into English have often experienced similar problems with the original Arabic text. A literal rendering of a word or text may lose the implied meaning in the original language.)
The conception of the child was to be a sign to Israel. Now there would be no sign in the simple conception of a child in the womb of an unmarried woman. Such a thing is commonplace throughout the world. The sign is clearly that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. That would be a real sign – and so it was when Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy by being conceived of the Virgin Mary.
Isaiah uses the word ‘almah’ rather than ‘bethulah’ because the latter word not only means a virgin but also a chaste widow (as in Joel 1:8). Those who translate it as a young woman (as so the RSV) give a literal rendering of the word whereas those who translate it as virgin (as so the KJV, NIV, etc.) give its meaning in its context. Either way, the young woman was a virgin as Mary duly was when Jesus was conceived. The issue is purely one of translation and interpretation from the original Hebrew into English. It has absolutely nothing to do with the textual integrity of the Bible as such. His next text is John 3:16, which reads in the KJV as follows:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. ‘
In the RSV, we read that he gave his ‘only Son’ and Deedat charges that the omission of the word ‘begotten’ proves that the Bible has been changed. Once again, however, this is purely a matter of interpretation and translation for the original Greek word properly means unique. Either way, there is no difference between ‘only Son’ and ‘only begotten Son’ for both are fair translations of the original Greek and make the same point: Jesus is the unique Son of God. We need to emphasize once again that there is no change in the original Greek text and that the issue is purely one of interpretation and translation.
To illustrate our point further, we can refer to Deedat’s quote from Surah 19:88 where we read that Christians say that God Most Gracious has begotten a Son. He has taken this from Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Qur’an. Now in the translations of Pickthall, Muhammad Ali and Maulana Daryabadi, we do not find the word ‘begotten’ but rather ‘taken’. If Deedat’s line of reasoning is to be believed, then here is evidence that the Qur’an, too, has been changed and corrupted.
We know our Muslim readers will immediately tell us that these are only English translations and that the original Arabic has not been changed even though the word ‘begotten’ is not found in the other versions of the Qur’an. So we in turn plead with you to be quite realistic about this as well – nothing can be said against the integrity of the Bible just because the word ‘begotten’, as in the Qur’an, is only found in one translation and not in another when both translations represent the same Greek.
Deedat’s third example is one of the defects the RSV set out to correct. In 1 John 5:7 in the KJV, we find a verse outlining the unity of the Father, Word and Holy Ghost, which is omitted in the RSV. It might have been that this verse was originally set out as a marginal note in an early text and that it was mistaken by later transcribers as part of the actual text. It is often omitted by many modern translators, or usually placed in the margin, because we now have older texts where it is not found. However, it should be noted that many reputable Christian scholars believe it does belong in the text. And although the oldest manuscripts omit it in the main text, the majority of all our manuscripts do include it.
Deedat suggests that this verse is the closest approximation to what the Christians call their Holy Trinity in the encyclopaedia called the Bible (p. 16). If it was, or alternately, if the whole doctrine of the Trinity was based on this one text alone, then indeed, this would be a matter for very serious consideration. However, any honest expositor of biblical theology will admit – as all Catholics, Protestants, and other Christians uniformly do – that the doctrine of the Trinity is the only doctrine of God that can be obtained from the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Indeed, the following verse is a good illustration of the Trinity:
‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19).
Only one singular name of the three persons is referred to. In the Bible the word ‘name’ used in such a context refers to the nature and character of the thing so described. So, Jesus speaks of only one name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – implying unity of essence but a plurality of persons. This verse is thoroughly Trinitarian in content and emphasis. An important point here is that even if I John 5:7 were not in the original text, what it clearly teaches is the doctrine of the Trinity, which was the belief of the Early Church, and is taught throughout the Bible.
His fourth point contains an interesting fallacy. He suggests that the ‘inspired’ authors of the canonical gospels did not record a single word about the ascension of Jesus (p. 19). This claim is made pursuant to a reference to two statements about the ascension of Jesus in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, which the RSV has identified as being among the variant readings we have referred to earlier. Apart from these verses, the gospel writers allegedly made no reference of any nature whatsoever to the ascension. On the contrary, we find that all four Gospel writers acknowledged it. John has 11 references to it, of which this text, where Jesus is speaking, serves as a good example:
‘…I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (Jn. 20:17).
Luke not only wrote his Gospel but also the Book of Acts and in the latter book, the first thing he mentions is the ascension of Jesus to heaven:
‘And when (Jesus) had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight’ (Acts 1:9).
Matthew and Mark regularly speak of the Second Coming of Jesus from heaven (e.g., Matt. 26:64 and Mark 14:62). It is difficult to see how Jesus could come from heaven if He had not ascended there in the first place!
In conclusion, we must point out that the passages Mark 16:9-20 and John 8:1-11 have not been expunged from the Bible and later restored as Deedat suggests. In the RSV translation, they are now included in the text because scholars are persuaded that they are indeed part of the original text. The truth of the matter is that in our oldest scripts, they are found in some texts and not in others. The RSV editors are not tampering with the Bible as Deedat has suggested – they are merely trying to bring our English translations as close as possible to the original texts.
Finally, it proves nothing to state that all the original manuscripts – those on which the books of the Bible were written for the first time – are now lost and have perished, for the same is true of the very first texts of the Qur’an. The oldest text of the Qur’an still existing dates from the second century after the Hijrah (Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to the present day Medina in A. D. 622) and is written on vellum in the early al-mail Arabic script. All the other old texts of the Qur’an are in Kufic script and date from the late second century (after the Hijrah) as well.
“Allah” in the Bible
Deedat reproduces a pamphlet, which attempts to show that the Arabic word for God, Allah, is found in the Scofield edition of the Bible. Fortunately, the evidence, in this case, is set before us to consider. A copy of a page from a Scofield Bible is reproduced and in a footnote there we find that the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is derived from two words, El (strength) and Alah (to swear). This last word is supposed to be proof that the Arabic word Allah is found in the Bible.
A more fanciful effort to prove a point can hardly be imagined. The word in Hebrew is ‘alah’, a common word meaning ‘to swear’. How this is supposed to be proof that the word Allah in Arabic, meaning God, is found in the Bible is altogether unclear to us. Deedat’s effort to twist the facts further in suggesting that Elah in Hebrew (meaning God) has been spelled by the Scofield edition alternatively as Alah (p. 21) taxes our credulity to extreme. These editors clearly identify the latter word as another one meaning “to swear”.
There is nothing unique about the word Allah, nor must it be regarded as coming originally from the pages of the Qur’an. On the contrary, it is derived from the Syriac word Alaha (meaning ‘God’) which was in common use among Christians in the pre-Islamic times (Cf. the authorities cited by Arthur Jeffery in The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an, p. 66). It was also in common use among the Arabs before Islam. An example is the name of Muhammad’s own father, Abdullah (i.e., servant of God from ‘abd’, meaning ‘servant’, and Allah, meaning ‘God’). It is also certain that Allah was the name used for God in pre-Islamic poetry (Bell, The Origin of Islam in Its Christian Environment, London: Frank Cass and Company, Ltd., 1968, p. 53). Accordingly, there is nothing unique about the name at all. In these circumstances, we really fail to see the significance of what Deedat is trying to prove.
Alleged Contradictions in the Bible
Deedat begins his seventh chapter, “The Acid Test”, with a claim that there is a contradiction between 2 Samuel 24:1, where we read that the Lord moved David to number Israel, and 1 Chronicles 21:1, which says it was Satan who provoked him to do so. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the Scriptures and the Qur’an will immediately perceive that what is in view here is an inadequate understanding of a feature of the theology of both books. In the Qur’an, we read:
‘Seest thou not that We have set the devils on the disbelievers to confound them with confusion?’ (Surah 19:83).
Here we read that Allah sets devils on unbelievers. Therefore, while it is God who moves them to confusion, He uses the devils to provoke them toward it. In precisely the same way, God moved against David and used Satan to provoke him to number Israel. Similarly, in the book of Job in the Bible, we read that Satan was given power over Job (Ayub in the Qur’an) to afflict him (Job 1:12) but that God later spoke as if it were He who was moved against him (Job 2:3). Whenever Satan provokes men, the action also can be described indirectly as the movement of God since without His permission, Satan could achieve nothing. This quote from Zamakhshari’s commentary on Surah 2:7 (Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts) should suffice as the final word on this matter:
‘It is now in reality Satan or the unbeliever who has sealed the heart. However, since it is God who has granted to him the ability and possibility to do it, the sealing is ascribed to him in the same sense as an act which he has caused’ (Helmut Gatje, The Qur’an and Its Exegesis, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976, p. 223).
Considering the Qur’an
We have shown that in a comparison between the textual transmission of the Qur’an and the Bible, the Bible’s text can be identified and affirmed. But now, we propose to show that the Qur’an’s transmission is not free from errors and variant readings in significant points.
There is concrete evidence in the best works of Islamic tradition (e.g., the Sahih of Muslim, the Sahih of Bukhari, the Mishkat-ul-Masabih), that from the start, the Qur’an had numerous variant and conflicting readings. That these are no longer found in the Qur’an is only because they have been discreetly removed – not by direction of God but by human discretion.
There is abundant evidence that, when the Qur’an was first collated by the Caliph Uthman into one standard text, there were numerous texts in existence which all contained a host of variant readings. During his reign, reports were brought to him that, in various parts of Syria, Armenia, and Iraq, Muslims were reciting the Qur’an in a way different than those in Arabia were reciting it. Uthman immediately called for the manuscripts of the Qur’an which was in the possession of Hafsah (one of the wives of Muhammad and the daughter of Umar) and ordered Zaid-b-Thabit and three others to make copies of the text and to correct it wherever necessary. When these were completed, Uthman took drastic action regarding the other manuscripts of the Qur’an in existence:
‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt’ (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 479).
At no time in Christian history has a major Christian movement attempted to standardize just one copy of the Bible as the true one while attempting to have all the others destroyed. Why did Uthman make such an order regarding the other Qur’ans in circulation? We can only presume that he believed that they contained grave defects – so many and so serious as to call not for revision, but for wholesale destruction. In other words, if we assess the textual history of the Qur’an at this point, we find that the Qur’an, standardized as the correct one, is that which a man (and not God), according to his own discretion (and not by revelation), decreed to be the true one. We fail to see on what grounds this copy was justified as the only perfect one available.
There is incontrovertible evidence that even this one “Revised Standard Version” of the Qur’an was not perfect. In the most accredited works of Islamic tradition, we read that even after these copies were sent out, the same Zaid recalled a verse which was missing. He testified:
‘A verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur’an and I used to hear Allah’s Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima-bin-Thabit al Ansari’ (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 479).
This verse was Surah 33:23. Therefore, there was not one Qur’an at the time of Uthman’s reclension which was perfect.
Secondly, there is similar evidence that, to this day, verses and, indeed, whole passages are still missing from the Qur’an. We are told that Umar in his reign as Caliph stated that certain verses prescribing stoning for adultery were recited by Muhammad as part of the Qur’an in his lifetime:
‘God sent Muhammad and sent down the Scripture to him. Part of what he sent down was the passage on stoning, we read it, we were taught it, and we heeded it. The apostle stoned and we stoned them after him. I fear that in time to come men will say that they find no mention of stoning in God’s book and thereby go astray in neglecting an ordinance which God has sent down. Verily stoning in the book of God is a penalty laid on married men and women who commit adultery’ (lbn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p. 684).
Here is clear evidence that the Qur’an as it stands today is still not “perfect”. Elsewhere in the Hadith, we find further evidence that certain verses and passages once formed part of the Qur’an but now omitted from its text. It is quite clear, therefore, that the textus receptus of the Qur’an in today’s world is not the exact textus originalis. (The Hadith are the sacred sayings of Muhammad, handed down by oral tradition, for generations after Muhammad’s death until finally transcribed).
Going back to the texts which were marked for the fire, we find that in every case there were considerable differences between these and the text which Uthman decided, according to his own discretion, to standardize as the best text of the Qur’an. In many cases, we find that they were ‘real, textual variants and not mere dialectal peculiarities as is often suggested’ (Arthur Jeffery, The Qur’an As Scripture, New York: Books for Libraries, 1980, p. 97).
A difference between the Qur’an and the Bible today is that the Christian Church has carefully preserved the variant readings that exist in the biblical texts whereas the Muslims at the time of Uthman deemed it expedient to destroy as far as possible all evidences of different readings of the Qur’an in the cause of standardizing one text for the whole of the Muslim world. There may well be only one text of the Qur’an in circulation today, but no one can honestly claim that it is exactly that which Muhammad handed down to his companions. And no one has ever shown why Hafsah’s text deserved to be regarded as infallible.
It does not help to say that all the Qur’ans in the world today are the same. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link – and the weak link in the chain of the textual history of the Qur’an is found right at this point where, in those crucial early days, different and differing codices of the Qur’an existed and evidence has been shown that the text finally standardized as the best one was still far from being complete or in any way perfect.
Muslims believe that Jews and Christians have corrupted the biblical text in order to achieve their own ends, yet the textual history of the Bible as we have seen, does not bear this out. The above can be summarized as follows:
- There is little physical manuscript evidence of alteration to substantiate Islam’s claims. In fact, the opposite is true. The incredible devotion of the Jewish people to the Torah and the meticulous copying of text by the Masoretes run against Muslim charges. (See Family Handbook of Christian Knowledge, The Bible, by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Here’s Life Publishers, San Bernardino, Ca., 1983, pp. 44-48).
- There is no satisfactory answer to why Jews and Christians would change their text.
- At the supposed time of textual corruption, it would have been impossible for Jews and Christians to have changed the text; they were spread all over the world.
- Also, at the time of corruption, there would be too many copies in circulation to change – not to mention the diversity of language.
- Jews and Christians were hostile to each other. Little agreement could have been achieved.
- Differing new sects would have disagreed with mainline groups over changes. Thus, no uniform set of alterations could be made as the Muslim claims.
Former Jews and Christians who became Muslims never mentioned any possibility of deliberate corruption – something we could definitely expect if it were true (Christianity Explained to Muslims, pp. 20, 21).”