Second Letter

Dear Abdallah,

I knew I would be right in expecting your reply straight from the heart. Thank you!

I acknowledge your sentiments and do not doubt your sincerity for one minute. Sincerity must be the foundation of any conversation regarding God and our relationship with Him. However, it must be linked to established facts. We have to ask the question: Is what I sincerely believe really and factually true? A mother may sincerely believe in the innocence of her son that has just been convicted of a crime. But is he by that token innocent? Not our degree of sincerity will determine that, but an investigation. Sincerity cannot change error into truth.

The important thing, therefore, is not our sincerity as such, but the object of our sincerity. Please accept, therefore, that while I appreciate your sincerity, I query part of what you accept as fact. Let me explain.

You state that you have deeply rooted reservations about the trustworthiness of today’s version of the Bible. While I somehow expected this, it still surprises me! Let me try to respond to your suspicion. First of all, we will have to differentiate between established facts and our interpretation of these. What Islam never permitted, happened to Christianity. For the last couple of centuries Bible critics, many of them theologians, took the liberty to table and propagate their critique, which was often based on very extravagant interpretations. These all too often reflect their expedient, personal convictions and opinions by which they interpret the Bible. However, there are and have been other critics, and one would need to listen to what they have to say.

We have to differentiate between what is called ‘Text critique’ and the so-called ‘historic-critical method’ of interpretation. Text critique is the science, which is established to determine the exact text of an original document, and to sift out any possible corruption of a given text or any copy mistakes that might have slipped in over the many centuries in which these manuscripts have been copied by hand. It also attempts to correct falsely understood words, phrases and figures of speech. Many teams of scholars, Christian and other, have critically and thoroughly studied each of the old manuscripts. This helped to identify any error, and to trace it back to where it had originally slipped in. This gives us the assurance that today we have in hand a close to perfect replica of the original revelation.

The ‘historic-critical method’ is of quite a different nature. It attempts to ‘correct’ a text by assessing its feasibility, if I may put it this way. The Bible teaches, for instance, that the Jews went through the Red Sea on dry foot, or that Jesus was born by a virgin, that he walked on a lake and raised dead people to life. Since that is impossible, reason the critics, one has to classify such a text as myth. By various means and ways their pens have censored the Bible for anything supernatural. As had to be anticipated, their critique largely contributed to the spiritual decay in the Western world. Through this God was erased from the minds of many people. Intentionally or not, these critics made their own finite minds the judge over the infinite God, assessing and stipulating what He can do and what not. This resulted in a very human interpretation of the divine Book and its author. We call that ‘secular humanism’. As lamentable as it is, that has advanced to the dominant thinking as reflected by the Western media.

To support their theses, these critics revised the dating of the books of the Bible, claiming, for instance, that the Law of Moses was actually written by Ezra, who lived some 900 years after Moses. This was based on the assumption that writing was unknown at the time of Moses. Now we know that long before Abraham (500 years before Moses), writing was common practice.

Some critics also postulate that after the death of Jesus—his ascension to heaven they would discard as an impossibility and by that token a myth—Paul came and hijacked Christianity. It is claimed that he censored the Gospel to match his theology. But contemporary records show very clearly that there was never a doctrinal controversy between Paul and the other Apostles of Jesus, he did, in fact, consult with them.

While we are ready to acknowledge the occasional copy error, we are more than sure that these in no way influence or distort the message and content of God’s Word. Actually, we consider it outright miraculous that the biblical manuscripts, which have been copied by hand over periods of up to 3000 years, show so little flaw.

It is astonishing to us that many Muslims use these liberal arguments to propagate the thesis of the falsification of the Gospel, while they refuse to apply a much needed text critique to their own scriptures. They completely ignore the fact that although the Qur’an is of a considerably younger date, it has similar, if not more complex problems. I am aware of the explosiveness of this statement, but it cannot be more offensive to you than many Islamic statements concerning the Bible are to us. In short, I suggest we will have to play by the same rules. Muslim doctors who propagate that the Bible was corrupted also overlook that most eminent Muslim theologians like at-Tabari (died AD 855), al-Bukhari (died AD 870), as well as al-Ghazzali (died AD 1111) believed in the authenticity of the (Greek) Gospel text. And that is the very message the Qur’an promotes:

"Say ye: We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses, and Jesus, and that given to all prophets from their Lord: we make no difference between one and another of them." (Surah al-Baqara 2:136)

"It was We who revealed the Law (to Moses); therein was guidance and light ... If any do fail to judge by the light of what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers. ... We sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: Therein was guidance and light ... a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by the light of what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel. Judge what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires." (Surah Ma-ida 5:47,49,50,52)

"Say: we believe in the revelation which has come down to us and that which came down to you." (Surah al-Ankabut 29:46)

It is quite clear that at the time the Qur’an was written, there was no hint given anywhere about a possible corruption or unreliability of the Bible. Anyone contradicting it now will not only go against the Qur’an, but will also have to provide an answer to questions like: WHO changed or corrupted the Bible? WHEN was the Bible corrupted? WHERE is the original, or evidence that shows there was such an original? So far I have not heard an answer to these.

If the Bible was corrupted before or at the time of Muhammad, the Qur’an would hardly have spoken of the Bible in such a positive manner. Had the Bible been changed or corrupted thereafter, the many existing old manuscripts that predate Muhammad by hundreds of years, would have given proof of that fact. Besides, we have just read from the Qur’an that the Bible is God’s Word. We should add, also from the Qur’an, that "no man can change the words of God" (Surah 6:34 and 10:64). So, what are Muslim critics of the Bible trying to do?

Some Muslims reason that the Qur’an does state that the Bible was distorted. They quote:

"Ye People of the Book! Why do ye clothe truth with falsehood, and conceal the truth, while ye have knowledge?" (Surah Al-Imran 3:71)

"There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (as they read) you would think it is part of the Book, but it is not part of the Book." (Surah Al-Imran 3:78)

These passages say nothing more than that the Bible, rendered by the Jews in public, as the context suggests, was distorted with their tongues, not with their pens. Else the Qur’an would not suggest that Muslims should ask the People of the Book about the content of the Bible:

"...Ask of those who possess the Message" (Surah al-Anbiyaa, 21:7)

We may well ask, why so many Muslims believe that the Bible was corrupted, when history, archaeology and the Qur’an deny this? The answer seems to be rather intriguing.

Ibn Khazem (died AD 1064) ruled the South of Spain for some time as the vizier of the caliph. When reading the Qur’an he came across a verse that referred to Jesus speaking of Good News of an Apostle who was to come after him and whose name should be Ahmad (Surah 61:6). The meaning of this Arabic word is similar to the meaning of the name ‘Muhammad’. He also must have read about “the unlettered prophet (i.e. Muhammad) whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures), in the law and the Gospel” (Surah 7:157). So he began to search the Bible for these clues about Muhammad. Probably to his surprise he did not find them. What he did find, however, were a number of contradiction between the two Books, which were assumed to have come from the same divine source. We can see the problem ibn Khazem was facing. Both, the Bible and the Qur’an, are stated to be Word of God—and they contradict each other.

Ibn Khazem made the decision not to question the integrity of the Qur’an. He rather assumed that since the Gospel should agree with the Qur’an, and because Muhammad had spoken so highly of it, the existing Gospel text must have been falsified by the Jews and Christians. This assumption may display his zeal for the Qur’an, but it is not based on historical facts.

Since that time Muslims have questioned the integrity of the Bible. Their argument is not only contradicted by the Qur’an, but also by the ever-increasing strong archaeological and historical arguments, which support the genuineness of the Bible. Besides, why should anyone, for any reason, attempt to change the Word of God?

Perhaps this letter has helped you to take a glimpse at what most Muslims seem not to know. Practicing Christians have a very special place for the Bible in their hearts and lives. It is God’s love letter to them.

Because it may hurt your feelings it is a rather painful effort for me to write a letter, which questions the source of your deepest convictions. But I am sure that our concern for the foundation of our faith in God will enable us to overcome some sentimental hitches.

I hope and trust that this letter finds you well and in good health. Please answer soon!

Warmest greetings!