The Muslim View of the Bible

Muslims face a conundrum when dealing with the Christian Bible. The Quran states that those who believe in Allah should not disbelieve any of His written words. They are prohibited from embracing merely a portion of Allah’s revelation to humankind, which, in their view, must include the Bible (see Sura 4:136). The Quran also requires Muslims (Sura 10:94) to verify Muhammad’s revelations by consulting the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures (the Christian Bible). But if they believe what the Bible says—which includes ideas such as the Trinity, salvation being by faith in Christ, and Jesus being the Son of God—then they must deny what the Quran says. If that were the case, they would cease to be Muslims. So, how can Muslims resolve this conflict?  

Muslims maintain that the original Bible was inspired by God (Allah) and was infallibly accurate up to the time of Muhammad (Suras 2:136, 3:3, 5:48, and 29:46). Unfortunately, the Jews and Christians later perverted it. There are many discrepancies and “untruths” that have been mixed into today’s Bible, Muslims say. These untruths relate directly to matters in which the Bible and the Quran differ. Muslim apologist Ajijola thus asserts:

The first five books of the Old Testament do not constitute the original Torah, but parts of the Torah have been mingled up with other narratives written by human beings and the original guidance of the Lord is lost in that quagmire. Similarly the four Gospels of Christ are not the original Gospels as they came from the prophet Jesus.… The original and the fictitious, the divine and human are so intermingled that the grain cannot be separated from the chaff. The fact is that the original Word of God is preserved neither with the Jews nor with the Christians.[1]

Thus, according to Muslims, the allegedly divine message of the Bible has been so tainted by human intervention that it is difficult to distinguish it from the words of men (Sura 3:71-78). A glimmer of the truth of Jesus’ preaching may still be found in some verses, but it is rare among “the jungle of interpolations and contradictions with which the Bible is dense.”[2]

Muslims claim that the Jews added a great deal of material to the Old Testament for their own personal gain. Muslim apologist Maurice Bucaille, for example, claims that “a revelation is mingled in all these writings, but all we possess today is what men have seen fit to leave us. These men manipulated the texts to please themselves, according to their circumstances and the necessities they had to meet.”[3]

The Muslim claim that they are the legitimate heirs of the promises made to Abraham through Ishmael, his firstborn son, is a perfect example. Muslims claim that the Jews invented a story and inserted it into the Old Testament to claim that Isaac became Abraham’s heir and that his inheritance from Abraham included the land of Palestine. The Jews did this for their own selfish purposes. According to this Jewish interpretation, Ishmael and his lineage became outcasts.[4] We are told that this invented story was not present in the original Old Testament. As a result, we can no longer trust the Old Testament books.

Muslims claim that Christians introduced concepts such as the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus into the New Testament. We are informed that such concepts were absent from the original New Testament. When Jesus first appeared, He was merely a prophet of Allah. Later, Christians elevated this prophet to divinity. Therefore, today’s New Testament contains words that were “put into His mouth” rather than the actual words of Jesus. Today’s New Testament is corrupt. 

Some Muslims claim that the early church lost the original gospel of Jesus, so some men—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—tried to piece together the details of His life in new gospels. However, these accounts are entirely unreliable because they all contradict each other. Muslims want the original gospel of the prophet Jesus, not man-made variations of the gospel.[5] (These Muslims do not clarify how Muhammad’s endorsement of reading the Christian Bible of his day—which included Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John [Sura 10:94]—relates to their current disparagement of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.)

Muslim apologist Ahmed Deedat makes the wild claim that “out of over four thousand differing manuscripts the Christians boast about, the church fathers just selected four which tallied with their prejudices and called them Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”[6] Furthermore, Muslim apologists argue that none of the New Testament gospel writers were eyewitnesses to what happened: “We do not in fact have an eyewitness account from the life of Jesus, contrary to what many Christians imagine.”[7]

Muslims claim that manuscript copies of the Old Testament contain countless variations or errors. One Muslim writer says, “it is admitted by the most learned men in the Hebrew language, that the present English version of the Old Testament contains at least 100,000 errors (this would amount to approximately three errors in every verse).”[8] Hence, Muslims ask, how can we trust the Bible?

Furthermore, we are informed that there is only one version of the Quran, while there are many versions of the Bible (NASB, NIV, KJV, NLT, and so on). Muslims therefore claim that the Quran is trustworthy, but the Bible is not.  

Many contemporary Muslim apologists, in light of the arguments presented in this chapter, have concluded that the Bible is merely a human book—“the handiwork of man.”[9] They don’t bother to reconcile their view with Muhammad’s praise of the Bible of his time (Sura 10:94). In fact, one must wonder if they even realize that they’re contradicting Muhammad when they argue so strongly against the Bible.

A Christian Assessment

In dialoging with Muslims, one of the most important basic facts to establish is the legitimacy and reliability of the Bible. In responding to Muslim claims about the Bible, one must address their arguments and criticisms of the biblical text while at the same time make a compelling case for its reliability. I’ll do both briefly in what follows.  

The Bible Has Not Been Changed

Saying the Bible is tainted is one thing. Proving it is quite another. When a Muslim tells you that the Bible has been tampered with, one of the first things you should do is challenge him to provide irrefutable historical evidence.

It is imperative to convince Muslims of the absurdity of claiming that the Bible was tampered with either during or after Muhammad’s lifetime. There were countless copies of the Bible circulating throughout much of the world at the time of Muhammad. All these copies would have had to be painstakingly collected (assuming people would be willing to turn them in, which is an unlikely scenario), and then the changes would have to be painstakingly made uniformly in order to corrupt the Bible successfully.

Another possibility is that countless Bible owners worldwide got together and conspired to change the text. But given that most of these individuals were sincere believers, how likely would they tamper with a book that served as the foundation for their eternal salvation?  

Also, the Bible was translated into a number of languages hundreds of years before Muhammad was even born. Do Muslims want us to believe that these various translations were all altered identically throughout the world so that they would be uniformly corrupted? 

It is impossible to believe that both Jews and Christians were involved in corrupting the Bible, as Muslims claim. The reality is that the Jews and Christians of that time were hostile to each other, and if either party had attempted to alter the biblical text, the other party would have cried “foul” and exposed the misdeed by producing the original.[10] Moreover, there were many dissenting Christian sects during that time. An alteration of the biblical text by one of these sects would have brought immediate condemnation from the others. 

If the Jews had corrupted their Scriptures, wouldn’t they at least have changed all the terrible things we read about them in the Torah, such as their complete unfaithfulness during the exile in the wilderness and their involvement in idolatry?[11] In the same way, if Christians had corrupted the New Testament, wouldn’t embarrassing incidents involving Christians have been eliminated, such as Peter’s three denials of Christ and the disciples scattering after His arrest like a group of fearful cowards?

One more question: Is it likely that the Almighty and Sovereign God of the universe would allow His Word to be so corrupted?

Supportive Evidence from the Quran

In Sura 2:75, the Bible is called “the Word of God.” Then, in Sura 6:115, we are told, “None can change His [Allah’s] words.” Furthermore, “there is no changing the Words of Allah” (Sura 10:64). A vital point to raise with Muslims is this: How can Muslims claim that the Bible has been corrupted without contradicting the Quran, since the Bible, as the Quran states, is God’s Word and cannot be changed? Muslims argue that the Bible has contradictions, but they should address their own contradiction in claiming that the Bible has been changed while the Quran asserts that God’s Word cannot be changed.[12]

Scripture Is Incorruptible

The charge that the Bible has been corrupted not only violates the teachings of the Quran but also the Bible itself. In Isaiah 40:8, we read, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” In the New Testament, Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). 

I believe that the all-powerful God who originally inspired the Scriptures will continue to use His power and absolute control to preserve the Scriptures. Furthermore, the Bible itself serves as an example of God’s preservational work. We can see that Christ had complete confidence that the Scriptures He used had been faithfully preserved down through the ages by looking at how He viewed the Old Testament—keeping in mind that Jesus did not possess the original books written by the Old Testament writers, but only copies.  

Bible scholar Greg Bahnsen puts it this way: “Because Christ raised no doubts about the adequacy of the Scripture as His contemporaries knew them, we can safely assume that the first-century text of the Old Testament was a wholly adequate representation of the divine word originally given. Jesus regarded the extant copies of His day as so approximate to the originals in their message that He appealed to those copies as authoritative.”[13] The respect that Jesus and His apostles had for the extant Old Testament text is an expression of their confidence that God had providentially preserved these copies and translations so that they were substantially identical to the inspired originals. We can infer that the same is true of the New Testament and God’s preservation of the entire Bible throughout history.

The Inconsistency of Muslims

It’s interesting to note that despite their extensive efforts to disprove the validity of the Bible, Muslims readily acknowledge the veracity of any biblical passage that they believe supports their position. For example, Muslims claim that Muhammad is the fulfillment of the prophecy of a “great prophet” to come, citing Deuteronomy 18. Muslims also claim that Muhammad was the fulfillment of the promised “Comforter” mentioned by Jesus in John 14. Ask your Muslim acquaintances if they believe it is fair and consistent to accept Bible verses that they believe promote Islam while rejecting all other verses that do not support Islam.

Manuscript Evidence Supports the Bible

It is quite clear from the Quran that Muhammad recommended reading the Bible of his time (Suras 5:69; 10:94). Given this, it is crucial to emphasize that Muslims should accept the Bible as it is today because there is a wealth of manuscript evidence that it is the same Bible that existed both during and far before the lifetime of Muhammad. There are more than 5,000 partial and complete manuscript copies of the New Testament. Here are just a few highlights:

• The Chester Beatty papyrus (P45) dates to the 3rd century A.D. and contains the four Gospels and the Book of Acts (chapters 4–17). (P = papyrus.)

• The Chester Beatty papyrus (P46) dates to about A.D. 200 and contains ten Pauline epistles (all but the Pastorals) and the Book of Hebrews. 

• The Chester Beatty papyrus (P47) dates to the 3rd century A.D. and contains Revelation 9:10–17:2.

• The Bodmer Papyrus (P66) dates to about A.D. 200 and contains the Gospel of John.

• The Bodmer Papyrus (P75) dates to the early 3rd century and contains Luke and John.

• The Sinaiticus uncial manuscript dates to the 4th century and contains the entire New Testament.

• The Vaticanus uncial manuscript dates to the 4th century and contains most of the New Testament except Hebrews 9:14ff., the Pastoral Epistles, Philemon, and Revelation.

This means that the New Testament has a great deal of manuscript evidence that far predates the time of Muhammad. Since our modern Bible translations are based on these early manuscripts, the Muslim charge that the Bible has been corrupted since the time of Muhammad is obliterated. 

In addition, there are thousands of lectionaries—church service books that contain Scripture quotations used in the early centuries of Christianity—and some 86,000 New Testament quotations from the early church fathers. There are enough quotations from the early church fathers that scholars could reconstruct all but 11 verses of the New Testament from writings produced between 150 and 200 years after the time of Christ, even in the absence of a single manuscript copy of the Bible.[14] These writings prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bible of our day has not been altered. 

Assessing “Variants”

Let us now consider the issue of variants, using the New Testament as an example. Researchers have discovered over 200,000 variants among the thousands of manuscript copies of the New Testament that we now possess. This may seem like a staggering number to the uninformed, but for those who study the matter, the number of variants is not as alarming as it first appears. 

Of these 200,000 variants, more than 99 percent are essentially meaningless. Some of them have a missing letter in a word; others have two words reversed (for example, “Christ Jesus” instead of “Jesus Christ”); still others may miss one or more unimportant words. When all the information is considered, only about forty of the variants are important; and even then, they have no bearing on any moral precept or Christian belief. In over 99 percent of cases, the original text can be reconstructed with practical certainty by applying the science of textual criticism, which involves comparing all the currently available manuscripts. Perhaps an example would be helpful: 

Suppose we have five manuscript copies of a lost original document. Each manuscript copy is different. Comparing the manuscript copies will help us determine what must have been written in the original. The five copies are as follows:

Manuscript #1: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole world.

Manuscript #2: Christ Jesus is the Savior of the whole world.

Manuscript #3: Jesus Christ the Savior of the whole worl.

Manuscript #4: Jesus is Savior of whle world.

Manuscript #5: Jesus Christ is the Savor of the wold.

By comparing the manuscript copies, could you determine what was written in the original text with a high degree of confidence that you are correct? You could, of course.

Admittedly, this is a simplistic example, but the preceding approach helps us solve the vast majority of the 200,000 variants. It’s easy to see what the original must have said by simply comparing the numerous manuscripts, most of which have relatively minor variations. I also want to emphasize how the sheer number of manuscripts we have helps reduce uncertainty about what the original biblical text said. 

Biblical scholar Winfried Corduan has pointed out that if someone in the past had burned all the textual variants of the Bible, as Caliph Uthman burned all the variants of the Quran, we would have had a single manuscript of the Bible, just as there is an “authoritative manuscript” of the Quran. Corduan notes that “the very existence of so many variant readings allows us to recover what the original must have said with a great degree of confidence. By contrast, it is impossible to restore the Quran to what existed prior to Uthman, since we now have only one version of the Quran—the one Uthman wanted us to have.”[15]

Let’s now shift our attention to the Old Testament. Muslims often criticize the Old Testament as being unreliable. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls prove Muslims wrong. These scrolls were discovered at Qumran in 1947 and contain Old Testament texts that date back to about 150 B.C. This is a millennium earlier than the other Old Testament manuscripts that we have, which date back to 980 A.D. It is highly revealing that there aren’t many differences between the two sets of manuscripts when compared side by side. The remarkable accuracy of the manuscript transmission of the Old Testament is demonstrated by the nearly identical content found in manuscripts transmitted over a millennium apart.

This accuracy is demonstrated by the copies of Isaiah found at Qumran. Dr. Gleason Archer, after examining both the 980 A.D. and the 150 B.C. copies of Isaiah, comments: 

Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word-for-word identical to our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.[16]

What this ultimately means is that Muslim apologists like Ahmed Deedat and Maurice Bucaille, in their attempt to prove corruptions in the Bible, are arguing against the same Bible that existed in Muhammad’s time and that Muhammad and the Quran indicated was trustworthy. Would Deedat and Bucaille say that Muhammad was wrong? Would they say the Quran was in error? 

Muhammad’s Misunderstanding of the Bible

We have before us two crucial and undeniable facts:

1. The Quran teaches that there is only one God, Allah, who is not a Trinity and who cannot have a “son” because that would imply that God has partners. Jesus was neither God nor the Son of God; he was only a prophet. He did not die for the sins of man. Salvation comes through submission and obedience to Allah. 

2. The Bible teaches that God’s name is Yahweh, and He is a Trinity. The second person of the Godhead is Jesus, the “Son of God.” Jesus is the eternal God and was God in human flesh in the Incarnation. Salvation is attained through personal faith in Jesus, who died on the cross for the sins of humankind. 

In the face of such contradictory teachings, what are we to make of Muhammad’s praise of the Bible of his day (Suras 5:69; 10:94)? We know that the Bible of his time is the same as the Bible of our time, so only one conclusion is possible. Muhammad didn’t understand the essential teachings of Christianity or he wouldn’t have praised the Bible. Earlier in this book, I presented evidence that the versions of Christianity Muhammad was exposed to came from the Nestorians and Ebionites, both heretical perversions of Christianity. Since the prophet of the Quran was ignorant of the nature of true Christianity, this means that the Quran itself is wrong in its praise of the Bible, which in turn serves to undermine it as a true revelation from God. If it were a true revelation from God, it would have recognized the true nature of Christianity from the beginning. 

The False Claim of “Many Versions”

The claim that there are many versions of the Bible but only one version of the Quran is unfounded because it fundamentally misunderstands the evidence. We have many English translations of the same core collection of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, not different “versions” of the Bible in the sense of having separate Bibles (with different books, chapters, verses, etc.). The King James Version, the New International Version, and the New American Standard Version are some examples of these translations. 

We can observe that there are different English translations of the Quran, but no one claims that there are “different versions” of the Quran. Likewise, we have different translations of the Bible, even though they are all based on the same core collection of Greek and Hebrew texts.

The False Claim of Over Four Thousand Different Gospels

As noted previously, Muslim apologist Ahmed Deedat argues that “out of over four thousand differing manuscripts the Christians boast about, the church fathers just selected four which tallied with their prejudices and called them Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”[17] Deedat’s understanding of the nature of the biblical manuscripts is utterly flawed. All 27 of the New Testament’s books are duplicated amongst the thousands of manuscripts we currently possess, with some manuscripts containing a number of New Testament books and others just a portion of a single book. The four canonical Gospels are duplicated amongst a number of these manuscripts. Deedat’s embarrassing misinterpretation of the evidence suggests that he hasn’t looked over the facts nearly as closely as he claims to have. 

Eyewitness Testimony

Contrary to the claim of Muslim apologist Maurice Bucaille that “we do not in fact have an eyewitness account from the life of Jesus,”[18] the New Testament is indeed based on eyewitness testimony. John, who wrote the Gospel of John, spoke of Jesus as “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1). John was with Jesus’ mother, Mary, at the foot of the cross when Jesus died (John 19:16-17). Although he did not write a Gospel, Peter was an eyewitness who recorded in one of his epistles: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Luke, in doing the research to write his Gospel, said: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account…” (Luke 1:1-3). 

Assessing Apparent Contradictions 

Regarding the Muslim claim that the Gospels contain contradictions, there are a few things to consider. First, I don’t think there are any genuine contradictions in the Gospels, although there may be some apparent contradictions.

Second, fundamentally, it’s essential to remember that inspiration (Scripture is “God-breathed”—2 Timothy 3:16) and inerrancy are, strictly speaking, ascribed only to the original manuscripts of Scripture. I certainly believe our copies of the original manuscripts are incredibly accurate. However, theologians have been very careful to say that the Scriptures, in their original autographs and correctly interpreted, are shown to be entirely true in everything they teach. 

Third, Muslims would cry “collusion” if there were no differences between any of the four Gospels. The fact that the Gospels differ indicates that there was no collusion. They give four different but equally inspired accounts of the same events. 

Fourth, one should not assume that a partial account in a biblical book is a faulty account. One book of the Bible may give some details of an event, and another book may provide other, different details of the event. However, this does not mean the accounts are faulty simply because they contain different facts. 

Conclusion

I close with two important takeaways: 

1. The Bible we have today is based on manuscripts that date back to the 2nd century A.D. The Bible has not been altered and is entirely trustworthy.

2. Muslim objections to the Bible are all easily answered and are, in fact, a desperate and futile attempt to gain a modicum of support for the Quran. 
For more on all this, I invite you to consult my book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Harvest House Publishers). It will teach everything you need to know to effectively dialog with Muslims.

  1. Alhaj Ajijola, The Essence of Faith in Islam (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1978), p. 79.
  2. Gerhard Nehls, Christians Answer Muslims, in The World of Islam CD-ROM, copyright 2000 Global Imaging International, insert added.
  3. Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Quran, and Science (Pakistan: Darulfikr, 1977), p. 9.
  4. Larry Poston with Carl Ellis, Jr., The Changing Face of Islam in America (Camp Hill: Horizon, 2000), p. 183.
  5. Martin Goldsmith, Islam and Christian Witness (Carlisle, Cumbria: OM Publishing, 1998), in The World of Islam CD-ROM.
  6. Ahmed Deedat; cited in John Gilchrist, “The Textual History of the Qur’an and the Bible: A Study of the Qur’an and the Bible,” The Good Way, P.O. Box 66, CH-8486 Rikon, Switzerland.
  7. Cited in Bucaille, p. vi.
  8. Quoted in Nehls, Christians Answer Muslims.
  9. Ahmed Deedat, Is the Bible God’s Word? (Durban, RSA: IPCI), p.2.
  10. W. St. Clair Tisdall, Christian Reply to Muslim Objections (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1904); in The World of Islam CD-ROM.
  11. William Saal, Reaching Muslims for Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1993), in The World of Islam CD-ROM.
  12. Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), p. 212.
  13. Greg Bahnsen, “The Inerrancy of the Autographa,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), p. 161.
  14. Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody, 1978), p. 357.
  15. Winfried Corduan, Islam (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), p. 29.
  16. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1964), p. 19; emphasis added.
  17. Quoted in Gilchrist, “The Textual History of the Qur’an and the Bible.”
  18. Bucaille, p. vi.

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