We have a group on Facebook called Christians and Muslims friendly debate. One common theme I have observed that Muslims bring up in this group in defense of Islam is their claim that the Christian Bible has been corrupted. However, there are several issues with this claim we will cover in this article, from their lack of knowledge of ancient manuscripts, to scholarship, as well as what the Quran says about Bible corruption.
When asking a Muslim which portions of the Bible are corrupt, they typically point to modern translations of the Bible showing that they know very little about the difference between the underlying ancient manuscript of the text versus a translation. Muslims tend to focus often on various alternate wordings found among modern English translations, such as the Amplified Bible, the New International Version, etc. They perceive these translations as sufficient proof of Bible corruption. It should be noted that early Muslims did not believe in corruption of the bible text. This view did not originate until at least the 11th century with a commentator named, Ibn Hazm.
Translations make up the majority of Bibles today. There are good translations and bad ones, as those who produce these translations often do so out of their own doctrinal bias (such is the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses who are not even Christians anyhow), or to sell Bibles and make money, and most importantly outside of the authority of the Churches.
It should be noted that the Quran itself is not immune from such as there are many translations of the Quran including an Amplified version produced in the 1970’s. Various translations are preferred over others by Muslims, because some are considered bad translations just as some translations of the Bible are considered bad by Christians as well. One translation may use a literal equivalent while another uses dynamic equivalence which produces a looser translation and so on. Again, this does not alter the Bible manuscript itself. Nor does it prove the Bible to be corrupt when a Muslim produces an example of so-called corruption using one verse quoted from a handful of modern translations. All they are highlighting is the fact that the translation process used was not so great.
Another issue with the Muslim claim that the Bible is corrupt comes from the fact that this has been proven to be false by Scholars (see Modern Scholarship Proves the New Testament). The New Testament alone has thousands of manuscripts and fragmentary witnesses that prove that the New Testament is very well preserved.
[T]he more manuscripts we possess, the more certain we can be about the integrity of the [New Testament] text…Most other ancient texts from the first century (or thereabouts) are preserved in around 10-20 manuscripts (and some only in a single manuscript). Thus, the 5,500…manuscripts of the [Greek New Testament] is impressive indeed. – Michael J. Kruger, President and the Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, Canon Fodder, December 24, 2014
And over 80% of the manuscript evidence comes from what is known as the Byzantine text type. While some modern versions do depend on heretical or fragmented manuscripts, which are by far the minority of Bible manuscripts, most modern translations produce footnotes to all of the ancient manuscripts including the Byzantine text, which again is the majority of ancient manuscripts and contains all verses. So no salvational doctrine is truly altered or removed from the Bible itself:
No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. Constant references to mistakes and divergencies of reading, such as the plan of this book necessitates, might give rise to the doubt whether the subsance, as well as the language, of the Bible is not open to question. It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance, the text of the Bible is certain. Especially is this the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations of it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world. Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Vigil, yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds, and even thousands. – Sir Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts
Some Muslims will perceive the footnoted, or removal of few verses in some modern translations, as being corruptions, such as the end of the Gospel of Mark 16: 1–14. This verse is missing from a handful of ancient manuscripts such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. However, there are several problems with these manuscripts. For one, while they are claimed to be the oldest, they are barely a century older than the official text of the ancient Church, the already mentioned Byzantinte text. Second, the Codex Sinaiticus is a possible 19th century forgery, which we will come back to shortly. Third, since these manuscripts are in the minority it is possible that they were the text of heretics or they were known for their scribal errors and thus not mass produced. Again, the Quran has suffered the same fate. It is known that Uthman ibn Affan, one of Muhammad’s companions, had copies of the Quran that were in error, or not to his liking, mass burned.
So Islam relies on the authority of one of Muhammad’s companions and his choice of Quran manuscripts. In essense he is the Pope of Islam, because his decision must be seen as infallible in Islam to ensure that he preserved the correct text. One human chose their text for them, whereas in Christianity, we have the Church which did not use or endorse the Vaticanus or the Sinaiticus. Neither were the majority. And since the Church is called the pillar and foundation of truth in the Bible (1 Timothy 3:15), Christians can be sure the Church preserved the accurate New Testament text. Bibles that do not at the very least footnote the Byzantine text should not be used by Christians. But it is not the fault of the Church, or the Church endorsed text, if they chose not to. This does not prove Bible corruption, but only ignorance on those who use such texts.
The next issue is the fact that the Codex Sinaiticus was found in a trash can of papers used for fire kindling at St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai showing that this text was not valued at all. In fact, some history says that this text had already been partially burned which would explain some of the missing verses as well. Furthermore, the man who discovered this codex, Constantin von Tischendorf, a well educated Bible Scholar, did not question the missing verses himself and insisted that they were not an issue. For example, on the omission of the ending of Mark 16, Von Tishenndorf stated that this did not matter since Mark was not considered the oldest of the Gospel accounts. Therefore, Mark knowing that the ending was testified to in Matthew, most likely did not see any reason to include it. So if this text was a valued witness to ancient manuscripts the omission of specific verses still would not pose a problem.
In addition to this, the verses Muslims question that are missing from the Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus can usually be found in the writings of the Church fathers, which pre-date both texts, showing that they are the true reading of Scripture and uphold the authority of the Byzantine text. An interesting side note in all this is the claim that the Codex Sinaiticus is a 19th century forgery as already mentioned and thus is not as ancient as thought. For more on this please see, “The Forging of Codex Sinaiticus” by Dr. Bill Cooper
Textual Criticism is another issue. The bible text has been through rigorous examination, comparison of fragments and manuscripts along with thorough examination of the early Christian writings. The Quran on the other hand has been barred from such scrutiny until recently and has been found itself to have originated from the plagiarism of multiple text including Gnostic gospels, the Talmud and pagan sources. For more info please see The Original Source of the Quran. That being said, once the Quran goes through the same critical examinations as the bible has, it will and has been found to not be a text of integrity. Whereas the bible stands up against textual criticism and no Christian doctrine is altered from this criticism:
When all the documents have been sifted and rigidly examined, we find that essentially they agree … The textual critic leads us back from our present printed Scripture through long and sometimes round-about paths to the New Testament writers themselves. He gives us substantially what they wrote, rigorously tested and objectively approved … No book has ever had its text so vigorously examined as the New Testament has. No fabrication could have survived such thorough testing without falling apart … We can trust our Source-Book, it has been weighed in the balance and not found wanting.- H. K. MOULTON, Papyrus, Parchment and Print; the story of how the New Testament text has reached us, London 1967, pp. 9-10, 70-71.
The last issue we wish to discuss is the Quran itself. Muslims claim that the Quran is the book of God (Allah) while the Christian Scriptures have been corrupted. However, which part of Scripture has been corrupted is not told to us by the Quran. Instead, if the Quran actually makes this claim, which I have not found that it does, it does not supply a guide as to which Scriptures are authentic and which are not. This is a huge issue if Muslims want us to believe their god is superior to ours or if they want us to believe that we share the same God. If the Bible text had been corrupted during or before Muhammad’s time, certainly this would be a very important issue and God would want to direct us to which Scriptures were not authentically His revelation. But instead the Quran is silent on this leaving Muslims to pick and choose what they view as authentic and not. They are left to basically pontificate which verses they find acceptable and which ones they do not. And this varies among Muslims. It is a fact that the Quran never once states that the Christian Scriptures are corrupt, but rather that certain former “messengers” misinterpreted the Scriptures. Who these messengers are we do not know for the Quran leaves this important information out as well. The Quran instead upholds the authenticity of the Bible text in the following quotes taken from the Quran:
And the word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can alter His words, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing. – 6:115
For them are good tidings in the worldly life and in the Hereafter. No change is there in the words of Allah . That is what is the great attainment. – 10:64
And certainly were messengers denied before you, but they were patient over [the effects of] denial, and they were harmed until Our victory came to them. And none can alter the words of Allah . And there has certainly come to you some information about the [previous] messengers. – 6:34
We know that the Quran can be mistranslated by the fact that there are various translation of the text, and Muslims do not care for some translations versus others. So the Quran is not saying that it can not be mistranslated. We also know the Quran is not immune to scribal errors just as the Bible is not. Yet the Quran is stating that God’s words can not be altered. We must take this to mean that the revelation of God will not be abused and altered so much by man as to corrupt the end goal of God’s revelation. If this is the case, then we must apply this to any revelation of God, which for Muslims would include the Old and New Testaments. These verses also show that Muhammad did not have in mind any form of corruption of the Scriptures by the Christians, or the Jews for that matter, during his lifetime. While the Jews did later complete an alteration of their text, around the 10th century A.D., the Greek Old Testament and New Testament still stand as they did during Muhammad’s life and he was obviously unaware of any corruption of these text.
The Quran further confirms the Law of Moses as well as the Gospels, the Psalms and the Prophets…In other words, almost the entire Bible is confirmed by the Quran:
He has sent down upon you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming what was before it. And He revealed the Torah and the Gospel. – 3:3
And We did certainly give Moses the Torah and followed up after him with messengers. And We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the Pure Spirit. But is it [not] that every time a messenger came to you, [O Children of Israel], with what your souls did not desire, you were arrogant? And a party [of messengers] you denied and another party you killed.. – 2:87
Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], as We revealed to Noah and the prophets after him. And we revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the Descendants, Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the book [of Psalms]. – 4:163
And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. – 5:46
Finally this is the most revealing verse from the Quran proving that the Bible, at least not the text used by the Church during Muhammad’s time, has not been corrupted:
And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” – 29:46
Note that the Quran, does not say, the People of the Corrupt Scriptures, but instead confirms again that Muhammad thought the scriptures of his era were not corrupted.
In closing Christians and Muslims alike should be aware that Churches that are in line with Apostolic Succession typically do not endorse using any of the new modern translations of the Bible that are not based on the Byzantine text. Again the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. While many Evangelicals love the new modern versions, this is their heresy, not that of the Church. In the end Muslims are not proving any form of Bible corruption. They are simply fighting heresies, evangelicalism, textual criticism, etc, with their own heretical view of the Bible that comes from any community, including Islam, that is severed from the Church, from her history and her authority.