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Islam and Christianity on Scripture

R.C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb

Saleeb: The Muslim viewpoint on scripture is this: because man is prone to being led astray, God has sent prophets throughout history, and these prophets have brought revelations from God. According to Islamic belief, all revelations from God previous to the Qur’an have been either lost or tampered with and corrupted. Thus they are no longer authentic or reliable and therefore no longer authoritative.

The Qur’an, according to Muslims, is God’s final word to humanity and is the only authentic, authoritative, and reliable information from God because it is the only information that has not been tampered with and corrupted. However, the situation is not quite this simple. Although this Islamic view is what Muslim theologians and apologists claim, the Qur’an itself gives us a very different picture. In fact, the Qur’an has many complimentary things to say about the previous Scriptures. Sura (chapter) 5:44, for example, says,“It was We [Allah] who revealed the Law to Moses: therein was guidance and light.”1 It goes on to say, “And in their footsteps 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” (v. 46). My favorite verse in the whole Qur’an is Sura 5:68: “Say, O People of the Book! [Jews and Christians] Ye have no ground to stand upon unless you stand

fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come

to you from your Lord.”

In the Qur’an Allah tells Muhammad, “If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee” (Sura 10:94). Sura 29:46 says, “And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better.” Later in that verse we read, “But say [to the People of the Book], ‘We believe in the Revelation [the Qur’an] which has come down to us and in that which came down to you. Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).’”

Muhammad very much wanted to say to the Jews and Christians, “Listen, I am a monotheist. I am a prophet like Moses and Jesus. We are all alike. We worship the same God. My Qur’an is basically in confirmation of the previous Scriptures. We all agree on the essentials. The Qur’an is the final word from God, but the Law and the Gospel were also guidance and light and revelation and mercy from God to humanity.” However, since Muhammad himself was not very well educated, he did not have firsthand knowledge about the Christian and the Jewish Scriptures. Later in Islamic history, as Muslims came into contact with Jewish and Christian communities and began to read the Bible, they realized that [Allah] who revealed the Law to Moses: therein the Old and New Testaments contradict the Qur’an on very serious issues.

So Muslims had to come up with a theory to explain this situation. On the one hand, the Qur’an says that the previous Scriptures are the Word of God, and, according to the Qur’an, “No one can change the Word of God.” On the other hand, the Scriptures from the Christians and Jews do not agree with the teachings of the Qur’an. What is the solution? The doctrine of tahrif, the Arabic word for corruption, claims that the Jews and Christians have corrupted their Scriptures, and that is why their Bible no longer agrees with the teachings of the Qur’an. And some Muslims say, “Your own scholars say the same thing: that Moses didn’t write the Torah, that Jesus didn’t say these things. These were all fabricated and put in the

mouths of people like Christ and other folks.”

Sproul: You once mentioned to me that the Qur’an speaks of Jesus’ virgin birth, that Muhammad had talked about Christ’s miracles, and about His being a wonderful prophet. I asked you, “Where did Muhammad get that information?” Your response was that Muslims believe Muhammad was getting separate, independent, divine revelation about these facts of Jesus’ life.

But that is really not much evidence for the inspiration of Muhammad as a prophet—for him to be able to talk about information that was available long before he lived. Usually what authenticates a prophet is when he gives vivid descriptions of things that don’t happen until long after he has prophesied them. One of the most astonishing things about the Bible—this Bible that is supposedly so “corrupt”—is that, centuries before certain events take place, they are predicted, and then they are fulfilled with uncanny accuracy. Some people have calculated the odds against these prophecies being fulfilled fortuitously as being virtually astronomical. One of the strongest arguments for the authenticity of the Bible is the multitude of passages where detailed events that have not yet taken place are predicted—not vague, studied ambiguities about the future, but specific events—and then these predicted events come to pass. A striking example is Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews

(Matthew 24). Nobody in Jesus’ day thought this was even remotely possible, yet He gave a detailed prophecy that was indeed fulfilled.

This is why nineteenth-century critics coming out of the Enlightenment, who wanted to discredit the authority of Scripture, attacked predictive prophecy. Their working assumption was that anytime a passage in Scripture seemed to demonstrate the fulfillment of a prophecy, the only way to account for that from a naturalistic perspective was to assume that the text had been written after the fact.

At the turn of the twentieth century, higher critical scholars were somewhat boastful about the so-called assured results of higher criticism, including the conviction that the Gospel of John wasn’t written until the middle of the second century. However, I don’t know any respectable scholar who would argue that today. If you look at the list of so-called assured results at the turn of the twentieth century and compare them to current criticism, you see the egg all over the faces of the critical scholars who were trying to undermine the authority of the Scripture. They were fighting the contest of naturalism against supernaturalism.

What nineteenth-century liberal Christianity sought to achieve was the revision of Christianity, in fact, the capture of Christianity from its historic significance by repudiating all supernatural elements of the biblical narrative and then salvaging from that a core of ethics that could be preserved to keep the church going. Emil Brunner, the Swiss scholar, wrote a book in the early twentieth century called Der Mittler,2 in which he observed that the whole effort of nineteenth-century criticism, predominantly German scholarship, was a monument to unbelief. Because their guns were aimed constantly at the Scriptures, those nineteenth-century critics should not be classified as orthodox Christians.

Two of the main targets were the Old Testament and, of course, the Torah, which is so important not only to Christianity but also to Judaism and historically to the Muslim faith. Even though Muhammad didn’t know all of its contents, he endorsed it. Thus, three of the great religions had a high view of the Torah. Then came the Graf-Wellhausen theory of the nineteenth century that the Torah was corrupted—

that it was written, initially at least, by four different writers, or, according to redaction criticism, edited by four redactors. These critics theorized four sources, J, E, D, and P. The J stands for the Yahweh source, the one who refers to God in the Torah by the name Yahweh. The writer/redactor who refers to Godas Elohim is the E source. D is the Deuteronomic source, as in Deuteronomy. P is the priestly source. These critics claim that, long after the patriarchal period, when the priestly caste emerged and were trying to dignify their political authority by showing their divinely ordained position, they read back into the Torah certain activities that would have given divine sanction to their privileged positions. This view implies not only corruption of the text but also the corruption of the people involved in it. This theory then became even more refined, claiming that there were not only four editors, but four of each—J1, J2, J3, J4; E1, E2, and so forth—and thus sixteen redactors.

William Foxwell Albright, acknowledged as the dean of archeological experts in the twentieth century, became disgusted with where this kind of scholarship was headed. He wrote that these biblical critics ignore the most important criteria for historiography, which is the empirical data of history, and that their interpretation was being completely controlled by secular philosophies. He noted particularly the influence of nineteenth century Hegelian philosophy. The major buzzword in nineteenth-century philosophy was evolution; the assumption of evolutionary philosophy was that everything in this world—not just biology, but all institutions, economics, psychology—goes through a process of evolutionary development from the simple to the complex.

These philosophers looked around the rest of the world, outside of Judeo-Christianity, and saw that in antiquity virtually all religions were either animistic or polytheistic. They looked at the notable exception of Judaism, with its ancient Torah affirming monotheism on its first page, and thought, “Wait a minute. This doesn’t fit the pattern of evolutionary history. Judaism must be like every other religion, going through a gradual stage of development from animism to polytheism

to henotheism and finally to monotheism.” Some of the radical critics thought that monotheism came as late as the postexilic period. Others thought it might have come as early as the eighth-century prophets. However, none of these critics thought there was monotheism in the days of Moses, or in the Torah.

And yet the Torah unambiguously attests to monotheism, so what do you assume if you’re an evolutionary naturalist? Hegelian philosophy assumed that the monotheism could not have been in the original text; it had to have been written back into the text. Monotheism in the time of the Torah would break the mold of natural evolutionary development, which, they believed, applies to all religions as well as to biological organisms. Thus, the theory of biblical literature was determined by a naturalistic philosophy whose worldview was already completely antithetical to the biblical worldview.

Saleeb: And given those assumptions, as you pointed out earlier, Islam itself would be proved false because the Qur’an says that God gave Moses the Torah and monotheism. Muslims like to quote the arguments of critical scholars against the Bible, but they don’t understand that, if these arguments are carried to their logical conclusion, they also cast doubt on the Qur’an.

Sproul: The Jesus Seminar offers a contemporary example of criticism that attacks the Bible. It is what I would call the “journalistic phase of theology.” In other words, the more bizarre the theory is, the more attention it gets in the media. In theology no less than in politics there is a spectrum of beliefs. We talk

about the right and the left, conservatives and liberals, a radical right and a radical left. At the extreme ends of the continuum are the lunatic fringes. In my judgment the Jesus Seminar represents the lunatic fringe of the radical left of biblical criticism.

I don’t take them seriously. Their scholarship is pseudoscholarship. Not even the higher critics of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries—including Bultmann on his worst day—ever went as far as the Jesus Seminar does in its rejection

of biblical authenticity with its scissors-and-paste methodology of cutting out verses from the Scriptures. The early church heretic Marcion, in his madness, never dreamed of going to the extremes that the members of the Jesus Seminar do. They represent a tiny blip on the radar of historical scholarship, a blip of radical extremism; and they have not, in my judgment, demonstrated enough sober scholarship to warrant giving them much attention.

The Jesus Seminar members adopt naturalistic philosophical assumptions that rule out miracles. The agenda of the nineteenth-century liberals was to get rid of all the miracles, all the supernatural. One of their targets was the virgin birth. It went against normal biological propagation, so they tried to deny that it had occurred. They first reinterpreted the biblical notion of “virgin” (e.g., Isa. 7:14), reducing its meaning to “young woman.” In so doing they showed utter disregard for the immediate context of the birth narratives. Many of them tried to say, “We believe in Jesus; we just don’t believe in the virgin birth.”

The Jesus Seminar argues that Jesus was not even born in Bethlehem. Why are they so eager to claim this? There’s a simple reason. An Old Testament prophecy predicted that this tiny little village six miles south of Jerusalem would be the birthplace of the Messiah; if they agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, they would have a problem of vaticinia ex eventu,that is, trying to explain a predictive prophecy by saying it had to have been written after the fact. Their scholarship is simply dishonest.

I have had to wrestle with these attacks on the authority of Scripture for forty years. And yet I think there is less reason today than at any time in church history to be skeptical about the veracity and integrity of the biblical witness. No book has

been subjected to more rigorous scrutiny, more vicious attacks. Abraham Kuyper, a Christian who became prime minister of the Netherlands in 1900 and who founded the Free University of Amsterdam, said that nineteenth-century criticism degenerated into vandalism because it was an all-out attack with no holds barred, and sober scholarship was left in the wake. However, if we look clearly at the historical record and at the attempts to discredit it, no document from antiquity has been manifested more frequently to have authenticity than the Bible,

particularly the New Testament.

Saleeb: And because it is authentic and originally from God, it is therefore authoritative. It has not been surpassed by the Qur’an.

Taken from The Dark Side of Islam by R.C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb , copyright © 2003. Permission kindly granted to Faith and Reason Forum by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 60187. This material is not to be electronically transferred. Down-load for personal use