Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rambo akimbo

“Rambo” has responded to my reply.

“Notice that I made a very general statement and was not commenting specifically upon the text of the New Testament writings on this instance.”

Notice that, in context, the debate is over the text of the Bible. So what is relevant is the type of textual variants you find in our Bible MSS.


Notice the problematic nature of his statement: Mr. Hays says I quote a “conservative” Muslim scholar on the textual criticism of the Quran. However, I don’t know of any “liberal Muslim” scholars who have said otherwise or something “devastating” regarding the textual integrity of the Quran. Certainly, there are differences of opinion among Muslim scholars over certain points of details, but all of them – and I really do mean ALL – acknowledge the textual integrity of the Quran and state that the Quran goes back to Muhammed (P) in an unbroken chain of transmission.

Terms and descriptions such as “conservative Muslim” and “liberal Muslim” are not current or widely used in this field of study – Quranic studies. Christian polemicists impose terms current in one particular field of scholarship upon an entirely different field, in which such terms and words are alien, meaningless, and view this different field of study from the prism of what they are normally accustomed to in Biblical studies. Prof. Azami is a mainstream Quranic scholar, one of the leading scholars in Quranic and Hadith studies of our times. Therefore, I did not quote some “fringe” view from Quranic studies. Similarly, when we move on to New Testament studies, I again referred to mainstream scholars of the New Testament and did not rely upon some fringe opinion here and there. All of the scholars that I named are authorities in their field of studies, many are practising Christians themselves, though not inerranists, and so it is not very impressive when some Christians dismiss scholarship with the lame excuse, “oh but they are liberals.”

Secondly, I mentioned specifically that John Brogan is an evangelical scholar. Perhaps I should also have added Prof. Metzger to the above list bearing in mind the statements in the latest edition of his introduction of the New Testament. E. P Sanders, not a scholar of textual criticism, is a practising Protestant Christian and, similarly, Parker, Koester, Tuckett, and many others whose writings I am still reading (such as Dunn and Stanton for instance) are also practising Christians.


Several problems with this response:

1.Even if “liberal” were an outsider’s term, an outsider can sometimes bring an objectivity and critical distance to a topic which an insider may lack.

2.Islam has its own version of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, with parallel debates:

3. Of course, in Muslim countries governed by Sharia, dissent is strictly forbidden. Any outspoken liberal or even moderate will soon find his head in one place, and his body in another.

4. On the text of the Koran, here are a couple of online resources:

5.The fact that someone may be a “practicing Christian” doesn’t stop him from being a liberal. John Spong is a “practicing Christian.” Robert Price is a “practicing Christian.” Donald Cupitt is a “practicing Christian.”

There are a number of mainline denominations in which nominal Christians continue to observe a liturgical tradition even though they reject Bible authority, traditional doctrine, and Christian ethics.

Sanders is a liberal. Dunn is a liberal. Koester is a liberal. Ehrman is a liberal. Frederiksen is a liberal.

Vermes was a Jew, not a Christian, whether “practicing” or otherwise.

No, we don’t dismiss them simply because they’re liberal. My point had reference to Rambo’s double standard.

Moving along:


Here are some links which get into the details:

Archaeological/historical evidence confirming the statements within the Quran

Scientific evidence suggesting the Quran is God’s word – a debate between Dr. Zakir Naik and Dr. William Campbell

Also this.

Evidence from prophecy.

Evidence of miracles

The literary evidence


The “literary evidence” is purely subjective, and inaccessible to Muslims who don’t know classical literary Arabic.

By this criterion, Shakespeare was divinely inspired—no, divinely revealed.

Regarding the archeological/historical evidence, if we go to that link it tries to resolve a contradiction between Esther and the Koran by denying the historicity and canonicity of Esther.

i) Even if that were a valid move, it affords no archeological confirmation of the Koran.

ii) It quotes liberal commentators who deny the historicity of Esther. This is simply a one-sided presentation that ignores conservative scholarship in defense of Esther (e.g. Archer, Baldwin, Harrison, Yamauchi).

Regarding its canonicity, Muhammad was a 7C figure, while, as one scholar notes:


It is incredible that Esther was still outside the canon at the end of the 3C, well after its canonicity had been attested by Josephus, by Aquila, by the baraita on the order of the Prophets and Hagiographa, by the inclusion in the Mishna of a tractate on the obligation to read the book (the tractate (Megillah), and b y the citation of the book as authoritative Scripture in the other Tannaitic literature.

R. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans 1986), 290.


Regarding the evidence of miracles, when we go to this link, only three or four miracles are even cited from the Koran in connection with Muhammad: the splitting of the moon, his night journey, and his “ascension.”

This skimpy material is padded with extensive quotes from the Hadith.

i) The wording of all three “miracles” is very vague, which is why it has to be glossed by the Hadith.

But why should we rely on the Hadith to fill in the gaps?

If Rambo is going to reject the Bible unless it is directly revealed from start to finish, how can he lean on the Hadith, which is uninspired, much less divinely revealed?

It is self-defeating to oppose his “revealed” Koran to the Bible when the Hadith has to supplement the Koran.

If Rambo can’t get everything he needs straight from the Koran itself, then his appeal to the revealed word of Allah, as over against the Bible, is futile.

ii) Assuming that these were miracles, where in the text does it say that Muhammad performed them?

iii) And where does it say that these were given to attest his prophetic claims?

iv) Regarding the night journey, it is unclear from the Koranic text if this is an actual case of teleportation, or a vision.

v) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it’s the former, since the temple in Jerusalem no longer existed in the 7C, I agree with Rambo that it would indeed be a miracle for Muhammad to visit a nonexistent temple.

So how, exactly, did this work? Did Allah miraculously restore the Temple for one night, then miraculously destroy it again after Muhammad had seen it?

If this passage is to be taken literally, then it’s clearly an historical anachronism.

vi) Likewise, was the alleged ascension a real event, or a vision? The Koranic text doesn’t say.

vii) There’s an even emptier statement in surah 3:86, devoid of any specifics.

Regarding the evidence of prophecies, when we go to this link, all we’re treated to are a few hortatory predictions in which Muhammad says he will defeat his enemies.

Of course, the winners always predict victory, and being the winners, what they say is true. That’s true of Muhammad. It’s equally true of Churchill, FDR, and Urban II, to name a few.

Pres. Bush predicted the defeat of the Taliban, followed by the defeat of Saddam Hussein. He was right. Is he a prophet?

This is scarcely comparable to Biblical prophecy, where highly unlikely outcomes are forecast hundreds of years in advance of the fact.

Moving along:

“According to Hays, my statement is ‘muddle’, but according to his Evangelical and conservative friend, Mr. Chris…”

This is a diversionary tactic. My debate is not with Chris, but with Rambo.

If you want a representative spokesman for the conservative Evangelical position, start with Warfield, Works, vol. I. Or read Carl Henry’s six-volume magnum opus: God, Revelation, & Authority. Or read the various installments issued by the International Council for Biblical Inerrancy, or “Inerrancy,” edited by Norman Geisler, or “God’s Inerrant Word,” edited by J. W. Montgomery.

“Mr. Hays says that all of scripture (=the Bible, although we are not told which particular collection of books) is inspired.”

Answer: the Protestant canon of Scripture.

“Fine, but what reason is there to suppose that the New Testament writings are inspired, especially in light of the fact that the earliest Christians did not generally view the New Testament writings – whatever writings they were aware of – as ‘Scripture’?”

Actually, they did view the NT writings as Scripture. That’s why the NT scriptures were copied and collated, why they were woven into the liturgy and lectionary, why they were cited as prooftexts, and so on.

“As Shabir Ally rightly corrected James White in the debate, 2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1:19-21 only refer to the inspiration of the Jewish Bible – the scope of which we don’t know.”

i) We do know the scope of the Jewish canon. Read Beckwith.

ii) What we have in 2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Pet 1:19-21 are categorical statements, of which the NT would be a special case. They lay down the criteria. Inspiration is the criterion of Scripture.

“As for John 14, I don’t see where the author claims to be writing under “inspiration.” Perhaps Mr. Hays can offer the precise passage so we may attempt to study it.”

Jn 14 & 16 promise the coming of the Holy Spirit to inspire the Apostles after Jesus returns to heaven.

“And what so-called ‘authoritarian’ claims of Paul suggest that he believed he was writing ‘Scripture’ or an ‘inerrant inspired’ letter?”

Read Warfield.

“More importantly, just because a New Testament writer claims to be inspired, it does not follow that he is really inspired.”

i) Likewise, just because Muhammad claims to be a prophet, it does not follow that he really is a prophet.

ii) In dialoguing with a Muslim, a Christian is under no burden to prove the inspiration of the Bible. For Muhammad himself bore witness to the revelatory character of the Old and New Testament scriptures.

“Mr Hays does not explain where the New Testament allegedly takes the Jewish Bible as “its model of inspiration and revelation.” He is merely assuming what he needs to demonstrate.”

i) Once again, when in dialogue with a Muslim, the onus is not on the Christian to prove the NT, but on the Muslim to disprove the Bible without disproving Muhammad at the very same time.

ii) Rambo also needs to understand how the apostolate and its deputies function in analogy to the OT prophets.

One starting-point would be R. Laird Harris, Inspiration& Canonicity (A Press 1995).

“Moreover, did Matthew and Luke really deem Mark as inspired sacred and inerrant “Scripture” bearing in mind the way they used Mark during the composition of their own gospels?”

Their use of Mark is analogous to the Chronicler’s use of Samuel-Kings. What’s the problem?

“Why should we begin with the presupposition that such authors were ‘inspired’ and could make no errors whatsoever besides only the linguistic and grammatical ones? Surely, there is nothing to suppose that the authors of these writings were in anyway ‘special’ or ‘extraordinary.’ Thus, it is wrong to begin with the presupposition that these are “inspired” writings.”

i) One reason is that Muhammad himself made this a presupposition for Muslims.

ii) This is also moving into the general case for the inspiration of Scripture, which is a large topic with a large body of apologetic literature.

“My argument is as follows: the types of grammatical errors and confusions I alluded to above do exist within these texts – whether they are the result of later scribes, the original authors, or both, it remains that they do exist within the texts. Thus, why should we suppose that such texts are “inspired” given their very ordinary nature?”

Rambo is still attempting to play both sides of the fence. He needs to argue for the radical corruption of the NT text in order to harmonize the Bible with the Koran—especially given the favorable statements made by Muhammad early in his career.

But if he’s going to make that move, then he cannot impute error to the autographa, for if our copies are as corrupt as he needs to them to be to salvage Muhammad’s claim, then that face-saving expedient will, at the very same time, prevent him from imputing error to the autographa.

“Nothing here [surah 5:45-46] says that the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians are 100% accurate, inspired or textually authentic. The passages are referring to the original revelations only. Yes, we do indeed believe that what was revealed upon Jesus (P) and Moses (P) was the truth.”

The problem with this evasive maneuver is that it cuts Muhammad off at the knees. For unless the original revelation was extant at the time he spoke, there’s no evidence that Muhammad’s message is a confirmation of what went before. Yet that’s an essential feature of his claim. How does a Muslim disprove the claims of Scripture without disproving the claims of Muhammad? That’s the dilemma.

“Nothing here [5:65-66] says that what is in the hands of the Jews and Christians is 100% accurate, inspired or textually authentic. It is only said that the Jews and Christians did not abide by the revelations which were given to them, not that those revelations remained entirely intact. Moreover, despite the corruption, the Jewish and Christian writings still contain elements of truth within them as well.”

i) A nonsensical interpretation, for if the OT and NT were inaccurate, uninspired, or irremediably corrupt by that time, there would be nothing for the Jews and Christians to abide by.

ii) Also, Rambo offers no evidence of such widespread textual corruption.

“We don’t read above [10:94] that the scriptures in the hands of the Jews and Christians are fully accurate or authentic.”

This is special pleading. Among his audience are those who doubted Muhammad’s prophetic claims. He then invites them to consult the Jews and the Christians.

But if their copies of the Bible were inaccurate or inauthentic, then he’d hardly recommend the Jews and Christians to vouch for his message.

Rambo then tries to paraphrase surah 29:46 as follows:

“Yes, we do believe in the revelation that came down to the Jews and Christians through Moses (P) and Jesus (P), but we do not believe that the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians are entirely intact, inspired and authentic.”

He must resort to a paraphrase since the actual wording of 29:46 doesn’t draw the distinctions he’s interposing into the text.

This is the text, in the translation, as Rambo quotes it:

“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, ‘We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).’”

Notice, once again, how this makes nonsense of Rambo’s paraphrase.

For if the text of the Bible in Muhammad’s time was, indeed, uninspired or inauthentic or so corrupt that you couldn’t tell which from which, then obviously a Muslim would have good reason to dispute with the Jews and Christians.

In fact, that’s exactly what Rambo is doing right now. He is disregarding the express command of 29:46. He is disputing with us!

And that’s because his own presupposition is the polar opposite of 29:46.

Since he presumes that the text of Scripture is corrupt, he can’t say “our God is your God.”

Moving along:

“The Quran no where states that what the Jews and Christians have in their hands is 100% authentic or reliable. Instead, the Quran directly deals with the theological beliefs propounded by the Christians and dismisses them. For instance, the divine sonship of Jesus (P) is denied by the Quran; the Trinity is denied; Jesus (P) being God is denied; the crucifixion is denied and other examples can be offered where certain Christian beliefs are denied by the Quran. Logically, if a person proclaims and affirms such beliefs, then he is wrong according to the Quran. Likewise, if a writing proclaims or affirms such beliefs, then it, and its author of course, is also wrong according to the Quran.”

Several problems:

i) The Koran makes conflicting claims about the Jews and the Christians.

ii) If Jesus wasn’t crucified, then he didn’t rise from the dead. So, in order to square the Bible with the Koran, Rambo would have to claim that all references to the Crucifixion and Resurrection were interpolated into the text of the NT sometime thereafter.

What is his text-critical and church-historical evidence for such an immensely ambitious conspiracy theory?

iii) Why couldn’t a Christian just as well allege that the original Koran taught the Crucifixion and Resurrection, deity of Christ, and Trinity, but it was later corrupted beyond all recognition?

iv) Why would the Koran oppose all these Christian dogmas unless they were already attested in the NT during the time of Muhammad?

Or is Rambo going to say that they just so happened to be attested in NT copies belonging to 7C Christians residing in the Hijaz, but were absent in all copies elsewhere?

“I do not know what precise books the Christians of Hijaz had in this period. Based on some of their beliefs, which are not to be found in canonical Christian writings, it seems likely they followed another book, or books. Nothing much can be said in this regard with much certainty.”

Even if, for the sake of argument, they included some apocryphal books in their canon, this hardly means that they also excluded such core documents as the four gospels or the letters of Paul.

Indeed, that’s where they would get the crucifixion, resurrection, Trinity, &c. A Gnostic canon would never have a crucifixion or resurrection.



Nonetheless, I took a moment or two to think about what Mr Hays said. According to him, and quite rightfully so, the Quran disagrees with many of the key Christian doctrines, such as the crucifixion for instance. It is likely that the writings of the Christians of Hijaz, whatever they may have been, affirmed at least the crucifixion. Therefore, ACCORDING TO THE QURAN, their writings were wrong just as the people affirming such beliefs were also wrong. Thus, the Quran does not endorse the textual integrity of any particular writing within the hands of the Jews and Christians. As such, Mr Hays was quite wrong to assert that we need to presuppose the “inspiration” of the New Testament writings because the Quran supposedly affirms it. This assertion is baseless. The Quran deals with the beliefs propounded by the Christians, which they obviously derived from their books and traditions, and rejects many of them outright.


Of course, this oversimplifies the Koranic data. On the one hand, early surahs affirm the Bible. On the other hand, later surahs disaffirm certain central Christian dogmas.

The only consistent explanation is that Muhammad was simply confused.

“Coming to his question, the textual corruption and lack of reliability of the Christian writings is very clearly suggested within the Quran from the fact that many of the doctrines and claims made within these writings are head on dismissed and rejected by the Quran. Therefore, logically speaking, the author would not accept as authentic and reliable any person who affirms his rejected doctrines or any book which affirms his rejected doctrines. I think this is quite logical.”

It’s only logical if Muhammad was consistent. But that is not a logical inference from the totality of the Koranic witness.

What is more logical is that Muhammad made mistaken claims about the Bible based on his garbled, hearsay knowledge of the Bible.

He was originally under the misimpression that what he was preaching was a republication of what the Jews and Christians already believed.

When, however, he began to encounter resistance from the Jews and the Christians, he was forced to backpedal.

And yet he couldn’t admit outright error without losing face.

“I see no such “tension.” What is certainly confirmed in totality within the Quran are the original revelations revealed by God, such as the Torah, Injeel and Zaboor, in their original form. While the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians may very well contain elements of the truth within them, they are no where said to be entirely authentic, correct and fully reliable.”

This is simply an ad hoc compromise. It has no textual basis in the Koran itself.

Rather, Rambo must manufacture extratextual distinctions and read them back into the Koran in order to save the reputation of his prophet.

“Mr. Hays may not like Prof. Ehrman and may even think of him as a very embodiment of Satan on earth…”

No, I don’t regard Bart Ehrman as the devil incarnate. For one thing, such a dramatic promotion would go to his head.

Ehrman is a stoolpigeon for the Old Serpent. On the Devil’s pay scale they come a dime a dozen.

More to the point, his attempt to cast serious doubt on the text of the NT has come in for sustained criticism from many quarters.

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