Sunday, May 14, 2006

Talking out of turn

After the affable and adaptable Patrick Chan, of the world renown, did on post on Dr. White's recent debate with a Muslim apologist, another Muslim apologist (two, in fact), paid a visit to his combox.

Here, for what it's worth, is my own take on some of what "Rambo" had to say.

"However, I suppose that if a text is known to be textually uncertain,
whatever the percentage, then we would naturally have to study all of
its statements more carefully in order to ensure as best we can that
the text in question is "original" and not the product of adaptation
by a later scribe before we decide whether or not the claims are
historically plausible."

This is misleading. Transcriptional errors are not that randomized.
Rather, they follow a certain pattern in terms of the types of
inadvertent mistakes which a scribe is apt to make.

"Not a problem. According to Muslims, Muhammad was illiterate, he
could not read and write, and so he had scribes to whom he dictated
the surahs and they wrote them in his presence and then recited them
back to him for verification. Muhammad had over 30 or 40 scribes
(sorry I can't remember the exact figures right now), who were
basically his followers and companions. Thus Muslims believe that the
Quran is the verbatim word of God, revealed to Muhammad though the
angel Gibrael, which Muhammad then recited to the scribes for
transcription. If you are interested to pursue this topic in-depth, I
would suggest you take a look at the following book: M. M. Azami, The
History Of The Qur'anic Text From Revelation To Compilation: A
Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, 2003, UK Islamic

"Nonetheless, having said this, I will state that my confidence in the
general Quranic outline of Jesus and his mission was immensely raised
after I read a couple of books on the subject of the historical Jesus
by NON-MUSLIM scholars, books by scholars such as E. P. Sanders, Paula
Fredriksen, Geza Vermes, C. M. Tuckett and many other scholars."

"The following is a list of some of the leading scholars whose
writings I have read or am still reading: Bart D. Ehrman, David C.
Parker, Michael W. Holmes, William L. Petersen, Helmut Koester, Kim
Haines-Eitzen, James D. Miller, John J. Brogan, Eldon J. Epp, Harry Y.

Notice an emerging pattern. Rambo quotes conservative Muslim scholars
on Koranic textual criticism, but he generally quotes liberal
Christian or Jewish scholars on NT textual criticism and early church

"You also enquire how do we know that the stories about Jesus within
the Quran are "authoritative"? I suppose you are trying to ask how do
we establish if the stories about Jesus within the Quran are
HISTORICALLY ACCURATE. Well, that's a different matter altogether. For
me personally, I cannot "prove" that the virgin birth is an historical
event even though I accept it as a real actual event. This acceptance
is based on my faith and belief in the Quran as God's word. Basically,
we cannot "prove" scientifically, historically or archaeologically
that miracles such as the virgin birth of Jesus did take place. It
takes faith to accept these stories."

It takes a lot more faith for a Muslim the absence of certain lines of
evidence available to the Christian with respect to the Bible, viz.
archeological confirmation, the argument from prophecy, the argument
from miracles.

"Correct me if I am wrong, but the last time I checked Christians were
in quite a disagreement over the issue whether or not the New
Testament is divinely revealed."

Yes, I'm more than happy to correct him. He is failing, no doubt
deliberately, to distinguish between the self-witness of the NT and
whether liberals are prepared to believe the self-witness.

"According to most Christians, the plenary verbal view of inspiration
is not a valid model. Hardly any Christian would be willing to state
that the New Testament was "revealed". Most Christians adopt a model
of inspiration according to which the New Testament are documents
composed by human authors, not "revealed" documents, but that somehow
the Holy Spirit "guided" these authors."

This is muddled. To speak precisely, all of Scripture (=the Bible) is
inspired, but not all of Scripture is revealed. Revelation is a
subcategory of inspiration. Revelation would involve direct
information from God, bypassing ordinary sources of information. There
are many examples of revelation in Scripture. However, God, by
inspiration, and can also make use of ordinary sources of information.
Apart from the author of Revelation, no author of the New Testament
claims to be writing "inspired" documents.

i)What we have in the NT are certain programmatic passages (e.g.  Jn
14; 16; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:19-21), as well as certain authoritarian
claims (e.g. Paul) which are applicable to the NT generally.

ii) Let's also remember that the NT takes the OT as its model of
inspiration and revelation. The NT didn't come out of the blue. It is
building on a prior foundation, as an extension of that inspired

"Moreover, once we compare these writings, we note that the authors
occasionally make grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, sometimes
write in confused Greek as well. So, the documents do not appear to be
"special" on a prima facia level."

i) This trades on an equivocation of terms. Grammar and spelling have
no truth-value. They make no truth-claims. A misspelling or
grammatical error is neither true nor false. It is not a true or false
statement about something.

ii) Rambo is also assuming that there was a standardized form of
spelling in the Koine era.

iii) Grammar is a social convention, and it varies according to your
social class.

iv) Rambo has fallen into a trap. In order for him to assert that the
NT writers make these mistakes, he would have to admit that our extant
MSS give us access to the autographa. But if our MSS are as corrupt as
he would have it, then grammatical errors or misspellings in our
extant MSS are not directly traceable to the autographa.

"Why then should I start off with the presupposition that they are
"inspired" or "revealed" writings, especially when none of the authors
- apart from 1 - claimed to have been "inspired"? "

i) Because the Koran, in the Meccan surahs, commits Rambo to the
revelatory status of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures (e.g.
5:45-46,65-66; 10:94; 29:46).

ii) And if Rambo tries to weasel out of this dilemma by claiming that
the Meccan surahs are only applicable to Jews and Christians in the 7C
Hijaz, then he cannot turn around and appeal to the Medinan surahs to
prove that the corruption of the OT and NT extended beyond the
confines of the 7C Hijaz. So he has a choice between one dilemma and

iii) It also won't do for him to suppose that the Christians of the 7C
Hijaz had a different canon of the Bible, for even if that were so,
the discrepancies between the NT and the Koran involve such doctrines
as the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Are we to suppose that
the NT canon of Christians from the 7C Hijaz had no books recording or
alluding to the crucifixion or resurrection of Christ? Think about
that for a moment.

"To me you seem to be giving the impression as if I "made up" or
"invented" the claim or idea of New Testament textual corruption. On
what basis would I claim that the New Testament documents underwent
corruptions during the course of their transmission? Well, the same
basis which has convinced all textual critics - the Greek manuscripts
of the New Testament, particularly the earliest ones. We look at
manuscripts, compare them and so know how texts were adapted at

Do all textual critics say the earliest MSS are the most corrupt?
Rambo is obviously attempting to insinuate radical primitive error in
the course of transmission.

"No, I was arguing that, as you also stated, Muhammad, who lived
centuries and centuries after the composition of the New Testament and
Old Testament writings, who could not speak a word of Greek either,
and who was basically illiterate, could have been in no position to
conduct painstaking studies to know that the previous writings had
underwent corruption during the course of their transmission. Yet,
despite all these hurdles, his claim turns out to be rock solid…so,
this is just one indication for me personally that he was being
inspired by God. Of course, this isn't the only reason why I accept
him as a Prophet, but it does make me wonder how he could have gotten
so many facts right."

i) To my knowledge, Muhammad, in the Koran, never accuses the
Christians of corrupting the text of the NT. At must, he accuses the
(or some) Medinan Jews of corrupting the text of the OT.

ii) There is also an obvious tension between the view of the Bible in
the Meccan surahs and the view of the Bible in the Medinan surahs.

"As for the Jewish Bible, I would recommend the following reference by
one of the leading scholars on the Qumran scrolls: Eugene Ulrich, The
Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible (Studies in the Dead Sea
Scrolls and Related Literature), 1999, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

This is a little off the beaten track. Isn't Emanuel Tov the leading
OT textual critic?

"Metzger is without a doubt the "daddy" of textual criticism, second
to none, but, of course, some scholars would differ with some of his
views. Nonetheless, I would also recommend you the LATEST edition of
Metzger's book, particularly because it is co-authored with none other
than Prof. Bart Ehrman."

To call Ehrman a coauthor is an overstatement. This is the fourth
edition. Metzger is now a ninety-something, so he can't do it all
himself anymore. But this is a revision of his standard monograph. It
doesn't rewrite the whole thing. The main difference is that Ehrman
has interpolated some stuff into the third edition from his Orthodox
Corruption of Scripture.

"Again, Metzger agrees in the latest edition that there are many
variants in the New Testament mss tradition which are of immense
theological and historical significance, over which the entire meaning
of passages hinders, so that they cannot just be conveniently ignored.
Moreover, he has an interesting section on the "original text" as
well, together with information on the transmission of the New
Testament in the earliest period - when most of the corruptions

i) We need to distinguish the sections penned by Metzger from the
stuff by Ehrman.

ii) In addition, certain variants do concern Christological verses. In
that sense they are more substantive that misspellings. Due, however,
to the redundancy of NT teaching, a high Christology doesn't depend on
any disputed verse.

iii) Moreover, the examples of intentional "corruption" to further a
high Christology come from later MSS in the Alexandrian tradition. But
we can still make our case, with plenty to spare, from earlier MSS.

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