A Post and Pre Debate Note to Shabir Ally

Dear Shabir:

Last evening in the mosque in Erasmia you raised, I believe anyway for the first time in our encounters, your booklet of 100 alleged contradictions in the Bible.  I have had your little booklet for quite some time.  But I will be honest, I assumed it was an “early” work for you, and as such, I did not focus much on it, assuming that as you obtained your education at a higher level you would produce a much more nuanced and forceful argument.  But given that you cited it last evening, I can only assume you continue to feel this list has sound merit.

When I began my ministry thirty years ago I encountered, and then engaged, an atheist by the name of Dennis McKinsey.  McKinsey put out a little monthly publication titled “Biblical Errancy.”  Reading his little flyer gave me plenty of examples of how people can, by ignoring context, original language, and plain common sense, accuse any document, let alone a document of ancient origin, of error.  I do not know if any atheists out there put out something like “Qur’anic Errancy,” but the very same methodology could surely do so, though not to nearly the same extent, given the Qur’an is barely half the length of the New Testament, and only one fifth as long as the Tanakh, and hence only 14% as long as the entire Bible.

With all affection and respect for you, Shabir, your list is very, very unworthy of you.  It is barely up to the level of most atheist lists, and does not include, to be honest, the most serious questions I have wrestled with regarding the accuracy of the Biblical text.  No serious discussion of the contexts are provided, as you know.  Answers have been provided—consistent, scholarly, accurate answers—to your allegations since the days of the early church.  And I have published full refutations of a number of your allegations, long before you put them in print under your name.

Let me provide three examples from my book, Letters to a Mormon Elder, first published almost a quarter of a century ago!  The first refutes #55 in your list:

55.When Paul was on the road to Damascus he saw a light and heard a voice. Did those who were with

him hear the voice? (a) Yes (Acts9: 7)

(b) No (Acts22: 9)

Here is what I had written about this a few decades ago:

I am sure that you could multiply your examples, as I surely could. I have reams of lists of supposed contradictions in the Bible. But those you have provided to me will function well to help us see the various kinds of allegations that are made against the Bible. Let’s start with the first, and seemingly most popular of them all, Acts 9:7 and 22:9. In these two passages the story of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ is given, first by Luke, then in Paul’s own words as he stands before the mob in Jerusalem. In the King James Version of the Bible we read,

Acts 9:7 — And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

Acts 22:9 — And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of him who that spoke to me.

The alleged contradiction is, of course, easy to see. Acts 9:7 says the men heard the voice and Acts 22:9 says they did not hear the voice. Clearly the question is, did the men hear the voice or not? To answer that question, we must, obviously, deal with the text as written by Luke in its original languages. This is an excellent example of a situation where the original words must be allowed to be heard in the argument, for we could be charging Luke with a simple mistake that he did not make. These passages will also serve well, Elder Hahn, to demonstrate how “doing one’s homework” can save one from making errors in attacking the Bible. In providing the following information to you, I am not attempting simply to “bury” you under a mountain of citations and quotes; I am, however, attempting to show you how important in-depth Bible study is. A very precious few are those who have objected to my belief in the inerrancy of the Bible who have demonstrated their position on the basis of real, solid research.

We need to notice that some modern versions translate the passage differently. For example, the New International Version reads as follows:

9:7 — The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.

22:9 — My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

Note that in the NIV the contradiction no longer exists; in the first passage the men hear a sound; in the second they do not understand the voice of the one speaking to Saul. Critics would assert that the NIV has translated in accordance with interpretation and convenience rather thin according to language and usage. But is this so? Lets examine these passages and see.

First, before going into the text itself, we must address the issue of “what is a contradiction.” The law of contradiction, stated briefly, would be that you cannot have A and non-A simultaneously. You cannot have a chair in a room and outside the room at the same time. That would be a contradiction. But, is this what we have in this case in Acts?

The answer can only be no, we do not have a contradiction here. First, let’s transliterate the passages from the original language of Greek so that their differences can be seen:

9:7 – akouontes men tes phones; 22:9 – ten de phonen ouk ekousan tou lalountos moi

It would be good to list the differences between the passages:

1. In 9:7 akouo is found as a nominative plural participle; in 22:9 it is a plural aorist verb.

2. In 9:7 phone is a singular genitive noun; in 22:9 it is a singular accusative noun.

3. In 9:7 akouo precedes its object; in 22:9 it follows its object.

4. In 9:7 the phrase is not modified; in 22:9 it is modified by “of the one speaking to me.”

5. In 9:7 Luke is narrating an event in Greek; in 22:9 Paul is speaking to a crowd in Hebrew (or Aramaic).

Clearly the critic is placed in an impossible position of forcing the argument here, for the differences between the two passages are quite significant. Hence the argument must proceed on the grounds of contradictory meanings only, for the grammar of the two passages will not support a clear “A vs. non-A” proposition.

We then must answer the question, are the differences between these passages significant enough to warrant the NIV’s translation? Do we have a solid basis upon which to assert that what Paul meant was that the men heard a sound but did not understand what the voice was saying? I believe we do, and I am not alone on this. Following are some of the comments made by some eminent Greek scholars about these passages:

Thus in Acts 9:7, “hearing the voice,” the noun “voice” is in the partitive genitive case I i.e., hearing (something) off, whereas in 22:9, “they heard not the voice,” the construction is with the accusative. This removes the idea of any contradiction. The former indicates a hearing of the sound, the latter indicates the meaning or message of the voice (this they did not hear). “The former denotes the sensational perception, the latter (the accusative case) the thing perceived.” (Cremer). In John 5:25,28, the genitive case is used, indicating a “sensational perception” that the Lord’s voice is sounding; in 3:8, of hearing the wind, the accusative is used, stressing “the thing perceived.” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W.E. Vine, pages 204-205).

Instead of this being a flat contradiction of what Luke says in 9:7 it is natural to take it as being likewise (as with the “light” and “no one”) a distinction between the “sound” (originalserseofphoneasinJohfl3:8) and the separate words spoken. It so happens that akouo is used either with the accusative (extent of the hearing) or the genitive (the specifying). It is possible that such a distinction here coincides with the two senses of phone. They heard the sound (9:7), but did not under- stand the words (22:9). However, this distinction in case with akouo, phonenekousa phonen about Saul in Acts 9:4. asides in Acts 22:7 Paul uses ekousa phonen about himself, but ekousa phonen about himself in 26:14, interchangeably. (Word Pictures in the New Testament by Dr. A.T. Robertson, volume III, pages 117-118).

The fact that the maintenance of an old and well-known distinction between the acc. and the gen. with akouo saves the author of Acts 9 and 22 from a patent self-contradiction, should by itself be enough to make us recognize it for Luke, and for other writers until it is proved wrong. (A Grammar of New Testament Greek by James Hope Moulton, vol. I., page 66. Robertson quotes this approvingly in A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research on pages448-449).

The partitive gen. occurs in NT with verbs of perception, especially with a personal object. For akouo, the classical rule is that the person whose words are heard is in the gen. . . . but the thing (or person) about which one hears is in the accus., and akouo c. accus. may mean to understand. We have to ask whether the class. distinction between gen. and accus. has significance for exegesis in NT. There may he something in the difference between the gen. in Acts 9 (the men with Paul heard the sound and the accus. in Acts 22 (they did not understand the voice). (A Grammar of New Testament Greek vol. III by Nigel Turner, pg. 233).

Basically, these writers are referring to the possibility that the difference in the case of the term akouo would in this instance (9:7, 22:9) point to a difference in meaning. However, as Dr. A. T. Robertson said above, this distinction cannot be written in stone. Why then do we feel that we are correct in asserting this difference as the “answer” to this supposed contradiction. Context, Elder Hahn, context. Though none of the above authors went deeply into the subject, an examination of the context of the passages in question here makes it very clear that Luke meant a difference to be understood in what he was writing.

The key element in this investigation is pointed out by R.J. Knowling (Expositor’s Greek Testament vol. 2 ed. by W. Robertson Nicoll, pages 231-233) and by John Aberly (New Testament Commentary edited by H. C. Alleman, page 414). In Acts 22:9 Paul is speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem. According to Acts 21:40 Paul addressed the crowd in Hebrew (NIV says Aramaic — exactly which dialect it was is not very relevant). He mentions to his Hebrew listeners that when Jesus called him, he called him in their own language — Hebrew. How do we know this In both Acts 9:4 and in Acts 22:7 Saul is not spelled in its normal form, but is spelled in its Hebrew (or Aramaic) form Saoul. What does this tell us? It tells us that the “voice” spoke in Hebrew. Therefore, Acts 22:9 would be referring to the fact that the men who accompanied Paul did not understand what was said for they could not understand Hebrew! The text supports this very strongly, for Paul modifies his saying “they did not hear (understand) the voice” by adding the vital phrase, “of the one speaking to me (tou lalountos moi).” The emphasis is on the speaking of the voice, which would indicate comprehension and understanding. Now, given the above scholars’ quotations, and the context of the passages, can anyone seriously deny that there is a perfectly plausible explanation for this supposed contradiction? I think not.

Finally, it must be stated that part and parcel of dealing with almost any ancient or even modern writing is the basic idea that the author gets the benefit of the doubt. It is highly unlikely that a writer will contradict himself within short spans of time or space. Luke was a careful historian, and it is sheer speculation that he would be so forgetful as to forget what he wrote in Acts 9 by the time he wrote Acts 22. Some critics of the Bible seem to forget the old axiom “innocent until proven guilty.” The person who will not allow for the harmonization of the text (as we did above) is in effect claiming omniscience of all the facts surrounding an event that took place nearly two millennia ago. Most careful scholars do not make such claims. The above presented explanation is perfectly reasonable, it coincides with the known facts, and does not engage in unwarranted “special pleading.” If you wish to continue to claim that Acts 9:7 contradicts Acts 22:9, Elder Hahn, there is little I or anyone else can do about that. But realize that (1) your position cannot be proven; (2) you are operating on unproven assumptions (Luke was not intelligent enough to notice a contradiction in his own writing); and (3) there is a perfectly logical explanation, based on the original languages and contexts.

I think you will have to agree, Shabir, that there really is no reason for you to continue to assert this alleged error in light of this material, so I would invite you to withdraw it from your presentation.

The next is in response to alleged error #52:

 52.Where was Jesus at the sixth hour on the day of the crucifixion?

(a) On the cross (Mark 15:23)

(b) In Pilate’s court (John 19:14)

 Let’s look next at another issue that will again illustrate the accuracy of the Bible over against the charges made against it — that being your question concerning the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and death as given to us by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, seemingly in opposition to John. Mark 15:25 says, “And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.” Then, in Mark 15:33-34, we read,

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, la’ma sabach’ thani?” which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

This same information is given by Matthew 27:45 and Luke 23:44. All three of the “Synoptic” gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) agree that Jesus was (1) crucified at the “third hour” and (2) that darkness was over the land from the sixth to the ninth hour, at which time the Lord Jesus gave up His spirit.

But, as you pointed out, John says in John 19:14, “And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour; and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!” Here Jesus is still before Pilate in the “sixth hour” while the Synoptic gospels are unanimous in saying that Jesus was on the cross at the sixth hour, at which time darkness came over the land. Is this not a clear error?

During the days of Christ there were two different systems of keeping time. The Jewish system began at sunrise and went to sunset. For them, the day would begin about 6 A.M., and the “sixth hour” would be high noon, the ninth hour about 3 P.M. The Romans, however, did not reckon time in this way. Rather, they followed a system more like our own, where the times started at midnight and at noon. For them the “sixth hour” would be 6 A.M. in the morning or 6 P.M. in the evening, depending on whether you are speaking of daytime or nighttime.

It seems very clear that the Synoptic gospels are using Jewish time in their recording of the events of the crucifixion. Therefore, they record that Jesus was crucified at the “third hour” which would be 9 in the morning. Darkness was over the land from the sixth to the ninth hours, corresponding to noon till 3 P.M., at which time the Lord Jesus gave up His spirit.

John, on the other hand, is not using the Jewish reckoning of time. He is not writing to Jews, and, in fact, most probably wrote this Gospel after Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, and therefore would have no reason to use that system of time-keeping. Tradition states that John lived in Ephesus, which would have used the Roman system of time-keeping. When this difference is taken into consideration, John is “right on time” with his figures. He says that Jesus was before Pilate during the “sixth hour,” which, in Roman thinking, would be around 6 A.M. This is perfectly in line with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for they say He was crucified three hours later, at 9 A.M. So, we see again, that there is no error here — the only error is made by those who fail to allow the writers the freedom of expressing themselves differently; here, John using a different time system than was used by the other writers.

Finally, I had even anticipated your objection #40:

 40.Did Jesus allow his disciples to keep a staff on their journey?

(a) Yes (Mark6: 8)

(b) No (Matthew 10:9; Luke 9:3)

Next you brought up the seeming discrepancy between Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3. The passages read,

And [Jesus] commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse. (Mark 6:8)

And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. (Luke 9:3)

Were they to take a staff (stave) or not It would be nearly impossible to resolve this situation, if these were the only two passages that mention Jesus’ words. But, though I am sure it was not intentional on your part, Elder Hahn, you neglected to mention the third passage that gives us Jesus’ instructions to the disciples, that being Matthew 10:10:

Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor a scrip [bag] for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.

Here we find an instance, Elder Hahn, where the provision of three witnesses to the same event shows us how, if we had but one or two, we would not have a full understanding of the real situation. If we had but Mark and Luke, it would be difficult to understand how this is not in error.

The Lord Jesus is sending his disciples out in ministry. Matthew gives the fullest account, and in doing so provides the obvious explanation as well. Jesus is instructing the disciples to go out with the barest of necessities, not looking to “provide” (Matthew 10:10) or to “acquire” (the translation given by the New American Standard Bible, and which best brings out the meaning of the original term) anything extra for the trip. When the Lord tells the disciples to not take “shoes” do we really think that He means that they are to go barefoot Of course not — rather, they are not to take an extra pair of shoes along. In the same way, if a disciple had a staff, he would not be prohibited from taking one along: but, if he did not, he was not to “acquire” one just for the journey — he was to go as he was.

So what we have in Luke and Mark is “part” of what we have in Matthew. Luke records the prohibition given against acquiring yet another staff, while Mark communicates the implicit permission to take along the staff that one already had. No actual contradiction is found to exist, but we are again impressed by the fact that we must allow for harmonization of the texts. What do I mean by this, Elder Hahn? What if we had only Luke and Mark, without Matthew’s additional information, and you attacked Luke and Mark, accusing either the authors of error, or someone later of making errors in copying (though, as I explained in my earlier letter, the original reading would be found no matter what happened during the period of copying) We can see how they are not contradicting each other, but are rather giving complimentary information. In fact, one is referring to a prohibition of acquiring a new staff while the other is referring to one already owned. They are not even talking, specifically, about the same thing. Yet, without Matthew’s information, if I suggested this resolution of the difficulty, would you not be tempted to say, “well, you are just pleading the case, and not really dealing with the text” Are there not many other passages in the Gospels, and throughout the Bible, where we encounter similar situations? Is it not the wiser course to admit we don’t know all of the backgrounds and contexts, and to give the authors the benefit of the doubt? It would certainly seem so to me.

Now what all of this illustrates, of course, is that it is very easy to make allegations of error, and to respond truthfully takes far more time and care than the mere making of allegations.  May I offer an example of why you should not only withdraw all three of the above from your list, but should completely reconsider this kind of “scatter-gun” style of accusation of error?

In the Qur’an, in Surahs 7:124, 12:41, 26:49, and 20:71, the Qur’an speaks of crucifixion anachronistically, that is, it puts crucifixion into a historical context that “scholars would tell us” (to use your way, way too often repeated phrase).  It would be easy for me to say, “The author of the Qur’an was wrong in thinking the Egyptians used crucifixion as a means of execution, showing the Qur’an is not from God.”  And how would you respond?  I would assume similarly to the way M S M Saifullah, Elias Karim & ʿAbdullah David did here:   But that would take quite some time, as the article is 44 pages long and nearly 16,000 words in length!  But sometimes truth takes time to express while error can be said with great speed.  My point is that even though you are defending a text that is only 40 to 70% as old, and 14% a large, as the one I am tasked to defend, you are still required at times to answer challenging and difficult questions.  The mere presence of accusation, my friend, is not evidence of error.

Many of your alleged allegations are based, truly, upon a very poor grasp of the biblical text and message as a whole.  I would so strongly encourage you to read sound, consistent Christian scholarship rather than the liberal and unbelieving materials you been immersed in in your scholarly training.  Materials that would be written from your own worldview, at least on the point of the supernatural, the presence of inspiration, etc.  Even if you pursued Bruce’s commentaries on John, or Hebrews, for example, you would find that your conclusions and his are light years apart.  Why is that?  I would be happy to provide you with a listing of in-depth, serious works by men like D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, John Murray, Michael Kruger, Darrell Bock and so many others.  Reliance upon the Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond Brown and other notorious liberals who have no concept of allowing Scripture to speak for itself, no concept of the very unity and consistency you asserted for the Qur’an last evening, remains, and will always be, your Achilles Heel.

By the way, Shabir, before I move on, I would like to challenge your dismissal of the variant I briefly pointed to in BNF 328a.  Have you read Powers’ fine work, Muhammad is not the Father of Any of Your Men?  It is not sufficient to claim the presence of the qura could assure textual accuracy.  Even Bukhari’s phraseology, showing a fear of a loss of a “large part” (kathir) of the Qur’an shows you are applying an anachronistic standard.

But I have little time before our debate this evening at the University of Pretoria, so I just wanted to comment on some of the alleged contradictions in your booklet.

Regarding your series of allegations regarding the genealogies of Jesus: have you read Michael Brown, D.A. Carson, and Darrell Bock on this issue?  I would highly recommend it.  Likewise you must work through Michael Brown’s lengthy discussion of the Jehoiakim curse (in response to #35 in your list).

So many of your list are fully discussed by Dr. Archer in his work on this topic that at the very least you need to take into consideration the responses provided therein.

But let’s consider #37, for example:

 37.How did Simon Peter find out that Jesus was the Christ?

(a) By a revelation from heaven (Matthew 16:17)

(b) His brother Andrew told him (John 1:41)

Why is it not proper to point out that while Peter was told by Andrew that Jesus was the Messiah, that it takes time for one to become convinced of this fact, and that, when we take Mark and Matthew together, the confession Peter makes in Caesarea Philippi is deeply personal and spiritual in origination, just as the Matthean text says?  Is there not a difference, Shabir, between a person being told “Muhammad is Allah’s prophet” and someone actually saying the Shahada in truth?

We have already had a brief discussion of Matthew’s telescoping of Mark regarding Jairus’ daughter, but I again find the unwillingness to allow the Synoptic authors to craft their material to their own purposes, depth, audience, etc., to be an unfair standard based in bias (in regards to #39).  But again, Shabir, I can retort rather easily, “The citation of Lot’s words to the people of Sodom found in Surahs 7, 26, 27 and 29 all differ from one another in substantive matters.  Surat 7 and 27 begin with interrogatives; Surah 29 has no interrogative, but begins with a declarative statement.  Surat 7 and 29 have something about the uniqueness of the sin, the other accounts do not.  Why?  If this is the speech of Allah, will it not be perfectly accurate and complete the first time?  Why have stylistic changes, alterations, and variations?  There is even more variation in the people’s response to Lot, with the response found in Surah 29 differing very much from that found in the other three.  So if the mere presence of variation indicates error, if you are consistent, you will have to assume the Qur’an is in a state of error as well.  But you do not.  Where are those even scales, my friend?

You are confusing “secretly” as in “in distinction from my public teaching” with the greater explanation of the parables Jesus provided to His disciples in #51—two completely different contexts.

Likewise in #53 you are not allowing for one thief to cease his mocking and see in Jesus a true prophet and savior—upon what basis do you preclude this?  Where does the text preclude it?

In #54 you confuse ascension into the presence of the Father (and the initiation of Christ’s High Priestly ministry) with His entrance into Paradise along with the man who was crucified with Him.  Two completely different contexts.

In #63 you confuse a proverbial statement about the general application of God’s law in the activities of men with the specific and special action of God in bringing about redemption for mankind.  More major category errors.

 65.What was the exact wording on the cross?

(a) “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37)

(b) “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26)

(c) “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)

(d) “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19)

The irony is, Shabir, if they all had the exact same words, that would be taken as evidence of collusion and hence would lead to your scholars rejecting them all as being artificial!  All are perfectly acceptable summaries of the statements, especially in light of the fact that it was written in more than one language.  Again, unfair standards.

 64.Is the Law of Moses useful?

(a) Yes. “All scripture is… profitable…” (2 Timothy 3:16)

(b) No. “ . . . A former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness… “(Hebrews


 More missing of context and proper categories.  The law of Moses contained many things, including the sacrificial system, the priesthood, etc., which were meant to point toward a greater fulfillment in Christ.  The specific context of Hebrews has to do with that which was done away with in Christ.

 68.Jesus saw a man sit at the tax collector’s office and called him to be his disciple. What was his name?

(a) Matthew (Matthew 9:9)

(b) Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27)

 Why are others in the days of Jesus allowed to have more than one name, but this is not allowed in the text of the New Testament?  Was Peter’s name Cephas, or Peter?  Can’t be both, evidently!  Saul or Paul!  Has to be one or the other!  But why? You have not provided a reason.

There are many, many others, but my time has run out and I must get ready for this evening.  I am sure I will bring some more up then, I imagine!  But I do hope you will consider these things and that again you will be encouraged to begin to develop an Islamic response that is actually consistent in its worldview and its sources.

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