Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#9)
12/31/2004 - James WhiteSaifullah and Azmy quote the less than conservative Interpreter's Bible in saying, "It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform." This is simply untrue, and most especially in the context in which it is offered, it is grossly misleading. First, there is a vast difference between saying "a textual variant exists in sentence X" and saying "the original form or meaning of sentence X is not known." Those serious about the subject well know the difference.
But beyond this, if all this source is saying is that when you spread a text out over fifteen hundred years of hand-written promulgation that you will find a copyist error in almost every sentence, that may well be true. However, a critical edition of either testament will contain numerous sentences in which there is no variation listed simply because a single copyist error in a 14th century manuscript, for example, is hardly relevant to the actual reading of the text. So if this is all the source is saying, why even bring it up? Isn't it fairly obvious that in all hand-written documents of antiquity minor copyist errors exist? Are S&A claiming the Qur'an is exempt from containing any copyist errors in any single manuscript in history? Surely not! So what is the relevance outside of shameful misrepresentation of the actual situation?
S&A's misuse of scholarly material and textual critical principles comes to full expression in their handling of Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph, or in Hebrew, a). To this we will turn next in our examination.
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#8)
12/29/2004 - James WhiteAt this point our authors return to the issue of isnad, and in the process demonstrate an accute ignorance not only of the irrelevance of the topic given the history of their own Scriptures, as we have noted, but likewise the fact that to follow their reasoning is to abandon the existence of any historical records of antiquity at all. Their arguments would, in essence, close the door to inquiry into any ancient history, let alone, by definition, refute any ancient Scripture that was not canonized by a central body through the power of the sword. Setting up your parameters so that only relatively modern Scriptures like the Qur'an can "pass the test" is hardly a meritorious argument for Islamic apologists.
Next our Muslim apologists go back to comparing apples and oranges. They complain that "Another serious blow to the textual integrity of the Bible comes as we notice almost a complete absence of control methods for its transmission." I.e., the control of the text by a central authority is the only way to ensure a valid text, or so they wish to argue. They raise the issue of ijaza, the means of passing on a text, or tradition, with controls and the like (not unlike the mechanisms designed by the Massoretes with reference to the Hebrew text), once again failing to recognize that their own system precludes them having any higher confidence in the form of their own Scriptural text than that provided by the religious body to which they entrust themselves, and the singular "version" it produced in the past. The New Testament scriptures were not promulgated by armies: they were promulgated by believers. They were copied not by scribes authorized by a central religious body, but by passionate believers who wanted others to be able to read and possess this portion of God's revelation in Christ. S&A may not like the mechanism God chose, but I do not accept their ipse dixit that God is bound to their system of transmission, either.
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#7)
12/28/2004 - James WhiteThe fundamental misunderstanding of Saifullah and Azmy regarding the science of textual criticism vitiated any serious challenge to be offered by the entirety of their article (we respond to it, however, due to the fact that most evangelicals are utterly unfamiliar with the most basic elements of the field as well, and hence might find the willy-nilly citation of obscure sources impressive or challenging). S&A note that the standard sources of modern English Bible translations are the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia for the Hebrew text and the Nestle-Aland Greek text (currently 27th ed., printed, with the 28th in the works) for the New Testament. They add that these texts are based on "editorial judgment." That is true: the main text is the result of the editorial judgment of the committees. But the texts provide the data at the bottom of the page when there is a serious textual variant. Once again we point out the difference between Uthmann's making the final decision on variant readings (decisions we cannot examine or test today) and the provision of a full spectrum of information so that all can examine the reasoning of the committee in its making its decisions regarding variants. Which would you rather have? "Trust us, we did it right the first time---or face our wrath"? or "Here's the data, here's how we decided"? We note the gratuitous and unsubstantiated statement that follows the mere recognition of textual variation in manuscripts, "There is no evidence to show that the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament texts used in the translation of these modern days Bibles are either 'original' or 'inspired' by God." S&A might want to consider that it is always best, when you are seeking to convince someone of your position, to present a cogent argument first, and then your conclusion, rather than stating your conclusions right up front without providing substantiation, and then trying to use your conclusions as part of your argument. Surely no serious-minded Christian who has read meaningfully in the field of discussion is going to find this kind of rhetoric compelling.
S&A continue, "We would also like to point out that the critical texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament are unique. No texts like these ever existed in the history of Christianity until the advent of modern textual criticism." This is quite true. But what is its relevance? We are not told. In point of fact, all this means is that modern generations have more reason to trust the providence of God in the transmission of the Scriptures today than ever before, and Muslim apologists have less reason to speak as they do! Knowledge of the ancient texts is only increasing not decreasing, and this is a good thing, not a bad thing, as they seem to wish people to think. Once again, the irony of those who have no means of getting past the Uthmanian revision to an original text pressing an argument like this is striking. And hence we simply have to dismiss as unproven and false the conclusion offered in this paragraph, "Therefore, even if the missionaries foolishly prefer the content over the canon, they still have to live with the fact that in either of these two cases, the 'scriptures' are demonstrably not the same today as in Muhammad's time." S&A clearly believe this: but they clearly do not understand what would be required of them to present such a conclusion at this point in their presentation.
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#6)
12/27/2004 - James WhiteWe continue our response to Saifullah and Azmy by noting their listing of various ecclesiastical traditions (Protestant, Roman Catholic, and then much smaller ones, such as Coptic, Armenian, etc.) and their statement "They all contain a different number of books. Again the scriptures are demonstrably not the same today as in Muhammad's time." Notice the massive (and unwarranted) leap between "the canon process wasn't decided by military force in the Christian tradition" (and hence there were disputed books, thankfully---can you imagine if everything written by anyone in any place was just automatically included in the canon? You'd have a mess like...that found in The Da Vinci Code!) and "the Christian Scriptures were not the same as in Muhammad's time." See, for S&A to make that point, they would have to demonstrate that, say, John 14-16, and its references to the Holy Spirit (which many Muslims try to connect to Muhammad instead), did not pre-exist Muhammad's time in the form in which we now possess them. They will seek to do this very thing later by applying utterly unreasonable standards to the field of textual criticism, but once again we are very much unimpressed with the rather obvious fact that the conclusions of S&A's "inquiry" were obviously determined right at the start, and the pretense of presenting factual evidence in support is just that: a pretense. The factual evidence utilized is not going to be used fairly, that's for certain.
Evidently I am not the first to recognize the problem with S&A's understanding of the history of Scripture, as they cite a Christian writer responding very much along the same lines. S&A simply refuse to get the point, as they insist that if there is any question about the canon of Scripture (once again simply pointing out the difference between canon-by-force and canon-by-spiritual leadership of God's people over time) then the content of the various books of the Bible that pre-existed Muhammad's time must be different as well. Any reader can see their error, of course. They insist upon an inspired canon, and once again the reader would find the discussion of the canon in Scripture Alone to be most helpful at this point.
Australia Makes Godless Judges Theologians
12/20/2004 - James WhiteI mentioned briefly a few days ago the decision by Australian Judge Michael Higgins condemning a seminar, newsletter, and website article posted by Catch the Fire ministries. You can read more about it here at the Free Republic website. Here is the actual document recording the initial decision. The judge will be releasing a lengthier decision in the future.
Reading this "decision" should send chills down the spine of any freedom loving individual, no matter what your nationality. It is plain beyond all measure that Higgins has grossly violated all semblance of judicial fairness or accuracy here. First, Higgins establishes his own theological decisions concerning truth, the meaning of the Qur'an, etc, as the "objective" view. Since when did judges become experts in Islamic law, history, and theology itself? This is why the state has no business or place intruding into this realm, and the result will always be the same: unregenerate men will act in an unregenerate fashion. Over and over again Higgins cites simple truths as if they are in fact untrue, and on that basis, dismisses the alleged protection the law gives for such "offensive actions" if they are undertaken "for any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose." By establishing his own personal views as the "objective" truth, Higgins dismisses the viewpoint he disagrees with as unreasonable: "I find that Pastor Scot's conduct was not engaged in reasonably and in good faith for any genuine religious purpose or any purpose that is in the public interest." Folks, belief in miracles is considered "unreasonable" by a large portion of the judiciary in Western culture today. Once the rule of law is dismissed (as it has been in this instance in Australia), we are the mercy of king-priests in black robes known as "judges." ...
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Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#5)
12/19/2004 - James WhiteRecognizing that this series might be illegal in Australia (and would certainly be so in any nation enslaved to Muslim law), we press forward in responding to our Muslim apologists who seek, through the use of what might charitably be identified as "scatter-gun" citations to sow as much doubt as possible concerning the nature of the canon of the Christian Bible. Recall how we have noted that this begs the question for the Muslim regarding their own Scriptures: the certainty one has regarding the canon of the Qur'ân is only as robust as the certainty one invests in the religio-military authority that defined it and maintained it. Our authors pull together a few examples from the period after the Reformation where ancient discussions (reflected in, for example, the Muratorian Fragment, or in the writings of Origen and Athanasius) resurfaced in the views of individuals or very small groups. But the fact remains, of course, that these instances do not represent a wide spectrum of opinion, and they did not have any lasting impact upon what had already been established over the course of the preceding centuries. ...
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Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#4)
12/16/2004 - James WhiteA brief installment as we continue our response to an Islamic apologetic attack upon the integrity of the canon and transmission of the text of the Bible. Our writers continue to sow seeds of doubt by making reference to canonical discussions at the time of the Reformation. It is very interesting to note how you can misuse a scholarly source by summarizing it inaccurately (something that was done to me just today by a "scholar" as well...more on that later). What you do is pile a few quick statements on top of each other, referenced, of course (unless you are Dave Hunt, anyway), all to create an illusion of overwhelming factual evidence. This is a common form of argumentation, one that is often successful simply because few of us have the time to look up all the references. So, our Islamic writers say, "Zwingli, at the Berne disputation of 1528, denied that Revelation was a book of the New Testament." So, I checked their source, which, thankfully, sits upon my shelf. The actual citation reads,
Likewise, Zwingli's denial of the Biblical character of the Book of Revelation was the result of contemporary controversies growing out of what to his eyes was an eruption of pagan superstitions at Einsiedeln. When he condemned the invocation of angels, he was shown the angel in the Apocalypse causing the prayers of the faithful to ascend to heaven with the smoke of incense (Rev. viii. 3-4). Subsequently at the Berne Disputation (1528), Zwingli declared that the book is not a Biblical book. Thus, as was the case also when Eusebius denigrated the Apocalypse because of the excesses of the early chiliasts who favoured this book, Zwingli allowed a purely ad hoc consideration to sway his judgement concerning the character of a book otherwise widely regarded throughout the West as canonical. (Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, p. 273).
One can see that Metzger is talking about the reasons why Zwingli questioned the book, and, in that context, it is an interesting example. But it hardly provides a meaningful basis to the hoped for conclusion that in reality the canon of the Bible was in a state of wild confusion and flux as late as the Reformation. Neither Luther's inability to see the harmonious nature of James or Hebrews as to their testimony to justification, nor Zwingli's dislike of the eruption of strange beliefs at Einsiedeln (similar to Luther's dislike of the Zwickau prophets) could possibly overthrow God's purpose in the establishment of the canon for the edification of the church. This is why I included a rather full discussion of the theological nature of the canon in Scripture Alone (chapter 5). I would recommend it to the reading of all interested in this particular subject.
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#3)
12/12/2004 - James WhiteContinuing our response to Saifullah & Azmy, we note the next statement:
- Even during the Reformation, the Canon of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was called into question.
If by this statement we are meant to understand that there was a dispute over the Apocryphal books at the time of the Reformation, just has there had been in the days of Augustine and Jerome 1,100 years earlier, that is a given. If it is simply meant to recognize that the Council of Trent reacted against the Reformation by going against the best scholarship of even the Roman communion by elevating the apocryphal books to a position they did not hold with the people of God to whom they had been committed, let alone in the views of those early Christians who had the most knowledge of the Old Testament and its canon, again, this is hardly new. It surely would not follow that Rome's action, however, impacts the existence, let alone the function, of the Bible as a whole (her aim was to add to, not take away from), and most especially of the New Testament. Yet, when we look at the rest of the paragraph, we read,
- No one had defined the limits of the Bible until the (Catholic) Council of Trent, 1546.
Such an assertion is false on its face, of course. One only need to read Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter, or consider Melito's inquiry into Palestine at the end of the second century, to know otherwise. If our authors are trying to say that Rome had not dogmatically (and hence, in the modern viewpoint infallibly) defined her canon, that is quite true. But once again, there is a vast difference between an infallible declaration on Rome's part and the clearly functioning, well known canon of the Scriptures that had been in place more than a millennia. The intention of the writers is clear in the concluding line of this paragraph:
- So, even 900 years after the advent of Islam, the Christians were bickering about which books should go into the canon and even more so the Protestants.
This kind of rhetoric may be impressive to those already following the Islamic line, but to anyone familiar with the issue of the canon of the Bible, it is a clear indication that the authors' prejudice is going to greatly influence their choice of data, their use of history and scholarship, and their final conclusions, all to the detriment of truth. Remember the opening comments that were offered: Islam doesn't have to worry about canon issues simply because the Qur'ân is a document created by a powerful, centralized religious structure, one that has a very long history of suppressing dissension and deciding difficult issues by force, not by usage over time. The very same considerations that remove the Qur'ân from such areas of dispute likewise keep us from being able to trace the text itself to its originator, and likewise force us to simply accept, de fide, the conclusions of that religious authority.
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#2)
12/09/2004 - James WhiteOur Muslim authors begin their article by asking, "Is the Bible in our hands the same as during the time of Prophet Muhammad?" Immediately one must ask a number of questions: the same as that possessed by whom and where? That is, while it is very clear from the voluminous patristic sources (the writings of the early Christians) that the entirety of the biblical text as we know it today was well known long before the rise of Islam, and functional in the theological writings of the period, it does not follow that every manuscript of the day will reflect that reality. That is, given all of the factors involved in the production of biblical manuscripts, the idea of having an entire codex containing the entirety of the biblical text, or even of the NT canon, would be impractical for the vast majority of situations. Handwritten documents are vastly different than our modern printed texts. The majority of texts we have from that early period provide us with smaller collections, such as the Pauline corpus, for example, or Jude and Peter's epistles. Not only would a smaller corpus be more easily produced, but one must also remember that discovery of historical documents rarely reveals to us what any person, group, or church possessed en toto. Another element to keep in mind is that when major codices were produced (such as Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, and later manuscripts) great cost was invested (the vellum alone would be quite costly, let alone the time to copy and produce it), and therefore devotional works would sometimes be included in the project (easier to do it all at once). Some have errantly assumed that the presence of such works implied, of necessity, the idea that the producers of the codex viewed the works as canonical.
Our authors continue, "Now if we apply the standards used for authenticating the integrity of the Qur'an and the hadith, such as the isnad (i.e., the chain of narration), to the Bible, the Christian missionary would be hard-pressed to present a decent isnad of his Bible going back to Muhammad leave alone Jesus." Such a claim "stacks the deck" so to speak by, seemingly, ignoring the vast majority of textual evidence (are the authors suggesting that an incomplete manuscript from the third century is not sufficient evidence of the texts contained therein?) as well as the witness of the patristic sources. There is a tremendous amount of data relating to the New Testament documents that long pre-dates the rise of Islam. Only by redefining what kind of historical information can be used to establish the text can the Muslim make such a claim.
From this point our authors transition into the first of their attacks upon the Christian Scriptures, that of the canon. We will respond in our next installment.
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission: A Rebuttal
12/08/2004 - James WhiteOur good brother Sam Shamoun over at answering-islam.org sent me a link to a new article, updated on 12/7/2004, at www.islamic-awareness.org, written by M S M Saifullah & Hesham Azmy. As with the mass of Islamic apologetic material being produced today, the article seeks to undermine the authority and accuracy of the Bible while assuming the perfection of the Qur'ân. The thesis is that the Bible we have today is not what existed at the time of Mohammed, hence, the foundation upon which the Christian stands in seeking to proclaim Christ to Muslims is not sound.
As the article is rather lengthy (16 pages printed), I will respond to it over time. Few people these days have the time to sit down and read the main article, and then an equally (and probably longer) response. But posting shorter pieces may actually help communicate a proper response to a wider audience. Also, thanks to the new blog software, the entirety of the material can be easily obtained by displaying by topic (Islam). ...
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