Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Anonymous Books and Inspiration
10/24/2007 - James WhiteFriday evening an important difference between Muslims and Christians came to light in the debate in Seattle. It is a difference I highlighted in the Biola debate as well. Muslims and Christians have very different views of what inspiration means, and how it manifests itself in Scripture.
Of course, I am speaking only about Christians here in the historical sense, those who believe the same thing about Scripture that Jesus did. Yes, I know I just cut my audience down by like 90%. That's fine. It's a necessary limitation.
During the cross-examination Shabir Ally asked me about the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. He asked if we know who wrote it, and I said we do not. He took this as clear evidence that it cannot possibly be inspired, since it is anonymous. This is related to the Islamic insistence that we must know the character of a prophet, and that the character of that prophet is directly related to the authority of the word he proclaims.
One is immediately struck by the irony of the Qur'an's frequent references to the Torah and the Injil, and what those terms would have meant to Muhammad in his context. Muhammad did not argue as modern Muslims, nor did he have to: he was ignorant of the actual content of the Christian Scriptures, so he did not have to concern himself about the fact that the Christian canon has always contained books without attributed authors. That did not seem to stop Muhammad from saying he believed in these books. Only with the passing of time has the problem of the inherent contradiction between Muhammad's teachings and understandings come to light, becoming a problem for later generations of his followers.
The contrast in belief that is illustrated by this point from Friday's debate is this: the Christian focus when speaking of inspiration is on the nature of the written record; that is, as Paul expressed it, it is Scripture itself, not the instrument used in producing it, that is God-breathed. In the same way, Peter said that men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Peter places "men" in this text (2 Peter 1:21) at the very end, locating all the activities of God before the instrument, man. Scripture nowhere presents itself as some magical book that just floats down out of heaven. God has revealed Himself by means. Those means include man's language, man's experiences, man's interaction with God Himself. But it is not the mechanism that is "inspired," but the result. God is so powerful and so wise that He is able to use His creatures as the mechanism whereby His Word comes without compromising the nature of the final product. This is why the specific name of the writer is not the issue. God knows who He carries along by the Holy Spirit, and He will exert just as much effort to let His people know as He does in the actual work of inspiration itself. Plainly books that do not bear today, and did not bear in the days of Christ, a particular author are quoted by Jesus as "Scripture."
It is hard to see how the Muslim can consistently argue against this position, for the simple reason that there is no direct Qur'anic knowledge of the Old and New Testaments that would allow it to even acknowledge the situation, let alone address it. Only later generations of Islamic scholars have had to struggle with the issue and come to conclusions that are more or less consistent. In any case, if the Muslim wishes to argue that the name of the writer of a book of Scripture must be known, upon what basis is this to be argued? The Qur'an, in Islamic orthodoxy, claims only one passive channel through which it allegedly came: Muhammad. Muhammad may have believed all the biblical books had known and verified authors, we don't know. But in any case, for Islam to come along six hundred years after Christ and erect a new standard that must be followed that, in essence, is irrelevant to itself but only relevant to Christianity and Judaism is just a bit odd. And that is exactly what later generations of Islamic theologians have done, even though their own sacred text is immune to the standard they employ!
This likewise touches upon the Islamic insistence that prophets must be particularly holy, and why the biblical, historical accounts of the fact that prophets themselves were sinners like the rest of us are rejected by Islam (and the Qur'an).
So as I said to Shabir during the debate, we have very different views of inspiration, and many of Islam's objections are actually based upon transferring an anachronistic and unbiblical view back onto the texts that Muhammad simply did not know or understand.