Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Some Brief Thoughts Regarding Liberal Scholarship, Redaction Criticism, and Islam (Part 2)
03/30/2012 - James WhiteMuch of the Muslim apologetic against Christianity today is based upon what took place in Agra, India in 1854. A man named Ramat Allah broke with preceding tradition and attacked the reliability of the Bible using the modern, destructive forms of redaction criticism prevalent particularly in European, and especially German, scholarship. Going against the views of popular Islamic writers of his day, such as Shah Wali Allah (1703-1762) and Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), both of whom saw the Qur'anic charges of corruption as primarily relating to interpretation, not the alteration of the actual written text, Ramat Allah popularized the use of liberal European criticism as the means of defeating the Christian missionaries operating in India. Undercut confidence in the text of the Bible and you mute Christian witness. Ramat Allah (his name is also spelled Ramatullah) wrote a vitally important work, Izhar ul-Haqq, a work that even Ahmed Deedat admitted influenced him greatly. Today every Christian seeking to present the gospel to Muslims deals with the result of these events from over 150 years ago (Zakir Naik would have next to nothing to say were it not for this source). The problem is, Ramat Allah was just as inconsistent in going down that road as his modern followers are. He borrowed from a world view that is essentially antithetical to his own to prop up the Qu'ran's denials of biblical teachings. If a Muslim were to consistently apply that methodology to his own scriptures, he would have to abandon belief in the inspiration of the Qur'an. Of course, few and far between are the Muslims who self-consciously seek this level of consistency when it comes to their refutations of Christianity. When you meet one, honor him and pray for him, to be sure.
I should note, in passing, that Izhar ul-Haqq is a horrific work, a scatter-gun example of "utterly ignoring context" and grasping at the most contradictory conclusions possible, all with the goal of producing confusion and distrust in the mind of the reader. Which explains Ahmed Deedat and Zakir Naik, to be sure (though I do not think it, or anything else, could possibly explain Nadir Ahmed). Izhar ul-Haqq is as gullible in its citations as any medieval Roman Catholic monk who grabbed any forged statement of the early church as having relevance to the rise of the Papacy, or transubstantiation. It is wild-eyed in its arguments and in its conclusions, but, it continues to find an audience amongst those who truly desire to disbelieve. Just as the horrific forgery, the Gospel of Barnabas, continues to find supporters for the same reason.
Throughout Shabir Ally's presentations over the past decade and a half or so he has assumed the position that for the gospels to be true, accurate, and reliable, they must be what I would call mp3-level recordings of the words of Jesus. Rather than seeing each gospel as the work of an individual seeking to craft an accurate presentation of the teachings and actions of Jesus for a particular group, Shabir, and those who would use his method of gospel criticism, reduce the gospels to the level of the reporter at the local news station standing outside city hall trying to get a quote from a politician. This involves a fundamental misapprehension of the genre of the gospels, their purpose, and their historical setting. Of course, I cannot completely fault Shabir for this: most Christians have likewise put very little thought into the matter, and, when they look at a synoptic parallel, are just as befuddle as anyone else, having never thought through where the gospels came from, how they were written, what their relationship might be to one another, the oral tradition, etc. But in any case, the reality is that the gospels do not pretend to be a dry, word-for-word recording that could be submitted as an unbiased news report. They have a purpose, an author, and audience, and a message. And when you get multiple authors with multiple purposes and styles writing to multiple audiences at different times, they will choose their material differently, and they will phrase things differently.
For example, let's say we had two Christians at the debate last week in Toronto. One is calling home to give a rundown on the debate as he drives home that evening, and the other is writing a blog article. Will their reports be identical? Will they quote me, or Shabir, exactly? We all know the answer to the question, but, would any of us seriously suggest deception on the part of either of them if they did not quote things exactly, or did not give an exhaustive summary of every single element of the debate? No, because we do not make such an irrational demand of phone calls or blog articles. So why do we demand that the gospels be placed into the category of "mere historical narrations of events" rather than what they really are, purposeful, organized, crafted works of literature designed to communicate a vital message to differing audiences at different times?
But even more compelling is the fact that Shabir Ally cannot practice the kind of destructive redaction criticism he does on the New Testament without the effort coming back to cause problems in his own back yard. I refer to the fact that though rare (given the nature of the work), the Qur'an likewise contains parallel passages, for Muhammad returned to the same stories more than once. Now, when we look at the synoptic gospels, we have different authors writing at different times, so it is easy to understand why there would be verbal differences, telescoping of events, etc. But---if the Qur'an is what Shabir Ally claims it is (and remember, Shabir has used the presentation about there being repeating numerical patterns in the Qur'an, similar to the "Bible Code" craze of a decade ago amongst Christians), and does not even contain the perspectives and understandings of Muhammad (since he was merely reciting what had been recited to him), then why would the narration of the same event differ in the Qur'an, since there is only one author, and there is no basis for appeal to human perspectives, contexts, or differing authors? The Muslim must assert that differences in language, even in a book he affirms has a single author, are not, in fact, critical to the accurate retelling of a particular story, and that, evidently, Allah himself likes to mix things up a bit for the sake of making the story memorable! Let's notice some of these parallels:
10. And We have given you [mankind] mastery over the earth and appointed for you therein a livelihood. Little thanks do you give!
11. And We created you, then fashioned you, then told the angels: "Prostrate yourselves before Adam!" and they fell prostrate, all save Iblis [Satan], who was not of those who prostrated.
12. He said: "What prevented you from prostrating when I bade you?" [Iblis] said: "I am better than him. You created me of fire while You created him of mud."
13. He said: "Then go down from it [the Garden]! It is not for you to show arrogance here, so leave! You are of the degraded."
14· He said: "Reprieve me until the day when they are resurrected!"
15. He said: "You shall be reprieved."
16. He said: "Now, because You have sent me astray, I shall lurk in ambush for them on Your straight path.
17. "Then I shall come upon them from before them and from behind them and from their right and from their left, and You shall not find most of them thankful [for Your mercies]."
18. He said: "leave this [Garden], degraded, vanquished. As for those of them who will follow you, I shall fill Hell with you all."
Compare Surah 38:71-83:
71. When your Lord said to the angels: "I am creating a human being from clay,
72. "So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, then fall down before him prostrate,"
73. The angels fell down prostrate, every one.
74· Except Satan; he was proud and became one of the disbelievers.
75. He said: "0 Satan! What prevents you from falling prostrate before that which I have created with both My hands? Are you too proud, or are you ofthe Exalted Ones?"
76. He said: "I am better than him. You created me of fire while him you created of clay."
77. He said: "Go out from here! You are a repudiate!
78. "And My curse is on you till the Day of Judgement."
79. He said: "My Lord! Reprieve me till the day when they are raised."
80. He said: "You are reprieved," 81. Until the day ofthe time appointed.
82. He said: "Then by Your might, I shall beguile them all,
83. "Save Your sincere servants among them."
Now, a fuller examination of this text is on the "to do" list, but will have to wait till I get to this portion in my book. In any case, it is very, very easy to see how these two renderings differ from each other in particulars, and yet tell the same story. But Shabir has insisted that if Matthew telescopes the story of the raising of Jairus' daughter in comparison to Mark's fuller recounting, this proves corruption and change and editing. Does he say the same thing about these two parallel texts in the Qur'an? I can guarantee you, the scholars he relies upon, if they had freedom to address the topic and did not fear reprisals or the loss of their jobs, would identify such variations as clear evidence of redaction and editing.
There are a number of other such parallels that, taken as a whole, provide us with numerous examples of who the reader of the Qur'an must extend to its current form a particular generosity in understanding why these differences exist. Yet, even though the Qur'an has significantly less ground for asking for such leniency (in light of the fact that it has but one author, and even then, orthodox Muslims claim that author is God, and that the Qur'an is, in fact, as eternal as Allah himself), Muslims are quick to extend it (if they are even aware of the issues) while they simply refuse to do so with reference to the New Testament. So once again, the double standard is exposed, rather clearly.
For those interested, here are some other Qur'anic texts you might wish to examine along these lines:
Yusuf Ali provides a note, ONLY IN THE PRINTED EDITION, to 2:58, which reads,
These verses, 58-59, may be compared with vii. 161-162. There are two verbal differences. here (ii. 58) we have "enter the town" and in vii. 161 we have "dwell in this town." Again in ii. 59 here we have "infringed (Our command)," and in vii. 162, we have "transgressed." The verbal differences make no difference to the sense. (p. 31).
So in conclusion, I think we once again saw how important starting presuppositions are when it comes to the discussion between Christians and Muslims and in particular relating to the modern Islamic penchant to attack the Gospels and the New Testament as the central aspect of the Islamic argument. I hope these brief thoughts have been helpful to those who have taken the time to read them.