Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#22)
07/04/2005 - James WhiteIt has been way too long since I continued this series, and I apologize for that. One of our regulars in channel, DeoVolente, (Alan Kurschner) asked me to remember to do so, and I said, "Hey, feel free." So, he did! And so, here's the twenty-second in the series in response to our Islamic apologists and their comments on the New Testament.
Islam and the Quran are no doubt becoming more popular in the United States particularly with the younger generation in the universities. What does this mean for the Christian who loves God's Word and believes in the trustworthiness and authority of the Scriptures? One of the most common attacks to undermine the Christian faith by Muslims is to assert that we posses an unreliable, corrupt Bible because there are thousands of manuscripts that do not agree perfectly with each other. Our consistent response has been simply to point out that it is precisely that reason that allows us to have the confidence to determine with reliable certainty the original biblical text via standard principles of textual criticism. We are in a privileged position---unlike the defender of the Quran---to be able to compare the numerous manuscripts available to us.
In previous articles in the series on Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission, Dr. White has demonstrated numerous logical, historical, and textual errors on the part of Muslim authors Saifullah & Azmy; and as a result, he has highlighted some of the essential textual principles in which gives us a window into understanding the method of determining the original text. The following discussion is an example of properly handling a textual variant with the purpose of equipping the Christian to defend the preservation and reliability of the Biblical Scriptures.
Saifullah & Azmy cite James Bentley's Secrets Of Mount Sinai: The Story of Codex Sinaiticus concerning Mark 1:1,
Again, the received text of Marks gospel begins with the words, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Codex Sinaiticus omits the Son of God.First, notice the loaded term "omits." Bentley would have us to believe that the phrase 'the Son of God' was purposely omitted by a scribe from the exemplar manuscript he was working with. However, because Bentley and our Muslim authors commit the common fallacy of looking backwards upon the textual tradition, rather than the correct direction from the point of origin, they judge an ancient text from the reference point of later texts; hence, their misguided belief in "omission" (a fallacy seen all-too-often with King James Only advocates in an attempt to assume that the Textus Receptus should be the reference point to judge the originality--or non-originality--of all Greek manuscripts, even ones that date 1400 years earlier!)
Second, it is true that Codex a (Sinaiticus) in Mark 1:1 does not contain the phrase "the Son of God." But how does this fact follow from the belief of Saifullah & Azmy that the scribes of this Codex theologically corrupted its transmission? If the scribes wanted to suppress the phrase "the Son of God," why stop at the very first verse? Why didn't they "omit" the same phrase two chapters later in Mark 3:11? Or for that matter in many other places in this manuscript? We are not told.
Third, the absence of this phrase in a can likely be accounted for by a scribal error in copying due to a similar ending in the nomina sacra (abbreviated names that relate to God). It is also important to note that other significant manuscripts contain this phrase such as B D W al. Further, if someone does accept the shorter reading of a, then it would likely be based on the common example of expansion of piety found in other manuscripts in Mark 1:1. This was the tendency of scribes in some instances to give more reverence to the titles of Jesus and make them fuller. So, it is possible that scribes copying Mark 1:1 in manuscripts other than a were motivated by piety and thus added the title the Son of God to Jesus Christ. At any rate, this is the advantage of having a multitude of manuscripts in which to compare; accordingly, we can have the confidence that Jesus Christ is testified to be the Son of God. And this belief is not solely dependent on Mark 1:1 in a, but testified with certainty in numerous other passages within this same manuscript, not to mention that this title the Son of God is richly witnessed in copious manuscripts other than a.
Some final thoughts. What makes it even possible for us to examine ancient texts with various readings such as the one above? One reason is that there wasn't the obstruction in the textual tradition as we see with the Quran and the Uthmanian Revision created by a militaristic central authority. The New Testament in its early textual history gives us a sufficient window into various readings that do no limit us to a particular standard text. The Christian invites more discovery of manuscripts---the more manuscript data the better! Ironically, it is the Muslim apologist that fears any future discoveries of their texts, lest they differ from their traditional readings in the Quran. I would think that the Muslim apologist would encourage any future discovery of ancient Quran texts that date back to the time of Muhammad so as to prove the Christian in error, and thus demonstrate the integrity of their standard Quran text. But I have not observed this desire on their part. If the Quran is truly inspired by Allah, then what do they have to fear?
As noted above, variant readings in the history of New Testament transmission is the primary objection to the integrity of the New Testament by Muslim apologists. We must turn it around and point out that early variant readings is an advantage to ascertain correct readings, and then continue to expose the limitation of their early textual tradition. Why was a Quran revision necessary? How do we know that Uthman judged correctly the variants that existed at his time? Did he judge at all? We cannot know because the textual tradition only goes back to his revised text. However, the Christian is privileged to have a rich material of textual tradition for comparison which provides us the ability to determine proper reliable conclusionsand thus, Christians can be confident in the integrity of their source of knowledge and faith: the Bible.