Thursday, October 26, 2006

Islamic Awareness article

The Islamic Awareness website is a high-quality Muslim apologetics site. It seems to be run by a group of intelligent people, with boundless time and energy (they may tell me otherwise). I have been rather reluctant therefore to start any sort of debate with the bright folk there, knowing that they will have far more time to reply to anything I write than I will have to reply. For anyone who wants to look at the quantity and quality of material produced just check here. One particular article that has been drawn to my attention is the one of the reliability of the NT text. A full response would require an article of equal or perhaps greater length. Time forbids a comprehensive reply, but I wish here briefly to show some of the weaknesses and imbalances in this article by Saifullah et al.

Straw Men
In the opening paragraph the authors state their purpose as being to counter four false arguments for the integrity of the NT text: the first, that the NT text is reliable because a large number of manuscripts survives; the second, that most of the NT text could be reconstructed by quotations from early church Fathers; the third, that the quantitative integrity of the NT text can accurately be described by statistics suggesting integrity of 95-99.9%; the fourth, that some manuscripts of the NT are extremely early.

Of course, we should observe that even if all these arguments were to fall that would not mean that there was no ground for believing the NT to be true. After all, Aquinas, Calvi, Luther, etc., did not use any of these relatively modern arguments. To my knowledge the second argument is not one that is commonly used, and the fourth (claims by C.P. Thiede and J. O’Callaghan that there are first-century NT manuscripts) is not one that is advanced by most Christians with knowledge in the area. The four counter-arguments are presented by Saifullah et al. as if they were replies to mainstream Christian scholars, and yet how many authors can they quote who would use all four arguments that they attribute to Christians?[1]

On the first argument, that the mere number of NT manuscripts suggests that the NT text has been well transmitted, the authors present us with a rather crude version of an argument that appears in some Christian apologetic literature. As they note, the argument goes back at least to F.F. Bruce, but it can hardly be suggested that Bruce thought that mere number was sufficient to indicate reliability.

The third argument, of statistics for textual integrity, is one that is used by Christians, and the authors rightly point out some of its weaknesses, though, as we will see, they suggest replacing it with a far more misleading set of statistics.

Statistics
Percentages of textual certainty are generally misleading, but then so are the percentages of uncertainty suggested by the authors. If you define certainty one way you can get an answer in the high nineties. On the other hand, if you prefer to talk of ‘variant free verses’ as in this article you get a lower percentage. The authors say,

The percentage agreement of the verses when all the four Gospels are considered is 54.5%. This is very close to the probability that a tail (or head) appears when a coin is tossed once (i.e., the probability that a tail or head appears when a coin is tossed is 50%!). It is still a mystery to us from where exactly the evangelicals pick-up [sic] such fantastic ‘agreements’ between the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.

However, they have purposely chosen the Gospels rather than Epistles and the unit of the verse rather than a more meaningful smaller unit in order to achieve their low statistic. If two adjacent verses contain fifty words and one of them has two words in a varying order then according to Saifullah et al. we have 50% uncertainty of the text, when in fact only 4% of the text is affected! Now I’m willing to admit that there are problems with the statistics of Christian apologists, but it seems to me that they are not wider from the mark than the statistics of this article. Moreover, we must remember here that not every variant makes the text uncertain; not every variant has a reasonable claim to be original. Here they are comparing seven different editions of the NT. Yet sometimes these editions have decided to print texts with minimal or no Greek support. For instance, in Matthew 1:16 von Soden printed a Greek text without the support of any Greek manuscripts. Thus their statistics for variation include variants that were in von Soden’s mind as well as real variants in Greek manuscripts. The variant in Matthew 1:16 arose because von Soden, despite linguistic evidence,[2] began with naturalistic assumptions that sought to explain Jesus’ birth without recourse to a miracle and accordingly chose to print what he thought must be the original reading. Ironically, in the article by Saifullah et al. they typically build on naturalistic assumptions within textual criticism. Likewise the belief that there are ‘primitive errors’ within the NT text (i.e. errors that precede all our manuscripts) is a supposition that is open to challenge rather than a bare fact.

A key thing to realize when making any useful statistics on this issue is that in general the more manuscripts you have the more known variations there will be in the entire collection of manuscripts. Therefore, Saifullah et al. are in the position that the more evidence the Christian finds, the more evidence for NT unreliability Saifullah et al. will believe that they have. If Christians had twice the number of manuscripts they presently have almost certainly there would be more variants than are presently known. Thus, almost in principle, Saifullah et al. are committed to the view that the more evidence there is, the less certain something is. This has the air of making a vice out of a virtue. This is where their argument unravels. Although simple numerical comparison between NT texts and Classical texts cannot assure us of the reliability of the former, NT texts are not only more numerous than Classical texts, they are also generally earlier, more widely cited, and more widely translated. Obviously this produces a wealth of material attesting the NT, but with that wealth comes evidence of variety. Those sceptical of Christianity, whether Muslims, secularists or any other group, can of course latch onto the variety and then make the lazy assumption that it is not possible to apply critical assessment to the variety nor to argue that much of the variation has no claim to be original.

However, it is not only lazy, but it is also ignorant to conclude that every variant in a Greek manuscript has a claim to be original. When one gets familiar with a Greek manuscript one will often find that it makes a recurrent type of error. Once you factor out the errors that are peculiar to that manuscript these variations no longer play a role in identifying the text of the NT. Unfortunately, within the discipline of NT textual criticism it has been common to present textual witnesses, such as manuscripts or translations, prior to undertaking an analysis of what factors within that witness are almost certainly secondary. This is something that I have had reason to criticize in relation to early translations on a number of occasions.[3] Essentially, these critical editions of the Greek NT serve up for us information in an undigested form. They often assume that variation in a translation means that there was variation in the Greek original from which that translation was made. They likewise do not adequately consider the mistakes of individual scribes within the manuscripts. As a consequence many modern editions serve us up with an apparatus full of variations that, to the unsuspecting eye, probably look like evidence that there is a high degree of uncertainty about the biblical text. To the extent that Saifullah and others are building on a false assumption that all variants bring the original into question, their work is inadequate.

The Age of Manuscripts
It takes some skill to present an argument that makes the fact that the NT exists in earlier manuscripts than the overwhelming majority of Classical texts into a weakness for the NT, but this is what happens in Table VI. A clear strong point of NT transmission (relative to all texts of its age) is argued to be a weakness.

The statement following Table VI that 1 and 2 Timothy and 3 John only have ‘very late manuscripts’ is rather misleading. Here comparison with Classical works is relevant. Scholars have a great deal of confidence in the integrity of the text of Classical works though the manuscripts are generally much later than those of NT works. If 1 and 2 Timothy and 3 John are only in ‘very late manuscripts’ then most Classical works are only in ‘very, very late manuscripts’. The argument presented by Saifullah et al. is that the witnesses are late, and yet their argument is also subject to attrition. One century or two centuries ago the earliest manuscripts were considerably later than the ones we now have. It would be better to say that the manuscripts are early, and are getting earlier all the time. Moreover, their table ignores the fact that sometimes manuscripts in languages other than Greek exist prior to Greek manuscripts. For instance, there is a Coptic manuscript in London, namely Crosby-Schøyen Codex Ms 193, which contains all of 1 Peter, which has been dated to the late second century or early third century by Roberts (whose datings the authors accept elsewhere in this article), though other scholars put this manuscript later in the third century (J. Goehring, The Crosby-Schøyen Codex Ms 193 [CSCO 521, Louvain, 1990]). Thus their entry for 1 Peter might be amended to show this earlier witness. Now the point is this: most scholars would accept that if 1 Peter was being translated into Coptic by this stage then so were the Gospels. Christian literature was very widespread early on and spread across language boundaries. It would not be possible for some conspiracy to exist to change all the Bible manuscripts at any one stage because they were too widespread. What is not observed by Saifullah and friends, and which would need to be worked out at greater length, is that the amount of variation amongst extant NT texts is probably too little for it to be plausible that there was widespread change of these texts early on.

Certainty and Diversity
The article rather lacks precision when dealing with the issue of certainty. The article seems to confuse lack of certainty amongst a range of scholars with lack of certainty of the issue. I doubt whether the authors would accept an argument of the structure: a range of scholars are uncertain about the status of Islam, therefore the status of Islam is uncertain. Yet their argument is very much of the structure that if a range of scholars are uncertain about the NT text therefore the NT text is itself uncertain. The article does not consider that ‘lack of certainty’ is a feature of many areas of scholarship. You could take many an issue from global warming to economic theory and find a range of opinions and therefore declare the issue uncertain. This, however, would not mean that another scholar could not rationally reach a much higher degree of certainty about the text than was available within the academy as a whole. They do not show that an individual scholar could not rationally be 99% or more sure of what the original text was.

Muslims and Christians live in an academic environment where the overwhelming number of scholars in the world’s most distinguished universities do not believe that God has given a record of his words to humans. This is an environment in which a believer in God, whether Christian or Muslim, should begin with an approach which does not uncritically accept that trends in academic scholarship necessarily represent the truth. There must be a rigorous attention to evidence and argument. The article in question could, I think, do more to distinguish between bare fact and the consensus opinion of scholars working in a largely secular academic environment.

In my publications cited, as well as in others found on my webpage, I have sought to document large numbers of textual variants within the Bible which are only believed to have existed due to uncritical presuppositions which have flourished in a more secular age. They do not really exist. These pseudo-variants are open to critique on scholarly and linguistic grounds, though I have found that a sceptical attitude towards secular attitudes to scripture has also been helpful in exposing some of these errors. I suspect, though I cannot prove, that if more scholars were to have a similar scepticism and apply it in their area of study that the text of the NT would appear in an ever better light.

There is obviously plenty to discuss with the Islamic Awareness folk and if the rumour is true that some of them are in Cambridge, England, then perhaps I will get a chance to meet them and chat as I'm usually down there a couple of times a year. I would not even deign to think that these few ramblings are a match in quality for their far more thoroughly researched article.

[1] Clearly the authors are trying to persuade us that this is how many Christians argue. The first argument is said to be used ‘invariably’. The second argument is introduced as ‘The Christian apologists’ second line of defence…’ Assuming the apostrophe to be correctly placed, the authors are asserting that this is generally the line that is taken by Christian apologists.
[2] I refute von Soden’s reconstruction of Matthew 1:16 in P.J. Williams, Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels (Texts and Studies 3:2; Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2004) pp. 240-44.
[3] For my criticism of this procedure in the textual apparatus see, P.J. Williams, ‘On the Representation of Sahidic within the Apparatus of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece’, Journal of Coptic Studies 8 (2006) 123-25; ‘Bread and the Peshitta in Matthew 16:11-12 and 12:4’, Novum Testamentum 48 (2001) 331-33; ‘Some Problems in Determining the Vorlage of Early Syriac Versions of the NT’, New Testament Studies 47 (2001) 537-43; ‘“According to all” in MT and the Peshitta’, Zeitschrift für Althebraistik 12 (1999) 107-109. I understand that my conclusions will be taken into consideration in future versions of the Nestle-Aland edition.

35 comments:

  1. Has anyone looked at their article on the Canon? It is even longer than the textual article cited by PJW!

    http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Canon/canons.html

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  2. I suppose we could take the bait and ask the folk at Islamic Awareness if they would could gain their respect for the NT if we simply declare one ms the inspired version by fiat and destroy all others. After all, it worked for the Quran.

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  3. According to the Qur'an: (1) the Bible (including the Gospels) is the Word of God; (2) the Bible was still the uncorrupted Word of God in Muhammad's time. Therefore, if a Muslim teaches that the Bible has been altered, he must believe that it was corrupted after the early seventh century. Otherwise, the Muslim is contradicting the Qur'an.

    Regarding claims (1) and (2) see Qur'an 2:40-41, 89, 91, 136; 3:3, 78, 84; 4:136; 5:43, 46-48, 68; 7:157; 10:37, 94; 46:12. http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/

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  4. I don't really have the energy to try to bait anyone into debate. It is hard to make comparisons between the transmission of the Qur'an and of the NT since the historical situations in which they were first transmitted were so different.

    It easily gets into point scoring. The truth is that there are fewer variants in the Book of Mormon than in the Qur'an or NT and there are more copies of yesterday's newspaper than there are mss of either. So we need to begin with a discussion of the criteria used for any sort of comparison.

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  5. Great! Thanks for answering that one. I read this article a long time ago. I knew that there was some angle to it. Thanks for pointing it out.

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  6. On my way back from Scotland earlier this month, the security guard at the airport who checked me out before I boarded the plane to the States opened my [english] Bible [he didn't go for the Greek], eventually found Matthew 18:11--or more precisely, did not (save in the footnotes which he did not care to consider). He proceeded to argue that this means Jesus went off to Persia for the lost tribes, etc., this was deleted in later texts, etc. He then wrote the alislam website for me and sent me on my way, clearly not interested in any sort of conversation on TC or related topics.

    Of course, if any Christian was ever so brazen, they'd be fired. I've been amazed at the evangelical zeal of the muslims i've encountered in Europe.

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  7. I remember some time ago PJW stating that the muslims were not making their mss available for study.

    Well, now that we are talking about Islamic Awareness, they have an article on radiocarbon dating, where a number of key early mss have been studied by western scholars no less!

    See here: http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Mss/radio.html

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  8. Has anyone looked at answering-islam.org? They had many responses to Islamic Awareness website.

    http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/index.html

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  9. Dear anon,
    Yes, I'm glad to see some piccies of Qur'anic mss on the website. It would be nice, however, to have something equivalent to what CSNTM.org have done, including famous Qur'anic mss, e.g. Samarkand or some of the Sana'a material.

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  10. This is all very interesting and the remarks of phil said are quite to the point.

    It is interesting that these individuals rely heavily upon secondary sources and opinions as it best suits them.

    I am of the opinion that they are located in America or Canada and are graduates or still students in/of such institutions.

    There comments and conclusions are to be likened to a dog nipping at the pant leg of a bicyclist rather than life treating death blows.

    Malcolm

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  11. I do not know whether it is a good idea to dismiss the work of Saifullah et al. in such frivolous terms as what the anon has said. The positive side of their work is that they have a good idea about Christian apologetics and some very devastating counter-arguments against them. Perhaps the Christian apologetics can learn something from the Muslim side.

    PJW has certainly raised some interesting points about the early manuscripts and statistics. As far as the latter is concerned, apart from the silly argument of tossing the coin, one can consider the rating of GNT text in terms of relative degree of certainty to be quite a troublesome issue as it does not match with the statistics present in the Christian apologetical literature. The problem with the values presented in the Christian apologetics is that they have no way of defending it mathematically; thus giving an opening to Muslims to attack them. You can see how well Saifullah et al. have capitalized on them.

    I do agree with PJW that the Bible and the Quran are two different books and should be dealt on their own merits and historical transmission. Comparing the two with the same set of criteria is like comparing apples and oranges.

    Also PJW, I am surprised to see you saying "Those sceptical of Christianity, whether Muslims...". Muslims are not sceptical of Christianity as they believe that Jesus was a Prophet and his followers were Christians. The skepticism of Muslims is on the Christian claims of inspiration of the Bible and some of the doctrines such as Trinity. This is what I know and may be there is more to it, which I do not know.

    Phil, please do not try the argument that the Quran endorses the Bible as the Word of God. If you use it against a knowledgeable Muslim, you will soon realize that it is a very bad argument to make; one which will surely invite more trouble than you can handle. Such an argument was tried by Carl Pfander in the Agra debate in mid-19th century in India and he broke into sweat defending this position.

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  12. Well said, Mark. Perhaps we use the word 'sceptical' in different senses.

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  13. Mark Tapley wrote in response to my post: "... more trouble than you can handle. ... broke into sweat ..."

    This is unenlightening. How much trouble can I handle? Should I be shaking in my boots?

    I would prefer information, not intimidation.

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  14. Phil, try reading "Muslims and Missionaries in Pre-Mutiny India" by Avril Powell. That details the debate between Carl Pfander and Kairanavi in Agra, India, in mid-19th century. You will notice that Pfander cornered himself pretty badly by trying to use the Quran to prove the integrity of the Bible.

    Furthermore, I think you are quite unaware of some sophisticated arguments from the Muslim side. For example, how will you defend your position of the Bible being "unaltered" when there existed no Protestant canon or even an official Roman Catholic canon during the advent of Islam in 7th century CE? What Bible or Biblical canon are you going to defend as being "unaltered" or "uncorrupted" in the 7th century CE when Mohamad arrived in the world scene? Perhaps you should also look at Saifullah's collection of canons, quite decently referenced in the end, and take your pick. You will soon realize why Pfander broke into sweat defending the integrity of the Bible using the Quran.

    The point that I would like to make is that we should stop dismissing frivolously the Muslim side (a) knowing very well that we do not live in the times of Pfander, Tisdall, Muir and Zwemer and (b) that Muslims are quite well aware of the Western scholarship on the Christian texts and their textual transmission. Scholarship has moved on and unfortunately the major bulk of Christian apologetics against Islam has not.

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  15. Mark Tapley wrote: "there existed no Protestant canon or even an official Roman Catholic canon during the advent of Islam in 7th century CE"

    Your comment is anachronistic and nonsensical.

    Of course there was no Protestant canon in the seventh century; the reformation did not occur until the sixteenth century. How could Luther, Calvin, etc. and their successors determine the extent of the canon hundreds of years before they were born?

    You believe that there was no official Roman Catholic canon in the seventh century. In one sense, you are correct -- but only because the term "Roman Catholic" is anachronistic when used of the seventh century Church. In the seventh century, the Catholic Church was still one Church, although there were many differences between the West (mostly Latin, centered in Rome) and the East (mostly Greek). There were also smaller churches, such as the non-Chalcedonian Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Ethiopian, and the Assyrian.

    [In my original post, when I referred to "the Bible" being endorsed by the Qur'an, I meant especially the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels, which are the parts specifically mentioned in the verses of the Qur'an that I cited.]

    However, if you mean to suggest that the Catholic Church generally (or the church of Rome in particular) did not have a fixed canon by the seventh century, you will find yourself in strong opposition to the evidence. Just look at the tables on the page that you recommended: By the seventh century (or even by 200 CE), what evidence can you find that the Church debated whether the Torah and the Psalms should be considered part of the Church's Scripture? What evidence can you find that the Church's Gospels consisted of other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

    [For the New Testament canon, see also: http://www.ntcanon.org/table.shtml
    For the disputed books of the NT, see: http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon5.html
    For the disputed books of the OT, see: http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon4.html
    Note that the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels are not among the disputed books.]

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  16. I suppose that a question that anyone not believing in the divine origin of the Qur'an might ask is: what were the perceptions of the Christian canon in the 7th century in Arabia? I'm not sure how easy it is to answer, but if you are going to make any argument about what the Qur'an says it will be necessary to understand its references to Tawrat, Zabur and Injil in their historical context.

    Of course, acknowledging that the question of perceptions of the canon in the seventh century is an interesting question is not to imply that all canonical perceptions are of equal value as one reading of Saifullah et al. on the canon might suggest.

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  17. Phil, I am not here to raise a big debate about this issue but it is worthwhile pointing out the inconsistency in your argument. You initially said: According to the Qur'an: (1) the Bible (including the Gospels) is the Word of God; (2) the Bible was still the uncorrupted Word of God in Muhammad's time. Surely, you meant the entire Bible according to the Quran, is the Word of God. And now you say: [In my original post, when I referred to "the Bible" being endorsed by the Qur'an, I meant especially the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels, which are the parts specifically mentioned in the verses of the Qur'an that I cited.] All of sudden now you qualify your statements realizing the obvious inconsistency. You wrote something else but you meant something different. In effect, you have already lost the case for being inconsistent.

    Even the current argument of yours will not stand from a historical perspective. Should I point out to you that Diatesseron remained the Gospel for Syriac Church until 5th century; something different from the four-fold Gospels in the Western Church? Marcion is another good example. If you will dig further you will find the evidence that "the Church's Gospels consisted of other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John" In effect, even before the advent of Islam, there was a disagreement among various Churches about the Gospels. Now this would raise questions of "inspiration" and "uncorrupted Word of God" from the Muslim side.

    Historically speaking, defending the integrity of the Bible using the Quran is a disaster in making and should be avoided at all costs.

    Now if you look PJW's recent comments, you will find that he has grasped the issue of the Quran and the Bible in the 7th century with a much clearer head. It is not as straight-forward or black and white as it seems. My own reading of Saifullah et al. suggests that according to them the Christians have no idea about the actual value of the canon, i.e., which canon can be considered as the inspired Word of God. And they ask the big question as to why should a Muslim believe in what a Christian says about the inspiration of their Bible. In effect, Saifullah et al. are arguing at different levels whether it be historical development of the canon or the actual books in the canon. Their argument is much more sophisticated than what Carl Pfander had to defend in the Agra debate.

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  18. To Mark Tapley: You will notice that even in my original post, my emphasis was on the Gospels. You're correct that I should have been clearer from the beginning concerning what I meant by "the Bible"; I should have written:

    According to the Qur'an: (1) the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels are the Word of God; (2) the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels were still the uncorrupted Word of God in Muhammad's time. Therefore, if a Muslim teaches that the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels have been altered, he must believe that they were corrupted after the early seventh century. Otherwise, the Muslim is contradicting the Qur'an.

    This argument still stands.

    You wrote: "In effect, you have already lost the case for being inconsistent."

    Let's see how consistent you are -- you wrote: "there existed no Protestant canon or even an official Roman Catholic canon during the advent of Islam in 7th century CE"

    Then, after I pointed out that your terms were anachronistic and your claims are counterfactual, you decided to back down from your statement about the Roman Church or even the Catholic Church or even the seventh century. Instead, you wrote about the Syriac Church's use of the Diatessaron until the fifth century and you even went as low as to say, "Marcion is another good example." Do you really believe that Marcion is a good example of what the Catholic Church's canon was in the seventh century (or even in the second century)?

    Since you have been so inconsistent, does that mean that "you have already lost the case"? According to your "logic", yes.

    According to the Qur'an: (1) the Gospels are the Word of God; (2) the Gospels were still the uncorrupted Word of God in Muhammad's time. Previously, I wrote: "What evidence can you find that the Church's Gospels consisted of other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?" My point was this: Should we believe that Muhammad was referring to the Gospels of the New Testament, or to some different collection of Gospels? If the former, then my argument is sound. If the latter, then my argument is not sound.

    Therefore, to defeat my argument, you must be able to show that Muhammad could have been referring to some different group of Gospels, not the Gospels of the New Testament.

    Do you really believe that it's possible that when Muhammad spoke of the Gospels as being the Word of God, he meant that Marcion's edited version of Luke was the Word of God? Or do you mean to say that when Muhammad spoke of the Gospels as the Word of God, he meant that the Diatessaron was the Word of God (even though it was replaced in the Syriac Church long before Muhammad was born)? Why would you have even mentioned these examples otherwise?

    If Muhammad was inspired by God, shouldn't he have known that when he referred to "the Gospels" the vast majority of Christians (and Muslims) would think that he meant Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

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  19. Another difficulty is that there isn't the same kind of secular scholarship on the Koran as there is on the bible. I'd like to see a proper list of mss. At the moment Moslems can make any argument that texts are not transmitted they like, since no-one really has access to the same information on the Koran.

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  20. Following the clue from PJW, I made a search on the net concerning the canon of the Bible in Arabia. It appears that Saifullah et al. have addressed this issue in a poorly done article. Scroll down to the section "So, What Did The Bible Look Like In Arabia During The Advent Of Islam?" They quote from Ibn Hisham's Sirat al-Nabawiyyah:

    [Those who talked to Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, were Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id.] They were Christians according to the faith of the king with differences between them; they say: He is Allah, and say: He is Son of Allah, and say: He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] and these are the claims of Christianity. [They use as evidence for their claim that He is Allah the argument that] he used to raise the dead, cure the sick, create from clay bird-like structure then breathe into it to make it a [living] bird. All this was by the leave of Allah, the Praiseworthy the Exalted {to appoint him as a sign for men} (Maryam:21).

    They also argue for saying that he is Son of Allah by saying he had no known father and spoke in infancy which is something never done by any human being. They use as evidence for their claim that He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] the argument that Allah says: We did, We commanded, We created and We judged [i.e., by using the plural for Himself], and whereas if He was one, He would say: I did, I judged, I commanded and I created; but it is He, Jesus and Maryam. The Qur'an was revealed addressing all these arguments.


    It is suggested by the authors that it was most likely Syriac Church that was present in Arabia. Commenting on the the belief of the Christians who believed that Jesus spoke in his infancy and that he used to create from clay bird-like structures and breathe into them to make them living birds, the authors suggest that they followed a different set of books than what we know of Syriac Christianity. Assuming that the Islamic sources are correct here, and putting it in the historical context, it raises some interesting issues about the Biblical canon in Arabia during the advent of Islam. Did the Christians follow a four-fold Gospel or did they have more books as Gospels? These questions are not easy to answer given the fact that we know very little about Christianity in the Arabian peninsula before and during the advent of Islam.

    Given the unknowns, it is perhaps not a wise idea to jump the gun and say that only the four-fold Gospel existed in Arabia during the advent of Islam.

    Coming back to Phil, I was replying to two different statements of yours which were indeed inconsistent. You say that: According to the Qur'an: (1) the Gospels are the Word of God; (2) the Gospels were still the uncorrupted Word of God in Muhammad's time. The Quran, as far as I am aware, does not say the Gospels are the Word of God. It only mentions a Gospel, singular, or injil and not plural anajil or Gospels. This injil was given to Jesus by God and it is one of the books of God. This excludes any other writings of the New Testament. Needless to add that this is a critical point in any discussion with Muslims. As PJW has correctly pointed out, it is the historical context which is perhaps the most important point to be taken in consideration while dealing with the mention of "Gospel" during the advent of Islam.

    As for rest of Phil statements, I have to say once again that being aware of Muslim side of the argument actually helps. The Muslims' side of the argument can be put in the simplest terms as exemplified by the writings of Saifullah et al.: How can Muslims believe that the Bible is the Word of God when the Christians themselves never agreed historically on what one set of books as actually "inspired"? The Muslim side points to the different number of books in different canons of the Churches around the world even to this day and even historically this had been the case. Breaking this to just the Gospel, Torah and Zabur, as Phil had done, does not actually solve the problem. The Christian-side is still left to address the issue of inspiration of other books in different canons. Can the Armenian canon be described as "inspired" and not the Ethiopic canon? And why? This is where the Christian argument remains unconvincing.

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  21. Roger Pease: If you can go to a decent library, you will find almost everything that you require concerning the Quranic manuscripts. In recent years, i.e., last 15-20 years, a host of books appeared discussing the manuscripts of the Quran. For example, Francois Deroche published the Nasir David Khalili collection, the British Library manuscript, another one in Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, etc. The last two of these manuscripts, which are from the last half of the first century of hijra (i.e., the Islamic calender system), were discussed by Yasin Dutton from University of Edinburgh in Journal of Qur'anic Studies concerning their content. Also worth pointing out are the earlier works of Martin Lings, Yasin Safadi, A. J. Arberry, David James, etc. on the Quranic manuscripts. The last two authors have published almost all the important material from Chester Beatty Library including the famous Ibn Bawwab mss.

    So, what makes you think that a secular scholar is more reliable than a Muslim scholar or for that matter even a Christian scholar? Are you interested in looking at the scholarship or the religion of the scholar?

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  22. Mark Tapley wrote: "The Quran, as far as I am aware, does not say the Gospels are the Word of God. It only mentions a Gospel, singular, or injil and not plural anajil or Gospels. This injil was given to Jesus by God and it is one of the books of God."

    This brings us back to my question: Which Gospel(s) did Muhammad have in mind? Which is the one inspired Gospel? Is it Marcion's version of Luke? Tatian's Diatessaron? The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (with the story about the birds of clay)? The Gospel of Barnabas? Some Gospel written by Jesus himself (which was known only to Muhammad)?

    What's your guess? Which one do Muslims think it is?

    Clearly, it must be a Gospel that contains predictions of the coming of Muhammad (Qur'an 7:157; 61:6). Such a Gospel does not exist (although many Muslims credulously interpret John 14-16 to be about Muhammad).

    Why wasn't Muhammad more specific about which Gospel? Was he unaware of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Was he unaware that these were the Gospels used by the vast majority of Christians? (Surely, God could have revealed this to Muhammad, even if the Christians of the sect that Muhammad encountered used only one Gospel.)

    Yes, there are some tough questions about how we can be certain about the limits of the Biblical canon. But the core is the same in all churches.

    A related issue is: Whose opinion counts? Do all opinions count equally? If the Jesus Seminar believes that the Gospel of Thomas should be included in the canon as the fifth Gospel, does that mean that the number of Gospels in the Christian canon is in doubt?

    What evidence is there that the Qur'an is the Word of God? The veracity of Islam rises or falls on the testimony of Muhammad: According to Muhammad, Muhammad received revelations from God. According to Muhammad, Muhammad was foretold in the Torah and the Gospel. According to Muhammad, Biblical prophets such as Moses and Jesus were prophets of Islam. According to Muhammad, Muhammad was the last prophet. A Muslim must simply take Muhammad's word on everything.

    In closing, I would like to return to your first reply to me. You did not present any evidence or offer any argument. Rather, you thought that it would be most appropriate to threaten me: You said that I was inviting more trouble than I could handle and that I would break into a sweat defending my position. As it turns out, you were wrong on both counts.

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  23. Phil, I see that you definitely like to use rhetoric :-) But I think you are underestimating the value of Muslim side of the argument. I will try to elaborate on some of your arguments and supplement it with my experience of talking to Muslims. You said:

    Yes, there are some tough questions about how we can be certain about the limits of the Biblical canon. But the core is the same in all churches.

    So, you agree that there exists pretty tough questions on the issue of canon, particularly relating to its limits. At present, the heaviest canon is that of the Ethiopic Church and the lightest one comes from the Syriac Church. All other canons fall in between these two. What a Muslim would argue is how can he be sure of which canon of the Bible is inspired? Or which books in the biblical canon can be considered inspired? Since the Christian considers the selection of the canonical books to be the work of the Holy Spirit, the problem now becomes that of Holy Spirit inspiring different Churches to different number of books. In some cases, the books in the canon of a Church becomes apocrypha in the other Church. Stating more bluntly, one Christian's inspired scripture is another Christian's apocrypha. A knowledgeable Muslim would surely point out this discrepancy and would say that he can't trust the contradictory works of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit did not get the inspiration of a book right in one Church as opposed to some other Church where it is considered "inspired", what is the guarantee that the inspiration of the Four Gospels and some other books which are agreed upon by all canons (perhaps what you call it as the "core") is true. In other words, the whole issue of inspiration by the Holy Spirit becomes a big suspect. There are no good answers by Christian here (or at least I am yet to come across any without self-contradictions) because the argument from the Muslim side is blatantly obvious.

    So Phil, as you can see now the issue of whether Mohamad knew of the Four Gospels is quite irrelevant to a Muslim when the basic premise of inspiration of the Bible itself is not settled by the Christian. I do not see any point in even running to the Quran to defend the Bible's inspiration as it shows Christians in a very poor light of not being able to defend their own text using their own history. Perhaps you have some good answers to help me to deal with Muslims without breaking into sweat :-).

    I see no point worrying about the issue of Which Gospel(s) did Muhammad have in mind? Which is the one inspired Gospel? Is it Marcion's version of Luke? Tatian's Diatessaron? The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (with the story about the birds of clay)? The Gospel of Barnabas? Some Gospel written by Jesus himself (which was known only to Muhammad)? when the fundamental issue of the inspiration of the Bible is not even dealt with. The issue that you have stated are all secondary and requires historical investigation. Furthermore, they add more to the problem than to solve it.

    As for the answer to your question What's your guess? Which one do Muslims think it is?, I would say that I have no clue. My discussions with Muslims have come to a stop on the issue of inspiration of the Bible. Unless, I can convince them of the inspiration of the Bible in unambiguous terms, I do not think that I will go anywhere with my arguments. This is where Carl Pfander flunked in the Agra debate.

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  24. Some people like to use threats, others like to use rhetoric. To each his own.

    So, God inspired one Gospel, but neither Muslims nor Christians will ever know for certain which Gospel? Could it even have been a Gospel that was just a figment of Muhammad's imagination? (Obviously, Muslims will not accept this option.)

    Of course, the same questions regarding the formation of the Biblical canon would exist even if the Qur'an did not exist. The churches with different canons debate each other about the canon.

    Would it be fair to rephrase the argument like this? Different churches have different canons. If the canon were inspired by God, then all churches would have the same canon. Therefore, the Biblical canon is from man, not God.

    Wouldn't the same argument apply to different churches having different theologies? Does it also apply to different religions having completely different scriptures? If not, why not?

    Does the reverse of this argument also work? If not, why not? All churches accept Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (and many other books). If all churches accept these books, then these books were inspired by God. Therefore, these books were inspired by God.

    You must have noticed that you were inconsistent again. At first, you accepted my use of "Gospels". Later, you complained that it should be "Gospel". Using Mark Tapley brand logic, you lose again, right?

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  25. Dear Phil,
    phrases like 'Mark Tapley brand logic' are ad hominem and inappropriate on this blog. It is also unclear whether you are suggesting that Mark has used 'threats'. I have not seen any. It is obviously easy for us all to misunderstand each other in cyberspace and I would therefore respectfully request that we all strive to maintain positive views of each other's intentions.

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  26. Dear PJW:

    Here's the background regarding "logic":

    Mark Tapley wrote: "you have already lost the case for being inconsistent." (I was inconsistent for switching from "the Bible" to "the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels." I had carelessly used "Bible" as a short form, and I admitted my error.)

    So, the reasoning is: If you are inconsistent, then you have lost. Let's call this the Principle of Inconsistency (POI). (I do not accept this principle, but Mark does.)

    Mark then made a comment about the canon of the Roman Catholic Church of the seventh century. After I pointed out that Mark's claims were both anachronistic and false, he abandoned the topic of the canon of the Catholic Church in the seventh century. Then I pointed out to Mark that he was being inconsistent.

    So, if Mark were to apply POI to himself (and not just to others), he would have to admit that he has lost the case.

    At first, Mark accepted the term "the Gospels", but later he decided that it was significant that the Qur'an refers to "the Gospel" (one book), not "the Gospels." (It's unlikely that this is actually significant.)

    So, again, if Mark applies POI to himself, he has lost the case. (Mark mentioned my inconsistency four times [three times in one post, once in another], so he obviously thinks that it's important.)

    In conclusion, my point was that if Mark applies his own logic to himself, he has lost. If he doesn't apply his own Principle of Inconsistency to himself, then he is being inconsistent.

    Regarding "threats": In Mark's first reply to me, not only did he not present any evidence or argument, (1) he said that I was inviting more trouble than I can handle and (2) he suggested that I would break into a sweat defending my position. This certainly sounds like a threat (in the sense of "warning" or "intimidation").

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  27. I'm glad to see that (despite some of the remarks that appear to be getting personal) the debate between Mark and Phil has brought out some nuance needed to fill out Phil's initial comment. However, after that specificity is allowed for, I don't think Mark's points have succeeded in underming Phil's basic argument.

    I admit, there is a problem Christians face in defending the Bible to a nonchristian (Muslim, or otherwise) when they perceive us having a difficulty even defining the what the real canon and text of the Bible is.

    But, regarding the statements in the Quran about the Injil, isn't there at least some onus on the Muslim side to tell us what their Holy book means when it talks about the Injil? Why does the debate suddenly have to shift to problems the Christian apologist faces with our canon, when these same canonical problems existed in Muhammed's day? This Injil/Gospel had to have been either one that basically comported with Christian orthodoxy, and thus not with Islam (such as the Diatessaron or any of the 4 canonical Gospels); or it was something else. But if something else, then what? Is it something we know today among the various apocryphal gospels? Is it something that is now completely lost? If it is either of those things, then what could it possibly have to commend it as a better testimony to the life and words of the prophet Jesus than our received canonical Gospels (which had already been well-established in Christendom long before Muhammed)?

    Just as Christian apologists have to wrestle with perceived problems in the Bible, Muslim apologists need to address problems in the Quran. The Quran says the Injil came from God and that Christians should consult it if we want to know the truth. The problem of this Injil is one for them to address, and turning the tables to point out canonical discrepancies between Christian groups doesn't accomplish that.

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  28. Phil, I see that you have completely skipped the fundamental issue. Let me state it again for your own benefit. How will you convince a Muslim, if you want him to convert to Christianity, about the certainty of which canon of the Bible is inspired? Or which books in the biblical canon can be considered inspired when we know that the books in the canon of a Church becomes apocrypha in the other Church? The argument here is on the level of individual books of the Bible as well as the collection of the books, i.e., canon. The issue of integrity of the scripture is the most fundamental issue in our discussion. If the integrity of the scripture is still undecided, is there any point in talking about the accuracy of the "scripture"? Statistics, whether the New Testament can be restored to 95% or 99%, then becomes meaningless. I will be pleased if you have some straight-forward answers to give to the issue that I have raised from my experience with Muslims and in my "fieldwork". As I can see from your post, it is quite easy to start labeling people; that is the easy part. As for the answers to the actual issues, you are already falling short of your own expectations about yourself.

    As for your statement Does the reverse of this argument also work? If not, why not? All churches accept Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (and many other books). If all churches accept these books, then these books were inspired by God. Therefore, these books were inspired by God, I have to say that you have not understood what I said in my earlier post. From the Muslim point of view, if the reliability of inspiration itself can't be established due to inconsistencies in the Holy Spirit's inspiration of different books in various canons, what is the guarantee that the four Gospels that we have can be considered inspired? Furthermore, the four Gospels were not always being in use as evidenced by the history of the Church. There was a considerable period in the Syriac Church when Tatian's Diatesseron was used. Again a Muslim would point out the inconsistency of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when it comes to the four Gospels.

    It would be clear to most of us, if not all, that using the Quran does not solve the problem of inspiration of any biblical canon or for that matter any book of the Bible. It shows shortcomings in our argument. Interestingly enough, I have never seen a Muslim arguing the inspiration of his scriptures using some other scripture.

    Often I have seen that when Christians are faced with these questions, they end up attacking the Quran and Mohamad. This, as many of us would admit, is counterproductive because it shows the Christian's inability to answer the fundamental matters of his faith. Attacking the Quran of Mohamad, does not automatically guarantee the certainty concerning the inspiration of the books of the Bible and the canon. Of course, there is that momentary feel-good factor. But after that the reality strikes: the problem of inspiration of the Bible still remains and it will come up another time.

    Perhaps many may not like this kind of questioning from me coming from my own experience with Muslims. Believe me, it is easier to be frivolous and dismiss the Muslim arguments, but they have some valid points which go back to the fundamental nature of the Christian faith. A person may be Muslim, but he is definitely not an ignorant fool!

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  29. Eric, you said:

    But, regarding the statements in the Quran about the Injil, isn't there at least some onus on the Muslim side to tell us what their Holy book means when it talks about the Injil?

    The Quran does not mention which injil, but it specifically says that this was the book which God gave to Jesus and he preached it. We can only surmise from this that it could be the religious statements which Jesus made in the four(?) Gospels. In fact, many Muslims have hardly any problems with the statements of Jesus in the New Testament.

    Also for Muslims, the question you asked is quite irrelevant for two reasons. Firstly, the Quran has superceded all previous books revealed by God, i.e., Torah, Zabur, Injil, etc. That makes them simply wash their hands off it. Secondly, Islam has superceded all the previously revealed religions such as Judaism and Christianity. The clearest statements are from Nuh Keller, a Muslim scholar and a convert from Christianity(?).

    Previously revealed religions were valid in their own eras, as is attested by many verses of the Holy Koran, but were abrogated by the universal message of Islam, as is equally attested to by many verses of the Koran. Both points are worthy of attention for English-speaking Muslims, who are occasionally exposed to erroneous theories advanced by some teachers and Koran translators affirming these religions' validity but denying not mentioning their abrogation, or that is unbelief (kufr) to hold that the remnant cults now bearing the names of formerly valid religions, such as "Christianity" or "Judaism", are acceptable to Allah Most High after He sent the final Messenger (Allah bless him give him peace) to the entire world. This is a matter over which there is no disagreement among Islamic scholars...

    This is a statement from Ahmad Ibn Naqib al-Misri (translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller), The Reliance Of The Traveller (1997) Amana Publications, p. 846. This book is a jurisprudence manual for Sha'afi school.

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  30. Mark wrote: "How will you convince a Muslim, if you want him to convert to Christianity, about the certainty of which canon of the Bible is inspired?"

    As I have already mentioned, the issue of "which canon of the Bible is inspired" exists quite apart from the existence of the Qur'an. A Protestant would likely use the same arguments to defend his canon that he would use when debating with a Roman Catholic, and vice versa. When two people disagree about an issue, it does not logically follow that they are both wrong.

    Previously, I asked: "Would it be fair to rephrase the argument like this? Different churches have different canons. If the canon were inspired by God, then all churches would have the same canon. Therefore, the Biblical canon is from man, not God.

    Wouldn't the same argument apply to different churches having different theologies? Does it also apply to different religions having completely different scriptures? If not, why not?"

    You ignored this (maybe you thought that it was just "rhetoric"). But you really need to think it through. Let me put it another way:

    Religion 1a says: "God inspired books A, B, ..., W, X, Y. We believe that X and Y should be included because ..."
    Religion 1b says: "God inspired books A, B, ..., W, X. We believe that X should be included because ..., but Y should be excluded because ..."
    Religion 1c says: "God inspired books A, B, ..., W. We believe that X and Y should be excluded because ..."
    Religion 2 says: "God inspired book Z. Because there is disagreement about books X and Y, books A, B, ..., Y could not have been inspired by God."
    Religion 3 says: "God, if God exists, did not inspire any book. Because there is disagreement about books A, B, ..., Z, none of these books could have been inspired by God."

    Now, if a person were to admit that Religion 2's rejection of books A, B, ..., W is logical, then this person must also admit (if being consistent) that Religion 3's rejection of books A, B, ..., Z is also logical.

    In your previous posts, twice you have called the Muslim Biblical canon argument "sophisticated." I must disagree. It's really no more sophisticated than their New Testament textual criticism argument (i.e., the highly misleading article to which PJW responded).

    Mark wrote: "As I can see from your post, it is quite easy to start labeling people; that is the easy part. As for the answers to the actual issues, you are already falling short of your own expectations about yourself."

    Who did I label? And what did I label them? No, I haven't fallen short of my own expectations about myself. (Presumably, you intended this as a slur. But it's just more of your rhetoric, which is trying my patience.) How about your expectations about yourself? It seems that you easily impress yourself, but I could be mistaken.

    Mark wrote: "From the Muslim point of view, if the reliability of inspiration itself can't be established due to inconsistencies in the Holy Spirit's inspiration of different books in various canons, what is the guarantee that the four Gospels that we have can be considered inspired?"

    Looks like you're again using the Religion 2 argument. The Muslim should get this argument out of the way quickly, before that Religion 3 guy comes along.

    Mark wrote: "I have never seen a Muslim arguing the inspiration of his scriptures using some other scripture."

    Similarly, I have never seen a Christian arguing for the inspiration of the Bible using some other scripture. That's certainly not what I've been doing. As I've mentioned before, the Bible can (and should) be defended apart from the existence of the Qur'an. Returning to my initial argument (but replacing "the Bible" with "the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel(s)"), recall that my conclusion was: "Therefore, if a Muslim teaches that the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel(s) have been altered, he must believe that they were corrupted after the early seventh century. Otherwise, the Muslim is contradicting the Qur'an."

    I thought that what follows from this would be obvious to people reading a blog about "textual criticism": The Bible was not altered after the early seventh century. Therefore, a Muslim cannot teach that the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel(s) have been altered.

    In fact, the argument has nothing to do with defending the inspiration of the Bible. That topic doesn't even come up in my argument. Furthermore, it's not even an argument for the textual reliability of the Bible (or any of its parts). The opening words of my argument were: "According to the Qur'an." Since I don't believe in the Qur'an, its testimony regarding the reliability of the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels is worthless to me. The argument was about what a Muslim should believe from the testimony of the Qur'an.

    Mark wrote: "Attacking the Quran of Mohamad, does not automatically guarantee the certainty concerning the inspiration of the books of the Bible and the canon."

    No one said or even implied otherwise.

    Mark wrote: "A person may be Muslim, but he is definitely not an ignorant fool!"

    Again, who said otherwise?

    Quoting Nuh Keller, Mark wrote:

    Previously revealed religions were valid in their own eras, as is attested by many verses of the Holy Koran, but were abrogated by the universal message of Islam, as is equally attested to by many verses of the Koran. ... formerly valid religions, such as "Christianity" or "Judaism" ...

    So, Christianity's teachings -- that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead, and that Jesus is God, and that God is a Trinity -- were valid in Christianity's era (first to seventh century, presumably)? That doesn't sound like the standard Muslim position to me.

    And Muslims can't even know which Gospel was abrogated? That's a shame.

    BTW, what are the Muslim criteria for canonicity? Is it more than just "Muhammad said that this was from God and that's good enough for me"?

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  31. Phil, thanks for a detailed reply. You have raised some interesting points. But problems still remains. You have correctly said that the issue of "which canon of the Bible is inspired" exists quite apart from the existence of the Quran. This is what I have also mentioned in my earlier post.

    You said: A Protestant would likely use the same arguments to defend his canon that he would use when debating with a Roman Catholic, and vice versa. When two people disagree about an issue, it does not logically follow that they are both wrong. Logically, there exist four possibilities when we deal with the Protestant and Roman Catholic canons. Two belongs to the category of either one of them being valid; third possibility is that both of them being valid and the fourth one, none of them being valid. Confining ourselves to just two canons is doing injustice to the argument, especially when we also have the canons of Ethiopic, Coptic, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Syriac Churches. If we consider these seven canons altogether, we have 128 possibilities. The question now is how does one decide which canon(s?) is inspired and finally which books can be considered inspired given that we have 128 possibilities. If we consider that more than one canon is inspired, then this brings the inconsistency in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could not have simultaneously inspired a book in a canon and rejected it in another. That would be a contradiction. We are essentially left with a choice that only one canon is inspired; the chances of which are 7 out of 128 possibilities. The difficulty of a Christian is to convince a Muslim that a particular canon is inspired along with the set of books contained in it and with valid reasons. In other words, it is not only the matter of logic, but also it involves consistency. This is what you have not addressed.

    You said: "Would it be fair to rephrase the argument like this? Different churches have different canons. If the canon were inspired by God, then all churches would have the same canon. Therefore, the Biblical canon is from man, not God. Yes, this is one of the ways a Muslim would argue about the human origins of Biblical canon. You also add that: Wouldn't the same argument apply to different churches having different theologies? Does it also apply to different religions having completely different scriptures? If not, why not? My understanding is that theology can't precede the canon. Theology is derived from the contents of the canon. In other words, if theology could exist independent of the canon, then anybody could, in principle, add or remove books in the canon to suit the theology. I do not think it is of any benefit to stretch the argument to other religions when the Christian house which needs ordering. It only makes life complicated.

    You say: In your previous posts, twice you have called the Muslim Biblical canon argument "sophisticated." I must disagree. It's really no more sophisticated than their New Testament textual criticism argument (i.e., the highly misleading article to which PJW responded). If the Muslim argument is not sophisticated as you say, you would have already come up with ready answers to the questions concerning which books of the Bible are inspired and finally which canon accompanying these books can be considered inspired. And why? To put it more bluntly: Do you have a canon which you show to be inspired including the individual books in it? And why should anyone consider that you are right?

    You have not taken serious steps to address the fundamental issue knowing that the burden of proof lies on you (and us). It is your own admission that there are "some tough questions" concerning the extent of the canon and these "tough" questions can easily be transposed to the issue of inspiration of individual books in the Bible. If one can't show the inspiration of individual books of the Bible, then there is no point worrying about the canon. This means if we can't show to the Muslims the inspiration of the four Gospels, then we can't question what the Quran meant when it says "injil". The opening words of your argument were: According to the Qur'an..... and that is quite worrying because you have not even dealt with the fundamental issue of the integrity of the Bible and you are running to the Quran, the book which you do not even believe in, to defend our scripture. As you can see, all these issues are inter-connected to the issue of inspiration. What we take it for granted is not all that obvious to non-Christians.

    Now if we can't define the extent of the canon, i.e., how many books it contains, then is there any point even discussing the "accuracy" and "reliability" of the canon itself. It is agreed that PJW did point out some errors in their argument, but I do not think that he considers the article by Saifullah et al. "highly misleading". In fact, I find it misleading that the Christian apologists simply throw off some numbers about the accuracy of the New Testament without any valid mathematics to support them.

    Sorry, I have to end my post here as I have to go to bed! I will answer rest of your queries concerning the Muslims in a later post.

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  32. Mark Tapley wrote: "My understanding is that theology can't precede the canon. Theology is derived from the contents of the canon."

    Balderdash. During the time of the Councils of Nicaea (325 CE) and Constantinople (381 CE), theology was the primary occupation. In fact, the canon was not even discussed at these first two Ecumenical Councils (or at any subsequent Ecumenical Councils). Please note that all of the Christian denominations that you have mentioned accepted these Councils, regardless of their eventually divergent canons. (These churches include: Roman, Greek, Assyrian, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Ethiopian.)

    Going back to the first century CE, certainly Paul, John, and the other authors of what became the New Testament had Christian theologies without having a Christian canon. This proves that theology can precede the canon.

    This is not the place to recount the entire history of the formation of the canon; please see Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament. But here's a brief outline:

    Paul's letters were likely collected together c. 100 CE. The four Gospels were collected together by 125-150 CE. From the late second century to the late fourth century, there was a generally agreed upon "core" canon of about 20 books (4 Gospels, Acts, 13 letters of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John). In addition, there were about 12 books that were disputed: the vast majority of Christians eventually accepted 7 of them.

    [Online, see: http://www.ntcanon.org/table.shtml
    http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon5.html
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03274a.htm]

    So, yes, theology certainly can precede the canon. In fact, it did.

    Mark Tapley wrote: "I do not think it is of any benefit to stretch the argument to other religions when the Christian house which needs ordering. It only makes life complicated."

    You managed to miss the point entirely. I demonstrated that your argument is self-defeating. If a Muslim uses your line of argument, then he has shot himself in the foot.

    Mark Tapley wrote: "you are running to the Quran, the book which you do not even believe in, to defend our scripture."

    No!!! You should concentrate more on what I write, and less on what you want me to write. Nowhere have I used the Qur'an to defend the Bible. I will quote myself:

    In fact, the argument has nothing to do with defending the inspiration of the Bible. That topic doesn't even come up in my argument. Furthermore, it's not even an argument for the textual reliability of the Bible (or any of its parts). The opening words of my argument were: "According to the Qur'an." Since I don't believe in the Qur'an, its testimony regarding the reliability of the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels is worthless to me. The argument was about what a Muslim should believe from the testimony of the Qur'an.

    I have used the Qur'an neither to defend the inspiration of the Bible nor the textual reliability of the Bible. Please meditate on this fact before you accuse me yet again.

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  33. Phil, I agree with your comments concerning theology although with some reservations. I have to think about it before I can actually have a point to make.

    As for the rest, for example, the issue of inspiration and different set of books in the canon, I am still waiting for a straight-forward answer for the straight-forward question that I had posted earlier: Do you have a canon which you show to be inspired including the individual books in it? And why should anyone consider that you are right? If you do not know the answer, please say it. At least be honest and we will move ahead with some other fruitful discussion.

    Instead you drift into the history of canon where there was a generally agreed upon "core" canon of about 20 books by 4th century CE. You suggested that I should look into Bruce M. Metzger's The Canon of the New Testament. While dealing with the issue of the Apostolic Fathers and the canon of the New Testament, Metzger says:

    For early Jewish Christians the Bible consisted of the Old Testament and some Jewish apocryphal literature. Along with this written authority went traditions, chiefly oral, of sayings attributed to Jesus. On the other hand, authors who belonged to the 'Hellenistic Wing' of the Church refer more frequently to writings that later came to be included in the New Testament. At the same time, however, they very rarely regarded such documents as 'Scripture'.

    Furthermore, there was as yet no conception of the duty of exact quotation from books that were not yet in the full sense canonical. Consequently, it is sometimes exceedingly difficult to ascertain which New Testament books were known to early Christian writers; our evidence does not become clear until the end of second century.
    (p. 72-73)

    The Apostolic Fathers did not consider the New Testament writings "canonical" or "scripture". What comes in the next century and a half just after 200 years or so is the acceptance of the "core" books along with the disputed books and then we have a concept of "canon" and "scripture" of the New Testament. This again takes us back to the original issue of inspiration of the canon and the books. Were the Apostolic Fathers "inspired" to reach the conclusion that it was only the Old Testament which was from God? How do we know which books are inspired and why? If we consider that the Holy Spirit did inspire the early Christians to reach an agreement on the canon, then we still have a problem of disputatious nature of the canon, suggesting a contradictory inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Your argument is more towards a general agreement on the "core" books and the acceptance of "the vast majority of Christians" of 7 of the disputed books. This sounds more like the use of democracy to justify the canon of the scripture than to actually show the inspiration of any of the books.

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  34. Now for the queries on the Muslim belief.... Phil said: So, Christianity's teachings -- that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead, and that Jesus is God, and that God is a Trinity -- were valid in Christianity's era (first to seventh century, presumably)? That doesn't sound like the standard Muslim position to me.

    What you are saying is not the Muslim position. The Muslim position concerning revealed religions, of which Christianity is one, is that the Prophets are sent by God whenever the message is corrupted or misinterpreted to compromise monotheism. In the case of Christianity, the message was corrupted when Jesus was claimed as God and that God became a Trinity. To rectify the incorrect beliefs, Mohamad was sent with the message of monotheism and bringing people back to the worship of one God. Just like when Jesus came and established his religion, Judaism got abrogated. When Mohamad came, Christianity got abrogated. The Muslim proclaim that Mohamad is the final Prophet of God and there will be no Prophet after him. His message will be preserved until the Day of Judgment is established. This is the gist of how Muslims perceive the Prophets and the succession of revealed religions.

    You said: BTW, what are the Muslim criteria for canonicity? Is it more than just "Muhammad said that this was from God and that's good enough for me"?. I do not know what exactly you meant by "canonicity". In Islam, the religious knowledge comprises of statements like "God said", "Mohamad said" and Mohamad approved of tacitly. The religious knowledge is transmitted by what is called a chain of transmitters who form an isnad or chain. Isnad look like: A heard from B, who then heard from C... until it reaches back to an Islamic authority, usually Mohamad. Very briefly, the purpose of isnad is to disclose the sources. In the final stage the source must lead to the person who had direct contact to the highest authority to whom the statement belonged. The chains of transmitters were scrutinised to make sure that the persons named could in fact have met one another, that they could be trusted to repeat the story accurately, and that they did not hold any heretical views. This implied extensive biographical studies and many biographical dictionaries have been preserved giving the basic information about a man's teachers and pupils, the views of later scholars on his reliability as a transmitter and the date of his death.

    Furthermore, the transmission of the written material itself was subjected to control methods which involved ijaza or a certificate of authority. This was given by the teacher to his student after the assessment which effectively granted the latter to disseminate the books of his teacher. The ijaza system of transmission of religion knowledge exists to this day. For example, see here.

    The transmission of the Quran is no different. It follows the ijaza system, the certificate here shows the complete chain of authorities who transmitted the Quran, who directly learnt it from Mohamad. You can see examples of what ijaza the people have got here and here. Such a system ensures that the Quran is learnt in its original language, i.e., Arabic and it is transmitted in Arabic.

    You say: And Muslims can't even know which Gospel was abrogated? That's a shame. It is strange that you say that when you yourself do not know which canon or the books that are inspired. Given such a situation, how will you be able to judge the Muslim claim of which Gospel was abrogated?

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  35. Mark Tapley wrote (in an earlier post): "Logically, there exist four possibilities when we deal with the Protestant and Roman Catholic canons. Two belongs to the category of either one of them being valid; third possibility is that both of them being valid and the fourth one, none of them being valid. ... If we consider that more than one canon is inspired, then this brings the inconsistency in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."

    Your conditional statement is correct. But I don't think that anyone considers more than one canon inspired. Therefore, there is no inconsistency of inspiration. Roman Catholics consider the Roman Catholic canon to be inspired; Protestants consider the Protestant canon to be inspired. (The same goes for Copts, Assyrians, etc.) Just because they disagree, it does not follow that they are all wrong. That is, it would be illogical to claim that the existence of different canons provides a reason to believe that Christianity is untrue. It is still logically possible that one of the canons is the correct one.

    You wrote: "Do you have a canon which you show to be inspired including the individual books in it? And why should anyone consider that you are right?"

    Earlier, you were saying that a Muslim concern/argument is (in my words): If the Christian canon were inspired by God, all churches would have the same canon. Different churches have different canons. Therefore, God did not inspire the Christian canon. I pointed out that it would be illogical for a Muslim to make such an argument. Now, you are focusing on a different question (a question that would exist even if there were only one Christian denomination and only one Christian canon), which takes us even further from the topic of my original post. However, I will offer a brief outline below.

    First, you are obviously asking me to defend whichever canon I believe to be the correct one. I would defend the Protestant canon.

    Second, you are asking me to defend the inspiration of each book individually. I have neither the time nor the desire to do this. (How much more time can I devote to a blog that isn't even mine?)

    Third, my reasons for inclusion in the New Testament canon would be the standard "criteria for canonicity": Apostolicity (including Antiquity); Orthodoxy; Catholicity. Briefly, what I mean be these:

    Apostolicity (including Antiquity): These two are often listed separately. However, if a book is not from the first century of the Church, it was obviously not written by an apostle or a companion of an apostle. (Defending the books for inclusion would then entail discussing the authorship and date of the books. [As I said, I'm not going to do this here. But I would use the more conservative critical commentaries and introductions.])

    Orthodoxy: The message of the book must not contradict the message handed down from the apostles to the Church. (It must not contradict the "rule of faith" that we first encounter in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch.) Similarly, the book must not contradict previously accepted books, such as the "core" New Testament that I discussed in a previous post. Likewise, the book must view the Old Testament as Scripture.

    Catholicity: The book was found useful in the churches. If a book fell into disuse, there was no reason to keep it in the canon.

    You wrote: "The Apostolic Fathers did not consider the New Testament writings 'canonical' or 'scripture'. ... Were the Apostolic Fathers 'inspired' to reach the conclusion that it was only the Old Testament which was from God?"

    It's about time that I pointed out that you have yet to define "canon." If you mean to say that the Apostolic Fathers did not consider the New Testament writings "authoritative", then you are incorrect. (The relevant part of Metzger's book begins at p. 39.) Even within the New Testament era, Christian writings were being recognized as Scripture. Below are some examples from the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers:

    1 Timothy 5:18 quotes the words of Jesus in Luke 10:7 as "Scripture."

    2 Peter 3:16 refers to (at least some of) Paul's letters as "Scripture."

    1 Clement 13 & 46 refer to "the words of the Lord Jesus" as authoritative (quoting Matt 6:12-15; Luke 6:36-38; & Matt 18:6; 26:24; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2).

    1 Clement 47 says that Paul wrote "under the inspiration of the Spirit" (quoting 1 Cor 3:13).

    Polycarp, Philippians 2 & 7 refers to "what the Lord said" as authoritative (quoting Matt 7:1; 6:12, 14; 7:2; 5:3, 10; Luke 6:37, 36, 38, 20; & Matt 26:41; Mark 14:38).

    Barnabas 4 uses the authoritative formula "as it is written" before a quote of Matt 22:14.

    Didache 8, 9, 15 certainly uses Matthew as an authority: "as the Lord commanded in His Gospel"; "the Lord hath said" (quoting Matt 6:5, 9-13; 7:6; 18:15-17).

    What is your evidence for the claim that the Apostolic Fathers reached "the conclusion that it was only the Old Testament which was from God"?

    You wrote: "If we consider that the Holy Spirit did inspire the early Christians to reach an agreement on the canon, then we still have a problem of disputatious nature of the canon, suggesting a contradictory inspiration by the Holy Spirit."

    You're still using this illogical argument? I'm not going to respond to it again.

    You wrote: "The Muslim position concerning revealed religions, of which Christianity is one, is that the Prophets are sent by God whenever the message is corrupted or misinterpreted to compromise monotheism. In the case of Christianity, the message was corrupted when Jesus was claimed as God and that God became a Trinity. To rectify the incorrect beliefs, Mohamad was sent with the message of monotheism and bringing people back to the worship of one God."

    Yes, that's what I thought the standard Muslim position was. But this cannot be reconciled with your quote of Nuh Keller. It requires a great deal of equivocation. And, yes, you guessed it: equivocation is a bad thing.

    Again, the Nuh Keller quote: Previously revealed religions were valid in their own eras, as is attested by many verses of the Holy Koran, but were abrogated by the universal message of Islam, as is equally attested to by many verses of the Koran. ... formerly valid religions, such as "Christianity" or "Judaism" ...

    What did he mean by "Christianity"? What did you think the term meant when you quoted this passage? I figured that he actually meant Christianity, i.e., a religion that teaches that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead, and that Jesus is God; and that God is a Trinity, etc. Keller's quote says that such teachings "were valid in their own eras ... but were abrogated by ... Islam."

    Now, you appear to be saying that by "Christianity", Keller actually meant Islam, identical to what was taught by Muhammad, but before Muhammad's time. If this is not what Keller meant, then what do you think he meant? If this is what Keller meant, then what does it mean for Islam to abrogate "Christianity"? Wouldn't it just be Islam abrogating Islam?

    You wrote: "Just like when Jesus came and established his religion, Judaism got abrogated. When Mohamad came, Christianity got abrogated."

    Actually, the two cases don't appear to be very much alike. Christians maintain that the Jewish Scriptures are the Word of God. Muslims reject both the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures. Christians do not claim that any part of the Old Testament is false. But Muslims claim that both Jewish and Christian Scriptures are false. Christianity fulfills Judaism. Islam explicitly contradicts Christianity.

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