In article <email@example.com>, Asad Zaman
writes: | Attention to numerology causes inattention to the many real and | undeniable miracles of the Quran. One of these is especially | important since it shows how we can establish the validity of the | Quran. Since the Quran is a unique book, and Allah himself has | promised to guard it, He has also fulfilled his promise in a unique | way, such that the preservation of Quran can be demonstrated to all: | there is no need of deep scholarship, archaic texts, carbon-dating, | all esoteric techniques generally beyond the reach of the public. | The average Muslim sees the proof of the preservation of the Quran | once every year, when the entire Quran is recited in the prayers of | Taraweeh by a Hafiz (one who knows the entire Quran by heart). Most | often in the audience there are additional Huffaz (plural of Hafiz) | who listen, and occasionally correct the person who is reciting the | Quran. ... | From these easily observable facts, plain to everybody, how can we | argue that the Quran has been preserved? The argument is simple. | The state of affairs now is the same as it was at the time of the | prophet. The Quran was preserved in the hearts of numerous | companions, and collectively recited in Taraweeh prayers since | the days of Khalif Umer Farooq. ... | All praise is for Allah Subhanuhu wa T'ala for providing us with | an easy and satisfying demonstration for the validity of the | Quran, thereby fulfilling His promise to preserve the Quran, | which not only includes the text of the Quran, but the proof | of its validity. To read the full article click here. I think, if this was indeed "an unbroken tradition" [as it might well have been], then you are right about the preservation of the text of the Qur'an. But I fail to see your second conclusion about the "proof of its validity". In most all of my articles I am rarely questioning the text of the Qur'an, and I am relatively convinced it is pretty accurate. But even if not, there is only one Qur'an, and I have to deal with the one Qur'an Muslims believe in and not with a speculative different version. The authenticity of the text does not necessarily imply its validity. And you have not even touched on this question. Even if it is absolutely clear that the text of the Qur'an is the same as what Muhammad spoke in front of his companions as the revelation he claimed to have received, it is still the question if it was revelation in the first place. That is the point I have my doubts about. In the following I am not going to talk about these doubts though. I want to take up your own Muslim method of arguing for the preservation of the Qur'an and show you that by the very same reasons, the gospel was preserved, and therefore, the well preserved Qur'an and the well preserved gospel, are still in conflict. And this is a conflict that is not resolved by "preservation issues", but we have to deal with the contents of these two books. I was in the middle of writing the below article when Asad Zaman's posting appeared. So this fitted very well together and I speedily completed this first draft of a "Muslim style" argument for the preservation of the Gospel. Feedback is most welcome. I am not really too much interested here in the discussion of the meaning of the Biblical passages and Christian practices which I am going to quote and explain as we go along. The main thrust here is to show that these things have been passed on in the churches from generation to generation with regular observance just as the Qur'an and Islamic faith has been passed on from the beginning as the original poster asserts. And if the Muslim argument is valid, then so should be the Christian argument. That is what I would like to get feedback on if you want to reply to this. Have Christians changed the central message of the Gospel? That is the usual claim that Muslims make, since the Crucifixion, as atoning, sacrificial death, which is central to the Christian gospel is flatly denied by the Qur'an, both as event and in its meaning. Let me try to give you an illustration why I think the following argument is strong evidence against this accusation. We know that under Uthman there has been a compilation of the Qur'an and this compilation then was made the binding text for all Muslims. [Whether there are any variations to earlier texts is insubstantial for the following argument, so let us assume, there were none.] The most important prayer meeting in Islam is the congregational Friday prayer at the Masjid, and the way how they are observed like the specific sequence of bows, prostrations, etc are clearly specified and probably have been the same from the time of Muhammad onwards. Also the fact that the direction of prayer has to be Mekka. The Uthmanic Qur'an collection/edition was done some decades after the death o Muhammad. Now, as a thought experiment, imagine what would have been the reaction of the Muslim congregation if they were to find in these copies statements saying that the congregational prayer should be on Monday instead of Friday? Additionally on this day the direction for prayer is facing to Jerusalem in honor of God's Temple among the Jews, or to Addis Abeba in Ethopia in commemoration for the asylum they gave to the early persecuted Muslims? Clearly, the congregation would have rejected such a "Qur'an" as unreliable and corrupted. They exactly new what the traditions were and what they have been doing week in week out from the time of Muhammad onwards. As "noble" as the reasons for such change might be, it is NOT what has come down from via the tradition in the community of believers. And even if changes in "more peripheral issues" might have gone without (immediate) notice [and I don't suggest that there are any], a change in the central traditions is unthinkable. The reaction of protest would have been swift and loud. Every Muslim who had been a Muslim for a few weeks only, would know the day of assembly, the proper movements at prayer, the direction to face etc. Muslims go even further and say the existence of "Huffaz" controlling each other guarantees that the Qur'an cannot be changed at all even in small details. What does that have to do with the "corruption of the Gospel"? Christians also have a number of "rituals" which have been the same from the very beginning onwards and are observed regularly. Baptism is one of them, and the integral part of each baptism is the confession of Jesus as Lord, as well as that the water used at the baptism is a symbol of the cleansing from sin brought about by the death of Jesus. Had this not been there, could you imagine that "somebody" would be able to invent it, smuggle it into a few manuscripts, then the Christian church would "find it" in these suddenly appearing corrupted manuscripts which are stating that this has been a regular procedure for all new converts from the very beginning onwards and react with "goodness, we seem to have overlooked something here" and start doing it? And especially, can you imagine that such an incident would not be leaving any trace of this suprise and change of custom? If you think such substantial changes, both in "action/ritual" as well as in the meaning of what is essential part of your faith would be impossible among Muslims, why do you think that is surely what happened to the Christians? No, baptism including the confession of Lordship of Jesus, and the cleasing from sin through his death as an integral part from the time of the original church and it started at the first day the church was born. Read about it in Acts 2:36-42. Let me include an incident here to illustrate my point. Around 410 A.D. when a new Latin translation was introduced in the Latin speaking Western Churches [the Eastern churches spoke Greek, or Syriac]. Augustine, bishop of Hippo (modern Algeria) reports: "A riot broke out in one North-African church when the bishop, reading Jonah 4:6, called the plant which shaded Jonah from the sun an "ivy" (Latin: hedera), in accordance with Jerome's new translation, and not a "gourd" (cucurbita), the term to which they were accustomed. The bishop was forced to change the rendering so as not to lose his congregation..." [see F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, InterVarsity Press, p. 94] If a wrong plant name can elicit such a strong reaction from a congregation what do you think would be the reaction to an attempt to introduce a completely new ritual and change of doctrine at the center of the faith? There were many heresies springing up from the second century onwards and maybe even earlier, and so the Christian churches were very conscious that they had to carefully guard what was "once and for all delivered" [Jude 3] through the Apostles and which teachings did not have apostolic backing. [Background: The most used version of the Old Testament was the Septuagint, a Jewish translation of their scriptures into the Greek language. But since the believers in North-Africa, Spain, Gaul (France) were mainly Latin speaking, very soon there were Latin translations of the Septuagint which were used for the scripture readings in the worship services and other meetings. These translations were not always very accurate, and were made from the Septuagint, i.e. they were translations of a translation. Around 380 A.D. Jerome got the task of making a new translation of the Bible into Latin, and he went back to the Hebrew Scriptures and translated the Old Testament from the original. This translation was completed around 405 A.D. and after many years of transition it became the generally accepted Latin Bible, and was then called "The Vulgate".] Back to the "rituals" and their implications. There would be much more to say about baptism, and though a 'once in a lifetime' experience for each individual believer, it was a regular ritual with the participation of the congregation at large, especially since Christianity was growing explosively over the first several hundred years and there were constantly new converts to baptize and integrate into the church. But there is another such sacrament or 'ordinance', called the "Eucharist" or "Lord's Supper", which in most churches is observed each Sunday and with the involvement of the whole congregation. And at this sacrament I want to have a closer look. In the Catholic and Orthodox churches this is the very center of their worship and hence not easily fiddled with. And the early church documents show that this was important part of the Christian worship from the beginning on. Furthermore, as we will see from the quotations, this is Jesus' "last request" before his death which he asked his disciples to adhere to. And even in secular circumstances, "last words" or "last wishes" are taken very seriously. Luke 22: 14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. The apostle Matthew records it even clearer with "this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins". And after 3000 convert at Peter's first sermon on Pentecost, Acts 2:42 reports that this new church among other things is devoted to "the breaking of bread" which is referring to the Lord's Supper. And the apostle Paul has to write to the Corinthians in about A.D. 55 about the Lord's Supper. Not to introduce something new, but to correct them in the way they were dealing with this and not having enough reverence for the Lord's body and blood. He writes to them because they have the wrong attitude about it, not because they have never heard of it. Read about it in 1 Corinthians 10:15-22 and 11:17-32, of which I will just quote here: 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Why does Paul say "we proclaim the Lord's DEATH" by this, instead of his resurrection? After all, later in the same letter he devotes a whole long chapter [the 15th] to stress the importance of the resurrection? Why is Jesus choosing the "Passover" feast for this occasion? This is extremely important to understand. When God was liberating the Jews out of the Egyptian bondage, the last of the punishments on the Egyptians was the oldest son in each family died. The death angel of God was going through the houses and killing the oldest son in every house. And he told the Israelites through Moses, to slay a lamb, and to put the blood at the doorposts. And the death angel of God, will pass over [pass by] those houses with the blood. Their sin was covered by the blood of the lamb which died. And for the Egyptians it become a night of wrath of God, and of death. For the Israelites it became the night of liberation. And the blood of this passover lamb was very instrumental in it and forever a symbol, of both, God's judgment and God's mercy and forgiveness, since God commanded Israel to celebrate the rememberance of Passover each year. When Jesus instituted the "new Passover" meal, he very consciously chose the occasion of the Israelite Passover meal do so and connected the meaning and symbols of the old with the new, calling this now "the new covenant in his blood". And just as the old Passover meal, it is the rememberance of God's judgement of sin and God's mercy of forgiveness. And without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, as the constant testimony of the Bible is from the first book to the last book. The Passover feast is the highest feast of the Jewish calender and had been observed by the Jews for 1500 years up to Jesus time [and up to our time]. And the Christians [most of the early Christians were Jews] continued "naturally" with this command of the Lord to observe this new Passover in rememberance now of HIM, and their liberation from the bondage of sin through his sacrificial death, instead of the liberation of the bondage of Egyptian slavery. There would be so much more to say about this sacrament, it is firmly anchored in the Jewish scriptures and traditions, and not a "Pauline Greek Christianity" invention or even "pagan idea" as some would have us believe. It was instituted by Jesus himself and has been observed by the Christian church from the beginning on, usually weekly. Baptism and Lord's Supper are the only two sacraments the church had from day one, and both are about the atoning death of Jesus Christ. If that was something not original, how do you explain that it is central in all churches from the Catholic church in Rome to to the Coptic church in Egypt, to the Orthodox Church in Turkey and Greece, to the Armenian Church in Iraq, to the Mar Thoma Church in India [going back to the Apostle Thomas] etc. It is common to all churches, some of which who have otherwise very independent traditions. If the "yearly Qur'an recitation" would insure the impossibility of corrupting the Qur'an, then for sure the weekly celebration of the Eucharist and the often monthly, but at least yearly baptisms including the public confession of the baptismal creeds, both of which center around the death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, will ensure that this part of the Christian faith is impossible to corrupt or to be 'invented and introduced at a later date'. I hope this should be plain to see. And this is pretty much the line of argument that Irenaeus also takes. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a instructed by the Apostle John, and had also met several of the other original Apostles. Around A.D. 180-190 he wrote about many (mainly Gnostic) heresies and in his examination of the claims of theses heretics he lays down the criteria for genuine apostolic tradition. He argues that the tradition is maintained in living power in those churches which were founded by apostles, and in which there had been a regular succession of bishops or elders since their foundation. Apostolic tradition is summed up in these churches' rule of faith or baptismal creed. The doctrine maintained in such a church in Irenaeus' day might be assumed to be that which was first taught by the apostolic founder or founders, and transmitted through an unbroken succession of bishops. Furthermore, these churches agree, and most other churches founded later agree in their teaching too, while the heretical ones cannot proof that their teaching goes back to the apostles. I think it should be clear that the argument here is very near to the Muslim argument. The churches have their fixed baptismal creeds, containing the doctrines of faith a new convert has to know and confess before he is baptised, and it is guarded by the bishops [as well as the congregation] which are in unbroken succession instructed by their predecessors back to the Apostolic founders of the church. And it is clear that the churches do not just let in any new idea and heresy but teachings are tested, if even if one local congregation should be gullible to take in heresy, then at least the community of churches all around will hold them accountable. The Christian churches always had a lot of contacts among each other. One more comment: The LORD's Supper is in commemoration of the LORD's death, ... and Christians and Jews do confess that there is only one Lord. This is not the main theme of the rememberance meal, but it is 'incidental' in the language employed, though it is very much central to the baptismal creed, the first and shortest being "Jesus is Lord". Not only his death, but also his Lordship and essential nature, is part of the central tradition of faith and not an invention of the 4th century. In about 112 A.D. Pliny the younger, governor of Bithynia, is pretty worried about the growth of the Christian church in his province. And since he isn't sure what really to do, he writes to Emperor Trajan about it. And in order to be able to ask him intelligently about his opinion, he goes on in some length to describe what these Christians are doing, so that the Emperor is able to give an informed decision. In this quite lengthy letter we read among other things: "They [the Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, ..." and this letter later also mentions the Lord's Supper. So, the worship of Christ as God, is very early, attested to only 80 years after Christ's death by a PAGAN governor [i.e. somebody who does not believe it but is annoyed by it], not writing about a few scattered people but about a growing church that wins so many converts that it makes him problems like that the pagan temples had been nearly deserted, the pagan festivals severely decreased and the sacrificial animals had few buyers... One of the best books on early historical evidence [outside the Christian writings as well as inside] for the truth of the Gospel in the sense of its historical reliability is: Gary R Habermas The Verdict of History Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988, ISBN 0-8407-5919-3 This book tells you even more about Pliny and his knowledge of early Christianity ... and many more outside evidence which make it intellectual suicide [my humble opinion] to declare that he was never crucified. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one of the best attested historical events. Is this argument for the authenticity of the gospel message, testifying to the sacrificial and atoning death of Jesus Christ, from regular observance and tradition valid? Yes? No? Why?
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