"Form criticism", which also originated in Germany, is an attempt to analyze the Gospel on the basis of literary forms much as the "documentary hypothesis" did with the Torah of Moses.
The form critics assume that the Gospels are composed of small independent units or episodes which were circulated orally. During the 30 years between Jesus' ascension and the writing of the first Gospel, the critics believe that these small units which they named "pericopes", gradually changed and took on the forms of folk literature, such as legends, tales, myths and parables.
The formation of these units and their preservation was not under the control of God, but was determined by the needs of the Christian community. In other words, when the community had a problem, they either used one of the circulating sayings of Jesus, or they created a new saying. That is, they lied about what Jesus said in order to answer that particular problem.
Dr. Bucaille gives a fairly comprehensive summary of this method of study (pp. 71-76), but again he does not seem to have realized that those who proposed this method (one could rightfully call it a theory because of the large number of basic assumptions) did not believe anything which seemed to be supernatural or miraculous. They did not believe that God spoke to the prophets by means of angels or the Holy Spirit. They did not believe that Jesus brought a special revelation in the Gospel.
Rudolph Bultmann, one of the three most well-known proponents of "form criticism" wrote,
"a historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable."
W. J. Sparrow-Simpson speaking of another form critic, David Strauss, says,
"Nothing can be more genuine than Strauss' acknowledgement that he was controlled by a priori considerations, to which the fact of a resurrection was inadmissible."
In summary, according to the form critics the four accounts of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah are not historic witnesses to the life and words of Jesus, but what the church believed and eventually put together from older sources.
The conclusion of Martin Dibelius, another of the three most well known form critics is,
"...there never was a `purely' historical witness to Jesus."
And Eduard Ellwein summarizes Bultmann's ideas as follows,
"Who is this man Jesus? He is a man like ourselves, not a mythical figure (means for Bultmann that he never did those miracles); he is without messianic radiance... (a man) who renewed and radicalized the protest of the great Old Testament prophets against legalism and cultic worship of God, and who was delivered up by the Jews to the Romans and was crucified. Everything else is uncertain and legendary."
In contrast to this skepticism of the form critics, serious Christians everywhere, including many scholars, believe that we have and know accurate history about the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary. This does not mean that Christians deny the use of oral and written source material from eye-witnesses by some or all of the Gospel writers. Luke acknowledges the fact in his preface with the following words,
"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.
"Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." --Luke 1:1-4.
Muhammad must have also used sources when he told the story of the Christians who slept 300 years, as recorded in the Middle Meccan Sura of the Cave (Al-Kahf) 18:9-26. If someone answers and says, "Ah, but Muhammad was ordered to include that by revelation", that is exactly what we Christians mean when we say that Luke was guided by the Holy Spirit in the things which he recorded.
When the form critics quoted by Bucaille on page 76 propose that there was a proto-Luke and proto-Mark, based on document this and document that; and when they say that everything is "uncertain and legendary"; they ignore three things:
It is clear from the above statements that the early form critics did not believe that oral tradition can be accurately remembered and transmitted. They did not believe that the original Christians could memorize Jesus' words and remember his miracles accurately for 30 or 35 years until the first Gospel account was completed sometime between 62 and 64 AD.
That these European "form critics" would deny the possibility of accurate memorization and transmission of facts may be understandable, but what of Dr. Bucaille? He has undoubtedly met Muslims who have memorized the whole Qur'an; and for him to quote these false ideas and agree with them is difficult to accept.
This ability of men to memorize and preserve history accurately has been popularized recently in the historical novel Roots by Alex Haley. In 1767, his great-great-great-great grandfather, a Gambian named Kunta Kinte, went out to the forest to find just the right tree for a drum. He was caught by slave traders, brought to the United States and sold as a slave. Always proud of his African heritage, he insisted that his family remember that his real name was Kunta Kinte; and he taught his daughter that in his African language a river was "Kamby Bolongo" (the Gambia river) and a guitar was called a "ko".
Starting with this information Haley finally arrived at the village of Juffure in Gambia, where there was a "griot" familiar with the history of the Kinte clan. Griots are men who have memorized the history of their tribe. They are walking archives of oral history and, according to Haley, "there were certain legendary griots who could narrate facets of African history for as long as three days without ever repeating themselves."
When Haley got to Juffure, the griot began to recite the history of the Kinte clan from the time that their ancestors came from Mali, giving all the sons and daughters, the marriages, and certain historical events to fix things in time. After almost two hours, the griot said, "About the time the King's soldiers came, the oldest of these four sons, Kunta, went away from his village to chop wood...and he was never seen again". Haley burst into tears and calls this the epic event in his life.
Going to London, later, Haley found the record of the "King's soldiers" being sent to Gambia, and he writes of the griot in Africa, "He had been so correct that I felt embarrassed that...I had been checking behind him." As Haley continued searching he found the London record of the ship which had taken his ancestor to the U.S., and the U.S. record of the ship's arrival in "Naplis" (his grandmother's pronunciation of Annapolis).
After 200 years, the essential facts had been preserved solely by oral transmission on both sides of the Atlantic---by a chain of trained griots in Africa, and by a family of untrained men and women in America.
If men and women are able to memorize secular history and keep it correct for hundreds of years, and Muslims believe that their forefathers were able to memorize the entire Qur'an and transmit it correctly for 40 years before Othman made his recension; on what basis shall anyone say that Christians were not able to transmit the words and essential facts of Jesus' life for 20 to 60 years until they were written down between 50 and 90 A.D. ?
If Muslims can memorize the 111 verses of the Sura of Joseph (Yusuf), Sura 12, and transmit it correctly, on what basis shall anyone say that Christians were unable to memorize and transmit the 111 verses of the sermon on the mount as recorded in Matthew Chapters 5-7?
If Muslims were able to memorize and transmit the hadiths about the battles of Badr and Uhud correctly, on what basis will anyone say that Christians were not able to transmit what the eye-witnesses said about Jesus' resurrection from the dead?
Who can imagine that Talha Ibn `Ubaidu'llah ever forgot saving Muhammad's life at the battle of Uhud? It is inconceivable!
It is just as inconceivable that Jesus' disciples would ever forget seeing the nail marks in his hands, or how he ate fish with them when they saw him alive again after having witnessed his death on the cross.
Again I invite my Muslim readers to think carefully before they accept the theories of "form criticism" as proposed by Dr. Bucaille. Having made the assumption that Christians couldn't remember what Jesus said for thirty years, the form critics would certainly assume that the Muslims couldn't remember what Muhammad brought to them during the forty years from the first Meccan Suras until Othman made the official copies of the Qur'an in about 26 AH. By then the suras would have become tales and myths---uncertain and legendary.
If the Christians went around inventing "pericopes" according to the needs of the Christian community, the form critics would surely say that the Muslims must have gone around inventing suras according to the needs of the Muslim nation.
If a "resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable" and giving sight to the blind is impossible, then the Qur'an is wrong when it says in the Sura of the Table (Al-Ma'ida) 5:113, from 10 AH,
"And you (Jesus) heal those born blind, and the lepers by My leave, and behold! you bring forth the dead by My leave."
If the Virgin Birth is impossible then the Qur'an is wrong when it tells, in the Middle Meccan Sura of Mary (Maryam) 19:19-21, how Gabriel promised Mary that she would have a "holy son" even though no man had touched her, and claims again that she was a virgin in the Sura of the Forbidding (Al-Tahrimm) 66:12 from 7 AH saying,
"And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her maidenhood, and We breathed into it our Spirit; and she believed the words of her Lord, and His books, and was of the devout."
If God does not guide his prophets by the Holy Spirit then the Qur'an is wrong when it says twice in the Sura of the Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:87 and 2:253 from 2 AH,
"...We (God) gave Jesus the son of Mary clear signs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit."
The obvious question is to wonder why people who call themselves Christians say such things? But it should be no surprise to Muslim readers that among those who call themselves "Christians" there could be men who do not believe in the supernatural. Have there not been similar writers among those who call themselves "Muslims"?
In his very evenly balanced book, Islam---A Christian Perspective, Michael Nazir-Ali of Pakistan writes as follows concerning the Muslim reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan,
"Theologically Sir Syed was of deistic inclinations and held that God was indeed the Ground of the Universe and it was he who had created nature and her laws...God does not, however, interfere in the course of nature, and occasional divine intervention in the affairs of man is ruled out altogether...
"Sir Syed denies the Quranic doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ, holding that such a birth would be an interference in the course of nature and was, therefore, impossible. In order to reconcile this a priori attitude with the testimony of the Qur'an, he offers the somewhat feeble explanation that when the Qur'an speaks of Mary's virginity it really means that she had intercourse only with her husband! An examination of the Quranic texts shows us the absurdity of such a position, and it is indeed true that no competent commentator of the Qur'an has attempted a denial of the fact that the Qur'an teaches her virginity.
"...Sir Syed repeatedly affirms his belief in the inerrancy of the Qur'an and pleads only for a correct interpretation of it. In some cases it is quite clear, however, that his deism will not be reconciled to the supernaturalism of the Qur'an."
Conservative Muslims like the Wahhabis violently oppose these ideas of Sir Syed. Similarly a large number of conservative Christians, who do believe in Miracles and do believe the Gospel is true, strongly oppose the anti-supernatural basic assumptions of both "form criticism" and the "documentary hypothesis" and consider them as lies of the Devil.
By now it should be clear that this theory is as harmful to the Qur'an as it is to the Gospel. If a fact found in both books, such as Jesus raising men from the dead, is false in the Gospel, then that same fact is false in the Qur'an; and the Qur'an is found to have been changed, altered, and corrupted---a conclusion which is clearly unacceptable to Muslims.
In the next chapter we shall examine the development of both the Qur'an and the Gospel, and hopefully it will become clear to everyone that there is absolutely no documentary or historical evidence for "form criticism" as it was conceived of by the above mentioned German theologians; but first I should like to present a modern pericope.
Recently Dr. Bucaille has written another book entitled L'Homme D'Ou Vient-il?. In this book, he evaluates the evidence for evolution and finds it sadly wanting.
He quotes the well known evolutionist J. Monod who acknowledges in his book Le Hasard et la necessite, his complete inability to explain the origin of new gene material with these words:
"The major problem is the origin of the genetic code and the mechanism of its translation. In fact, it is not just a "problem" of which one must speak, but rather a genuine riddle." p. 82.
Over many pages Dr. Bucaille demonstrates in a very able manner that chance mutations cannot be the cause of a complicated organ like the eye, nor the complicated instinctive activity of birds or monkeys, nor will they explain the development and order of the complicated proteins used for the storage of the genetic code in the genes. On page 51 he says,
"This notion of the production of new structures, more and more complicated, unquestionably eliminates the effect of chance. Fortuitous and unforeseen variations, even though corrected by natural selection, would never have been able to assure such a progression in perfect order."Or, in other words, CHANCE WAS NOT THE CAUSE!!!---a conclusion with which I am in complete agreement. He then goes on to ask the following question:
"We live, unfortunately, at a time when sensational, but erroneous information, often captures the interest of the public, much more quickly than a carefully weighed judgement, expressing some reservations and admitting those things which are unknown." p. 11.
"This (information) has even more impact on the public, the greater the authority of the one who presents it, and the more that its expression receives image reinforcement like that offered by prime time television." p. 118.
Then in a third passage he makes the following analysis,
"But if we lose sight of the real (of the genuine), even the wisest logic can only lead to falsehoods; which is precisely what happens with certain theories, such as neo-darwinism..." p. 48.
Dr. Bucaille wrote these words about evolution. They are equally true of the "documentary hypothesis" and "form criticism". The men who originated these theories lost sight of the real, and in spite of all the logic which they invested, the result was and is only falsehood.
The "hackers", the modern day computer specialists, say the same thing about their computers, but in less refined language. They have proposed the following "pericope" for the needs of the community,
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