THE STATUS OF THE BIBLE
We believe that the Bible contains the words of God and other material besides. The "fundamentalist" Christian insists that: all of the Bible comes from God, without error, at least in the "original manuscripts". So the Muslim does not attack "God's Word". Rather, he rejects attributing the status of "God's Word'' to writings which do not qualify. In recent years the missionary has sometimes tried to fool the Muslim on this point. The Qur'an talks about "the Book" of the Christian and Jews. The missionary has told us that this Book is the Bible.
AN IMPORTANT QUR'ANIC VERSE ON THE SUBJECT
In fact, the Qur'an refers to the authentic scriptures and the forgeries in their possession (See Qur'an 3:77). At least one Qur'anic verse has been misquoted in missionary literature. By quoting the first half of Qur'an 5:48 they hope to convince Muslims that we must accept the total Bible. The verse in its entirety refers to the Qur'an as a confirmation of previous scriptures and a control. The word translated control is used to describe quality control in normal Arabic. This involves rejection of the disqualified. The Qur'an is called the criterion for judging the false in other scriptures (Qur'an 3:3). Another verse which is complimentary to those that charge forgery is, the verse which explains that the Qur'an will make clear much of that which Christians have concealed or passed over (Qur'an 5:15).
Some attempts have been made to prove the divine origin of the Bible. These fall into two categories: an appeal to accuracy and an appeal to miracles. In the first case we are given a number of historical or scientific points mentioned in Bible verses. What is left vague is why accurate statements should imply the work of God. The Bible makes contact with reality, but so do works of fiction. In fact, a man has to tell us some truth before he can lie to us. We do not mean to label the Bible as totally fictitious, but only to point out the weakness of an argument for divine origin of the Bible which is based on assorted accurate statements made in Bible verses. There are attempts made to dazzle us into belief by those who cite miracles performed by the Bible! For example, Ivan Panin spent 50 years writing over 43,000 pages investigating Bible numerics. There are however, basic flaws in such an approach. First, Panin builds schemes around the numbers seven and eleven, and he the position value of letters and other devices. But the Bible does not state that these things have any relevance. Nowhere has God said: "Behold the miracle of seven and eleven!" Second, "numerical miracles" are cited especially in regard to their the Bible "perfectly preserved" accuracy. Yet the Bible also contains numerical inconsistencies. Various statistics in the Biblical books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are in conflict and this is excused as being only minor details which were lost over the years. Preservation of numbers is praised while the lack of preservation is excused. Third, the "discoveries" of these researchers tend to be self-reinforcing. For example, Panin himself revised the New Testament based on his ideas. Where some text is faulty or doubtful, he decides on the basis of that which fits his scheme. One author of "theomatics" maintained that the anonymous book of Hebrews was written by Paul because this would mean the total number of books in the Bible credited to Paul would then be equal to fourteen -a multiple of seven.
And there is the "miracle'' of personal experience: "The Bible is true because it changed my life." Of course, any piece of literature is supposed to change the life of a thoughtful reader. To be fair, believers in the dazzling sort of miracle are less common than those who appeal on grounds resembling personal experience. In any case the "miracles" are unrelated to the conclusion that they are supposed to establish - the divine origin of the entire Bible. Meanwhile, the appeal to accuracy is also an insufficient premise to establish this conclusion.
WHAT IS THE BIBLE?
As it happens, the title "Bible" is a name not found in the Bible. Nowhere does the Bible name itself as a unit. Actually it is at least 66 separate writings which have been bound as one book. The earlier catalogue of contents that agrees with the present text dates from the fourth century. This indicates that the Bible has no internal claim of unity. Of course, the writings speak of other writings, scriptures and books but not as the unit of today's collection. Almost the last verse in the Bible commands that "nothing should be added to or subtracted from this book". While this has been quoted as a unifying statement, any Christian source will verify that the last book in the Bible was not the last book written. Thus the statement can only apply to this particular small book of the Bible's 66.
A MISSING CLAIM
Nowhere does the Bible sum itself up as totally God's word. However, the missionary argument proceeds this way. At 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says that all scripture is inspired of God. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter says that Paul is correct because Paul too is a writer of scripture. Surely this is not supposed to convince anyone! "Paul says so and Peter says he is right." This kind of argument would not satisfy us if we were investigating any matter. Moreover, we have Paul's denial of his own total inspiration at 1 Corinthians 7:25. Here he states that he writes without God's inspiration on a subject.
About one third of the books in the Bible claim to be divine revelations while the others make no such comment. Because of this lack, the Fundamentalist type of Christian has tried to find other justification for maintaining his claim, as mentioned above.
AN ARTICLE OF FAITH
The Fundamentalist professes: "I believe the Bible to be totally inspired of God, inerrant in the original manuscripts." On the one hand, this is a statement of his belief, while on the other hand it is the basis of his belief: the first because this is said to be his conviction; the second, because the miraculous aspect of the Bible's inerrancy convinces him that God is the author. However, the statement cannot do either job. First, he believes that God ordered the writing of all the Bible. This must include 1 Corinthians 7:25 where Paul writes without the command of God - a contradiction. Second, the miraculous inerrancy of the Bible is something he has never seen. Many Biblical errors are excused as being copying errors. That is, the original manuscripts, which are lost forever, are said, to be inerrant but not those manuscripts which we have today. The statement (intended to serve as both an article of faith and the justification for such faith) fails because it is not universally applied in the first usage and it cites evidence which cannot be produced in the second usage.
Many of the verses in the Bible seem to contradict each other. However, these are often matters that can be reconciled by better understanding of translation and context. This kind of reconciliation is the subject of many Christian books and is a healthy process. But some have deceived themselves into thinking that this means every Biblical contradiction is only apparent and can be explained. Actually there is another category of contradictions which is not explainable by consideration of translation or context. It is the existence of this type of discrepancy that has caused the words "in the original manuscripts" to be added to any claim that the Bible is free of error. These are the so-called copying mistakes (e.g. Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7). Here again the believer in total Bible inspiration neglects to apply his belief universally. At Isaiah 40:8, the Bible states that God's word stands forever - it does not get lost in the re-copying. If the Christian takes this part of the Bible as inspired how can he admit that other portion have not stood till now, let alone forever?
At this point the Christian redefines exactly what he means by God's word. He says that it is not so much the individual words of the Bible, these were chosen by the human writers, but the message which is God's word. So small statistical errors do not invalidate the Bible's totally divine authority. Once more we have an answer which opposes a previous claim: it was the supposed amazing accuracy of the individual words themselves that testified to the divine quality of the Bible. Now these words are said to be only human efforts under a more vague "in breathing" (inspiration) of God.
WORDS AND MESSAGE
Jesus outlined a principle of reliability at Luke 16:10, "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much: and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much." Now the missionary excuses small mistakes while maintaining that there are no big mistakes in the Bible. But Jesus' words do not allow for this separation of small and big errors. So the last Christian answer is used again: the missionary says that the message is one subject and it contains no errors big or small, but the actual words of the Bible might possibly contain error. Both the Muslim and the Christian should take note of this distinction. The Qur'an talks about the Injeel of Jesus, meaning the particular message he delivered. Both the missionary and the careless Muslim may believe that this Injeel is the same as the four gospels - the Biblical accounts of the life of Jesus. The Muslim should realize and the Christian should be ready to admit that the exact words of the four gospel accounts are not the same as the message of Jesus. The gospels narrate the events of his life and at times quote him. More correctly, the words of Jesus are paraphrased in the gospels. His sayings are recast but not directly quoted necessarily. In fact, the famous "Lord's Prayer" will be found in two different versions at Matthew 6 and Luke 11. In a similar way, the Qur'an mentions the Torah of Moses. Again, it must not be imagined that the message of Moses survives verbatim in today's Bible. A claim like this was made in the prophet Jeremiah's day, but we read: "How can you say, 'We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us'? Rut behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie." (Jeremiah 8:8): In the following, we are concerned with the words of Jesus, not with the things people wrote about him. We do not pick and choose from the Bible according to what we like, but grant that the fundamentalist Christian likes all of the Bible. Therefore he should be willing to discuss any quotation made here, although the Muslim is not conceding any authenticity.
We intend to use the methods already illustrated to deal with the most basic issue between Christians and Muslims. The method has been to clarify what is vague, to expose neglected information, and to finish incomplete thoughts. This method enables us to turn to the words attributed to Jesus in the Bible and we can then determine where his words have been "overspecified" - made to say more than they mean - or where his words have been "twice sold" - given two interpretations.
The primary issue is finally, not whether Jesus was divine, but whether he said that he was. Let us illustrate and then summarize the method of investigating the missionary's claim.
In the overspecified category we have such passages as John Chapter 6, John 3:16 and the tenth chapter of John. At 6:41 Jesus says: "I am the bread that came down out of heaven." In this chapter, he compares himself to the manna eaten by the Israelites in Moses' time. Quoting scripture he calls the manna "bread out of heaven", (Psalm 78:24). The vagueness in this argument is the fact that the Christian has not stated that he intends to make an exact parallel between Jesus and the manna: if one comes from heaven, so does the other. The information he has neglected involves the origin of the manna. Of course it was not prepared in heaven and then transported to earth. According to Numbers 11:9, it came from the same place as the dew. So a thought must be finished. If the Christian maintains that Jesus literally came out of the heaven where God lives, he forces a literal meaning from the words while allowing a figurative meaning for the same words in the case of the manna out of heaven.
John 3:16 is where the Christian says Jesus claimed status as not just a figurative son of God but as God's actual "only-begotten" son. Not all Bible translate the passage with this key word because some translators have seen the difficulty this causes. At Hebrews 11:17, the same Greek word is found in the original language. But in this place it refers to Isaac who was at no time, strictly speaking, Abraham's only-begotten son. In the case of Isaac the Church explains that "only-begotten" is not to be understood strictly but must he modified. However, no such modification is allowed in the case of John 3:16 when it is over-specified as being literally true. In the tenth chapter of John we read about the Jews trying to stone Jesus and saying that he had made himself equal to God. The Christian agrees with the Jews and overlooks Jesus' reply. He proceeds to tell them that their own scriptures refer to certain evil men as "gods". Therefore, he argued that it was even more appropriate that one actually sent by God should be called a "son of God". He had also said that it was appropriate to call a peacemaker a "son of God" (Matthew 5:9). The Jews and Christians overspecify his words when they insist that he has claimed divinity. There is another poorly conceived argument which is related to this. Where the Jews have understood Jesus to blaspheme - i.e. claim divine authority - the Christian says he has proof that Jesus did claim divinity. The incorrect assumption however, is that the Jews understood Jesus. For example, they understood him to seize divine authority when he told a man that his sins were forgiven (Mark 2). But the verse at John 12:49, among others, shows that Jesus denied any personal initiative. He spoke only what God commanded him to say.
Still more badly thought through is an argument based on common Christian misunderstanding. Muslims agree that Jesus was "the Messiah". Although modern Bible translations hide the fact, many individuals are called "Messiah" in the Bible. Christians have come to believe that there is a connotation of divinity in the word, however. So when they read that Jesus admitted to being the Messiah and the Jewish High Priest declared it blasphemy, they feel that they have still more proof that Jesus claimed divinity. The High Priest could only protest what he thought was a lie - a slander against God. The Jews were awaiting the Messiah. Were they also ready to kill the first man who said that he was the Messiah because such a claim is blasphemous?
In the "twice sold" category, we have verses like John 10:30 and 14:9. The first one reads: "I and the Father are one." The Christian leaves vague exactly what this sentence itself leaves vague: one what? The overlooked information is found in the Seventeenth Chapter of John where the same idea occurs more than once and includes the disciples of Jesus in this oneness. (See John 17:11, 21-22). The thought that should be finished is this: If Jesus meant to say that being "one" means being divine then are the disciples also divine in the same sense as Jesus since the same expression includes them? As it happens the phrase has been sold twice. The Seventeenth Chapter verses are quoted in support of unity of purpose while the Tenth Chapter verse is used to support the claim that Jesus announced his Godhood.
Many students of the Bible have an understanding of scriptures which is quite reasonable. However, these same students forget their interpretation at times and sell another one to the Muslim. They do not seem to notice this double standard. A clear illustration is the case of John 14:9. Ask where Jesus claimed divinity explicitly and one is most often shown this verse: "He who has seen me has seen the Father." Clarification of the argument exhibits the difficulties. The Christian means to say that if one's eyes sees Jesus, they see God because Jesus is God. Even this clarification cannot be stated without trading on something left vague, namely, the Trinitarian distinction between Father and Son. Jesus said that seeing him was seeing the Father, yet Jesus is the Son. So they tell us: "read God for Father." In any case, the argument is self-defeating. If seeing Jesus is seeing God (or the Father) because they are one and the same then how could Jesus tell people who were looking at him that they had never seen or heard God (the Father)? This is his statement in John 5:37!!! Now the Christian responds to a question which has not been asked! We have not said that John 14:9 is in conflict with 5:37 and asked for an explanation. But he proceeds to explain that the verses are in harmony because they refer to Jesus as one who reveals what God is like. People who did not receive Jesus did not "see" God. But our question is how the first interpretation of John 14:9 can be harmonized with John 5:37. They have provided a second interpretation for John 14:9 and yet the next time someone asks them to show a Bible passage where Jesus claims divinity, be sure that they will go to the first interpretation and quote this favorite verse: "He who has seen me has seen the Father."