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A Defense of the Bible
In order to support their claim that the Qur’an is the inspired word of God, superseding all previous revelations, Muslims sustain an attack upon all competing claims. For the most part their efforts are directed against their chief rival, the Bible. Their accusations fall into two basic categories: first, the text of Scripture has been changed or forged; second, doctrinal mistakes have crept into Christian teaching, such as the belief in the incarnation of Christ, the trinity of the Godhead, and the doctrine of original sin.1
Strangely, sometimes the Qur’an gives the Judeo-Christian Scriptures such noble titles as: “the Book of God,” “the Word of God,” “a light and guidance to man,” “a decision for all matters,” “a guidance and mercy,” “the lucid Book,” “the illumination (al-furqan),” “the gospel with its guidance and light, confirming the preceding Law,” and “a guidance and warning to those who fear God.”2 Christians are told to look into their own Scriptures to find God’s revelation for them (5:50). And even Muhammad himself at one point is exhorted to test the truthfulness of his own message with the contents of the previous divine revelations to Jews and Christians (10:94).
However, the above praise for the Bible is misleading, since Muslims hasten to claim that the Qur’an supersedes all previous revelations based on their concept of progressive revelation. By this they hope to show that the Qur’an fulfills, and even sets aside the previous, less complete revelations (such as the Bible). One Islamic theologian echoes this conviction by stating that while a Muslim needs to believe in the Torah (Law of Moses), the Zabur (the Psalms of David), and the Injil (Gospel), nevertheless he claims that “according to the most eminent theologians” the books in their present state “have been tampered with.” He goes on to say, “It is to be believed that the Qur’an is the noblest of the books.… It is the last of the God-given scriptures to come down, it abrogates all the books which preceded it.… It is impossible for it to suffer any change or alteration.”3 Even though this is the most common view among Islamic scholars, still many Muslims claim to believe in the sacredness and truthfulness of the present-day Bible. This, however, is largely lip service on their part, since due to their firm belief in the all-sufficiency of the Qur’an, very few ever study the Bible.
Charges Against the Old Testament
Muslims often show a less favorable view of the previous Scriptures, mainly due to the distortions imposed on them by the teachers of the Law. The charges against people of the Book and their tampering with the Scriptures include: concealing God’s Word (2:42; 3:71), verbally distorting the message in their books (3:78; 4:46), not believing in all the parts of their Scriptures (2:85), and not knowing what their own Scriptures really teach (2:78). Even though in their historical contexts most of these charges were directed against the Jews, by implication Muslims have also included Christians in the above criticisms.
Due to the above ambiguities in the Qur’anic accounts, Muslims hold various views (that are sometimes in conflict) regarding the Bible. For instance, the well-known Muslim reformer, Muhammad Abduh writes, “The Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an are three concordant books; religious men study all three and respect them equally. Thus the divine teaching is completed, and the true religion shines across the centuries.”4 Another Muslim author tries to harmonize the three great world religions in this way: “Judaism lays stress on Justice and Right: Christianity, on Love and Charity: Islam, on Brotherhood and Peace.”5 However, the most typical Islamic approach to this subject is characterized by comments of the Muslim apologist, Ajijola:
The first five books of the Old Testament do not constitute the original Torah, but parts of the Torah have been mingled up with other narratives written by human beings and the original guidance of the Lord is lost in that quagmire. Similarly the four Gospels of Christ are not the original Gospels as they came from Prophet Jesus … the original and the fictitious, the Divine and the human are so intermingled that the grain cannot be separated from the chaff. The fact is that the original Word of God is preserved neither with the Jews nor with the Christians. Qur’an, on the other hand, is fully preserved and not a jot or tittle has been changed or left out in it.6
These charges bring us once again to the Islamic doctrine of tahrif, or corruption of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Based on some of the above Qur’anic verses and, more important, exposure to the actual contents of other scriptures, Muslim theologians have generally formulated two different responses. According to Nazir-Ali, “the early Muslim commentators (e.g., Al-Tabari and Ar-Razi) believed that the alteration is tahrif bi’al ma’ni, a corruption of the meaning of the text without tampering with the text itself. Gradually, the dominant view changed to tahrif bi’al-lafz, corruption of the text itself.”7 The Spanish theologians Ibn-Hazm, and Al-Biruni, along with most Muslims, uphold this view.
Another Qur’anic scholar claims that “the biblical Torah was apparently not identical with the pure tawrat given as a revelation to Moses, but there was considerable variation in opinion on the question to what extent the former scriptures were corrupted.” On the one hand, “Ibn-Hazm, who was the first thinker to consider the problem of tabdil [change] systematically, contended … that the text itself had been changed or forged (taghyr), and he drew attention to immoral stories which had found a place within the corpus.” On the other hand, “Ibn-Khaldun held that the text itself had not been forged but that Jews and Christians had misinterpreted their scripture, especially those texts which predicted or announced the mission of Muhammad and the coming of Islam.”8
Whether a Muslim scholar shows more or less respect for the Bible, and whether or how he will quote from it depends on his particular interpretation of tabdil. Ibn-Hazm, for instance, rejects nearly the whole Old Testament as a forgery, but cheerfully quotes the tawrat when bad reports are given of the faith and behavior of the Banu Isra’il as proofs against the Jews and their religion.
Charges Against the New Testament
Noted Muslim commentator Yusuf Ali contends that “the Injil spoken of by the Qur’an is not the New Testament. It is not the four Gospels now received as canonical. It is the single Gospel which, Islam teaches, was revealed to Jesus, and which he taught. Fragments of it survive in the received canonical Gospels and in some others of which traces survive.”9 Direct allegations against New Testament and Christian teaching are made. These include the charges that there have been a change and forgery of textual divine revelation, and that there have been doctrinal mistakes such as the belief in the incarnation of Christ, the trinity of the Godhead, and the doctrine of original sin.10
Another important debate among Muslim theologians on this point is the question of the eternal destiny of people of the Book. Although the average Muslim might consider anyone who has been a “good person” worthy of eternal salvation, accounting for all the Qur’anic evidences on this subject has created much uncertainty.
Among the classical orthodox theologians, Jews and Christians were generally regarded as unbelievers (kafar), because of their rejection of Muhammad as a true prophet from God. For example, in the Qur’anic commentary of Tabari, one of the most respected Muslim commentators of all time, we notice that even though the author distinguishes between the people of the book and the polytheists (mushrikun), and expresses a higher opinion of the former, he clearly declares that the majority of Jews and Christians are in unbelief and transgression because of their refusal to acknowledge Muhammad’s truthfulness.11
Added to this is the charge against Christian belief in the divinity of Christ as the Son of God, a belief that amounts to committing the unpardonable sin of shirk, and is emphatically condemned throughout the Qur’an. The condemnation of Christians is captured In 5:75: “They do blaspheme who say: ‘God is Christ the son of Mary’.… Whoever joins other gods with God, God will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode.”
On the other hand, the contemporary Muslim theologian, Fazlur Rahman, goes against what he admits is “the vast majority of Muslim commentators.” He champions the opinion that salvation is not acquired by formally joining the Muslim faith, but as the Qur’an points out, by believing in God and the last day and doing good deeds.12 The debate continues and each individual Muslim can take a different side of this issue based on his own understanding of the matter.13
A Response to Islamic Charges
These Islamic views about the Bible are critically flawed. One evidence is the internal inconsistency within the Muslim view of Scripture itself. Another is that it is contrary to the factual evidence.
There is serious tension in the Islamic rejection of the authenticity of the current New Testament. This tension can be focused by the following teachings from the Qur’an:
• The original New Testament (“Gospel”) is a revelation of God (5:46, 67, 69, 71).
• Jesus was a prophet and his words should be believed by Muslims (4:171; 5:78). As the Muslim scholar Mufassir notes, “Muslims believe all prophets to be truthful because they are commissioned in the service of humanity by Almighty God (Allah).”14
• Christians were obligated to accept the New Testament of Muhammad’s day (seventh century a.d., 10:94).
In this sura Muhammad is told: “If thou wert in doubt As to what We have revealed Unto thee, then ask those Who have been reading The Book [the Bible] from before thee; The truth hath indeed come To thee from thy Lord; So be in no wise Of those who doubt.” Abdul Haqq notes that “the learned doctors of Islam are sadly embarrassed by this verse, referring the prophet as it does to the people of the Book who would solve his doubts.”15 One of the strangest interpretations is that the sura is actually addressed to those who question his claim. Others claim that “it was Muhammad himself who is addressed, but, however much they change and turn the compass, it ever points to the same celestial pole—the purity and preservation of the Scriptures.” However, Haqq adds, “If again, we take the party addressed to be those who doubted the truth of Islam, this throws open the whole foundation of the prophet’s mission; regarding which they are referred to the Jews [or Christians] for an answer to their doubts; which would only strengthen the argument for the authority of the Scripture—a result the Muslim critics would hardly be prepared for.”16
Christians respond to this verse by making two crucial points. First, Muhammad would not have asked them to accept a corrupted version of the New Testament. Second, the New Testament today is substantially identical to the New Testament of Muhammad’s day, since today’s New Testament is based on existing manuscripts that go back even centuries before Muhammad’s day. Hence, by the logic of this verse Muslims should accept the authenticity of today’s Bible. But if they do, then they should accept the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity (see Chapters 11 and 12) since that is what the New Testament teaches. However, Muslims categorically reject these teachings. Hence, the dilemma within the Islamic view.
There is another inconsistency within the Islamic (Qur’anic) view regarding the Bible. They claim that the Bible is “the Word of God” (2:75). However, Muslims also insist that God’s words cannot be altered or changed. But, as Pfander points out, “if both these statements are correct … then it follows that the Bible has not been changed and corrupted either before or since Muhammad’s time.”17 However, Islamic teaching insists that the Bible has been corrupted. Thus the contradiction.
Furthermore, as Islamic scholar Richard Bell points out, it is unreasonable to suppose that Jews and Christians would conspire together to change the Old Testament. For “ … their [the Jews] feeling towards the Christians had always been hostile.”18 Why would two hostile parties (Jews and Christians), who shared a common Old Testament, conspire to change it to support the views of a common enemy, the Muslims? It does not make any sense. What is more, at the supposed time of the textual changes Jews and Christians were spread all over the world, making the supposed collaboration to corrupt the text impossible. And the number of copies of the Old Testament in circulation were too numerous to guarantee that the changes would be uniform. Also, there is no mention of any such changes by former Jews or Christians of the time who became Muslims—something that they surely would have reported if it were true.19
Furthermore, Muslim rejection of the New Testament is contrary to the overwhelming manuscript evidence. All the Gospels are preserved in the Chester Beatty Papyri, dated about a.d. 250. And the vast majority of the New Testament exists in the Vaticanus Ms. (B) that dates from about a.d. 325–50. In addition there are nearly 5,700 other manuscripts of the New Testament dating from the second century a.d. to the fifteenth century (hundreds of which are from before the time of Muhammad) that confirm the same substantial text of the whole New Testament existing in Muhammad’s day.
The New Testament text of Muhammad’s day is confirmed by these same manuscripts to be the same basic New Testament text of Jesus’ day. For these manuscripts provide an unbroken chain of testimony to the very threshold of the first century for the authenticity of the New Testament text we possess today. For example, the earliest fragment of the New Testament, the John Ryland Fragment, is dated about a.d. 117–38. It preserves verses from John 18 just as they are found in later manuscripts and in today’s New Testament. Likewise, the Bodmer Papyri from the second century a.d. preserve the whole books of Peter and Jude as we have them today. There is absolutely no evidence to indicate that the New Testament message was destroyed or distorted, as Muslims claim it was.20
Finally, Muslims use liberal critics of the New Testament in an attempt to show that the New Testament was corrupted, misplaced, and outdated. However, the late liberal New Testament scholar, Bishop John Robinson, concluded that the Gospel record was written well within the lives of the apostles, somewhere between 40 and 60 a.d. Likewise, former Bultmannian New Testament critic Eta Linnemann has more recently concluded that negative New Testament criticism, which holds that the New Testament as preserved in the manuscripts does not accurately preserve the words and deeds of Jesus, is defunct. This former disciple of Rudolph Bultmann writes: “As time passes, I become more and more convinced that to a considerable degree New Testament criticism as practiced by those committed to historical-critical theology does not deserve to be called science.”21 The author adds, “The Gospels are not works of literature that creatively reshape already finished material after the manner in which Goethe reshaped the popular book about Dr. Faust.”22 Rather, “Every Gospel presents a complete, unique testimony. It owes its existence to direct or indirect eyewitnesses.”23 (Further evidence for the reliability of the New Testament is found in Appendix 4.)
Furthermore, the use of these liberal critics by Muslim apologists is misplaced, since it undermines their own view of the Qur’an. Muslim writers are fond of quoting the conclusions of liberal critics of the Bible without giving serious consideration to their presuppositions. For example, the same antisupernaturalism that led liberal critics of the Bible to deny that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, noting the different words for God used in different passages, would likewise argue that the Qur’an did not come from Muhammad. For the Qur’an also uses different names for God in different places. Allah is used for God in suras 4, 9, 24, 33, but Rab is used in suras 18, 23, and 25.24 Muslims seem blissfully unaware that the views of these critics are based on an antisupernatural bias that, if applied to the Qur’an and the hadith, would destroy basic Muslim beliefs as well. In short, Muslims cannot appeal to criticisms of the New Testament that are based on the belief that miracles do not occur, unless they wish to undermine their own faith.
To summarize, if Christians in Muhammad’s day were obligated to accept the New Testament, and if abundant manuscript evidence confirms that the New Testament of today is essentially the same, then it follows that, according to the teachings of the Qur’an itself, Christians are obligated to accept the teachings of the New Testament today. But the New Testament today affirms that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again three days later (see Chapters 11 and 13). But this is contrary to the Qur’an. Thus, Muslim rejection of the authenticity of the New Testament is inconsistent with their own belief in the inspiration of the Qur’an.
Inconsistent Use of the Bible
Muslims do not reject all of the New Testament. In fact, they often appeal to certain New Testament passages to support their belief that Jesus did not claim to be God. However their selection of “authentic” passages is arbitrary, suited only to fit their doctrinal interests. If select passages seem to support their own doctrines, they will be declared authentic. If, on the other hand, as is the case with the vast majority of texts, they do not support Islamic beliefs, they will arbitrarily be pronounced corrupt.
When Muslims pronounce certain biblical passages authentic, it is not because they recognize there is good manuscript evidence for it as opposed to those they consider unauthentic. As a matter of fact, as we have just seen, these have the same manuscript authority as the so-called unauthentic ones. The whole concept of corruption or tahrif, crucial as it is to the Islamic claim, has absolutely no textual support. The Bible has overwhelming manuscript support that predates Muhammad by centuries. Indeed, as we have seen, there is more manuscript evidence for the New Testament than for any book from the ancient world.
Furthermore, even the conclusions drawn from the select passages they pronounce “authentic” are based on a misunderstanding of the passages’ meaning. Since many of these involve the deity of Christ and the Trinity, the reader is referred to Chapter 12 for a detailed discussion of these misinterpreted texts. For now, we turn our attention to another Muslim attempt to support the Qur’an: the effort to prove errors in the Bible.
In his popular book, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, Bucaille contends that “quotations from the Gospels themselves show flat contradictions.”25 He believes that “monumental errors are to be found in the Bible.”26 Bucaille’s list, however, is neither monumental nor difficult. Since we have compressively answered these kinds of criticisms elsewhere,27 we will respond only to the ones most often used by Muslim apologists.
Genesis 1:2. According to Bucaille, Genesis 1 is “a masterpiece of inaccuracy from a scientific point of view.”28 He cites the fact that Genesis 1:2 mentions water in an early stage of the earth’s history, yet he insists, “to mention the existence of water at this period is however simply pure allegory.”29
This is a strange charge for several reasons. Bucaille himself admits that “there is every indication that at the initial stage of the formation of the universe a gaseous mass existed.”30 Yet water itself has a gaseous state known as vapor. Further, scientific views change. The theories of today are often discarded tomorrow. So even if there were some theory today holding that there was no water in the initial state of our universe, it may be found to be false tomorrow. Furthermore, there was water in the early stages of earth’s history, at least in the form of vapor. This is one of the reasons life as we know it is possible on earth, unlike other planets in our solar system or elsewhere. So in his haste to find errors in the Bible Bucaille has made one of his own. Finally, scientific theory cannot overrule a fact of God’s revelation. Bucaille would never allow a scientific view, no matter how widely held, to overthrow his belief that the Qur’an is a miracle. Yet most modern scientists reject miracles.
Genesis 1:3–5. About Genesis 1:3–5 Bucaille affirms, “it is illogical, however, to mention the result (light) on the first day, when the cause of this light [the sun] was created three days later.”31
But almost anyone with an even elementary knowledge of science and the Bible can answer this objection. For the sun is not the only source of light in the universe. Further, it is not necessary to understand the text as saying the sun was created on the fourth day. It may have been only made to appear on the fourth day, after the mist of water vapor had cleared away so that its outline became visible.32 Before this its light may have been shining through, just as it does on a misty day, without observers on earth being able to see the outline of the sun.
Genesis 1:6–8. According to Genesis 1:6–8 God made “a firmament in the midst of the waters.” But Bucaille calls this a “myth,” insisting that “this image of the division of the waters into two masses is scientifically unacceptable.”33
It is true that the Hebrew word for the “firmament” (raqia) that God created (Gen. 1:6; cf. Job 37:18) originally meant a solid object.34 However, meaning is not determined by origin (etymology) but by usage. Originally, the English word “board” referred to a wooden plank. But when we speak of a member of a corporate board, it no longer has that meaning. Likewise, when used of the atmosphere above the earth, “firmament” clearly does not mean something solid. The related word raqa (beat out, spread out) is correctly rendered “expanse” by many translations. So just as metal spreads out when beaten (Exod. 39:3; Isa. 40:19), the firmament too is a thinned out area. The root meaning “spread out” can be used independently of “beat out,” as it is in several passages (Ps. 136:6; Isa. 42:5; 44:24). Isaiah writes: “So says Jehovah God, He who created the heavens and stretched them out, spreading out the earth and its offspring” (Isa. 42:5 nkjv, emphasis added). This same verb is used of extending curtains or tents in which to dwell, which would make no sense unless there was no empty space there in which to live. Isaiah, for example, spoke of the Lord “who sits on the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” (Isa. 40:22 nkjv, emphasis added). Also, the Bible speaks of rain falling through the sky (Job 36:27–28). But this makes no sense if the sky is a metal dome. It is absurd to suppose that there were little holes in a metal dome through which the drops could fall.35
The same creation account in Genesis speaks of birds that “fly above the earth across the face of the firmament” (Gen. 1:20). But this would be impossible if the sky were solid. Thus, it is more appropriate to translate raqia by the word “expanse” (as the NASB and NIV do). And in this sense there is no conflict with the concept of space in modern science.
Even taken literally, Job’s parallel statement (Job 37:18) does not affirm that the “skies” are a “metal mirror” but simply that they are “as [like]” a mirror. In other words, it is a comparison that need not be taken literally, any more than God is really a “strong tower” (Prov. 18:10). Further, the point of comparison in Job is not the solidity of the “skies” or a mirror but their durability (cf. “strong” [chazaq], v. 18). So when all is considered, there is no evidence that the Bible affirms that the sky of firmament is a metallic dome. And thus there is no conflict here with modern science, as Muslim critics claim.
Genesis 1:19–23. Islamic scholars find two things unacceptable in Genesis 1:19–23: “the fact that continents emerged at the period in earth’s history, when it was still covered with water” and “what is totally unacceptable is that a highly organized vegetable kingdom with reproduction by seed could have appeared before the existence of the sun.”36
In response, we note that the first point is unsubstantiated, and the second one we have already answered above under Genesis 1:3–5. In brief, Bucaille has dogmatized science in the first criticism and is improperly informed. To whom is it “totally unacceptable” that God created seed-bearing plants early in earth’s history? To a nontheistic evolutionist, perhaps, who rejects God and his special work of creation. But this certainly should not be unacceptable to a Muslim, like Bucaille, who claims to believe the Qur’an. For the Qur’an teaches that God is “almighty” and can do anything he desires (2:159). Furthermore, the Qur’an affirms that God created the world and all that is in it in a few days. Why should it be thought unacceptable, then, to believe that on one of these days (the third one in the Bible) God created seed-bearing plants? At best, the only contradiction here is between the Bible and a prevalent current scientific hypothesis.37 There is no contradiction between the Bible and scientific fact.
Genesis 1:14–19. Muslim critics state that “to place the creation of the Sun and Moon after the creation of the Earth is contrary to the most firmly established ideas on the formation of the elements of the Solar System.”38
But here again, there are two problems. One is to assume that even the most prevailing scientific ideas are to be taken as absolute fact. Indeed, it is strange that Muslims use this argument, since they too point to the mistake of many theologians in assuming that the almost universally prevailing scientific view of a geocentric (earth-centered) universe was a scientific fact. In like manner, prevailing scientific ideas about the origin of the sun and moon could be wrong.
Furthermore, as we have seen above in comments on Genesis 1:3–5, it is not necessary to believe that the sun and moon were created on the fourth day. Rather, for whatever reason (perhaps as the original vapor disappeared), their form may have only been made visible from the face of the earth on the fourth day. At any rate, there is no real contradiction here and certainly no “momentous” one, as Muslims overenthusiastically proclaim.
Of Genesis 1:20–30, Bucaille insists that “this passage contains assertions which are unacceptable,” such as, “the animal kingdom began with the appearance of creatures of the sea and winged birds.” However, according to modern science, birds did not appear until after reptiles and other land animals. “This order of appearance, beasts of the earth after birds, is not therefore acceptable.”39
Here again, the mistake is not in the infallible Bible but in Bucaille’s fallible interpretation of it, as well as in his flawed understanding of science. First, he has a mistaken interpretation of the Bible. It does not actually say that God created feathered birds before reptiles. It simply refers to winged creatures (Gen. 1:21).40 And, according to science, there were winged creatures that existed before feathered birds. Winged dinosaurs are an example. Their mention along with the “great sea creatures” (probably including dinosaurs) is further indication that the reference here may be to winged dinosaurs, not to feathered birds.
Furthermore, Bucaille seems to assume an evolutionary basis for his criticism. But, as we have already noted, evolution is not a proven fact but an unsubstantiated hypothesis. To offer as scientific proof that “numerous biological characteristics common to both species makes this deduction possible” is to make a fallacious deduction. For common characteristics do not prove common ancestry; it may be an indication of a common Creator. After all, there is a progressive similarity in automobiles from the first ones to current ones. No one, however, believes that one evolved from another by natural processes. Only intelligent intervention (creation) can account for the origin of the successive models of cars.41
Finally, some contemporary scientists are questioning the long-held assumption that all winged creatures appeared after reptiles. Some fossils of flying marine animals have been found in earlier strata that were commonly assigned to the origin of reptiles. In any event, there is no flat contradiction here between scientific fact and Genesis. It is only between various theories of science and some misinterpretations of Genesis.
Genesis 1:24–31. As for Genesis 1:24–31, Bucaille only repeats his charge (just answered) that the “error was to place the appearance of beasts of the earth after that of the birds.”42 Interestingly, he admits that the Bible is right in that “man’s appearance is however correctly situated after the other species of living things.”43
Genesis 2:1–3. Commenting on the biblical teaching that God created in six days (Genesis 2:1–3), Bucaille contends that “today we are perfectly aware that the formation of the Universe and the Earth took place in stages that lasted for very long periods.” Aware that these “days” of Genesis could be taken as long periods of time, he simply repeats his unsubstantiated charge that “the succession of episodes it contains is in absolute contradiction with elementary scientific knowledge.”44 But this has already been shown above to be without factual or logical grounds.
Genesis 2:4f. As for Genesis 2:4f, Bucaille adopts the outdated critical view that Genesis 2 contradicts the account given in Genesis 1. The charge here is that Genesis 1 declares that animals were created before humans, while Genesis 2:19 seems to reverse this, saying, “the Lord God formed every beast of the field … and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them,” implying Adam was created before they were.
The solution to this problem, however, becomes apparent when we take a closer look at the two texts. The differences appear from the fact that Genesis 1 gives the order of events; Genesis 2 provides more content about them. Genesis 2 does not contradict Chapter 1, since it does not affirm exactly when God created the animals. He simply says he brought the animals (which he had previously created) to Adam in order that he might name them. The focus in Chapter 2 is on the naming of the animals, not on creating them. Thus, Genesis 2:4, stressing the naming (not the creating) of animals, simply says: “The Lord God [who had previously] formed every beast of the field … brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.”
Genesis 1 provides the outline of events, and Chapter 2 gives details. Taken together, the two chapters provide a harmonious and more complete picture of the creation events. The differences, then, can be summarized as follows:
Once this is understood, there is absolutely no contradiction at all. The two texts are perfectly complementary.
Alleged Contradictions in Lifespans of PreDeluvians
According to Bucaille, “In Genesis (6:3) God decided just before the Flood to limit man’s lifespan to one hundred and twenty years.… Further on however, we note in Genesis (11:10–32) that the ten descendants of Noah had lifespans that range from 148 to 600 years.… The contradiction between these two passages is quite obvious.”45
Of course, the contradiction in this text is obvious only to those who overlook the context. First of all, even on the assumption that this text refers to the lifespan of Noah’s descendants, it does not say that this shortening of life would take place immediately. It may refer only to the eventual lifespan of the postdeluvians. Indeed, Moses, who wrote these words, lived to exactly 120 years (Deut. 34:7).
Furthermore, there is no necessity to take it as a reference to the lifespan of individuals after the flood at all. It may refer, rather, to the length of time humankind then had left before God would send the flood. This fits better with the immediate context that speaks of how long God would exhort humankind to repent before he sent a flood. The text reads: “My Spirit shall not always strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). So there is no contradiction here at all, to say nothing of a monumental one.
Genesis 5, 11. According to the years listed in these genealogies, there are only about two thousand years before Abraham, who lived about 2000 B.C. But according to Bucaille, modern science has established that human beings originated “tens of thousands of years,” even millions of years before the time of Christ. Thus, the Bible contradicts modern science.46
Once more Bucaille errs in both science and Scripture. First, there is not, as he falsely claims, an “obvious incompatibility between what we can derive from the numerical data in Genesis about the date of man’s appearance on Earth and the firmly established facts of modern scientific knowledge.”47 In fact, the age of humankind on earth in terms of tens of thousands of years is far from a matter of being a “firmly established” fact. As a matter of fact, it is a highly disputed subject, with no indisputable evidence that places man in many tens of thousands of years b.c., to say nothing of millions of years.48
Second, Bucaille misinterprets the biblical text, assuming that there are no gaps in its genealogical lists. Matthew 1:8, for example, says “Joram begot Uzziah.”
However, 1 Chronicles 3:11 lists “Joram [and then] his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, Amaziah his son … ” before we get to Uzziah (also called “Azariah”). In other words, there is a three-generation gap here in the genealogical list. Ahaziah was apparently the immediate son of Joram, and Uzziah was a distant “son” (descendant). Just as the word “son” in the Bible also means grandson or great-grandson, even so the term “begotten” can be used of a grandson, great-grandson, and so on. In other words, “begot” means “became the ancestor of,” and the one “begotten” is the “descendant of.” Matthew, therefore, is not giving a complete chronology, but an abbreviated genealogy of Christ’s ancestry.
The same is true of Genesis 5 and 11. For example, Genesis 11:12 does not list Cainan between Arphaxad and Salah (Shelah). But in the list given in Luke 3:36 it does. So here too is another time gap in the genealogical lists. Since there are proven gaps in this abbreviated list, it is wrong to assume that one can add up all the numbers and get an accurate figure of the time Adam appeared on earth. Since the Bible does not give a precise time that humans first appeared on earth, there is no contradiction with the claims of modern science. Furthermore, it is not a proven fact (but only a widely accepted theory) that humankind has been on earth for tens of thousands of years, as Bucaille claims.
Genesis 6:8. Islamic critics see problems in what they consider to be two contradictory accounts of Noah’s flood. Bucaille points out that “rainwater is given as the agent of the Flood in one (Yahvist) passage, but in another (Sacerdotal), the Flood is given a double cause; rainwater and the waters of the Earth.”49
That such obviously complementary statements as these should be offered as flat contradictions is in itself reason to have confidence in the Scriptures. There is absolutely no conflict at all here. One passage is simply giving an additional source of water. The first passage did not say that rain would be the only source of water. The Muslim critic would have to add this to the text in order to find an error there. But then the error would not be in the Bible but in the Muslim critic who added this to the Bible!
The same can be said about the Islamic charge that the Bible gives different lengths of time that the flood lasted. Each text is speaking about a different period of time. Genesis 7:24 (and 8:3) speaks of the flood waters lasting 150 days. But other verses say it was only 40 days (Gen. 7:4, 12, 17). These numbers refer to different things. Forty days refers to how long it “rained” (7:12), and 150 days speaks of how long the flood “waters prevailed” (cf. 7:24), at the end of which “the waters decreased” (8:3). After this it was not until the fifth month after the rain began that the ark rested on Mount Ararat (8:4). Then about eleven months after the rain began the waters dried up (8:13). And exactly one year and ten days after the flood began Noah and his family emerged on dry ground (8:14).
Bucaille also sees a contradiction in the biblical assertion that only through Noah’s three sons was the earth repopulated after the flood, “so that when Abraham was born roughly three centuries later, he found a humanity that was already reformed into separate communities.” He asks, “how could this reconstruction have taken place in such short time? This simple observation deprives the narration of all verisimilitude.”50 But again, it is the critic’s claim that lacks credibility, not the biblical narrative. Even on the assumption challenged above under Genesis 6:8 that there were only about 4,000 years before Christ, there was plenty of time between Noah and Abraham to populate the earth with tens of thousands of people. Assuming that the average family had only 10 children (Jacob had 12) and that children were not born until their parents reached 50, there would have been over one half million people in 350 years. And assuming only a third of these were still alive in Abraham’s time, there would still be over 160,000. And even subtracting for unnatural deaths, there would still be some 100,000, which was more than necessary to form humanity into “separate communities.”
Furthermore, as we have seen above, there were gaps in the genealogical tables, and there have been many more generations between Noah and Abraham than the six or seven allotted, assuming a closed genealogy. And with only one more generation the population could have been in the multimillions! Now no doubt the population was much less, say only tens of thousands, but the point is that there is absolutely no factual or logical contradiction here.
Matthew 1:1f. Most Muslim critics of the Bible make a big point out of the seeming contradiction between Matthew and Luke’s genealogical list of Christ’s ancestors.51 For example, Jesus has a different grandfather in Luke 3:23 (Heli) than he does in Matthew 1:16 (Jacob). Which one is the right one?
In response, we simply point to the obvious, namely, that two genealogies should be expected, since there are two different lines of ancestors, one traced through his legal father Joseph, and the other through his actual mother, Mary. Matthew gives the official line, emphasizing the Jewish Messiah’s credentials. Jews believed that the Messiah would come from the seed of Abraham and the line of David (Matt. 1:1). Luke, with a broader Greek audience in view, presented Jesus as the Perfect Man (which was the quest of Greek thought). Thus, he traces Jesus back to the first man, Adam (Luke 3:38).
That Matthew gives Jesus’ paternal genealogy and Luke his maternal genealogy is further supported by several facts. While both lines trace Christ to David, each is through a different son of David. Matthew traces Jesus through Joseph (his legal father)52 to David’s son, Solomon the king, by whom Christ rightfully inherited the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:12f). Luke’s purpose, on the other hand, is to show Christ as an actual human. So he traces Christ to David’s son, Nathan, through his actual mother, Mary, through whom he can rightfully claim to be fully human, the redeemer of humanity.
Luke does not say that he is giving Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph. Rather, he notes that Jesus was “as was supposed” (Luke 3:23) the son of Joseph, while he was actually the son of Mary. That Luke would record Mary’s genealogy fits with his interest as a doctor in mothers and birth and with his emphasis on women in his Gospel that has been called “the Gospel for Women.”
Finally, the fact that the two genealogies have some names in common (such as Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, Matt. 1:12; Luke 3:27) does not prove they are the same genealogy for two reasons. One, these are not uncommon names. Second, even the same genealogy (Luke’s) has a repeat of the names Joseph and Judah (vv. 26, 30 ).
The two genealogies can be summarized as follows:
John 13:1. Bucaille sees a contradiction in the fact that John informs us that Jesus ate the Last Supper “before the feast of the Passover” (John 13:1). However, here the contradiction exists only in the critic’s mind, not in the text of Scripture, since he provides absolutely no evidence that any other text of Scripture contradicts this. Perhaps Bucaille hits the height of superficiality when he mentions in this connection the fact that “the Last Supper and the Passion in John’s Gospel are both very long, twice as long as in Mark and Luke.”53 Just how this is supposed to prove the Bible is filled with “momentous” contradictions one is hard pressed to discover!
Alleged Contradictions in Resurrection Accounts. Muslim apologists often point to alleged contradictions in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. But when properly understood in context, none of them is real, only imagined.54 For example, Bucaille’s primary argument is that different accounts list different appearances, as though this proved that they could not all be correct. Indeed, in the very same manner, the Qur’an lists a different number of days that it took God to create (cf. 32:4 with 41:9). Yet Muslims do not find it difficult to see how all these harmonize.55 Since we will speak of the resurrection accounts in more detail in Chapter 11, we will reserve further comment until then. It will suffice to say here that neither Bucaille nor any other Muslim apologists have proven a genuine contradiction in the Bible. Indeed, in their futile quest to find something wrong with the Bible they reveal what is wrong with their own view.
Islamic critics have long contended that there are numerous errors in the Bible. However, they are long on criticism and short on proof. In fact, they have not discovered a single error in the Bible. Rather, the only errors to be found are in their criticisms. Indeed, we have carefully examined every error in the Bible alleged over the past forty years and have not found a single one! Eight hundred of these alleged errors are discussed in our book, When Critics Ask.56 We have found that, while there are biblical difficulties, there are no demonstrable biblical errors. Other scholars have come to the same conclusion.57
The Bible has been scrutinized by some of the best legal minds in our history and found to be authentic. The great Harvard legal expert, Simon Greenleaf, examined the New Testament carefully by legal standards and concluded that “copies which had been as universally received and acted upon as the Four Gospels, would have been received in evidence in any court of justice, without the slightest hesitation.”58 Thus the Bible stands solid, even under the stringent cross-examination of great legal minds.
One of the evidences Muslims give for the inspiration of the Qur’an is that it presents God speaking in the first person. Thus, it seems to them to carry the mark of authentic words from God. In this regard, it is hard for Muslims to understand how a book like the Bible, with its variety of human literary forms usually spoken from a human perspective, can possibly be the Word of God. What they forget, however, is that the Qur’an itself sometimes speaks from a purely human point of view. The very first sura, for example, is a human prayer in which God is addressed in the second and third persons. After the introductory formula, it begins: “Praise be to God, The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds.… Thee do we worship, And Thine aid we seek” (1:2, 5).
Furthermore, the Bible also has many sections where God is speaking in the first person. This is most evident in the prophetic sections of the Old Testament in phrases like, “Thus says the Lord” or “The word of the Lord came to me” (Isa. 1:10, 18; 6:8; Jer. 1:4; Ezek. 1:3, and so on). Yet Muslims are unwilling to accept these sections of the Bible as they are to be the Word of God.
Finally, even though the Bible is written by human beings, nevertheless, these men claimed to be inspired of God. The apostle Paul, for example, claims that his writings are in “words which the Holy Spirit teaches” (1 Cor. 2:13). Indeed, he said of the whole Old Testament that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). And Peter declared that “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). So there is no reason to reject the divine character of the Bible simply because it was produced through the instrumentality of human authors and literary styles. In-deed, as we have seen, all alleged contradictions in the Bible are just that—alleged contradictions, not real ones.
1 Waardenburg, 261–63.
2 Takle, 217.
3 Jeffery, Islam, Muhammad and His Religion, 126–28.
4 Dermenghem, 138.
5 Waddy, 116.
6 Ajijola, 79.
7 Nazir-Ali, 46.
8 Waardenburg, 257.
9 A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, 287.
10 See Waardenburg, 261–63.
11 Antes, 104–5. Also see Islamochristiana, 1980, vol. 6, 105–48.
12 Rahman, 166–67. Of course, his views are considered unorthodox by traditional Muslims.
13 Regarding the salvation of other groups such as Hindus, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians, Muslim opinion also varies. Some Muslims view these religions as being originally similar to Islam and from God but no longer true to their origin, while others reject them as false religions from the very beginning (see also Chapter 6).
14 Sulaiman Shahid Mufassir, Jesus, a Prophet of Islam (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1980), i.
15 Abdul-Haqq, 23. Taken from W. Muir, The Beacon of Truth (London: The Religious Tract Society), 1894.
16 See Abdul-Haqq, 100.
17 Pfander, 101.
18 Bell, 164–65.
19 For a further elaboration of these points see Josh McDowell and John Gilchrist, The Islam Debate (San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers, 1983), 52–53.
20 For further support of this point, see Geisler and Nix, Chapter 22.
21 Eta Linnemann, Is There a Synoptic Problem? Rethinking the Literary Dependence of the First Three Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 9.
22 Ibid., 104.
23 Ibid., 194.
24 See R. K. Harrison, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 517.
25 Bucaille, 115.
26 Ibid., 127.
27 See Geisler and Howe.
28 See Bucaille, 40.
29 Ibid., 41.
32 The Hebrew word for made, asah, occurs about 1,200 times in the Old Testament. It has a wide range of meanings, including: did, made, show, appear, made to appear, etc.
33 See Bucaille, 41.
34 The discussion here follows that in Geisler and Howe, 229–30.
35 The Bible does speak figuratively of the “windows of heaven” opening for the flood (Gen. 7:11). But this may not be meant any more literally than our English idiom, “It is raining cats and dogs” (meaning it is raining very hard).
36 See Bucaille, 42.
37 For a critique of current evolutionary thinking, see Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, Md.: Adler & Adler, 1985); and Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1991). Our own treatment is found in Geisler, Origin Science, esp. Chapters 5–7.
38 See Bucaille, 42.
39 Ibid., 42–43.
40 This is often translated “birds” (i.e., flying animals) but is never rendered “feathered creatures.”
41 See Denton or Johnson for a critique of evolution.
42 See Bucaille, 43.
44 Ibid., 45.
45 Ibid., 39–40.
46 Ibid., 46–48.
47 Ibid., 48, emphasis ours.
48 See N. L. Geisler and Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations (Minneapolis: Bethany, 2001), Chapter 8.
49 Bucaille, 49.
50 Ibid., 50.
51 Ibid., 94ff.
52 Since Jesus was born of a virgin, he had no actual (biological) human father. But he did have a legal father, since he was born to a virgin who was legally engaged to Joseph (cf. Matt. 1:18–19). And according to Jewish law, any child born to a man’s fiancee was legally his child.
53 See Bucaille, 104.
54 For an excellent discussion of various resurrection accounts see John Wenham, Easter Enigma, Are the Resurrection Stories in Conflict (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1984).
55 See discussion on this point in Chapter 2.
56 See Geisler and Howe.
57 See the noted linguist Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).
58 Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists (reprint: Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 9–10.
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