Is the New Testament the Preserved Word of God?

Many Christians maintain that the New Testament we have today is the literal, inspired word of God. The purpose of this article is to show that far from being the inspired word of God, the New Testament that we have today is in fact the corrupted word of numerous scribes who freely added to it over many centuries of copying.

Please note that it is a pillar of faith for us as Muslims to believe that Jesus, a great Prophet of God, received revelation known as the Injeel (or ‘Gospel’). Muslims believe, from both a theological and (as will soon be demonstrated) historical point of view, that the Gospels we have today are not the same as what was originally revealed to Jesus, peace be upon him.

THE MANUSCRIPTS: WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

  • The original language of the New Testament is Greek; this is the language of the most ancient manuscripts.
  • There are almost 6000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, with no two pages being identical. This is according to The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:

“There is not one sentence in the New Testament in which the manuscript tradition is wholly uniform.” [1]

  • Faced with a massive number of variant readings, how do Christian scholars go about determining what may be the word of God? Editors must decide which variants will be included in the text. Textual scholars have developed criteria of evaluation. These considerations depend upon probabilities. Sometimes the textual critics must weigh one set of probabilities against another. The range and complexity of textual data are so great that no mechanically derived set of rules can be applied with mathematical precision. Each and every variant reading needs to be considered in itself and not judged according to a rule of thumb. So, ultimately it’s editors that decide what goes into the New Testament, not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!

CAN WE BE CONFIDENT ABOUT THE NEW TESTAMENT?

  • It’s true that we have lots of copies of the originals, in fact more than any other book in the ancient world.
  • As was demonstrated earlier, unfortunately what we don’t have are lots of accurate copies.
  • Many Christians will assert that these mistakes are negligible because they amount to minor spelling and grammatical mistakes which are of no theological consequence.
  • It’s true that majority of differences between manuscripts are down to spelling mistakes and similar scribal errors, these types of error can be ignored because of the nature of creating manuscripts by hand.
  • However, deliberate additions and subtractions cannot be ignored. The famous Alexandrian scholar Origen was aware of the corruption of the New Testament even as early as the 3rd century:

“…the differences among the manuscripts [of the Gospels] have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they lengthen or shorten, as they please.” [2]

  • The Codex Vaticanus, one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Greek Bible, has a fascinating scribal comment in the margin which provides great insight into these corruptions (click on picture to enlarge):

Scribe comment

EXAMPLES OF CORRUPTIONS

Contrary to Christian claims, there are many examples of changes that have important theological implications. Here are a few examples:

1. Johannine Comma

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the father, the word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” [1 John 5:7]

The above verse, known as the Johanine Comma, contains the only clear reference to the Trinity in the New Testament, and yet does not appear in any New Testament manuscript before the 16th century. In other words, it is a fabricated verse that was inserted into the New Testament over 1,500 years after Jesus.

This verse used to be in all Bibles; however the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New International Version (NIV) have removed the verse as it is a known fabrication. The King James Version (KJV) has grave defects, and so these newer versions of the Bible (which are based on older and hence more reliable manuscripts) were produced. Here is the NIV footnote regarding this verse:

Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. {8} And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century)

Compare the RSV and NIV versions to the KJV version, which still contains the Johannine Comma (click on picture to enlarge):

johanine comma

Notice how verse 7 in the RSV is different to verse 7 in the KJV. The RSV does not contain the mention of the Trinity. Also notice that verse 7 in the NIV is different to not only the KJV but also the RSV. The NIV also does not contain the mention of the Trinity. The RSV and NIV have had to split other verses into two parts in order to make up for the deletion of the Johannine Comma, this is so that the verse numbers across all three versions of the Bible line up the same.

2. Ending of the Gospel of Mark

The New Testament manuscripts for the Gospel of Mark have multiple endings. The shortest ending is found in the oldest complete copies of the New Testament, known as the Vaticanus (350 CE) and Sinaiticus (360 CE), which stop at verse 16:8. Most of the later manuscripts contain some additional verses, Mark 16:9-20, which are not always the same and seem to have been added to the Gospel at later points in time. It is these additional verses that mention the resurrection of Jesus, the bedrock upon which the Christian faith rests.

Here is the footnote regarding the ending of Mark’s Gospel from the New International Version of the Bible:

The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.

3. The story of the adulteress

John 8:2-11 is the story of a woman that is about to be stoned on the accusation of adultery. In these verses Jesus, when questioned about her punishment, utters the famous words “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. This whole story is another later addition as the earliest New Testament manuscripts do not contain it. In fact the story does not even exist in any manuscripts before the 5th century, and the vast majority of those prior to the 8th century lack the story [3]. Here is a footnote regarding this verse from the New International Version of the Bible:

The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.

These verses are often cited by Christians as evidence to suggest that Jesus sought to end the Old Testament laws dealing with crime and punishment.

4. The suffering of Jesus

“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” [Luke 22:43-44]

These verses paint a picture of a suffering Jesus, to the extent that he was sweating drops of blood even before his arrest and crucifixion. The theology behind it is that since Jesus was the one to redeem mankind before God, he had to suffer brutal torture and death (known as the “Passion of Jesus”) in order to cleanse mankind of their sins. The problem is that these verses, Luke 22:43-44, are doubtful as they are missing in many early manuscripts. Here is a footnote regarding these verses from the New International Version of the Bible:

Many early manuscripts do not have verses 43 and 44.

5. Jesus and omniscience

So far we have looked at examples where the scribes have added words to the New Testament. In this example we look at a case where words have been removed.

Here is Matthew 24:36 as read in the New International Version of the Bible:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” [Matthew 24:36]

Now, contrast this with the reading in the King James Version which is missing the words “nor the Son”:

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” [Matthew 24:36]

Note that in the Greek manuscripts that the KJV are based upon, the words “nor the son” have been omitted. Here is a footnote regarding this verse from the New International Version of the Bible:

Some manuscripts do not have nor the Son.

The NIV contains the correct reading. The words “nor the son” should be included because it is represented by the best and earliest manuscript (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) and it is also present in Mark 13:32. The evidence suggests that the omission in the later manuscripts was a theologically motivated change by scribes in order to preserve Jesus’ omniscience because they didn’t like the idea that Jesus is inferior to God in knowledge.

CHRISTIAN REBUTTAL

A Christian response to all of these points might be that these issues only started to appear late on in history, and that none of these deliberate modifications took place during the critical early formative years of the New Testament’s composition. This is not true, as the Apostle Paul (who was writing within a few decades of Jesus) stated that his readers should not be led astray by teachings which may seem to be from him. So Paul knew of teachings in circulation claiming to be by Paul that are not really by Paul:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us – whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter – asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. [2 Thessalonians 2:1-2]

So this shows that there were almost certainly forgeries in Paul’s name in circulation already in the first century. What should be of concern to Christians is that we can’t be certain that these early forgeries did not creep into the modern New Testament, given that it’s already been demonstrated that other forgeries have crept into the text.

WHAT THE QUR’AN HAS TO SAY ABOUT THE GOSPEL

And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. [Chapter 5, verse 46]

The verse above show that the Qur’an speaks of the original revelation given to Jesus, peace be upon him, in an extremely positive light. The original Gospel is described as being “guidance” and a “light”, just as all divinely inspired Scriptures are. The Qur’an also confirms that the Christians, who were entrusted with safeguarding the Gospel, were responsible for corrupting it:

So woe to those who write the “scripture” with their own hands, then say, “This is from Allah,” in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn. [Chapter 2, verse 79]

This verse of the Qur’an would have sounded like a conspiracy theory to most Christians living in the 7th century. Today there is a remarkable convergence of what the Qur’an says about the Gospel and what modern scholarship says. Today we see this Qur’anic verse with its historical insight vindicated by manuscript discoveries and advances in textual criticism. Today various Biblical scholars are affirming that people wrote it with their own hands and attributed it to Jesus and thus to God.

CONCLUSION

I invite my fellow Christians to ponder the following point. If God wanted you, and indeed the whole of mankind, to have the original words of the New Testament, then why didn’t He preserve the words? As has been demonstrated, the modern day New Testament is not the pure words of God as originally revealed to Jesus, but rather the corrupted words of copyists and scribes.

The answer to the question of why God did not preserve the original revelation given to Jesus is that it was only ever meant to be a time bound message which served as a temporary placeholder until the coming of the Qur’an. It is only the Qur’an, God Almighty’s last and final revelation to mankind, that is timeless. God has promised mankind that He will protect and preserve the Qur’an:

“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.” [Chapter 15, verse 9]

Readers are invited to learn more the miraculous preservation of the Qur’an here.

References

1 – G. A. Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 4, 1962.

2 – Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (2005), p. 200.

3 – Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (2005), p. 320.

4 thoughts on “Is the New Testament the Preserved Word of God?

  1. This blog is superb, may Allah reward you for all you efforts and keep you firm upon the straight path.

    May Allah increase you in goodness, you have made dawah much easier for those who have not been able to do the full research from scratch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s