Christian Analysis of Shabir Ally's Comments On:
Which Account is Historically Correct?
Muslims and Christians agree that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he performed mighty miracles, and that he is now alive. We believe that he was the Messiah, a prophet of God, and his righteous Servant.
But we also disagree on some things. Can a historical study help us to decide who has the true account of Jesus? I believe so.
Indeed it can. Once a historical study is made the conclusion is that the historical Jesus is actually the Jesus of biblical faith, not the Jesus of Islam.
Christians believe that Jesus was the divine Son of God, that he is the second person of the Holy Trinity, and that he is our personal savior who died for the sins of the world. On these points Christianity diverges from Islam. But on these points Christianity also diverges from the true historical Jesus, as I will now demonstrate.
The four gospels in the Christian Bible are the primary materials available for a historical study of Jesus. When we compare the gospels one to another we can see how the stories about Jesus were changed to reflect a higher view of Jesus. You can conduct this type of study yourself if you have a cross-reference Bible. Refer to an episode in one gospel, then cross-reference it to another gospel where you will find the same episode. Note the similarities and the dissimilarities.
What Shabir has falsely assumed is that the Gospel writers must agree in every detail when reporting the same event. Shabir assumes that if the writers do not agree then this must mean they were simply fabricating or embellishing stories about Jesus. What Shabir has failed to realize is that during the time when the Gospels were written historians wrote accurate history in summarized fashion. This meant that a historian would at times rearrange his material and/or modify the wording of a given report. This was the standard method of historical reporting and was viewed as completely accurate.
Noted Evangelical Scholar Craig L. Blomberg notes:
"What then of the final question about the Gospel parallels? Regardless of the Gospel writers' interest or ability, how do we assess the similarities and differences among their finished products? Certainly there is substantial overlap and agreement on main points, with the type of diversity in details one would expect when different writers reflect on the same events from their unique perspectives. The German classical historian Hans Stier makes this observation even about the resurrection narratives: agreements over basic data, coupled with divergence of detail present for the historian for this very reason a criterion of extraordinary credibility. For if that were the fabrication of a congregation or of a similar group of people, then the tale would be consistently and obviously complete. For that reason every historian is especially sceptical at that moment when an extraordinary happening is only reported in accounts which are completely free of contradictions.
"But what of all the places where the differences (a better word in this context than Stier's 'contradictions') seem greater than that? Can we look at the four Gospels as we now have them and avoid the charge of bona fide contradictions among parallel accounts? Again, I believe that answer is most certainly yes. None of the so-called contradictions among the Gospels is a discovery of modern scholarship. The church has been aware of them throughout its history and usually believed that there were plausible harmonizations. A survey of leading evangelical commentaries on any of the four Gospels will give a sampling of the most convincing harmonizations today. Space precludes all but a handful of examples.
Many of the seeming discrepancies vanish once we understand the literary convention for writing history or biography in the ancient world. Neither Greek or Hebrew had any symbol for our quotation marks, nor did people feel that a verbatim account of someone's speech was any more valuable or accurate than a reliable summary, paraphrase, or interpretation. The order of events described in a famous person's life was often arranged thematically rather than strictly chronologically. So we should not be surprised to find all kinds of minor variations in both sequence of episodes in Jesus' life from one Gospel to the next and in the actual words attributed to him on any given occasion." (Blomberg, Jesus Under FireModern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus ed. Michael J. Wilkins & J. P. Moreland [Zondervan Publishin House; Grand Rapids, MI 1995], pp. 34-35; bold emphasis ours)
Darrel L. Bock concurs:
"In asking how the ancients viewed the task of recounting historical events, we get help from the ancients themselves. A famous quotation that illustrates the problem of recording ancient speech in an ancient culture comes from Thucydides (History of the Peloponnesian War, 1.22.1), who is representative of Greco-Roman historians generally. This Greek historian of the fifth century B.C. is candid about the speeches he reports in his work: 'It was difficult for me to remember the exact substance of the speeches I myself heard and for others to remember those they heard elsewhere and told me of.' But that does not mean that he felt free to have his history say anything he wanted. He continues:
I have given speeches in the manner in which it seemed to me that each of the speakers would best express what needed to be said about the ever-prevailing situation, but I have kept as close as possible to the total opinion expressed by the actual words.
"In other words, the Greek standard of reporting speeches required a concern for accuracy in reporting the gist of what had been said, even if the exact words were not remembered or recorded. The ancients also recognized the author's right to summarize and bring out the contemporary force of a speaker's remarks. In other words, the historian sought to report and edify." (Ibid, pp. 78-79)
"… Like Thucydides, Tacitus felt free to rearrange, condense, and summarize, but he still sensed a responsibility to present the speech's basic content. Charles Fornara, a modern historian, concludes: The little evidence we posses indicates that he presented speeches responsibly, refused to invent them, and searched them out when it was possible to do so. This procedure sounds much like that cited by Luke in Luke 1:1-4. The Evangelists were able to search out what Jesus did and said because they had access to people and communities who had been exposed to Jesus or his intimate followers." (Ibid)
This method was true not only for the Greco-Roman world, but also for the Jews. Blomberg states:
"… the ancient Jewish world (and to only a slightly lesser extent, the Greco-Roman world around it) was a culture that prized memorization skills highly. Rabbis were encouraged to memorize the entire Hebrew Bible (what we call the Old Testament), plus a sizable body of the oral laws that grew up around them. Elementary education, mandatory for many Jewish boys from ages five to twelve or thirteen, was entirely by rote memory; and only one topic was studied, the Bible.
On the other hand, transmission of important traditions not written down in Sacred Scripture often involved a substantial amount of flexibility in retelling stories, in the inclusion or omission of certain incidental details, in the arrangement and sequence of episodes, and in paraphrasing and interpreting a person's teaching, so long as the major events of the narrative and their significance were not altered ... In other words, it is likely that a substantial amount of similarities and differences among the Synoptic Gospels can be explained by assuming that the disciples and those whom they in turn instructed had committed to memory a sizable body of material about what Jesus did and said. Nevertheless, they felt free to recount this information in various forms, even while preserving the significance of Jesus' original teachings and deeds. (Ibid, p. 32; bold emphasis ours)
In light of the preceding factors, Bock rightly concludes:
"One can present history accurately whether one quotes or summarizes teaching, or even mixes the two together. To have accurate summaries of Jesus' teaching is just as historical as to have his actual words; they are just two different perspectives to give us the same thing. All that is required is that the summaries be trustworthya factor made likely not only by the character of the writers and the nature of their religious convictions, but also by the presence of opponents and eyewitnesses who one way or the other could challenge a fabricated report." (Ibid, p. 88)
Interestingly, the Quran itself reports the same event yet with conflicting and variant wording as we shall shortly demonstrate.
When we compare Mark to Matthew, we can see how the later gospel changed individual reports to raise the view of Jesus in the following ways:
1. To have people call Jesus "Lord." For example, on the occasion when Jesus was transfigured, in Mark Peter called him "Rabbi"; in Matthew Peter called him "Lord." (Mark 9:5 cf. Matthew 17:4)
2. To have Jesus refer to himself as Lord. When Jesus directed his disciples to wait and watch for his imminent return, in Mark he called himself "the master of the house"; in Matthew he called himself "your Lord". (Mark 13:35 cf. Matthew 24:42)
The reason why Mark and Matthew use two different words in reporting the same event is due to the fact that the writers are translating Jesus' Aramaic words into Greek. Darrel Bock states:
"In examining the wording of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels, we must distinguish between the ipsissima verba of Jesus (his very words) and the ipsissima vox (his very voice, i.e., the presence of his teaching summarized). One universally recognized reality makes the presence of the exact words of Jesus difficult and argues for the distinction between verba and vox. It is that Jesus probably gave most of his teaching in Aramaic, the dominant public language of first-century Palestine where Jesus ministered, whereas the Gospels were written in Greek, the dominant language of the larger first-century Greco-Roman world to which the Gospels were addressed. In other words, most of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels is already a translation." (Ibid, p. 77)
Hence, both writers used two acceptable terms to accurately translate Jesus and his followers' original words, i.e. "master", "Lord" in place of either Rabbi or the Aramaic Maran which can either mean Lord or Master.
3. To have Jesus called "the Son of God". At a place called Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked Peter who he thought Jesus was. In Mark Peter replied: "You are the Messiah." But in Matthew Peter replied: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." Matthew has added the title "the Son of the Living God." (Mark 8:27-29 cf. Matthew 16:13-16)
It seemed to have never dawned on Shabir that Peter actually said what Matthew reports but Mark chose to summarize Peter's words. If Shabir cannot accept this possibility then he will also have to reject this same phenomena when it appears in the Quran. See below.
4. To have Jesus refer to God as his Father. When Jesus's mother and siblings came looking for him, in Mark he said: "Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister". But in Matthew he said: "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and brother and sister." In Mark he called God God. But in Matthew he called God his father. (Mark 3:35 cf. Matthew 12:50)
Again, Jesus could have said all that the two writers attribute to him. For instance, combining the two stories together this is what Jesus could have actually said:
"Whoever does the will of God, my Father that is in heaven is my mother and brother and sister."
5. To have people pray to Jesus. While Jesus was asleep in a boat a storm rocked the boat. In Mark the disciples awoke Jesus with this mild rebuke:
"Teacher, do you not care if we drown?" But in Matthew they pray to him:
"Lord, save us! We are perishing." The rebuke was changed to a prayer.
(Mark 6:51-52 cf. 14:32-33)
This is perhaps the weakest example Shabir has given. The simple solution is that the disciples at first were angry at seeing Jesus asleep during the storm. Hence, their first response was to rebuke Jesus for what seemed to be his lack of concern, "Teacher, do you not care if we drown?" Yet, upon seeing the impending danger their anger quickly subsided and fear set in. Hence, the disciples cried out to their beloved Master to save them, "Lord, save us! We are perishing."
Comparing Mark to Matthew in this way, we have seen how Matthew has reworked the material to bring out later Christian teachings.
All we have really seen is Shabir's presuppositions that disallow for a harmonization of the Gospels. Yet, Shabir's approach serves to discredit the Quran as well as we will shortly document.
The difference is further pronounced as we go from Mark, the first gospel, to John, the last gospel. The image of Jesus in John is much larger than in Mark. Here Jesus takes on cosmic dimensions.
Shabir is actually arguing from silence. Shabir presumes the fact that since Mark does not portray Christ in the same exact fashion as John does, then Mark's Jesus is not the same as the Johannine Jesus. Again, Shabir does not allow for different writers to focus on different aspects of a particular individual's life. Shabir thinks that the writers must have held to different views seeing that they did not emphasize the same things about Christ. This is a clear fallacy.
In John's gospel Jesus makes the most significant and far-reaching claims about himself. There are many statements in this Gospel where Jesus asserts his own identity. He says:
I am the light of the world.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
I and the Father are one.
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
If Jesus had said these things, the other gospels would have surely recorded them. But they did not, because he did not say these things. John recorded them because this was part of the later evolved story about Jesus.
Shabir fails to tell us why the writers would have included the statements of Jesus as recorded in John. He simply asserts things but fails to give us proof for these assertions.
Secondly, again Shabir does not allow for the possibility that John was supplementing the Synoptic Gospels by included material not covered by the evangelists. Yet, both Mark and John accurately reported the words Jesus uttered in different settings at different times.
Thirdly, both writers hold to a high Christology. Here are some examples from Mark where Jesus is clearly presented as the divine Son of God:
Jesus is pictured as Yahweh with John as Yahweh's Messenger
"The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your waya voice of one calling in the desert, "Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him." And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie." Mark 1:1-7
John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Christ. Yet, according to Mark John was the messenger of Yahweh who was predicted to go ahead of the Lord to prepare for his coming. This implies that Jesus is Yahweh since John came to prepare the way for Christ. John also testifies that he is not worthy to even untie the thongs of Christ's sandal, implying that Christ is deserving of greater honor than the Baptist, as well as testifying that Christ is more powerful than he could ever be.
Jesus Performs Divine Functions
"I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mark 1:8
Christ has the authority to baptize individuals with the Holy Spirit, a function the Old Testament attributes to Yahweh God:
"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God." Ezekiel 36:24-28
"You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed. And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls." Joel 2:26-32
Jesus Has Authority To Forgive Sins
"… And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men... And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, My son, your sins are forgiven. But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone? And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven"; or to say, "Arise take up your pallet and walk"? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sinsHe said to the paralyticI say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home. And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, We have never seen anything like this." Mark 2:3, 5-12
The scribes correctly understood that for Jesus to claim that he could forgive sins meant that he was identifying himself as God. Instead of correcting their understanding, Jesus reinforces it by affirming his authority to both heal and forgive the paralytic. This is astonishingly reminiscent of what the OT attributes to Yahweh:
"Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefitswho forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases," Psalm 103:2-3
Jesus is Lord Over the Sabbath
"Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Mark 2:28
For Jesus to override Sabbath restrictions, claiming to have authority over it, meant that he was claiming Yahweh's authority for himself. Seeing that the Sabbath was instituted for the service of Yahweh meant that no one except Yahweh could override Sabbath regulations. (cf. Leviticus 2:23) Hence, Jesus does what God alone can do.
Jesus Has Authority Over Demons and Nature
"Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you arethe Holy One of God! Be quiet! said Jesus sternly. Come out of him! The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, What is this? A new teachingand with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." Mark 1:23-27
During the time of Christ, it was believed that if demons knew a person's name they would be able to control him at will. Here, the demons knew Christ yet were utterly powerless in his presence. This implies that Jesus is all-powerful, exhibiting power that was unparalleled at his time. This is why the crowds were astonished that Christ had power over the demons and could make them obey him. Furthermore, the demons themselves admit that Christ had power to destroy them.
"Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, You are the Son of God. But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was." Mark 3:11-12
Here, we find even demons falling down in homage before the presence of the Son of God.
"When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me! For Jesus had said to him, Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" Mark 5:2-8
Once more we find the demons falling down in worship before Christ, confessing him as the Son of God and admitting that he has the power to destroy them.
"Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, Teacher, don't you care if we drown? He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, Quiet! Be still! Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? They were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" Mark 4:36-41
Again, Jesus' ability to control the waves and storms is remarkably reminiscent of what the OT says Yahweh can do:
"You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy. Psalm 65:5-8
"For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven." Psalm 107:25-27
"Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!" Proverbs 30:4
Jesus' Name Is Sovereign
"John said to Him, Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to hinder him because he was not following us. But Jesus said, Do not hinder him, for there is no one who shall perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me." Mark 9:38-39
Scripture clearly teaches that miracles occur solely through the power of God's name. Yet, we find that Jesus' name is capable of doing the very same thing. This is an implicit witness to the deity of Christ.
Jesus is the Unique Son of God and Divine Heir
"And He began to speak to them in parables: A man PLANTED A VINEYARD, AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER the wind press, and built a TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. And at harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. And they took him, and beat, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some, and killing others. He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, "They will respect my son." But those vine-growers said to one another, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!" And they took him, and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard... And they (chief priest, scribes, and elders) were seeking to seize Him; and yet they feared the multitude; for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him, and went away." Mark 12:1-8, 12
In this parable, the Owner represents God with the vineyard representing Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7). The vine-growers represent the ruling Jewish class, and the slaves represent the prophets of God. Jesus' view of himself is not that of a slave, but the Owner's beloved Son and heir of the estate. This clearly affirms that Jesus felt that he was more than a prophet and believed that he was greater than the rest of the prophets who were simply servants of God.
Jesus also implicitly affirms his preexistence, since as the Son he was already present with the Father prior to his being sent to the vine-growers.
Jesus is the Divine Son of Man
"… Again the high priest was questioning Him, saying to Him, Are You the Christ, The Son of the Blessed One? And Jesus said, I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." Mark 14:61-62
Christ claims to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13-14 who was given divine authority to rule forever, with the nations serving him perpetually.
Jesus Is David's Lord
"And Jesus answering them began to say, as He taught in the temple, How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit, "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet." David himself calls Him "Lord"; and so in what sense is He his son? …" Mark 12:35-37
The only way for the Messiah to be both the son of David and his Lord is if he were both divine and human at the same time.
Jesus is the Judge of the Nations
"If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." Mark 8:38
Christ claims that he will come again in his Father's glory with the angels in judgment against those who have denied him.
"At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens." Mark 13:26-27
Christ once again claims that he will return at the consummation of the age to gather God's people. Interestingly, Christ states that both the elect and the angels are his (i.e. "his angels", "his elect"). This is an astonishing claim since no prophet or angel can say this seeing that the angels and the elect belong to God alone, being God's creation and possession.
God Testifies That Christ Is His Divine Son
"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Mark 1:9-11
This passage is actually Trinitarian in nature since we find the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together in one place.
"After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three sheltersone for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" Mark 9:2-7
Not only does God testify that Jesus is his beloved Son, but commands the disciples to obey his Son!
Craig Blomberg highlights the similarities between the Synoptics and John's Christology:
"On the other hand, the Synoptics implicitly present a portrait of Jesus from which one could surely derive the more explicit claims of John. It is Matthew and Luke who describe the Virgin Birth. All three Synoptics (like John) have Jesus calling himself the Son of Man, which, notwithstanding protracted debate as to its origin, almost certainly harks back to the human figure of Daniel 7:13-14, who is nevertheless present in God's divine throne-room receiving universal authority and an everlasting kingdom. The Jesus of the Synoptics also accepts worship (Matt 14:33), forgives sins (Mark 2:5), announces that people's final destinies will be based on their response to him (Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8-10), and applies metaphors to himself, particularly in parables, that in the Old Testament are often applied to Yahweh (Lord of the harvest, shepherd, sower, vineyard owner, bridegroom, rock, etc.)." (Jesus Under Fire, p. 39)
This should serve to quench the assertion that Mark and the other Synoptic Gospels have a lower Christology than that of John.
Later Christians would focus more on the Gospel of John, and less on the Gospel of Mark. It is often the Gospel of John that is quoted as proof of Jesus's divine sonship. Although Mark also calls Jesus the son of God, the title here can be understood as meaning a righteous servant. But in John Jesus is the "only-begotten son" (John 3:16).
Correction. Mark's usage of the title implies both Jesus' divinity and his royalty.
The manner in which Jesus approaches death has also been reworked in John. In Mark Jesus begs God to save him from the cross, though he submits to God's decision. In John Jesus declares that he will not pray to be saved (12:27). On the contrary, he asks God to go ahead according to plan.
Shabir does not quote the relevant context in order to get the proper understanding of Jesus' words. When Jesus uttered the words reported by John, this was prior to the night of his arrest. As time elapsed Jesus became even more dreadful at the thought of severing the fellowship he had with the Father in order to allow for the divine wrath to be poured out upon him. Hence, Mark records the dread Christ experienced during the night of the betrayal, whereas John records Jesus' words prior to all the events that lead up to the fear Christ experienced during his final moments.
Yet, both writers report that Christ was troubled somewhat, with Mark recording the full measure of the trouble Christ experienced on that final night:
"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, he said to them. Stay here and keep watch." Mark 14:34
"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour." John 12:27
Jesus in John obviously came to die for the sins of the world. Hence he declares that no one can take his life away from him since he has authority to lay down his own life and take it up again (10:18).
Jesus declared in John that no one can take his life from him. Since he gives it up of his own accord, even the scene of his arrest has been modified to reflect this. In Mark Judas the betrayer had arranged to mark Jesus out with a kiss. But in John Judas dares not draw close to the cosmic Jesus whose very breath blows the crowd away.
Unless Jesus gives himself up he cannot be arrested (John 18:3-12).
Shabir has clearly given a false and misleading impression as to what Mark actually reports. Let us quote Mark to see if the Evangelist is in agreement with John over Jesus' willingness to die and that no one could take Christ's life away:
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45
Christ affirms that he specifically came to lay his life down as a ransom for others.
"The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Am I leading a rebellion, said Jesus, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." Mark 14:46-49
Mark reports the fact that one of Jesus' disciples drew the sword to prevent Jesus from being arrested. Yet, Jesus claims that the Scriptures that speak about the Messiah's death had to be fulfilled. Hence, Mark affirms that Christ willfully died in order to fulfill the plan of God.
We can in this way multiply the examples of how one after another the gospels went about modifying the image of Jesus for later readers. The writers did not intend for us to make these comparisons. Each gospel was initially circulated independently. Eventually, however, they were collected together and passed down to us in a single book, the Holy Bible.
And we also can multiply our responses to these allegations, exposing the inherent fallacies in Shabir's methodology. Lord willing, we will be producing an article documenting the evidence from the early Church Fathers (from the very disciples of the Apostles and their followers after them) that the Evangelists were well aware of the writings of their colleagues. For now, we will supply just one example from Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History:
"… And when Mark and Luke had now published their gospels, John, we are told, who hitherto relied entirely on the spoken word, finally took to writing for the following reason. The three gospels already written were in general circulation and copies had come into John's hands. He welcomed them, we are told, AND CONFIRMED THEIR ACCURACY, but remarked that the narrative only lacked the story of what Christ had done first of all at the beginning of His mission.
This tradition is undoubtedly true. Anyone can see that the three evangelists have recorded the doings of the Savior for only one year, following the consignment of John the Baptist to prison, and that they indicated this very fact at the beginning of their narrative. After the forty days' fast and the temptation that followed Matthew shows clearly the period covered by his narrative when he says: Hearing that John had been arrested, He withdrew from Judaea into Galilee. In the same way Mark says: After the arrest of John, Jesus went into Galilee. Luke too, before beginning the acts of Jesus, makes a similar observation, saying that Herod added one more to his other crimes by shutting up John in gaol.
We are told, then, that for this reason the apostle John was urged to record in his gospel the period which the earlier evangelists had passed over in silence and the things done during that period by the Savior, i.e. all that happened before the Baptist's imprisonment; that this is indicated, first by his words Thus did Jesus begin His miracles, and later by his mentioning the Baptist, in the middle of his account of Jesus' doings, as then still baptizing at Aenon near Salim; and that he makes this plainer when he adds for John had not yet been thrown into gaol.
Thus John in his gospel narrative records what Christ did when the Baptist had not yet been thrown into gaol, while the other three evangelists describe what happened after the Baptist's consignment to prison. Once this is grasped, there no longer appears to be a discrepancy between the gospels, because John's deals with the early stages of Christ's career and the others cover the last period of His story, and it seems natural that as the genealogy of our Saviour as a man had already been set out by Matthew and Luke, John should pass it over in silence and begin with the proclamation of His divinity since the Holy Spirit had reserved this for him, as the greatest of the four." (Eusebius, The History of the Church [Penguin Books, reprint 1989], pp. 86-88)
Today in studying the gospels we can notice the trend to represent him as Lord and Savior. To find the real historical Jesus we have to retrace the trend from John back to Mark. But how about beyond Mark?
When we compare Mark with the later gospels we notice the modifications in the later ones. If we could compare Mark with its predecessors we would find that Mark has also modified his story. But that has to remain for another study.
The fact of the matter is that all the Gospels, including Mark, affirm that Jesus is the divine unique Son of God. All the available data stemming from Christ's personal disciples and their followers affirm the Deity of Christ.
This is a fact that both archaeology and ancient non-Christian historians affirm as well.
For instance, Pliny the Younger (c. A.D. 62-113), Governor of Bithynia in northwestern Turkey, writing a letter to the emperor Trajan about the Christian movement, dated A.D. 111 noted:
"I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature of the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds of starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed... I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished... They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery... This made me decide that it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths."
Lucian of Samosata, Second-century Satirist, speaks scornfully of Christ and the Christians, connecting them with the synagogues of Palestine alluding to Christ as,
"the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world... Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and worshipping the crucified sophist Himself and living under His laws."
We find the Rabbis implicitly affirming the testimony of the Evangelists, solidifying the fact that the followers of Christ all believed Jesus was indeed God. Author Michael Green quotes a rabbi named Eliezar, writing about AD 160, who writes:
"God saw that a man, son of a woman, was to come forward in the future, who would attempt to make himself God and lead the whole world astray. And if he says he is God he is a liar. And he will lead men astray, and say that he will depart and will return at the end of days." (Green, Who is this Jesus? [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992], p. 60, cited in We Believe SeriesBasics of Christianity, Jesus Knowing Our Savior, author Max Anders [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995], p. 136)
"Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappar said: God gave strength to his (Balaam's) voice so that it went from one end of the world to the other, because he looked forth and beheld the nations that bow down to the sun and moon and stars, and to wood and stone, and he looked forth and saw that there was a man, born of a woman, who should rise up and seek to make himself God, and to cause the whole world to go astray. Therefore God gave power to the voice of Balaam that all the peoples of the world might hear, and thus he spake: Give heed that ye go not astray after that man, for is written, God is not a man that he should lie. And if he says that he is God, he is a liar; and he will deceive and say that he departed and cometh again at the end. He saith and he shall not perform. See what is written: And he took up his parable and said, Alas, when God doeth this. Balaam said, Alas, who shall liveof what nation which heareth that man who hath made himself God." (Yalkut Shimeon, [Salonica] sec. 725 on wayissa mishalo [Num. 23. 7], according to Midrash Y'lamm'denue)
Another rabbi, writing a hundred years after Eliezer, states:
"Rabbi Abahu said, If a man says 'I am God,' he lies; if he says, 'I am the Son of man' he shall rue it; 'I will go up to heaven,' (to this applies Num. xxiii 19) he saith, but shall not perform it." (Jerusalem Talmud Taanith-65b)
Archaeology has also reinforced the point that the historical Jesus is the Jesus of biblical faith. One of the most outstanding archaeological findings took place during the Fall of 1945, when Dr. Eleazar Sukenik of Hebrew University uncovered a First Century Jewish Catacomb at the southern end of the Kidron Valley on the road to Bethlehem.
He found several osssuaries with the sign of the cross, Greek inscriptions, and a coin minted in A.D. 41 for King Herod Agrippa I. This would seem to indicate that the tomb was sealed no later than at least A.D. 42.
Professor Sukenik stated that the ossuaries "contain almost the whole dictionary of names in the New Testament."
One of the coffins had an amazing inscription in Greek to Jesus followed by the exclamation "y'ho." When translated the inscription actually says, "Jesus is Jehovah (or Lord)."
Keeping in mind that these tombs and the inscriptions date back to 42 A.D., this would mean that within 10 years of Christ's death, resurrection and ascension the eye and ear witnesses of Christ were proclaiming that Jesus was indeed Jehovah God!
Christian theologian, Professor Alexander Hopkins, comments on the impact that this inscription has on modern New Testament scholarship:
"The inscription which was hidden for almost 2,000 years and inscribed at least two decades before any part of the New Testament was written... bears a personal testimony of faith... a message from the past with a very modern meaning for the present."
Evangelist Grant Jeffrey writes:
"In light of the A.D. 42 date for the sealing of this tomb, the presence of this dedication to 'Jesus, the Lord' attests to the acceptance by Christians of Jesus Christ as God within ten years of the death and resurrection of Jesus." (All quotations taken from Grant Jeffrey's book Final Warning [September 1996 Harvest House Publishers, Inc.; ISBN: 1565074793], p. 321)
William Lane Craig comments:
"Studies by New Testament scholars as Martin Hengel of Tubingen University, C.F.D. Moule of Cambridge, and others have proved that within twenty years of the crucifixion a full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate existed. How does one explain this worship by monotheistic Jews of one of their countrymen as God incarnate, apart from the claims of Jesus himself?" (Craig, Apologetics: An Introduction, p.160)
Finally, the Quran itself establishes the authority and reliability of the Holy Bible. We have already written an article documenting this fact.
What we would like to do here is cite a few examples from Muslim historians who all presupposed the authenticity of the Bible, specifically the Gospels. For instance, Ibn Ishaq quotes the Gospel of John as THAT Gospel that was given to Jesus:
"Among the things which have reached me about what Jesus the Son of Mary stated in the Gospel which he received from God for the followers of the Gospel, in applying a term to describe the apostle of God, is the following. It is extracted FROM WHAT JOHN THE APOSTLE SET DOWN FOR THEM WHEN HE WROTE THE GOSPEL FOR THEM FROM THE TESTAMENT OF JESUS SON OF MARY: 'He that hateth me hateth the Lord. And if I had not done in their presence works which none other before me did, they had not sin: but from now they are puffed up with pride and think that they will overcome me and also the Lord. But the word that is in the law must be fulfilled, 'They hated me without a cause' (i.e. without reason). But when the Comforter has come whom God will send to you from the Lord's presence, and the spirit of truth which will have gone forth from the Lord's presence he (shall bear) witness of me and ye also, because ye have been with me from the beginning. I have spoken unto you about this that ye should not be in doubt.
"The Munahhemana (God bless and preserve him!) in Syriac is Muhammad; in Greek he is the paraclete." (Ishaq, Life Of Muhammad, trans. Alfred Guillaume, pp. 103-104)
The preceding Gospel citation is taken from John 15:23-16:1. Ishaq never once hints that this particular Gospel is inauthentic or corrupt.
Another Muslim historian at-Tabari appeals to an episode in the Gospel of Matthew, implicitly acknowledging this Gospel's authority:
"Some historians mentioned that Jesus was born forty-two years after Augustus had become emperor. Augustus continued to live on, and his reign lasted fifty-six years; some add a few days. The Jews assaulted Christ. The sovereign in Jerusalem at the time was Caesar, and it was on his behalf that Herod the Great reigned in Jerusalem. Messengers of the king of Persia came to him. Sent to Christ, they came to Herod by mistake. They informed Herod that the king of Persia had sent them to offer Christ the gifts they carried, gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. They told him that they had observed that Christ's star had risen- they had learned this from computation. They offered him the gifts at Bethlehem in Palestine. When Herod learned about them, he plotted against Christ, and looked for him in order to slay him. God commanded an angel to tell Joseph, who was with Mary at the sanctuary, that Herod intended to slay the child, and to instruct him to flee to Egypt with the child and its mother.
"When Herod died the angel told Joseph, who was in Egypt, that Herod was dead and that his son Archelaus reigned instead- the man who sought to slay the child was no longer alive. Joseph took the child to Nazareth in Palestine, to FULFILL the word of Isaiah the prophet, 'I called you out of Egypt'…" (Tabari, The History of al-Tabari Volume IV- The Ancient Kingdom, Moshe Perlman trans. [The State University of New York Press; Albany, 1987], pp. 124-125)
The footnote reads:
"The reference ascribed here to Isaiah is in Hosea 11:1." (Ibid, p. 125)
Hence, one of Islam's premiere historians endorses Matthew's narrative on the flight to Egypt without ever hinting that this Gospel story is corrupt or inauthentic.
Additionally, we find a NT verse inscribed in the Kaba. On p. 86 of Ishaq's The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasulallah), we read:
"Layth Abu Sulaym alleged that they found a stone in the Kaba forty years before the prophet's mission, if what they say is true, containing the inscription 'He that soweth good shall reap joy; he that soweth evil shall reap sorrow; can you do evil and be rewarded with good? Nay, as grapes cannot be gathered from thorns'"
Hence, we even have Matthew 7:16 inscribed on a stone in the Kaba itself!
Finally, Ibn Abbas Muhammad's first cousin and a Sahabi (Companion) explicitly states that none of God's Books (i.e. the Holy Bible and the Quran) have ever been nor could they ever be corrupted. In Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitaab Al-Tawheed, Baab Qawlu Allah Ta'ala, "Bal Huwa Qur'aanun Majeed, fi lawhin Mahfooth" (i.e. in Sahih al-Bukhari, Book "The Oneness of God", the Chapter on Surat Al-Borooj (no. 85), Verses 21, 22 saying, "Nay this is a Glorious Qur'an, (Inscribed) in a Tablet Preserved.") we find in a footnote between 9.642 and 643:
"'They corrupt the word' means 'they alter or change its meaning.' Yet no one is able to change even a single word from any Book of God. The meaning is that they interpret the word wrongly." [... and he continues to speak about how the Qur'an is preserved ...]
This is the Tafseer (commentary) of Abdullah Ibn Abbas, one of the Sahaba (Companions) and Muhammad's cousin. His opinions (because he is a Sahabi) are held to be above the opinions and commentaries of all other Sheikhs who are not Sahaba.
This sufficiently puts to rest Shabir's attempts at discrediting the authenticity of the Gospels.
In the meantime, how can we find the real historical Jesus? I believe we can find him in the Qur'an.
Actually, we do find the real historical Jesus in the Holy Bible, a fact affirmed by independent archaeological research, ancient non-Christian sources as well as Islamic traditions. And the Jesus we find is God-Incarnate, the eternal Word of God who became flesh to die for our sins and who rose physically from the dead on third day, never to die again.
Since the Qur'an is demonstrably the word of God, what it reports about Jesus is true as told by God himself.
Correction. Shabir thinks the Quran is the Word of God. Yet, using Shabir's method that parallel accounts should not diverge in detail leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that the Quran is not the Word of God. Notice the following examples:
They said: "O Moses! Whether wilt thou That thou throw (first) Or that we be the first to throw?" He said, "Nay, throw ye First!" Then behold Their ropes and their rods- So it seemed to him on account of their magic- Began to be in lively motion! So Moses conceived In his mind A (sort of) fear. We said: "Fear not! For thou hast indeed The upper hand: Throw that which is In thy right hand: Quickly will it swallow up That which they have faked What they have faked Is but a magician's trick: And the magician thrives not (No matter) where he goes. So the magicians were Thrown down in prostration: They said, "We believe In the Lord of Aaron and Moses." (Pharaoh) said: "Believe ye In Him before I give You permission? Surely This must be your leader, Who has taught you magic! Be sure I will cut off Your hands and feet On opposite sides, and I Will have you crucified On trunks of palm-trees: So shall ye know for certain, Which of us can give The more severe and the more Lasting punishment." They said, "Never shall we Regard thee as more than The Clear Signs that have Come to us, or than Him who created us! So decree whatever thou Desirest to decree: for thou Canst only decree (touching) The life of this world. For us, we have believed In our Lord: may He Forgive us our faults, And the magic to which Thou didst compel us: For God is Best And Most Abiding." [S. 20:65-73]
So when the sorcerers arrived, They said to Pharaoh: "Of course- shall we have a suitable reward if we win?" He said: "Yea, (and more),- For ye shall in that case Be (raised in posts) Nearest (to my person)." Moses said to them, "Throw ye- which ye are about to throw!" So They threw their ropes And their rods, and said: "By the might of Pharaoh It is we who will Certainly win!" Then Moses threw his rod, When, behold, it straightway swallows up all The falsehoods which they fake! Then did the Sorcerers fall down, prostration in adoration, Saying: "We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, The Lord of Moses and Aaron." Said Pharaoh: "Believe ye In Him before I give You permission? Surely he is your leader who has Taught you sorcery! But soon shall ye know!" Be sure I will cut off Your hands and your feet On opposite sides, and I Will cause ye all To die On the cross!" They said: "No matter! For us, we shall but return to our Lord! Only, our desire is That our Lord will forgive us our faults, That We may become Foremost among the Believers!" [S. 26:41-52 (Cf. 7:111-126)]
Let us contrast the parallel passages and see how they diverge in wording:
Sura 20- "We believe In the Lord of Aaron and Moses."
Sura 26- "We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, The Lord of Moses and Aaron."
Other passages include:
Has the story of Moses Reached Thee? Behold he saw a fire: So he said to his family, "Tarry ye: I perceive a fire; perhaps I can Bring you some burning brand Therefrom, or find some guidance At the fire." But when he came to the fire, a voice Was heard: "O Moses" "Verily I am thy Lord! Therefore (in My presence) Put off thy shoes: thou art In the sacred valley Tuwa. "I have chosen thee: Listen, then, to the inspiration (Sent to thee). "Verily, I am God: There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), And establish regular prayer For celebrating My praise. Verily the hour is coming- My design is to keep it Hidden- for every soul To its reward By the measure of its endeavor. Therefore let not such as Believe not therein But follow their own Lusts, divert thee therefrom, Lest thou perish!" "And what is that in thy right hand, O Moses?" He said, "It is My rod: on it I lean; with it I beat down fodder For my flocks; and In it I find Have Other uses." (God) said, "Throw it, O Moses!" He threw it, and behold it was a snake Active in motion. (God) said "Seize it And fear not: We shall return it at once To its former condition... Now draw thy hand Close to thy side: It shall come forth white (And shining), without harm (or stain),- As a another Sign,- In order that we may show thee (Two) of our Greater Signs. Go thou to Pharaoh For he has indeed Transgressed all bounds." [S. 20:9-24]
Behold! Moses said to his family "I perceive A fire; soon will I bring you From there some information, Or I will Bring you A burning brand to light our fuel That ye may Warm yourselves." But when he came To the (Fire), a voice Was heard: "Blessed are those In the Fire and those around: And Glory to God, The Lord of the Worlds. "O Moses! Verily I am God, the Exalted In Might, the wise!... "Now do throw thy rod!" But when he saw it Moving (of its own accord) As if it had been a snake, He turned back in Retreat, And retraced not his steps: "O Moses!" (it was said), "Fear not: truly, in My presence, Those called as apostles Have no fear,- But if Any have done wrong And have thereafter substituted Good to take the place of the evil, Truly, I am Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. "Now put thy hand into Thy bosom, and it will Come forth white without stain (Or harm): (These are) among The nine Signs (thou wilt take) To Pharaoh and his people: For they are A people Rebellious in transgression." But when Our Signs came To them, that should opened their eyes, they said: "This is Sorcery manifest!" And they rejected those Signs In iniquity and arrogance, Though their Souls were convinced Thereof: so see what was The end of those Who acted corruptly. [S. 27:7-14]
Now when Moses had fulfilled The term, and was traveling With his family, he perceived A fire in the direction of Mount Tur. He said To his family: "Tarry ye; I perceive a fire; I hope To bring you from there Some information, or a burning Firebrand that ye may warm yourselves." But when he came To the (Fire), a voice was heard from the right back Of the valley, from a tree In hallowed ground: "O Moses! Verily I am God, the Lord of the Worlds... Now do thou throw thy rod! But when he saw it Moving (of its own accord) As if it had been a snake, He turned back in retreat and retraced not his steps: "O Moses!" (It was said), "Draw near, and fear not; For thou art of those Who are secure. "Move thy hand into thy bosom, and it will Come forth to thy side (To guard) against fear. Those are the two credentials From thy Lord to Pharaoh And his Chiefs: for truly They are a people Rebellious and wicked." [S. 28:29-33]
Despite the fact that there are serious verbal variations throughout these Suras, we will limit ourselves to the following:
Sura 20- "Verily I am thy Lord!… Verily, I am God: There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), And establish regular prayer For celebrating My praise"
Sura 27- "And Glory to God, The Lord of the Worlds. O Moses! Verily I am God, the Exalted In Might, the wise!"
Sura 28- "Verily I am God, the Lord of the Worlds."
He [Lot] said [to the evil people around him]: "I do detest your doings." "Oh my Lord! deliver me and my family from such things as they do!" So we delivered him and his family, - all exept an old woman who lingered behind. S. 26:168-171
They said: O Lot! we are the messengers of your Lord; they shall by no means reach you; so remove your family in a part of the night - and let none of you look back - except your wife, for surely whatsoever befalls them shall befall her; surely their appointed time is the morning; is not the morning nigh? S. 11:81
But we saved him and his family, except his wife: she was of those who lagged behind. Sura 7:83
In one account it was an old woman who lagged behind. In the other accounts it was Lot's wife.
John Gilchrist furnishes additional evidence for conflicting variations within the same stories:
"It is the stories of the Biblical prophets that particularly lack any manner of logical sequence in the Qur'an. In some places there are lists of prophets which are hardly given in any sort of order. In the following verse the early patriarchs are given in the correct sequence (though Ishmael is discounted as a prophet in the Bible), but the names of the prophets thereafter are completely mixed up:
We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: We sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Surah 4.163
One cannot help presuming that Muhammad had a fairly sound knowledge of the history of the patriarchs from Noah to the sons of Jacob but was somewhat at sea regarding the sequence of the prophets that followed. Indeed the later prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, with the exception of Jonah, are conspicuous purely by their absence in the Qur'an.
While the patriarchs are vigorously Quranic figures, the great prophets of the Bible from the eighth century BC onwards, are entirely absent. (Cragg, The Event of the Qur'an, p. 173).
There is nothing of the teaching of the writing prophets of the Old Testament, and practically nothing of the teaching of the New Testament. (Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, p. 54).
On the other hand there are numerous stories in the Qur'an relating to the earlier prophets and New Testament figureheads which are borrowed from Jewish Talmudic sources and Christian apocryphal writings respectively. Examples of these are found in the sections on Qur'anic origins and sources to follow. It seems that Muhammad's knowledge of the Bible was limited to information from secondary sources, though this knowledge did improve as time went on.
The needs of his profession do not appear to have made him actually a student - yet there is no question that as the Koran grew in bulk, its knowledge of biblical stories became somewhat more accurate: and though this greater degree of accuracy may have been at times due to the Prophet's memory, it is more likely that he took such opportunities as offered of acquiring more information. (Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, p. 106).
An example of the growing accuracy of the Qur'anic records of the events in the lives of the Biblical prophets proves the point. In Surah 26.160-175 one finds a brief record of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and of a typical conversation between the prophet Lot and his unbelieving people. Lot was delivered with his family "except an old woman who lingered behind" (Surah 26.171, as also 37.135). The story is roughly repeated in Surah 27.54-58, except that in this case, as in all the other later records of this event, the woman is now positively identified as his wife (Surah 27.57). There is as yet no hint of the involvement of the angels who came as God's messengers in human form to destroy the cities but, in later passages, they finally appear while the narratives of the whole episode are simultaneously embellished with further information.
In Surah 15.51-77 there is a brief record of the visit of the angels and their mission. Furthermore Abraham is now linked to the story of the destruction of these cities (typically not mentioned by name in the Qur'an) in that the angels visit him first to announce their purpose (v.58-60) as in the Bible (Genesis 18.16-22). When they come to Lot, however, they disclose their true identities immediately as well as their design and call on him to leave by night with his household (v.63-66). Only after this do the townsmen come to Lot to demand his guests and, as in the Bible (Genesis 19.8), Lot offers them his daughters (v.71). The record is very similar to the Biblical account except that in the Bible the angels only make their true identities known after the altercation with the tribesmen (Genesis 19.11) and only then command him to prepare to leave with his family as they make their mission known to him (Genesis 19.12-13). The Qur'anic error in placing these disclosures before the visit of the townsmen leads to a somewhat irrational situation:
In S. 15 apparently no sequence of the events is presented, since it is told that the conversation of Lot with the people follows after the notification of the angelic rank of the visitors. This is not logical, for in that case Lot need not have been afraid of being importuned by the people and there would have been no need of "offering" his daughters. (Baljon, Modern Muslim Koran Interpretation, p. 38).
In Surah 11.74-85 Muhammad finally gets it right. Once again the angels come to Abraham and this time the Qur'an mentions the prayer he offered to deliver the cities. Furthermore the disclosure of the identities of the angelic guests and their purpose to deliver Lot and his family and destroy the cities is now rightly placed after the altercation with the townsmen (v.81-82). Now the fears of Lot about the security of his guests when the townsmen arrive makes sense. He is said to have "felt himself powerless" (v.77) to protect them and openly expresses his regret that he could not summon powerful support on their behalf (v.80). Only at this point do they disclose their true identities as angelic messengers and only now is he called to leave with his family by night. All this is consistent with the Biblical narrative but is contradictory of the account in Surah 15 where the disclosures are said to have been made before the townsmen confronted Lot.
All these features strongly support the statement made by Margoliouth that, as the Qur'an developed, so its record of the events relating to the Biblical prophets became significantly more accurate. This conclusion can hardly be resisted in the circumstances:
Again, in the first four of the passages just quoted nothing suggests any awareness of the connexion between Abraham and Lot, and indeed some matters suggest ignorance of it; on the other hand, in the last three passages there is explicit mention of the connexion with Abraham. If there were only one or two instances of this sort of thing they could easily be explained away; BUT THERE ARE A GREAT MANY; and the Western critic therefore finds it difficult to resist the conclusion that Muhammad's knowledge of these stories was growing and that therefore he was getting information from a person or persons familiar with them. (Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, p. 159). (Gilchrist, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam [Jesus To the Muslims, PO Box 1804, Benoni, Republic of South Africa, 1986], pp. 163-166)
Even one Muslim scholar acknowledges the difficulty posed by the verbal variations of the same stories within the Quran:
"Among the mutashabih (things which resemble one another) verses are those which tell the story of Moses in many places of the Qur'an, and those, like them, which employ different words to express similar meanings. Some examples of these are: 'Let into it' and 'Carry in it [the Ark]', (Q. 23:27 and 11:40); 'Slip in your hand' and 'Enter your hand [O Moses into your bosom]', (Q. 28:32 and 27:12); and 'He [Moses] cast down his staff and, behold, it became a snake slithering' and 'He cast it down and, behold, it became an unmistakable serpent', (Q. 20:20 and 7:107). Ibn Zayd then comments, 'All this is in order to show God's judgment between the prophets and their peoples.' Ibn Zayd goes on, 'Anyone whom God wishes to test and cause to fall into error would say, "Why is this not like that, and why is that like this!"' (Tabari, VI, pp. 177-179)" (Mahmoud M. Ayoub, The Qur'an and Its Interpreters, Vol. II - The House of Imran [State Uni versity of New York Press, Albany; 1992], p. 23; bold emphasis ours)
Hence, Muslim themselves have discovered and stumbled on the fact that the same Quranic stories contain verbal variations.
We again have found that Shabir is long on criticism but falls way short of providing any substantial evidence for his claims.
In the service of the only true God and Eternal Life, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
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