In the Qur'an we read
Say: "O People of the Book!
Ye have no ground to stand upon
unless you stand fast
by the Torah, the Gospel, and all the revelation
that has come to you from your Lord."
The above is Yusuf Ali's translation. Arthur J. Arberry translates the last three lines instead as
"... until you perform
the Torah and
and what was sent down to you from your Lord."
Arberry is probably nearer to the Arabic original in the sense of a literal translation, and it doesn't explicitely say that the People of the Book have further "Books of revelation" beside the Torah and the Gospel [although the Zabur/Psalms of David are mentioned elsewhere and are certainly included in the "and what was sent down to you from your Lord"], but it doesn't say this further revelation cannot be books either. The most natural reading of this text is that they are books just like the Torah and Gospel are books. This contradicts a common opinion often voiced by Muslims who say "we do believe in the Torah and the Gospel, but there are all these other books in the Bible and we do not believe that those are from God (and even the current Torah and Gospel are corrupted)." Let us look at this opinion and how it conflicts with this verse in the Qur'an.
This verse is directed to the Jews and Christians, the "People of the Book", those to whom the Torah and the Gospel has been given from the Lord. That is clear from the verse. But then there is the last line about this other revelation, i.e "and all that has been sent down to you". It is clear that we are only talking about books which are accepted by Jews or Christians ("sent down to you") as revelation.
If this other revelation was not written in books, how have the Jews and Christians preserved it for hundreds of years? Islam teaches that there was no other prophet between Jesus and Muhammad, so this further revelation (in addition to Torah and Gospel) is available at the time of Muhammad, since otherwise the admonition to obey it would be unintelligible, and since there is no indication that the other revelation is of a different kind than the Torah and the Gospel - being mentioned in absolute parallelity to them - it is most reasonable to assume that the Torah and the Gospel are just mentioned as "the major representatives" of totality of all the books containing the revelation(s) from God through his messengers, but there are also other scriptures which the Qur'an acknowledges and accepts as we can see from this verse.
And this way of refering to the scriptures is in keeping with the way Jews and Christians have always been speaking about it. The Torah (or Pentateuch = "the five books of Moses") are the first books and the foundational books of all the Jewish scriptures, and as such they also stand as representative for the whole of the Jewish scriptures. And it is used in this way in the New Testament by Jesus and the Apostles. In a similar way, Christians speak about the whole of God's revelation as "the law and the gospel" because the Torah [law] and the Gospels are the "most important books" in - and as such suitable as representatives for - the two parts of the Bible, the Old and the New Testaments.
Some questions (if you find the above explanation unreasonable): What are these other earlier revelations which the Jews and Christians are supposed to obey (perform, stand upon)? Why would this NOT be possible to refer to the other books to be found in the Bible? Does this *and* after 'Gospels' not necessarily indicate that there are more scriptures around, even if they are not named as such? Why should they not be those which at this time have been considered scripture for hundreds of years by these communities of believers? And how would the Jews and Christians know that these are NOT meant, since the commandment says to be faithful to "what the Lord has been sending down to them". Would that not automatically be understood by them as "that which YOU consider to be your holy scriptures"? If it is indeed supposed to be a "different set" would this not have to be explicitly explained somehow like "these yes - but not those" if it was NOT exactly the set which are considered scriptures BY THEM anyway?
I think this the most reasonable understanding of this verse.
But let us set aside the "other ones" for now.
Big question: Can we assume that the command of God towards Jews and Christians was an intelligent one for them, i.e. when they heard it, they knew which scriptures were meant by Torah and Gospel, and they indeed could go and read and obey?
For lack of a more detailed description or definition in the Qur'an of what Torah and Gospel are supposed to be, would it be a reasonable approach to look to history and see what we know about the Jewish and Christian scriptures at the time of this command, i.e. in the lifetime of Muhammad? The command gives the impression that these books are readily available to the Jews and Christians and not something esoteric and inaccessible. Otherwise, why command them to obey something they have no access to?
If you would reject this historical approach (why?), what is then (from your viewpoint) a rational approach to answer this question?
There are many more verses we could add to the above, for example Sura 3:3 says:
He has sent down upon thee the Book with truth,
confirming what was before it,
and he sent down the Torah and the Gospel aforetime. [Arberry]
The parallel statement in regard to this "sending down" is captured even better in Pickthall's translation which reads:
He hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture with truth
confirming that which was (revealed) before it,
EVEN AS He revealed the Torah and the Gospel.
"Even as" = "in just the same way." The Arabic itself doesn't say "just as" but it makes the exact same statement about both, and has no hint that it should be understood in a different way. Furthermore have a look at Sura 4:47, stating:
You who have been given the Book,
believe in what We have sent down,
confirming what _IS_ with you. [Arberry]
O ye unto whom the Scripture hath been given!
Believe in what We have revealed
confirming THAT WHICH YE POSSESS. [Pickthall]
Can anyone really be justified in saying that the Qur'an does not speak about the scriptures of the Jews and Christians which they have in their possession at the time of Muhammad but about some other "esoteric entity" which we really can't know what it is or was, ...?? Yet many Muslims do make the claim that it is certainly NOT speaking about the scriptures of the Jews and Christians as they are today, even though there is no doubt that they are the same as what the Jews and Christians had in the 7th century. [The New Testament is today translated from manuscripts that date 250 years before Muhammad].
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