Part 8: The 'Proof'
CHAPTER XXVIII:INTRODUCING THE EVIDENCE
The True ‘Proof’ - Fixed ‘Original’ Text, Many Manuscripts, A ‘Backup’ Source
Historical facts show that no text claiming to represent a Message from God has an ‘original’ manuscript in existence.
This being the case, the only ‘Proof’ able to ensure the reliability of any text claiming to transmit a Revelation would be as follows:
1/ That the facts were set down in a form that contained all the evidence, including the asbab-al-nuzul (circumstances for the revelation), needed to transmit the Message in its context;
2/ That this was set down in a language whose written form was complete at the time of writing thus ‘fixing’ the factual content from the beginning;
3/ That several such complete records corroborating one another were written by persons who had the Prophet’s promise of God’s Protection or some who were their very close companions;
4/ That the entire Message had also been spread universally by word of mouth (i.e. as an ‘Oral Tradition’) and so existed as confirmation of these texts;
5/ That there existed another ‘Written Tradition’ which provided a backup ‘Proof’ that all this was true;
6/ That a multitude of ancient original language manuscripts existed, as well as many early translations, to confirm the content.
Only all of this would ensure that the text which purported to carry the Message has been transmitted continuously and accurately.
It will be obvious to the followers of Islam that they do not possess anything like this. As we proceed it will be noted that all of these exist in respect of the Gospel records.
Each Gospel Is The Complete Witness Of A Companion Or Tabi’i Of Jesus
We begin by noting that while many in Islam assert that the presence of historical narration in the Gospels shows they cannot be ‘original’, we note that they have asserted that the so-called ‘Gospel of Barnabas’ [something we will note briefly later in Appendix C] is an ‘original’ and present it as their ‘Proof’ against the present Gospels. Yet it is absolutely filled with ‘historical narration’ and even contains a multitude of historical errors.
Such a stand denies outright Islam’s claim that a ‘Book’ called the
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Injil, containing only "the Words of God", was ‘sent down’ to Jesus. We can understand why Islam feels the need to grasp at it as ‘an original’, historical errors and all. Such is the weak position of Islam that it must jump to whichever ‘evidence’ appears useful for the present ‘outwitting’.
As we will see, the true Gospels have always contained historical narration, for they have always been known for what they are, the personal accounts of the Companions and Tabi'un of Jesus. Justin Martyr, a Tabi' from the region of Jerusalem, wrote of them:
"For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them..." (Apology, Justin Martyr, I, 66).
His Apology was a book which was written to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius in 138 A.D., a mere 50 years after the Companion John died and when many Tabi'un were still alive.
There is no reason to reject the content of these Gospel records considering the historical attestations which we will examine that these were acknowledged by the early Community as the accepted Companion/Tabi' Gospels, when linked with the promise of Jesus to the Companions that the Holy Spirit would "bring to your remembrance all that I have taught you".
Neither is there any reason to think that the People of the Gospel must enter into some sort of debate as some would have us do concerning ‘who wrote theirs down first’, since, as we have seen, such a claim is meaningless with respect to the Qur’an.
Not only was the text so absolutely incomplete (and Muhammad’s scribes unable to write well) but when combined with ‘Uthman’s errors, the confused general content and the need for much late extra-Qur’anic material to try to establish the words, let alone a meaning and then the extended ‘revelation’(!), it matters little when the bare Qur’anic text was set down in writing!!
Rather what alone matters with the Qur’an is that there is no ‘preservation’ in such texts and the materials which were hoped would give it life are far from early, are far from reliable, and far from agreed upon - in the extreme. Date makes no difference here!
This, we will see, is not the case with the Gospel records.
While we will note in some detail in the next chapter the testimony of some Tabi'un and Tab Tabi'un of Jesus, we note here a couple of their testimonies. It is recorded from a book written by the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias
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(c. 130 AD), a Tabi’un, that he gave the following testimony which he personally heard from the Companion (Apostle) John ‘the Elder’:
"The Elder used to say this also: ‘Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter wrote down accurately all that he (Peter) mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not, however, in order. For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter ... So then Mark made no mistake, writing down in this way some things as he (Peter) mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything he had heard, not to include any false statement among them." (Ecclesiasticus History, Book III, Chapter 39, Eusebius)
Here we have a statement from a Tabi’un declaring that the apostle John (a Companion) KNEW in his lifetime, that Mark "the interpreter of Peter" wrote his Gospel record based on what he had heard from Peter (a Companion). This is the same Mark who also travelled with the Companion/Tabi' Paul and the Tabi’ Barnabas.
We also note from the Tab Tabi’ Irenaeus [who was a companion of the Tabi’ Polycarp, the disciple (Tabi') of the Companion John]:
"Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, when Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and laying the foundation of the church there. After their departure (i.e. death circa 64 AD), Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher. The John, the disciple of the Lord who leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia." (Against Heresies, book III, i, 1)
This indicates that indeed the sources and the writers of the four Gospel records were not only known, but were the best available - Companion eyewitnesses, and those travelling and preaching Tabi'un who accompanied other Companions.
Clearly too, all these records were written while many other Companions and Tabi'un were still alive! We find concurrence of this in the fact that later tradition recorded that other early Believers also spoke of these matters.
We note that Irenaeus has mentioned that "Matthew ALSO issued a Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect" thus opposing the claim of some in Islam that this implies he ‘only’ wrote one in Hebrew. The word ‘ALSO’ gives every reality to the fact that he also issued one in Greek. We mention this because the content of the Gospel record of Matthew which has been transmitted from him was written in Greek, not Hebrew. Experts agree on this because the flow of the Greek in it does not bear the marks of a translation from Hebrew. Matthew ALSO wrote a Gospel record in the Greek language.
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This is not surprising when we note first that the inscription over Jesus’ head was written in Latin, Aramaic, and Greek (Injil John 19:20) indicating the languages prevalent in the region. Further, even the the Jewish Scripture had been translated into Greek (the Septuagint) some 300 years before Jesus’ death. Finally, we also know that Greek was the language of Commerce, and that Matthew had to know both languages:
"... We can see his fitness for the task. As a tax collector, probably under Herod Antipas, he had the understanding of a civil servant and would need to know not only his native Aramaic, but also the Greek spoken in Galilee."
The same writer notes that Matthew travelled widely:
"Tradition declares that for fifteen years he preached in Palestine, and that after he went to foreign nations, - the Ethiopians, Macedonians, Syrians, Persians, Parthians, and Medes being mentioned." (Introd. To The N.T., Thiessen, p. 132)
Matthew was well able to write fluently in the Greek language. As we noted, Matthew also was the only one of the four to publish his Gospel in the Jerusalem region of the Mediterranean world. It would hardly be conceivable that he only wrote a record intelligible to a small percentage of the population when his sole purpose in life was to obey Jesus’ command and reach as many as possible with the Gospel Message - and most people dealt in Greek!
As it is Greek which was the far more widely used language, It is quite natural that this is the Gospel record of Matthew which has survived among the Believers universally. This is what they have transmitted to us.
A Brief Historical And Linguistic Perspective
There is every reason to acknowledge the early existence of other records of Jesus’ life and Message among the people since the Tabi’ Luke begins his Gospel record with the words:
"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word." (Injil Luke 1:1)
To think that this widespread process of the recording of the teachings and life of Jesus as "handed down to us" from the "eyewitnesses and servants of the word" should be in any way viewed as unnatural is to ignore the normal inclinations of men. We recall again Azami’s words:
"... every living community naturally inclines towards safeguarding its heritage and does its utmost to preserve the relics and the memory of the attainments of its illustrious ancestors." (The Sunnah in Islam, p. 27f)
However, when compared with what the early followers of Islam were
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capable of doing, the written form the Companion and Tabi' records took must be acknowledged as far superior.
This is because the time and place in which Jesus’ life was lived, and indeed the ‘entire world’ of the time were, both previously and afterwards, under enormous Greek and Roman influences, each of which carried with it a highly developed culture and a complete written form for the language.
It is surely for THIS reason that Yusuf Ali makes a statement which gives both Greek and Latin (and even 16th century Europe!) the appearance of being on the same par as early Arabic! We read:
"The punctuation marks in the Arabic text have been worked out by our Ulema with minute care and attention to details. The earliest manuscripts had few or no punctuation marks. Their growth and development furnish an interesting history... In classical Europe, Greek had practically no punctuation marks. Later Latin had one or two rudimentary ones. In modern Europe they developed with printing. Aldus Manutus (16th century) was the first to work out a regular system. The Muslims were much earlier in the field for Quranic purposes." (The Holy Qur’an, Introduction, Yusuf Ali, p. XIX; emphasis added)
That this is a total misrepresentation (‘outwitting’) can be seen from the accompanying reproduction of the Greek Alphabet (at right) 1 and the following quotation on the matter of ‘anything extra’ from the same book which teaches Greek:
BREATHINGS, ACCENTS, IOTA SUBSCRIPT
It will be noticed that there is no sign for the letter h in the Greek alphabet. The want of such a sign is made up by the marks called breathings, one of which is written over every vowel or dipthong that begins a word. The rough breathing ‘ (turned like the opening comma in inverted commas) is sounded like our letter h, is pronounced "ho," is pronounced "ha." The smooth breathing ’ indicates that the vowel is to be sounded without the rough h sound. If the word begins with a dipthong, the breathing is placed over the second vowel, and not over the first ...
Accents are marks invented by Aristophanes of Byzantium about 200 B.C. in order to teach foreigners the correct pronunciation of Greek. They were not written in the ancient manuscripts. They denoted musical pitch and not stress, and no use is made of them now to guide correct speech. The student who is pressed for time is recommended not to trouble with them except in the case of verbs.
The student however must not neglect the breathings, but must write and pronounce them carefully. (The Elements of New Testament Greek, Nunn, p. 5; emphasis added)
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Not only were the ‘accents’ invented some 800 years before Muhammad(!), but their ONLY PURPOSE was to guide the pronunciation for foreigners and they weren’t ‘required’ nor written. ONLY the ‘breathings’, markings denoting the letter ‘h’, indicate a ‘non-alphabet-letter’ - and it too was in place in Jesus’ day - not invented later!
After reading the many ‘outwittings’ in von Denffer’sUlum, published by the Salafiyyah group The Islamic Foundation, one can see why this same group chose to use the quotation from Yusuf Ali in their 1975 publication of the Qur’an! It fits their style quite nicely. It is a complete ‘outwitting’ of the people of Islam!
The COMPLETE condition of the early Greek language means that since the written form of the Gospel records was Greek, they were complete from the time Jesus’ Companions and Tabi'un wrote them - not a mere skeleton whose vocalisation could later be misconstrued or made to say ‘whatever’ like the Qur’an.
Since also these fixed records bore the details of the life and Message of Jesus, it is obvious that these details were fixed when the accounts were written.
It must be acknowledged, then, that if the records of the Companions and Tabi'un of Jesus which are possessed today can be shown by reliable records to be things which were recognised and also possessed by the early Tabi'un and Tab Tabi'un of Jesus, then there are no grounds to view them with suspicion. This, as we have seen, includes on the grounds of the presence of other Gospels which existed in the times of the Companions of Jesus.
Perceiving The Early Circumstances More Clearly
In order to clear up any misconceptions and so gain a valid understanding of why these Gospel records are reliable, it is necessary for us to possess a broad perspective of the early history, not only of the four Gospel records but of the circumstances in general which surrounded their writing.
This cannot be achieved without considering the universality of the oral transmission of the Message which preceded the writing of these records of the Companions and Tabi'un of Jesus.
Indeed, the Message itself had become universal through the preaching of these very men. This is why the Tabi’ Polycarp, whose writings we will examine shortly, wrote in a letter to the church at Philippi of:
"the apostles who brought us the Gospel and the prophets who foretold the coming of the Lord" (cited from The Qur’an and the Bible ..., Campbell, p. 149)
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It is easy to perceive that they would immediately have been acclaimed in the place where they originated for these men were held in high honour in the Community. Also, their content would immediately have been discernible as correct since the people already knew the entire content from the oral teaching they had previously received.
As the Believers travelled out from these points, some would have taken copies of these complete records - remember writing was well-known - or voiced abroad the existence of such written records of honour wherever they travelled. Some would also relate what they recalled of it from memory. The four Gospel records would thus have become increasingly recognised everywhere and people would have anticipated when they could obtain a copy.
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[NOTE: An admission that such ‘alterations’ were impossible has been related in a Hadith from ibn Abbas in which he acknowledges that the Christian Scriptures could not have been corrupted because of their being widespread.]
As is apparent to anyone who reads these Gospel records, although they originated in divers places their content agrees with one another. Furthermore, it should be obvious that these four Gospel records when they became collected together and published "between two covers", had overwhelming ‘Proof’ of their reliability in the widespread knowledge of their existence as well as in already existing knowledge of the Gospel Message among the many who became Tabi'un through the Companions' travelling and preaching - and many others. These witnesses were spread far and wide in the world of the day.
To declare such a fourfold Gospel record as unreliable only shows ignorance or predisposition against their content and the historical reality which surrounds them.
Each of these Gospel records became known as ‘the Gospel according to’ each of the writers:
"... there was a time before the word ‘Gospel’ denoted the name of a book: the Gospel then signified the subject of the preaching of every Christian missionary, and that was in two words - Jesus Christ. It was because it told the story of Jesus Christ that the Book of Matthew, or John, or Mark, or Luke, came to be called the Gospel." (Introduction to the New Testament, Salmon, p. 111)
Indeed, this is why when the four Gospel records became widespread and were published together "between two covers" as the four universally accepted Companion and Tabi' records, the terms "The Gospel According To Matthew", etc., were placed before the text of each Gospel record. And the earliest extant evidence shows this:
"Accordingly the earliest MSS. [Manuscripts] represent the Gospels not as four separate works, but as one work bearing the title ‘Gospel’, divided into four sections, ‘according to Matthew’, ‘according to Mark’, &c. These were, in short, but the forms in which four different Evangelists had committed the Gospel to writing." (Introduction to the New Testament, Salmon, p. 100)
Yet again, the followers of Islam try to discredit these four Gospel records by asserting that they only "formed a Canon" through ‘official’ forces. This is not true. The placing of these four Gospel records together
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was not a matter forced by ‘authorities’, either religious or secular, but resulted because their existence and authority was known everywhere:
"... we have to ask, Did the Church formally select our four from the mass of evangelical tradition; and was it in consequence of the pre-eminence given to these by the force of authority that the others disappeared? Not so: it is a remarkable fact that we have no early interference of Church authority in the making of the Canon; no Council discussed this subject; no formal decisions were made. The Canon seems to have shaped itself;... let us remember that this non-interference of authority is a valuable topic of evidence to the genuineness of our Gospels; for it thus appears that it was owing to no adventitious authority, but by their own weight, that they crushed all rivals out of existence. Whence could they have had this weight except from its being known that the framers of these Gospels were men of superior authority to the others, or with access to fuller information." (Introduction to the New Testament, Salmon, p. 108f; emphasis added)
The fact that not only these four Gospel records but also the Epistles (letters) of the Companions and Tabi'un of Jesus were cherished among the Believers will become evident in the next section.
1/ It should be noted also that the large letters listed under the heading ‘Capitals’ were the ONLY ONES existing in Greek until the 8th century AD. Manuscripts written with these ‘capitals’ are now called ‘Uncials’. Manuscripts which used these thus had clearly defined texts. Only after the 8th century did a script of smaller letters gradually become introduced until in the 10th century it alone was in use. Manuscripts using these are called ‘Miniscules’.