Have Jews and Christians corrupted the Bible?

In a previous column, we briefly examined several prophecies Jesus made concerning Himself. We presented the prophecies in the hope that our Muslim friends, who consider Jesus a great prophet but not the Son of God, would consider Jesus’ predictions, and their fulfillment, as evidence of His deity.

The traditional Muslim response to the Bible, however, is that Jews and Christians have corrupted it, so it cannot be trusted. However, this claim poses problems that begin with the Qur’an itself.

In Surah 10:94, Allah tells Muhammad, “So if you are in doubt, [O Muhammad], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters” (Sahih International).

In addition, Surah 5:48 reads, “And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book [Qur’an] in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it …” (Sahih International).

Since the Qur’an was not collected in written form until after Muhammad’s death (AD 632), these passages clearly refer to the Old and New Testaments — specifically, the Torah (Law), Zabur (psalms), and Injil (Gospel).

So, Allah seems to be telling Muhammad to use the Bible to verify the truth claims of Islam. But if the Scriptures are corrupted, as Muslims claim, when were they corrupted?

There are only two possible answers: before the days of Muhammad, or after the days of Muhammad. Let’s explore both possibilities.

Before or after?

If the Scriptures were corrupted before Allah sent Muhammad as the final prophet of Islam, then why would Allah direct Muhammad to a corrupted book and to the very people who corrupted it (Jews and Christians)?

More to the point: If the truth of Islam is embedded in a tarnished set of ancient manuscripts, wouldn’t the doctrines of Islam be sullied as well? This would render Judaism, Christianity, and Islam unreliable belief systems. None could be trusted.

Well, perhaps the Scriptures were corrupted after the time of Muhammad. In other words, maybe Allah told Muhammad to search the Old and New Testaments while they were still reliable, before Jews and Christians changed them to match their unique teachings.

But this explanation creates even greater challenges, not the least of which is the textual evidence. For example, we possess complete manuscripts of both the Old and New Testaments that existed hundreds of years before Muhammad was born – and these manuscripts agree with the Bibles in circulation today.

We are blessed with a treasure trove of ancient manuscript copies that, despite variants, provide us with an exceptionally high degree of confidence in their accuracy. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947 revealed a remarkable similarity between the texts stored at Qumran dating back to 150 BC and the Masoretic texts dating roughly 1,000 years later. The Septuagint, featuring the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dates to the third century BC, followed by Syriac and Samaritan versions – all existing in 200 BC.

As for the New Testament, there are more than 5,800 Greek manuscripts and manuscript fragments dating from AD 125-130. More than 30 papyri date from the late second through early third centuries. And four very reliable and nearly complete New Testaments date from the fourth and fifth centuries – long before Muhammad was born.

As New Testament scholar Benjamin Warfield has written, “If we compare the present state of the New Testament text with that of any other ancient writing, we must … declare it to be marvelously correct. Such has been the care with which the New Testament has been copied…. The New Testament [is] unrivaled among ancient writings in the purity of its text as actually transmitted and kept in use.”

In a debate with Muslim apologist Khalil Meek, Christian author James Walker stated: “Was God unable or unwilling to preserve His original Scriptures? That to me is troubling, because if it were either one … then how can we know any truth, and for that matter, how can a Muslim have confidence that God would preserve the Qur’an when He was unable or unwilling to preserve the others?”

While Muslims generally consider Jews and Christians “people of the book,” they cannot receive the Bible as the inerrant Word of God because it contradicts the Qur’an, and therefore, they say, it must be rejected.

Perhaps the best approach we can take is to encourage our Muslim friends to read the Bible, which preceded the Qur’an by hundreds of years, and for which abundant evidence of its textual integrity exists.