Fiction writers like Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) and popular scholars like Bart Ehrman (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture) have convinced many people the New Testament is unreliable
We are led to believe that Emperor Constantine determined the New Testament canon in the fourth century; that Christian leaders, vying for power, changed the Gospels to suit their personal agendas; and that amateur copyists butchered early New Testament manuscripts.
If these charges are true, the Church today is built on the shifting sands of legend, power, and political expediency.
Fortunately, the case for the reliability of Scripture is stronger today than it has ever been, thanks in part to a 2018 Faithlife film, “Fragments of Truth.” In the film, Craig Evans of Houston Theological Seminary takes us on a global journey through time and texts.
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.
Evangelicals may disagree about many things, but we stand together on the non-negotiables that define the Christian faith: The Trinity, justification by faith, and the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, to name a few.
Many false belief systems, from Mormonism to Islam, profess a high regard for the Word of God. But, in fact, they deny its inspiration, inerrancy, or preservation and thus reject the Bible as supremely authoritative.
Specifically, false religions employ four tactics to undermine the Scriptures:
(1) They change it. The most notorious offender is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, whose members are known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In the late 1800s, Charles Taze Russell launched a Bible study to spread his denials of the Trinity, Jesus’ physical resurrection, and eternal punishment of the wicked in hell, cleverly twisting the Scriptures to buttress his false teachings. Not to be outdone, his successors produced their own version of the New Testament in 1950, and the completed New World Translation (NWT) in 1961.
Revised in 1984, and again in 2013, the NWT is a sanitized version of the Bible. Six translators — only one of whom had any training in biblical languages — essentially scrubbed the deity of Christ out of passages like John 1:1, John 8:58, and Col. 1:15-17, and blurred other essential doctrines.
Christians are sometimes asked if we believe the Bible is literally true.
After all, whether eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood is a plunge into cannibalism, or a figurative expression of full devotion, depends on how we understand the language of Scripture.
In one sense, we might say the Bible is divinely inspired literature through which God speaks to human beings in our own language. This naturally includes a range of literary devices, from narrative to hyperbole.
So, what does it mean to take the Bible “literally”?
It means applying a natural reading as the author or speaker intended, with a goal of grasping the writer’s message. This requires context and may include approximations, analogies, metaphors, quotations, parables, apocalyptic language, etc.
In contrast, taking the Bible “literalistically” means adhering to a rigid understanding of the primary meaning of words, without allowing for figurative language or a possible range of meanings.
An example may help clarify this. In John 10:9, Jesus states, “I am the door.” A literalistic rendering of this passage means that Jesus is calling himself an actual wooden piece of hardware, which either is absurd, or communicates a failed grasp of reality for the One who claims to be our only hope of everlasting life.
A literal understanding of this verse, however, considers the figurative language of Jesus’ words and the context in which He speaks. In other words, Jesus is the one true hope of everlasting life.
Muslims believe in the Injil, or gospel, but define it differently than evangelical Christians do. Further, they claim the church has corrupted the biblical texts so that only the Qur’an preserves the genuine good news.
In defining the gospel, Muslim commentator Yusuf Ali writes that “the Injil spoken of by the Qur’an is not the New Testament. It is not the four Gospels now received as canonical. It is the single Gospel which, Islam teaches, was revealed to Jesus, and which he taught.”
In other words, the gospel is the prophetic teaching of Jesus as captured in the Qur’an, directing all people to submit to the will of Allah.
Further, Muslims argue that Christians have altered the New Testament texts, resulting in doctrinal errors such as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and original sin.
But a careful look at the Qur’an shows that Islam’s most holy book affirms the inspiration, preservation, and authority of the Gospel record. At the same time, it exposes the inconsistency of Muslim teachings about the Bible.