How was the Bible translated?

The Bible, or al kitab, is not usually read in its original languages (Hebrew & Greek). This is not because it is not available in these languages. It is, and some study Greek and Hebrew at university for the purpose of being able to read and study the Bible in the original languages. This is often the way that professional teachers of the Bible study it. But regular believers do not generally read or study the Bible in its original languages, and instead read it in a translation of their native language. Therefore, the Bible is not often seen in its original languages, leading some to think that the original languages have been lost, and others think that the translation process has led to corruption. Before jumping to these conclusions, perhaps it is better first to understand the process of translation of al kitab, or the Bible. That is what I would like to do in this article.

Translation vs. Transliteration

We do need to first understand some very basic principles of translation. Translators try to capture the best meaning. Thus a word-for-word approach is not always used. For example, in my native Swedish if I was to asked about the time I would say “Hur mycket är klockan?” which translated word-for-word to English is “How much is the clock?” But we do not speak that way in English so translating that phrase by meaning rather than by literal words is preferred. But translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning, especially when it comes to names or titles. This is known as transliteration.

The figure below illustrates the difference between translation and transliteration. From Arabic you can choose two ways to bring the word for ‘God’ into English. You can translate by meaning which gives ‘God’ or you can transliterate by sound to get ‘Allah’.

This uses the term ‘God’ to illustrate how we can translate or transliterate from one language to another

With the increased exchange between English and Arabic in recent years, the term ‘Allah’ has become a recognized word in the English language which means God. There is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the choice of translation or transliteration for titles and key words. The choice depends on how well the term is accepted or understood in the receiver language.

For the Bible (or its transliteration from Arabic = ‘al kitab’), translators had to decide whether words (especially names and titles) would be better in the receiver language through translation (by meaning) or through transliteration (by sound).

The Septuagint

Now let’s layer these principles onto the history of Biblical translation. The first translation of the Bible was when the Hebrew Old Testament (= Taurat & Zabur) was translated into Greek in about 250BC. This translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX) and it has exerted an enormous influence. I described the LXX in posts I and II on the Septuagint in my other blog, and I encourage you to read them because they will help you better understand the Septuagint.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows how all this impacts modern-day Bibles where translation stages are shown in quadrants.

This shows the translation process of the Bible (al kitab) to modern language

 

The original Hebrew Old Testament (Taurat & Zabur) is in the upper-left quadrant #1 and is accessible today in the Masoretic text and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Greek New Testament (injil) is in quadrant #2 in the upper-right. But because the Septuagint was a Hebrew to Greek translation it is shown as an arrow going from quadrant #1 to #2, so that #2 contains both Old and New Testaments in Greek. In the bottom half (#3) is a modern language, like English, that the Bible is translated into.

Throughout this process the translators had to decide whether words were better in the receiver language through transliteration or translation as explained above. This is illustrated with the green arrows labeled transliterate and translate on either side, showing that the translators could take either approach. Taken together, this figure shows the process by which the Biblical texts have gone from Hebrew and Greek, and then to the modern languages of today.

The Septuagint is very significant in textual criticism and in translation. I noted above that there are basically two Hebrew manuscript families from which we access the Hebrew Old Testament and translate it into a modern language. The more traditional stream is the Masoretic family of manuscripts, which has extant manuscripts dating from about 900 AD. This is the traditional source for the Old Testament in today’s Bible. I noted that the second stream, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were only recently discovered in 1948 and are dated back to about 200 BC. Thus in the DSS we have a much older family of manuscripts than the Masoretic text. And I noted that these two families of texts are basically identical – showing how well preserved the Hebrew Old Testament is. This is covered in more detail in my article on the science of textual criticism and anyone trying to understand whether the Bible or al kitab of today is reliable or if it is corrupted needs to think about it with this information in mind.

The Septuagint witness on the Question of Corruption of Bible

The Septuagint gives us a third stream of text to access the Old Testament. Since the Septuagint was translated from the Hebrew around 250 BC we can see (if we reverse translate the Greek back to Hebrew) what these translators had in their Hebrew manuscripts that they translated from. The most widely accepted view today is that the Septuagint provides an accurate record of an early Hebrew text. The Septuagint was read across the Middle East and Mediterranean for hundreds of years, by Jews, Christians, and even pagans – and even today many in the Middle East still use it. If someone (Christians, Jews or someone else) changed the Old Testament and corrupted it, then the Septuagint would be different from the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Dead Sea Scrolls. But they are the same. Similarly, if for example someone in Alexandria, Egypt, had corrupted the Septuagint itself then the Septuagint manuscript copies in Alexandria would be different from the other Septuagint manuscripts across the Middle East and Mediterranean. But they are the same. So the data tells us without any contradiction that the Old Testament has not been corrupted.

The Septuagint in Translation

The Septuagint is also used as a supplemental source in translation today. This is why you can see some footnotes in modern translations of the Old Testament where modern translators tell us what the Septuagint says in some particular passage. In other words, translation scholars use the Septuagint to this very day to help them translate some of the more difficult passages of the Old Testament. Greek is very well understood and in some passages where the Hebrew is obscure translators can see how the Septuagint translators understood these obscure passages 2250 years ago. As an example, when the New International Version translates the last phrase of Job 7:20 to ‘Have I become a burden to you?’ they are helped by the Septuagint. How do I know this? The footnotes indicate it. The overall contribution then of the Septuagint to the Old Testament is that it provides another manuscript stream supporting the reliability of the Old Testament as well as providing insight for making better translation of some difficult passages.

But this is not all. Understanding translation/transliteration and the Septuagint will help us understand where the terms ‘Christ’, ‘Messiah’, and ‘Masih’ come from as these terms relate to Isa (or Jesus – PBUH), which we need to grasp if we are to understand the message of the Injil. We look at this in our next article.

The science of Textual Criticism to see if the Bible is corrupted or not

“Why should I even consider the books of the Bible? It was written so long ago, and has had so many translations and revisions done to it – I have heard that its original message was changed over time.”  I have heard questions and statements like this many times about the books of the Taurat, Zabur and Injil that make up al Kitab or the Bible.

This question is very important and is based on what we have heard about al Kitab/the Bible. After all, it was written two thousand plus years ago. For most of this time there has been no printing press, photocopy machines or publishing companies. So the original manuscripts were copied by hand, generation after generation, as languages died out and new ones arose, as empires crumbled and new ones were born. Since the original manuscripts are no longer in existence how do we know that what we read today in al Kitab (the Bible) is what the original prophets actually wrote long ago? Apart from religion, are there any scientific or rational reasons to know whether what we read today is corrupted or not?

Basic Principles in Textual Criticism

Many who ask this do not realize there is a scientific discipline, known as textual criticism, by which we can answer these questions.  And because it is a scientific discipline it applies to any ancient writing.  This article will give the two main principles used in textual criticism and then apply them to the Bible.  To do so we start with this figure which illustrates the process by which any ancient writing is preserved over time so that we can still read it today.

manuscripts from past to today

A timeline showing how all ancient books come to us today

This diagram shows an example of a  book written 500 BC. This original however does not last indefinitely, so before it decays, is lost, or destroyed, a manuscript (MSS) copy of it is made (1st copy). A professional class of people called scribes did the copying work. As the years advance, copies are made of the copy (2nd copy & 3rd copy). At some point a copy is preserved so that it is in existence (extant) today (3rd copy). In our example diagram this extant copy was made in 500 AD. This means that the earliest that we can know of the state of the book is only from 500 AD onwards. Therefore the period from 500 BC to 500 AD (labeled x in the diagram) is the period where we cannot make any copy checks since all manuscripts from this period have disappeared. For example, if corruptions occurred when the 2nd copy was made from the 1st copy, we would not be able to detect them as neither of these documents are available to compare against each other. This time period before the existing copies (the period x) is thus the interval of textual uncertainty – where corruption could have happened.  Therefore, the first principle of textual criticism is that the shorter this interval x is the more confidence we can place in the correct preservation of the document to our time, since the period of uncertainty is reduced.

Of course, usually more that one manuscript copy of a document exists today. Suppose we have two manuscript copies and in the same section of each of them is the following phrase (Of course it would not be in English, but I use English to explain the principle):

This shows a variant reading (one says ‘Joan’ and the other says ‘John’) but with only a few manuscripts it is difficult to determine which is the one in error.

The original author had either been writing about Joan or about John, and the other of these manuscripts has an error. The question is – Which one has the error? From the available evidence it is very difficult to decide.

Now suppose we found two more manuscript copies of the same work, as shown below:

 

Now we have four manuscripts and it is easier to see which one has the error.

Now it is easier to decide which manuscript has the error. It is more likely that the error occurs once, rather than the same error repeated three times, so it is likely that MSS #2 has the copy error, and the author was writing about Joan, not John. ‘John’ is the corruption.

This simple example illustrates the second principle in textual criticism: The more manuscripts that exist today the easier it is to detect & correct errors and know what the original said.

Textual Criticism of Historical books

So now we have two principles that of scientific textual criticism that are used to decide the textual reliability of any old book: 1) measuring the time between original writing and earliest existing manuscript copies, and 2) counting the number of existing manuscript copies. Since these principles apply to all ancient writing we can apply them to both the Bible as well as other ancient books, as done in the tables below (Taken from McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 42-48).

Author When Written Earliest Copy Time Span #
Caesar

50 BC

900 AD

950

10

Plato

350 BC

900 AD

1250

7

Aristotle*

300 BC

1100 AD

1400

5

Thucydides

400 BC

900 AD

1300

8

Herodotus

400 BC

900 AD

1300

8

Sophocles

400 BC

1000 AD

1400

100

Tacitus

100 AD

1100 AD

1000

20

Pliny

100 AD

850 AD

750

7

* from any one work

These writers represent the major classical writers of ancient times – the writings that have shaped the development of modern civilization. On average, they are passed down to us by 10-100 manuscripts that are preserved starting only about 1000 years after the original was written.

Textual Criticism of Bible/al Kitab

The following table compares the Biblical (Injil in particular) writings along these same points (Taken from Comfort, P.W. The Origin of  the Bible, 1992. p. 193).

 

MSS

When Written

Date of MSS

Time Span

John Rylan

90 AD

130 AD

40 yrs

Bodmer Papyrus

90 AD

150-200 AD

110 yrs

Chester Beatty

60 AD

200 AD

140 yrs

Codex Vaticanus

60-90 AD

325 AD

265 yrs

Codex Sinaiticus

60-90 AD

350 AD

290 yrs

 Summary of Textual Criticism of Bible/al Kitab

The number of New Testament manuscripts is so vast that it would be impossible to list them all in a table. As one scholar who spent years studying this issue states:

“We have more than 24000 MSS copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today… No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, the ILIAD by Homer is second with 643 MSS that still survive” (McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 40)

A leading scholar at the British Museum agrees with this:

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers … yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of MSS whereas the MSS of the New Testament are counted by … thousands”  Kenyon, F.G. (former director of British Museum) Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. 1941 p.23

I own a book about the earliest New Testament documents. It starts with:

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text”  (P. Comfort, “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. Preface p. 17. 2001)

In other words, many of these existing manuscripts are very early, merely a hundred years or so after the original writings of the New Testament.  These manuscripts come earlier than the rise to power of Constantine and the Roman church.  And they are spread across the Mediterranean world.  If some from one region were corrupted we would see the difference by comparing it with manuscripts from other regions.  But they are the same.

So what can we conclude from this? Certainly at least in what we can objectively measure (number of extant MSSs and time spans between original and earliest extant MSS) the New Testament (Injil) is supported much more than any of the other classical writings.  The verdict to which the evidence pushes us is best summed up by the following quote:

“To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament”  Montgomery, History and Christianity. 1971. p.29

What he is saying is that to be consistent, if we question the reliability of al kitab (the Bible) we may as well discard all that we know about classical history in general – and this no historian has ever done. We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone since the earliest existing MSSs come before these events. For example, we know that no pope or the Roman Emperor Constantine changed the Bible since we have manuscripts that are earlier than Constantine and the popes and all these earliest manuscripts contain the same accounts.

This is shown in the following timeline where the manuscript sources that are used in translating modern Bibles are shown to come very early.

Modern Bibles are translated from the earliest existing manuscripts, many from 100-300 AD. These source manuscripts come long before Constantine or other religious-political powers

Modern Bibles are translated from the earliest existing manuscripts, many from 100-300 AD. These source manuscripts come long before Constantine or other religious-political powers

 

To summarize, neither time nor Christian leaders have corrupted the original ideas and messages that were first placed into the original writings of al kitab or the Bible. We can know that it today accurately reads what the authors actually wrote from the many thousands of early manuscripts that we have today.  The science of Textual criticism supports the reliability of al Kitab (the Bible).

Textual Criticism in university lecture

I had the privilege to give a public lecture on this topic at the University of Western Ontario in Canada not too long ago.  Below is a 17 minute video of the part of the lecture that covers this question.

Thus far we have really only looked at the textual criticism of the New Testament – the Injil.  But what about the Taurat and Zabur – the books that make up the Old Testament?  In the following 7 minute video I summarize the textual criticism principles of the Old Testament.

 

 

 

Did Paul or other Bible writers corrupt the Injil?

This is a great question. The danger for all of us is that we can either ask it with a superficial answer already in our minds. “Of course Paul or one of the others corrupted it”, we can quickly answer without thinking too much about it, mostly because this is simply what we have heard. Or, we can think, “Of course not! What a silly idea”, again without really knowing why but mostly because we have been taught that way. This is the danger for all people who ask questions of sacred Books.  We either dismiss it out-of-hand (because how we have been taught to think it not sacred) or we dismiss the question out-of-hand (again because of how we have been taught differently).

New Testament Writes other than Paul

With these considerations in mind I want to share my thinking and reasons on this question. Let us start with the writers aside from Paul. These writers were the disciples of Isa (PBUH) – his companions. They were the ones who followed him, listened to him, discussed with him, about the things that he did and said, both privately and in public. Some of them, such as John, Matthew and Peter were part of the inner circle of Isa’s 12 closest followers. They wrote eight of the books in the New Testament. Others, such as Mark, were among his wider circle of followers. The remaining authors (outside of Paul) were his brothers James and Jude. They grew up with Isa (PBUH) and James became the leader of the disciples in Jerusalem after the passing of Isa (PBUH) from this world. James, in fact, is mentioned in the Jewish historical writings of the 1st century AD. In that century there was a great Jewish military historian, Josephus, who wrote several books of history to the Roman Emperors of his day. In one of his books, writing of events in Jerusalem in the year 62 AD (32 years after the passing of Isa) he writes of how James, Isa’s brother, was martyred by his fellow Jews. Here is how he puts it:

“Ananus [the high priest] was rash and followed the Sadducees, who are heartless when they sit in judgment. Ananus thought that with Festus dead and Albinus still on the way, he would have the opportunity. Convening the judges of the Sanhedrin [the Jewish ruling council] he brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and condemned them to be stoned to death” Josephus. 93 AD. Antiquities xx 197

Josephus is explaining that in 62 AD Ananus had just been made high priest in Jerusalem and there was a political confusion. Ananus used the opportunity to condemn James to death. His father (also called Ananus) had sentenced Isa (PBUH) to death about 30 years before and Ananus the son quickly took the opportunity to do the same with James. Thus James was a target for his years of leadership in Jerusalem with the followers of Isa al Masih (PBUH) his brother in Jerusalem.

What does the Qur’an say about these disciples of Isa (PBUH)?

So it is these men who wrote the books in the New Testament other than Paul’s books. To judge whether they corrupted the Injil we can first turn to the perspective given in the Qur’an. When I do that I find the following ayat:

When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: “Who will be My helpers to (the work of) God?” Said the disciples: “We are God’s helpers: We believe in God, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims. Our Lord! we believe in what Thou hast revealed, and we follow the Apostle; then write us down among those who bear witness.” (Surat 3:52-53 – Al-Imran)

And behold I inspired the Disciples to have faith in me and mine messenger (Isa): they said, “We have faith, and you bear witness that we bow to Allah as Muslims (Surat 5:111 – Table Spread)

These ayat tell us quite plainly that the disciples of Isa (Jesus – PBUH) were a) Isa’s helpers, b) Allah’s helpers, c) and inspired by Allah to have faith in Isa. These disciples spoken of here in the Qur’an include none other than Matthew, Peter and John who wrote eight of the books in the New Testament, two of which are gospel books (Gospels of Matthew and John).  And Mark, the disciple in the wider circle, wrote a third gospel. It would seem that if one believes in the Qur’an that one would also then have to accept the writings of these disciples. These writers certainly could not have corrupted the Injil.  When we study the written gospels we are reading the writings of the disciples which are confirmed by the Qur’an.  Paul did not write any Gospel account, rather he wrote sacred letters.

Now where I live in Canada few people readily believe that there are any books by Allah. Just because something is written in Qur’an or Bible (al kitab) does not mean that they would accept it. In fact they prefer secular historical sources because, in their eyes, they are less biased. But even from that point-of-view we have seen, from the writings of the historian Josephus quoted above, that there is a solid basis to accept the writings of James, and by extension, his other brother Jude.

So we find, whether from secular sources or from the Qur’an, logical reasons to accept the books of the New Testament that are not Paul’s.

The Witness of Isa (PBUH): the Taurat and Zabur are the first standards

But what about Isa himself? What did he give as the testimony we should accept?  Notice where he appeals for a correct and uncorrupted witness to himself and his message.

Here we see that Isa PBUH (who is speaking) is using the Taurat (Book of Moses) to correct error among the experts in Jewish Law (Sharia)

“Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” Mark 12:26-27

And here we see that Isa (PBUH) starts with Taurat and then continues with Zabur (‘Prophets and Psalms’) to teach about his role as the Masih.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)…

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45)

And here we see that Isa again starts with Taurat (Moses’ writings) as the basis to judge the role of the Masih.

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5: 46-47)

So we can see that Isa (PBUH) himself first appeals to Moses (which is the Taurat), then the Prophets and Psalms (which is the Zabur) to explain the role and purpose of the Masih. This is the reason I decided, both in my search, and now in this website, to start with the Taurat. If you look at the articles on the Signs of Adam, Cain&Abel, Noah, Lut, Ibrahim 1, 2, and 3 etc. you will see that the passages that support these articles all come from Taurat (and the Qur’an).

We are on safe ground if we start with the Taurat – Isa (PBUH) himself told us to. Here we are learning Signs that will help to unlock the mystery of the Injil. Then we will take what we have learned and compare it with the writings of the brothers and disciples of Isa – again staying on safe ground.

Considering Paul

And what about Paul’s writings? What are we to make of them? Once we have studied the Taurat and Zabur and learned the Signs that Allah has definitely sent us, and then when we have studied the books of the disciples and brothers of Isa (PBUH) we knowledgeable  enough so that if we turn to Paul we will notice if what he writes is different from what we have already studied. Without this background knowledge of the ‘safe books’ to inform us, it is impossible for us to really know if what Paul wrote is corrupted or not. But to keep our search on safe ground we will not start with Paul because his credentials are not unquestionable.

When I lived in Algeria I was surrounded by Arabic speakers and heard Arabic all the time. But because I did not know any Arabic I was not capable of deciding if what I heard was ‘correct’ Arabic or ‘corrupted’ Arabic. The limitation to make this judgment was in me – not the speakers around me.  I did not have enough knowledge to be a good judge. A few years ago I took a course in Arabic. All people from all sorts of positions told me that the person giving this course spoke ‘correct’ Arabic. His reputation told me I could trust him as a ‘correct’ teacher. Starting from this course – that I knew was correct – I began to learn a bit of Arabic. Unfortunately I was not able to continue, but if I had, I could see that one day I could be in a position to decide if other people spoke ‘correct’ Arabic or ‘corrupted’ Arabic – because I would now have an informed basis from which to judge.

We are using exactly the same safe process to develop a solid understanding of the Signs of Allah, starting from which everybody says is ‘correct’ (Taurat), and then the disciples, to develop the basis to better judge if something else (like Paul) is corrupt or not. The danger for all seekers of the Straight Way is that we either accept too easily as revelation that which should be rejected, or that we discard too quickly the books that Allah intends that we learn from. Proceeding in this way, in humility and prayer before Allah, asking for His guidance, will make sure that we fall into neither error and thus stay on the Straight Path.

The Qur’an replaces the Bible! What says the Qur’an?

We have seen that both the Qur’an and the Sunnah confirm that the Bible (Taurat, Zabur and Injil that make up al Kitab) has not been changed or corrupted (see here and here).  But the question still remains whether the Bible/al Kitab is superseded, annulled, cancelled or replaced by the Qur’an. What does the Qur’an itself say about this idea?

To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety… Surah 5:48 Al-Ma’ida (The Table)

And before this (Qur’an) was the Book of Moses as a guide and a mercy; and this book (Qur’an) confirms (it) in the Arabic tongue. Surah (46):12 Al-Ahqaf (The Dunes)

And this is a book (Qur’an) which We have sent down, bringing blessings and confirming (the revelations) which came before it.  Surah (6):92 Al-An’am (The Cattle)

That which We have revealed to thee of the Book is the Truth,- confirming what was (revealed) before it: Surah 35:31 (The Angels)

These ayat speak about the Qur’an confirming (not superseding, overriding or replacing) the earlier message of the Bible (al Kitab).  In other words, these ayat are not saying that believers should set aside the early revelation and only study the later revelation.  Believers should also study and know the earlier revelation.

This is also confirmed by the ayat that tell us that there is ‘no distinction’ between the different revelations.  Here are two such ayat that I have noticed:

The Apostle believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believeth in God, His angels, His books, and His apostles. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles.” And they say: “We hear, and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys.”  (Surat 2:285 – The Cow)

Say ye: “We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to God (in Islam).” (Surat 2:136 – The Cow)

The first ayah tells us that there is no distinction between the apostles – they all should be listened to and the second says there is no difference between the revelations given by the different prophets – they all should be accepted.  In none of these ayat is there any suggestion that the earlier revelation should be disregarded because the later revelation has superseded it.

And this pattern fits with the example and teaching of Isa al Masih (PBUH).  He himself did not say the earliest revelations of Taurat and then Zabur were cancelled.  In fact he taught the opposite.  Notice the respect and continual and ongoing attention he pays to the Taurat of Musa in his own teaching in the Injil

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law (i.e. Taurat) or the Prophets (i.e. Zabur); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

In fact, to properly understand his teaching he taught that one must first go to the Taurat and then the Zabur.  Here is how he taught his own disciples:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses (i.e. Taurat), the Prophets and the Psalms (i.e. Zabur).” (Luke 24:44)

Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not attempt to bypass earlier revelation.  In fact he started from there in his teaching and guidance.  This is why we also follow his example by starting from the beginning of Taurat to give the foundation to understand the Injil.

The Injil Corrupted! What do the Hadiths say?

We have seen what the Qur’an says about the Taurat, Zabur & Injil of the Bible (al kitab).  We read that the Qur’an states clearly that the followers of Injil still possessed the message from Allah at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), around 600 AD – so it was not corrupted before that date. The Qur’an affirms that the original message in the Injil were Allah’s Words, and that His Words can never be changed.  If both of these statements are true it means that it is impossible for people to corrupt the Words of al kitab (Taurat, Zabur and Injil = Bible)

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Bible

We continue this study by noting what the hadiths and sunnah say on this topic.  Notice how the following hadiths affirm the existence and use of the Taurat and Injil in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

“Khadija [his wife] then accompanied him [The Prophet – PBUH] to her cousin Waraqa …, who, during the PreIslamic Period became a Christian and used to write the writing with Hebrew letters. He would write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as Allah wished him to write.” Al-Bukhari Vol 1, Book 1, No 3

Narrated Abu Huraira: ..The people of the Scripture used to read the Torah in Hebrew and explain it to the Muslims in Arabic. Then Allah’s Apostle said, “Do not believe the people of the Scripture, and do not disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah and whatever has been revealed…’  Al-Bukhari Vol 9, Book 93, No. 632

The Jews came to Allah’s Apostle and told him that a man and a woman from amongst them had committed illegal sexual intercourse. Allah’s Apostle said to them, “What do you find in the Torah about the legal punishment of Ar-Rajm (stoning)?” They replied, “(But) we announce their crime and lash them.” Abdullah bin Salam said, “You are telling a lie; Torah contains the order of Rajm.” … the Verse of Rajm was written there. They said, “Muhammad has told the truth; the Torah has the Verse of Rajm.  Al-Bukhari Vol. 4, Book 56, No. 829:

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Umar: ..A group of Jews came and invited the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) to Quff. …  They said: ‘AbulQasim, one of our men has committed fornication with a woman; so pronounce judgment upon them’. They placed a cushion for the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) who sat on it and said: “Bring the Torah”. It was then brought. He then withdrew the cushion from beneath him and placed the Torah on it saying: “I believed in thee and in Him Who revealed thee.”  Sunan Abu Dawud Book 38, No. 4434:

Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Apostle of Allah (PBUH) said: The best day on which the sun has risen is Friday; on it Adam was created, …. Ka’b said: That is one day every year. So I said: It is on every Friday. Ka’b read the Torah and said: The Apostle of Allah (PBUH) has spoken the truth.  Sunan Abu Dawud Book 3, No. 1041

These are undisputed hadiths that tell us of the attitude of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the Bible as it existed in his day. The first hadith informs us that the Injil existed and was available when he first received his call.  The second hadith tells us that the Jews read the Taurat in Hebrew to the early Muslim community.  The Prophet (PBUH) did not dispute their text, but was indifferent (neither confirming nor denying) to their Arabic interpretation of it. The next two hadiths tell us that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used the Taurat as it existed in his day to arbitrate decisions.  The last hadith shows us that the Taurat, as it existed in that day, was used to verify a statement from Prophet Muhammad himself about the day of creation of man (it was on a Friday).  In this case, the Taurat was used to check the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself, so it must have been accepted as authentic for such an important use.  In none of these hadiths, do we see any hint that the text of the Bible is treated as corrupted or changed.  It is used as is for important applications.

Earliest manuscripts of Injil (New Testament)

I own a book about the earliest New Testament (Injil) documents.  It starts with:

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text”(P. Comfort, “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. Preface p. 17. 2001 ).

This is significant since these manuscripts come before Roman Emperor Constantine (ca 325 AD) who some have thought might have altered the text of the Bible.  If Constantine had corrupted it we would know it by comparing the texts before his time (since we have them) with the texts that come after him.  But there are no differences.

Similarly, these and other Bible copies were made long before the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  These and other thousands of manuscripts all from before 600 AD come from diverse parts of the world.  Since the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 600 A.D. used the Bible as it was in his time as authentic, and we have many Bible copies today made hundreds of years before the Prophet lived – and they are the same as today’s Bible, then the Bible certainly has not changed.

The idea of Christians changing these texts makes no sense at all.  It would not have been possible for them everywhere to agree on the changes to be made. Even if those in Arabia had made changes, the difference between their copies and those of their brothers, let us say in Syria and Europe, would become obvious.  But they are the same across the world, and back in time.  Since the Qur’an and hadiths both clearly support the Biblical text as it existed in 600 AD, and since the Bible is based on manuscripts that come long before this time, then the Bible of today is not corrupted.  The timeline below illustrates this, showing how the text base of the Bible pre-dates 600 AD.

The earliest manuscipts copies of the Taurat and Zabur date from even earlier.  Collections of scrolls, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, were found in 1948 by the Dead Sea.  These scrolls make up the entire Taurat and Zabur and they date from 200-100 BC.  This means that we have copies of the Taurat that date even before both prophets Isa al Masih (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH).  Since they both publicly used and approved the Taurat and Zabur that they had (which was the same as the Dead Sea Scrolls we have today) we have assurance that these first books of the prophets were also not corrupted.  I explore what all this means about the reliability (or unchangedness) of al kitab from a scientific point-of-view in my article here.

The testimony of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) in the hadiths, along with background knowledge of the manuscripts of the Bible, point to the same conclusion as the testimony in the Qur’an – the text of the Bible has not been corrupted or changed.

The Bible through time

Manuscripts of Today’s Bible (al kitab) – from long ago