The danger before us is that we ask this with a superficial answer already in our minds. “Of course, Paul or one of the others corrupted it”, we quickly answer without thinking, 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 a danger for all people who ask questions about sacred Books. We dismiss it right away (because of how we have been taught to think). Alternatively, we dismiss the question. So let us think carefully through this.
New Testament Writers other than Paul
Let us start with the writers aside from Paul. These were the disciples of Isa (PBUH) – his companions. They followed him, listened to him, and discussed with him. They observed 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). James became the leader of the disciples in Jerusalem after the passing of Isa (PBUH) from this world.
Jewish historical writings of the 1st century CE actually mention James. In that century there was a great Jewish military historian, Josephus, who wrote several books of history. In one of his books, writing of events in Jerusalem in the year 62 CE (32 years after the passing of Isa) he writes fellow Jews martyred James, Isa’s brother. Read here 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 CE. Antiquities xx 197
Josephus explains that in 62 CE the Roman rulers had just made Ananus the High Priest in Jerusalem. Political confusion followed. Ananus used the opportunity to condemn James to death. His father (also called Ananus) had sentenced Isa (PBUH) to death about 30 years before. Ananus the son quickly took the opportunity to do the same with James. Thus James was a target for his years of leading the followers of Isa al Masih (PBUH) his brother.
What does the Qur’an say about these disciples of Isa (PBUH)?
These men 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. Examine 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 MuslimsSurat 5:111 – Table Spread
These ayat tell us quite plainly that the disciples of Isa (Jesus – PBUH) were:
- Isa al Masih’s helpers,
- Allah’s helpers,
- and inspired by Allah to have faith in Isa al Masih.
These disciples include Matthew, Peter and John. They wrote eight of the books in the New Testament, two of which are gospels (Gospels of Matthew and John). And Mark, the disciple in the wider circle, wrote a third gospel. If one believes in the Qur’an then 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 read the writings of the disciples, which the Qur’an confirms. Paul did not write any Gospel account. Rather he wrote sacred letters.
So we find, whether from secular historical 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 al Masih 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.
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
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
Isa (PBUH) himself appeals to Moses (Taurat), then the Prophets and Psalms (Zabur) to explain the role of the Masih. This is why we begin with the Taurat. In the Signs of Adam, Qabil and Habil, Nouh, Lut, Ibrahim 1, 2, and 3 the verses all come from Taurat and the Qur’an.
We remain on safe ground if we start with the Taurat – Isa (PBUH) himself told us to. Here we learn the 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.
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 are 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.
But Isa al Masih did appear to Paul and assigned him to explain the Injil to non-Jews. This is recounted here. At that time, all the non-Jews were idol worshipers. So Paul explained the Injil in ways that the other apostles did not. The other apostles, like Peter, admitted that his writings were difficult to understand, but still were scripture. Peter says:
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.2 Peter 3:15-16
Starting from what we know is Uncorrupted
Paul did not change or corrupt the gospel. His writings were accepted. But to avoid controversy, we start from writings which are beyond dispute (the Taurat and Zabur). Then we follow the four gospels, which were written by the companions of Isa al Masih (PBUH). We can learn so much from these books that for our purposes we do not need Paul’s writings.