Category Archives: FAQS

The Changes to the First Words in the New Testament

Last month I published a paper on how the very first words in the New Testament evolved over time. It was entitled, “The Inscriptio of the Gospel Attributed to Matthew.” Today we have produced a 2 minute video that simplifies and summarizes the research from that research paper:

Alternative YouTube Link: Click Here.

For more information, you can see a quick 15 minute talk on how the Old Testament was corrupted (including the Shema Yisrael!). To view or download the presentation slides from the 15 minute video, please click here.

To download or read the paper mentioned in this post, please click here.

and God knows best.

The Inscriptio of the Gospel Attributed to Matthew

For many Christians the authorial identity behind the first Gospel (as per the Augustinian order), commonly attributed to Matthew usually appears to be a matter of little or no concern. This is in part due to the inscriptio of the Gospel itself as is found in most modern translations of the New Testament. Without this inscriptio, the first mention of the name Matthew appears in Matthew 9:9. While at first this may not seem like an issue of note, a critical examination of the inscriptio with respect to its inception, and eventual adoption and evolution can give us deep insight into the perception of this document by those contemporaneous to its creation and development.

Who was authorship ascribed to, if anyone at all in the manuscript tradition? Was it considered to be scripture from inception? How has the use of the inscriptio in today’s modern translations affected the belief that an individual identified as Matthew did indeed write the first Gospel?

For those who would prefer to download the document or access it through other means, here are some alternative options:

This is the first article in a series of articles that will cover the New Testament and the Qur’an in light of textual criticism.

and Allah knows best.

 

A Variant of One Letter

Can one letter make a difference?

Over the years I have demonstrated various textual issues with the New Testament. One of the more common questions I am frequently asked is to what extent a variant of one letter can impact the reliability or lack thereof, of the New Testament. Today I’d like to answer this question with a simple example.

The letter η (eta) is a defining article.

Consider the case of saying “the boy” and “a boy”, in the case of the letter η (eta) it means “the”, which specifies a noun. The car, the boy, the house all refer to something specific and not something general. Thus, we read from John 5:1 (NIV) –

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.”

Some translations render the section in bold as “a feast”, however there is a variant in Codex Sinaiticus which renders the text as “the feast”, thus specifying this feast as not a general feast but as a specific feast. By inserting the letter η (eta) before the noun “feast” (ἑορτὴ), the context of this passages changes entirely. The NET Bible’s commentary explains:

“The textual variants ἑορτή or ἡ ἑορτή (Jeorth or Jh Jeorth, “a feast” or “the feast”) may not appear significant at first, but to read ἑορτή with the article would almost certainly demand a reference to the Jewish Passover.”

In other words, while at first it may not appear significant, by referring to the feast as “the feast”, it therefore indicates that this was the feast of Passover. This presents several problems. The initial problem is that if this feast refers to the Passover it would mean that Jesus preached for 4 years and not 2 1/2 years. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges states:

“He gives us three Passovers; to make this a fourth would be to put an extra year into our Lord’s ministry for which scarcely any events can be found, and of which there is no trace elsewhere.”

Thus, it would either mean that the timeline presented for Jesus’s ministry according to the Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark and Luke exclude one year of Jesus’s ministry or that the Gospel attributed to John has created an additional 4th year (more than 3 years) which would stand against the testimony of the other Gospels. If the former is true it would mean that the authors of the synoptic Gospels chose to exclude and ignore an entire year’s worth of teaching by Jesus, thereby bringing into question the reliability of their collective testimony. Why would his followers want to exclude an entire year of his public ministry? Surely if he chose to preach at that time it must have been for a reason, therefore on what grounds can an author ignore or prevent other Christians from reading and learning from 25% of Jesus’s ministry?

However, if the latter is true, it would mean that the authors of the Gospel attributed to John created and attributed an additional year of preaching to Jesus’s ministry. This would then indicate that the Gospel attributed to John lies about Jesus and thus brings into question its authenticity, reliability and accuracy. The Pulpit Commentary expands on this issue a bit more:

“Now, “the feast” of the Jews could hardly be any other than the second Passover, while John 6:4 would indicate a third. “The feast” referred to in John 4:45 undoubtedly means the first Passover. “A feast” would leave the question open, though by no means excluding positively the second Passover, as the anarthrousness of the word might be chosen with a view to call special attention to it. However, the indefinite ἑορτη has been identified by commentators with every feast in the calendar, so there can be no final settlement of the problem.”

So far, commentators on this verse describe it as being “significant” and a “problem”, yet we need to keep in mind that this is the consequence of one letter being present in one manuscript. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains to what extent this variant affects the harmony of the Gospels:

“1. a feast of the Jews—What feast? No question has more divided the Harmonists of the Gospels, and the duration of our Lord’s ministry may be said to hinge on it. For if, as the majority have thought (until of late years) it was a Passover, His ministry lasted three and a half years; if not, probably a year less. Those who are dissatisfied with the Passover-view all differ among themselves what other feast it was, and some of the most acute think there are no grounds for deciding. In our judgment the evidence is in favor of its being a Passover, but the reasons cannot be stated here.”

Addendum:

It should be noted that commentators have not randomly decided that the phrase “the feast” refers to the Passover, this is a conclusion drawn from the Church Father Irenaeus from the 2nd century who writes in Against Heresies (Book II, Chapter 22) the following:

But it is greatly to be wondered at, how it has come to pass that, while affirming that they have found out the mysteries of God, they have not examined the Gospels to ascertain how often after His baptism the Lord went up, at the time of the passover, to Jerusalem, in accordance with what was the practice of the Jews from every land, and every year, that they should assemble at this period in Jerusalem, and there celebrate the feast of the passover.

We can see the variant by comparing the same passage from Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. In the image below, we see folio 249 (recto) from Codex Sinaiticus:

1

The variant can be seen here, it reads as “Η ΕΟΡΤΗ” (the letter Η is the capital letter equivalent of η) :

The image below is from Codex Alexandrinus, we see folio 69 (recto):

3

The variant can be seen here, it reads as “ΕΟΡΤΗ” (the letter Η is the capital letter equivalent of η) :

4

6

What therefore, can we conclude from this difference?

If the Gospel attributed to John (from Codex Sinaiticus) is correct, it would mean that the Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark and Luke excluded more than 25% of Jesus’s ministry from those Gospels, and thus brings their reliability into question.

If the Gospel attributed to John (from Codex Sinaiticus) is wrong, it would mean that the authors of this Gospel invented an additional year of Jesus’s ministry, thus bringing into question the reliability, authenticity and accuracy of the Gospel itself.

If the authors of the New Testament’s Gospels cannot be reliable enough to determine whether Jesus preached for 3 years or 4 years, how could we trust them otherwise? One letter can make a very big difference and this is but one example of such a case.

and God knows best.

The Problem of the Thief and the Crucifixion

Introduction

In perhaps what is one of the most perplexing passages of the New Testament, we find a story during the alleged crucifixion of Jesus the Christ that challenges the very core of commonly held Christian beliefs about Christ and salvation. We read from Luke 23:39-43 (NIV) the following:

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The Problem

If we were to ask a confessional Christian today (one that knows of and adheres to the doctrinal confessions of the faith) what one needed to believe in for salvation, we would perhaps have a very long list. It would likely include belief that Jesus died for the sins of all, that Jesus was God, that Jesus was both man and God (belief in the hypostatic union), belief that the New Testament is the word of God, belief in the Godhead, in the Personhood of each member of the Godhead who were all co-equal and co-substantial to each other.

Yet the 5 verses from the Gospel eventually attributed to Luke present a severe theological problem that strikes at the very core of Christian theology. The question before us is, what did the thief say, believe and do to be granted salvation? When we examine the verses we can identify only two things:

  1. That Jesus was an innocent man.
  2. That Jesus was a King (or would become one at some point).

All the thief had to do to be granted salvation was to accept that Jesus was innocent and thus did not deserve to be crucified, and that Jesus would survive in some form such that he would become a king or have a kingdom. By this standard, all Muslims will be granted entry into the kingdom of God. The thief did not have to believe in the New Testament, did not have to accept the Old Testament, did not have to express belief in the Trinity, did not have to believe in the Godhead, did not have to believe in the two natures of Christ, did not have to even accept Jesus as the Messiah! He did not have to believe Jesus was the incarnate word of God, he did not have to believe that Jesus was the 2nd person in the Godhead…in other words, the thief did not have to believe in anything that Christians today hold to be true.

There is perhaps an even greater issue here. The thief claims that Jesus was innocent and thus did not deserve to be punished. See, Christians necessarily believe that while Jesus was innocent, he deserved to suffer and be punished, because he came to suffer for our sins as an act of grace:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (NIV).

“And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” – Luke 9:22 (NIV).

According to the above passages, Christ must suffer and must be killed. However, the thief on the cross, seemingly disagrees with these teachings. The thief explicitly says that not only is Jesus innocent, but that he did not deserve to die. In other words, the thief is expressing an Islamic position that Muslims would agree with. Jesus did not deserve to die, he did not deserve to suffer and he was an innocent man. In other words, Jesus rewards a thief and claims the thief would be in the Kingdom of God with him because he denied the core tenets of Christianity while affirming core beliefs of Islam.

The thief in no uncertain words explains that his crucifixion on the cross is justified, but Jesus’s isn’t, however, confessional Christians would argue that in order for sin to be paid, it had to be justified through the death of Jesus the Christ. This presents a problem for Christianity. Jesus rewards a man and accepts him into the Kingdom of God for expressively, clearly and absolutely, rejecting core Christian beliefs about salvation!

Comments by Scholars

These 5 verses deliver a devastating blow to the consistency of the doctrine of salvation in Christianity. These verses essentially approve of Islamic beliefs and indicate that Muslims according to Jesus…would be in the Kingdom of God, since we believe that he was innocent and that the alleged crucifixion was not justified in any way. These are things a Christian today cannot deny, these are things a Christian today has to believe in, yet a thief with Islamic beliefs only accepted two tenets, both of which agree with core Islamic beliefs, and was rewarded and praised by Jesus! The scholars have had difficulty in understanding these passages. It must first be noted that only one Gospel records this incident and this is the Gospel of Luke:

“Luke’s account is noticeably independent of the other three. The three sayings of Christ’s, round which his narrative is grouped, are preserved by him alone. We shall best grasp the dominant impression which the Evangelist unconsciously had himself received, and sought to convey, by gathering the whole round these three words from the Cross.” – MacLaren’s Expositions.

The other three Gospels are noticeably silent on the thieves, except for the case of demonizing them:

“In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” – Matthew 27:44 (NIV).

“Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” – Mark 15:32 (NIV).

The final Gospel, later attributed to John (which John, we don’t know), does not mention any of the words of the thieves, it does not even identify them as thieves or rebels. Instead, this is all the Gospel as to say:

“The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.” – John 19:32 (NIV).

Resolving the Problem

Some Christian commentators (exegetes) have attempted to navigate around this narrative disaster by implying that the thief/ rebel had other beliefs, that he believed Jesus was a God or that Jesus was meant to die for his sins and thus was saved because of this. The problem with such an argument is that the only Gospel to mention this incident does not indicate any of these things. The Gospel does not indicate that the thief/ rebel believed in anything other than what was recorded. In other words, this is a poor attempt at reading between the lines and should therefore be rejected. If scripture is sufficient for understanding salvation, then the plain reading of these 5 passages should be accepted without having a need to insert anything into scripture, to force it to say something it does not.

Conclusion

These five passages are a disaster for any Christian who takes their faith seriously. Every core tenet that one needs to believe in to be considered a confessional Christian is necessarily discarded by the thief and approved of by Jesus himself. In fact, the very beliefs that Jesus was an innocent man and did not deserve to die, that his death is unjustifiable is an Islamic belief. Thus, there are two arguments to be claimed here:

  1. According to Jesus, all one has to do to be granted entry into the Kingdom of God is to accept that Jesus is innocent and that his death was unjustified (which affirms Islam’s beliefs about Jesus). Therefore the beliefs of most Christians have been deemed unnecessary and useless by Jesus himself.
  2.  That belief in Jesus dying for the sins of the world is unjustified and that Jesus affirms this, thereby establishing that him dying does not acquit us of our sins (essentially refuting core Christian beliefs about the purpose behind Jesus’s death in the first place).

May God guide our Christian brothers and sisters to the truth of Jesus the Christ, which is to the Oneness of God.

and Allah knows best.

The Real God of American Christianity?

By their fruit you will recognize them. – Matthew 7:16.

Take a look at a typical American Evangelical’s Facebook profile, what do you see? You’re sure to find pictures of Trump, the American flag, some anti-Muslim memes, Bible quotes and mostly political posts demonizing Muslim-Americans, Democrats and Liberals. See, there is a trend here, today’s Evangelical American Christians worship the state more than they do Jesus. That might seem like a controversial statement, but recently there have been some events that qualify this argument. In responding to a right-wing Evangelical American, Dr. James White says as follows (emphasis mines):

There is FAR more evidence in your own timeline that you have adopted a politically oriented Christianity than there is that I have adopted anything from Islam.

Steve, but when did the gospel become something you only explain to people who look like you and have the same political views?

YQ is a Muslim scholar with a large following and a large impact in the United States and abroad. Hence, when he and I talk, the resultant discussion will be useful to both Christians and Muslims in the United States and in all English speaking locales. What on earth do his political views have to do with it?

And no, Steve, I don’t see almost any concern on the part of my critics, including you, about such things. I see a lot of politics, making America great again, building walls and the like—but I see very little interest in breaking down walls of prejudice and fear and misunderstanding in confidence that what we have to give to the Muslims is the greatest thing in all the world.

Your words are disgusting, Steve. You are speaking as a political zealot, trained in the presidential election of 2015-2016, not as a minister of the gospel.

If you think Dr. White is wrong here for making those statements, then you need to watch the First Baptist Dallas’ “Freedom Sunday” service where they literally idolized and worshiped the American flag. Patheos author Jonathan Aigner, says as follows (emphasis mines):

First Baptist Church in Dallas bowed before a red, white, and blue altar yesterday.

The snare pierces the silence, and the choir and orchestra launch us into the national anthem of American Christianity, which also happens to be the national anthem of the United States.

Our opening hymn proudly proclaims, “You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag, and forever in peace may you wave.” (This is idolatry, folks. Nothing short of it.) The fireworks explode (you read that correctly), and audience members wave their miniature flags while singing praises to a red, white, and blue cross.

You read that correctly, American Christians during a Church service…bowed to an altar with the American flag, and in place of singing hymns that traditionally glorify God, they glorified the American flag in God’s place. You’ll notice that the Patheos author literally wrote that he considered the congregation’s actions to be worship, idolatrous worship of the American flag.

Several Churches and Church leaders were very outspoken about the literal replacing of God, for America and American symbols in a Church service, we read from the Christian Post (emphasis mines):

Several critics have denounced the “idolatry” of “Freedom Sunday” worship June 25 at First Baptist Church in Dallas, pastored by Robert Jeffress, who prominently campaigned for Donald Trump during last year’s election.

The critics include Messiah College historian John Fea, a United Methodist pastor, and a Presbyterian church music minister. Click their respective links to read their perspectives, each of which is unique, but all are agreed in accusing First Baptist of “idolatry” for venerating America on “Freedom Sunday” a week before July 4.

A survey by Life Way, a major American Evangelical organization, had this surprising information for us:

lifeway

A Christianity Today article goes on to say about this issue (emphasis mine):

Also worth noting, the same survey found that 53% of Protestant pastors felt that their congregations sometimes love America more than they love God.

Regardless of your view of patriotic worship services, this number should be of concern. (When we love something more than God, the Bible calls that idolatry, and that’s the last thing that Christians should want.)

So, this weekend be sure you love your country and worship God…and never confuse the two.

Back in 2010, other Christian authors began to notice this disturbing trend of American Christianity’s idolatry (emphasis mine):

I’ve been a part of numerous churches that celebrated American Independence Day with abandon: 80-foot flags hanging from the ceilings, singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “I’m Proud to Be an American” and even— most disturbing to me as I reflect back—saying the Pledge of Allegiance during our corporate worship.

If some visitor had asked us on those Sunday just what we were worshiping, I think that might have been a very perceptive question.

Going back to Dr. James White, I noticed that folks like David Wood, Sam Shamoun, Usama Dakdok and Robert Spencer also worship America, more than they do Jesus. See, following Dr. White’s dialogue with Dr. Yasir Qadhi, Sam Shamoun went on a rampage against Dr. James White. What I quickly realised was that White was attacked for three things:

  1. Ecumenicalism (accepting some Islamic beliefs, which was a false accusation).
  2. Inviting a Muslim into a Church to speak without rebuttal (it was a dialogue about differences in beliefs).
  3. Associating with a Muslim that has ties to major American Muslim organizations.

Here’s the problem, as Dr. White himself said, many Christians chose to politicize the issue. Qadhi was labelled as a terrorist, a jihadist, someone who wants to install Shari’ah law, that he worked with extremist organizations, that in the past before changing his views he had said bad things about non-Muslims…and on and on. You may think that their issue with Dr. White was theological, but then why speak about terrorism and terrorists? Why speak about Qadhi’s association with CAIR (a Muslim-American advocacy group)? Why association Dr. Qadhi and Dr. White with liberalism and liberal political ideologies? See, while on the surface they claimed (falsely) that the disagreement with the dialogue that Dr. Qadhi and Dr. White had, was theological, it was clearly political.

Where did any of these guys speak out against the “Freedom Sunday” worship?

Where did any of these “Christian apologists” speak a single word against replacing a hymn meant to glorify God, with a song glorifying the state?

Where did any of these guys speak out when the Bible Answers Man, Hank Hanegraaff converted from Protestantism to the Greek Orthodox Church that has distinctly heretical teachings about the nature of Jesus, the nature of Mary and how salvation is attained?

Where did any of these guys speak about against ABN/ Trinity Channel for preaching false doctrines and for promoting the heretical prosperity gospel? Sam Shamoun, the genius he is, made one single Facebook post about ABN, but spent 10 months, every other day, attacking Dr. White for his dialogue with Dr. Qadhi! Where is the consistency?

By their very actions, the things that they occupy themselves with, are not theological but political.

In other words, it is clear that American Christians have a new God and it is not Jesus. The Orthodox Church of America has been founded, its God, the State (and its symbols, such as the flag and anthem), its disciples, politicized Christians such as David Wood, Sam Shamoun, Usama Dakdok and Robert Spencer.

By their fruits we now know who they worship and the State is their new God.

To Confuse or Not to Confuse?

1 Corinthians is an epistle when read carefully, offers quite a few interesting arguments about the guidance of God. Today we’ll be looking at one such argument. We read as follows:

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound (καταισχυνη) the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; – 1 Corinthians 1:27.

We then read as follows:

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. – 1 Corinthians 14:33.

These two statements are plainly contradictory. On the first hand, we have the argument that God intentionally chose the absurd and foolish things of this world to confound (confuse) the wise. On the other hand, we have the argument that God is not the author of confusion.

Looking at 1 Corinthians 1:27, we note several things. Firstly, that the Christian (concept of) God cannot blame anyone for being guilty of rejecting the belief that God can be both man and God, that God can be both capable of suffering and all powerful, ignorant and all knowing. This is because, as the scripture says, God intentionally chose the foolish things to confuse the wise, if the wise are confused because of the foolish things, then who bears responsibility for the confusing in the first place? In this case, it would be the Christian (concept of) God. We also note that the word here for confounding or confusing is not a translational error. Many translations including the KJV, AKJV, Jubilee Bible 2000, Douay-Rheims Bible and the Webster Bible Translation all use the word “confound” in their editions for this verse. Additionally, the Greek word used here is καταισχυνη which according to Strong’s Lexicon (#2617), means:

Short Definition: I shame, disgrace, put to utter confusion
Definition: I shame, disgrace, bring to shame, put to utter confusion, frustrate.

Therefore, to appeal to claim it is a word equivocation between the words in the two passages would be incorrect, to appeal to a different translation is also incorrect and to also claim that the word does not mean confusion is also wrong.

Looking at 1 Corinthians 14:33, we see the argument that the Christian (concept of) God is not the author of confusion. To understand the context the verse is being used, we read from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

God is not the author of confusion – Margin, “Tumult,” or “unquietness.” His religion cannot tend to produce disorder. He is the God of peace; and his religion will tend to promote order. It is calm, peaceful, thoughtful. It is not boisterous and disorderly.

Some may argue that other interpretations refer to the confusion as women (as we find in the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible commentary) or that the confusion refers to a conflict in prophecy. If the confusion is to be understood as women, it makes the verse much worse, if it refers to prophecy and the words of prophets (or those inspired by God), then the issue is not removed as Christians consider both passages above to be from inspiration and they plainly conflict which does not remove the problem but compounds it. Other commentaries have combined the two and indicated that the confusion is both moral and spiritual, as we find in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:

for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace] Confusion; literally, unsettlement. Cf. St James 3:16. Also St Luke 21:9, where the word is rendered commotion. As in the natural, so in the moral and spiritual world, God is a God of order.

Both of these interpretations do not remove the contradiction between the passages, but affirms them, and therefore to appeal to other commentaries would not remove the issue. The contradiction stands as is.

In conclusion, if the Christian (concept of) God is not the author of moral or spiritual confusion, why would the Christian (concept of) God intentionally make the religion of Christianity both difficult and confusing?

and God knows best.

The Translational History of the Qur’an and the New Testament

Does the translational history of a scripture matter? Most people don’t often consider this question, but it is very consequential with emphasis being on the transmission and understanding of scripture. While most people would consider translations to be a tool and aid for understanding scripture, the impact of a translation is often ignored. In this article, I wanted to point out some of the benefits and problems that the Qur’an and New Testament would face on this topic.

As Muslims, we believe that God revealed the Qur’an in Arabic:

Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand. – Qur’an 12:2.

We need to consider that when God reveals scripture, that He has chosen a language that would best suit His message, and that when He has chosen a message to send in a specific language, that language and its language devices need to be studied to understand all of scripture. Not all languages are equal, there are language devices that exist in one language that may not exist in another, and so to translate between these languages would raise issues. For example, let’s say you’re trying to translate a metaphor from one language to another. It’s raining cats and dogs. For an English speaker they would know that this refers to heavy rainfall, but if we translate it word for word, literally from English into Spanish, would a Spanish speaker grasp the meaning intended by the phrase? If we translate it contextually to say that it means rainfall (excluding the mention of cats and dogs), is this faithfully representing the text as it was written? Confusion can occur for example, if a Spanish reader in looking at the Spanish text sees rainfall, but when comparing with the English, they see cats and dogs. They may assume the translator made an error and omitted words thus leading to confusion. Translators often have to walk a very fine line, if they translate a phrase word for word it can lead to the loss of intended meaning (context) and if they translate contextually they can be accused of not faithfully representing the original words as they were written.

Therefore, the language of scripture matters.

Throughout Islam’s history, the Qur’an as revealed in the Arabic language has always been regarded as scripture. Translations have however been understood as interpretations of scripture and not necessarily scripture in and of itself. Translators by profession are interpreters, it’s their very job title. This distinction is very important because the Islamic tradition has always definitively defined what scripture is and what it isn’t. The Islamic tradition has always emphasized that Muslims should learn how to read the Arabic Qur’an, how to recite the Arabic Qur’an (tajweed), it is fard al ‘ayn (personally obligatory) to learn the Arabic language such that we can understand the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah. I previously spoke about language devices existing in one language and not in another, an example of this is the dual noun in the Arabic language. In the English language we know of singular and plural nouns, the Arabic language has an intermediate category of nouns, dual nouns, this is not found in the English language. Muslims are taught to perform salaah (prayer) in the Arabic language and to perform the remembrance of God in the Arabic language (dhikr). Suffice it to say, one of the reasons the Qur’an has been preserved, not just merely the text itself but also the recitation and the meaning is because of the commands of God to use the Arabic language when it comes to scripture and worship, it preserves the sources of Islam as they were received by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions (may God be pleased with them all).

This is not the case with the New Testament. While the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are written in Koine Greek, for 1000 years the New Testament was only considered to be scripture in the Latin language. This would mean that for 1000 years (until the Erasmian text) Christians were not reading scripture in its original language with its original language devices but that they were reading an interpretation of the New Testament altogether. Even when the Greek reconstructions of the New Testament came into favour, Christians still relied primarily on translations. This presents many problems for the transmission and preservation of the New Testament itself. We need to ask ourselves, why would God reveal a scripture in Koine Greek, only for it to be abandoned and a translation used in its place? The fact remains that the go-to language for the New Testament, from its inception has statistically been a language other than the Koine Greek it originated in, whether that be Latin or today’s English. The problem is compounded by the fact that the Christian tradition itself has no internal mechanisms for which Christians need to rely on the language the scripture was allegedly revealed in. Consider that translations are not merely considered translations but equal with the original Koine Greek in and of itself, also consider that there is no onus on a Christian to have to learn to read Koine Greek, to have to study Koine Greek, or to have to use it in any religious practises. This is in stark contrast with Islam, God not only revealed an Arabic scripture but also placed internal mechanisms (religious practises) that encouraged and ensured that the scripture as it was revealed would be preserved and studied, as it was meant to be understood. The same cannot be said for the New Testament and so it brings into question the validity of the New Testament as scripture to begin with.

And so we return to our original question.

If God revealed scripture in a specific language, then surely there was a purpose for that. While we can account for this purpose in Islam, we cannot account for this purpose in Christianity.

Yes it is true that scripture is meant to be understood, so there is no inherent harm in translating scripture into a language so people may understand it, but there is harm in abandoning the original language of scripture altogether. At a very young age Muslims begin the practise of teaching the Arabic language but we do not find this in Christianity when it comes to Koine Greek, this has led to a significant divide in the way that Muslims and Christians understand scripture. Should you ask a Christian if it is important to learn Koine Greek, they’d tell you no. Yet when we look at their commentaries of the New Testament, we find endless translation notes and lexical explanations. If there is no need to learn the language of the New Testament, then why do these translation notes and lexical explanations exist? Seminary graduates have to learn Koine Greek to understand scripture, to be able to exegete scripture, so while the lay Christian is told that they don’t need to learn the language, their scholars and preachers who attend seminaries realise that they do have to learn Koine Greek. This cognitive dissonance when it comes to the attitudes that Christians have towards the New Testament harms the religion of Christianity. A person who relies solely on the understanding of scripture through a translation will either end up with a wrong understanding or a wrong impression of what scripture teaches. Often times we find preachers using word studies to prove doctrines based on English translations! Clearly there is a problem inherent to the Christian understanding and definition of scripture.

To demonstrate the validity of this point, let’s take for example Dr. Michael Licona’s new book, “Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography”. After specifically studying Graeco-Roman bios (biographical) literature for 7-9 years, Dr. Licona, a well-known Christian scholar and apologist, advertises his book with the claim that he has discovered a literary device used by ancient authors in biographies that explains the contradictions in the stories about the life of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This literary device he calls, “literary spotlighting”, a device not ever named by anyone before in the some 2000 years that Graeco-Roman literature has been studied by scholars worldwide. Consider the troubling consequences of such a claim. That for 2000 years, scholars who have dedicated not merely 7-9 years of study on classical ancient works but their entire lives did not know of an important and core literary device used extensively by Graeco-Roman authors. Even worse off, is the claim that this literary device was used in scripture and not known by anyone else. How is such an absurd claim possible? It’s only possible when the language the scripture was allegedly revealed in, was ignored, discarded and abandoned. Literary devices directly affect the way we understand a language, Dr. Licona is effectively saying that for some 2000 years there has been a language device in use in scripture, that had not been identified previously. This fundamentally affects the way we understand the New Testament and at the very least demonstrates the importance of preserving a scripture in the language it was said to have been revealed in.

In the end, when Christians preach to Muslims and those of other faiths, they boldly claim that all you need to be saved is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It’s only when a new Christian (or newly practising) becomes devoted to Bible study, do they find themselves being told that they should probably find a better translation, or compare translations for a better understanding, or that they need to return to the Koine Greek rendition of a passage to wholly grasp its meaning. For some, they quickly realise that the requirements of understanding scripture go beyond reading a translation and that it’s more than just accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It’s a lot like being signed up for a cable subscription only to discover that there are hidden fees. We do not find this problem with Islam, and so we must ask once more, if God revealed a scripture in a specific language then surely that language and learning it must matter, right?

and God knows best.

 

« Older Entries