Tag Archives: transmission

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.


Comparison: Scribes of The Qur’an vs Scribes of the New Testament (Part 2)

Last week we took a cursory look at the known scribes of the Qur’an, in comparison with the known scribes of the New Testament. This week, we’re going to venture a little deeper into understanding why the identity of the authors and scribes (amanuenses and copyists) is of concern to the modern reader. Unlike the Qur’an, the veracity of the New Testament is based on the claim that it is from eyewitnesses:

For almost seventeen hundred years, Christians regarded the four canonical Gospels as being, among other things, records of what actually happened. Divine inspiration seemed to guarantee historical veracity, as did the belief that the purported authors of those Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were either eyewitnesses or friends of eyewitnesses.[1]

It is therefore touted as a historical work, based on the witness of contemporaneous sources. However, both early sources and later sources agreed throughout Church history that the New Testament was ahistorical in many cases and as one Church Father would put it, based on “material falsehood”:

Even more clear-eyed was Origen, who in the third century anticipated modern criticism by candidly observing that at “many points” the four Gospels “do not agree.” He inferred that their truth cannot reside in “the material letter:” The Evangelists “sometimes altered things which, from the eye of history, occurred otherwise.” They could “speak of something thing that happened in one place as if it had happened in another, or of what happened at a certain time as if it had happened at another time,” and they introduced “into what was spoken in a certain way some changes of their own.” “The spiritual truth was often preserved, one might say, in the material falsehood.”[2]

The issue of scribes altering original works is not alien to the New Testament itself. A warning in Revelation 22, the last book of the Bible was placed there to very specifically warn scribes from altering the work, the author(s) of this work then, at the very least were aware of the fate that had befallen other Christian works of that time and prayed that this would not happen to their own:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”[3]

For those who argue that this book was written early, this quote demonstrates that at the time it was written scribes were altering works at such a scale of worry that the author(s) had to invoke a curse and warn them from altering their own work! Commenting on this passage, Phillip Comfort states:

“Since writers in antiquity were well aware that their books could be changed by scribes in successive copies, they made these warnings. Undoubtedly, they knew that there would be unintentional mistakes, which come through the course of making manuscripts. What they were hoping to protect against was intentional alteration of the writing.”[4]

What kind of intentional changes do we find in the New Testament manuscript tradition?

“Those who study the text and the history of its transmission realize that most of the substantive changes were made in the interest of “improving” the text. Various scribes were motivated to make changes in the text for the sake of harmonizing Gospel accounts, eliminating difficult doctrinal statements, and/or adding accounts from oral tradition.”[5]

“Whereas readers do this gap-filling in their imaginations only, scribes sometimes took the liberty to fill the unwritten gaps with written words. In other words, some scribes went beyond just imagining how the gaps should be filled and actually filled them. The historical evidence shows that each scribe who made a text created a new written text. Although there are many factors that could have contributed to the making of this new text, one major factor is that the text constantly demands the reader to fill in the gaps. During the reading process, the reader must concretize the gaps by using his or her imagination to give substance to textual omission and/or indefiniteness. Since this substantiation is a subjective and creative act, the concretization will assume many variations for different readers.”[6]

“Metzger considered the early Western text to be the work of a reviser “who was obviously a meticulous and well-informed scholar, [who] eliminated seams and gaps and added historical, biographical, and geographical details. Apparently the reviser did his work at an early date, before the text of Acts had come to be generally regarded as a sacred text that must be preserved inviolate.”[7]

“More often than not, the editors of the UBS/NA text considered the Alexandrian text, as the shorter text, to have preserved the original wording in Acts. My view is that in nearly every instance where the D-text stands alone (against other witnesses—especially the Alexandrian), it is a case of the Western scribe functioning as a reviser who enhanced the text with redactional fillers. This reviser must have been a well-informed scholar, who had a penchant for adding historical, biographical, and geographical details (as noted by Metzger). More than anything, he was intent on filling in gaps in the narrative by adding circumstantial details. Furthermore, he shaped the text to favor the Gentiles over the Jews, to promote Paul’s apostolic mission, and to heighten the activity of the Holy Spirit in the work of the apostles.”[8]

In Uloom al Hadeeth or the Science of Hadeeth, criticism of a transmitter is necessary for validating or verifying the information they are transmitting. This type of criticism is known as Rijal al Hadeeth, in which the character of the transmitter is examined. One might wonder, how detailed is this science in Islam? The following text should clarify the extent to which our methodology goes in order to validate information on a transmitter:

“A man bore witness in the presence of `Umar ibn al-Khattaab -radiyallaahu `anhu, so `Umar said to him: “I do not know you, and it does not harm you that I do not know you, but bring someone who does know you.”

So a man said: ‘I know him, O Chief of the Believers.’
He said: “What do you know of him.”

He said: ‘Uprightness.’
He said: “Is he your closest neighbour; so that you know about his night and his day, and his comings and goings?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “So have you had (monetary) dealings with him involving dirhams and deenars, which will indicate his piety?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “Then has he been your companion upon a journey which could indicate to you his good character?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “Then you do not know him.”

Then he said to the man: “Bring me someone who knows you.”[9]

Such a detailed criticism of any transmitter (whether orally or textually) in early Christianity has never been done, nor had such a science been developed in the Christian tradition. Rather, the most critical methodology of verifying information in the Christian tradition has been one of assumption. Rather than critically examining the characters of scribes, and transmitters, it is assumed that the earliest witnesses would have corrected misinformation from being shared:

“The primary reason is that the writers (or their immediate successors) were alive at the time and therefore could challenge any significant, unauthorized alterations. As long as eyewitnesses such as John or Peter were alive, who would dare change any of the Gospel accounts in any significant manner? Any one among the Twelve could have testified against any falsification.”[10]

We’ve already seen just how unreliable the early scribes were, and now that we know that there was no methodology to verify early transmitting of information, how can we be certain that if we assume the disciples were around, that they would be able to correct and thus stop misinformation from spreading? We cannot be certain of this, in fact, this assumption is erroneous given that the very Gospels themselves which are alleged to have been written during the time of the 12 disciples can’t even get the origin of Jesus meeting some of his most important disciples correct! In the origin story of the disciple Phillip, Jesus meets Philip in the city of Bethsaida. This is anachronistic, as Bethsaida only became a city after the ministry of Jesus ended. Therefore when Jesus met Philip in Bethsaida, it was considered a village. The Gospel of Mark in 8:23 correctly identifies it as a village (Greek: kome), but John in 1:44 refers to it as a city (Greek: polis). Considering that three disciples, Philip, Andrew and Peter were from Bethsaida, then how is it possible that all three of them let such a minor detail in one of the twelve’s origin stories be incorrect?

So that’s a minor detail, what about the origin stories for both Peter and Andrew?

In Matthew 4:18, Jesus meets Peter and Andrew on the seashore while fishing with nets. At that time the poorer fishermen did not have boats and so they would cast nets from the shoreline and catch whatever they could have. Just three verses later in 21 – 22, Jesus meets James and John with their father, who unlike Peter and Andrew, have a boat and are mending their nets. So Jesus in 5 verses, meets four of his most prominent disciples. In Mark 1:16 – 20, he tells us the same story in Matthew, but with a big difference, the third man in the boat when Jesus meets James and John for the first time is a hired servant and not their father, thus showing their wealth in comparison with Peter and Andrew. He makes the distinction between their places in society more noticeable.

In Luke though, it’s a different story. Jesus when he first comes to Capernaum, goes to Peter’s house and cures his mother in law (Luke 4:38). Then later, he stumbles across Peter on the shore of the lake, but they have a boat and he finds Peter mending a net, not using it to fish, a different story from Matthew. Jesus then proceeds to embark on Peter’s boat, perform a miracle in the lake and it is then that James and John notices the miracle and joins Peter. Again, this contradicts both Matthew and Mark’s story in which Peter, Andrew and Jesus while walking on the shoreline, spots James and John, then they leave their boat and follow Jesus on the shore. Have you noticed Luke never mentions Andrew? That’s a problem because in John’s account, Andrew met Jesus when Jesus was at the River Jordan with John the Baptist. Then Andrew finds Peter and takes him to meet Jesus (John 1:39-42). Then they go to Galilee in the region of Bethsaida. No mention of meeting on a boat, by a boat, because of a boat, or because of fishing, a completely different narrative. Definitely no mention of either James or John, the sons of Zebedee.

All four Gospels, have contradictions, errors and in some cases, a completely different narrative regarding the origin of Jesus meeting four of his twelve disciples. As we read earlier, according to Christian scholarship, if the disciples were alive they would have corrected any falsification, as we have just seen, either the disciples were complicit in falsifying information or the Gospel stories as we currently possess them were not verified by the disciples themselves. In fact, the reason that we cannot critically assess the character of any of the early transmitters in Christianity, or its disciples is because we know so little about them. Take for example, the rock on which Jesus is alleged to have built his Church, the disciple Peter, the most important disciple. What do we know about Peter?

“It is one of the inscrutable ironies of Christianity’s humble beginnings that we know so little about Jesus of Nazareth’s leading disciple— the one identified in the Gospel of Matthew as the “rock” on whom Jesus would build his church, listed in later Christian tradition as Rome’s first bishop, and one of its two apostolic martyrs at the hands of Emperor Nero. But who was this man, and what happened to him? Any conventional quest for a “historical Peter” runs into the ground rather swiftly.”[11]

“Yet they remain remarkably vague or silent about many of the things we would like to know about this apostle’s origin, character, missionary career, and death. Why would these sources show such a lack of interest in the fate of such a prominent apostle? This can only leave the modern reader frustrated and mystified. The historical Peter himself left virtually nothing in writing, and even less of archaeological interest— whether in his native Galilee, in Jerusalem or Caesarea, in Antioch or Corinth.”[12]

“Among the numerous extant writings in his name, there are of course two short and remarkably different letters of uncertain date and origin in the NT. Beyond that, we have a bewildering range of apocryphal sources, styled as written by or about him, dating from the second through (at least) the sixth century. The authenticity of these documents remains contested among scholars of diverse critical presuppositions. On perusing the scholarly secondary literature, it seems hard to dispel the impression that the vast majority of leading specialists on both sides of the Atlantic now regard neither of the NT’s two Petrine letters as coming from Peter’s own pen.”[13]

It is amazing that Christians would like to tell us what the disciples believed about Jesus, but the reality is that they themselves do not know much, if anything about Peter. Moreso, not only do they know nothing about Peter, they have very little to tell us about the origins, or ends of any of the disciples. Therefore, when Christians claim that the New Testament is based on eyewitness testimony and that the New Testament is historically accurate, on what basis are they making these claims? The early Church had no methodology for verifying and validating information made about Jesus, the one theory Christian scholarship offered about the disciples correcting information did not stand up to scrutiny, historically we know nothing about the earliest witnesses, therefore by every criteria they claim to stand on, the New Testament fails every one of them.

In contrast to the disaster that is the Christian transmission of information, the sciences of Uloom al Hadeeth and Uloom al Qur’an, are far more detailed and critical of transmitters. More critical, than any methodology ever offered by the Christian tradition. It is often claimed that our hadeeth corpus is on par with the New Testament’s authenticity, but as demonstrated last week, this cannot be the case. Pursuant to this, if one of the sub-sciences of Uloom al Hadeeth, Rijal al Hadeeth, is more demanding and critical than any methodology ever used in Christian scholastic history to validate or verify the New Testament, then it stands to reason that our weakest narrations from the hadeeth corpus are more authentic, valid and historically viable than the entire New Testament.

and Allah knows best.


  1. Allison, Dale C., Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 32-34). Kindle Edition.
  2. Allison, Dale C., Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 42-46). Kindle Edition.
  3. Unknown. The Book of Revelation, 22:18-19. NIV 2011.
  4. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6833-6835). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  5. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6890-6892). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  6. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8023-8028). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  7. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8691-8694). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  8. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8702-8708). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  9. Reported by al-Bayhaqee and others, and it was declared to be ‘saheeh’ (authentic) by Ibnus-Sakan, and our Shaykh (Muhammad Naasiruddeen al-Albaanee) agreed; and refer to ’al-Irwaa’ no. 2637. As recommended by the blog’s owner, Br. Omar.
  10. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6801-6803). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  11. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 3). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  12. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 3). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  13. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 4). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.