Tag Archives: variants

Scribal Habits Between the New Testament and the Qur’an

In Mark 14:68-72 (NIV) we read:

“68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.

69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.”

Around the 5th century CE scribes thought it was odd that verse 72 mentions a rooster crowing a second time but that the Gospel narrative does not mention a rooster crowing a first time. Since Jesus was said to have predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed twice, it would not make sense to them that it had not mentioned the first crowing. The scribes of Codices Alexandrinus, Ephraemi-Rescriptus and Bezae all added in after verse 68 as quoted above, a small but important addition:

και αλεκτωρ εφωνησεν which is “and a rooster crowed”.

This is typical narrative gap filling, but it also shows how much they were willing to play with the text to affirm what they think were prophecies. Compare this with the Qur’ān in 2:143 which reads:

“We assigned your former direction of prayer only to distinguish those who would remain faithful to the Messenger from those who would lose faith.” (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

The command for the change of the Qiblah is not in the Qur’ān, but the rebuking of those who rejected the change is. If the scribes of the Qur’an did not uphold the sanctity of scripture as we do today, then we should find that at verse 142 the command to change the Qiblah (direction of prayer) would be written.

Thus the words of the Qur’ān are quite salient, that in the end, one purpose of scripture is:

“…to distinguish those who would remain faithful to the Messenger from those who would lose faith.”

and God knows best.

A Brief Insight into the New Testament’s Prototyping

The New Testament of today is described as follows regarding the NA28 GNT:

“The intention of this edition lies not in reproducing the “oldest text” presented in the oldest manuscript but in reconstructing the text of the hypothetical master copy from which all manuscripts derive, a text the editors refer to as the initial text.”1

We should therefore understand the New Testament not to be the word of God, but the hypothetical reconstruction of the “word of God”, a prototype, a possibility of what the reconstruction of the initial text may have looked like. When one examines the earliest manuscripts, we quickly find a trend that cannot be sidelined or ignored, the earliest witnesses place us in the late 2nd to 4th centuries CE:

New Testament Diagram Final (1)

The graph above concisely breaks down what books of the New Testament have as their earliest surviving (extant) witnesses. It also conveniently breaks down the New Testament into its genres and text types. The vast majority of manuscripts are from the 3rd century CE, meaning that the reconstructed prototypes give us a picture of what these completed texts may have looked like during or beyond the 3rd century CE. What is most notable, is that one of the earliest surviving sources attests to 9 books. That does not bode well for multiple attestation. Other books find their earliest witnesses in the 4th century including 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, 2 John and 3 John. These all indicate an intermediate or initial text projected into the 3rd century, some may say the 2nd century. Scholars have long noticed this trend of a later developed text, with one notable scholar explicitly stating:

Our critical editions do not present us with the text that was current in 150, 120 or 100—much less in 80 CE.2

Regarding new methods and changes in the NA28, a 2016 publication by the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society confirms the following:

The application of the CBGM resulted in 34 changes to the main text of
the Catholic Epistles and a slight increase in the number of passages marked as
uncertain. In most cases the changes are of minor significance for interpretation
or translation, but in several cases the changes should not be ignored. At the
difficult variation in Jude 5, for example, the text now reads that it was “Jesus”
(Ἰησοῦς) who once saved a people from Egypt instead of “the Lord” (ὁ κύριος). In
another important change, 2 Pet 3:10 now prints a reading that is not found in any
known Greek witness. Where the previous edition read that the last days would
mean that the earth and all that is in it “will be found” or perhaps “exposed” (εὑρεθήσεται), the text now reads the opposite: the earth and all that is in it “will not
be found” (οὑχ εὑρεθήσεται). The latter reading sits much easier with the surrounding context, but is only attested in a few Coptic and Syriac manuscripts.3

What the data, methods and current status of New Testament Textual Criticism indicates is that we have a text that is much later than is traditionally espoused. The stemmata indicate we currently have reconstructions of a textual form between the late 2nd to 4th centuries CE. There is now an increase in uncertainty regarding the variant units, in other words confidence has been lost in several cases. In other cases we find texts that affect theology or which textual critics indicate are important changes which are labelled as “difficult”, the consequences of which cannot and “should not be ignored”.

We also see in the aforementioned quote that texts now essentially teach the opposite of what they once said! All exegeses commentating on the previous reading have now been rendered invalid by a text reading in the opposite direction altogether. In one other notable case, we also now find a reading in the text that has no manuscript support whatsoever among any known Greek witnesses. All of these trends do not paint a good picture for the state of the New Testament’s reliability. The text of the New Testament today, is not the text known to those at any other time in the past, which brings into doubt their salvation. If  believing in scripture is a criterion for salvation, and the text believed then is not the text now, can we say those in the past truly believed in and embraced the “living word of God”? If the text that penetrated them for guidance is not the text of today, then does it matter at all what the New Testament says?4

Sources:

1 – Trobisch, David. A User’s Guide to the Nestle-Aland 28 Greek New Testament. 9th ed. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 10.

2 – Petersen, William Lawrence., and Jan Krans. Patristic and Text-Critical Studies: The Collected Essays of William L. Petersen. (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 410.

3 – Gurry, Peter J. How Your Greek NT Is Changing: A Simple Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM). Vol. 59. Series 4. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 2016, 684-685.

The title of this journal’s essay should not be ignored. The text of the New Testament is indeed changing, to say otherwise is to ignore the very existence of the critical editions.

4 – Hebrews 4:12.

Many commentators have said that the Bible is the living word of God, a scripture that penetrates us spiritually and guides us. If that is the case, then if the text changes, we have to ask, what form of the text is actually the living word of God? If an edition previously caused spiritual changes but is now changed, does that invalidate its spiritual guidance or does it indicate that the changes are wrong and the edition is correct? It’s a dilemma either way, which definitely brings into severe doubt the ideas of scripture, salvation and the work of a living word of God among Christian believers.

The Role of Scriptural Manuscripts in Islam and Christianity – A Primer

Introduction

Given all the buzz about manuscripts regarding both the scriptures of the Muslims and Christians, I thought it’d be best to write something simple to explain the differences in approach that the Islamic and Christian faiths use when understanding their scriptures. This isn’t meant to be a highly technical article, but by the end of this post you’ll understand why manuscripts are important and to whom they are important.

The main difference in understanding manuscripts in both these faiths can be summed up in one term, “textus receptus vs textus criticus”. Textus receptus refers to the passing of scripture from generation to generation, until present day. Hence the term, “received text”. Textus criticus refers to a reconstructed version of scripture, based on the best manuscript witnesses that are extant (still surviving to our times). Hence the term, “critical text”.

Textus Receptus or Textus Criticus?

Christians today no longer depend on their textus receptus, they opt for textus criticus. In essence, they believe that their scriptural tradition internationally, that their Churches internationally, that for over 2000 years, their collective world of Christendom was unable to accurately preserve the New Testament. We can assign the shift in thinking from textus receptus to textus criticus sometime during the 16th century, when we had Erasmus’s, Cisneros’s and Stephanus’s critical Greek editions of the New Testament. This movement agreed on the principle that the Latin Vulgate, despite being the primary New Testament for centuries, did not accurately represent the “original” readings that the earlier Greek manuscripts contained. Therefore, Christians had to “recover” and “reconstruct” their scripture from the earlier Greek manuscripts, as opposed to relying on the traditional view of depending on the Latin Vulgate which was a translation of some of the Greek, the primary language of the New Testament.

There are however Christians who do disagree with this view that the entire world of Christendom failed to preserve the New Testament, and that the Church tradition did preserve their scripture. This is a minor group known as KJV-Onlyists. It has taken over 500 years for Christendom to propagate the shift from textus receptus to textus criticus. Thus, to modern Christians, manuscripts are extremely important to reconstructing the original words of the New Testament. The problem here is that we have no original manuscripts (autographs) and at best, the critical text of the New Testament today is an approximated “prototype” (vorlage) of the manuscripts, that may have been written in between 200 – 500 CE. In other words, the critical text of the New Testament does not go back to the original manuscripts (autographs) but they can be traced back to a “prototype” from which they may have been copied from at a later date, usually known as an “archetypal text”.

This view of textus criticus is not accepted in Islam. We believe that our scholastic tradition has preserved the Qur’an in its entirety. This is because in Islam, we did not translate the Qur’an from Arabic to English and then only used the English for 1400 years, while forgetting the Arabic and failing to preserve the Arabic Qur’an. We have kept the primary language of the Qur’an alive as well (fusha Arabic), and we’ve kept two separate traditions alive for over 1400 years: Hifz al Qur’an (memorization of the Qur’an) and ‘Ilm al Rasm al Mushaf (the science of the writing of the Qur’an). In essence, Muslims have kept reciting the Qur’an, memorizing it in its entirety, specializing in learning its language, specialized in learning its recital for over 1400 years, to this very day. We’ve also kept the tradition of writing the Qur’an and writing it with the most advanced Arabic styles of calligraphy. These two traditions mean that the Muslims in China are reciting the same Qur’an, in the same way, as the Muslims in the Caribbean, and that they have been doing so for centuries. The fact that Muslims have an entire month each year dedicated to the reciting of the Qur’an, and that we must recite it at a minimum 5 times a day, ensures that the Qur’an is being preserved everyday, all day. The same cannot be said for the New Testament.

This means, that while Christians have great reasons to doubt the preservation of their scripture and have to rely on reconstructing it, us Muslims do not share this problem. We have no reason to doubt our traditions of preservation as we have means to authenticating them. The Christians do not. As mentioned in other articles, we know who our reciters are and where they came from, what their characters were like and what their beliefs were. They are not unknown and we do not take knowledge from unknown persons. Today one would find many Christian scholars trying to search for a “Jesus oral tradition”. They’re trying to find some oral tradition that can link the manuscripts to credible persons who are historically viable to give their manuscripts authority, so that they could validate their reconstructed text. Muslims do not need to find an oral tradition to do so, as ours still exists to this day through our sanad of reciters (Qurra) and memorizers (Huffaz), which must authorize (provide an ijaza) students before they can teach the Qur’an to others. These mechanisms are inherent to the Islamic scriptural tradition, but they are alien to the Christian scriptural tradition.

The Need for Manuscripts

What Christians are doing today, like Jay Smith, Keith Small, Andy Bannister, Samuel Green and Spencer, is trying to get Muslims to reject textus receptus and to create a textus criticus. In essence, they need Muslims to have the same level of doubt about the Qur’an as they do, with the New Testament. Yet, as mentioned previously, our faith’s mechanisms in regard to preserving, teaching and sharing scripture are far more advanced that those of Christianity’s. Thus, when Christians point out that manuscripts have some variants or some differences, they are trying to force Muslims to reject our scriptural tradition. However, we are not in the same position as Christianity. We have no need to reject our scriptural tradition, but Christians do, since their collective world of Christianity was unable to preserve their scriptural tradition as Muslims have. The problem with using manuscripts from unknown authors, from unknown sources is quite obvious. What would happen if Christians found a manuscript of John 1 from the 1st century CE that excluded the Johannine Prologue? By their standards, they would have to give this manuscript authority and remove the prologue from their modern Bibles.

However, Christians are not consistent. They will instead claim that Church tradition has mentioned the prologue as being scripture and thus they will find some excuse to remove authority from that manuscript, despite rejecting their scriptural tradition for the critical method. In other words, Christians seriously doubt the preservation of their scripture and demand that Muslims use their critical methods on the Qur’an, when they themselves do not apply these critical methods consistently. Consider then, the example of the Shepherd of Hermas which is included in our earliest collection of the New Testament from the 4th century CE, Codex Sinaiticus. An entire book is excluded from the modern critical texts because Church tradition did not consider it scripture, yet the critical texts are not supposed to be based on tradition, but on the critical method. If Christians were consistent, they’d have to place the Shepherd of Hermas in their modern day critical edition. Yet, when missionaries see that some obscure manuscript, found in some obscure place may or may not have a different spelling of a word in the Qur’an, they demand that we accept that the Qur’an has changed.

That is strange reasoning. Who wrote this manuscript? We don’t know. What was their level of education? We don’t know. Why did they write it? We don’t know. So, on what basis do we accept an unknowable. unverifiable text, over 1400 years of verifiable, known tradition from chains of historic transmission? There are a hundred and one reasons why a manuscript can contain a variation. The person writing may have been using regional orthography (representation of letters and words) than a standardized style of writing. The scribe may have been using the manuscript to practise writing. The scribe could have been writing while someone was reciting (usually known as an amanuensis) and made an error in haste. The scribe could have been copying the shapes of the letters without knowing what the letters on the manuscript meant, thus if they made an error they would not have known that they changed a word. These are all common reasons that Christian textual critics point out for rejecting the variants found in many New Testament manuscripts.

In other words, Christians themselves reject the notion that all manuscripts are authoritative and for them manuscripts need to be authoritative because their scriptural tradition internationally was unable to preserve their scripture from its earliest days to the present day. This problem is not present in Islam and so we have no need to depend on, unverifiable manuscripts. We don’t need to authorize texts that are historically without authority. Christians have that need, it’s a necessity because their scriptural tradition was insufficient, Islam does not have this problem. So when Christians point out a variant that a scribe may or may not have made in writing the Qur’an, that means nothing to do the Muslim as it is a lone witness, versus a living tradition of witnesses in continuous verification over 1400+ years through daily, monthly and yearly memorization and recitation. However, if there is a variant in a New Testament manuscript, this is a problem for Christianity as not only do they accept that their scriptural tradition needs to be abandoned, they now need to reconstruct what their scripture may or may not have looked like and so they try to attack the Qur’an out of jealousy. While Muslims can be certain about the Qur’an, a Christian simply cannot be certain about anything in the New Testament.

Conclusion

One of the divine signs of Islam is the promise in Qur’an 15:9, which reads:

“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.”

From the very start of Islam, the Qur’an was commanded to be recited. It was memorized, taught, recited daily. If God wanted a scripture to be preserved, then the best way to preserve it among humans would have been through continuous and daily recitation. In Islam, we find this with the 5 daily prayers in which the Qur’an must be recited. God included an entire month of the year dedicated to reciting the Qur’an in mass congregation, Ramadhan. God made it compulsory for each community to have a hafiz (memorizer) who needed to know the Qur’an by memory. God made it compulsory for each Muslim to individually carry the responsibility of knowing several chapters (Surahs) of the Qur’an. The God of Islam, it would seem through divine wisdom, knew what was needed for the Qur’an to be preserved among its followers. The same cannot be said about the New Testament or the Graeco-Roman Post-Hasmonaean Jewish Syncretic deity that Christians worship. This deity did not make the New Testament central to the lives of the early Christians. There was no need to memorize what Jesus said and taught, there was no need to recite what God revealed daily, monthly or even yearly. There was no command to preserve the language in which the scripture was given.

There was no need to preserve the New Testament. One must wonder, if there is a God and He wanted us to know Him, wouldn’t He have raised a community of people devoted to the preservation of His scripture? This is what we find in the religion of Islam, but it is not something we can find in the religion of Christianity. Interestingly, this rejection of textus receptus for textus criticus raises a very disturbing problem. If the collective world of Christendom, could not preserve their scripture for over 2000 years and they needed to reconstruct their scripture, what else has their religious tradition failed to preserve? What if their traditional teachings about the Trinity are wrong and need to be recovered. What if their traditional beliefs about Jesus dying for their sins are wrong and need to be recovered? What if…? Islam does not carry with it, such uncertainty, only Christianity can and does. For me, that’s a problem.

and Allah knows best.

Release: A Critical Analysis of Jay Smith’s Mistakes About the Qur’an [Update]

Update: I have been made aware that some persons are unable to access the paper via Scribd, you can therefore click this link and download the PDF directly: Response to Jay Smith’s Mistakes.

All Praise is due to Allah alone. The paper has undergone some minor changes, which are listed in the paper under the title of, “Structure of the Paper”. A formatting error for some headers were corrected, especially for Appendix B.

and Allah knows best.

Originally Published: 12/11/14, 6:46 a.m.