By: Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer
“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” (Proverbs 18:17)
The Charge of Contradiction
Muslims talk often about the many contradictions in the Bible. The number of contradictions vary depending on whom you are talking to. Kairanvi’s Izhar-ul-Haq presents 119 numbered contradictions, while others such as Shabbir Ally have supposedly found 101 contradictions. The problem as they see it concerns their supposition that any religious book claiming absolute divine authority must not include any contradictions, as a message emanating from an Omniscient being must be consistent with itself.
The Muslims quote from the Qur’an (4:82) which says “do they not consider the Qur’an (with care). Had it been from any other than Allah, they would have found there-in many a discrepancy.”
A Definition of Revelation:
In order to respond to this challenge it is important that we begin by recognizing and understanding clearly the presupposition and thinking that underlies such a challenge. The principle of non-contradiction has been elevated to the status of an absolute criterion, capable of being applied by human beings in judging the authenticity of God’s word. This is not a proposition to which Christians can or should give assent. The Christian will gladly admit that scripture is ultimately non-self-contradictory. But the Christian cannot agree that the principle of non-contradiction is given to men as a criterion by which they are to judge God’s word. It is this criterion which the Muslims have imposed upon the discussion of revelation.
This is a mistake which many of us fall into; measuring that which is unfamiliar to us by a standard which is more familiar; in this case measuring the Bible with the standard which they have borrowed from the Qur’an. Their book, the Qur’an, is believed to have been ‘sent down’ (Nazil or Tanzil), from heaven unfettered by the hands of men. It is this belief in scripture as a revelation which has been ‘sent down’ which they then impose upon the Bible as well. But it is wrong for Muslims to assume that the Bible can be measured using the same criteria as that imposed on the Qur’an.
The Bible is not simply one book compiled by one man as the Muslims claim for their Qur’an, but a compilation of 66 books, written by more than 40 authors, over a period of 1500 years! For that reason Christians have always maintained that the entire Bible shows the imprint of human hands. Evidence of this can be found in the variety of human languages used, the varying styles of writing, the differences in the author’s intellects and temperaments, as well as the apparent allusions to the author’s contemporary concepts of scientific knowledge, without which the scriptures would not have been understood by the people of that time. That does not mean, however, that the Bible is not authoritative, for each of the writers received their revelation by means of inspiration.
A Definition of Inspiration:
In 2 Timothy 3:16, we are told that all Scripture is inspired. The word used for inspiration is theopneustos which means “God-breathed,” implying that what was written had its origin in God Himself. In 2 Peter 1:21 we read that the writers were “carried along” by God. Thus, God used each writer, including his personality to accomplish a divinely authoritative work, for God cannot inspire error.
The Bible speaks many times of its inspiration: In Luke 24:27,44; John 5:39; and Hebrews 10:7, Jesus says that what was written about him in the Old Testament would come to pass. Romans 3:2 and Hebrews 5:12 refer to the Old Testament as the Word of God. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:13, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit.” This is corroborated in 2 Timothy 3:16, as we saw above. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul when referring to that which he had written says, “…you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God…” Peter speaks of the inspiration of Paul’s writings in 2 Peter 3:15-16, where he maintains that, “…Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters…” Earlier, in 2 Peter 1:21 Peter writes, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along [moved] by the Holy Spirit.” And then finally in Revelation 22:18,19 the writer John, referring to the book of Revelation states, “…if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life…”
Charles Wesley summarizes this high view of inspiration brilliantly when he says, “The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. However, it was not written by good men, because good men would not tell lies by saying ‘Thus saith the Lord;’ it was not written by bad men because they would not write about doing good duty, while condemning sin, and themselves to hell; thus, it must be written by divine inspiration” (McDowell 1990:178).
How does God inspire the writers? Does He simply move the writers by challenging their heart to reach new heights, much like we find in the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Homer and Dickens, all of which are human literary masterpieces? Or does that which He inspire contain the words of God-along with myths, mistakes and legends, thus creating a book in which portions of the Word of God can be found, along with those of finite and fallible men? Or are the scriptures the infallible Word of God in their entirety? In other words, how, Muslims will ask, is this inspiration carried out? Does God use mechanical dictation, similar to that which we find claimed for the Qur’an, or does He use the writers own minds and experiences?
The simple answer is that God’s control was always with them in their writings, such that the Bible is nothing more than “The Word of God in the words of men” (McDowell 1990:176). This means that God utilized the culture and conventions of his penman’s milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence. Thus history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: Since, for instance, nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.
The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (for example, the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called ‘phenomena’ of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved (as we have attempted in this paper), will encourage our faith. However, where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.
This is not a blind hope. For instance, a century ago there were about 100 parts of the body whose function were mysterious to doctors, and people would say “This is proof of evolution as these are left over parts which we don’t need anymore”. However, because of on-going and diligent research we are now left with only one organ in the body which appears to be redundant. In time, perhaps we will find a use for that organ as well. This principle can also be
seen with the Bible. So many ‘discrepancies’ have also been cleared up due to greater research and understanding. Had Shabbir been around a century or even 25 years ago his list could easily have been 1001 contradictions. As new data is uncovered, we are continually finding answers to many of the historical mysteries. Therefore we have every reason to believe that, in God’s time, the rest will be solved as well.
We are fully aware that the Christian criteria for revelation is not acceptable to Muslims, as it is in seeming conflict with their own. Yet, by simply measuring the Bible against the nazil or Tanzil (‘sent down’) concept which they claim for their Qur’an, Muslims condemn themselves of duplicity, since they demand of the New Testament that which they do not demand of the previous revelations, the Taurat and Zabuur, though both are revered as equally inspired revelations by all Muslims. Muslims believe that Moses wrote the Taurat and David the Zabuur. However, neither claimed to have received their revelations by a means of a nazil (‘sent down’) transmission. So why insist on such for the New Testament, especially since the document makes no such claim itself?
The underlying reason perhaps lies in the belief by Muslims that the Qur’an, because it is the only revelation which came “unfettered” by human intervention, is thus the truest and clearest statement of Allah’s word, and therefore supersedes all previous revelations, even annulling those revelations, as they have supposedly been corrupted by the limitations of their human authors.
Left unsaid is the glaring irony that the claim for a nazil revelation for the Qur’an comes from one source alone, the man to which it was supposedly revealed, Muhammad. Yet there are no external witnesses both before or at the time who can corroborate Muhammad’s testimony. Not even miracles are provided to substantiate his claims, nor are there any known documents of such a Qur’an from the century in which it is claimed to have been revealed (see the paper on the historicity of the Qur’an versus the Bible.)
Even if we were to disregard the historical problems for early Qur’ans, a further problem concerns the numerous Muslim traditions which speak of the many differing copies of Qur’anic codices which were prevalent during the collating of the Uthmanic recension of the Qur’an in the mid-seventh century, and that the conflicting copies were all destroyed, so that we cannot know today whether the Qur’an in our possession was even similar to that which was first revealed.
What Muslims must understand is that Christians have always maintained that the Word of God, the Bible, was indeed written by men, but that these men were always under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).
Whereas the Qur’an is alleged to be free of any human element, God in the Bible deliberately chose to reveal His Word through individuals who were inspired prophets and apostles, so that His Word would not only be conveyed to humanity correctly, and comprehensively but would be communicated to their understanding and powers of comprehension as well. This the Qur’an cannot do if it has no human element, as is generally alleged.
There are other problems with the contention maintained by Muslims that the Bible is full of contradictions. For instance, what then will Muslims do with the authority which their own Qur’an gives towards the Bible?
The Qur’an gives authority to the Bible:
The Qur’an, itself, the highest authority for all Muslims, gives authority to the Bible, assuming its authenticity at least up to the seventh-ninth Centuries. Consider the following Suras:
Sura Baqara 2:136 points out that there is no difference between the scriptures which preceded and those of the Qur’an, saying, “…the revelation given to us…and Jesus…we make no difference between one and another of them.” Sura Al-I-Imran 3:2-3 continues, “Allah…He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus)…as a guide to mankind.” Sura Nisaa 4:136 carries this farther by admonishing the Muslims to, “…Believe…and the scripture which He sent before him.” In Sura Ma-ida 5:47,49,50,52 we find a direct call to Christians to believe in their scriptures: “…We sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel… Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein, if any do fail to judge by the light of what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel…” Again, in Sura Ma-ida 5:68 we find a similar call: “People of the Book!…Stand fast by the law, the Gospel, and all revelation that hath come to you from YOUR LORD. It is the revelation that has come to thee from THY LORD.”
To embolden this idea of the New and Old Testament’s authority we find in Sura 10:94 that Muslims are advised to confer with these scriptures if in doubt about their own, saying: “If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee. The truth had indeed come to thee from thy Lord.” And as if to emphasize this point the advice is repeated in Sura 21:7, stating, “…the apostles We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration. If ye realize this not, Ask of those who possess the message.”
Finally, in Sura Ankabut 29:46 Muslims are asked not to question the authority of the scriptures of the Christians, saying, “And dispute ye not with the people of the book but say: We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and that which came down to you.”
If there is anything in these Suras which is clear, it is that the Qur’an emphatically endorses the Torah and the Gospel as authentic and authoritative revelations from God. This coincides with what Christians believe, as well.
In fact, nowhere is there any warning in the Qur’an that the former scriptures had been corrupted, nor that they were contradictory. If the Qur’an was indeed the final and complete revelation, if it was the seal of all former revelations the Muslims claim, than certainly the author of the Qur’an would have included a warning against that which had been corrupted in the earlier scriptures. But nowhere do we find even a hint that the Bible was contradictory, or indeed that it was corrupted.
There are some Muslims, however, who contend that according to sura 2:140 the Jews and Christians had corrupted their scriptures. This aya says (referring to the Jews), “…who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah…?” Yet, nowhere does this aya state that the Jews and Christians corrupted their scriptures. It merely mentions that certain Jews have concealed “the testimony they have from Allah.” In other words the testimony is still there (thus the reason the afore-mentioned suras admonish Muslims to respect the former scriptures), though the adherents of that testimony have chosen to conceal it. If anything this aya is a ringing endorsement to the credibility of those former scriptures, as it assumes a testimony from Allah does exist amongst the Jewish community.
God does not change His Word
Furthermore, both the Christian scriptures and the Muslim Qur’an hold to the premise that God does not change His word. He does not change His revelation (despite the law of abrogation found in the Qur’an). Sura Yunus 10:64 says, “No change can there be in the words of Allah.” This is repeated in Sura Al An’am 6:34: “There is none that can alter the words of Allah,” found also in Sura Qaf 50:28,29.
In the Bible we, likewise, have a number of references which speak of the unchangeableness of God’s word; such as, Deuteronomy 4:1-2; Isaiah 8:20; Matthew 5:17-18; 24:35; and Revelation 22:18-20.
If this is the recurring theme in both the Bible and the Qur’an, it is hardly likely that we would find a scripture with such a multiplicity of contradictions which Muslims claim are found in the Bible.
What then should we do with the contradictions which the Muslims claim are there?
When we look at the contradictions which Muslims point out we find that many of these errors are not errors at all but either a misunderstanding of the context or nothing more then copyist mistakes. The former can easily be explained, while the latter need a little more attention. It is quite clear that the books of the Old Testament were written between the 17th and the 5th century BC on the only parchments available at that time, pieces of Papyrus, which decayed rather quickly, and so needed continual copying. We now know that much of the Old Testament was copied by hand for 3,000 years, while the New Testament was copied for another 1,400 years, in isolated communities in different lands and on different continents, yet they still remain basically unchanged.
Today many older manuscripts have been found which we can use to corroborate those earlier manuscripts. In fact we have an enormous collection of manuscripts available to which we can go to corroborate the textual credibility of our current document. Concerning the New Testament manuscripts (MSS) we have in our possession 5,300 Greek manuscripts or fragments thereof, 10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts and at least 9,300 other early translations. In all we now have more than 24,000 manuscript copies or portions of the New Testament from which to use! Obviously this gives us much more material with which to delineate any variant verses which may exist. Where there is a variant reading, these have been identified and expunged and noted as footnotes on the relevant pages of the texts. In no way does this imply any defects with our Bible (as found in the original autographs).
Christians readily admit, however, that there have been ‘scribal errors’ in the copies of the Old and New Testament. It is beyond the capability of anyone to avoid any and every slip of the pen in copying page after page from any book, sacred or secular. Yet we may be sure that the original manuscript (better known as autograph) of each book of the Bible, being directly inspired by God, was free from all error. Those originals, however, because of the early date of their inception no longer exist.
The individuals responsible for the copying (scribes or copyists) were prone to making two types of scribal errors, well known and documented by those expert in the field of manuscript analysis. One concerned the spelling of proper names (especially unfamiliar foreign names), and the other had to do with numbers. The fact that it is mainly these type of errors in evidence gives credence to the argument for copyist errors. If indeed the originals were in contradiction, we would see evidence of this within the content of the stories themselves. (Archer 1982:221-222)
What is important to remember, however, is that no well-attested variation in the manuscript copies that have come down to us alter any doctrine of the Bible. To this extent, at least, the Holy Spirit has exercised a restraining influence in superintending the transmission of the text.
Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents were inspired. For that reason it is essential that we maintain an ongoing textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appears to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.
Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autograph. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit’s constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15)”
With that in mind let’s now take a look at the examples forwarded by Shabbir Ally in his pamphlet to better ascertain whether or not the scriptures can stand the test of authority espoused above?
While answering the below challenges it has proven obvious to the four of us that Shabbir made a number of errors in his reasoning which could easily have been rectified had he simply looked at the context. This may offer us an idea as to why Muslims in general seem so fond of looking for, and apparently finding “contradictions” in the Bible – most of which are very easily explained by appealing to the context. When we look at the Qur’an we are struck with the reverse situation, for the Qur’an has very little context as such to refer to. There is little narration, and passages interject other passages with themes which have no connection. A similar theme is picked up and repeated in another Sura, though with variations and even at times contradictory material (i.e. the differing stories of Abraham and the idols found in Suras 21:51-59 and 6:74-83; 19:41-49). It stands to reason, then, that Muslims fail to look in their Holy Book for other passages to derive a context. Is it no wonder that they decline to do the same with the Bible.
On the second page of his booklet “101 Clear Contradictions in the Bible”, Shabbir Ally states “Permission Granted! Please copy this booklet and spread the truth.”
We, the authors of this paper, have been delighted to fulfil this request of Mr. Ally. Although we have not directly copied all his words, we have reproduced his alleged contradictions in this booklet and replied to them. Therefore, through these rebuttals we are doing what Shabbir has asked, spreading the truth! Showing the firm foundation of the Bible, which is the truth.
Please weigh the words of Mr. Ally against the rebuttals found herein.
You will note that a number of the questions contain more then one answer. This is done to show that there are different ways to understand a seeming problem in the Biblical text.
1. Does God incite David to conduct the census of his people (2 Samuel 4:1), or does Satan (1 Chronicles 21:1)?
(Category: misunderstood how God works in history)
This seems an apparent discrepancy unless of course both statements are true. It was towards the end of David’s reign, and David was looking back over his brilliant conquests, which had brought the Canaanite, Syrian, and Phoenician kingdoms into a state of vassalage and dependency on Israel. He had an attitude of pride and self-admiration for his achievements, and was thinking more in terms of armaments and troops than in terms of the mercies of God.
The Lord therefore decided that it was time that David be brought to his knees, where he would once again be cast back onto the mercy of God. So he let him go ahead with his census, in order to find out just how much good it would do him, as the only thing this census would accomplish would be to inflate the national ego (intimated in Joab’s warning against carrying out the census in 1 Chronicles 21:3). As soon as the numbering was completed, God intended to chasten the nation with a disastrous plague which would bring about an enormous loss of life (in fact the lives of 70,000 Israelites according to 2 Samuel 24:15).
What about Satan? Why would he get himself involved in this affair (according to 1 Chronicles 21:1) if God had already prompted David to commit the folly he had in mind? It seems his reasons were entirely malicious, knowing that a census would displease the Lord (1 Chronicles 21:7-8), and so he also incited David to carry it through.
Yet this is nothing new, for there are a number of other occurrences in the Bible where both the Lord and Satan were involved in soul-searching testings and trials:
- In the book of Job, chapters one and two we find a challenge to Satan from God allowing Satan to bring upon Job his calamities. God’s purpose was to purify Job’s faith, and to strengthen his character by means of discipline through adversity, whereas Satan’s purpose was purely malicious, wishing Job as much harm as possible so that he would recant his faith in his God.
- Similarly both God and Satan are involved in the sufferings of persecuted Christians according to 1 Peter 4:19 and 5:8. God’s purpose is to strengthen their faith and to enable them to share in the sufferings of Christ in this life, that they may rejoice with Him in the glories of heaven to come (1 Peter 4:13-14), whereas Satan’s purpose is to ‘devour’ them (1 Peter 5:8), or rather to draw them into self-pity and bitterness, and down to his level.
- Both God and Satan allowed Jesus the three temptations during his ministry on earth. God’s purpose for these temptations was for him to triumph completely over the very tempter who had lured the first Adam to his fall, whereas Satan’s purpose was to deflect the saviour from his messianic mission.
- In the case of Peter’s three denials of Jesus in the court of the high priest, it was Jesus himself who points out the purposes of both parties involvement when he says in Luke 22:31-32, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.“
- And finally the crucifixion itself bears out yet another example where both God and Satan are involved. Satan exposed his purpose when he had the heart of Judas filled with treachery and hate (John 13:27), causing him to betray Jesus. The Lord’s reasoning behind the crucifixion, however, was that Jesus, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world should give his life as a ransom for many, so that once again sinful man could relish in the relationship lost at the very beginning, in the garden of Eden, and thereby enter into a relationship which is now eternal.
- Jairus’s daughter had a fatal illness.
- All that could have been done would already have been: she was as good as dead if not already dead.
- Jairus knew that Jesus could both heal her and bring her back from the dead. As far as he was concerned, there was no difference.
- Matthew 28:1: ‘At dawn…went to look at the tomb’.
- Mark 16:2 ‘Very early…just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb’.
- Luke 24:1: ‘Very early in the morning…went to the tomb’.
- John 20:1: ‘Early…while it was still dark…went to the tomb’.
- The sign of the direct object in 1 Chronicals was ‘-t which comes just before “Lahmi” in the sentence order. The scribe mistook it for b-t or b-y-t (“Beth”) and thus got BJt hal-Lahmi (“the Bethlehemite”) out of it.
- He misread the word for “brother” (‘-h , the h having a dot underneath it) as the sign of the direct object (‘-t) right before g-l-y-t (“Goliath”). Therefore he made “Goliath” the object of “killed” instead of “brother” of Goliath, as in 1 Chronicles.
- The copyist misplaced the word for “weavers” (‘-r-g-ym) so as to put it right after “Elhanan” as his family name (ben Y-‘-r-y’-r–g-ym, ben ya’arey ‘ore–gim, “the son of the forest of weavers”, a most improbable name for anyone’s father). In Chronicles the ore–gim (“weavers”) comes straight after men\r (“a beam of”) – thus making perfectly good sense.
- “God is not the author of confusion…” (1 Corinthians 14:33)True, God is not the author of confusion. There is very little that is confusing in the Bible. When we understand all the original readings and the context behind them, the confusion virtuallydisappears. Of course we need scholarship to understand everything in there, as we are 2,000 – 3,500 years and a translation removed from the original hearers.But this is no different to the Qur’an. On first (and tenth) readings of the Qur’an there are many things which are not apparent. Take the mysterious letters at the beginning of the suras. It seems that after 1,400 years of scholarship, people can only take a good guess at what on earth they might be there for. Or take the many historical Biblical characters whose stories do not parallel the Bible but seem to originate in second century Talmudic apocryphal writings. This is indeed confusing. However, it is because we can go to the historical context of those writings that we now know that they could not have been authored by God, but were created by men, centuries after the authentic revelation of God had been canonized.
- “…A house divided against itself falls” (Luke 11:17)The Bible is not divided against itself. Jesus was talking about a major division, i.e. Satan destroying his own demons. This is far removed from the Bible. A book four times the size of the Qur’an, with the remaining problems able to be counted on your fingers and toes, a 99.999% agreement! That indeed is remarkable!