Friday, 2 May 2008

Is Allah at least partially responsible for the rise of Christianity?

Paul said... Is God at least partially responsible for the rise of Christianity?

A central Christian claim is that Jesus the Messiah died on the cross. Christians have varied in their understanding of this event - some like St Paul vested it with enormous soteriological significance, others like Peter (according to Acts) had no sense of Jesus' death as atonement for sin. But all were agreed that Jesus died on the cross. There is no historical evidence (despite what some ill-informed Muslims say) that any of Jesus' disciples thought the Romans did NOT crucify Jesus.

Now the Quran says that it was ‘made to appear that it was so’. So it follows that the Christian belief I have outlined above, a belief held by all the early church, is a direct result of God’s deceptive action. My dictionary defines deceptive thus: ‘likely or designed to deceive; misleading’.

I do not hold God responsible for what Paul made out of this crucifixion event, but the genesis of the development of the Christian understanding of Jesus’ death starts with God’s misleading Jesus’ disciples.


Adam said

Interesting question.

Yes, I agree that Muslims are ill-informed on this topic and there is much need for Muslim scholarly work on the matter.

I think your argument proceeds as follows

The disciple’s belief in Jesus’ death was due to Allah’s deception ‘made to appear that it was so’

Jesus’ death is central to the birth of Christianity

Therefore the birth of Christianity was due to Allah


I think it will be useful initially to address premise number two first. The single most important and fundamental claim of Christianity is that of the resurrection. As Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth “if Christ did not rise from the dead, their faith was in vain”. Even though it is believed that he came to die for the sin of man, Christianity is not defined by Jesus’ death per say, but rather defined by his resurrection, although his death is a necessary condition for his resurrection. The resurrection was the vindication of Jesus’ claim of being the messiah and the son of God. Had he just died and not been resurrected, then he would have died as a blasphemer. So what gave rise to Christianity is not that Jesus died but rather that he died and that he was resurrected.

With respect to premise number one, “made to appear that it was so”. The question here is, to whom? It would be consistent to suggest that deception was used for the people who wanted him crucified i.e. the Pharisees. For all we know, the disciples of Jesus were fully aware of what actually occurred and that this has been lost within the gospels due to erroneous transmission.

Is God responsible for Christianity? No, as I think we have good reasons to believe that what was responsible for Christianity was the perversion of the true Jesus by the likes of later followers.

Adam Deen

31 comments:

Paul said...

Is God at least partially responsible for the rise of Christianity?

A central Christian claim is that Jesus the Messiah died on the cross. Christians have varied in their understanding of this event - some like St Paul vested it with enormous soteriological significance, others like Peter (according to Acts) had no sense of Jesus' death as atonement for sin. But all were agreed that Jesus died on the cross. There is no historical evidence (despite what some ill-informed Muslims say) that any of Jesus' disciples thought the Romans did NOT crucify Jesus.

Now the Quran says that it was ‘made to appear that it was so’. So it follows that the Christian belief I have outlined above, a belief held by all the early church, is a direct result of God’s deceptive action. My dictionary defines deceptive thus: ‘likely or designed to deceive; misleading’.

I do not hold God responsible for what Paul made out of this crucifixion event, but the genesis of the development of the Christian understanding of Jesus’ death starts with God’s misleading Jesus’ disciples.


So it would seem that God is at least partially responsible for the rise of Christianity!

Adam Deen said...

please see answer above.

Anonymous said...

Salaamu alaykum,

sorry don't have time to read all of this due to exam, however i would like to ask, what is a muslim apologetic?

Jazak Allahu khayran

Adam Deen said...

Muslim apologetics is a branch of Muslim theology that provides warrant or evidence for its truth claims. This can take the positive form of putting arguments to promote Islam or in a negative sense to defend Islamic claims.

bint Ashfaq said...

JazakAllahu khayr for the answer.

So Adam what do you achieve with this blog?

bint Ashfaq said...

*Aim to achieve with this blog

Adam Deen said...

I hope to provide Muslims the tools to engage in the public sphere with a rational and intellectual understanding of Islam and to use the blog to comment on some important Muslims issues.

Anonymous said...

My response to Paul's weak construct of reason
.....................
Anyway the philosophy is very important because you
have failed to realise that your two statements are of
different qualities

The first premise

Allah made it appear that Jesus was crucified is
slightly different then the conclusion

i.e. therefore (in an inductive sense if you wish)
Allah is responsible

The later statement is a normative statement and there
have been many pages written on the scientific
attitude towards such statements.

Unless you are a moral naturalist, then you have alot
of difficulty jumping from an "is" to an "ought" if
you so wish.

That is why your argument is all over the place and
that is why I advised some references on the
philosophy of science. It is a very strangely
constructed argument if you are strictly talking about
"induction". How in the world does "responsibility"
figure in hard materialistic facts? I wouldn't mind
also going through all the modern versions of moral
naturalism as well.

Another thing is that your view will lead to an
incoherent creator. At least we cannot know of him in
any way whatsoever!

Let us take this further.

Allah parted the sea for Moses. Pharaoh saw this and
it appeared to him that he could pass and chase him.
Unfortunately this was not the case.

Since Allah made it appear to Pharaoh that he could
pass, as he knew very well what Pharaoh was going to
think therefore Allah is responsible for his death!

You can see that any miracle will also have a problem

Allah makes it appear to us that we have naturalistic
laws, yet he provides miracles therefore we cannot
trust him (this is at the heart of the deception
argument)

Let us take it further...


It appeared to the man that his wife was sleeping with
his best friend (Allah after all creates everything,
including this illusion) and he killed him. Allah is
therefore responsible for his murder.

Now explode this argument all over the place and you
will find even free will has a problem, and in fact
any notion of a natural law that we can be comfortable
with!

It seems in the end you have deceived yourself with
your "deceit" argument.

...................................

Anonymous said...

"Is God responsible for Christianity? No, as I think we have good reasons to believe that what was responsible for Christianity was the perversion of the true Jesus by the likes of later followers."

But such perversion is also the act/will of Allah. That must be true unless you junk the whole "everything is written" argument.

That argument also means that a thief has no alternative but to steal, and the judge has no alternative but to sentence him, and his hand is amputated - and the whole thing is a ghastly charade as all the players were merely puppets being deceived.

If that really was the nature of God, then I for one would be his/her enemy - but according to this "amazing" creed, that would also be "written".

Islam needs a Luther to sort itself out. Tom

Anonymous said...

Well Tom, this "everything is written" argument is rather brute and simplistic. "everything is written" represents Allah's omniscience and this is the traditional view of all monotheistic religions i.e they are have this attribute assigned to an all powerful creator.

"Islam needs a Luther to sort itself out"

What an irony since Martin Luther was a theistic determinists!

We dont need the likes of you to tell us to sort our religion! The simplistic arrogance of it all.

Anonymous said...

I am sure it matters not whether Jesus was crucified or not. There is no strong historical evedence either way. Nor is the rather ambiguous statement by Mohamed in regard to the Crucifixion death evedence that a a deception took place.

If we want an answer to this question - and mine is as good an answer as anyone else, it is as follows.

Understanding as he did ( Jesus) that all life is invested in GOD, death is not the reality of being. Death is the illusion and here in lies the deception. This would explain Mohamed's statement that 'it was made to appear'. In life there is no death and God does not require the death of his creation in order to justify - satisfy himself.

Frank

frank said...

Sorry - but to clarify.

If the death of Jesus upon the cross took place - his resurrection to life gave evedence of the deathlessnes of life. The subsequent assention into heaven would have taken Jesus out of the line of site of ordinary men and into a oneness with God.

If he was not in fact crucified at all - at least the Christly nature which he excemplified - and which has been with us since the world began, was given further proof of its voracity during his short life span.

Frank

frank said...

Adam

Are you aware of the book 'Science and Health with key to the Scriptures' by Mary Baker Eddy. Here you will find an alternative to the mainstream Christian view of Jesus and God. The Old and the New Testaments is wise also to remember that not ALL Christians accept the Trinity or indeed Jesus as God or the Son of God.

As a footnote. Wise questioning of another's faith is good. But a continuous barrage for and against is of benefit to no one. I for one accept than folks can believe whatever they wish - proving that that belief does not infringe upon the liberty of others.
I mention this since I have just heard that ( Iran of late) Islamic countries are hard work for non Muslims to live in. And I would have hoped to hear more voices raised against such governments. As indeed I hope against any secular government.

Frank

Veritas said...

One particular piece of this analysis is so wrongheaded I have to respond:

“For all we know, the disciples of Jesus were fully aware of what actually occurred and that this has been lost within the gospels due to erroneous transmission.”

Read that sentence a couple of time and see if you really want to stake your eternity on it. Do you have any credible evidence at all that any of the gospels from the first century carried even the slightest suggestion that Jesus’s disciples did not believe he had been crucified? Can you point to any textual variant in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John which could rationally be used to justify this position? Any evidence at all from the thousands of early manuscripts of canonical scripture that we have? Any non-canonical letters from first or second century Christians holding this view? Any evidence from Jewish or Pagan sources that support this claim? I can think of at least 10 independent witnesses from the first centuary - Christian, Jewish and Pagan - that show what the early church believed about Jesus’s death. Please provide your evidence for this assertion, or qualify it more clearly as mere unsupported speculation. I really hope your grasp of New Testament criticism is not as weak as this post implies.

Anonymous said...

Veritas

I think your comments are spot on.

I agree that Adam's claim:

“For all we know, the disciples of Jesus were fully aware of what actually occurred and that this has been lost within the gospels due to erroneous transmission”

lacks any historical basis; however it is based on very common notions about the rise of Christianity which are widely prevalent amongst Muslims today. Though Adam is “an intellectual worker” he has, to my knowledge, never studied the New Testament or NT scholarship.

Though Muslim ignorance of the Bible is staggering, I suspect it is no less enormous than Christian ignorance of the Qur’an and the hadith!

Paul

Adam Deen said...

Firstly the answer I gave assumes that the Qu’ran is an authority and Islam is true. I have explained previously that I believe there are objective measures from which I believe this can be derived. This however, is an altogether different discussion…

I think your alluding to the fact that my assertion is basically based on conjecture. Well, might I remind you that the background to your objection assumes a level of undisputed authority in your sources, i.e: the Gospels. It is a rather controversial statement, knowledge of the new Testament or not, to assert that the Bible is a historically accurate document from which factual information can be derived. Namely in this case, the assumption being that the Gospels of Mark, John, etc are in fact historically accurate documents. Frankly the whole event of the resurrection is covered in a holy shroud (pardon the pun) of conjecture.

Hmm. Evidence? Do you mean a text where its author(s) is/are unverifiable or a text that presupposes that it was “inspired” or a text that is also riddled with inconsistencies, to say the least.

Yes, I may not be a textual critic; however you must remember that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. As stated previously, this remains conjecture. As for Paul’s comment , I think Paul (not the author of the Gospel, but rather the individual Paul who posted a response!) believes that there are other texts that say different things about the resurrection. It don’t think it’s my place to speak for him. Nevertheless I state again:

“For all we know, the disciples of Jesus were fully aware of what actually occurred and that this has been lost within the gospels due to erroneous transmission.”

Then again this is only my humble opinion.

Oh and I really like the name “veritas”

Veritas said...

Adam,

Thanks for your response.

With respect you your underlying assumption – I wonder, do you consider it possibile that Mohammed was not a messenger of God, that the Qu’ran is not an authority and that Islam is not true? Consider, that is, not just in the theoretical sense, but as a hypothesis to which you would be willing to subscribe, given sufficient reason to do so.

You say: “Well, might I remind you that the background to your objection assumes a level of undisputed authority in your sources, i.e.: the Gospels.” This is just plain wrong – I did not assume that. You also ask what I mean by “evidence”. I gave a whole list of authorities to which you could appeal – the canonical gospels being just one of them. Any first century source would do, as my initial question made clear. And not just Christian sources – I would be happy for you to appeal to Jewish or Pagan documents. It seems that in the absence of such evidence, and in the face of the textual evidence we do have, subscribing to your position that “For all we know, the disciples of Jesus were fully aware of what actually occurred and that this has been lost within the gospels due to erroneous transmission” is not a conclusion any unbiased observer would come to. And, in my opinion, not one that anyone serious about first centaury historical facts could maintain.

You then say: “It is a rather controversial statement, knowledge of the new Testament or not, to assert that the Bible is a historically accurate document from which factual information can be derived”. This is also wrong. The claim that the New Testament carries divine authority is controversial. The claim that the New Testament as we have it today is exactly what was originally written is controversial. But the claim that they are useful as historical documents is not controversial in historical circles. As an example, even someone like Hector Avalos who is as fierce a critic of NT integrity as anyone, still basis his research in to first century medical practises on the New Testament manuscripts. Clearly he believes they are historically accurate, even whilst denying they have been transmitted accurately or are divinely authoritative. This is the position of almost every historian working in the field, irrespective of their religious or philosophical persuasion. You might want to check out “The Christ Files” by John Dickson for more information.

You also refer to Paul as the author of the Gospel, but as you admit to not being well versed in textual criticism I’ll let that one go.

With respect, can I suggest that if you intend this blog to be a place of intellectual honesty and a resource to help people progress towards the truth, you hold back from posting on topics you admit to not being well versed in.

Regards,
V.

Adam Deen said...

I think there is some level of confusion here, as this answer to the initial question was to someone (Paul) who views the Quran as an authority (above biblical texts) . Hence my suggestion of premise two is consistent with Islamic theology.

“do you consider it possibile that Mohammed was not a messenger of God, that the Qu’ran is not an authority and that Islam is not true?”

Yes, please view debate 18th April 2008.

“Hector Avalos……Clearly he believes they are historically accurate, even whilst denying they have been transmitted accurately or are divinely authoritative”.

Can you explain this Veritas, how can we claim that they are historically accurate whilst maintaining that they have not been transmitted accurately? Can you not see the problem here? It doesn’t take a textual critic to work this one out.

Veritas , might I offer you some advice too, I suggest you draw your attention to more serious questions like, how can one prove without presupposing that the bible was inspired and does authenticity necessarily infer divinity ?

Without good answers to these questions, one has good reasons to suggest that any true theological claims of the bible are dubious.

Thanks for your comments.

Veritas said...

Thanks for another swift response!

You ask me to explain how we (i.e. pretty much the whole body of historians concerned with first centaury events) can view the NT manuscripts as historical without having a pre-commitment to infallible transmission or divine authority. That’s easy – textual criticism. The whole assumption behind the work of a textual critic is that manuscripts have not been translated perfectly. They analyse the fragments from different times, translated using different techniques in different locations. Then you reconstruct what the original would have been. You don’t get 100% certainty over 100% of the text but, in the case of the NT, you can work out the original wording without any reasonable doubt for more than 98% of the text. So no, I can not see the problem here - unless you’re going to use the very nature of the historical method to draw false, unfounded assumptions about the origins of Christianity.

I’m happy to engage on what you describe as “more serious issues”. However my intention in these posts was simply to draw attention to the fact that a comment in your initial blog was not simply lacking any evidential basis, but also flies in the face of all the evidence that we have. It may be that, with you Islamic preconceptions, you’re happy to hold an opinion like that. My point was that this is not the conclusion an unbiased observer should come to.

Adam Deen said...

Let’s be honest Veritas, biblical textual critics have more to deal with than mere mistranslations. This is a rather optimistic perspective I would say.

Now, what about the questions I posed to you also do you believe that the bible is the inerrant word of God?

Veritas said...

I think we’re about done here. We can agree, it seems, that your statement was based on mere conjecture and presupposition. You have not been able to point to any evidence to support it apart from the Qu’ran – indeed you didn’t even try. That was the point I wanted to make.

Textual critics aim to reconstruct the original text from manuscripts that differ in their translation of an earlier manuscript. Their job is to cope with mistranslation – accidental or deliberate. I don’t know what you mean by “they have more to cope with” than that. You would probably enjoy Bart Erhman’s “Misquoting Jesus” if you haven’t already read it – the first few chapters of which are a good introduction to textual criticism for the lay reader. If you’re in to more mainstream scholarship I would point you towards “Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture”

As to my personal convictions, I hold mainstream evangelical views. I believe the Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and inerrant word of God. But as with all things in the natural world, it has been subject to decay. What we have today isn’t 100% what was written then, but no matter of Christian doctrine is in dispute. However, and this is important, you don’t have to hold that view to reject your idea about the views of the first Christians. It is enough that the documents are reliable as general historical sources, which is not in dispute by those working in the field, Christian or otherwise.

I am happy to defend my views on the original inerrancy of the bible, but this does not seem to be the place to do it. If you’re interested I’m sure you’ll find many of the traditional arguments with a quick google search. Oh look, here’s some: http://www.navpress.com/EPubs/DisplayArticle/1/1.26.14.html

Cheers.

Adam Deen said...

I’m glad that we agree that the bible we have today is a decayed version of the alleged inspired original.

Veritas said...

That last post really exemplifies the depths to which Muslim apologists have to sink to try and defend their beliefs. For all the talk of rationalism and intellectual inquiry, Islamic apologetics, like so much atheist apologetics, relies on rhetoric, hand waiving and a strong trust that the people you’re speaking to know little or nothing of the topics under discussion.

Yes, manuscripts decay after many centauries. Yes, we can not be 100% certain over 100% of the original wording of the Christian scriptures. But for you to jump to conclusion that the whole of early Christianity just happened to subscribe to an Islamic view of the resurrection is a non sequitur of epic proportions. The fact that there’s no evidence of it should be a clue as to the validity of your argument. An intellectually honest person would give it up.

I hope a day comes when Islamic apologists start to take opposing views seriously, really engage in Biblical criticism and try to present logically sound arguments in defence of their faith. Until then it’s really not worth entering dialogue with them. So good luck with this blog.

Frank said...

Adam

Now that is not fair. Veritas did not say that we have a decayed version of an alleged inspired version. You should not invent your arguments.

In fact i believe that the Bible has to be read and interpreted spiritually - and not literally. After this fashion you will not only gain insight - but you will PROVE its efficacy.

Frank

Anonymous said...

"in the case of the NT, you can work out the original wording without any reasonable doubt for more than 98% of the text."

This is an evangelical ranting which is not so happily proclaimed by textual critics. How do you make such a calculation? Besides evangelical apologists, actual textual critics do not present such figures or calculations. In fact, most textual critics would even react negatively to the assertion that we have recovered "original text" of the New Testament. That is because the transmission of the New Testament in the earliest period is now seen to be far more complex (it is generally acknowledged that most textual changes occurred within the first 100 years of transmission) and even the definition of "original" has become a controversial issue.

Nonetheless, most textual critics do believe that the present restored form of the text is unlikely to be notably or strikingly different from what the authors first wrote. This is the most that can be said. In the case of some books (Matthew for example), we can have little doubt that what we have now was much different from what was first written. In the case of some other books (Mark, and I think Luke and Acts) there is more doubt among textual critics. Nonetheless, I think such a conclusion would be generally acceptable: we don't have the "original" text but something which is unlikely to be much different from it. There are more than likely to be changes which were made very early in the transmission process but which were not carried forward in later manuscripts, so that all of our existing manuscripts lack those changes. But, overall, what we have now is unlikely to be that different from the form of text which first emerged.

Having said this, textual reliability and historical reliability are not one and the same thing. You can have a textually authentic writing, but one which contains unreliable details. I think the New Testament is such a document. That is, it does contain historically reliable details and it also contains details which are unlikely to be historically accurate.

The changes which occurred between the time of Jesus and the gospels is the most crucial period. Muslims usually spend most time focussing upon the text of the New Testament. I am not suggesting that this is unimportant or that there are no important textual variations, but only that the changes which occurred before this to the sayings, deeds and teachings of the historical Jesus (P) are most important; much more than the textual changes. It is in the first stage when the serious changes occurred, whereas textual changes are secondary to this.

Anonymous said...

"Textual critics aim to reconstruct the original text from manuscripts that differ in their translation of an earlier manuscript."

Wrong, the aim to attain the earliest form of the New Testament text (not the "original") through an examination of primarily the Greek New Testament manuscripts (over 5000 of them in total). It is not "in their translation." The New Testament was originally composed in the Greek language and the manuscripts used by textual critics are also Greek manuscripts. NOT "translations."

But true, BESIDES the manuscripts some other sources are also used by textual critics for the above purpose, but in a secondary and corrobative capacity. These include the quotations of the Fathers and the ancient versions (translations) of the New Testament.

"Their job is to cope with mistranslation – accidental or deliberate."

No, their job is to recontruct the Greek text as best they can on the basis of Greek manuscripts. This has nothing to do with "translations."

"You would probably enjoy Bart Erhman’s “Misquoting Jesus” if you haven’t already read it – the first few chapters of which are a good introduction to textual criticism for the lay reader. If you’re in to more mainstream scholarship I would point you towards “Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture”"

A few points here:

1. Ehrman IS a mainstream textual critic and has nothing radical to say about the New Testament text. e is actually conservative compared to others, such as the late William Petersen. Ehrman also happens to be the leading textual critic in the world and a co-author of the latest edition of the late Bruce Metzger's "Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration."

2. Yes, Ehrman's intro to textual criticism is excellent.

3. The authors of "Reinventing Jesus" are NOT "mainstream" scholars. They are evangelical apologists and conservative scholars. Mainstream scholars are not evengelicals and very conservative. James Dunn is mainstream, as are E. P. Sanders, Graham Stanton, Christopher Tuckett etc. Danial Wallace is no doubt an accomplished scholar and textual critic, but he is also a very conservative evangelical.

"As to my personal convictions, I hold mainstream evangelical views."

Aha, mainstream evangelical views. That is fine. But we need to make a distinction between the "mainstream" and "evangelical mainstream". The two are very different.

"What we have today isn’t 100% what was written then, but no matter of Christian doctrine is in dispute."

We can look at this another way. Remove Mark, Revelation, Jude and a few other books from the New Testament and no Christian doctrine will be in dispute. Yet our remaining New Testament would have become substantially different despite having all the doctrines. It is somewhat similar with textual criticism. There are important variants which do have theological significance and which do affect the meanings of verses even if no doctrines are called into question. Thus, having the doctrines in place does not mean that textual variants are unimportant. Granted, most an inconsequential, but there are quite a few which have exegetical and theological significance.

It is the historical study of Jesus which severly undermines the evangelical picture of Jesus. We may say that evangelical doctrines and beliefs are called into question by this. If I was not a Muslim, my view of Jesus would have remained generally similar, though not identical, to the Quranic view of Jesus. For example, I would have believed that Jesus very likely did not claim to be "more than a man" in any sense, he did not present himself as a divine being, that he saw himself only as a prophet, servant, and messiah of God, that he restricted his mission to the Jewish people, obeyed the laws and commandments though intensified some elements therein, is quite unlikely to have preached he had come to die for the sins of others, is unlikely to have predicted his death/resurrection etc.... Thus, the historical Jesus research has made an evangelical presentation of Jesus historically very unsound.

Adam Deen said...

“The post really exemplifies the depths to which Muslims apologists…”

My last comment is a logical conclusion from one of your own statements. However, your last post really exemplifies the painful tension that some intellectual Christians have in seeking to rationalise their faith. As an intellectual, you have to concede that the Bible falls short of being the inerrant word of God and yet at the same time, your Christian faith means you must have the bible as the foundation of your faith. You have travelled a great distance on the road to warranting your faith. The distance from blind faith to where you are now is a journey worthy of great respect. However, there are limitations to how far you can go with such a foundation, basing yourself on the Bible.

"..Islamic view of the resurrection is a non sequitur of epic proportions...".

I really can’t understand your difficulty in comprehending the issue. The answer that I gave assumes certain statements i.e the Quran is an authority. This is valid due to the fact I’m answering the question of a person who concedes in this very assumption. But that doesn’t mean now that I don’t have good objective arguments for the Quran. So do you follow the logic now? (rhetorical question).


"..try to present logically sound arguments in defence of their faith."

Again, please view the debate


Veritas on the topic of intellectual honesty, you have to concede you can’t claim that there are merely translation problems with the Bible. However, putting aside these other difficulties, I have great reservations when it comes to basing my eternity on a decayed text.

Veritas said...

Anonymous. Thanks for some constructive comments. A couple of points in response.

“This is an evangelical ranting which is not so happily proclaimed by textual critics. How do you make such a calculation?”

I’m sorry if it came across as ranting. The 98% figure is arrived at by taking all the words over which there is are no viable variants and dividing by the total number of words in the New Testament. The result is that, on average, about 58 out of 60 words are not in dispute. Clearly that’s based on the manuscript data we have at present. If a new credible document was to turn up tomorrow which had previously unseen viable variants this would increase. But based on our present knowledge the points at which there’s any serious dispute is about 2 words in 60. That’s as much as we can say about any historical document - Biblical, Quranic or otherwise.

“it is generally acknowledged that most textual changes occurred within the first 100 years of transmission”

I think what you mean is that it is generally acknowledged that not many changes happened after the first 100 years. It’s pure speculation that substantial changes were made before that. If you have an a priori commitment to the belief that the NT has been altered in a material way, which Muslims must have, then you are forced to conclude that this happened before the vast number of manuscripts that we have in our possession were written, as these show a remarkable consistency. But, by definition, because this goes back to a period before the data available to us that will be an assertion grounded in conjecture. It is certainly not “generally acknowledged”, except, perhaps, in Islamic circles.

“Nonetheless, most textual critics do believe that the present restored form of the text is unlikely to be notably or strikingly different from what the authors first wrote.”

Quite. Can someone please tell Adam that?

“Wrong, the aim to attain the earliest form of the New Testament text (not the "original") through an examination of primarily the Greek New Testament manuscripts (over 5000 of them in total). It is not "in their translation."”

Fair point. I was using “translate” to refer to the copying process - i.e. a translation from one papyrus to another not one language to another. I should have been more nuanced in my language to avoid confusion. Thanks for picking that up.

“The authors of "Reinventing Jesus" are NOT "mainstream" scholars.”

Dan Wallace may not publish in academic journals with the same frequency of guys like Erhman (I don’t actually know if that’s true or not) but he certainly knows the field well. His scholarship is mainstream, despite being conservative and evangelical. The two are not mutually exclusive. However I pointed people to that resource not because of the authors but because of the content. It is a good overview of where NT criticism is at, and includes some discussion - positive and negative - of Ehrman’s work. Whilst Ehrman is a distinguished scholar, he also has a very large axe to grind. He is not engaged in dispassionate textual analysis, but has embarked on a campaign to deconstruct orthodox Christianity. He may be one of the foremost analysts of ancient Biblical manuscript data, but his interpretations of that data are far from mainstream. Still, you can see why he’s become a poster boy for Islamic and Atheist apologists.

“Granted, most an inconsequential, but there are quite a few which have exegetical and theological significance.”

Care to share?

“Thus, the historical Jesus research has made an evangelical presentation of Jesus historically very unsound.”

You’re really going to have to back that one up. It sounds to me like you have adopted the presumptions and presuppositions of the Jesus Seminar and are trying to re-read history through those glasses. The data we have from nearest to Jesus life are Paul’s letters, followed by the canonical gospels, and a few bits and pieces from Jewish and Pagan writers. Therefore “historical Jesus research” is called Bible Study. The more I do of that the more the evangelical presentation of Jesus is affirmed.

I enjoyed reading your comments.

Veritas said...

Urgh. I can't count. That should have read "59 out of 60" and "1 word in 60", not "58" and "2". Whoops.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply Veritas,

Just so it's easier for you to identify my comments, I'll use the name John Doe.

I'll respond to you as follows:

1. That the text of the New Testament was most fluid in the first 100 years of transmission and that most of the textual corruptions came about in this period is widely accepted by textual critics and New Testament scholars. This is not a convenient "speculation." I have in mind the Alands, Bart Ehrman, Bruce Metzger, Eldon J. Epp, D. C. Parker, Helmut Koester, Arthur J. Bellinzoni, William Petersen, F. C. Grant, Alexander Souter,James R. Royse, Kim Haines-Eitzen, Leon Vaganay, and many others. None of these scholars are Muslims and none of them share Muslim presuppositions in order to reach their conclusions. You can be a non-Muslim and come to this conclusion (that most changes were made in the earliest period of transmission). In fact, non-Muslims (primarily Christians) are saying this and I - a Muslim - has simply read this from their writings on textual criticism. This is not a particularly disputed point. Most changes were made in the period from which no mss survive and an indication of this are the existing Greek manuscripts: most of the differences that we find in the manuscript tradition already existed by the close of the third century. The farther back in time you go the more variations you encounter in the manuscripts, so that the earliest few manuscripts contain far more variations than all later manuscripts. On top of that, more variations are likewise to be observed in the citations of the New Testament found in the earlier fathers. From the period from which no mss survive (save two fragments, p52 and p90), we have Tatian who freely alters the gospel texts to produce his Diatesseron. Justin before him did the same to produce his gospel harmony. Then you have Marcion who alters the text of Luke and an unknown number of Pauline epistles and who, in turn, accuses his opponents of actually having altered the texts and credits himself as having "restored" the text. You have allegations of textual corruption being levelled by different Christian groups against each another and even the pagan Celsus knows about the occurence of textual corruptions. Thus the attitude towards the text in this period was not as rigid and static as it became thereafter.

I can quote all of the scholars named above as I have all the books and essays with me. But I am being too lazy right now to type them up.

Be that as it may, I agree that the present restored text, say in NA-27 edition, is unlikely to be radically different from whatever was first composed. The two are unlikely to be identical; there will be varying degrees of differences between the two, but not to the text where they become substantially different. Our latest critical text is likely a close approximate to what was first written. Interestingly enough, this is also Ehrman's verdict. So he isn't really radical when it comes to textual criticism.

By the above I do not mean to suggest that there are no important variations in the text. They exist (see below).

2. The claims of 99.5 or 98% are seldom made by textual critics but they are made most frequently by apologists who, often, have no background in textual criticism. A alternative calculation of the approximate rate of variations is here:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Bibaccuracy.html (Scroll down to section entitled "AH! THOSE FANTASTIC PERCENTAGES" and then down to the paragraph beginning with "If we look at the textual "certainty"...").

According to the above, the text in doubt is in the region of some 16%, which means the text which is relatively certain is a little over 80%. But again, these are not exact figures. There is no way of determining this precisely through mathematics and hence textual critics do not tend to offer such percentages.

3. I agree with your comments on Wallace and I do respect him as a scholar even though I may not accept all of his conclusions. I just wanted to point out that evangelical conservatism is not mainstream Biblical scholarship. I have the book Reinvening Jesus and I can think of a number of scholars who would disagree with a number of Wallace & Co's arguments, conclusions and assertions. I think a more close book to mainstream scholarship would be Craig A. Evans' "Fabricating Jesus". A lot of what he says in his book, which is conservative overall, would be readily acceptable to mainstream Biblical scholars. I certaintly could not find much to object to within this book.

4. Regarding Ehrman, if he has an axe to grind then so does Wallace and other evangelicals etc. No one is fully fair and balanced. We all have our biases, you and I included. Nonetheless, I think Ehrman, generally speaking, keeps it under good control. I haven't really found him to be too radical or excessively liberal in his writings. The main problems which Evangelicals have with him is the fact he openly declared his agnosticism and for having problems with certain Christian beliefs (primarily atonement I think). I am sure many Muslims use him in their apologetics. I see nothing wrong with this, provided they do not make blind use of him, and any other scholar/writer for that matter. At least by reading Ehrman and leaving aside the likes of Deedat, the Muslim apologist will be reading first rate scholarship and may be motivated to read more scholarly writings.

5. "Care to share?" - certainly. Here is one passage from the latest edition of Metzger's introduction to textual criticism, co-authored with Ehrman, which gives a few examples:

"While no one would claim that theological controversies caused the majority of our hundreds of thousands of textual variants, they clearly engendered several hundred."

Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 284.

They then provide a few examples in a footnote (pp. 284-285, footnote no. 52):

"Just within the Gospels, reference can be made to the Prologue of John (e.g., 1.18), the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke (e.g., Matt. 1.16, 18; Luke 1.35), the baptism accounts (e.g., Mark 15.34; Luke 3.22; John 1.34), and the various passion narratives (e.g., Mark 15.34; Luke 22.43-44; John 19.36). Moreover, a number of variants effect a range of issues that continue to interest historians and exegetes of the New Testament, including such questions as whether the Gospels could have been used to support "adoptionistic" Christology (e.g., Mark 1.1; Luke 3.22; John 1.34) or one that was "antidocetic" (e.g., the Western noninterpolations), whether Luke has a doctrine of the atonement (e.g., Luke 22.19-20), whether members of the Johannine community embraced a gnostic Christology (e.g., 1 John 4.3), and whether any of the authors of the New Testament characterizes Jesus as God (e.g., Heb. 1.8)."

6, finally, the historical Jesus subject. Let me state from the outset that I did not have the Jesus Seminar in mind nor do I adhere to their methodology. I do respect a number of their scholars (such as Crossan and the late Funk) but do not accept all of their conclusions and arguments. Instead, I am more in line with scholars such as Graham Stanton, James Dunn, E. P. Sanders and the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes. I think these are some of our most modern influential historical Jesus scholars and if you look at their reconstructions of the historical Jesus, it is quite different from the Evangelical one. Also, the first three, in particular, are not too liberal. They are quite moderate in their assessment of the New Testament data. Besides these scholars, you have Tuckett, Chilton, Koester, Charlesworth, Robinson, Houlden, Meier and many others, whose reconstructions of the historical Jesus are quite different from an Evangelical one. E. P. Sander's "The Historical Figure of Jesus" is a book which I would strongly recommend. So then, even if I were a non-Muslim, the Evangelical Jesus - one who claimed to be God and presented himself as God incarnate, one who proclaimed he had come to die for the sins of mankind, who lifted the food laws etc - would be historically quite unpersuasive for me.

You're right about Paul's are the earliest letters. But scholars are primarily dependent upon the canonical gospels to learn about the historical Jesus since the former (and the non-Christian references) do not tell us too much about Jesus. In fact, besides Josephus, from the earliest non-Christian references we would learn nothing at all about the teachings, deeds and sayings of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

John Doe...

I've made too many typalogical errors as well. I said:

"but not to the text where they become substantially different."

Should have been:

"but not to the extent where they become substantially different. "

Hope the comments are easily readable despite such errors.