Is the Injeel less or more trustworthy than the Quran?
The purpose of writing this second of a three-part response is to share with my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters the discoveries I made regarding the trustworthiness of the Injeel as compared to that of the Quran while I was contending with my faith in the 1980s. During that time I was seeking to find the truth in defense of the Quran, and to prove the Injeel corrupted. At that point in time, I restricted my study to the following three topics regarding the Quran and the Injeel.
In my previous response featured in the first part of this study I concluded that Allah guaranteed the protection of all his messagesthe Quran as well as the messages to prior prophets. Thus, Gods protection of his message was not unique to the Quran. What I discovered was that no human can change the words of God. In addition, nowhere did I find any strong sense from the Quran that the Jewish or Christian scriptures had been corrupted, but only the charge that the Jews and Christians were hiding part of the truth that was in their scriptures. Thus, based on the ayat (singular ayah means a sign or miracle, commonly a passage or verse) from the Quran and Injeel I reached a place of understanding that Gods words are protected from change. For more details on this, please refer to part one. Next on my list was to investigate how the Quran and Injeel were compiled into authoritative manuscripts to reflect what Mohammad and Isa had taught to be from God.
I was taught different stories of how the Quran was compiled. The two most popular explanations were that Mohammad had compiled the Quran into a book before his death and the other that Khalifa Abu Bakr had compiled it from men who had written it down and memorized it. Regardless, I was taught that the Quran of today is exactly the same as that which was given to Mohammad by the angel Gabriel. To that end, I started looking at the authoritative Islamic sources primarily the Sahih (authentic) Hadith (sayings and deeds of Mohammad) compiled by Bukhari to understand this history.
As I studied the history of the compilation of the text of the Quran, I was very surprised to learn that the Quran as we have it today went through many stages of evolution before becoming standardized. For example I discovered that there was seven different ways to recite the Quran. One could recite and memorize the Quran differently and it was still acceptable as the word of Allah. Note from the Sahih Bukhari Hadith:
Hence from the very onset of the Quran, I discovered that there were different ways to recite it. For this reason, there was no one-way to memorize the Quran but seven. That meant that different Muslims could memorize the Quran in seven different ways, not one. At once, this provided a problem that I had not even considered, if Mohammad had allowed seven ways to recite the Quran, then there should be seven versions of the Quran, not one! I had not been taught of seven, but only of one Quran. Were there truly seven, all of them equally authoritative? As I pressed on in my study, I discovered other Sahih Hadith that substantiated and elaborated on this idea that the Quran may be recited in seven different ways. For example Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 54, Number 442; V6, B61, N513; V6, B61, N514; V9, B93, N640 among others.
As I investigated further, the Sahih Hadith confirmed that Mohammad had not compiled the text of the Quran into a single collection, but it was first done under Khalifa Abu Bakrs reign. Apparently, it was at this time that the qurra, those who had memorized the Quran, were being killed in the Battle of Yamama. Khalifa Abu Bakr ordered a collection of the Quran to be made at the insistence of Umar (the second Khalifa). This collection stayed with Khalifa Abu Bakr, then after his death with Khalifa Umar and then it was passed on to Khalifa Umars daughter Hafsa, who also was one of Mohammads widows. This is explained clearly in the Sahih Hadith of Bukhari:
As I studied the above Sahih Hadith and others similar to it, I noted some important points. First, Umar was concerned that since a lot of the Quran was not written down, if the Qurra died, much of the Quran would be lost. Second, this was a monumental task given to Zaid as even Mohammad himself had not done this, and Zaid expresses this as a concern. Third, there was much work to get this collection of the Quran compiled as some ayat were only with one person and no one else to verify or substantiate it. There are others Sahih Hadith that say much the same. The frankness of Zaid troubled me. Was it such a monumental task and was he the right person to do it? I began searching and discovered that Mohammad had recommended others and not Zaid to teach the Quran. From the Sahih Hadith:
I was very concerned that none of the four people that Mohammad had recommended to teach the Quran were given the task for this compilation or confirmation; but one of Mohammads scribes Zaid bin Thabit. He too had concerns that this job was too big. But yet neither Khalifa Abu Bakr nor Umar at that time chose to have his work validated by any of them. I continued in my investigation rather perplexed that this process of the compilation was a lot more involved than what I had been taught. Sadly, I discovered the history of compilation did not end here. As the community of Muslims grew and spread out, it became even harder to maintain the integrity of the Quranic text as there was no single authoritative text, but different teachers had their own copy. These challenges in the Quran resulted in many disagreements in the Muslim communities, and as a result, Khalifa Uthman was asked to do something about it. Note that at this point, the manuscript of the Quran that was compiled by Zaid was not in circulation, but kept with Hafsa. Also note what Khalifa Uthman did as described in the following Sahih Hadith of Bukhari.
Reviewing the above and other similar Sahih Hadith, I noted different collections of the Quran were in circulation. These were partly the collection of the teachers that Mohammad had recommended as discussed in the earlier Hadith, such as Kab. Again, I was troubled with the following key points. First, there was much disagreement among the Muslims as to what was in the Quran. Hence, because of the differences among them, Khalifa Uthman ordered Hafsas manuscript to be copied and distributed and be made the official Quran. Second, if there was a disagreement among the scribes who copied it as to how to recite it, he ordered that it should be written in the Quraish dialect. I was distressed to learn that Khalifa Uthman ordered the changing of the words of the Quran to the Quraish dialect. Was this change part of the seven variations possible? I found no mention of it in the Sahih Hadith. Last, I was shocked that Khalifa Uthman ordered the destruction of all other Qurans whether whole copies or in fragments. This was very troubling. I wondered why? It had to be that the copies of the other Qurans then in circulation were different enough for the Khalifa to order such a severe consequence for them. Note the point Al-Yaman makes to Uthman, save the nation because they differ about the Quran. Now Khalifa Uthman ordered the Hafsa copy, which was not even validated by the best of teachers to become the official Quran.
As I started to investigate what might some of the differences be, I found for example the missing Bismillah at the start of Surah 9, the missing stoning verse regarding adultery, and other cancelled, withdrawn, abrogated or forgotten ayat. I have discussed some of these in my study on abrogation. I discovered that even though the order was given to destroy the other copies, some parts of those copies have survived, possibly because Muslims had memorized other variations of the Quran. For example, from Abdullah Yusuf Alis Quran translation and study notes I found another Qiraat (recitation of the Quran), from Kab who Mohammad had recommended as one of the four best to teach the Quran, had additional words for the Surah 33:6. I was taught not a single dot was changed, and here was a whole phrase that is missing as noted with ** below in Abdullah Yusuf Alis Study Note 3674.
This was not good news to me. No Muslim teacher had even hinted to this fact that the final manuscript of the Quran that was ordered by Khalifa Uthman to be put in circulation had such a history of challenges, changes and destruction.
Sadly, I reached a place of understanding regarding the compilation of the Quran that
Some Muslims have a problem with these conclusions as they believe this is not what happened. However, the authoritative record we have in Islamic history is from the Sahih Hadith, the Sirat (biography) of Mohammad and from the Tafsir (commentary) of the Quran. There is no other historical Islamic source that can speak with authority on this topic. From all of these sources, the testimony that comes across is the same as I have discussed using the Sahih Hadith of Bukhari as my primary source. This is far from the perfect authoritative compilation of the Quran I was taught we had directly from Mohammad.
Next, I started to look at the compilation process of the Injeel. Here I reflected on what I understood were two major issues with the Injeel as I was taught by a number of Muslim teachers. First, that the different church councils had created the Injeel hundreds of years later, and in the process had destroyed or ignored the true teachings of Isa. Second, the Injeel has been corrupted by mixing of Gods words with mans and is more like the Hadith, but without the proper Isnad or chain of reference of those who conveyed the teaching. As proof that the Injeel was corrupted, I was told that even some Christian scholars do not believe much of the Injeel. To that end, I started investigating how true these claims were.
Unlike the Quran which is separated into 114 Surahs, I discovered that the Injeel consists of four major segments: the gospels, historical writings, letters and prophecy. In total there are 27 books, none of them written by Isa. Their authorship rests with his apostles and their close associates. This initially was a big problem for me, but after studying how the Quran was compiled under the supervision of the Khalifa, I was open to the apostles doing the writing or teaching what Isa taught and close associates doing the writing. That would be similar to the way the Quran was put to text. I also discovered that of the 27 books of the Injeel, the 4 gospel books, book of Acts, and 15 letters of Peter, John and Paul were widely used and quoted by the early Christian leaders before 70 AD, within 30 years after Isas ascension, while eye witness to these events were still alive. These 20 books were all considered God inspired scripture by the Christian community as the apostles did many miracles similar to those of Isa, thereby validating their claim of being divinely inspired. There was much discussion of the remaining 7 books which were the letters 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, James, Hebrews and Revelation. The concerns surrounding these 7 books were mostly centered on doubts about the apostolic authorship of these books. There were concerns that perhaps these books had been written not by the apostles or their close associates, but by others who were not considered authoritative sources.
As I started to investigate the history of the collection of the Injeel, I did confirm that Isa did not finalize the Injeel, but the contents were by Isas apostles and those closely associated with them. Christian history accounts claim that God inspired Isas disciples to teach and write Isas words which are Gods words. This claim is supported in the Injeel where Isa says that God would remind his disciples of all the things he (Isa) had taught them while he was with them.
A few years after Isas ascension into Heaven, the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke were in circulation while eyewitnesses were still alive. These were being used along with the letters. Luke, a companion of the apostles describes his compilation.
Later, John the apostle wrote in the Gospel that bears his name regarding what Isa claimed above.
Historical work done by many Christian and non-Christian scholars show that many of the letters of Paul were written earlier than the four Gospel accounts. Paul was considered an apostle and was accepted by other apostles of Isa as being divinely sanctioned to teach the message of Isa. These letters were written soon after Isa had ascended and they documented Isas teaching. My understanding from Muslim teachers was that Pauls teaching was different than Isas and that the letters had been compiled in the second century. Concerning Paul, I discovered that he subjected himself to the authority of the other apostles and was validated by Peter and others that he was teaching the same message. He also did many supernatural miracles in Isas name to validate this claim. Regarding the claim by some that the compilation was done after the first century does not have support because if that were the case, then critical events such as the death of the apostle James in 62 AD, Paul in 64 AD, and Peter in 65 AD would have been recorded in the book of Acts, which documents the teaching and work of these apostles. For example, we know from the early history in Medina that Muslims were martyred in the battle of Uhud. As that was during the time of the revelation of the Quran, it describes this event, but does not document the later battles, such as Yamama because these wars were fought after the Quran was revealed.
As I further studied the process the Christian community used to compile the Injeel, I discovered that it was not a specific event such as what Khalifa Abu Bakr and later Khalifa Uthman had done, but it was a gradual process done by the Christian community over time. The Injeel was not set by a single Christian leader or council, rather, the books in it were chosen because there was general acceptance that these books were written by the apostles. The main criterion used was that the writings had to be written by one of the apostles of Isa, or a close associate of the apostles or an eyewitness under supervision of an apostle. The Christian community that witnessed the early events such as Isas teaching, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, etc validated the writings in the Injeel. Unlike in the case of the compilation of the Quran, where the Khalifas authorized the compilation of the Quran, the early Christian community did not have such a ruler to enforce such a compilation. Therefore during the first three centuries, the Injeel survived because the Christians treated it as the word of God and held it in reverence as such, even though during this time the Jewish and Roman authorities were persecuting the Christians.
Finally, in the fourth century, Constantine, who was a Roman leader, became a Christian. He initiated a number of councils, including the council at Nicea. At these councils the central question regarding the Injeel was "what did Isa and the apostles teach?" After studying and discussing the gospel books and letters, the leaders at Nicea agreed to what was already in use. They did not select books based on their preconceived ideas or theological position, but based on what was considered the word of God and used as such through the previous three centuries. I also realized that unlike the Quran where ayat were with different people, here whole books were selected, not partial material from them. For example, the Christians for the past three centuries had only used the four Gospels because the apostles wrote and gave them to the Christians in the first century as the word of God. These were taken and a single Gospel was not created from the four. As I investigated the historical record, I found no evidence for the destruction or doctrinal modification of Gospels by Christians at Nicea or any of the other councils. There was no way to change these as by this time the Injeel was translated from Greek into many other languages including Syriac, Coptic, Latin, Gothic and Ethiopic. In addition, not only were there the copies of the Injeel in many different languages, but many Christian leaders had written and quoted from the Injeel during the first, second and third centuries making it impossible to change the Injeel.
Looking further into the writings of the Christian leaders, I discovered that they would quote from Injeel, but not from other writings that were not considered the word of God as Isa had taught. One of the prominent church leaders, Ignatius of Antioch, refers to the Gospels of Matthew and John possibly as early as 37 years after Isas crucifixion. During this time, another Christian leader by the name of Polycarp, who personally knew the apostle John and other eyewitnesses to Isas teaching, refers to different Injeel sections some forty times from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Another Christian leader, Papias, who also knew the apostle John, specifically says Matthew and Mark wrote the Gospels that bear their name. There are other writings such as these that validate that there were no issues with the four Gospels being part of the Injeel as God-inspired scripture. These four Gospels were accepted as the word of God because they were known to be from the apostles. Other writings about Isas life and teaching, such as Gospel of Thomas or Gospel of Peter, had not been accepted by the Christian community as the word of God. These did not make it into the Injeel because there was no clear witness or evidence that they were written by the apostles whose names they bear. As I investigated what was done to these other Gospel books that are not part of the Injeel, I noted that there were no orders given by the Christian leaders to destroy them. They were simply not used.
As a result of this historical study, I reached a place of understanding regarding the compilation of the Injeel as follows:
Regarding the charge by some Muslims that the Injeel was the creation of Paul and Church councils and not Isas teaching, history has shown otherwise. It is true that human beings will never agree unanimously on anything, not even the Injeel. Some Christian scholars do not believe everything in the Injeel is part of the life and teachings of Isa. Sadly, I know that even in the Muslim community there has been concern that ayat from the Quran were removed that identified Khalifa Ali as the first rightful Khalifa, among other items. However, the historical fact remains that the compilation of the Injeel had been fixed, not by councils, but by the witness of the early Christian community who were eyewitness to Isa and his apostles teachings. The Christian leaders did not create the Injeel, but rather came to recognize, accept and confirm what was actively taught and preached by the apostles as the word of God.
Concerning the charge that the Injeel is more like the Hadith but weaker since it does not have the Isnad, I came to a very different opinion. In my understanding, the Injeel was more like the Quran, which also does not have any Isnad. The reason that there is no Isnad for the Quran is that it was compiled only a few years after the death Mohammad, and eyewitnesses were present to validate what was in the Quran. However, the Isnad was needed for the Hadith, which were compiled over 150 years after the eyewitnesses had died. Similarly, based on historical data and the fragments of the Injeel from the first century that still exist till today, I was able to accept the same for the Injeel as for the Quran, that there is no need for the Isnad as there were eye witnesses when these were written down.
There are some Christian scholars who believe some of the Injeel is not attributable to Isa. I discovered that for the majority of them the primary reason for this thinking is a lack of belief in the supernatural in general and therefore distrust the accounts of the miraculous events of Isas life. For example, that Isa came from a virgin mother is discounted as legend. Isa healing the sick or giving life to the dead is considered legend too. But I believe that God is capable of this and that acts of the supernatural validate the person being from God. In addition, the Quran also makes similar claims for Isa. Therefore, I was able to accept that it was not that the scholars had a problem with the historical witness, but that they had a pre-supposition that would not allow for supernatural miracles.
In conclusion, for many Muslims, the Quran is the literal word of Allah and has been perfectly preserved through the ages. Like my other Muslim brothers and sisters I had started with the belief that the Quran was the word of Allah and that it has been perfectly compiled but that the Injeel was written by Church Councils and was corrupted. Muslims make these claims not based on history as I have investigated and discovered, but purely as a statement of faith. I too made such claims and held such beliefs in my early life while a Muslim, but when I began to study the history and try to defend that position, I was forced to come to a very different conclusion. In summary, I came to a place of understanding the following key points regarding the compilation of the Quran and Injeel:
At this point I was satisfied that I had unjustly denied myself a serious study of the Injeel due to fear that it was not the teachings of Isa, but of Paul and Church Councils. During this time my position on the Quran and Injeel reversed. The compilation of the Quran was more questionable as it had evolved, first into the Hafsa manuscript and later to the Khalifa Uthman manuscript, while the other Quran manuscripts that were in use were destroyed. I was now more troubled about the authoritativeness of the Quran and questioned its trustworthiness more than that of the Injeel. I continued to seek Gods guidance, this time setting the Quran aside and spending more time in the Injeel, focusing on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to see what God had inspired before the advent of Islam.
** This article was first posted at the Answering-Islam website by the author Farooq Ibrahim. Copyrighted by Farooq Ibrahim and used by permission. For comments or feedback, please contact him or The Abraham Connection.