Is the Injeel less or more trustworthy than the Quran?
The purpose of this last 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 1980ís. As I mentioned in my earlier portions of this study, 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 covered in the first part of this study I came to the realization that according to the Quran Allah had guaranteed the protection of the Quran as well as all of his messages to prior prophets from human tampering. Godís protection of his message is not unique to the Quran. I discovered 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, although it does accuse the Christians and Jews of hiding the truth that was in their scriptures. Hence, based on the ayat and verses from the Quran and Injeel I came to understand that Godís words are protected from change. For more details, please refer to part one of this study. I also investigated the history of the compilation of the authoritative text of the Quran and Injeel. I concluded that the compilation of the Quran was more questionable because it had evolved, first into the Hafsa manuscript and later into the Khalifa Uthman manuscript, and the other Quran manuscripts that were in use were destroyed by order of the Khalifa. As a result of these discoveries I became more troubled about the authoritativeness of the Quran and questioned its trustworthiness more than that of the Injeel. Details of this discussion are given in part two of the study. Finally, in this last part I am going to review what the scholars say about the transmission of the Quran and Injeel manuscripts over the years since their authoritative compilation.
Today we have printing presses and durable paper on which to print. This allows us to make millions of copies without errors. During the time of the Quran, the materials used for this purpose were not as durable and included parchment, which was made from animal skin. Later the more durable paper which was originally developed in China was introduced to Arabia. In the 15th century the printing press was developed. Until that time, Muslim scribes copied the Quran manually. Now when one looks at both the Quran and the Injeel in terms of what we have today and compare these to the oldest hand written copies or manuscripts we have in our possession, we can start to determine if there have been changes made in different times and places. Some of the oldest Qurans we have today are the Tashkent and Topkapi manuscripts. These are the names given to the Quran manuscripts that are currently located in the area of Uzbekistan and Turkey. Scholars have determined that these Quran manuscripts are not the Khalifa Uthmanís copies, but are of a later time as can be seen from the fact that these Qurans are written in the Kufic Script. Scholars have determined that the Kufic script was common during the years 100 to 200AH, or about the eighth century AD in the Kufa region that is part of Iraq today. We do have fragments of the Quran, but not a complete copy with the earlier Al Mail or Hijazi script that was common in Mecca and Medina during the time of Khalifa Uthman. Hence we may conclude that the Tashkent and Topkapi manuscripts are later than those distributed by Khalifa Uthman.
What we do note is that all of these earlier fragments and Quran manuscripts do not have any dots or vowel marks that are common in todayís Quran. The lack of vowel marks was not a problem for me because I understood that most common usage of Arabic does not have them either. However, I did not know that even the marks that differentiate between a "ba" and a "taa" did not exist at all in the early Quran manuscripts. For that matter, there were no dots that differentiated a "Jeem" or "Kha" from a "Haa", or any of the other letters of similar shape. These marks indicate the sound of the letter, thus distinguishing between two letters of similar shape. However, these marks were not present in the text during the time Khalifa Uthman standardized the Quran. I discovered that the use of such marks was a much later development in the Arabic script.
The discovery that the early Arabic script did not have dots or vowel marks prompted me to investigate further into the development of the current dots and marks. I believed that since many Muslims memorize the Quran this ought not be a problem. When we look at the evidence we find that a number of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars who have looked into it critically have come to the consensus that variant qiraat, or readings of the Quran, existed and later increased as Mohammadís companions who had memorized the Quran died. Variances existed because the Arabic script lacked the dots and vowel signs to distinguish between certain Arabic letters. It was not until a few hundred years later, that it was decided to limit the qiraat down to the seven. This limitation was set to be consistent with what was said by Mohammad. Note the Sahih Hadith of Bukhari.
This limitation was only placed on the recitation, and not on the written text. The seven authorized qiraat were those of Ibn Kathir of Mecca, Nafi of Medina, Abu Amr of Basra, Asim, Hamzah and Al-Kisai of Kufa and ibn Amir of Damascus. In addition, to provide accuracy of the written Quranic text, two ruwah (written texts or transmissions) were allowed for each qiraat of the Quran. This brought the total of the different written Quranic texts to fourteen. As I investigated whether or not these were very different from each other I discovered that there were minor variations in phrasing in the recitations and their written texts, not just in the dots, but in actual letters.
In investigating this further, I discovered that Muslim and non-Muslim scholars who have done the scholarly work have noted that variations have always been part of the history of the Quranic text. It has not been letter or vowel mark perfect. For example, this article provides some details of these variances. Eventually, the fourteen ruwah from the seven qiraat were narrowed down to two. Today in the Muslim world the predominant qiraat of the Quran is that of Asim, while its companion riwayah is that of Hafs. In other places, such as Morocco, the qiraat is that of Nafi and the riwayah of Warsh. For example some passages that begin with the command "Qul" ("say") in some qiraat are rendered "Qala" ("he will say") in other qiraat. The first implies a command from Allah to Mohammad while the latter possibly attributes the words of the Quran to humans and not to a command from Allah. The Abdullah Yusuf Aliís translation and commentary on the Quran refers to these variances in some areas as can be seen by the ** below in his translation and study notes for Surah 23:112
This supports the fact that there was more than one way that the Quran was memorized as "Qul" is very different from "Qala". Hence we have variation in the Quran and in some cases it does change the meaning of words and sentences. In addition, note that Yusuf Ali makes the point in note 2948 that this is the "Indian" reading of the Arabic Quran; not the "universal" reading. He makes a similar point in note 2666 for Surah XXI ayah 4 that this is in the "Indian" reading of the Quran, thus validating that there were many different Quran variations in use, this one being an Indian reading. What was very interesting to me is that the Quran commentary I have is copyrighted in 1946. The revised editions of Yusuf Aliís translation and commentary that are sold today have the word "Indian" removed but still speak of the Kufa and the Basra Qiraat. However, it can be said that these different readings and variations do not change the doctrine or teaching of the Quran. Thus, based on the witness of Islamic history we can say that the Quran we have is basically the same as, but not identical to the copy that Khalifa Uthman standardized for Muslims.
Hence I arrived at the following conclusion regarding the transmission of the Khalifa Uthmanís Quran from his time to today:
A number of Muslim teachers had taught me that the current Arabic Quran we have are the exact words of God as dictated or confirmed by the Angel Gabriel. This claim is not supported by the facts. I had been taught that not even a dot or punctuation has been changed since that time; again, this claim is not supported by Islamic history. We cannot say that the Quran is exactly the same today as the one Khalifa Uthman standardized. However, what we can say is that the variations that have become part of the history of the Quran are minor and these variations do not change the message of the Quran. I was able to accept that todayís Quran, though containing variations accumulated during its transmission, has the same basic content as what was in Khalifa Uthman's authoritative collection.
As I started to look at the transmission process of the Injeel, I reflected on what I understood was the major issue with the Injeel as I had been taught by a number of Muslim teachers. According to them there is so much variation and corruption in the different versions of todayís Injeel that it cannot be trusted. I decided to investigate how true this claim was.
I started by finding out the language in which the Injeel was originally written. I had seen at least two English versions of the Injeel that had different wordings and knew of other English language versions of the Injeel. What I discovered was that at the time of Isa, the common Jewish language in Jerusalem was Jewish Aramaic. It was different than the Hebrew of the Torah. This is similar to the difference between Arabic of the Quran and the local Arabic of different Arabic speaking lands. However, by Isaís day, the Romans had been ruling Jerusalem for many years. Therefore, another common language was Koine Greek. Koine Greek is not the classical Greek of the early Greek philosophers but was the common language of most of the people that were ruled by the Greek and Roman Empires. The Jewish scholars many centuries earlier had translated their scriptures to this Koine Greek as the Jewish people who traveled through the Roman Empire also commonly used this form of Greek. This made sense to me as having grown up in Pakistan where the British had ruled for many years, I was more adept with English than Urdu or any other local dialect. Some Arabic speaking countries in Africa for the same reason also speak French. The Roman soldiers spoke Latin, as that was the main language of Rome. The fact that three languages were spoken in and around Jerusalem is seen from the Injeel account of the crucifixion of Isa. The Injeel records that the Romans made a sign in three languages and posted it on the cross of Isa.
God inspired the apostles to write the Injeel in Greek because that was the dominant language of the whole area ruled by Rome. This made sense to me as in this way more of the people in the vast Roman Empire covering Asia, Africa and Europe would be able to study the word of God. Since the language of the Injeel is Greek, any translation from it would be inadequate to express the complete depth of its message. Hence, these English translations of the Injeel differ just as the Quran translations do. For example the English translations for Surah 4:136 is given below. Note how each translator interprets the words differently.
This resolved for me the difference we have in the English translation of the Injeel since the language of the Injeel is Greek.
I next resolved to understand what variations existed within the Greek manuscripts. For example the earliest complete Injeel manuscripts are from the 4th century AD, with the Sinaiticus Manuscript in the British Library in London and the Vaticanus Manuscript in the Vatican Library in Italy. Also similar to the Quran, there are major segments of the Injeel that date earlier than the complete manuscripts. For example, the Chester Beatty papyri dated about 200 AD. There are other smaller fragments that are dated as early as 90 AD.
As I investigated, I found that there are certainly more variant readings in the Injeel manuscripts as compared to the Quran. This caused me to wonder whether the Injeel was corrupted, or whether one could still determine the original teachings of Isa from the manuscripts like we were able to do for the Quran? To answer this question, I started looking at the nature of the variances and whether or not they could be explained. Could it be that we still have an authoritative Injeel in spite of the variations accumulated during its transmission? I started by trying to understand the process of making manuscripts.
Long before the days when the more durable parchment was available for Quran manuscripts, the Injeel manuscripts had to be copied by hand on papyri material that would fade and break down. Hence, the manuscripts of the Injeel would periodically have to be copied as older ones faded and disintegrated. There are presently over 5,000 Greek Injeel manuscripts in existence today. In addition there are over 19,000 copies of translations of the Injeel in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. Hence, hand copied manuscripts of the Injeel that exist today exceed 24,000. The question is whether all of the 5000 Greek Injeel match perfectly? The answer is no, there are variations. Most of them are simply copying errors, some of them word differences and still others are more significant differences in the text. If a manuscript had a difference, this led to a variance. So the question is if one can say getting it perfect to the original is 100%, how far is the Injeel off from this number? As I investigated, I was pleased to find out that much research has been done and documented by Christian and non-Christian scholars on this topic. I found numbers from as low as 62.9% to as high as 99.5% perfection. Upon investigation it became clear that the 62.9% number was identifying all of the variances without determining if these were easily identifiable copying errors or if these were actual differences which are harder to rectify.
For example, in the following verse from the Injeel is a type of error dealing with spelling of proper names. Some manuscripts spell it "Beelzebul" others "Beezebul". Hence, this would be an example of a verse that has a variation.
Another example of variation was dealing with minor textual variation. For example some manuscripts have "he was saying" and in others "people were saying" as in the example verse below:
Yet another type of variation was missing or added words. In the following verse the oldest manuscripts have "or mother", but the later ones do not have it. This could be explained by coping errors where it was left out accidentally, possibly due to problems with fading, etc.
As I investigated these types of variation, I found that it is possible to get a more accurate reading of the text by looking at the large number of manuscripts, especially the older ones. Note that I am using English for explanation, but the example is meant to reflect the original Greek of the Injeel. Most of the variations in the Injeel are of this type. If one considers all of them as errors, we come up with the purity value of only 62.9%. However, it can be seen as I have discussed above that these types of variation are mostly scribal errors that can be easily rectified; we can with confidence determine the correct reading. Thus, one may conclude that the purity of the Injeel gets closer to 99.5%.
Hence, I arrived at the following conclusion regarding the transmission of the Injeel from the fourth century to today.
In conclusion, many Muslims believe that the Quran contains the literal words of Allah which have been perfectly preserved and transmitted through the ages. Muslims make this claim not based on Islamic history as I have investigated and discussed above, but purely as a statement of faith. I discovered that once the Quran was standardized, there were minor variations over time due to the various readings and transmissions of the Quran; these variations were in addition to the dots and vowel marks that were added over time. When it comes to the Injeel, it is clear from the history of its transmission, that the variations in it are more than those in the Quran. However, I was able to conclude that neither one was 100% pure, and that the variations in the Quran or the Injeel have not altered the teachings of Mohammad or Isa respectively.
At this juncture I was satisfied that the word of God as revealed in the Injeel had not been altered. I was now prepared to undertake a more thorough study of the Injeel and compare it to the Quran. I continued to seek Godís guidance through the scripture and prayer. I was committed to depend on God to help me understand the truth that was in his word.
** 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.