Why Muslims should advocate biblical inerrancy
In any conversation between a Christian and a Muslim, one of the first disputed topics is the authenticity of the Bible. Usually Christians are told they have a falsified or corrupted Bible, or that the Bible they possess today is not actually the authentic and inspired text—it was altered and replaced by a forged one.…
In any conversation between a Christian and a Muslim, one of the first disputed topics is the authenticity of the Bible. Usually Christians are told they have a falsified or corrupted Bible, or that the Bible they possess today is not actually the authentic and inspired text—it was altered and replaced by a forged one. The claim goes on to affirm that Christians cannot rely on the present Bible, which exists in hundreds of languages and translations, but they should seek the knowledge of the true God from the one and only preserved divine text—the Quran. Moreover, some educated Muslims usually refer to several scholars adopting the historical-critical method or higher criticism who undermine biblical authority.
This conversation leaves Christians for the most part disappointed, unsure, and puzzled, while Muslims feel superior. This claim ends any attempt to use the Bible in a continued dialogue with Muslims. However, what Muslims do not consider is that such an argument violates not only plain reason and historical evidence, but also their own scripture—the Quran. If Muslims truly believe Islam’s scripture, they should also affirm and advocate the authenticity, inerrancy, and trustworthiness of the Bible, in both its Old and New Testaments.
References to the Bible
The Quran identifies three major pre-Islamic heavenly inspired books: Torah (of Moses), Zabur (Psalms of David), and Injil (the gospel). In addition, the Quran uses an important term, Dhikr (meaning the Reminder), to refer to the divine revelations sent down before the Quran: “We have, without doubt, sent down the Reminder (Dhikr), and we will assuredly preserve it” (Q 15:9). This verse affirms that a divinely revealed book was sent down, and that Allah himself is responsible for preserving and keeping it (the pronoun “we” refers to Allah, using the royal “We” for respect and glorification).
The Quran links Moses to the Reminder (Dhikr), and states, “We did give to Moses and Aaron the Salvation and a Radiance and a Reminder (Dhikr) to those who fear” (Q 21:7). Of course, Muslims may assume that the Reminder (Dhikr) does not refer to the Bible, but rather to the Quran; however, this cannot be true. The verses use a past tense (have sent), while, as we know, the Quran was supposedly being revealed at the time, especially if we consider the fact that these verses, according to Muslims, are early verses from the Meccan period.
Moreover, the Reminder (Dhikr) is clearly referring to the Bible in another verse: “We did not send [any prophets] before you [O Muhammad] except as men to whom We revealed—ask the People of the Reminder (Dhikr) if you do not know” (Q 21:7). This verse, using the term Reminder, clearly points Muhammad to earlier revelations and instructs him to ask the people who received them if he does not know the truth.
Why not the Bible too?
If Allah preserves the Quran, how can he let the Bible be subject to falsification and corruption—isn’t he able to preserve it as well? In fact, the Quran states: “Apostles have already been charged with falsehood before you [O Muhammad], yet they patiently bore being rejected and tormented until Our help came to them. No man can change the words of Allah” (Q 6:34, emphasis mine).
This verse addresses Muhammad, affirming that no one can change the words of Allah, referring to the words proclaimed by apostles before him. In fact, Allah commands Muhammad, “if you are in doubt about what We have sent down to you, ask those who read the Book before you” (Q 10:94). If Allah instructs Muhammad to “read” the Scripture revealed before him—the Bible—then, it is without a doubt a trustworthy Scripture.
The Quran identifies the pre-Islamic believers, Jews and Christians, as the People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), as they have received a divine Scripture. Those who believe in the Quran are instructed: “Dispute not with the People of the Book except with what is best as an argument, except for those of them that do wrong; and say to them, ‘We believe in that which has been revealed to us [the Quran] and revealed to you [the Bible]; our God and Your God is One, and to Him we have surrendered’” (Q 29:46). This confirms that, at least, at the time of the proclamation of the Quran (presumably the seventh century), the Bible as the revealed text of Christians and Jews was complete, trustworthy, and uncorrupted. If we consider the Islamic understanding of divine inspiration as a dictated process, then the Bible, according to Muhammad’s proclamation, was without errors and includes the exact words of the One who revealed it.
Concerning the Jews, the Quran insists that they should follow their Torah as it contains the laws and judgment of God, as well as His light and guidance: “And how should they [the Jews] make you [O Muhammad] a judge, while with them is the Torah, in which is Allah’s judgment? Surely, We sent down the Torah containing guidance and light” (Q 5:43,44). This demonstrates the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Torah. If Muslims claim that the Jewish Torah is corrupted, then they violate their own scripture, or questioning its validity.
Violating their own scripture?
As for Christians, they, too, are told to follow the Injil (gospel), which confirms the Old Testament and contains true guidance: “We sent Jesus son of Mary, confirming the Torah before him and We gave to him the Gospel containing guidance and light” (Q 5:46). This suggests that the Injil is authentic, as the Quran is supposedly correct. Thus, the proclamation of Jesus is trustworthy and not corrupt.
According to the Quran, Christians are instructed to judge things based on what Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel or they would be considered transgressors: “Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah revealed therein. Those [among them] who do not judge in accordance with God’s revelations are the transgressors” (Q 5:47). It is crystal clear that, according to the Quran, the gospel cannot be corrupt, as God instructs Christians to follow its judgment, guidance, and light, or they would be transgressors. If Muslims still insist that the Bible is corrupt, with these verses affirming the truth and light found in the Bible, then they appear in a clear violation of their own scripture.
Despite these affirmative Quranic verses, some Muslims still claim that the Bible is corrupt and unauthentic. Most often, this claim is based on one of two common, but false, assumptions. First, they believe that the corruption took place after Muhammad—if the Quran affirms the trustworthiness of the Bible, then the corruption must have happened after Muhammad’s death. Second, they claim the Quran hints at the corruption of the biblical text in one verse: “But the wrongdoers changed the saying with other than what they were told. So We sent down on those who were wrongdoers a plague from the sky because of the transgressions they used to commit” (Q 2:59), or another verse, “There is indeed a group of them who twist their tongues to mimic the Book, that you may suppose that it is from the Book, though it is not from the Book, and they say, ‘It is from Allah,’ though it is not from Allah, and they attribute lies to Allah, and they know [it]” (Q 3:78).
It is historically attested that the Bible was completely canonized, taught, quoted, documented, and circulated in various known lands (including within the superpowers of the Roman and Persian empires) much earlier than the advent of Muhammad in the seventh century. This was done, moreover, in more than one language (Latin, Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and so forth). Today in our hands, we possess the four great uncial codices: Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (fourth century), Alexandrinus and Ephraemi (fifth century)—all of them are substantially in full harmony and complete agreement with the text we have in our hands today.
Who corrupted the Bible?
If we hypothetically assume the Bible was corrupted somewhat, somehow, or somewhere after the seventh century, then we must ask: Who took the pain to corrupt each existing text worldwide? Were they also able to reach far to the second century to erase, distort, and fabricate manuscripts of the New Testament? Or even the Septuagint, existing since the third century BC? How did they manage to corrupt the text in the milieu of various sectarian differences within Christianity itself, or within the Jewish-Christian competing understandings (both relying on the same basic Masoretic Text for the Old Testament)? What parts were corrupted, and where did the authentic ones go? There are also logical questions: Why God would permit so, preserving only the Quran from corruption? If the Quran insists that no man can change the words of Allah, how would a divine text be left vulnerable in the hands of evildoers? These rhetorical questions lead to one clear conclusion: contrary to some Muslim claims, the Bible is trustworthy and was never corrupted.
As for second Muslim assumption, the verses are clearly referring to the use of the Bible by some evildoers, rather than the text itself. This suggests the change of the proclamation, utterance, telling, or interpreting the text, rather than fabricating it itself. If the Quran, hypothetically, suggests in some other verses that the biblical text itself is subject to corruption, then Islam’s scripture actually contradicts itself—other verses are clear that Allah preserves his words.
Even the renowned Muslim historian and exegete al-Tabari (died in 923 A.D), in his commentary on the Quran, explains that Q 2:59 refers to evildoers among Christians and Jews who change the meaning of words as they pronounce or utter them. It is worth mentioning that the earliest Muslim commentators did not generally argue or insist on the textual corruption of the Bible, but emphasized the falsification of its proclamation or articulation. Unfortunately, later Muslim jurists, exegetes, and interpreters deviated from that and it became virtual orthodoxy to insist that the corruption is textual.
God’s inspired and inerrant Word
Therefore, I argue that there is no verse in the Quran that denigrates or undermines, even in the smallest hint, the Scriptures of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians). It is accurate, historically and textually, to assert that the Quran never explicitly attacks in any way the Torah or the gospel.
Muslims who claim that the Bible is corrupt violate their own scripture, or claim it is false, deceitful, or untrue. Even some exceptionally famous Muslim commentators never supported the claim. If evildoers change the interpretation or explanation of a divine text, it is their mistake and problem, but that has nothing to do with the divine text itself. Christians and Jews should be confident in the authenticity, truthfulness, and trustworthiness of their Scripture, not because the Quran confirms so, but because there are abundantly significant pieces of evidence, textually and historically, that support such a fact.
Ayman Ibrahim is the Bill and Connie Jenkins assistant professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Seminary. He also serves as senior fellow at the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam.