The Islamic religion claims that the Qur’an, revealed allegedly by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad beginning in 610 A.D., is the inspired and inerrant word of God. Such an assertion, however, is highly problematic, and many, many arguments could be given to convincingly refute it. In this article, I am going to offer one of those reasons, which I perceive to be the most damning. In future articles, we will consider some other serious difficulties with the idea that the Qur’an represents the revealed words of God. My argument here can be summarized in syllogistic form as follows:
Premise 1: Either the Bible is the Word of God or it is not.
Premise 2: If the Bible is the Word of God, the Qur’an is not.
Premise 3: If the Bible is not the Word of God, the Qur’an is not.
First, a note of qualification. By “the Bible” I refer to the Old and New Testaments as we possess them today and as possessed by Christians at the time of Muhammad in the seventh century. Granted, there are textual variants in the New Testament Greek manuscripts, but the core message of the New Testament remains the same — they are thus immaterial to what I’m attempting to establish here.
Premise 1 need not be defended, since it is self-evident that the two alternatives are mutually exclusive and exhaustive possibilities. Premise 2 is easy to establish, since the Qur’an and the Bible fundamentally contradict one another. The most obvious item of conflict relates to whether Jesus died by crucifixion, denied by the Qur’an (Surah An-Nisa 157-158) but affirmed throughout the New Testament and indeed a cornerstone of New Testament theology. The Qur’an also repeatedly denies the core Biblical concept that Christ is the incarnate eternal Son of God, affirming instead that He is only a messenger or prophet (e.g. Surah Al-Maeda 75). The Qur’an, on multiple occasions, denies the Trinity (e.g. Surah An-Nisa 171; Surah Al-Maeda 73). The Qur’an, of course, repeatedly misrepresents Christian theology on these matters, as I discuss here, but this is immaterial to the issues that concern us here. If, then, the Christian Scriptures are indeed the inspired Word of God, the Muslim Scriptures cannot be, since the Qur’an so fundamentally disagrees with the theology of the Bible.
The Qur’an’s Affirmation of the Christian and Jewish Scriptures
For the Muslim to reject the conclusion of the argument, at least one of the three Premises must also be rejected. As I have shown, Premises 1 and 2 cannot be reasonably denied. What, then, of Premise 3? The Qur’an, over and over again, affirms the Christian Scriptures, claiming consistency with them, and asserting that the Torah and the Gospel (the “Injil”), and also the Psalms, are previous revelations from Allah. Consider, for example, the following verses.
- Surah Al-E-Imran 3: “He has revealed to you the Book with the truth [i.e. the Qur'an],confirming what has been before it, and has sent down the Torah and the Injil.”
- Surah An-Nisa 136: “O you who believe, do believe in Allah and His Messenger and in the Book He has revealed to His Messenger and in the Books He has revealed earlier. Whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers and the Last Day has indeed gone far astray.”
- Surah An-Nisa 163: “Surely, We have revealed to you [i.e. Muhammad] as We have revealed to Nuh and to the prophets after him; and We have revealed to Ibrahim, Isma’il, Ishaq, Ya’qub and their children, and to Isa, Ayyub, Yunus, Harun, and Salaiman, and We have given Zabur [i.e. the psalms] to Dawud.”
- Surah Al-Isra: “Your Lord knows best about all those in the heavens and the earth, and We have certainly granted excellence to some prophets over some others, and We gave Dawud the Zabur (the Psalms). Say, “Call those who you assume (to be gods), besides Him, while they have no power to remove distress from you, nor to change it.”“
- Surah Al-Anbiya: “And We have written in Zabur (Psalms) after the advice that the land will be inherited by My righteous slaves.”
The Qur’an even goes so far as to assert that the prophet Muhammad is prophesied in both the Old and New Testaments. Consider the following verses.
- Surah Al-Araf 157: “Those who follow the Messenger, the Ummiyy (unlettered) prophetwhom they find written with them in the Torah and the Injil and who bids the what is fair and forbids what is unfair, and makes lawful for the good things, and makes unlawful for the impure things, and relieves them of their burden, and of the shackles that were upon them. So, those who believe in him and support him, and help him and follow the light sent down with him, those are the ones who are successful.”
- Surah As-Saff 6: Remember when Isa, son of Maryam, said, “O children of Isra’il, I am a messenger of Allah sent towards you, confirming the Torah that is (sent down) before me, and giving you the good news of a messenger who will come after me, whose name will be Ahmad.” But when he came to them with manifest signs, they said, “This is a clear magic.”
One will search in vain, however, to find any mention of Muhammad in any Biblical text. This has left Muslim apologists doing hermeneutic gymnastics to inject Muhammad somewhere into the Bible. All such attempts, however, have proven futile. One such attempt is the claim that the coming prophet like Moses, spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, is, in fact, Muhammad. Here’s the full text:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
This argument, like the rest, is fraught with problems. The most damning of those is the context, which limits the word “brothers” of verse 15 and 18 to the Israelites. Verses 1-2 of Deuteronomy 18 clearly reveal who “brothers” refers to:
The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the Lord’s food offerings as their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.
Here, “brothers” can only refer to the Israelites. Since the prophet of verses 15-19 is to come from among the “brothers” of the Israelites, Muhammad is excluded as a contender for its fulfillment.
Another favorite is the Advocate or Helper promised by Jesus to the disciples in John 14 and 16. In John 14:15-16, we read the following words of Jesus:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
It is extremely difficult to read Muhammad into this text, since the promised Helper is said to be with Jesus’ followers forever and in them, something not accomplished by Muhammad. The Muslim interpretation also utterly ignores the overall context of the text. Jesus here is speaking to his disciples. If the promise refers to Muhammad, then it was fulfilled six hundred years later. Thus, everything said by Jesus to the disciples would not be relevant to them.
In John 15:26-27, we read more about this coming Helper:
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Was Muhammad sent by Jesus? Does he proceed from the Father? Moreover, the disciples bearing witness is directly linked to the coming of the promised Helper, and thus the fulfillment of this promise must be found in the disciples to whom the promise was made. John 16:7-14 provides yet further difficulties:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
This text makes it even more clear that the Helper is sent by Jesus and comes to these specific disciples to whom Jesus is speaking. Muhammad did not come for a further six centuries. We are also told that the Helper will glorify Jesus. Muhammad certainly did not glorify Jesus.
One could proceed to go through all of the passages that Muslims typically cite as alleged prophecies concerning Muhammad. None of them, however, fare any better than these. Indeed, the two I have addressed above are the most often cited texts — the favorites of Muslim apologists.
Confronted with this obvious Qur’anic error about the contents of the Christian Scriptures, Muslim apologists will often attempt to argue that the Christian Scriptures have been corrupted, or that the “Injil” (the Gospel) refers to a special book given only to Jesus (whom the Qur’an calls “Isa”) which has left no record in history. As we shall see, however, neither the historical record, nor the Qur’an, allows for that possibility.
Has the Message of the Injil and Torah Been Corrupted or Lost?
Muslims cannot consistently maintain that the Scriptures delivered previously have been corrupted or lost, since the Qur’an appears to assume that these Scriptures are still with the “people of the book” (Christians and Jews). The case here is strong and the implications difficult to escape. Let’s take a look at some of these texts in the order that they appear in the Qur’an.
- Surah Al-Baqara 91: “When it is said to them, “Believe in what Allah has revealed,” they say, “We believe in what has been revealed to us” — and they deny what is beyond it, whereas that is the truth which confirms what is with them. Say, “Why then have you been slaying the prophets of Allah earlier, if you were believers?”"
This verse contends that the Scriptures previously revealed by Allah (i.e. the Torah and Injil) are “with them” (i.e. the people of the Book) at the time of the
writing revealing of the Qur’an in the seventh century. If the Jews and Christians that the Qur’an is addressing didn’t have access to these Scriptures, the verse makes no sense. Here is another example which further illustrates this point:
- Surah Al-E-Imran 70: “O people of the Book, why do you disbelieve in the verses of Allahwhile you are yourselves witnesses (to those verses)?”
Again, Christians and Jews are witnesses to the verses revealed in the previous Scriptures. The “you” of this verse clearly refers to the Christians and Jews of Muhammad’s day. Here’s another example from the same chapter:
- Surah Al-E-Imran 199: “Surely, among the people of the Book there are those who believe in Allah and in what has been sent down to you and what has been sent to them, humbling themselves before Allah. They do not barter away the verses of Allah for paltry (worldly) gains. They have their reward with their Lord. Surely, Allah is swift at reckoning.”
Notice in the above verse the use of the plural personal pronoun “them”. The revelation from Allah was apparently sent not only to Jesus but to them (meaning, the people of the Book). Why, then, do Muslims frequently claim that the Injil was revealed only to Jesus?
Perhaps the most frequently cited verse in connection with this topic is the following text from the fifth chapter of the Qur’an:
- Surah Al-Maeda 43-49: “How do they [i.e. the Jews] ask you to judge while the Torah is with them, having the ruling of Allah? Still, they turn away, after all that. They are no believers. Surely We have sent down the Torah, in which there was guidance and light by which the prophets, who submitted themselves to Allah, used to judge for the Jews, and (so did) the Men of Allah and the Men of knowledge, because they were ordained to protect the Book of Allah, and they stood guard over it. So, (O Jews of today,) do not fear people. Fear me, and do not take a paltry price for My verses. Those who do not judge according to what Allah has sent down are disbelievers. We prescribed for them therein: A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear and a tooth for a tooth; and for wounds, an equal retaliation Then, if one forgives it, that will be expiation for him. Those who do not judge according to what Allah has sent down, they are the unjust. We sent Isa son of Maryam after those prophets, confirming the Torah that was (revealed) before him, and We gave him the Injil having guidance and light therein, and confirming the Torah that was (revealed) before it; a guidance and a lesson for the God-fearing. And the people of the Injil must judge according to what Allah has sent down therein. Those who do not judge according to what Allah has sent down, they are the sinners. We have sent down to you the Book with truth, confirming the Book before it, and a protector for it. So, judge between the according to what Allah has sent down, and do not follow their desires against the truth that has come to you. For each of you We have made a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made a single community of people, but (He did not), so that He may test you in what He has given to you. Strive, then to excel each other in good deeds. To Allah is the return for all of you. Then Allah shall tell you about that in which you disputed. We order you to judge between the according to what Allah has sent down. Do not follow their desires, and beware of them, lest they should turn away from some of what Allah has sent down to you. If they turn away, be assured that Allah intends to make the suffer for some of their sins. Surely, many of the people are sinners.”
How can Christians and Jews judge by what has been revealed in the Torah and Injil if they do not have access to those Scriptures? Again, the text assumes that the “people of the book” have access to the previously-revealed Scriptures. We go on:
- Surah Al-Maeda 68: “Say, “O people of the Book, you have nothing to stand on, unless you uphold the Torah and the Injil and what has been sent down to you from your Lord.” What has been sent down to you from your Lord will certainly make many of the most persistent in rebellion and disbelief. So, do not grieve over the disbelieving people.”
Not only does this text command the “people of the Book” to uphold the Torah and the Injil (which they must have in their possession for the command to make sense), but they are told of the Scriptures that were previously “sent down to you“. Who does “you” refer to? In context, it can only refer to the people of the Book. This is difficult to square with the popular Islamic notion that the Injil was revealed only to Jesus and was quickly lost without leaving any trace in history. Again, this text assumes that the “people of the book” possess the Torah and the Injil and that they have been neither corrupted nor lost.
As if those weren’t enough, here’s one final example:
- Surah Yunus 94: “So, (O prophet,) even if you are in doubt about what We have sent down to you, ask those who read the Book (revealed) before you. Surely, truth has come to you from your Lord, so never be among those who are suspicious.”
This text again makes no sense unless the Christians and Jews have access to the Books revealed before Muhammad. The Muslim contention that the Christian and Jewish Scriptures have been corrupted beyond recognition is simply without support from the Qur’an.
Was Jesus A Successful Preacher of Islam According to the Qur’an?
Muslims typically maintain that Jesus preached Islam, but was apparently not very successful in winning converts, because His message became quickly corrupted. Such a notion, however, is contrary to the text of the Qur’an. Let’s take a look at some more verses:
- Surah Al-E-Imran 50-52: “I [Jesus] have come to you confirming that (book) which is (sent down) prior to me, that is, the Torah, and to are permissible for you some of what was prohibited to you. I have come to you with a sign fro your Lord So, fear Allah and obey me. Allah is surely my Lord and your Lord. So, worship Him. This is the straight path So, when Isa sensed disbelief in them, he said: “Who are my helpers in the way of Allah?” The disciples said: “We are helpers of Allah We believe in Allah; so be our witness that we are Muslims.”“
According to this text, Jesus was at least somewhat successful as a preacher of Islam and his own disciples themselves, at least some of whom — Peter, Matthew, John — are contributors to the New Testament. If these disciples were Muslims, why is their theology so strongly at odds with the Qur’an?
- Surah Al-E-Imran 55: “When Allah said: “O Isa, I am to take you in full and to raise you towards myself, and to cleanse you of those who disbelieve, and to place those who follow you above those you disbelieve up to the Day of Doom. Then to Me is your return, whereupon I shall judge between you in that over which you have differed.”
In the above text, Allah promises Jesus that He will place those who follow him “above those who disbelieve up to the Day of Doom”. If barely anyone was a true follower of Jesus (i.e. a Muslim), then this text cannot be understood.
- Surah Al-Maeda 110-111: “Call to mind the time when Allah will say “O Isa, son of Maryam, remember my blessing upon you and upon your mother; when I supported you with the Holy Spirit. You spoke to people while you were still in the cradle and when you grew to middle age. I taught you the Book and the Wisdom, the Torah and the Injil. You created from clay something in the shape of a bird, when you blew on it, and it became a bird by My leave. I kept the children of Isra’il away from you when you came to them with clear signs, and the disbelievers among them said, ”This is a clear magic.” When I enjoined upon the disciples (of Jesus), “Believe in Me and in My Messenger,” they said, “We believed. Bear witness that we are the submitting ones.”“
This text again attests that the disciples of Jesus were Muslims. Interestingly, the story recounted in the above passage does not appear anywhere in the Bible, but can be traced to the Arabic infancy Gospel (dated to the sixth century) which Muhammad would have had access to. Indeed, I would argue that there is a strong case to be made for literary dependence on this apocryphal book. Here is the relevant text from the Arabic infancy Gospel 36:
Now, when the Lord Jesus had completed seven years from His birth, on a certain day He was occupied with boys of His own age. For they were playing among clay, from which they were making images of asses, oxen, birds, and other animals; and each one boasting of his skill, was praising his own work. Then the Lord Jesus said to the boys: The images that I have made I will order to walk. The boys asked Him whether then he were the son of the Creator; and the Lord Jesus bade them walk. And they immediately began to leap; and then, when He had given them leave, they again stood still. And He had made figures of birds and sparrows, which flew when He told them to fly, and stood still when He told them to stand, and ate and drank when He handed them food and drink. After the boys had gone away and told this to their parents, their fathers said to them: My sons, take care not to keep company with him again, for he is a wizard: flee from him, therefore, and avoid him, and do not play with him again after this.
Notice in particular how this passage ends. Jesus is accused of being a “wizard”. The Qur’an states that “the disbelievers among them said, ”This is a clear magic.”" It seems probable that this source is where the author of the Qur’an is drawing from on this point.
We go on:
- Surah Ash-Shura 13-14: “He has ordained for you people the same religion as He has enjoined upon Nuh, and that which We have revealed to you (O prophet) and that which We had enjoined upon Ibrahim and Musa and Isa by saying, “Establish the religion, and be not divided therein.” Arduous for the mushriks (polytheists) is that to which you are inviting them. Allah chooses (and pulls) toward Himself anyone He wills, and guides to Himself anyone who turns to Him (to seek guidance). And they were not divided, in jealousy with each other, but after the knowledge had come to them. Had it not been for a word that had come forth earlier from your Lord (and was effective) until a specified time, the matter would have been decided between them. And those who were made to inherit the Book after them are in confounding doubt about it.”
Who are “those who were made to inherit the Book after them”? Isn’t this referring to those who inherited the books of Abraham and Moses and Jesus (the three prophets listed in the above text)?
- Surah As-Saff 14: “O you who believe, be supporters of (the religion of) Allah, just as Isa, son of Maryam, said to the Disciples, “Who are my supporters towards Allah?” The Disciples said, “We are the supporters of (the religion of) Allah.” So a group from the children of Isra’il believed, and another group disbelieved. Then we supported those who believed against their enemy, and they became victors.”
This text implies that a group from among the Jews believed the Islamic teachings of Jesus. Why, then, did they leave no trace in history? The final sentence (“Then we supported those who believed against their enemy, and they became victors”) is typically interpreted by commentators as being in reference to Christianity becoming the religion of the Roman empire in the fourth century A.D. If this is the case, why does the Christian religion that gained victory over the Roman empire look so different from Islam? The Christianity that became the dominant religion in the Roman empire maintained the deity of Christ and his death by crucifixion, two propositions expressly denied by the Qur’an.
Can Anyone Change Allah’s Words?
The Qur’an states plainly on several occasions that no one can alter or change the words of Allah and that Allah preserves and protects His words. Here’s what the Qur’an says:
- Surah Al-Anaam 34: “Indeed, many messengers have been rejected before you [i.e. Muhammad], but they stood patient against their rejection, and they were persecuted until Our help came to them. No one can change the words of Allah, and of course, some accounts of the Messengers have already come to you.”
- Surah Al-Anaam 115: “The Word of Your Lord is perfect in truth and justice. None is there to change His words, and He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.”
- Surah Al-Hijr 9: “We, Ourselves, have sent down the Dhikr (the Qur’an), and We are there to protect it.
- Surah Al-Kahf 27: “And recite what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord.There is no one to change His words, and you will never find a refuge beside Him.”
Muslims are frequently telling us about the miraculous textual preservation of the Qur’an. As an aside, the notion that the text of the Qur’an as we possess it today perfectly resembles the Qur’an of the seventh century is demonstrably untrue — but that’s a subject for another day. My question for Muslims is thus: If Allah was able to perfectly preserve the text of the Qur’an, why wasn’t he able to do the same with the Bible? Do the above verses not apply equally to the previous revelations of Allah?
What Does The Historical Record Say About Biblical Textual Preservation?
As far as ancient texts go, the New Testament is the best attested of antiquity, based on the sheer volume of manuscripts (between 5 and 6 thousand Greek manuscripts) and the earliness of those manuscripts. Moreover, the earliest manuscripts we have demonstrate the existence not of a single line of corrupt transmission, but multiple lines of transmission with varying levels of accuracy. Multiple lines of transmission defy the possibility of being under the control of any central editing process. The burden of proof lies with the skeptic who asserts corruption of the primitive New Testament texts since the extant manuscripts show multiple lines of independent transmission. In any case, even if no New Testament manuscripts were preserved, we would still be able to construct the vast majority of the New Testament from quotations by early church fathers.
To conclude, the argument developed above represents a formidable challenge to the Islamic religion, and I challenge any Muslim to show me where I have erred. In order to maintain his Islamic faith, a Muslim must reject one or more of the Premises of the syllogism given at the start of this article. If he cannot do so, the conclusion follows necessarily and inescapably.