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‘The Koran and the Bible – What’s the Difference?’

07/08/2014

‘The Koran and the Bible – What’s the Difference?’

In a recent ‘Nolan Show’ on radio Ulster, a member of the public phoned the programme to declare that he had read the Koran, and that it is ‘exactly the same as the Bible’. Perhaps he is illiterate, or intellectually challenged, or perhaps he is indicating by that remark that in fact he hadn’t actually read a Bible!

For example-

Jesus: “…the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” John 16:2

Muhammad: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” Sura 9:29

There is a huge difference, a literary difference, a chronological difference and a deep theological difference. Let’s consider the Koran and look at it briefly at these differences under three headings:- 

1. Moslem Claims for Koranic Inspiration. The Koran is around half the size of the New Testament and is divided up into Sura (chapters), arranged in order of length. There is also the Hadith, the oral tradition of the times of Muhammad which is not considered to be primary source material and thus not ‘inspired’. The Hadith are used by Moslem scholars and Imams to interpret (and reinterpret) the Koran. They consist of a series of redacted anecdotes, in many volumes, allegedly from Muhammad, his family, wives and followers. Some parts of the Hadith are the ‘words of Allah’ spoken by the prophet, and as such are regarded as inspired by Moslems. Most of the Hadith are secondary to Koran, explaining how and when various verses of the Koran came to Muhammad. Frankly such a book is probably necessary, given that the Koran is almost completely incomprehensible in parts.

The Koran is written in Arabic, – and only the Arabic version is supposed to be ‘inspired’ – English translations are not actually the Koran at all, which is why Moslem boys must learn Arabic, – and only Arabic-proficient scholars are capable, or permitted to comment on or interpret the Koran. That’s why you can’t buy a ‘critical text’ version or a Koran with a concordance. No critical examination of the Koran is permitted. A project in the USA to provide an English text Koran with textual notes has been stalled for nearly a decade, due to threats of violence issued to the scholars involved. Yet the Koran, is in fact, in its third edition. An ancient manuscript has come to light which reveals two later significant changes to the papyrus. Someone has added edited material to the original writings of Muhammad, but you won’t get a Moslem to admit that!

Dr James White notes:

Belief in the perfection of the Qur’an precludes, by definition, interest in the study of its earliest manuscripts, as it is considered impious to entertain even the possibility that its early manuscripts differ in the slightest from the modern version. For Muslim orthodoxy, the Qur’an as it exists in Arabic today is exactly as it came into existence in the decades after Muhammad’s death. This is when Uthman, the third Caliph (A.D. 644–656), produced the “official” version of the Qur’an. The Bible Verses the Koran. http://www.equip.org/PDF/DM822-1.pdf

Moslems believe that the Koran has always existed, as long as Allah has existed, and he is eternal, they say. It was written by Muhammad – but a Moslem will tell you that Muhammad had no part in its composition, he simply wrote what Allah dictated to him (just like Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon from Moroni). It took Allah one night to dictate it to the prophet through the angel Gabriel, and it took the prophet over twenty-two years to write it down.

2. Islamic Hermeneutics. When Christians seek interpretation of a difficult or unclear verse or passage in the Bible, they do so in a very specific way, by comparing Scripture with Scripture and by careful consideration of the textual and historical context. Moslems too have their way of dealing with difficult Koranic texts. It’s called the Doctrine of Abrogation. Basically, if you can go through the Koran and place all the Suras into chronological order, as they were ‘given’ to Muhammad, then the earlier revelations are abrogated by the later revelations. Sura 2:106 specifically teaches this.

Sura 2:106 We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?

So, for example the Koran teaches that the ‘people of the book’ (Christians and Jews) are to seek to live at peace with Moslems. Later texts abrogate that. Consider the following examples:

“There shall be no compulsion in religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in false deities and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” – Sura 2:256

Say, “O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” – Sura 109:1-6

And what will happen to non-Moslems if they don’t pay the inflated tribute tax (jizyah) that Islam demands of them?

“Excepted are those with whom you made a treaty among the infidels and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you; so complete for them their treaty until their term. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous. And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the infidels wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and pay tribute tax, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” – Sura 9:4-5

“It is not for a prophet to have captives [of war] until he inflicts a massacre in the land. Some Muslims desire the commodities of this world, but Allah desires the Hereafter. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” – Sura 8:67

When Muhammad was the leader of a small religious group, seeking acceptance around Mecca the parts of the Koran written by him were quite conciliatory. The later texts, written when he had defeated the other tribes and removed their idols from the Kaaba, were much more belligerent. Islamic scholars believe that Sura 9 (very close to the beginning of the Koran) is actually the last Sura given by Allah to the prophet. Look at some of the verses in this ‘final revelation’ which abrogates all other conflicting verses in the Koran:-

Sura 9:3-5. Proclaim a woeful punishment to the unbelievers, 9:4 except to those idolaters who have honoured their treaties with you in every detail and aided none against you. With these keep faith, until their treaties have run their term. Allah loves the righteous. 9:5 (The so called ‘Verse of the Sword’. – these are the verses used and quoted by Osama bin Ladan to justify his war in the west.) When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. Allah is forgiving and merciful.

Sura 9:14. Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them and satisfy the breasts of a believing people.

Sura 9:29. Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled. (Jizyah is a punitive tax, ordered by the Koran to be imposed upon non-Moslems who live in Moslem countries. )

Sura 9:73. O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination.

Sura 9:123. O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.

These are the ‘final revelations’ and under the law of abrogation, they cancel out any conflicting verses written in earlier times.

3. Islam and the Bible. Moslems will tell you that the Bible as we have it today is corrupted by its transmission. They argue that since there are parts of the Bible that are directly opposed to the teaching of the Koran, then the Bible must be wrong, since the Koran is always right, therefore the Bible must have been corrupted, since it started as a Moslem book and has been changed. It’s an inconsistent position to take, for the Old Testament as we have it is exactly what was available in Muhammad’s day, and the New Testament canon was fully established by the unanimity of the western church by the fourth century, over two hundred years before Muhammad was born, and has remained substantially unchanged from that day to this. The Bible of Muhammad’s day is the Bible of today. There is a chart of Koranic references to the Bible on the website http://www.answering-islam.org.

Now, let’s contrast this with the Bible. The Bible is sixty-six books, written over 1500 years and containing different genres of literature, historical, didactic, poetry, apocalyptic etc. It was written in different generations and regions, and yet there are themes and prophecies and thought processes running all the way through it and tying it into a unified whole. Moslems believe that Allah dictated and Muhammad simply wore down his words, but Christians believe that God inspired the writers. That as Paul, (for example) was writing his own words to (for example) the Ephesian church, to commend them and correct them, God was inspiring his work. James W Scott explains on http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/Inspiration.html

The essential point to be grasped is that when men wrote the Scriptures, their statements did not originate in their own thinking, but were put into their minds by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. They wrote the word of God in the sense that they wrote words that came directly from God. This is what the Westminster Confession means when it says that the original text of the Bible was “immediately inspired by God” (1.8).
Thus, when Paul wrote, for example, “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Rom. 9:2), he was certainly expressing his own feelings, yet his desire to express that sorrow, and the words with which he expressed it, and perhaps also the sorrow itself, were put into his heart by the Holy Spirit.

Christians too confess that their scriptures are infallible, inspired and inerrant in the original but unlike the Moslems they want to see the Bible placed into the hands of every man in his vernacular.

2 Timothy 3:16-17. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
2 Peter 1:20-21 …knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

You will often find in your Bible, especially in the more recent translations, some critical notes, telling you that this verse or that is not in some ancient manuscript. It is critical examination like this that reassures us that the Bible is utterly reliable in its transmission. Dr james White (What every Christian needs to know about the Qur’an) helps us to put this in perspective:

Christians also believe the original manuscripts of the Bible were inspired, but they do not claim inspiration for subsequent copies. They see God’s providential protection of the biblical text in the wealth and consistency of the manuscripts produced over the early centuries of the faith rather than in any single manuscript or “inspired version.”
This confidence in God’s protection of the text over time has led to a willingness among Christian scholars to engage in detailed examination of the earliest manuscripts of the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. Christian scholarship thus looks forward to more findings of ancient biblical manuscripts while remaining increasingly confident in the accuracy of the Bible text.

But isn’t there violence in the Bible, ordered by the Judaeo-Christian God and carried out by his followers? Secularists and humanists often argue that all religion is wrong, for all religions have inflicted death and injury on mankind. They will point, for example to the book of Joshua, where Joshua captured the land of Israel, by driving out the people of the land, and by utterly defeating them in bloody military conflicts. They will cite incidents like the destruction of the Amalakites, in 1 Samuel 13:3, where Samuel gives this command to Saul, Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. Secularists will use this passage to try to demonstrate that the Bible is just as bloodthirsty as the Koran. Christians need not fear these accusations, for they are borne out of total ignorance of Biblical hermeneutics. Note:

  1. These passages are set in an historical context. Unlike the Koran, the Bible is a historical book, written over many centuries, and the books that are in it are rooted in their historical milieu. The Amalakites, for example, were one of the most bloodthirsty and wicked nations on earth. Their destruction was essential for the survival of others. The Koran’s commands to Moslems to fight against non-Moslems are not set in any historical setting, they are for all time, and for every Moslem.
  2. These Bible passages are descriptive, not prescriptive. Because these passages are historical the instructions given to Joshua or Saul to wage war on unbelievers is given only in the context of Joshua’s invasion, or the Amalakite threat. They are not general instructions given to Christians. In fact Christians are taught to love their enemies and to pray for those who despitefully use them. The passages are describing what happened, not ordering what must happen. The warlike passages in the Koran are clearly prescriptive, clearly an unambiguous call to wage war on unbelievers without any reference to mitigating circumstances.

(Some moderate Moslems may argue that the imprecations of Sura 9 are given in the context of self defence, – that Moslems should only fight when they are persecuted. But there is a doctrine that encourages Moslems to stir up aggravation in host nations, so that they can claim persecution and then respond in violence. So Moslems will not assimilate into host societies, but will demand that societies accommodate them, for example by incorporating Sharia law into society. When the host community objects to this intrusion on their way of life, the Moslems are then permitted to react in violence, to claim racism and Islamophobia, and they are backed by other Islamic countries.

Sura 8:72-75. 74 But those who have believed and emigrated and fought in the cause of Allah and those who gave shelter and aided – it is they who are the believers, truly. For them is forgiveness and noble provision.)

From → Islam

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