Question:

I recently received an email response from the Muslim: Khalid Choudhary.  Here is what he said to me:

We do have the original manuscripts of the Quran. Our Prophet’s companions gave those manuscripts a book form. Since we have only one Quran all over the world, that’s enough proof in itself of the original manuscript. Millions have memorized it word by word since the beginning – another proof. Why is it that, unlike the Bible, the Quran has only 1 version?  The Bible – which version is the question? Yusuf Estes has different Bibles in his home – one belonged to him, the other belonged to his mom, and still another belonged to his dad, and they were all different. That’s why while trying to convert a Muslim to Christianity, he converted to Islam himself.  If Bible with so many versions (I don’t believe that God needed to proof-read) is authentic word of God, then the Quran with only one version commands a higher standard. There are textual variants, or copyist errors in our copies of New Testament manuscripts. Obviously you failed to see any of the references I submitted before about the problems of versions of Bible.

What is your response to this claim?

Answer: 

This argument by Muslims is a very weak one indeed, but it is so common.  It is really a shame that most Christians do not know the rather obvious response.   Here are the facts.  There were many different version of the Qu’ran in the early decades.   There is plenty of evidence for this, from quotes of the Qu’ran and from some of the extremely few surviving manuscripts from before the destruction of virtually all manuscripts by the caliph Uthman.  What happened is this.  There were a great number of different versions of the Qu’ran.  The differences were relatively minor, but some had suras not included in others and some were missing some suras found in others.  There were minor other variations because, as we all know, quoting from memory is not an exact science.  So, in about 651 AD Uthman ordered that all versions of the Qu’ran be burned.  He produced a single version which eventually became the accepted text.  We know that different versions of the Qu’ran were in existence because at least two different manuscripts have been found which have survived all attempts to eliminate them.  One is the Sana’a manuscript, and the other is the Samarkand manuscript.The Sana’a manuscript was found in 1972 in the capital of Yemen, Sana’a.  It was made in about AD 650.  This manuscript has many variations from the accepted Uthman text.  Other very ancient Qu’rans also have some minor variants, but the Sana’a manuscript has twenty-five times as many variations as, for example, Mas’ud’s manuscript.  Mas’ud was a companion of Muhammad.  Also, some ayats (verses) are in reversed order from the text of Uthman.  Here is the fact.  The reason that there is only one accepted manuscript of the Qu’ran is not because the current version is perfect.  The evidence does NOT support this conclusion. The reason is that, on pain of death, Uthman and others imposed their version of the Qu’ran on all Muslims.

The situation with the New Testament is quite different.  Unlike in Islam, in the first three centuries there was no central authority imposing their will on the other churches.  In the first few centuries, the church was highly persecuted and communication between churches was strong, but there was no head person to control such things as the copying of manuscripts.  The fact is that we have more than 8000 ancient New Testament manuscripts in Greek, plus many thousands from the first several centuries in Latin, Syriac, Coptic and other languages.  Besides, we have thousands of quotes by early church fathers such as Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and many others who quoted extensively from the New Testament in Greek.  As with the copying of the Qu’ran, the copying of the Greek New Testament was also not perfect.  A number of very minor variants appeared in the text and a very small number of more significant variants appeared as well.  With this massive body of evidence, scholars of the Greek New Testament have a vast array of information which allows them to produce a very accurate (but not perfect) Greek text which is very close to the autographs (the original versions).  With the very small number of larger variants, scholars are able to decide which is the correct original and with nearly all the small variants, scholars are also able to reproduce the original with a high degree of certainty.  I go into a lot of detail on how the Greek New Testament text is arrived at in my book Reasons for Belief, which is available at www.ipibooks.com  There is also an article at this web site on the reliability of the New Testament (http://evidenceforchristianity.org/class-to-be-offered-reliability-of-the-bible/)

Here is the fact.  There were many different versions of the Qu’ran in the first three decades after Muhammad died.  The problem is that because of the decision by Uthman to destroy all other versions and because Muslims refuse to even discuss textual variants, our knowledge of the original Qu’ran is not nearly as reliable as our information about the original Greek New Testament.  Because Christians have preserved ancient manuscripts and have not hidden the evidence for variants, we have plenty of evidence allowing us to have an extremely reliable Greek text.  The irony of what Uthman and others did when they tried to preserve the Quranic text is that they made the current Arabic text of the Qu’ran more in doubt, not less. I believe that all scholars who approach this question fairly will agree with this conclusion.  The only ones who do not are Muslims who I would argue are biased.  It is a dangerous thing in the Muslim world to not toe the line on this issue!  In fact, Muslim scholars have not even been willing to study the Sana’a manuscript, presumably because of fear of retribution.

Statements that Muslims have a perfect Qu’ran is simply NOT TRUE.  It is shown to be untrue, both from the well-known history from the seventh century, and from the tiny amount of manuscripts that escaped Uthman’s attempts to cover up the other versions.  The Muslim claim here is absolutely false, and, in fact, the opposite is the case.  The reliability of the Greek New Testament is certainly greater than that of the Arabic text.

Let me make another point.  The article you quote talks about the different versions of the Bible.  It is true that there are many English versions of the Bible.  Hundreds of scholars have spent tens of thousands of hours putting together many different translations of the New and Old Testaments.  Having many versions gives those who cannot read the original languages a number of different translations which gives us a better sense of the original.  Having many different very good translations makes our knowledge of the Bible much greater.  If we had only one translation, then our knowledge would be less.  The situation with the Qu’ran is much different.  First of all, there are only a few translations into English and they are generally of fairly low quality because Muslims do not encourage the reading of the Qu’ran in English.  What Muslims read is the Qu’ran in a dialect of Arabic from fourteen centuries ago.  It is virtually unreadable and you can assume that when Muslims endlessly recite the Qu’ran, they do not even understand the words they are saying.  It would be like reading the Bible in old English, which no-one understands today except those who devote themselves to understanding the ancient dialect.  The fact is that most Muslims have virtually no exposure to the Qu’ran in a form that they can understand.  There is only one Qu’ran because Uthman imposed his will, but the version of the book is in a form of Arabic that virtually no one understands.  By the way, the worst language to speak in order to understand the Qu’ran is probably Arabic.  There may be only a few translations of the Qu’ran into English and they may not be very good ones, but there is NO translation of the Qu’ran into the modern Arabic that people actually speak.  It would be like only having the King James Version of the Bible, except several times worse, as the King James is English that is four hundred years old, but the Arabic Qu’ran is Arabic that is one thousand four hundred years old.  Here is the untold truth.  Muslims cannot understand the Qu’ran when they read it.

So… The Qu’ran is definitely NOT perfect, as is proved by the evidence.  Even if it were, which it is not, it remains in a dialect that almost no one can understand.  The case with the Bible is very different.  We have thousands of manuscripts of the text in the original languages.  We have hundreds and even thousands of scholars who study the original languages and produce multiple translations which only increase the accuracy of our understanding of the original.  The article you read by this Muslim person is misinformation at best.  The truth is in fact the diametric opposite of what this person implies.

John Oakes

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