[Editor’s note: This question is coming from a believer who lives in the Middle East and is clearly receiving a lot of attacking questions from his Muslim friends.  They are using rhetoric, false dilemmas and other logical fallacies to try to prove that the Bible is corrupt.  This will explain why I get a bit more “heated” in response than usual.]


The bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus, was the first man (whose writings are available now) to say that there are four gospels.  If we say that the writings of Irenaeus is interpolated , as you say, someone may claim that Irenaeus mayn’t have said that there are four gospels.  In addition, weeks ago, I really read from someone who said that Irenaeus may have been fabricated by Eusebius. How can we answer him?  I hope you will search about that and tell me what you will find out

Concerning Ignatius, there is a problem.  There are three texts of his epistles. I’m not talking about the fake epistles, but I’m talking about his well known seven epistles. They have a short text, a long text, and three of his epistles have a Syriaic text. Which is the right text??


This claim that Irenaeus was the first to say that there are four gospels is NOT TRUE.   Justin referred to the four gospels in the 150’s AD, calling them the “memoirs of the apostles” and then quoting from all four.  Besides, all four gospels were quoted several times from extant writings long before Irenaeus, including Justin.  You are dealing with aggressive Muslim apologists and you need to not be cowed by their rhetoric-filled closed-minded attacks.    They are committing the logical fallacy of “either/or”, also known as false dilemma.   Either you give me $1000 or you hate me.  This is ridiculous.  I can love you and still not give you $1000.

Your Muslim friend is challenging you. “Either you can show me people who literally say that there were four gospels by, let us say AD 120 or there were not four gospels.”   This is rhetoric and is not a reasonable argument.  Who said that you have to have a quote saying this in order for it to be true!!  Do not be cowed by such logical fallacies.  Do not be lured into such silly arguments with people who are using rhetoric rather than reasonable discussion.  Do not waste your time trying to convince people who stick to these kinds of arguments.

The question is whether there were, in fact, four gospels and only four gospels in place by AD 120.  The answer is an absolute slam dunk yes!!!  We have several who quoted from these books by the end of the first century or very early second century (for example, the Letter of Clement of Rome, about AD 95, quotes from Matthew, Mark Luke,  Didache, late first century, quotes Matt 6:5 and 6:9-13 and alludes to Matthew dozens of times, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, died about AD 107, quotes from Matthew, Luke and John, Polycarp writing to the Philippians in AD 120 quotes from Matthew, Mark and Luke)  We have manuscripts of all four gospels from the second century.  Even the harshest critics of the Bible accept that the four gospels were all written and used in the first century.  The only ones who do not are Muslims, but even reasonable Muslims agree with this.   If the Muslim does not accept this evidence, it is not due to lack of evidence, but due to their lack of willingness to look at the evidence, and that is not your problem.   The fact is that all four gospels were accepted as inspired and quoted by multiple authors by this date and that no other supposed other gospels were used or quoted by this time.

Even if Irenaeus had not said that there were four gospels, this would have zero impact on the fact that there were four gospels.  Your opponent is using a false dilemma again here.  He is pretending that the reality of four gospels depends on this one source when this one source is 1/100th of the evidence for four gospels!!!!  (I am exaggerating here a bit.  Please forgive me for getting just a bit overexcited!)  I am sure that there were tens of thousands of people before Irenaeus who said that there were four gospels.  The fact that we do not have a written source from person X in which he said that there are four is not evidence that person X never said that or that there were not four gospels.  Besides, there were people who said there were four before Irenaeus, including Justin Martyr.

Let us turn this around on your Muslim friend.   Were there 114 suras in AD 650?   Do you have any quotes saying that there were 114 suras in AD 650?  If not, then obviously there were not 114 suras in AD 650.   How do you even know that Muhammad even wrote sura 67?  Do you have any quotes from famous imams in the first 300 years that say he wrote sura 67?  No. Then, obviously he did not write sura 67.   You may need to go on the offensive here.  The Muslim says that Jesus was not crucified (because the Qur’an says he was not crucified).  Is the Muslim willing to claim that the entire crucifixion story in all four gospels is an interpolation?  When did this corruption happen?  Is there any doubt that Jesus was in fact crucified?    How do you know that Muhammad went to Medina?   We have at least 12 sources from the first century who say that Jesus was crucified.  Do you have 12 written sources from the 7th century who say Muhammad went to Medina?  Who are these sources?  What are their names?  Are you sure that their writings are not interpolated?  What is the date for your manuscript?  Unless you can give me the names of 12 sources from the 7th century who mention this, and unless you can show me that these writers are not mere interpolations of later centuries, then your claim that Muhammad went to Medina is a pure fiction.

Really?    That Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem is AT LEAST as sure a fact of history as is that Muhammad went to Medina.  Yet, the Qur’an says that he was not crucified!!!   Which are we to believe, the Qur’an, written by a man who never met Jesus and who lived 600 years later or history, as recorded in the first century by the four gospels and many others, including non-Christians?    We have dozens of manuscripts of the New Testament from the first 150 years after it was written.  How many manuscripts of the Qur’an do we have from the first 150 years (very few because Uthman burned most of them)?  Why should I believe that the Qur’an is reliable and the New Testament is not?   You say that the New Testament was corrupted.   Do you have EVIDENCE that the account of the crucifixion was added as a corruption?  What manuscripts do you have to show this corruption?

If your opponents are not willing to discuss whether Muhammad actually went to Medina but they want to claim that Jesus was not crucified, then I would stop the conversation right there and move on to people who actually care about the truth.

About Ignatius.  Sorry, but my answer is that it is not essential you decide which parts are genuine.  It does not matter.   We have plenty of material that ALL scholars agree are from Ignatius.  Throw out all the possibly extra material.  We still have a core of material from this person and in this material he quotes several New Testament books, including three of the four gospels.  We should ask what these texts do say, not what they might say.   They DO say that he was an actual bishop who was actually martyred and that he actually quoted from several New Testament books.   You should only use the Ignatian material that all agree are from Ignatius.  That is good enough.  Again, do not be cowed by these people into a corner.  They are trying to use rhetoric and logical fallacies to undercut the most obvious conclusions from the data.

Irenaeus was NOT fabricated by Eusebius.  This is absolutely ludicrous.  Anyone who says this is arguing from a pre-conceived conclusion and is not even worthy of an argument.  This is an ad hoc hypothesis.  It is a hypothesis generated, not because of any evidence and not even because it is reasonable, but because the opposite conclusion is uncomfortable to the person making this absolutely ridiculous hypothesis.  What possible reason would Eusebius have to invent a person out of nothing when his readers would obviously know that he was writing fiction?  What kind of person does your Muslim friend claim Eusebius was??   You need to be more selective of whom you are willing to listen to.   Saying that Irenaeus was not real is kind of like saying that Socrates was not real.  We have more evidence that Irenaeus was real than we have that Socrates was real.   We have no writing from Socrates.  We only have the word of Plato and other disciples that he was real. Yet, no one claims he was not real.  What conceivable reason would Plato and dozens of others who lived at that time or in the next two generations have for making up a fake philosopher?  Anyone who has the audacity to claim that Irenaeus did not even live is obviously playing games with  you.   Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and others mentioned him.   We have his writings.  If Eusebius made him up, this would be a conspiracy of epic proportions.

Again, I implore you to give reasonable and kind responses to your Muslim friends, but you need to be somewhat aggressive in pointing out how poor their arguments are.  Muslims want to attack the Bible even though Muhammad told then to respect the gospel (called Injil in the Qur’an), yet they refuse to even discuss equivalent questions about their own scripture.  The reason is that in Christianity we have a treasure trove of evidence that our scriptures are inspired and because the Qur’an does not have such evidence, yet it contains claims of fact that cannot possibly be true (such as that Jesus was not crucified) if the Bible is inspired.

John Oakes

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