Thoughts and Truth from the Impossible Life

WHAT DOES THE QUR’AN SAY ABOUT THE JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES

On many occasions I have heard Muslims attack the Bible. Some seem keen to slander it anyway they can. But what does the Qur’an say about it? This article examines what the whole Qur’an says about the Jewish and Christian scriptures. The Qur’an used is according to Imam Hafs and translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (AYA) or Mohammed Pickthall (MP).

Christianity, Judaism and Islam

The Qur’an teaches that Islam is the continued faithful religion in the same line as the Prophets who were before Muhammad: The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah … and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (42:13 AYA). The result of this view is that the scriptures given by these Prophets are considered to be genuine scriptures from God: But say, “We (Muslims) believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you (Jews & Christians); our Allah and your Allah is One” (29:46 AYA).

In the Qur’an there are many references to the Jewish and Christian Holy Books. In fact the Qur’an addresses Christians and Jews in terms of the Book: O People of the Book! (5:68 AYA).

God’s Mission For The People of the Book

Christians and Jews are mentioned in the Qur’an as the custodians of scripture: For to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s Book (5:47 AYA/44 MP). God gave the scripture to the Christians and Jews so that they could make known to the whole world and every nation the true knowledge of God: And remember Allah took a Covenant from the People of the Book, to make it known and clear to mankind, and not to hide it (3:187 AYA). Some of the Jews and Christians fulfilled this mission, others did not. Just as there are faithful and unfaithful Muslims so too the Qur’an distinguishes between the faithful and the unfaithful Christians and Jews.

The Unfaithful The Qur’an describes the behaviour of unfaithful Christians and Jews as:

1/ Concealing the truth of the scripture: Who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah?’ (2:140 AYA).

2/ Teaching falsely and forgetting what they had heard from their scripture:

There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (As they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, “That is from Allah,” but it is not from Allah (3:78 AYA).

They change words from their context and forget a part of that whereof they were admonished (5:13 MP/14 AYA).

3/ Wanting profit from the scriptures:

And remember Allah took a Covenant from the People of the Book, to make it known and clear to mankind, and not to hide it; but they threw it away behind their backs, and purchased with it some miserable gain! And vile was the bargain they made! (3:187 AYA)
4/ Some of the Jews who were transgressors and did not know the Book wrote false scripture:

But the transgressors changed the word from that which had been given them (2:59 AYA).

Among them are unlettered folk who know the Scripture not except from hearsay. They but guess. Therefore woe be unto them who write the Scripture with their hands and then say, “This is from Allah,” that they may purchase a small gain therewith (2:78-79 MP).

The Faithful The Qur’an teaches that there are faithful Christians and Jews:

Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (for the right); they rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for Allah knoweth well those that do right (3:113-115 AYA).

Nearest among them in love to the Believers wilt thou find those who say, “We are Christians”: Because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant (5:85 AYA/82 MP).

According to the Qur’an, the faithful Christians and Jews did not do what the unfaithful did; they obeyed their scriptures and worshipped God. But what about the their scriptures? Does the Qur’an consider the scripture of the Jews and Christians to have been corrupted by the actions of the Unfaithful? Or has it been preserved by the Faithful? Does the Qur’an consider that only part of their scripture now contains truth? To answer these questions we need to consider what the Qur’an says of the Jewish and Christian scripture.

The Qur’anic View of the Jewish and Christian Scripture

1/ The Qur’an teaches that all scripture should be respected in the same way:

O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His Apostle, and the scripture which He hath sent to His Apostle and the scripture which He sent to those before (him). Any who denieth Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Apostles, and the Day of Judgement, hath gone far, far astray (4:136 AYA).

We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them (3:84 AYA).

2/ The Torah that was given to Moses, and the Gospel that was given to Jesus, are the scriptures that the Jews and Christians now possess:

Those who follow the Messenger (Mohammed), the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them (7:157 MP).

And when there cometh unto them (Jews) a Scripture (the Qur’an) from Allah, confirming that in their possession (2:89 MP).

Thus, the Qur’an is not referring to scripture that Jews and Christians use to possess in the past, but now are lost. Rather, the Torah given to Moses, and the Gospel given to Jesus, is the scripture that is with them (the Christians and Jews) and in their possession at the time of Muhammad.

3/ The Qur’an teaches that it confirms and explains more fully the previous scripture:

This Koran is not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and a fuller explanation of the Book (10:37 AYA/38 MP).
Thus, the Qur’an sees itself as the guardian of the message of all scripture: To thee We sent the scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety (5:48 MP/51 AYA).

4/ Does the Qur’an teach that it abrogates the Jewish and Christian scripture? Some may point to 2:106 to say it does.

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar (2:106, AYA)
However, it is unlikely that this verse is referring to the Christian and Jewish scripture, for just five verses after 2:106 the Qur’an asks Christians and Jews to bring your proof (2:111) from their scriptures. This would be an irrelevant and contradictory command if it had just taught that their scripture was abrogated. In fact, just thirty verses after 2:106 the Qur’an says that it makes no distinction between (2:136) itself and any of the former scripture. Al-Bukhari records that 2:106 refers to abrogation within the Qur’an itself:

Narrated Ibn Abbas: Umar said, “Ubai was the best of us in the recitation (of the Qur’an) yet we leave (out) some of what he recites”. Ubai says, “I have taken it from the mouth of Allah’s Apostle and will not leave for anything whatever”. But Allah said: “None of our revelations do we abrogate or cause to be forgotten but We substitute something better or similar” (Qur’an 2:106). (Bukhari: vol. 6, hadith 527, p. 489; book 61)
Sura 16:101 also shows that this abrogation has to do with the content of the Qur’an and not the scripture of the Jews and Christians.

And when We exchange a verse in the place of another verse – and God knows very well what he is sending down – they say (to Muhammad), “Thou art a mere forger!” (16:101, Arberry)
5/A very important section of the Qur’an which deals with the scripture of the Jews and Christians and their relation to the Qur’an is Surah 5:43-49. These verses record how Jews came to Muhummad to ask him for a decision, and it tells the answer he was to give them.

How come they (come) unto thee (Muhammad) for judgment when they have the Torah, wherein Allah hath delivered judgment (for them)? … Lo! We did reveal the Torah, wherein is guidance and a light … And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah – a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off (evil). Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers.

And unto thee (Muslims) have We revealed the Scripture (the Qur’an) with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (5:43-48, MP)

The key sentence from the above is, For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. This verse is teaching that the different religious groups (Jews, Christians and Muslims), have each been given a divine law (Torah, Gospel and Qur’an) and that each group is to make their decisions based upon what they have been given.

Thus the Qur’an encourages Jews to judge by the Torah:

How come they (come) unto thee (Muhammad) for judgment when they have the Torah, wherein Allah hath delivered judgment (for them)? (5:43, MP)
And the Qur’an urges Christians to judge by the Gospel:

Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers. (5:47, MP)
And it encourages Muslims to judge by the Qur’an:

And unto thee (Muslims) have We revealed the Scripture (the Qur’an) with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed. (5:48, MP)
Again, we see that the Qur’an refers to the scriptures of the Christians and Jews as God’s reliable word. Jews and Christians are commanded to consult their scriptures when desiring to know God’s will. The Qur’an therefore considers these scriptures to be reliable. Surah 5:43-48 also shows that the Qur’an is not claiming to abrogate (replace) the Gospel and Torah but is a parallel revelation to them.

6/ Say: “O People of the Book! Ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord” (5:71 AYA/68 MP). How can the Jew or Christian, stand fast by the Law and the Gospel, if the Law and the Gospel have been corrupted or abrogated? Again, the assumption of the Qur’an is that the scriptures that the Christians and Jews have is the reliable word of God.

7/ In the following verse the Books of Moses are referred to as being a reliable source of God’s warning: Nay, is he not acquainted with what is in the books of Moses (53:36 AYA). Thus, there is no excuse for the one who ignores it.

8/ A Muslim is instructed, when arguing with a Jew about clean/halal food, to ask the Jew to bring his proof from the Law of Moses. Say: “Bring ye the Law and study it, if ye be men of truth” (3:93 AYA). How can he bring the Law and study it to determine the truth if it has been corrupted or abrogated? This scripture must be reliable to make such a command. The same assumption is also seen in the following verse: And they say: “None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.” Those are their (vain) desires. Say: “Produce your proof if ye are truthful” (2:111 AYA).

9/ In the following verses we see Jews and Christians are urged to teach the truth of their scriptures and to obey them: Say: “O People of the Scripture! Stress not in your religion other than the truth” (5:77 MP/80 AYA). Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget (to practice it) yourselves, and yet ye study the Scripture? (2:44 AYA). Christians and Jews could not teach and obey their scriptures if their scriptures were corrupted.

10/ The scripture from before the time of Muhammad was to be consulted by either Muhammad or his Arab contemporaries if they were in doubt about the message that had been given to Muhammad: If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee (10:94 AYA/95 MP). Thus this earlier scripture must have been preserved to make such a request.

11/ Here the former scriptures of the Jews and Christians are appealed to to prove that Muhammad is an authentic prophet.

Those who follow the Messenger (Mohammed), the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them (7:157 MP).

They say: “If only he would bring us a miracle from his Lord!” Hath there not come unto them the proof of what is in the former scriptures? (20:133 MP).

And lo, it is in the scriptures from the men of old. Is it not a token for them that the (religious) doctors of the Children of Israel know it? (26:196-197 MP).

How can these scriptures be appealed to, to prove Muhammad is genuine, if they have been corrupted? The Qur’an must view these scriptures as reliable to make such a request.

What are the Jewish and Christian Scriptures?

From the time of Jesus, the Jews and Christians have always shared the same holy book. In Judaism it is called the Tonach or Hebrew Bible, and in Christianity, the Old Testament. In this book are the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms. These are the scriptures of the Jewish Prophets before Jesus. Christians have always honoured and read this scripture that first came to the Jews. This scripture is the first section of the Christian Bible.

There is another book of scripture about which many Jews and Christians do not agree. This book too has been given various names in different cultures. It has been called The Gospel or the New Testament or the New Covenant. Christians accept the Gospel as scripture. This book is the second section of the Bible.

Thus all the scriptures of the Jews and Christians are found in the Bible. There exists today ancient Bibles from the time of Muhammad and hundreds of years before his time. Scholars use these ancient scriptures to show that modern Bibles are genuine.

Some people claim that when the Qur’an refers to the Torah or the Gospel that it is not referring to the books Jews and Christians have today. However the Qur’an does not claim this. When the Qur’an speaks of the Torah and the Gospel it is referring to the books which the Jews and Christians possessed at the time of Muhammad.

Those who follow the Messenger (Mohammed), the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them (7:157 MP).

And when there cometh unto them (Jews) a Scripture (the Qur’an) from Allah, confirming that in their possession (2:89 MP).

Muhammad lived during the 6th/7th century A.D. We have Bibles from before, during and after this time. This archaeological evidence allows us to be sure that the Torah and Gospel mentioned in the Qur’an are the same books that are found in the Bible today.

This fact is also confirmed by Ibn Ishaq who wrote the earliest biography (Sirat) of Muhammad. He clearly indentifies the Gospel mentioned in the Qur’an as what Christians call the New Testament.

Among the things which have reached me about what Jesus the Son of Mary stated in the Gospel which he received from God for the followers of the Gospel, in applying a term to describe the apostle of God, is the following. It is extracted from what John the Apostle set down for them when he wrote the Gospel for them from the Testament of Jesus Son of Mary (Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasulallah”, translated as “The Life of Muhammad”, by A. Guillaume, Karachi: Oxford, 1998, pp. 103-104, bold added.)
Here we see Ibn Ishaq refer to the Apostle John and the Gospel that he wrote. This is simply what Christians call the Gospel according to John and it is part of the New Testment.

Conclusion

The Qur’an maintains that the Bible is the word of God and no distinction is to be made between any of the holy books. Therefore if you are a Muslim you should not attack the Bible – the Qur’an upholds it!

The Bible is taught to be a source of guidance for Jews and Christians who wish to know the will of God, and so the Qur’an encourages Jews and Christians to obey their scripture and never asks them to deny it. The Qur’an says the Bible foretells the coming of Muhammad and it never says that faithful Jews or Christians have corrupted their scripture.

The Qur’an never asks a Christian or Jew to accept it because their own scripture has become corrupt, rather they are asked to accept the Qur’an because the Qur’an claims, 1/ to confirm the teaching of the Bible, 2/ that Muhammad is foretold in the Torah and Gospel, 3/ the Qur’anic teaching makes clear what the Jews and Christians could not understand properly from their own scriptures. If the Qur’an is to be taken seriously then the claims it makes must be examined. If its claims are true then that is good evidence for accepting it as the Word of God. If its claims are false then it fails its own test and should be rejected.

11th Century North African Qur’an in the Briti...

11th Century North African Qur’an in the British Museum

April 10, 2012 - Posted by | Christianity / God, Politics/Government/Freedom, Societal / Cultural Issues, Understanding Islam | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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