Monday, July 13, 2009

A Christian - Muslim Dialogue, part 4

This is part four of my critique of a "Christian - Muslim Dialogue by H.M. Baagil:

On page 11 the Muslim quotes Luke 1:2-3 and asks, “If Luke said that he himself was not an eyewitness and the knowledge he gathered was from eyewitnesses and not as words inspired to him by God, do you still believe the Bible is God’s word?” The imaginary Christian implausibly responds, “Maybe only this part is not God’s word.”

The whole dialogue here demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the difference between Christian and Muslim views of inspiration. Muslims believe that the Qur’an was verbally dictated by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad. Christians do not have the same view of inspiration.

Christian theologians believe that the Holy Spirit guided the authors of Scripture (using their own vocabularies, backgrounds, etc.) so that what they wrote was accurate regardless of whether they got it directly from God (as in direct revelation given to Moses, for example), or whether it was a record of historical events (as for example, when Moses was instructed to write down all the places the children of Israel stopped in the wilderness), or the recording of eyewitness accounts (for example, Luke 1:1-4).

On page 11 the Muslim then asks the Christian if “holy” (as in Holy Bible) means free from error and the imaginary Christian says yes.

The fact is that the word “holy” means “set apart.” It does not mean, "free from error." Some Christian theologians think that inspiration guarantees the truthfulness and general reliability of the Bible. Other Christian theologians think inspiration guarantees that the Bible is entirely without error. Either way, the word, “holy” does not mean “without error.”

The Muslim then provides a list of supposed errors in the Bible. Some of these supposed errors are matters of textual variations in manuscript copies (Christians do not believe that copies of the Bible are without error).

Other alleged errors are differences in translating names from Hebrew into English. But this is like saying the Qur’an is in error because one version uses the word Qur’an while another version uses the word Koran.

Other alleged errors are deliberate misinterpretations. For example, Baagil points out that Genesis 6-7 says that Noah was supposed to take the animals in the ark two-by-two and seven-by-seven. He asks, which is it, “Two or seven? Both in the same Genesis.”

In fact, Baagil even quotes from Genesis 7:2-3: “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the mail and his female…of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and his female.”

But note carefully what Baagil deliberately leaves out. Read the entire quote: “

“Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the mail and his female and a pair of animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and his female.”

Genesis makes it very clear that Noah was to take ceremonially "unclean" animals by twos, and ceremonially "clean" animals by pairs of seven. This was undoubtedly because unclean animals could not be used as sacrifices, but if you only took a pair of clean animals and sacrificed one of them, the species would soon be extinct!

The point is that Baagil deliberately omitted part of the quote in order to make it look like a contradiction. This is dishonest.

Another of the “contradictions” alleged by the Muslim are doctrines of the “Trinity, Divinity of Jesus Christ, Divine Sonship of Jesus, Original Sin and Atonement…”

Muslims may disagree with these Christian doctrines but to say they are, therefore, “contradictions” is factually untrue. Just because Muslims don’t believe these doctrines does not make them contradictions.

For example, just because I don’t believe that Muhammad traveled 700 miles to Jerusalem and returned on the same night doesn’t make it a contradiction.

Christians might argue that a true contradiction is when Muhammad contradicted himself when he taught there was no compulsion in religion, but then ordered the execution of those who turned away from Islam!

The Muslim in Baagil's book also thinks the Bible is in error by “degrading of many Prophets in the Bible as worshipers of false gods and accusing them of incest, rape and adultery.” The Muslim points out that according to the Bible Solomon worshiped false gods (I Kings 11:9-10), Aaron made a golden calf (Exodus 32:4), Lot had incest with his daughters (Gen 19:36), David committed adultery (2 Sam 11:4-5) etc.

Apparently, the Muslim wants to believe that the prophets and heroes of the Bible were all perfect. But this is a very strange argument for a Muslim to make, because there is a hadith in which Muhammad says “By Allah! I ask for Allah’s forgiveness and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day.” It seems strange for a Muslim to argue about the sinlessness of the prophets when their own prophet did not claim such a thing.

The fact is that the Bible records that some of its heroes and prophets had “feet of clay” so to speak. The Bible says “there is none righteous, no not one.” But our God is so great that he can accomplish His purposes even through, and in spite of, sinful man.

The Muslim, however, thinks that he is disproving the inspiration of the Bible by producing his little list of alleged errors. Christians, of course, could play the same games with the Qur’an. The Qur’an, for example contains the “Satanic verses” in which Muhammad thought God told him that three goddesses were legitimate intercessors before Allah. When Muslims pointed out that this contradicted everything Muhammad taught about monotheism, the prophet conveniently gets another revelation about how he was deceived by Satan and that his teaching about the three goddesses was a mistake (How do we know it wasn't the second revelation that was the deception and how do we know that Muhammad didn’t make other mistakes of revelation as well)?

The Qur’an also teaches that the child Jesus made clay pigeons come alive and fly away. This story originally came from a Gnostic document written about 200 years after the time of Jesus--the Infancy Gospel of Thomas--and absolutely no one believes that Jesus really did this—no one except Muslims that is.

The fact is that the Qur’an is simply in error on this story. An entire book could be written on alleged errors in the Qur’an. The web page, provides literally hundreds of contradictions and problems in the Qur’an. For example,

In the Qur’an, Muhammad is described as the first Muslim (Surah 39:12). But according to the Qur’an, Jesus’ disciples were Muslims before Muhammad (Surah 3:52). And long before Jesus' disciples were born, Abraham was called a Muslim in the Qur’an (Surah 3:67). How can Muhamamd be the first Muslim when Abraham and Jesus’ disciples were Muslims before him?

According to Surahs 7:155-157 Allah spoke to Moses about “Those who follow the Apostle, The unlettered Prophet” (i.e. Muhammad) “Whom they find mentioned in their own Scriptures—in the Law and Gospel.” But in Moses’ time the Gospel had not yet been written or given, and Muhammad had not yet been born!

Surah's 2:106 and 16:101 say that Allah "substitutes" some of his revelations with better ones (why didn't he give the better ones in the first place)? But Surah 10:64 is pretty clear that "No change can there be in the words of God" (see also Surah 2:106 and 16:101). Excuse the skepticism but substitution sure sounds like change to me.

Surah 2:62 (cf 5:69) sounds like Christians will go to heaven but 5:72-73, and 3:85 are pretty clear that Christians will go to hell.

According to Surah 7:54; 10:3; 11:7 and 25:59 God created the universe in six days. But the actual number of creation days listed in Surah 41:9-12 add up to eight days.

Informed Christians readily admit that we do not have the original manuscripts of biblical books. We have copies of copies and by comparing copies we can come up with a very close reconstruction of the original. Many of the alleged contradictions in the Bible have to do with differences in copies and no informed Christian thinks the copies are without error.

Muslims and Christians also have different views of inspiration. Christians believe inspiration is the work of the Holy Spirit guiding the authors of Scripture so that what was originally written was accurate. Some Christians believe the Holy Spirit guided the authors so that what was written was 100% accurate. Other Christians believe the Holy Spirit guided the authors so that the main story and important doctrinal matters are accurate, even if there are minor errors due to human frailty.

Apparent errors or alleged contradictions, therefore, do not constitute a major problem to the foundation of Christianity which is based not in inerrancy, but on the general reliability of the Bible which is something that has been demonstrated over and over again.

For Muslims, however, the Arabic Qur’an is exactly—word for word-- as it was given to Muhammad from God. Because of the difference in the way Christians and Muslims view inspiration, alleged errors in the Bible may affect some minor teachings, but alleged errors in the Qur’an call the foundation of entire religion into question.

For example, as a Christian, if I came to believe that the Bible had genuine errors in it, this would change my doctrine of “inerrancy” but my confidence in the fundamental reliability of the Bible and its message would not be affected (just like finding some errors in a CNN report doesn’t mean they fabricated the entire report). But for Muslims, errors in the Qur’an mean that God himself—or Muhammad—was in error and the foundation of the entire religion begins to crumble because they believe the Arabic Qur’an was dictated word for word from God himself (through Gabriel).

Part five tomorrow.