Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Christian - Muslim Dialogue, part 7

On page 16 the Muslim writes, “…St. Paul who is described as the true founder of modern Christianity.”

Described by whom as the founder of modern Christianity? Christians believe that Christianity sprang from Jesus and that Paul was basically proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ (See Paul; Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity by David Wenham). Certainly Paul believed that he was proclaiming Jesus.

On page 17 Baagil quotes some Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias as saying that the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible, as if this somehow disproves the doctrine of the Trinity or as if this is going to be a surprise to Christians. Baagil’s argument demonstrates a profound ignorance of Christianity.

Christians are very well aware that the word Trinity is not found in the New Testament. What is found in the New Testament is the teaching that there is ONE God who exists eternally as Father, Son and Spirit. Later theologians chose to call this the doctrine of the Trinity. They could have also called it the Tri-unity or something else. But regardless of what they decided to call it, absence of the word Trinity in the Bible proves absolutely nothing.

Also on page 17 Baagil quotes from critics who attack the Bible. Apparently Baagil is unaware that these critics are generally people who do not believe God ever intervenes in human affairs…not even in supposed “revelations” given to Muhammad. The “sword” Baagil uses to cut up the Bible is the sword the same critics would use to cut up the Qur’an.

Also on Page 17 Baagil quotes a critic as saying, “The speeches in the Fourth Gospel (even apart from the early Messianic claim) are so different from those in the Synoptics, and so like the comments Fourth Evangelist himself, that both can not be equally reliable as records of what Jesus said:”

I know this is what a lot of critics say but it is absurd. It would be like saying that because the Qur’an and the earliest biography of Muhammad are so different in style they cannot possibly be accurate.

On page 17 Baagil quotes another critic as writing, “Literary veracity in ancient times did not forbid, as it does now, the assignment of fictitious speeches to historical characters.”

This is another sword that cuts both ways. If this was true (its not), then we can’t be sure that the sayings attributed to Muhammad in the Qur’an or Hadith were not just made up either.

The fact is that the critics arrive at this conclusion by taking the Greek historian, Thucydides out of context. Thucydides (5th c. BC) wrote, “I have put into the mouth of each speaker the sentiments proper to the occasion.” That’s about as far as some critics ever quote. But Thucydides doesn’t stop there. He continues his sentence by saying, “expressed as I thought he would be likely to express them, while at the same time I endeavored, as nearly as I could, to give the general purport of what was actually said.”

In other words, Thucydides may have summarized speeches to give the gist of what was said, but he tried very hard to give the general idea of what was actually said. He was not just making things up. This is what we see in the Gospels. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, can be read in just a few minutes. It is almost certain that the actual sermon was much longer than that.
What we have is a reliable summary of what Jesus actually said.

Contrary to the assertion by Baagil, “The practice of free invention of speeches was explicitly condemned by Polybius in the second century (Stott, Acts, 71). It was not acceptable to just fabricate speeches out of thin air. Those who made up sayings of Jesus in the second, third and fourth centuries AD were condemned by the church as heretics.

On pages 17-18 regarding the authenticity of the Qur’an, Baagil writes, “Every time he received a revelation, he used to communicate it to his companions and asked them to commit it to memory and to write it down. Thus the whole revelation was written and preserved in the hearts of many followers.”

The same skepticism used by the critics Baagil likes to quote would undoubtedly be used by these same skeptics to challenge the memory of those who recorded Muhammad’s sayings.

How do we know Muhammad’s followers remembered him accurately?

How do we know they didn’t change the sayings to accommodate their own political agendas?

How do we know that scribes who copied their sayings didn’t change the sayings? After all, it is a fact that there were numerous varying editions of the Qur’an before Uthman.

How do we know that Uthman didn’t add, change, edit, modify and delete sayings to fit his own political agendas (and then destroy all those copies that disagreed with him).

The fact is that there were thousands of Hadith (sayings of Muhammad) that even Muslims admit were fabricated over the years. How can we be sure the same thing didn’t happen to the Qur’an?

The thing about skepticism is that it can become a game in which absolutely anything can be questioned and challenged. In the Western world, critics are free to ask these questions and Christians have been made stronger by having to answer them. Some Muslims use these critics in their attempt to attack Christianity, apparently unaware that the same arguments critics use against the Bible, can be also used against the Qur’an.

In some Muslim countries, Muslims do not have the freedom to ask these questions of their own Qur’an and many Muslims, therefore, wrongly assume that the foundation of their Qur’an is strong.

Personally, I don’t think this extreme skepticism is warranted against the Qur’an any more than it is against the Bible. But I think Muslims should be consistent. If they are going to side with the critics against the Bible, they should be honest enough to ask the same questions of, and use the same degree of skepticism on their own Qur’an.