Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Christian - Muslim Dialogue, part 5

This is part 5 of my critique of a "Christian - Muslim Dialogue by H.M. Baagil:

On page 11 the Muslim says, “History has shown that the Bible suffered changes throughout the ages. The Revised Standard Version 1952 and 1971, The New American Standard Bible, the new World Translation…”

This evidences a lack of understanding of Bible transmission/translation. In our library, for example, we have several translations of the Qur’an. I could compare each of these translations, note all their differences, and argue that the Qur’an has been changed.

This is absurd, of course, but that is basically what the Muslim is doing when he points out the different English Bible translations. Even Muslims will agree that differences in translation does not mean the original text has been changed.

There are at several issues involved in Bible translation (or in translating any language, for that matter). One involves the translation of one language (Hebrew or Greek) into another language, e.g. English, Arabic, Spanish, etc. One reason for numerous English translations is because the English language changes over the years. For example, “gay” in 1610 when the KJV was translated, meant something entirely different than it does today. Translations need to be updated to reflect current English usage.

Another reason for numerous translations has to do with the philosophy of translating. Some translators insist on reflecting the original language as literally as possible (e.g. NAS). Literal translations are generally the most accurate, but are sometimes difficult to read.

Some translators, on the other hand, use a more paraphrased approach which makes the translation more “readable” but accuracy and precision is often lost. These philosophies of translation affect the Qur’an just as much as they do the Bible so for the Muslim to say that the Bible has “changed” because of the different translations is disingenuous.

Another reason for different translations is that more ancient texts of the Bible are sometimes discovered. Since we do not have the actual manuscripts of the biblical books (just like Muslims do not have the original manuscripts of the Qur’an) we compare ancient manuscripts to get as close to the original as possible (and with over 5,000 handwritten Greek manuscripts to compare—we can get very, very close. Some have estimated about 98-99%).

Of course, Christians have a difficulty that Muslims don’t have. We have over 5,000 manuscripts to compare. Muslim Qur’ans ultimately all go back to the Muslim ruler, Uthman—because he destroyed all the other versions of the Qur’an and established his own official version!

Imagine that the original Constitution of the United States was lost and now all we have are copies. Even if the copies were all handwritten, we have so many copies that we could reconstruct the Constitution with remarkable accuracy. This analogy is vastly oversimplified but that is kind of how it works with the Christian Bible.

Now imagine that the original Constitution of the United States was lost and that one of our early Presidents made his own copy and then ordered all the other copies to be rounded up and destroyed! In other words, imagine that all we have are copies of the Constitution created by this one President who may have had his own agendas to promote. That is the situation with the Qur’an.

Part six tomorrow.