Translation: The Qur'an Versus The Bible
June 4, 2002
A common objection raised against the Bible by many Muslims is that the original biblical texts have been corrupted by the processes of transmission and translation. They therefore contend that the Old and New Testaments of our modern Bibles do not accurately represent the will of God. This explains why Mohammed frequently emphasized the importance of the Arabic language in the delivery of the Qur’an. Muslims contend that the exclusive use of Arabic insured the accuracy and integrity of Qur’anic teaching. Notice how these Qur’anic passages emphasize the significance of the Arabic language:
"Thus have We sent this down - an arabic Qur'an - and explained therein in detail some of the warnings, in order that they may fear Allah, or that it may cause their remembrance (of Him)" (20:113).
"We have put forth for men, in this Qur'an every kind of Parable, in order that they may receive admonition.
"(It is) a Qur'an in Arabic, without any crookedness (therein): in order that they may guard against Evil" (39:27-28).
"A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail;- a Qur'an in Arabic, for people who understand" (41:3)
"We have made it a Qur'an in Arabic, that ye may be able to understand (and learn wisdom)" (43:3).
Mohammed taught that the Qur’an’s ability to "explain in detail," to "explain without any crookedness," and its overall "understandability" and usefulness are all attributed to its being delivered in the Arabic language. There are several problems with this defense.
1) In spite of the above passages emphasizing an "Arabic Qur’an," the Qur’an has been translated into dozens of different human languages. If the Arabic language was as important as Mohammed thought it was, for the purpose of maintaining scriptural integrity, then why have Muslim scholars and translators translated the Qur’an into so many different languages? Wouldn’t this constitute a violation of Mohammed’s will? At the very least, it is contradictory for Muslims to argue that the Bible is inferior to the Qur’an as a result of translation. If one argues that the procedure of translation necessarily corrupted the Bible, then he must also argue that the same procedure corrupted the Qur’an! Thus, if what Muslims allege is correct, by their own argument, the Qur’an is just as corrupt as the Bible! It is hypocritical for Muslims to argue that translation processes corrupted only the Bible, and had no corrupting influences on the Qur’an.
2) The Muslim argument limits God’s ability to communicate His will multilingually. The Muslim argument turns human languages into barriers too resistant for divine providence to overcome. Muslims may argue that "Allah’s" will can only be kept pure through the use of the Arabic language, however, the God of the Bible has never had any difficulty relating His will in different languages. The God of Islam is limited by human language. The God of the Bible controls human languages. After all, it was God’s personal intervention that resulted in the formation of multiple languages. Before Babel all men were "of one language and of one speech" (Gen. 11:1). God reasoned that it was better for men to be divided and scattered than to go into collective apostasy. Thus, He "confounded their language so that they would not be able to understand one another’s speech" (Gen. 11:7). Divided language was only an obstacle to man: It caused no difficulty for God. He continued to effectively communicate His will in every language known to man. This is especially demonstrated on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2. The very first gospel sermon was preached in dozens of different languages (Acts 2:6-11). Interestingly, some in attendance were "Arabs." However, let us note that Arabic was only one of the languages spoken by the Apostles on that great day! The God of the Bible can communicate His will as easily in Greek as He can in Arabic.
That human languages present no hindrance to God’s ability to communicate and preserve His will is seen from the use of the spiritual gift called tongue speaking (1 Cor. 12:10). This gift equipped a person with the ability to miraculously speak in a language that he had never before learned, and did not know (Acts 2:4,6,8). Whether the divinely given message was spoken or written, it constituted "the word of God" (2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Thess. 2:13). God has seen to it that His will has been effectively translated into hundreds of different languages. Yes, there are problems with some translations, but usually these errors are isolated, and usually comparative translation and evaluation easily resolve these discrepancies.
3) Muslims use the "Abrogation" Loophole. On this point alone, the Bible far outshines the Qur’an when comparing scriptural integrity. The doctrine of "abrogation" has opened the door for dozens of Qur’anic passages to be "abrogated" in favor of later revelations. The argument is built upon Surah 2:106, which says, "None of our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar--Knowest thou not that Allah hath power over all things?" This verse in the Qur’an provides a loophole for all kinds of discrepancies, contradictions, and inconsistencies, and it is effectively used by Muslims to explain many of them away.
In the "Dictionary of Islam, page 520, Jalalu'd-Din, says that the number of abrogated verses has been variously estimated to range from 5 to 500. He furnished a list of 20 verses, which are acknowledged by all commentators to be abrogated. For example, the "fight and slay" passages like Surah 9:5 and 47:4 are said to have canceled out no less than 124 verses! Contrast this with the Bible. Jesus plainly affirmed that "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Jesus affirmed that no contradictions exist, nor are they allowed in the Bible. Yet, Muslim scholars claim that the Bible is the corrupt book, while the Qur’an remains perfectly "pure!"
4) The Septuagint.Christ’s use of the Septuagint presents a real problem for the Muslim argument. Dozens of New Testament passages are quotes, not from the Masoretic (Hebrew) Texts, but from the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint was translated in Alexandria, Egypt in about 250 BC. Many New Testament writers used the Septuagint for their quotes, but for the sake of space, and because the Qur’an orders Muslims to accept the writings of Jesus, I will limit my references to His teaching. Since the Muslims argue that translation has corrupted God’s word, they implicate Jesus as one who knowingly directed His hearers to a "corrupt" translation of God’s word! Let us notice some examples:
In Matthew 13.14-15, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10, saying, "For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed." This quote was taken from the Septuagint version of that passage.
In Matthew 15:9, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13, saying, "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." This quote is from the Septuagint.
In Matthew 21:16 Jesus said, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise." This quote was taken from the Septuagint version of Psalm 8:2.
Luke 4:18-19 is quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2, also of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.
Muslims contend that the Bible has been corrupted through translation. Jesus recognized the Greek translation of the Old Testament as being accurate to the degree that it translated canonical materials.
From my studies and investigations, Muslims should be far more concerned about where they got their Bible, than they are about whether or not it has ever been translated. Muslims should be more concerned about textual transmission than they are about translation. God, Himself, has recognized the ability of honest men to accurately translate information that He has given. He may even providentially interfere in the safe preservation of His words (Matt. 24:25; 1 Peter 1:24-25). If Muslims wish to compare the Qur’an to the Bible, we are happy to accommodate them. In another article I will focus upon the real problem. The really important question has to do with the textual transmission of the Qur’an, as opposed to the Bible.