The Qur’an presents itself as the Bible’s sequel and refers to the biblical Torah (al-tawrat), Psalms (al-zabur) and New Testament (al-injil) always with respect and honor. It claims to confirm, clarify and guard these scriptures from misinterpretation. It also implies that they were revealed in the same manner and form as the Qur’an and says they predicted Muhammad’s coming. None of these things point to a corrupted Bible.
In many respects, however, the Bible and Qur’an are profoundly different. The qur’anic concept of revelation excludes any notion of human authorship. Yet the biblical texts typically had human authors, though angelic mediators were sometimes involved. The Qur’an also calls humankind to a far more distant relationship with God than the Bible. Neither does God come to earth in the Qur’an, as he clearly does in the Bible. Nor does the Qur’an give any awareness of God’s atoning work on our behalf or the scandal of God’s grace, both key biblical themes.
The resulting dissonance peaks with the New Testament. For while the Qur’an presents the Christian scripture (al-injil), or New Testament, as a single book received by Jesus, it has only ever been a collection of books written by his followers. The Qur’an also denies Jesus’ divine sonship, while the New Testament presents him as God’s Son, though in a radically different sense from what the Qur’an denies. In addition, the Qur’an says so little of Jesus’ death and resurrection that most Muslims now deny that they happened. Yet those events are central to the New Testament.
These tensions demand resolution. So most Muslim scholars today attack the Bible, theorizing that its texts originally conformed to qur’anic expectations, but have since been falsified. Many consider the New Testament fabricated and claim the qur’anic injil refers to an “original Gospel” no longer extant, which Jesus allegedly received. Due solely to its polemical punch, this falsification theory has been almost universally accepted as fact by Muslims, with many now convinced that it’s indisputable.
Despite its immensely popularity, the falsification theory isn’t true, as can easily be shown. First, a consensus of early Muslim commentators held that the relevant qur’anic texts accuse Jews and Christians of misinterpreting or misquoting their scriptures, not altering the written texts themselves. Corroborating this, several qur’anic passages make sense only if the biblical scriptures were then intact. For example, Q 5:46-48 command Christians to judge by what their scripture says and claims the Qur’an stands as guardian over it. The Qur’an can’t have been claiming to guard a falsified New Testament. Also, Q 3:84 and 4:136 say Muslims must and do believe the biblical scriptures. They don’t caution Muslims to believe only what those scriptures “originally” were.
Second, no scripture-based community tolerates the deliberate alteration of its scriptures. If such a thing had occurred, it would have generated fierce controversy. The total lack of evidence for such a controversy tells us it simply never happened. Long before Muhammad’s time Christianity had spread as far afield as Ireland, Ethiopia and India. This would have made it impossible for Christians to change their scriptures identically and universally, without leaving a trace. So leading Muslim scholars like Ibn Qutayba, Ibn Kathir and Wahb bin Munabih rejected the falsification theory. But the Muslim community ultimately spurned their counsel, due to the theory’s polemical power.
Besides the falsification theory’s lack of positive evidence, a veritable mountain of manuscript evidence directly contradicts it. Given the scope and nature of the changes allegedly made to the Bible, the scale of the forgery would have been massive. But there are literally thousands of early, carbon-dated manuscripts, which clearly demonstrate the authenticity of the scriptures Jews and Christians possessed in Muhammad’s day, as now. There’s no sound evidence for an “original Gospel” given to Jesus. Christian scholars candidly admit that many textual variants exist within this myriad of biblical texts. But nearly all these variants are minor copyist’s errors, typical of all ancient manuscripts—the Qur’an included. And with so many manuscripts to compare, errors are easily spotted.
The Muslim community’s embrace of the falsification theory is tragic. For when a community accepts false answers to critical questions, it robs itself of the healthy search for true answers. By impugning the Bible, the theory also wrongfully disinherits Muslims of a vast wealth of scriptural wisdom. Further, falsely accusing Christians and Jews of promulgating corrupted scriptures shuts down interfaith dialogue and can undermine friendship between us. Still worse, the alleged corruption has repeatedly been used to foster Muslim hostility—including violent aggression—toward Jews and Christians, as it does even today.
The realization that this theory is false will doubtless trouble many Muslims. But even the best of communities makes mistakes—sometimes serious mistakes. Hence, no mere humans deserve our unquestioning loyalty, however captivating or imposing their claims. While escaping error is always hard, it’s much harder when one’s entire community has gone astray. But following the true path is more than worth the challenges involved, however great. And the God of grace has promised to guide all who seek him with an undivided heart.