…more bothered with seeking excuses not to take the Bible seriously, than finding reasons for their [our] own faith.
In light of this “excuse” by the missionaries to avoid the gory details of the mass of contradictions within the Bible, we find it neccessary to hence outline our methodology for determining the various difficulties inherent in the Bible text, insha’allah. We also aim to educate the Muslims about the criteria that the Bible sets for itself in order for it to be considered an “inspired” text from God, and hence the seriousness of the various Bible difficulties found are not to be taken lightly.
Judging The Authenticity of the Bible Literature
In judging the authenticity of the Bible, the criteria should be on scientific grounds — grounds which are helpful in defining the authenticity of any other old document. A document is first examined internally and then externally.
Internal evidence is the study of the text itself while the external evidence is the study of the historical process through which the text was transmitted to us. Internal evidence deals with the content of the text, and if there are any errors, it should be determined whether they are internal contradictions or external errors. If the text suffers from errors and inconsistencies of either the former or the latter, then it is clear that such text is contrary to what it is claiming. For an example of an internal contradiction, if a fragment in a passage talks about “a red chicken” in a context but then a few paragraphs later talks about “a blue chicken” in the same context, that is certainly a contradiction.
An example of an external error would be if supposing that same fragment purporting to be Shakespearean in origin talks about King James traveling in the Space Shuttle Columbia and using Pentium Computers, we would be obliged to reject it right there as a Shakespearean writing and would not waste time in examining it any further, since it is in contradiction with historical evidences, i.e. that there were certainly no such thing as space shuttles or computers in existance during Shakespeare’s era.
Based on the above methodology that we have outlined, we will look at a list of the many difficulties within the text of the Bible, whereby the reader is encouraged to read in order to verify it for themselves.
Bible Criteria For Determining “Divine Inspiration”
The Christian missionaries, as is their nature of making excuses, seek to trivialise the importance of these Biblical difficulties. They appear to have completely given up on refuting the proof of distortion and have now resorted to “spiritualizing” the Bible and adamantly refuse to believe that anyone has changed the “word of God” or that the Bible contain any conflicts whatsoever, no matter how much the evidence is presented. They are willing to either:
- Explain it away using abstraction to explain the “true” meanings of the verses presented, or
- Explain it based upon assumptions of their own not contained within the Bible, or
- Explain it away by attributing it to “scribal error” (the most common explanation), but a few lines later they say that as long as the contradictions does not affect doctrine, it is OK for the Bible to have mistakes, or
- Claim that these matters are all insignificant and that the words remain the inspiration of God even if we do not know who the “inspired” authors were and their narrations contradict one another.
The problem in many cases is that it is human nature when given a choice between two matters, to take the simpler of the two, sometimes even against one’s better judgment. For example, let us look at an answer given for the numerical discrepancies in the Bible by a Christian:
Linguistically, none of these verses contradict. One can have 40,000 stalls for horses and still have 4,000. If the verse said ONLY 4,000, then it would be a contradiction. Likewise, if you have three cars and you say “I have a car,” it does not mean you don?t have three, but you do have one.
So, using his standard of “explaining”, can I say that when I have three daughters and instead I say “I have a daughter”, does it mean that, linguistically, that it does not mean “I don’t have three daughters, but I do have one daughter”?
We are amazed at such an “abstract” explanation being used to brush away the difficulties in the Bible. For such people who have been very well-indoctrinated, the answer is very simple – all of the changes to the text are all “trivial” and “inconsequential”. For them, errors evident in the “inspired word of God” is very acceptable, and is just a matter of the “spirit” of the book. For them, some of the words of God are not really that important and can be disregarded. But to understand the criteria for “divinely inspired” writings, we would have to look at the nature of God as outlined in the Bible itself.
Firstly, we are told in the Bible that God does not lie or change His mind after He has made a promise:
“God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent. Has He said He will do something and will not do it? Has he promised something and not fulfilled it?” (Numbers 23:19)
We are also told that God is not the author of confusion:
“…because God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)
We note that Jesus himself is reported to have said that
“But he [Jesus] answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)
In other words, if the Bible contains various irreconcilable difficults, it would be contrary to the nature of God as highlighted above, and hence the Bible is certainly not the “divinely inspired” Word of God as believed by Christians. Hence, to charge us with that the difficulties in the Bible are merely “…excuses not to take the Bible seriously” is no doubt an attempt to trivialise and make a mockery of the nature of God, as outlined in the Bible itself. Dr G.C Van Niftrik and Ds B.Y Boland themselves admit that
Kita tidak usah malu bahwa terdapat berbagai kesalahan dalam Alkitab, kesalahan dalam angka-angka, perhitungan, tahun dan fakta-fakta. Dan tak perlu kita pertanggungjawabkan kesalahan-kesalahan itu berdasarkan caranya isi Alkitab telah disampaikan kepada kita, sehingga dapat kita berkata dalam naskah asli tentulah tidak terdapat kesalahan-kesalahan, tetapi kesalahan-kesalahan itu barulah kemudian terjadi didalam salinan-salainan naskah itu.
Translation: We should not be ashamed of the various errors in the Bible, the contradictions in numbers, calculations, years and facts. And we should not hold the transmission of the Bible text as responsible for the cause of these errors, for we say that in the original texts, there would not be any errors, but the errors only occur in the copies of that original text.1
The point here is that there are certainly grounds for the Muslim position that the text of the Bible has been tampered with by human hands, and thus the errors of the text of the Bible in our hands today are the result of this human tamperation. Muslims indeed hold that the Taurat, Zabur and Injeel are from God but do not accept that the various books added to these books and form the bulk of the Bible in our hands today as wholly “inspired” from God. This is no doubt consistent with modern scholarship findings that say that the Bible is a “living text”2 and were “not even free from factual error(s)”3.
At the end of the day, belief in something does not make it so. For many centuries, scholars believed that the earth was flat. On later examination, it was discovered to be round – not flat. Those scholars did not change their minds simply because facts and truth proved them wrong, they continued to believe what they had always believed, because they were unable to face the fact that their belief had been disproved. Thus, we do not expect to have the slightest effect on any bigoted Christian missionary who really think that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Instead, our exposition on the matter is to educate Muslims who are the target of judgements, criticisms and accusations by the Christian missionaries and also for those who are honest enough to seek the truth.
And only God knows best!
- Dr G.C Van Niftrik & Ds B.Y Boland, Dogmatika Masa Kini. The translation into English was done by the author. [⤺]
- Aland & Aland, The Text Of The New Testament, p. 69 [⤺]
- See M. F. Wiles, Chapter 14 : Origen As Biblical Scholar in P. R. Ackroyd & C. F. Evans (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to Jerome, Volume 1 (Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 463 [⤺]