Saturday, May 22, 2010

Books, Books and More Books

It's been a while since I did this, but since I recently got quite a lot of new books, I thought I'd do a listing of them:

  1. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad - Jesus in India (Islam International Publications Ltd., 2007)
  2. Thomas A. Askew and Richard V. Pierard - The American Church Experience: A Concise History (Baker Academic, 2004)
  3. Michael Haykin - A Cloud of Witnesses: Calvinistic Baptists in the 18th Century (Evangelical Times, 2006)
  4. William D. Mounce - Basics of Biblical Greek Workbook, Second Edition (Zondervan, 2003)
  5. Gerard S. Sloyan - Why Jesus Died (Augsburg Fortress, 2004)
  6. John Stott - The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 2006)
Non-theology related books are not included in the list.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kabane and the Eastern Orthodox View of Salvation (Part 3)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Δικαιωθέντες οὖν ἐκ πίστεως εἰρήνην ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.)
(Romans 5:1)

This part of my response to Kabane's video will be mainly a rejoinder to points that I have previously made, especially in first part. I probably won't pursue this further after this, given that I have a lot of other stuff that needs to be done. At this point, I would like to give further information on the meanings of justify (δικαιόω) and propitiation/mercy seat (ιλαστήριον), as taken from Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

First will be on δικαιόω. It is interesting to note here that it mentions here that the use of this word is forensic in the Septuagint, mostly used in the positive sense "to pronounce righteous" or "to vindicate," and this can refer to divine or human vindication.[1] This helps to explain how the word is used by Paul and by James. For example, it mentions that regarding Paul's use:

In Paul we first find... a legal use. The wicked are justified on the basis of God's gracious action in Christ. This justifying is a saving acquittal which takes place in the present.... The sense in Gal. 2:16-17 is that of being righteous in God's eyes. The idea of judgment is always present, but dikaioun is a present act of grace through Christ. Yet Paul's use of the term... also makes a contribution to the question of experience (cf. Gal. 3:8, 11; Rom. 3:24). Once-for-all justification at the cross and personal justification in faith go together. Justification is a finished work of grace, yet the term "by faith" (cf. Gal. 2:16; 3:8, 11) shows that it is also a continuing present, so that we cannot sever the objective act and the subjective apprehension...[2]

So, justification in Paul is 1) a forensic/legal term, which deserves to be understood as such, and 2) a once-for-all event, but has continuing effects in the present. It is interesting that Matthew and Luke use the word in the same way (cf. Matthew 12:37 and Luke 18:4).[3] Contrasted with this is how James uses the term:

James speaks three times about being justified by works. The reference is to present justification. Abraham is a righteous man whose works are recognized. This is not said in polemic against Paulinism but in order to stress that true faith is not idle but active (Jms. 2:21ff.).[4]

Next, we will look at ιλαστήριον. It must be remembered that, yes, "mercy seat" is the meaning of the term as it was originally used in the LXX translation of the Old Testament. However, the term can also be used to mean "to cover," as that is where the word is derived from (not "to expiate," as scholars who favour the RSV and NRSV incorrectly suggest).[5] It also states that, "The hilasterion does not make God gracious, for God's grace is its presupposition. Those who are under God's wrath are also under his patience (Rom. 2:4)."[6] And with regards to the related term ιλάσκομαι (which occurs in Luke 18:13 and Hebrews 2:17, we find this interesting tidbit:

The interesting thing in the construction and meaning of hilaskomai and exilaskomai is the addition to the sense "to propitiate" (with accusative of the person propitiated) of the sense "to purge" (with accusative of the person or object purged) and "to expiate" (with accusative of the guilt expiated or with peri, apo, etc.). This was a natural development, since that which makes God gracious also purges from sin and expiates its guilt. No less striking, however, is that words that originally denote our human action in relation to God are now used instaed for God's divine action in relation to us and our behalf.[7]

So clearly, propitiation is a properly biblical concept. When seeing terms and concepts from the Old Testament being carried over into the New Testament (as is the case with the mercy seat), it helps to remember that the meaning of the term or concept isn't limited to its original usage in the Old Testament and by the Jewish people. Getting that exegetical fallacy out of the way helps clear up some of the misconceptions held by many Eastern Orthodox.

And as long as we are in the topic of the atonement, I notice that there is a lot of flack being aimed against Anselm of Canterbury. He, the Eastern Orthodox claim, came up the concept of the atonement as satisfaction or propitiation, probably based on the medieval scholasticism that he was immersed in. Now, Anselm did much to help expand upon and clarify the concept of satisfaction and propitiation, but he did not just pull that concept out of thin air. The same can be said with the concept of Penal Substitution, which was held to by the Reformers. Contra what many Eastern Orthodox claim, the concepts of satisfaction and penal substitution are quite ancient. If you know where to look, you will find that the early church fathers understood atonement in these terms. For example, we find this in the epistle to Diognetus:

He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified[δικαιωθῆναι], than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange[ἀνταλλαγῆς; note that this term denotes substitution]! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!

This epistle is one of the earliest extra-biblical writings that we have (dated to around the late 2nd century), and already we see the concept of penal substitution being laid out here. And we see this in writers that came later as well. For example, Tertullian makes these statements concerning the atonement:

But He has both suffered the penalty in our presence, and surrendered His life, laying it down for our sakes, and is held in contempt by the Gentiles. And He who was born (into the world) will be that very Son of man on whose account our name also is rejected.

The same is understood by Cyprian of Carthage, who writes,

For because Christ bore us all, in that He also bore our sins, we see that in the water is understood the people, but in the wine is showed the blood of Christ.

Let no one cheat himself, let no one deceive himself. The Lord alone can have mercy. He alone can bestow pardon for sins which have been committed against Himself, who bare our sins, who sorrowed for us, whom God delivered up for our sins. Man cannot be greater than God, nor can a servant remit or forego by his indulgence what has been committed by a greater crime against the Lord, lest to the person lapsed this be moreover added to his sin, if he be ignorant that it is declared, “Cursed is the man that putteth his hope in man.” The Lord must be besought.

...the Son of God did not scorn to put on the flesh of man, and although He Himself was not a sinner, to bear the sins of others. His immortality being in the meantime laid aside, He suffers Himself to become mortal, so that the guiltless may be put to death for the salvation of the guilty.

Saint Ambrose of Milan also states,

He also took up death that the sentence might be fulfilled and satisfaction might be given for the judgment [Suscepit enim et morten, ut impleretur sententia, satisfieret judicato], the curse placed on sinful flesh even to death.[9]

He condemned sin in order to nail our sins to the Cross. He was made sin for us that we might be in Him the righteousness of God. Thus the taking of our sins is the mark not of sin but of piety [qui eramus captivitas mortis, et praeda serpentis]. By reason of this sin, the Eternal God Who spared not His own Son, but made Him to be sin for us, acquitted us.[10]

H.E.W. Turner's comment on that last quote is quite helpful as well. He states,

Thus S. Ambrose without making any special modifications in the basis of the theory which he had received from his predecessors in the West, strongly underlines the penal and substitutionary elements in the Doctrine of the Death of Christ. He never, however, allows his emphasis upon the transactional aspect of the Death of Christ to induce him either to regard it as a mechanical process or to separate the saving Life of Christ from His atoning Death.[11]

And lest the Eastern Orthodox complain that I am only citing fathers from the western church, it must be pointed out that similar quotes come from fathers of the eastern church as well. For example, Justin Martyr states in his Dialogue with Trypho that,

If... the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? For although His Father caused Him to suffer these things in behalf of the human family

Eusebius also states,

And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins; because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down on Himself the apportioned curse, being made a curse for us... uniting Himself to us and us to Himself, and appropriating our sufferings...[12]

And we have Athanasius, who says in his treatise On the Incarnation:

And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Fatherdoing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone

For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death. He, the incorruptible Son of God, being conjoined with all by a like nature, naturally clothed all with incorruption, by the promise of the resurrection. For the actual corruption in death has no longer holding-ground against men, by reason of the Word, which by His one body has come to dwell among them.

For there was need of death, and death must needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid. Whence, as I said before, the Word, since it was not possible for Him to die, as He was immortal, took to Himself a body such as could die, that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and as suffering, through His union with it, on behalf of all, “Bring to naught Him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

He it is that was crucified before the sun and all creation as witnesses, and before those who put Him to death: and by His death has salvation come to all, and all creation been ransomed. He is the Life of all, and He it is that as a sheep yielded His body to death as a substitute, for the salvation of all, even though the Jews believe it not.

And likewise, Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures states,

But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness [1 Peter 2:24]. Of no small account was He who died for us; He was not a literal sheep; He was not a mere man; He was more than an Angel; He was God made man. The transgression of sinners was not so great as the righteousness of Him who died for them; the sin which we committed was not so great as the righteousness which He wrought who laid down His life for us, — who laid it down when He pleased, and took it again when He pleased.

And Gregory of Nanzianus also testifies:

This is why the passage, ‘The Word was made flesh’, seens to me to be equivalent to that in which it is said that he was made sin, or made a curse for us (2 Cor. 5.21; Gal. 3.13); not that the Lord was transformed into either of these things (how could he be?) but because by taking them upon Himself He took away our sins and bore our iniquities (Is. 53.4-5 LXX). This, then, is enough to say at the present time for the sake of clearness, and of being understood by the multitude.[13]

And finally, we have the testimony of the great John Chrysostom, who is highly regarded by the Eastern Orthodox. He too held to this concept of satisfaction and substitution. I will give his quotes here:

As then if any one were to cast a person who owed ten mites (ὀβόλους) into prison, and not the man himself only, but wife and children and servants for his sake; and another were to come and not to pay down the ten mites only, but to give also ten thousand talents of gold, and to lead the prisoner into the king’s courts, and to the throne of the highest power, and were to make him partaker of the highest honor and every kind of magnificence, the creditor would not be able to remember the ten mites; so hath our case been. For Christ hath paid down far more than we owe, yea as much more as the illimitable ocean is than a little drop. Do not then, O man, hesitate as thou seest so great a store of blessings, nor enquire how that mere spark of death and sin was done away, when such a sea of gifts was brought in upon it. For this is what Paul intimated by saying that “they who have received the abundance of the grace and righteousness shall reign in life.” And as he had now clearly demonstrated this, he again makes use of his former argument, clenching it by taking up the same word afresh, and saying that if for that offence all were punished, then they may be justified too by these means.

For if it was not through any liability to it that He died the former death, save only for the sin of others, much less will He die again now that He hath done that sin away. And this he says in the Epistle to the Hebrews also, “But now once,” he says, “in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the Sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Heb. ix. 26–28.) And he both points out the power of the life that is according to God, and also the strength of sin. For with regard to the life according to God, he showeth that Christ shall die no more. With regard to sin, that if it brought about the death even of the Sinless, how can it do otherwise than be the ruin of those that are subject to it? And then as he had discoursed about His life; that none might say, What hath that which you have been saying to do with us?

Wherefore also Paul did not simply say, “He died,” but added, “for our sins:” both forcing these heretics against their will to the confession of His bodily death, and signifying also by this that before death He was without sin: for he that dies for others’ sins, it followeth must himself be without sin... “Behold,” saith he, “the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sin of the world:” (John 1:29.) and Paul saying, “For Him Who knew no sin, He made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him:” (2 Corinthians 5:21.) and again, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us:” (Galatians 3:13.) and again, “having put off from himself principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them;” (Colossians 2:15.) and ten thousand other sayings to show what happened at His death in the body, and because of our sins. Yea, and Christ Himself saith, “for your sakes I sanctify Myself” and, “now the prince of this world hath been condemned;” showing that having no sin he was slain.

And what hath He done? “Him that knew no sin He made to be sin, for you.” For had He achieved nothing but done only this, think how great a thing it were to give His Son for those that had outraged Him. But now He hath both well achieved mighty things, and besides, hath suffered Him that did no wrong to be punished for those who had done wrong. But he did not say this: but mentioned that which is far greater than this. What then is this? “Him that knew no sin,” he says, Him that was righteousness itself, “He made sin,” that is suffered as a sinner to be condemned, as one cursed to die. “For cursed is he that hangeth on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13.) For to die thus was far greater than to die; and this he also elsewhere implying, saith, “Becoming obedient unto death, yea the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8.) For this thing carried with it not only punishment, but also disgrace. Reflect therefore how great things He bestowed on thee. For a great thing indeed it were for even a sinner to die for any one whatever; but when He who undergoes this both is righteous and dieth for sinners; and not dieth only, but even as one cursed; and not as cursed [dieth] only, but thereby freely bestoweth upon us those great goods which we never looked for; (for he says, that “we might become the righteousness of God in Him;”) what words, what thought shall be adequate to realize these things? ‘For the righteous,’ saith he, ‘He made a sinner; that He might make the sinners righteous.’ Yea rather, he said not even so, but what was greater far; for the word he employed is not the habit, but the quality itself. For he said not “made” [Him] a sinner, but “sin;” not, ‘Him that had not sinned’ only, but “that had not even known sin; that we” also “might become,” he did not say ‘righteous,’ but, “righteousness,” and, “the righteousness of God.” For this is [the righteousness] “of God” when we are justified not by works, (in which case it Were necessary that not a spot even should be found,) but by grace, in which case all sin is done away. And this at the same time that it suffers us not to be lifted up, (seeing the whole is the free gift of God,) teaches us also the greatness of that which is given. For that which was before was a righteousness of the Law and of works, but this is “the righteousness of God.”

In reality, the people were subject to another curse, which says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in the things that are written in the book of the Law.” (Deuteronomy 27:26.) To this curse, I say, people were subject, for no man had continued in, or was a keeper of, the whole Law; but Christ exchanged this curse for the other, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” As then both he who hanged on a tree, and he who transgresses the Law, is cursed, and as it was necessary for him who is about to relieve from a curse himself to be free from it, but to receive another instead of it, therefore Christ took upon Him such another, and thereby relieved us from the curse. It was like an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment. For Christ took upon Him not the curse of transgression, but the other curse, in order to remove that of others. For, “He had done no violence neither was any deceit in His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9; 1 Peter 2:22.) And as by dying He rescued from death those who were dying, so by taking upon Himself the curse, He delivered them from it.

For he makes a wide distinction between ‘commandments’ and ‘ordinances.’ He either then means ‘faith,’ calling that an ‘ordinance,’ (for by faith alone He saved us, πο γαρ πιστεως μονης εσωσεν· PG 62:39) or he means ‘precept,’ such as Christ gave, when He said, ‘But I say unto you, that ye are not to be angry at all.’ (Matthew 5:22.) That is to say, ‘If thou shalt believe that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ (Romans 10:6-9.) And again, ‘The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thine heart. Say not, Who shall ascend into heaven, or who shall descend into the abyss?’ or, who hath ‘brought. Him again from the dead?’ Instead of a certain manner of life, He brought in faith. For that He might not save us to no purpose, He both Himself underwent the penalty (και αυτος εκολεσθη, PG 62:40), and also required of men the faith that is by doctrines.

“So Christ was once offered.”: By whom offered? evidently by Himself. Here he says that He is not Priest only, but Victim also, and what is sacrificed. On this account are [the words] “was offered.” “Was once offered” (he says) “to bear the sins of many.” Why “of many,” and not “of all”? Because not all believed, For He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing. And what is [the meaning of] “He bare the sins”? Just as in the Oblation we bear up our sins and say, “Whether we have sinned voluntarily or involuntarily, do Thou forgive,” that is, we make mention of them first, and then ask for their forgiveness. So also was it done here. Where has Christ done this? Hear Himself saying, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself.” (John 17:19) Lo! He bore the sins. He took them from men, and bore them to the Father; not that He might determine anything against them [mankind], but that He might forgive them.

So we see that Penal Substitution is not an innovation, but is a concept that can be traced back to the writings of the early church. I hope that this answers Eastern Orthodox complaints about our view of the atonement. That should conclude my dissection of Kabane and his defense of Eastern Orthodoxy for now. Should the challenge arise, I may take this issue up again if necessary, but for now I must attend to other matters.

In Christ,

End Notes
  1. Friedrich, Gerhard and Gerhard Kittel (eds.). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged in One Volume). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985. p. 175.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., p. 176.
  5. Ibid., p. 365.
  6. Ibid., p. 366.
  7. Ibid., p. 365.
  8. Richardson, Cyril C., Ed. Early Christian Fathers. Touchstone, 1995.
  9. See FC, Vol. 65, Saint Ambrose, Seven Exegetical Works, Flight from the World, 7.44. Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, reprint 2003. pp. 314-315.
  10. For translation, see H. E. W. Turner, The Patristic Doctrine of Redemption: A Study of the Development of Doctrine During the First Five Centuries. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1952. p. 107.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Eusebius. The Proof of the Gospel, Vols 1 and II, (ed. and trans. by W. J. Ferrar). Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001. Book 10, Chapter 1, pp. 195-196.
  13. See Epistle 101 to Cledonius in McGuckin, John A. McGuckin. St Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy, Its History, Theology, and Texts. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994. pp. 397-398.
Further Reading - On Soteriology

Further Reading - On Eastern Orthodoxy

Special thanks to Dr. David T. King (a.k.a. Skyman in the AOMin chat channel) of Christ Presbyterian Church for helping me to find most of the patristic texts just quoted.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Friday, May 07, 2010

Has the Qur'an Been Perfectly Preserved?

This was originally an information pamphlet which was produced by Acts 17 Apologetics Ministries. Because I find the information to be highly valuable, I am reposting it here in order that anybody else who may need it may have access to it.

Has the Qur'an Been Perfectly Preserved?

"We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)" Sura 15:9[1]

Muslim scholars interpret this ayah (verse) as a divine promise that the text of the Qur'an would be preserved perfectly, down to the smallest detail. The Qur'an therefore offers us a way to test its divine origin, based on whether Allah's promise in Sura 15:9 was fulfilled. In this pamphlet, we will review the history of the Qur'an according to Muslim sources, allowing us to see if this book has Allah's stamp of approval.

I. A Brief History of the Qur'an

The first Qur'anic revelation came to Muhammad around the year 610. Muhammad delivered many more verses to his scribes and companions for memorization and recording over the next two decades. These verses were written on stalks of palm leaves, bones of dead animals, flat stones, and other materials. There was no complete manuscript of the Qur'an during this time.

Qur'anic revelation ceased when Muhammad died. Shortly after Muhammad's death, Caliph Abu Bakr needed to suppress a rebellion, and he sent many huffaz (people who had memorized portions of the Qur'an) to fight at the Battle of Yamama. Many of these Huffaz died, and Muslim sources tell us that portions of the Qur'an were lost:

Many (of the passages) of the Qur'an that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamama... but they were not known (by those who) survived them, nor were they written down, nor had Abu Bakr, Umar or Uthman (by that time) collected the Qur'an nor were they found with even one (person) after them.[2]

Abu Bakr decided that it was time to gather what remained of the Qur'an in order to prevent more from being lost, and he appointed Zaid ibn Thabit to this task. After Zaid completed his codex around 634 AD, it remained in Abu Bakr's possession until his death, when it was passed on to Caliph Umar. When Umar died, it was given to Hafsa, a widow of Muhammad.[3]

During Caliph Uthman's reign, approximately 19 years after the death of Muhammad, disputes arose concerning the correct recitation of the Qur’an. Uthman ordered that Hafsa’s copy of the Qur’an, along with all known textual materials, should be gathered together so that an official version might be compiled. Zaid ibn Thabit, Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa’id bin Al-As, and Abdur-Rahman bin Harith worked diligently to construct a revised text of the Qur’an. When it was finished, “Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.”[4] The Qur’an we have today is descended from the Uthmanic codex.

During Caliph Uthman's reign, approximately 19 years after the death of Muhammad, disputes arose concerning the correct recitation of the Qur’an. Uthman ordered that Hafsa’s copy of the Qur’an, along with all known textual materials, should be gathered together so that an official version might be compiled. Zaid ibn Thabit, Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa’id bin Al-As, and Abdur-Rahman bin Harith worked diligently to construct a revised text of the Qur’an. When it was finished, “Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.”[4] The Qur’an we have today is descended from the Uthmanic codex.

II. Disputes Among Muhammad’s Scholars

Not all Muslims approved of the new Qur’an. Indeed, some of Muhammad’s top teachers rejected Zaid’s version.

Muhammad once told his followers to “Learn the recitation of the Qur’an from four: from Abdullah bin Mas’ud—he started with him—Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa, Mu’adh bin Jabal and Ubai bin Ka’b.”[5] Interestingly, Ibn Mas’ud (first on Muhammad’s list) held that the Qur’an should only have 111 chapters (today’s version has 114 chapters), and that chapters 1, 113 and 114 shouldn’t have been included in the Qur’an.

Because of this (along with hundreds of other textual differences), Ibn Mas’ud went so far as to call the final edition of the Qur’an a deception! He said, “The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Qur’an. I like it better to read according to the recitation of him [i.e. Muhammad] whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit”[6]

Should Muslims submit to this “deceit”? Not surprisingly, Ibn Mas’ud advised Muslims to reject Zaid’s Qur’an and to keep their own versions—even to hide them so that they wouldn’t be confiscated by the government! He said:

“O you Muslim people! Avoid copying the Mshaf and recitation of this man. By Allah! When I accepted Islam he was but in the loins of a disbelieving man”—meaning Zaid bin Thabit—and it was regarding this that Abdullah bin Mas’ud said: “O people of Al-Iraq! Keep the Musahif that are with you, and conceal them.”[7]

But Ibn Mas’ud wasn’t the only one of Muhammad’s trusted teachers who disagreed with Zaid’s Qur’an. Ubayy ibn Ka’b was Muhammad’s best recited and one of the only Muslims to collect the materials of the Qur’an during Muhammad’s lifetime. Yet Ibn Ka’b believed that Zaid’s Qur’an was missing two chapters! Later Muslims were therefore forced to reject some of Ka’b’s recitation:

Umar said, “Ubayy was the best of us in the recitation of the Qur’an), yet we leave some of what he recited.” Ubayy says, “I have taken it from the mouth of Allah’s Messenger and will not leave it for anything whatever.”[8]

Due to these disputes among Muhammad’s hand-picked reciters, Muslims are faced with a dilemma. If Muslims say that the Qur’an we have today has been perfectly preserved, they must say that Muhammad was horrible at choosing scholars, since he selected men that disagreed with today’s text. If, on the other hand, Muslims say that their prophet would know whom to pick regarding Islam’s holiest book, they must conclude that the Qur’an we have today is flawed!

III. Missing Chapters

Simply knowing the facts about such disputes is enough to dismiss the claim that the Qur’an has been perfectly preserved. Nevertheless, we may go further by briefly considering certain other problems.

When Ibn Umar—son of the second Muslim caliph—heard people declaring that they knew the entire Qur’an, he said to them: “Let none of you say, ‘I have learned the whole of the Koran.’ For how does he know what the whole of it is, when much of it has disappeared? Let him rather say, ‘I have learned what is extant thereof’.”[9]

One of Muhammad’s companions, Abu Musa, supported this claim when he said that the early Muslims forgot two surahs (chapters) due to laziness:

Abu Musa al-Ash’ari sent for the reciters of Basra. They came to him and they were three hundred in number. They recited the Qur’an and he said: You are the best among the inhabitants of Basra, for you are the reciters among them. So continue to recite it. (But bear in mind) that your reciting for a long time may not harden your hearts as were hardened the hearts of those before you. We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara’at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: “If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust.” And we used to recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it…[10]

This shows that entire chapters of the Qur’an were forgotten.

IV. Missing Passages

We know further that large sectionsof certain chapters came up missing. For instance, Muhammad’s wife Aisha said that roughly two-thirds of Surah 33 was lost:

A’isha… said, “Surat al-Ahzab (xxxiii) used to be recited in the time of the Prophet with two hundred verses. But when Uthman wrote out the codices he was unable to procure more of it than there is in it today [i.e. 73 verses].” [11]

According to Aisha, the collectors simply couldn’t find all of Sura 33. Why not? As we’ve seen, many huffaz were killed at the Battle of Yamama. Apparently, no one who knew the entire chapter survived.

V. Missing Verses

Aisha also tells us that individual verses of the Qur’an disappeared, sometimes in very interesting ways:

It was narrated that Aishah said: “The Verse of stoning and of breastfeeding on adult ten times was revealed, and the paper was with me under my pillow. When the Messenger of Allah died, we were preoccupied with his death, and a tame sheep came in and ate it.”[12]

The verses on stoning and breastfeeding an adult ten times are not in the Qur’an today. Why? Aisha’s sheep ate them.

VI. Missing Phrases

Since entire chapters, large portions of chapters, and individual verses of the Qur’an were lost, it should come as no surprise that short phrases were forgotten as well. Let’s consider two examples.

First, sura 33:6 declares that “The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers.” However, Ubayy ibn Ka’b and other early Muslims held that a phrase (“and he is a father of them”) is missing from this verse. Even the great translator Yusuf Ali admits this in his commentary. Ali writes: “In some Qira’ahs, like that of Ubayy ibn Ka’ab, occur also the words ‘and he is a father of them,’ which imply his spiritual relationship and connection with the words ‘and his wives are their mothers.’”[13] It seems that Muslims have been left with an incomplete verse.

Second, if we open a modern edition of the Qur’an, we find that sura 2:238 commands Muslims to “Guard strictly your (habit) of prayers, especially the Middle Prayer; and stand before Allah in a devout (frame of mind).” According to Aisha, however, Muhammad recited this verse as follows: “Guard strictly (the five obligatory) prayers, and the middle Salat, and Salat Al-Asr. And stand before Allah with obedience.”[14] Hence, the phrase “and Salat Al-Asr” is missing from modern editions.

VII. Assessment

Obviously, the Qur’an has changed significantly over the years. The evidence shows that entire chapters were lost, that large sections of chapters came up missing, that individual verses were forgotten, and that phrases have been left out. Muhammad’s best teachers and reciters couldn’t even agree on which chapters were supposed to be in the Qur’an.

This raises an obvious question. What’s the difference between a book that’s been perfectly preserved, and one that hasn’t been perfectly preserved? If Muslims are right, there’s no difference at all. The typical characteristics of a book that hasn’t been perfectly preserved are (1) missing phrases, (2) missing passages, (3) missing chapters, (4) disagreements about what goes back to the original, etc. But the Qur’an has all of these characteristics. Thus, Muslims who are aware of the evidence but who also want to maintain perfect perseveration of the Qur’an must say something like this: “Yes, the Qur’an has all the characteristics of a book that hasn’t been perfectly preserved, but it’s been perfectly preserved anyway.” Can anyone make sense of such a claim?

Friends, whenever a book is passed on and copied by human beings, mistakes are going to be made (e.g. spelling errors, inadvertent omissions, intentional changes, and so on). This is true of all books, including the Qur’an and the Bible. The difference between the Qur’an and other books is that the Qur’an promises that not changes in its text will ever occur. As we have seen in this study, the Qur’an has not been perfectly preserved, which means that the promise of sura 15:9 was not kept. The Qur’an cannot therefore be the Word of God.

  1. All Qur’an quotations are taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an (Beltsville: Amana Publications, 1989).
  2. Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif.
  3. For a fuller account, see Sahih al-Bukhari 4986.
  4. Sahih al-Bukhari 4987.
  5. Sahih al-Bukhari 3808.
  6. Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p. 444.
  7. Jami At-Tirmidhi 3104.
  8. Sahih al-Bukhari 5005.
  9. Abu Ubaid, Kitab Fada’il-al-Qur’an.
  10. Sahih Muslim 2286.
  11. Abu Ubaid, Kitab Fada’il-al-Qur’an.
  12. Sunan Ibn Majah 1944.
  13. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, Note 3674.
  14. Jami at-Tirmidhi 2982.

For more information visit:
P.O. Box 2192, Anaheim, CA 92814

Thursday, May 06, 2010

On the Atonement

From the Epistle to Diognetus

And so, when he had planned everything by himself in union with his Child, he still allowed us, through the former time, to be carried away by undisciplined impulses, captivated by pleasures and lusts, just as we pleased. That does not mean that he took any delight in our sins, but only that he showed patience. He did not approve at all of that season of wickedness, but on the contrary, all the time he was creating the present age of righteousness, so that we, who in the past had by our own actions been proved unworthy of life, might now be deemed worthy, thanks to God's goodness. Then, when we had shown ourselves incapable of entering the Kingdom of God by our own efforts, we might be made capable of doing so by the power of God.

And so, when our unrighteousness had come to its full term, and it had become perfectly plain that its recompense of punishment and death had to be expected, then the season arrived in which God had determined to show at last his goodness and power. O the overflowing kindness and love of God toward man! God did not hate us, or drive us away, or bear us ill will. Rather, he was long-suffering and forbearing. In his mercy, he took up the burden of our sins. He himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us—the holy one for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

For what else could cover our sins except his righteousness? In whom could we, lawless and impious as we were, be made righteous except in the Son of God alone? O sweetest exchange! O unfathomable work of God! O blessings beyond all expectation! The sinfulness of many is hidden in the Righteous One, while the righteousness of the One justifies the many that are sinners. In the former time he had proved to us our nature's inability to gain life; now he showed the Saviour's power to save even the powerless, with the intention that on both counts we should have faith in his goodness, and look on him as Nurse, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, Mind, Light, Honor, Glory, Might, Life—and that we should not be anxious about clothing and food.