Muslims argue against the reliability of the New Testament by pointing out that there are variants in the different manuscripts. In many respects, this is a red herring because Muslims who believe the Quran need to prove that a book from heaven (Injeel) was given to Jesus who then gave it to his followers (cf. Qur’an 5:46-47; 57:27). No such book has ever existed.
To help answer these objections I am posting the following video by Daniel Wallace, Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, and the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM).
In this video, “Is What We Have Now What They Had Then?” Wallace discusses three key questions for textual critics,
1) Quantity: How many scribal alterations are there (deviations from text in spellings, additions—even if they’re of no consequence)?
2) Quality: What kinds of textual variants are there?
3) Orthodoxy: What theological beliefs rest on theologically suspect passages?
Wallace says there are many scribal alterations (#1), but very few that are meaningful (#3) and viable (#2); in fact, Wallace points out that, “No essential Christian belief is affected by any viable variant… No, not one.”1
Watch the lecture here:
I liked the joke Dr. Wallace opened with to illustrate the importance of textual criticism,
A new monk arrived at the monastery. He was assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand. He noticed, however, that they were copying copies, not the original books. The new monk went to the head monk to ask him about this. He pointed out that if there were an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies.
The head monk said, ‘We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.’ The head monk went down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original.
Hours later, nobody had seen him, so one of the monks went downstairs to look for him. He heard a sobbing coming from the back of the cellar and found the old monk leaning over one of the original books, crying.
He asked what was wrong.
‘The word is ‘celebrate,’ not ‘celibate’!’ sobbed the head monk.
Learn more by reading:
- Textual variations between the four gospels do not call into question any doctrine of the Christian faith nor do they deny Jesus’ death on the cross. The field of textual criticism deals with differences in biblical manuscripts, so that we might know what was original.
Craig Blomberg, a New Testament scholar, wrote,
“the consensus among textual critics is that in the modern critical editions of the Greek New Testament we have, either in the text itself or in the footnotes upwards of 97% of what the original authors wrote reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and that no doctrine of the Christian faith depends solely on one or more textually uncertain passages” (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels [revised 2007], 333).
To learn more about New Testament textual criticism see the series of videos available from Daniel Wallace, “The Basics of New Testament Textual Criticism” from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Also see Daniel Wallace’s iTunes video “What Christian Beliefs are Based on Textually Dubious Passages?
Copyist errors are not, by themselves, an argument against the Bible being the Word of God.