Should we reject the Gospels because of contradictions?
In a recent debate in Bradford (Mar 2012) between a Muslim and a Christian over the question of who Jesus was, the Muslim speaker simply read through a list of ‘contradictions’ in the Bible, mainly from the gospels, with no analysis – and then said that this proved the Bible was unreliable, and so should not be listened to. Moreover, that the Qur’an as perfect should be believed instead.
In this post I will argue that nit picking the Gospels for contradictions and then considering them unreliable and accepting the Qur’an instead is at best naive and at worst completely ridiculous.
This essay will go as follows: Bible large picture; Qur’an larger picture; Qur’an smaller picture and finally Bible smaller picture.
Bible Large Picture
One of the strengths of the Bible’s witness is numbers. There are many different books, written by many different people over a long period of time which give a consistent message – for example the fact that God chose the people of Israel, the importance of sacrifices, prophecy and fulfilment of the Messiah etc. From Moses approx 1200 – 1400 BC to Paul (50-65AD), Peter, John etc. There is fulfilled prophecy – for example prophecy about Jesus – his birth in Bethlehem, born of a virgin (Isa 7), would set people free (Isa 41), would suffer (Isa 53), would cleanse the temple, would die with sinners, would rise again. Also prophecies about the giving of the Holy Spirit and a new law.
Qur’an Large Picture
In contrast the Qur’an claims that there were 120,000 prophets, including Jesus, who preached a message like Muhammad. But where are they? It is very clear that the Bible is incompatible with the Qur’an for several reasons. Take language for example, it is clear in the Qur’an that Arabic is the language of heaven. In that case why in the Bible does God make it clear again and again that he has chosen Israel, (Hebrew speaking people) out of all the nations of the earth. In the New Testament it is clearly portrayed that Jesus is divine and that salvation is found through repentance and faith in Christ. In contrast the Qur’an preaches that people will be saved if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds.
Islam has had to adopt almost cult like beliefs to save face: Muhammad was the last prophet and preached the original truth, however the fact that no-one before Muhammad is recorded as giving a similar message is because it got lost – that is why Muhammad had to come. Sounds reasonable till you realise that every single cult says almost exactly the same thing.
Qur’an Small Picture
So from a big perspective Islam looks suspicious. What about on a small scale. Can we say that the Qur’an looks like it came from God and so ignore the problems on the large scale. Well if we look at the Qur’an we find that a lot of material that supposedly came from heaven looks like it has been copied. For example the Christian legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus appears with a few modifications in Sura 18:9-26. Also many Jewish stories from the Mishnah including the murder of Abel (Surah 5:27-32; Mishnah Sanhedrin, 4:5) are copied into the Qur’an as the word of God. Also, some claims that the Qur’an contains incredible information about embryology fall flat on their face when one realises that Muhammad is simply passing on what ancient scientists such as Galen (130 – 210 AD) wrote hundreds of years previously. On top of this the Qur’an itself refers to frequent accusations of copying made against Muhammad by his peers Suras 6:25; 8:31; 16:24; 23:83; 25:5; 27:68; 46:17; 68:15; and, 83:13.
Regarding contradictions, there are many claims that could be made against the Qur’an. If you look at a Muslim site e.g. https://sites.google.com/site/muslimanswers/Home/contradictions
that answers contradictions you will see they bend over backwards to fit accounts together, but when it comes to the Bible do Muslims generally adopt a sympathetic attitude…
Was Pharaoh drowned:
I deem thee lost, O Pharaoh. And he wished to scare them from the land, but We drowned him and those with him, all together.
Pharaoh … when the (fate of) drowning overtook him, he exclaimed: I believe that there is no God save Him in Whom the Children of Israel believe … But this day We save thee in thy body that thou mayst be a portent for those after thee. Lo! most of mankind are heedless of Our portents.
Answer?: Pharaoh was drowned but his body was preserved as a sign for mankind.
How should Jews and Christians be treated?
Many of the people of the Scripture long to make you disbelievers…. Forgive and be indulgent (toward them) until Allah give command.
Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah.
Who was the first Muslim?
The same did Abraham enjoin upon his sons, and also Jacob, (saying): O my sons! Lo! Allah hath chosen for you the (true) religion; therefore die not save as men who have surrendered (unto Him).
And Moses fell down senseless. And when he woke he said: Glory unto Thee! I turn unto Thee repentant, and I am the first of (true) believers.
And I [Muhammad] am commanded to be the first of those who are muslims (surrender unto Him).
Answer?: Each prophet is the first from among his followers. He is the one leading them to the true believe in God.
Will all Jews and Christians go to hell?
Whoso seeketh as religion other than the Surrender (to Allah) it will not be accepted from him, and he will be a loser in the Hereafter.
Those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans – whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right – surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.
And then what about abrogation, e.g. alcohol:
“It went through three stages: from being ok but not recommended, to being prohibited near and during prayer time, to being totally forbidden. The three are all still mentioned in the Quran.”
Another VERY serious problem with believing the Qur’an is that according to an Islamic view the Qur’an is the final and best revelation. However, it seems pretty clear that the vision of God, view of heaven and moral code preached by Jesus and the apostles by the power of the Holy spirit was infinitely superior to that preached by Muhammad even though it came 600 years previously. The god of the Bible is living – he loves sinners and seeks to save them, Allah only loves believers, i.e. those who live him – hardly mature; the view of heaven is pure in the Bible, the perfection of creation and God living with his people; the Quranic view is basically an orgy. The moral code of Jesus found in the sermon on the mount and elsewhere is far deeper and purer than anything in the Qur’an.
If Islam was the true religion what would we expect:
– material preserved from the 120,000 prophets that coincides with Muhammad’s revelation.
-God speaking to the arabs through prophets before Muhammad.
-that the Torah and Injil are in agreement too.
-early evidence that Jesus spoke what he was supposed to.
-that the Qur’an gives a higher view of God, heaven and moral behaviour.
So should we ignore the fact that the 120,000 prophets have vanished with no trace; that there is no evidence for a Torah or Injil that is in agreement with the Qur’an; that there is no early evidence that Jesus preached pure ‘Islamic’ Monotheism as Islam claims and that the final revelation of Muhammad is vastly inferior to that of Jesus? Should we ignore contradictions in the Qur’an and explain them away by bending over backwards? Should we ignore all this and then reject the Bible because some bits look as though they contradict each other? Shall we say they are contradictions, making no effort to consider context or what we have done to ignore contradictions in the Qur’an? NO.
Islam does not fir the evidence and does not fit history.
Bible Small Picture
The whole of the argument put forth by the Muslim in the debate was that there are two options either the Gospels are perfectly logically coherent or else they are completely corrupted and should be ignored. This is a very naive view which ignores a very viable alternative option – that the Gospels present a picture of Jesus that is accurate and reliable. Not perfect but accurate. And they do. All the gospels hint very strongly at Jesus divinity. His message of deeper moral purity, non-violence, discipleship. His death and resurrection.