Validity of the Bible as an Authentic Source (1)
By Various Contributors to (www.islamlife.com)
Jalal Abualrub wrote: The Bible is a unique source to use and rely on, to say the least. This is a book that was compiled over the span of several thousand years written by dozens, possibly hundreds of anonymous authors of unknown trustworthiness who altered various parts of the book and edited it at will. The current Christian Bible comprises of two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Jews generally call the Old Testament the Torah, as they vehemently and bitterly reject the Christian addition to it known as the New Testament.
During my debate with James White, I challenged every reference he quoted as being disputed even by Christians themselves. The amazing response from him was to challenge that fact, even while he seemed to reject the validity of the most popular Bible in the world today, The Kings James Version of the Bible, the KJV. By merely discounting the reliability of the KJV, an English translation of the so-called oldest Manuscripts of the various part of the Bible, Christians agree with Muslims that there exists a bitter dispute between them on the reliability of their own Holy Book. When one says that the KJV is not completely accurate, then, brings his own new version, the dispute is already proven for all to see. Here is a collection of articles written by various contributors to www.islamlife.com; I ask Allah to reward them for their efforts.
This is but the tip of the tip of the iceberg, since the disputes between Christians on who wrote what in what time frame or original language and who edited what in the Bible is the most kept/exposed secret of Christianity. Allah knows best, but this Christian secret may one day be fully exposed in the future when mankind finally gains direct access to the books Christian Popes hide in their Vatican libraries so that mankind can have access to a part of the truth that Christianity strives so hard to bury in the old dark corridors of Papal secret book collections. Jalal Abualrub
On the Gospel of John
The fourth gospel is most notably different from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). Most scholars regard it to be least reliable and full of inauthentic details, although it is quite possible that it also contains some reliable historical details. These quotations, with one exception (Sanders) are taken from evangelical conservative and moderate (Dunn) scholarly books.
Bruce Metzger believed that John recorded some “valuable historical data” and supplementary information (p. 95), he also proceeded to say that John was “guided by theological rather than simple historical interests” (p. 95) and implied that the synoptics are more historical, thus more reliable, when he wrote: While the synoptics preserve the sayings of Jesus more exactly in their original language and form, the fourth evangelist employs more freely his own modes of thought and language in reporting and interpreting the discourses of Jesus (Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, its background, growth and content, 2nd edition, enlarged, Abingdon Press Nashville, p. 96).
Next, consider the verdict of the late conservative Christian scholar and apologist F. F. Bruce, a favorite of conservative Christians and apologists. In his monumental commentary on John’s gospel, he wrote: The Evangelist records words which were really spoken, actions which were really performed. His record of these words and actions includes their interpretation, in which their inward significance is disclosed and faith is quickened in Jesus as the Revealer of the Father and the Saviour of the world. The source of the Evangelist’s interpretation of Jesus’ words and actions is clearly indicated in his record. He reports Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, would come to guide his disciples into all truth, especially by bringing to their remembrance all that Jesus had taught them and making it plain to them. In reporting this promise, the Evangelist implies that he himself experienced a rich fulfilment of it, as he pondered the significance of what Jesus had done and said during his ministry, as he shared with others what he and his companions had seen and heard, and as he finally caused the contents of this gospel to be set down in writing. If in this Gospel the words and deeds of Jesus appear to have undergone ‘transposition into a higher key’ than that with which we are familiar in the Synoptic Gospels, this is the effect of the Spirit’s enabling the Evangelist to adapt the story of Jesus to a different public from that for which the earlier Gospels were designed. The Spirit was, among other things, to serve as a trustworthy interpreter; his interpretive ministry is clearly to be discerned in the Gospel according to John. Interpretation (which in the Gospels involved, at an early stage, translation from the Aramaic which Jesus normally spoke into Greek) may take a variety of forms. A word-for-word transcription or translation is scarcely an interpretation in the usual sense of the word. Today one would ‘interpret’ the words of Jesus by transposing them from the Hellenistic Greek in which they have been preserved into a late twentieth-century idiom (whether English or any other language). Interpretation may result in an abridgement or a summary (it is widely believed, for example, that the speeches in Acts are literary summaries of what was originally spoken at much greater length). It may, on the other hand, result in an expanded version of what was said; if so, it will probably include a good deal of paraphrase. If the effect of such an expanded paraphrase is to bring out the sense more fully, then the use of this form is amply justified. Plutarch, in his Life of Brutus, describes what happened in Rome on the morrow of Julius Caesar’s assassination: Anthony and his supports demanded that Caesar’s will should be read in public, and that Caesar’s body should not be buried in private but with customary honours. … Brutus agreed to these demands. … The first consequence of this was that, when it became known that according to the terms of his will the dictator had presented seventy five drachmas to each Roman citizen and had bequeathed to the citizens the use of his gardens beyond the Tiber, … a great wave of affection for Caesar and a powerful sense of his loss swept over the people. The second consequence was that, after the dead man had been brought to the forum, Anthony delivered the customary funeral oration over his body. As soon as he saw that the people were deeply stirred by his speech, he changed his tone and struck a note of compassion, and picking up Caesar’s toga, stiff with blood as it was, he unfolded it for all to see, pointing out each gash where the daggers had stabbed through and the number of Caesar’s wounds. At this his hearers lost all control of their emotions. Some called out for the assassins to be killed; others. … dragged out benches and tables from the neighbouring shops and piled them on top of one another to make an enormous pyre. On this they laid Caesar’s corpse and cremated it. … As the flames began to mount, people rushed up from all sides, seized burning brands, and ran through the city to the assassin’s houses to set fire to them. A vivid enough account, to be sure. But how was Caesar’s will read, and what exactly did Mark Anthony say in his eulogy? A satisfying answer to these two questions is provided in a well-known English interpretation of Plutarch’s narrative – not a word-for-word translation but an expanded paraphrase in which it is Anthony who reads Caesar’s will aloud after he has excited the indignation of the crowd by exhibiting Caesar’s torn and blood-stained robe and exposing his wounded corpse. Anthony’s whole speech, from its low-key exordium: Friends, Romans, countryman, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him – To its ringing peroration: Here was a Caesar! When comes such an other? Is a translation of the freest kind, a transposition into another key; but Shakespeare’s genius enables him to put the right words into Anthony’s mouth, ‘endeavouring as nearly as possible’ (in Thucydidean fashion), ‘to give the general purport of what was actually said’. What Shakespeare does by dramatic insight (and, it may be added, what many a preacher does by homiletical skill), all this and much more the Spirit of God accomplished in our Evangelist. It does not take divine inspiration to provide a verbatim transcript; but to reproduce the words which were spirit and life to their first believing hearers in such a way that they continue to communicate their saving message and prove themselves to be spirit and life to men and women today, nineteen centuries after John wrote – that is the word of the Spirit of God. It is through the Spirit’s operation that, in William Temple’s words, ‘the mind of Jesus himself was what the Fourth Gospel disclosed’; and it is through the illumination granted by the same Spirit that one may still recognise in this Gospel the authentic voice of Jesus. (F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John,1983, Eerdmans, pp. 15-17).
In short, F. F. Bruce says that we should not view the fourth gospel as presenting the literal wording of Jesus (P).
Jalal Added here: In short, the Gospel of John is not what Jesus really did or said; it is what the author of John, whoever he really is, decided according to his own interpretation what Jesus meant, sort of helping the Holy Ghost express his revelation in a better way. Thus, Allah’s statement that the Jews rewrote the Word of God with their own hands still stands unchallenged against Judaism and Christianity.
Another prominent conservative evangelical scholar, John Drane, a student of F. F. Bruce, likewise concludes: … they [New Testament gospels] are certainly carefully crafted narratives aiming to tell the story of Jesus’ life and teaching. As such, they are not to be judged by the standards of scientific enquiry, but according to the practises of story telling, in which the ‘truth’ of a narrative is to be judged as a whole on its own terms, rather than in relation to notions of truth and falsehood drawn from some other sphere of human endeavour. The early Christian communities clearly had no problem in accepting that within the gospel traditions there would be a subtle combination of factual and fictional elements. Had they not done so, they would certainly not have tolerated the existence of four gospels which, for all their similarities, are sufficiently different from one another as to defy all attempts at producing one harmonized, factual version of the life and teachings of Jesus from them. They knew that both artists and historians operate under similar constraints as they seek to balance fact with fictional elaboration, and that the telling of a good story … depends on the coherent combination of both these elements. While all four gospels contain factual fictive elements, the fourth gospel appears to have a greater preponderance of the latter. (John Drane, Introducing the New Testament, Lion Publishing Plc. Revised Edition. 1999 pp. 210-211).
Evangelical scholar Richard Bauckham in his recent book on the gospels argues that the fourth gospel stems from an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus (P), namely, the disciple John. At the same time, however, Bauckham also acknowledges the differences between the fourth gospel and the synoptics and argues that John is a more reflective and a highly interpreted account of the life and ministry of Jesus (P). Regarding the canonical gospels in general, he concludes: In all four Gospels we have the history of Jesus only in the form of testimony, the testimony of involved participants who responded in faith to the disclosure of God in these events. In testimony fact and interpretation are inextricable; in this testimony empirical sight and spiritual perception are inseparable. (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2006, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 411).
Regarding the gospel of John specifically, Bauckham says:
All scholars, whatever their views of the redactional work of the Synoptic Evangelists and of the historical reliability of the Gospel of John, agree that the latter presents a much more thoroughly and extensively interpreted version of the story of Jesus
(Ibid. p. 410).
Furthermore: The concurrence of historiographic and theological concepts of witness in John’s Gospel is wholly appropriate to the historical uniqueness of the subject matter, which as historical requires historiographic rendering but in its disclosure of God also demands that the witness to it speak of God. In this Gospel we have the idiosyncratic testimony of a disciple whose relationship to the events, to Jesus, was distinctive and different. It is a view from outside the circles from which other Gospel traditions largely derive, and it is the perspective of a man who was deeply but distinctively formed by his own experience of the events. In its origins and in its reflective maturation this testimony is idiosyncratic, and its truth is not distinguishable from its idiosyncrasy. As with all testimony, even that of the law court, there is a point beyond which corroboration cannot go, and only the witness can vouch for the truth of his own witness (Ibid p. 411).
According to Bauckham, the eyewitness author of the gospel of John did not just simply rehash mere eyewitness reports, but he also offered his highly reflective interpretations and understanding of the events: … we can also apply the contrast between Mark (or the Synoptics in general) and John more widely. The greater selectivity of events recorded, the more continuous narrative with its more strongly delineated plot, the lengthy discourses and debates – all these distinctive features of the Gospel of John, as compared with the Synoptics, are what make possible the much fuller development of the author’s own interpretation of Jesus and his story, just as comparable features of the works of the Greco-Roman historians enable the expression of their own understanding of the history, making their works more than mere reports of what the eyewitnesses said. But in the case of the Gospel of John these characteristics are linked with its claim to be entirely the testimony of an author who was himself an eyewitness. In this case, the whole historiographic process of eyewitness observation and participation, interrogation of other eyewitnesses, arrangement and narrativization in the formation of an integrated and rhetorically persuasive work – all this was the work of an eyewitness, whose interpretation was, of course, in play at every level of the process, but in what one might think of as a cumulative manner, such that the finished Gospel has a high degree of highly reflective interpretation. The eyewitness claim justifies this degree of interpretation for a context in which the direct reports of the eyewitnesses were the most highly valued forms of testimony to Jesus. In the case of the other Gospels it was important that the form of the eyewitness testimonies was preserved in the Gospels. The more reflective interpretive Gospel of John does not, by contrast, assimilate the eyewitness reports beyond recognition into its own elaboration of the story, but is, as it stands, the way one eyewitness understood what he and others had seen. The author’s eyewitness status authorizes the interpretation. Thus, whereas scholars have often supposed that this Gospel could not have been written by an eyewitness because of its high degree of interpretation of the events and the words of Jesus, by contrast with the Synoptics, in fact the high degree of interpretation is appropriate precisely because this is the only one of the canonical Gospels that claims eyewitness authorship (Ibid. p. 410 – 411).
Note that Bauckham does not deny the “highly reflective interpretational” status of the gospel of John. He only justifies it by arguing that the author was an eyewitness.
In light of the above, even if we are to accept the fourth gospel as a product of an eyewitness, it does not mean that we can simply read off from its surface the words attributed to Jesus (P) as if Jesus (P) literally uttered them in his historical ministry.
We should also note the view of I. H. Marshall, a leading modern conservative evangelical New Testament scholar. Writing in the The New Bible Dictionary – a major volume representing purely the work of top notch conservative scholarship – Marshall, like Bauckham, defends the thesis that the disciple John authored the fourth gospel and he also defends the general historicity of the gospel of John. At the same time, however, he too acknowledges that John presents a more interpreted and theologised narration of Jesus (P). To quote Marshall: The teaching ascribed to Jesus in John differs markedly in content and style from that in the Synoptic Gospels. Such familiar ideas as the Kingdom of God, demons, repentance and prayer are missing, and new topics appear, such as truth, life, the world abiding and witness. At the same time, there are close and intricate connections between the two traditions, and common themes appear, e.g. Father, Son of man, faith, love and sending. The style and the vocabulary also differ. There are no parables in John, and Jesus often speaks in long discourses or dialogues which are unparalleled in the Synoptic Gospels. Many scholars, therefore, believe that John gives us his own thoughts or his own meditations upon the words of Jesus rather than his ipsissima verba. This conclusion is strongly supported by the fact that a very similar style and content is found in 1 Jn. Nevertheless, it must be carefully qualified. First of all, the Gospel of John contains many sayings which are similar in form and content to Synoptic sayings … and which have equal right to be regarded as authentic. Second, there is, on the other hand, at least one famous ‘bolt from the Johannine blue’ in the Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 11:25-27) which is a standing warning against the facile assumption that the Synoptic Jesus did not speak the language of the Johannine Jesus. Third, the same traces of Aramaic speech and the same conformity to Jewish methods of discussion are to be found in John as in the Synoptic Gospels. Thus, we can say with considerable confidence that the sayings recorded in John have a firm historical basis in the actual words of Jesus. They have, however, been preserved in a Johannine commentary from which they can be separated only with great difficulty. … This is no radical conclusion. So conservative a scholar as Westcott saw, for example, the words of John rather than of Jesus in 3:16-21. (I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. J. Packer & D. J. Wiseman (Consulting Editors), New Bible Dictionary, 1996, Third Edition, Inter-Varsity Press, p. 602.)
Despite Marshall’s insistence that Jesus (P) did speak the language of the Johannine Jesus and that there is a “firm historical basis” to the sayings attributed to Jesus (P) in the fourth gospel, he also states that the author presents his own thoughts and meditations on the words of Jesus (P) and that the sayings of Jesus (P) have been preserved in a “Johannine commentary.”
Jalal Abualrub added here: In simple human language uncorrupted by Christian complex terminology meant to confuse the reader, ‘John’ is the Gospel according to John’s personal interpretation, not the Gospel according to Jesus, which is nowhere to be found.
Further, it is said that the separation of Jesus’ (P) words from this “Johannine commentary” can only be accomplished with “great difficulty.” What then does it mean to say that the sayings of Jesus (P) in the gospel of John have a “firm historical basis”? This confusing language and explanation is often applied by conservative scholars when they attempt to adopt two contrasting positions at the same time: defend John’s “basic/general” historicity and also admit that not everything attributed to Jesus (P) is historical.
Finally, note should be made of James D. G. Dunn, one of the leading New Testament scholars, a no “anti-supernatural liberal,” who writes: … few scholars would regard John as a source for information regarding Jesus’ life and ministry in any degree comparable to the Synoptics. It is worth noting briefly the factors which have been considered of enduring significance on this point. One is the very different picture of Jesus’ ministry, both in the order and the significance of events … and the location of Jesus’ ministry. … Another is the striking difference in Jesus’ style of speaking (much more discursive and theological, in contrast to the aphoristic and parabolic style of the Synoptics). As Strauss had already pointed out, this style is consistent, whether Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, or to the woman at the well, or to his disciples, and very similar to the style of the Baptist, as indeed of 1 John. The inference is inescapable that the style is that of the Evangelist rather than that of Jesus. Probably most important of all, in the Synoptics Jesus’ principal theme is the Kingdom of God and he rarely speaks of himself, whereas in John the Kingdom hardly features and the discourses are largely vehicles for expressing Jesus’ self-consciousness and self-proclamation. Had the striking ‘I am’ self-assertions of John been remembered as spoken by Jesus, how could any Evangelist have ignored them so completely as the Synoptics do? On the whole, then, the position is unchanged: John’s Gospel cannot be regarded as a source for the life and teaching of Jesus of the same order as the Synoptics (James D. G. Dunn, Christianity In The Making Vol. 1, Jesus Remembered, 2003, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pp. 165-166).
Other conservative Christian scholars who have similar types of verdicts to offer regarding the historicity of the gospel of John include: Bruce Stein, Craig A Evans and Martin Hengel, to name a few.
Jalal Abualrub wrote: I ask the Creator of all things to guide Christians to the true faith that they may finally come to know who Jesus really is, a human prophet from Allah, human, not divine in any way or form. All thanks and praises are due to Allah, and may Allah’s peace and blessings be on all of His Prophets, starting with Adam and including Nu`h (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), and `Esa (Jesus), and ending with the Final and Last Prophet and Messenger from Allah, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.