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18. Bible and Qur'an Series
BOOKLET 3 - The Textual History of The Qur'an and the Bible
(A reply to Amad Deedat's Booklet: Is the Bible God's Word?)
A Study of the Qur'an and the Bible

5. Fifty Thousand Errors?

Deedat then produces a reproduction of a page from a magazine entitled Awake dating back some twenty-three years published by the Jehovah's Witnesses (a non-Christian minority cult) which quotes a secular magazine Look to the effect that there are some “modern students” who “say” that there are probably “50,000 errors in the Bible”.

Very significantly no mention is made of the identity of these so-called modern students, nor is even the slightest evidence given of just a sample of this alleged abundance of errors. We can only presume that this allegation is purely rhetorical and stems from excessive prejudice against the Bible and all that it teaches.

Unfortunately those who share this prejudice willy-nilly swallow anything they read against the Bible - no matter how far-fetched or absurd it may be. In the same way Deedat takes as established fact any charge he reads against the Bible without the slightest effort to verify it. We find it hard to take him seriously when he says:

We do not have the time and space to go into the tens of thousands of - grave or minor - defects that the authors of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) have attempted to revise. (Deedat, Is the Bible God's Word?, page 14)

What he means is that he does not know of tens of thousands of errors in the Bible. Of these alleged fifty thousand defects he produces just four for our consideration. Now we must presume that a man with such an alleged wealth of errors at his disposal will be able to provide, in just four cases, very substantial evidence of total corruption in the Bible. We are also surely entitled to presuppose that these four examples will be the very best he can produce. Let us examine them.

a) The first - and presumably foremost - “error” in the Bible is allegedly found in Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 - KJV)

In the RSV we read instead of the word virgin that a young woman would conceive and bear a son. According to Deedat, this is supposed to be one of the foremost errors in the Bible.

The word in the original Hebrew is almah - a word found in every Hebrew text of Isaiah. Therefore there is no change of any nature in the original text. The issue is purely one of interpretation and translation. The common Hebrew word for virgin is bethulah whereas almah refers to a young woman - and always an unmarried one. So the RSV translation is perfectly good literal rendering of the word. But, as there are always difficulties translating from one language to another, and as a good translator will try to convey the real meaning of the original, most English translations translate the word as virgin. The reason is that the context of the word demands such an interpretation. (Muslims who have translated the Qur'an into English have often experienced similar problems with the original Arabic text. A literal rendering of a word or text may lose the implied meaning in the original language.)

The conception of the child was to be a sign to Israel. Now there would be no sign in the simple conception of a child in the womb of an unmarried woman. Such a thing is commonplace throughout the world. The sign is clearly that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. That would be a real sign - and so it was when Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy by being conceived of the Virgin Mary.

Isaiah uses the word almah rather than bethulah because the latter word not only means a virgin but also a chaste widow (as in Joel 1:8). Those who translate it as a young woman (so the RSV) give a literal rendering of the word whereas those who translate it as virgin (so the KJV) give its meaning in its context. Either way the young woman was a virgin as Mary duly was when Jesus was conceived. The issue is purely one of translation and interpretation from the original Hebrew into English. It has absolutely nothing to do with the textual integrity of the Bible as such. So Deedat's first point falls entirely to the ground.

b) His second text is John 3:16 which reads in the King James Version as follows:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

In the RSV we read that he gave his only Son and Deedat charges that the omission of the word “begotten” proves that the Bible has been changed. Once again, however, this is purely a matter of interpretation and translation for the original Greek word properly means unique. Either way there is no difference between “only Son” and “only begotten Son” for both are fair translations of the original Greek and make the same point: Jesus is the unique Son of God. (We cannot understand Deedat's claim that the RSV has brought the Bible nearer to the Qur'an which denies that Jesus is the Son of God. In the RSV the fact that he is indeed the unique Son of God is emphasized in the same terms as in the KJV.) We need to emphasize once again that there is no change in the original Greek text and that the issue is purely one of interpretation and translation. So Deedat's second point falls away as well.

To illustrate our point further we can refer to Deedat's quote from Surah Maryam 19:88, where we read that Christians say that God Most Gracious has begotten a Son. He has taken this from Yusuf Ali's translation of the Qur'an. Now in the translations of Pickthall, Muhammad Ali and Maulana Daryabadi, we do not find the word begotten but rather taken. If Deedat's line of reasoning is to be believed, then here is evidence that the Qur'an, too, has been changed!

We know our Muslim readers will immediately tell us that these are only English translations and that the original Arabic has not been changed even though the word “begotten” is not found in the other versions of the Qur'an. So we in turn plead with you to be quite realistic about this as well - nothing can be said against the integrity of the Bible just because the word “begotten”, as in the Qur'an, is only found in one translation and not in another.

c) Deedat's third example is, we admit, one of the defects the RSV set out to correct. In 1 John 5:7 in the KJV we find a verse outlining the unity of the Father, Word and Holy Ghost which is omitted in the RSV. It appears that this verse was originally set out as a marginal note in an early text and that it was mistaken by later transcribers as part of the actual text. It is omitted in all modern translations because we now have older texts of greater authority where it is not found.

Deedat suggests that “this verse is the closest approximation to what the Christians call their Holy Trinity in the encyclopedia called the BIBLE” (Deedat, Is the Bible God's Word?, page 16). If it was, or alternatively, if the whole doctrine of the Trinity was based on this one text alone, then indeed this would be a matter for very serious consideration. On the contrary any honest expositor of Biblical theology will freely admit - as all Catholics, Protestants and other Christians uniformly do - that the doctrine of the Trinity is the only doctrine of God that can be obtained from the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Indeed the following verse is a far closer approximation to and definition of the doctrine of the Trinity than the spurious verse in 1 John 5:7:

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

Only one, singular name of the three persons is referred to. In the Bible the word “name” used in such a context refers to the nature and character of the person or place so described. So Jesus speaks of only one name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - implying an absolute unity between them - and of only one name - implying a total similarity of character and essence. This verse is thoroughly Trinitarian in content and emphasis and therefore, as 1 John 5:7 merely endorses it, we do not see what effect the omission of this verse in modern translations has on Christian doctrine at all. Accordingly it is not worthy of any form of serious consideration.

d) His fourth point is such an outstanding fallacy that we marvel at his abysmal ignorance. He suggests that the “ ‘inspired’ authors of the canonical Gospels did not record a single word about the ASCENSION of Jesus” (Deedat, Is the Bible God's Word?, page 19). This claim is made pursuant to a reference to two statements about the ascension of Jesus in the Gospels of Mark and Luke which the RSV has identified as being among the variant readings we have earlier referred to. Apart from these verses the Gospel writers allegedly make no reference of any nature whatsoever to the ascension. On the contrary we find that all four knew of it perfectly well. John has no less than eleven references to it. In his Gospel Jesus says:

I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God. (John 20:17)

Luke not only wrote his Gospel but also the Book of Acts and in the latter book the first thing he mentions is the ascension of Jesus to heaven:

And when Jesus had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:9)

Matthew and Mark regularly speak of the second coming of Jesus from heaven (see, e.g., Matthew 26:64 and Mark 14:62). It is difficult to see how Jesus could come from heaven if he had not ascended there in the first place.

In conclusion we must point out that the passages Mark 16:9-20 and John 8:1-11 have not been expunged from the Bible and later restored as Deedat suggests. In the RSV translation they are now included in the text, because scholars are persuaded that they are indeed part of the original text. The truth of the matter is that in our oldest scripts they are found in some texts and not in others. The RSV editors are not tampering with the Bible as Deedat has suggested - they are merely trying to bring our English translations as close as possible to the original texts - unlike the editors of Uthman's recension of the Qur'an who deemed it more expedient simply to destroy anything that varied in any way with their preferred text.

Finally it proves nothing to state that all the original manuscripts - those on which the books of the Bible were written for the first time - are now lost and have perished for the same is true of the very first texts of the Qur'an. The oldest text of the Qur'an still extant dates from the second century after the Hijrah and is compiled on vellum in the early al-Ma'il (i.e. slanted) Arabic script. Other early Qur'ans are in Kufic script and date from the same time as well.

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