Are the Holy Scriptures Trustworthy? What About the Words of Isa al-Masih in Them?
No ancient religion possesses its original scriptures, first written on rock, clay, wood, bone, paper, animal skin, or the like. The originals were copied and later lost, buried, or destroyed. The same is true of most ancient texts and even of many more modern books and writings. Furthermore, some scriptures were written not by the prophets themselves, but by those who claimed to have heard them. From this we see that no matter the religion, a measure of faith is required in the trustworthiness of its writings. Claims are made about holy texts, but none of us possess the original, imperishable, writings descended directly from heaven. We are left with belief that what we possess are holy words revealed ages ago.
Put another way, it is impossible to scientifically prove that any religious scriptures available today came to us directly from Allah via his angels or prophets. Claiming divine descent, however vehemently, does not make it so. Sincere conviction, history, logic, traditions, or threats may convince people. They might even convince the vast majority of people, especially in tight-knit societies. But such methods can at best turn skepticism into faith, not into fact.
When it comes to the Holy Injil, literally thousands of ancient, hand-written copies or portions still exist today. The oldest are over 1,800 years old, coming to within a few decades of the original authors' lives. Many are 1,600 to 1,700 years old, predating later religions and their own revelations. All these many manuscripts testify to people's great enthusiasm for the good news about Isa. People were so excited they copied the Injil whenever they could. Meaningful differences between the manuscripts are minor, usually in spelling and word order. The science of textual studies compares the differences, evaluates them, and brings the words of the Injil to almost complete certainty. The few places where questions might remain make no difference to the truth about Isa. The many copies show that nothing of substance is missing, nothing material has been added, and nothing significant was changed. In the relatively few places that remain, it's a matter of deciding which of two or three often very similar forms is the original. Yes, faith is required, but at least the issues—minor though they may be—are transparent for the entire world to see.
It is a dangerous diversion to state that the Injil has been corrupted while ignoring its message based on the entirety of the manuscript tradition. Faith is still required of any religion, even those which claim their ancient texts have no variations. Encouraging such faith in the Holy Scriptures, Isa spoke about the trustworthiness of the Tawrat, the Prophets, and the Zabur, as well as the Injil:
“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of Allah's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. … Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.” (Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35)
Some unbelievers claim that Isa al-Masih was a liar. Some, that he was a lunatic. Let us not join their ranks with the dishonoring legend that his words have been lost. It is a fearful thing to teach that the Injil is corrupted, that Allah has not preserved the truth he proclaimed through his holy prophet. For those tempted to make such unsupported claims, it is worth remembering Isa's words:
“Listen to me, on the Day of Judgment people will give an account for every useless thing they have said.” (Matthew 12:36)
The real questions are not about the trustworthiness of the Holy Scriptures, but about the meaning of their content. In particular, who was Isa al-Masih, what did he say and do, and how should that affect my life and beliefs? As some shrewd military men of his day noted, “No one has ever spoken like this!” (John 7:46). Mere humans could not have invented the life and teaching of Isa as we read it in the Holy Injil.
When it comes to faith—confidence in the truth about Isa al-Masih—Isa himself tells us clearly:
“Anyone who wants to do what Allah desires will know whether my teaching is from him or is merely my own.” (John 7:17)
“Anyone” includes you and me.
What about translations of holy books in general? Don't they corrupt the original? Not necessarily. Allah made language, and he can help people translate his Holy Scriptures. Just before returning to heaven:
Isa went over to his disciples and spoke to them, saying, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all peoples, ritually washing them in the name of the Father and the Son and Allah's Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Isa likely said that in Aramaic. His disciples wrote his words in Greek. Since then they have been translated into thousands of languages, more than any other book. Allah can help translators convey his holy message, for in Isa, the greatest of all translations, we see the Almighty himself.
Philip said to Isa, “Lord, show us the Father. Then we'll be satisfied.” Isa replied, “Philip, how could I have been with you all this time and you not know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. So why do you ask me to show him to you? Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The things I tell you are not my own. The Father, living in me, does his work. Believe me when I say I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or believe simply because of the things I've done. I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same things I have done and even greater still, because I am leaving to be with the Father. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it so that the Father might be glorified through the Son. Whatever you ask me in my name, I will do it!” (John 14:8-14)
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