Is the New Testament the Preserved Word of God?
Many Christians maintain that the New Testament we have today is the literal, inspired word of God. The purpose of this article is to show that far from being the inspired word of God, the New Testament that we have today is in fact the corrupted word of numerous scribes who freely added to it over many centuries of copying.
Please note that it is a pillar of faith for us as Muslims to believe that Jesus, a great Prophet of God, received revelation known as the Injeel (or ‘Gospel’). Muslims believe, from both a theological and (as will soon be demonstrated) historical point of view, that the Gospels we have today are not the same as what was originally revealed to Jesus, peace be upon him.
THE MANUSCRIPTS: WHAT ARE THE FACTS?
- The original language of the New Testament is Greek; this is the language of the most ancient manuscripts.
- There are almost 6000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, with no two pages being identical. This is according to The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:
“There is not one sentence in the New Testament in which the manuscript tradition is wholly uniform.” 
- Faced with a massive number of variant readings, how do Christian scholars go about determining what may be the word of God? Editors must decide which variants will be included in the text. Textual scholars have developed criteria of evaluation. These considerations depend upon probabilities. Sometimes the textual critics must weigh one set of probabilities against another. The range and complexity of textual data are so great that no mechanically derived set of rules can be applied with mathematical precision. Each and every variant reading needs to be considered in itself and not judged according to a rule of thumb. So, ultimately it’s editors that decide what goes into the New Testament, not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!
CAN WE BE CONFIDENT ABOUT THE NEW TESTAMENT?
- It’s true that we have lots of copies of the originals, in fact more than any other book in the ancient world.
- As was demonstrated earlier, unfortunately what we don’t have are lots of accurate copies.
- Many Christians will assert that these mistakes are negligible because they amount to minor spelling and grammatical mistakes which are of no theological consequence.
- It’s true that majority of differences between manuscripts are down to spelling mistakes and similar scribal errors, these types of error can be ignored because of the nature of creating manuscripts by hand.
- However, deliberate additions and subtractions cannot be ignored. The famous Alexandrian scholar Origen was aware of the corruption of the New Testament even as early as the 3rd century:
“…the differences among the manuscripts [of the Gospels] have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they lengthen or shorten, as they please.” 
- The Codex Vaticanus, one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Greek Bible, has a fascinating scribal comment in the margin which provides great insight into these corruptions (click on picture to enlarge):
EXAMPLES OF CORRUPTIONS
Contrary to Christian claims, there are many examples of changes that have important theological implications. Here are a few examples:
1. Johannine Comma
The above verse, known as the Johanine Comma, contains the only clear reference to the Trinity in the New Testament, and yet does not appear in any New Testament manuscript before the 16th century. In other words, it is a fabricated verse that was inserted into the New Testament over 1,500 years after Jesus.
This verse used to be in all Bibles; however the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New International Version (NIV) have removed the verse as it is a known fabrication. The King James Version (KJV) has grave defects, and so these newer versions of the Bible (which are based on older and hence more reliable manuscripts) were produced. Here is the NIV footnote regarding this verse:
Compare the RSV and NIV versions to the KJV version, which still contains the Johannine Comma (click on picture to enlarge):
Notice how verse 7 in the RSV is different to verse 7 in the KJV. The RSV does not contain the mention of the Trinity. Also notice that verse 7 in the NIV is different to not only the KJV but also the RSV. The NIV also does not contain the mention of the Trinity. The RSV and NIV have had to split other verses into two parts in order to make up for the deletion of the Johannine Comma, this is so that the verse numbers across all three versions of the Bible line up the same.
Without these verses, there is no clear mention of God being triune in the New Testament.
2. Believers being able to handle snakes and drink deadly poison
The New Testament manuscripts for the Gospel of Mark have multiple endings. The shortest ending is found in the oldest complete copies of the New Testament, known as the Vaticanus (350 CE) and Sinaiticus (360 CE), which stop at verse 16:8. Most of the later manuscripts contain some additional verses, Mark 16:9-20, which are not always the same and seem to have been added to the Gospel at later points in time. It is these additional verses that mention that believing Christians will be able to survive handling snakes and drinking deadly poison:
It’s because of these verses that there are churches in America that handle venomous snakes as a test of faith. Sadly, many Christians have died doing such acts.
Here is the footnote regarding the ending of Mark’s Gospel from the New International Version of the Bible:
Nowhere else in the New Testament does it say that believers will be able to survive handling snakes and drinking deadly poison.
3. The story of the adulteress
John 8:2-11 is the story of a woman that is about to be stoned on the accusation of adultery. In these verses Jesus, when questioned about her punishment, utters the famous words “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. This whole story is another later addition as the earliest New Testament manuscripts do not contain it. In fact the story does not even exist in any manuscripts before the 5th century, and the vast majority of those prior to the 8th century lack the story . Here is a footnote regarding this verse from the New International Version of the Bible:
Without these verses, we can find no other examples of Jesus not following the Old Testament laws dealing with crime and punishment.
4. Jesus and omniscience
So far we have looked at examples where the scribes have added words to the New Testament. In this example we look at a case where words have been removed.
Here is Matthew 24:36 as read in the New International Version of the Bible:
Now, contrast this with the reading in the King James Version which is missing the words “nor the Son”:
Note that in the Greek manuscripts that the KJV are based upon, the words “nor the son” have been omitted. Here is a footnote regarding this verse from the New International Version of the Bible:
The NIV contains the correct reading. The words “nor the son” should be included because it is represented by the best and earliest manuscript (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) and it is also present in Mark 13:32. The evidence suggests that the omission in the later manuscripts was a theologically motivated change by scribes in order to preserve Jesus’ omniscience because they didn’t like the idea that Jesus is inferior to God in knowledge.
5. The role of women in the Church
Here women are told to “remain silent in the churches”:
For many centuries women had not been allowed to lead or to teach in churches based on these verses. However there is strong evidence to suggest that these verses were not originally Paul’s writings, but was added by later scribes intent on keeping women in their place. For a start, these verses seem to contradict what Paul wrote earlier: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.” [1 Corinthians 11:5] Since it is quite clear that Paul had no issue with women openly prophesying and praying, it makes no sense that he would immediately follow this verse up by saying they had to be “silent” and not speak. In addition, there is also manuscript evidence that these two verses were not part of Paul’s original writing, but were added to the text by scribes or copyists. For example, verse 1 Corinthians 14:35 does not appear in the same place in every manuscript of 1 Corinthians. The New International Version of the Bible has this to say about the verse:
This fact has led scholars to conclude these verses were added to the text at a later date. Professor Alan Johnson writes:
New Testament scholar Richard Hays writes:
In summary the weight of evidence leads to the conclusion that verses 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which say women should be silent and not speak in the church, was not part of the original New Testament, but rather was added at a later date, possibly by a copyist who had strong feelings about women’s participation in Christian meetings. Without these verses there is nothing in the New Testament to say that women must remain silent in church.
Critics may argue that although there are fabrications that have made their way into the New Testament, thanks to modern scholarship they have managed to identify all the fabrications and therefore can be confident about the New Testament. This is actually not the case, as there is a big gap in the manuscript tradition. For example let’s examine the Gospels (please click on picture to enlarge):
We can see from the table above that the earliest surviving manuscript of all the Gospels is P52, a tiny scrap of the Gospel of John dating to 125 CE. That’s a gap in transmission of around 35 years since it was originally written. The biggest gap is for the Gospel of Mark, around 180 years after it was originally written. Please note that these earliest surviving manuscripts are highly fragmentary, they only represent tiny portions of the Gospels. You have to go to as late as the third and fourth centuries before you find complete copies of the Gospels in the manuscript tradition. Given these big gaps in transmission, how can we be certain that what we possess today matches the earliest copies when there are no surviving early copies to compare to? Since the manuscripts that we do possess, most of which date to as late as the 10th century after Jesus, show evidence of tampering, then the chances are that there would also be tampering in the manuscripts that pre-date these. The problem is, that these earlier manuscripts have not survived, and therefore there could well be fabrications which remain undetected in the New Testament today. We simply have no way of knowing for certain, and this is a big question mark of doubt that hangs over the New Testament.
WHAT THE QUR’AN HAS TO SAY ABOUT THE GOSPEL
The verse above show that the Qur’an speaks of the original revelation given to Jesus, peace be upon him, in an extremely positive light. The original Gospel is described as being “guidance” and a “light”, just as all divinely inspired Scriptures are. The Qur’an also confirms that the Christians, who were entrusted with safeguarding the Gospel, were responsible for corrupting it:
This verse of the Qur’an would have sounded like a conspiracy theory to most Christians living in the 7th century. Today there is a remarkable convergence of what the Qur’an says about the Gospel and what modern scholarship says. Today we see this Qur’anic verse with its historical insight vindicated by manuscript discoveries and advances in textual criticism. Today various Biblical scholars are affirming that people wrote it with their own hands and attributed it to Jesus and thus to God.
I invite my fellow Christians to ponder the following point. If God wanted you, and indeed the whole of mankind, to have the original words of the New Testament, then why didn’t He preserve the words? As has been demonstrated, the modern day New Testament is not the pure words of God as originally revealed to Jesus, but rather the corrupted words of copyists and scribes.
The answer to the question of why God did not preserve the original revelation given to Jesus is that it was only ever meant to be a time bound message which served as a temporary placeholder until the coming of the Qur’an. It is only the Qur’an, God Almighty’s last and final revelation to mankind, that is timeless. God has promised mankind that He will protect and preserve the Qur’an:
To learn more about the preservation of the Bible and Qur’an, please download your free copy of the book “Jesus: Man, Messenger, Messiah” from the Iera website:
1 – G. A. Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 4, 1962.
2 – Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (2005), p. 200.
3 – Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (2005), p. 320.
4 – Alan F. Johnson, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series; 1 Corinthians (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2004), p. 271. Some commentaries give the names of scholars who believe 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 were added. Cp. Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians (A Michael Glazier Book; The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1999), p. 515; Simon Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993), p. 511; Richard Horsley, The Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1998), p. 188; Anthony Thiselton, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the First Corinthians (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2000), p.1150.
5 – Richard Hays, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: 1 Corinthians (John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1997), p. 247.
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