Can the Bible or the Quran act as a guidebook to life?
This question was explored as a group of about 50 students and community members gathered in Blanchard to hear a discussion entitled “The Bible vs. the Quran: How Do the Texts Stand Up to a Fair Test?”
On Thursday, Nov. 15, Keith Small, who is a member of Avant Ministries and teaches for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and the London School of Theology, was the featured lecturer for the night. Small researches textual variants to trace the history of texts of the New Testament and the Quran from their earliest manuscripts.
He explained that the trustworthiness of the Bible and the Quran has been questioned because of the number of variances in the texts and the number of versions of the manuscripts that are available.
Despite this, Small said that the Bible can be maintained as a valid text. Although Christians agree that there are some variances and deviations in the biblical texts, scholars state that these nuances do not alter the main message.
On the other hand, textual variants in the Quran are a controversial subject, according to Small, partly because academic scholars do not have free access to all of the relevant Quranic manuscripts for research. In addition, Small said that Muslims believe the Quran is the word of Allah and has not suffered any changes or imperfections.
In response to statements like these, Small said, “I can confidently say that there has never been one precise version of the Quran. There are slight differences in manuscripts found around the world.”
Small examined the texts of the Quran to validate their historical accuracy. He applied a method of textual analysis commonly used in studies of ancient Western and Eastern manuscripts to 21 early Quran manuscripts. In his analysis, Small found that there has never been just one version of the Quran; rather, there are 10 different versions.
Small then worked to uncover whether the texts lead back to the words of Muhammad. He found that, like many other traditions, the Quran is a piece of oral literature turned into written traditions. Over the centuries, the texts underwent a large amount of editing and shaping, including editing to record the Arabic text of the Quran in a complete phonetic script.
He explained that with these edits and deviations, neither Islamic nor Christian scholars can say that they have all the proof to solidify their beliefs. But, Small concluded that they do have enough evidence to believe when coupled with faith.
Small said that belief becomes a choice because the bigger issue is not the amount of proof for the texts but rather what types of claims are being made about the text: A text ought to at least be transmitted in a historically reliable manner for it to be believable. Claims that a text is perfect fall short, he said.
He highlighted a major difference between textual criticism of the Quran and textual criticism of the Bible. New Testament textual criticism seeks to “recover the first published text of each New Testament book from among the textual variants and text-types that have accumulated throughout the history of the transmission of the text.”
With the Quran, textual criticism attempts to justify one form of the text against many others.
“These efforts to establish and justify one text from among a group of collections of material, both oral and written, has resulted in irreparable loss of the earliest authoritative forms of the text. The entire shape of the text of the Quran shows it to be an intentionally developed text,” Small said.
Despite the textual variances in each tradition, Small said the most significant difference between the Bible and the Quran are the messages. He offered the challenge to look at these two texts and consider a few questions: Is this person who he claims to be? Is he worthy of my devotion? Is he worthy of the titles that the text gives him?
“This is a real choice that we have been offered freely. Look at the evidence, and we can decide,” Small said.
Sophomore student Chloe Weidenbaum said that attending the lecture helped her to recognize the importance of “belief in a God and belief that he reveals his will to us in a book and that we should order our lives around it.”
Photo Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the November 30, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.