Letters to a Muslim Friend — Letter 6

It is close to the end of another year for the Muslim world, and I pray for God’s blessings on you in the New Year.

I was in Kuwait City yesterday, and visited Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, which has a number of interesting displays of Islamic art and antiquities. I’ll be taking some others there on Monday, as well as to the Grand Mosque.

Regarding the paper on the New Testament, let me start with a small correction. The seven books that are in the Catholic Bible but not in the Protestant Bible are in the Old Testament, not the New Testament. They are books that were written by Jewish authors living before the time of Jesus–these books were in the Greek translation of the Old Testament made in Alexandria (called the Septuagint), but not in the Hebrew original.

I do not believe that the time between the life of Jesus and the writing of the New Testament is long enough to question its accuracy. The traditional date for Jesus’ crucifixion is 33 AD. The first New Testament writings, the letters of Paul, date to 55 AD. The first of the Gospels, generally agreed to be Mark’s, is generally dated about 60 AD (27 years after the crucifixion). The last New Testament writings are generally dated around 90-100, so maximum of sixty seven years. Let’s compare it to our day. Twenty seven years ago was 1986. I was completing my Master of Arts degree. I had been married four years. I remember those events very well. That was also the year of the Challenger disaster, one of those historic events that etches itself into our minds so that we can say where we were and what we were doing when we heard of it.

The difference from Jesus’ crucifixion to the end of the writings of the canon was 67 years. That’s as much a distance as 1946 is for us. Now, certainly I don’t remember then–my dad was only three years old. But you were 14 years old, and I am sure you can remember some events of your teenage years with great accuracy. My mother-in-law is ten years older than you, and was 24 then. She can tell me in much detail about her life in Canada, and her college years, and her memories of World War 2. My great-uncle was a Seabee in the Navy in the South Pacific. He tells me of Iwo Jima and of Okinawa. He built the runway on Tinian that the Enola Gay took off from. He has very clear memories of the critical events of that period. So I do not doubt that men who encountered Jesus Christ were able faithfully to transmit to their children and grandchildren the things that Jesus taught them. And I believe that God himself protected that message, for  “no prophecy ever came by human will. Instead, men and women led by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

You quote a skeptic, Hugh Schonfield. He is a doubter, an unbeliever. He refers to inspired books as “bogus,” as “purposefully misleading.” He dismisses the sacred writings as “forgeries, manipulations and deliberate inventions.” I believe the Qur’an has strong words for those who reject the Book: Al-Mu’min 40:69-70, “Do you not see those who dispute concerning the signs of God? How are they turned away? Those who reject the Book, and that (book) with which We sent our apostles, they shall know when the collars shall be around their necks, and the chains, they shall be dragged along.” And in Al-Maida 5:50, “And let the People of the Gospel judge by what God has revealed in it. If any fail to judge by what God has revealed, they are licentious.” And 5:68-71, “If only the People of the Book had believed and been righteous, we should have blotted out their sins and admitted them to gardens of bliss. If only they had performed the Torah and the Gospel and all that was revealed to them from their Lord, they would have eaten from above and from under their feet. Among them is a People (umma) on the right course, but evil is that which many of them do… Say, ‘O People of the Book! You are not (founded) on anything until you perform the Torah and the Gospel, and what was revealed to you from your Lord.'”

Yes, the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus are from the fourth century. But the oldest fragment of the Gospel of John, the John Rylands Manuscript, dates to 125 AD. (Here’s a useful chart of the oldest manuscripts).

The various books that claimed to be Gospels all date much later than the canonical Gospels. The “Gospel of Barnabas,” a very late work that was clearly written with an agenda to discredit the New Testament. The early church had clear criteria–was a book written by an apostle or an associate of an apostle, did it proclaim the Christian faith accurately, and was it used throughout the Christian church.

I would encourage you, not to read books by doubters and skeptics, but to read the books for yourselves. You would ask me to do the same of the Qur’an. Read the Gospels, one by one, and what they claim about Jesus. The Qur’an commends the Gospel and the Torah. I don’t find where it criticizes either, or doubts their inspiration. Instead, it condemns those who rejected both. So I would encourage you to follow the example of Muhammad, and to see in both the Torah and the Gospel messages that God gave through  his messengers, to call men to believe in him.

I will touch on the article on the Trinity in a future letter.

May the peace of God be with you.