Islam and the Four Gospels
Dr Ahmed A. Galwash
Muslims do not admit the authenticity of the Gospels, or the creed contained therein, or the leading events life of Jesus, as depicted by these same Gospels. In this attitude Muslims are supported by the scholarly researched of devout Christians even. It seems, however, that the laity in Christendom is generally as ignorant, with regard to these vital questions, as non-Christians, to whom Christian literature is inaccessible in the main. A brief account of these questions is, therefore, likely to be of interest and use. According to the doctrines of Islam, it was not the Holy Ghost that moved the writers of the said Gospels to write them. But it was the example of other writers that inspired them with the desire of compiling brief biographies of Jesus.
St - Luke's Gospel
St. Luke's own words to this effect are:
"For as much as many have taken in hand to set forth, in order declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
"Even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitness and ministers of the word;
"It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things, from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
"The thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed" St.Luke: I - 4.
St. Luke as very plainly set forth the ground of his inspiration namely: (1) the example of other writers of Jesus; (2) his consciousness of possessing "perfect understanding of all things from the first"; and (3) to impart reliable information to Theophilus. Thus St. Luke does not call his Gospel a divine revelation, but he claims for it (a) diligence in collecting all available material, (b) fullness, (c) careful investigation, (d) orderly arrangement and (e) accuracy.
The Rev. Grieve, M.A., D.D, Principal of the Congregational Hall. Edinburgh, and joint Editor of Peake's famous Commentary explains Luke's preface in the following word: 1:1-4 "The writer, influenced by the attempts of others, to record the primitive tradition of Christianity, as it was handed down by the first generation of disciples, essays the same task, and having taken pains to collect, examine, sift and arrange the contents of the written oral tradition, presents the result to Theophilus, a Roman official of some standing - a literary patron of the Evangelist's who needed fuller acquaintance with the historic basis of the oral teaching about Christianity which he had received."
God reveals books for the guidance of a nation or nations, as the case may be, but St. Luke dedicates his books to the "most excellent Theophilus"
The Encyclopedia Biblica throws further light on this dedication" "The dedication of Luke (I-14) shows, that we have passed into a new literary province. The Moratorium fragment calls attention to the fact that the author writes in his own name, a novelty among Evangelists. He also dedicates his word to someone who, if not an imaginary 'God beloved' would appear to be a patron, a man of rank. The apostles - the (1-2) 'eyewitnesses and ministers of the word' - appear to have delivered their testimony by oral tradition and to have passed away. To supply their places, (1-I) many had attempted to draw up a formal narrative concerning the matters fully established in the Church. These writers had clearly not been eyewitnesses, nor were they, in Luke's judgment, so successful as to make unnecessary any further attempts. Apparently they had failed in the three points, in which he hopes to excel: (1) they had not traced everything up to the source, and this (2) as far as it went not accurately and (3) they had not written in order."
The same book further discusses the point whether or not the work of St. Luke justifies the claims of that Apostle: "We are led to the conclusion that, through Luke attempted to write accurately, and in 'order', ye be could not always succeed. When deciding between an earlier and a later date, between this and that place and occasion, between metaphor and literalism, between that Jesus himself said and what he said through his disciples, he (Luke) had to be guided by evidence which sometimes led him aright, but not always.
We further read in the same work: "Luke's absolute omission of genuine and valuable traditions - especially in connection with Christ's appearance to women after the Resurrection, and with Christ's promise to go to 'Galilee' - ... seriously diminishes the value of his work. It is probably the best adapted for making converts. But if bold bare facts are in question, it is probably the least authoritative of the Four".
Luke's failure has evidently been ascribed to his attempts being human, and his sources mortal, which could not always guide him aright. If his work had been revealed, he could not have been accused of having omitted some most important incidents, or of his book being "the least authoritative".
The quotations cited above clearly buttress the Islamic belief, that the Christian gospels are but human attempts to draw up accounts of the life of Jesus, and as such are neither complete nor satisfactory. Revelation alone can make a recipient immune from error; for it suspends, for the time being, all other mental activity of the person, upon whom the Word of God descends.
His Word and Will were revealed to prophets, like Abraham (A.S.), Moses (A.S.), Jesus (A.S.) and Muhammad (S.A.W.). But the followers of Jesus were animated, or inspired, to compile what was already known to them. They had but to collect, sift and arrange the material which was in the possession of the people. As such the works of the Apostles are necessarily characterized by mortal shortcoming. Even the devout Christian scholar admits it, and is ready to bear testimony to the fact, that the record of the gospels is not altogether complete and reliable. We cannot do better than quote some of the most scholarly and popularly admitted opinions which carry weight and conviction in this connection.
The Rev. Dummelow M.A., expresses his opinion as follows: "Speaking broadly, the Christians mean by their inspiration an impulse from God, causing, certain persons to write, and directing them how to write, for the edification of others. Though it is closely connected with revelation, it is not identical with it. By revelation, God makes known to soul truths which were unknown to it before but it is not at all necessary, that an inspired writer should receive any new truths by way of revelation. Thus, St. Mark was inspired to write his Gospel, but he was inspired to write down
truths which were already familiar to him and to others through the instruction given by St. Peter."
The Gospel of St. Matthew and that of St. Mark
The foregoing also applies to both St. Matthew's and St. Mark's Gospels. "St. Mark is the oldest of the Synoptists, and has been used by St. Matthew and St. Luke, who have incorporated the bulk of his Gospel into their own with comparatively few alterations.
It is thus plain that Christian scholars of sacred literature do not claim divine origin Gospels. They, on the other hand, admit that the said books were compiled by mere men who were by no means experts. They were consequently liable to mistakes. I quote the Rev. Dummelow once more on the point: "We must not regard the Bible as an absolutely perfect book, in which God is Himself the author, using human hands and brains only as a man may use a typewriter... Their inspiration did not involve a suspension of their natural faculties, nor abolish the differences of training and character; it did not even make them perfectly free from earthly passion. Therefore, we find that their knowledge sometimes is no higher than their contemporaries and their indignation against oppression and wrongdoing sometimes breaks out into desire of revenge. It surprises us in the Bible, because of our false preconception; because of our false theory of Verbal inspiration."
The same Commentary further throws light upon the insufficiency and incompleteness of the sacred records, and this precludes any chance of their claiming divine origin. "Today we realize that the life of Jesus can never be Gospels satisfy the requirements of a modern biography. At best, they offer us certain memorabilia of the public ministry of Jesus, hardly adequate to construct the story of the year or years, during which he evangelized his people, and barely sufficing to mirror the chief features of his message. Where the modern mind is most curious the Gospels seems to be least communicative. Men would fain trace the development of innermost convictions which condition his activity as a prophet. But the facts that the Gospels tells us little or nothing of the early life of Jesus, and that almost every story consists of simple record of outward act and utterance, with few hints as to inward feeling or historical setting, seem at first sight to defeat the hopes of analyzing motive, and tracing growth."
The Four Gospels
Dealing with the sources of the four Gospels of the Christian faith, the Encyclopedia Biblica comments as follows:
"These documents are of varying value from a historical point of view. Critical opinion is much divided as to the fourth, that which bears the name of John, the judgment of many critics being, that it is the least Trustworthy as a source, whether for words or for the acts of Jesus. By comparison, the first three, from their resemblances called synoptical, are regarded by many as possessing a considerable measure of historical worth, but even these, from a critical point of view are not of equal value, nor do the contents of any them possess a uniform degree of historical probability. They present to the critic a curious interesting, and perplexing problem, still far from final solution. By their resemblances and differences, agreements and disagreements, they raise many questions as to origin, relative dates, and literary connections, which have called forth a multitude of conflicting hypotheses and a most extensive critical literature."
In the opinion of the best English scholars of the New Testament, the Gospels are not to be looked upon as revealed books, the sole source of which should have been God and not man. But they are to be regarded, on the other hand as inadequate attempts made by pious but not talented followers of Christ, at the description of his life. It is a great pity, that the world never availed itself of the collection of those lives - inspiring words that were uttered by the Prophet of Nazareth. However, piety and veneration, for a long time, assured the credulity of the early Christians that the Gospels time, when every article of it was firmly and reverently believed to have directly proceeded from God. In short what had been written by man, passed for the word of God. This is clear to those clergy who have undergone university training. But the pity of it is, that they have not the moral courage to enlighten their congregation on the subject. It would only seem, that pious anxiety dictates, that a character of infallibility should still be given to what has been written by human hands, and that crude attempts at the biography of the Prophet of Nazareth should continue to be believed to have been revealed by God Himself.
Anyhow, what scholarship and research have now brought to light was revealed over thirteen centuries ago in the Holy Qur'an:
"Do they not know that God knows, what they keep secret, and what Book, but only idle stories and they do but conjecture; woe then, to those who write the book with their own hands, and then say. This is from God, so that they may obtain therewith a small gain; therefore woe to them, for what their hands have written, and woe to them, for what they have earned."
Dr. Murray's illustrated "Bible Dictionary" which is a valuable commentary enlightens us thus:
Gospels: "The first point which attracts our notice in reading the Gospels is that the first three Gospels are distinct from the fourth. The first three Gospels confine themselves almost exclusively to the event which took place in Galilee, until Christ's last journey to Jerusalem. If we had three Gospels alone, we could not definitely say, that our Lord went to Jerusalem during his ministry, until he went there to die. The difference in character is no less, than the difference in scene. Further, the synoptists do no claim to be eyewitnesses of our Lord's word; the first three Gospels are usually called the synoptic Gospels... It is obvious that not only all three synoptic Gospels differ from John, but they differ widely from that in Luke. The incidents of the temptation of our Lord are recorded in a different order in Matthew and Luke, and the temptation is recorded without these incidents in Mark. All three Gospels give slightly different account of the inscription on the cross, and the words spoken by the centurion at the death of Jesus, vary in Luke from the words in Matthew and Mark. Also the language differs in a very singular manner.
From the above quotations it is very clear, that the material for Marks, Gospel was supplied by St. Peter's preaching, and that Mark was freely drawn upon by Matthew and Luke; who establishes the fact, that the synoptic Gospels are no revelations at all but are purely and simply human compilations. It remains to deal with St. John Gospel.
The Twentieth Century New Testament makes the following observation on John:
"The writer apparently proposed to himself to illustrate the spirit of the Gospel of Love' by such incidents in the life of Jesus, as best suited his purpose. There is no attempt at a regular connected narrative; and the writer allows himself such freedom in commenting upon the teaching of Jesus that it is not always easy to tell where that teaching ends and the writer's comments begin. It is to the great struggle between Light and Darkness, Death and Life - words much in use and much debated in the current philosophy of Ephesus, that the writer devotes his attention, rather than to the external incidents of a story which has already been told, and which is plainly viewed by him from a greater distance of time, than is the case with the compliers of the three other Gospels"
Another eminent authority, namely Dr. Weymouth; in his introduction to John observes:
"It must be owned that, although the fourth Gospel makes no assertion which contradicts the character of Teacher and Reformed attributed to Him by the synoptists, it presents to us a personage so enwrapped in mystery and dignity, as indeed the avowed centre of the whole record and his portrayal is its avowed purpose.
Now, these quotations point very clearly to the fact, that there is a general agreement, as to John having played the role of an interpreter or a commentator of the three other Gospels. There is not an allusion or a reference, made to John having received a revelation from Heaven, or having been inspired to furnish the world with an explanation of the doctrines of Christ. We learn on the other hand, that while the authors of the three other Gospels complied the incidents of the life of Jesus, John gave a mystical meaning to them. He himself does not lay claim to revelation, or to consequent perfection. He has, on the contrary, confessed the imperfection of his attempts, to depict the incidents of the life of Jesus. Likewise he admits, that he is but a recorded of incidents or signs but these has been recorded, in order that you may believe that he is the Christ, the son of God and that, through believing, you may have Life through his name." This text, which reveals the object of the fourth Gospel, announces that this is a partial record of some of those signs which Jesus performed before his disciples. To record events or signs which are known to many, or all of the disciples and others, does not require the aid of revelation which supplies information which is not already in the possession of human beings.
Some Important Discrepancies
Jesus said to them (who took offence and who were not prepared to recognize his claims simply because he was a carpenter's son and had other humble ties): "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house" (Mark). This statement was curtailed by Matthew, and still more by John. Luke ignored it altogether.
"But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark xiii, 32). This text embodies a confession by Jesus, eloquent of his limited knowledge and avowed ignorance; while Luke and John however make no mention of that humiliating reference.
The Rev. Dummelow's Commentary makes the following remake on "Neither the Son": "This is the true reading not only her (in Mark) but in Matthew xxiv, 35 where it has been altered in many MSS., probably being a difficulty to faith." Peake's Commentary offers the following note on it:
"Mark xiii 32 - This is one of Schmiedel's pillar-passages," A passage admitting a limit to Christ; knowledge must be trustworthy history according to Schimiedel. Certainly later commentators found the verse difficult.
"My God my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? (Mark xv. 34) these words have been copied by Matthew only. They picture the inborn weakness of Jesus. This expression of his human nature was unworthy of record, in the opinion of Luke and John.
Of many interpolations, mention will be made here of few only: (A) John vii 53 and viii. 1 - 11 that is, the last verse of the seventh chapter, with its continuation in the first eleven verses of the eighth chapter, which relate the story of an adultress, is an interpolation. This is admitted universally. The Rev. Dummelow's Commentary has the following observations on it: "The woman taken in adultery - All modern critics agree, that this section (vii. 53 - viii - 1 - 11) is not original part of the fourth Gospel. It is not in the author's style; it breaks the sequence of our Lord's discourses, and is omitted by most of the ancient authorities.
Peake's Commentary comments on the story at the end of John vii. 53 viii - 1 -11, Jesus, and the woman accused of sin: "The well known story of the woman taken in adultery has no claim to be regarded as part of the original text of this ... It is supported by no early Patristic evidence. The evidence proves it to be an interpolation of a "western" character".
Dr. Weymouth's "New Testament in Modern English" mark's the section as an interpolation. "The Twentieth Century New Testament has excised it, and placed it in such a place as indicates clearly, that, it has no connection with John. 'The Complete Bible in Modern English' writes in a footnote: "The narrative of the sinful woman (chap. Vii. 53 to viii - 1 - 11) is rejected by the most competent authorities as a spurious interpolation."
(B) John xxi: - In the opinion of the Rev. Dummelow the last two verses at least, 24 and 25 - are really doubtful, and they "may gave been added by the Ephesians elders, who first put the Gospel in circulation, after the death of the Apostle, and who wished to testify to its genuineness and trustworthiness.
(C) Mark xvi 9-20 is another interpolation. Dummelow's Commentary observes that "Internal" evidence points definitely to the conclusion, that the last twelve verses are not by St. Mark." It further supplies the following information on the subject: "When at the close of the apostolic age, an attempt was made (probably in Rome) to collect the authentic memorials of the Apostles and their companions, a copy of the neglected second Gospel was not easily found. The one that was actually discovered and was used to multiply copies had last leaf, and so fitting termination (the present appendix) was added by another hand."
The unanimous verdict given in the New Testaments of Dr. Weymouth Dr. Moffat, Ferrar Fenton, and in the Twentieth Century New Testament, is that Mark xvi 9-20, is addition.
(D) Luke xxiv - 51 is another interpolation, as is conceded on all hands. It elicits the following comment from the Rev. Dummelow: "A few ancient authorities omit these words. If they are omitted it is possible to regard this event, not as the ascension, but as a miraculous disappearance of Jesus at the end of the interview begun in verse 36."
Peake's Commentary makes similar remarks; "The words and was carried up into heaven are omitted in some of the best MSS and have probably crept in from Acts I - 9 f"
The Twentieth Century New Testament and Dr. Moffat's New Testament" make it as an interpolation."