Muslims, Bible, Quran (Koran) and Copyist Mistakes

Here's my latest effort at a discussion with a Muslim I managed to inveigle into R Catholic-L (of Yahoo Groups). Any comments about my discussion with Fadi? Part 2 covers the Johannine Comma (late textual addition of 1 John 5:7).

As you know, I consider the threat of Islam to be far more dangerous and important than bashing ORTHODOX Catholics like Fr. Raymond E. Brown! <g>


see also Bible Contradictions Answered originally by Andrew Tong, edited by P

Hello Fadi, thanks for this note.

Apologies for the delay. I have been distracted at home by various matters.

PP> is P, FS> is Fadi, a Muslim, the rest is Sean Brooks

PP> No need to find it disturbing. Catholics (or Eastern Orthodox) are NOT "Sola Scriptura" (Scripture ALONE) -- we DO NOT rely on the Bible ALONE for our beliefs. You have mistaken Sean Brooks and I for Protestant Fundamentalists. That is one reason I said the slight differences you have pointed out are NOT a problem. >>

FS> Ok I have no problem with catholics basing their faith on other works besides the Bible but to say that it is not a problem to have unknown... >>

Nope. Not a problem. You didn't understand what P was saying. We CATHOLICS don't say revelation is from the Bible alone. The Church teaches that God speaks thru BOTH the Bible and from TRADITION. And I repeat that trivial scribal errors don't matter

FS> That is like saying God isn't perfect: [like saying] Contradictions in Divine inspiraton is a TOTALLY FAIR ASSESSMENT of God's work. Yes, God has limits like not doing stupid things or silly things but God is not so... >>

No. We say God chose to work thru imperfect human beings, accepting their human limitations and weaknesses. To say nothing of God assented to revelation being given to mankind "filtered" thru the cultures and literary styles and genres the sacred authors chose to write with.

PP> Another reason is they are simply not a problem for most Fundamentalists either. Consider James R. White's book The King James Only Controversy (Bethany House, 1995). White is a Protestant Reformed anti-Catholic but basically agrees with Catholics/Orthodox on the issues of text, transmission, and copyist error. They are quite insignificant, despite what you may read in Ahmed Deedat (Muslim apologist). >>

FS> Now I'm gonna reply to this not only because I'm a big fan of Deedat but because to say that errors are insignificant is such a STRONG phrase to use when describing the work of God. Its like seeing your boss at work make a mistake and not telling him because you want a raise. >>

And I repeat, as I and others have said, NO doctrine of Christian faith depends on any textually dubious text. In addition, trivial errors like a scribe misspelling or omitting minor words do not matter. This phenomenon is true not only of the Bible but of ALL books copied by hand.

That is why the science of textual criticism arose over the past two centuries. Scholars study different families of mss. of the Bible, Homer's epics, the Fathers, etc., to arrive at as accurate as possible a text. And Muslims would do well to adopt such techniques to study the textual history of the Koran.

PP> Okay, we are agreed on something then. The originals were divinely inspired, even though slight imperfections came into during the transmission process. You don't believe that every person for 1,400 years who ever heard the Quran, who ever attempted to memorize or copy the Quran or parts of the Quran were inspired prophets, right? They were imperfect people, just as the monks, copyists, and scribes who transmitted the text of the Bible. Christians believe the prophets were inspired, the apostles were inspired, Jesus was divinely inspired, but the folks who transmitted the text were not. They did a great job, but they were not inspired prophets. >>

FS> Although we Muslims agree that the original Injeel and Original Torah were divinely inspired free of error that doesnt mean that... >>

Yes, they most certainly were! I know it's a Muslim contention that when the Koran speaks approvingly of the Bible, Mohammed was not referring to the actual mss. of the Bible we have. But that is not true. The Bible used by Jews and Christians of Mohammed's time was the same Bible we use today. If not, present EVIDENCE that we use a different OT and NT from the Gospel and Torah mentioned in the Koran.

FS> Nor does it mean we accept the words of Matthew, John, and Luke >>

Needless to say, I disagree. The reason why Muslims deny the NT and OT are divinely inspired is because they teach ideas and doctrines which contradict the beliefs of Islam. So Mohammed claimed that means we don't have the "true" Bible.

FS> We believe certain prophets came with the word of God. >>

Correct. Except Our Lord Jesus Christ is MORE than a mere prophet. He is also True God and True Man. And he became incarnate to teach his first disciples, die on the Cross and rise from the dead to redeem all mankind.

FS> Now in the old testament never once does it say "according to" when referring where each book came from. IN the Quran it doesn't say according to when referring to a chapter. That's because its felt they are divine inspirations. >>

What exactly is your point here? The Bible is a large collection of many different kinds of books. The genres include law codes, history, allegorical/edifying fiction, poetry, prophecy, etc. I.e., books like Deuteronomy, Kings, Tobit, Psalms, Isaiah. And we Christians say all these different kinds of books are inspired.

FS> Now taking all this in because I don't feel like adding more stuff because I'm a lazy college student and I only did this to help Sean cause because he said he needs Muslims in his forum; Yes Muslims do believe that the true Injeel and Torah are divinely inspired without errors however they would surely not have according to individuals because it would be known >>

Again, thanks for accepting my invitation to drop by this forum. Yes, I do want Muslims in here to debate and discuss theological issues with us Christians. And we say the Bible IS without error. That is, without DOCTRINAL errors. Regardless of the existence of petty scribal blunders.

PP> Your comments on the transmission of the Quran I suspect need some elaboration. But thanks for the info. I assume there are errors in the transmission of the Quran, differences in manuscript readings, etc just like the Bible. But I admit I am ignorant on the specifics, and would have to do a little study on that. >>

FS> Ok now regarding the Quran having errors in transmission. We are told in the Quran that God would protect it from errors and textual inaccuries that occur in transmission. >>

Except I am not convinced of that. The mere fact that Othman destroyed different editions or versions of the Koran after having the "standard" edition prepared means the Koran had textual variants. To say nothing of how I'm aware that some Shias accuse the Sunnis of tampering with the Koran. Plus, have all the most ancient mss. of the Koran ever yet been collated and published to show their agreements or disagreements?

FS> Much like catholics take the word of the Church in its claim that the bible truly is the ORIGINAL word of God we Muslims shall take Gods word in His claim that He will protect the Quran. >>

Until a critical edition of all the most ancient mss. of the Koran has been published, I remained unconvinced. To say nothing of how this does not matter if we Christians believe the Koran is doctrinally erroneous.

FS> Now I totally don't agree wth the brother that wrote the message that the Quran has errors or his belief that it does. It has been proven that the Quran has no errors despite some of the inaccuracies that may occur in translations from arabic because many Arabic words have different meanings. >>

Again, as you know from above, unconvincing.

FS> Needless to say we have to remember that the Quran is the epitome of what the Arabic language should be. It is the standard and it has challenged people for what 1400 some odd yrs to produce something like it and many have tried from Ibn Muqfaa' one of the premier poets of early arabian culture and ALL have failed. >>

And not all are convinced the Koran is "perfect" even as simple literature. I'll quote from Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb's ANSWERING ISLAM (Baker Books: 1993, 2002; page 192) on this point:

Eloquence is highly questionable as a test for divine inspiration. At best it only proves that Muhammad was extremely gifted. After all Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of six! In fact Mozart was even more talented, since his entire music corpus was produced before age thirty five; Muhammad did not begin to produce the suras of the Qur'an until age forty. But what Muslims would say that Mozart's works are miraculous like the Qur'an? If eloquence were the test, then a case could be made for the divine authority of many literary classics. Homer would qualify as a prophet for producing the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY. Shakespeare is without peer in the English language. But Muslims would scarcely accept the challenge to produce a work like ROMEO AND JULIET or else accept the divine inspiration of the works of Shakespeare.

Furthermore, the Qur'an is not unrivaled, even among works in Arabic. The Islamic scholar, C.G. Pfander, points out that

"it is by no means the universal opinion of unprejudiced Arabic scholars that the literary style of the Qur'an is superior to that of all other books in the Arabic language."

For example,

"some doubt whether in eloquence and poetry it surpasses the Mualla'qat, or the Magamat or Hariri, though in Muslim lands few people are courageous enough to express such an opinion."

Moreover, the authors quote an Iranian Shia writer named Ali Dashti about the literary defects of the Koran:

"The Qur'an contains sentences which are incomplete and not fully intelligible without the aid of commentaries; foreign words, unfamiliar Arabic words, and words used with other than the normal meaning; adjectives and verbs inflected without observance of the concord of gender and number; illogical and ungrammatically applied pronouns which sometimes have no referent; and predicates which in rhymed passages are often remote from the subjects."

(cited from Geisler/Saleeb, Answering Islam, page 192)

FS> Yes Uthman burned Qurans. But he burned the ones without the accent markings because people were reading in different dialects incorrectly and it was small parts that these errors were occurring. What I find interesting is that Christians and other non-Muslims use our own history which we provide with you free of charge without hiding it from you as proof that there were other versions of the Quran. Well Im here to say you can also say that God was fufilling the prophecy that He would protect the Quran from having any errors by having Uthman burn all the other Qurans. >>

And not even all the early Muslims would agree. I have read of complaints that the editors of the Othmanic text omitted KORANIC PASSAGES. Not merely a matter of minor errors of vowel markings.

<< But the whole point is that changes occurred with time and the copies were not favored by a full divine protection and thus became unreliable.... >>

PP> Unreliable in what way? You're gonna have to be extremely specific. Let's talk Christian doctrine, and the differences in Christian doctrine that might exist between different manuscript readings, between different translations of the Bible. That is all that really matters. For example, are you saying some Bible translations/manuscript traditions teach Jesus is NOT the Son of God? or some Bible translations/manuscript traditions teach Jesus was NOT crucified? or some Bible translations/manuscript traditions teach Jesus did NOT resurrect from the dead? Those are the major differences between Islam and Christianity and they are found in ALL modern Bible translations, in ALL manuscript traditions. If you can produce a couple MAJOR differences between the various Bibles and manuscript traditions that exist, then you might have a good point. I don't think you can. We are Catholics, not Protestant Fundamentalists, so keep that in mind also. [ I recommended F.F. Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? and Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, both Evangelical Protestant sources ] >>

FS> I have to do research on this but I'm gonna check this out and I will like to say thanx for letting me into this forum and I hope its not just because I am a Muslim!!! >>

Please do. Besides the books listed or recommended by P, I have any number in mind which I could urge you to read. I'll limit myself to two: AN INTRODUCTION TO NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTOLOGY, by Fr. Raymond E. Brown. Plus the same author's INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT. And, yes, I am glad to have you participating here. Take your time responding to esp. difficult or complex notes.

Pax tecum. Sean

Part 2: The Johannine Comma (Example of Copyist Addition)

As I "threatened," I'm finally buckling down to the task of explaining why the Bible can be said to contain "error" in a certain sense. I'll use the Johannine Comma as the specific example I'll discuss.

Setting the Stage

First, what do I mean by saying the Bible contains "error" in any sense? The following text comes from pages 686-687 of THE NEW WORLD DICTIONARY CONCORDANCE TO THE NEW AMERICAN BIBLE (World Bible Publishers: 1970):

None of the books of the Bible have come down to us in the manuscript of its author. We only have manuscripts that date from several centuries after the books were written. In this work of transmission there was the possibility of copyists' errors, which in fact took place, as well as deliberate modifications introduced into the text. Textual criticism is the art of recovering and establishing the authentic text of a writing on the basis of the manuscripts that we possess. The fruit of the application of textual criticism is called a recension. A recension, then, is the text that emerges when an expert in textual criticism applies his art -- the text, that is, that he judges to be nearest to the authentic one.

The first step in textual criticism is to gather the manuscript material that exists and study the interdependence between them. This means creating a genealogical tree of manuscripts. This is very important to facilitate the work, for if it can be proved that fifty manuscripts depend on one single one and another fifty on another, then it is sufficient to compare these two which are the sources of all the rest.

For textual criticism work it is also necessary to know the most common changes that occur in the transcription of the manuscripts. These changes are of two kinds, deliberate and indeliberate. Involuntary changes arise from the weakness of the human faculties, from fatigue, monotony and so on. Thus the scribe might write only once what was repeated in the original text (haplography) or vice versa (dittography). Again the scribe or amanuensis, having paused at one word, might take up again at the same word in a different place, either before or after, and in the latter case, might omit all that went between (homoeoteleuton). Confusion can arise between letters that look alike, or if the writing is done on dictation, the sounds can be confused. In copying ancient manuscripts that did not separate the words, the copyist could decide on a wrong division or badly interpret the abbreviations that abounded in those times.

Other changes however could be deliberate, such as corrections of style, grammar or orthography. Sometimes the scribe is anxious to clarify the text by additions, or to change it because of theological scruples.

(above from The New World Dictionary Concordance to the New American Bible, pages 686-687)

Next, I'm quoting from page 48 of AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT (Anchor/Doubleday:1998) by the late Fr. Raymond E. Brown.

Approximately 3,000 mss. of the Greek NT (part or whole) have been preserved, copied between the 2nd and 17th centuries, plus over 2,000 lectionary mss. containing sections (pericopes) of the NT arranged for reading in church liturgy from the 7th century on. These witnesses to the text of the NT do not agree among themselves in myriad ways, but relatively few of the differences are significant. [2] No autograph or original ms. of a NT book has been preserved; the differences came in the course of copying the original. Not all the differences stemmed from mistakes by copyists; [3] some arose from deliberate changes. Copyists, at times, felt impelled to improve the Greek of what they received, to modernize the spelling, to supplement with explanatory phrases, to harmonize Gospels, and even to omit something that seemed dubious. One might think that the oldest preserved of the Greek NT (part or whole) would be the best guide to the originals; but that is not necessarily so. For instance, a sixth century ms. might be the only remaining exemplar of a much earlier, now lost copy that was closer that was closer to the autograph than an extant 2nd- or 4th-century copy.

(above from An Introduction to the New Testament by Fr. Raymond Brown, page 48)


[2] Metzger, NEW 281, states, "No doctrine of the Christian faith depends solely upon a passage that is textually uncertain."

[3] Copyists mistakes occurred through both the eye (mis-reading and carelessly copying from a text) and the ear (misunderstanding a person who was dictating a text aloud). One should allow too for a misreading by the person who was dictating to the copyists.

The Johannine Comma

Having thus explained the general background, I'll now discuss an example of a textually uncertain text in the New Testament, the Johannine Comma in 1 John 5:6-8. I'll quote an older and then a more recent translation of that passage.

Rheims-Challoner-Confraternity NT, 1941

1 John 5.6-8: "This is he who came in water and blood, Jesus Christ; not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood. And it is the Spirit that bears witness that Christ is the truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three are one."

New American Bible, rev. NT (1986)

1 John 5.6-8: "This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth. So there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord."

Commentary on the Johannine Comma

Why have recent translations omitted the text "For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one"? Not for any sinister reasons denying the divinity of Christ or the Trinity!

First, I'll be quoting from Pheme Perkins commentary "The Johannine Epistles," THE NEW JEROME BIBLICAL COMMENTARY (Prentice-Hall: 1990), pages 992-993:

Comma Joanneum: Some Lat witnesses contain an expansion of 1 John 5:7-8: "because there are three who testify IN HEAVEN, FATHER, WORD, AND HOLY SPIRIT; AND THESE THREE ARE ONE; AND THERE ARE THREE WHO TESTIFY ON EARTH, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are unto one." This expanded reading, the so-called Johannine Comma, is not attested before the end of the 4th cent. AD. It begins to appear in mss. of the Vg of Spanish provenience in the 8th cent. and in some Carolingian copies of the Vg, though more mss. prior to AD 1200 lack the expansion than contain it. Its presence in the Vg led to the inclusion of a Gk rendering of it in Erasmus's 3d ed. of the Gk NT (1522), whence it found its way into the textus receptus and the KJV and Rheims translation. Modern textual critics would agree with Erasmus's judgment that this Lat reading does not represent an original variant of the Gk text of 1 John. It follows a theological tradition attested from 3d cent. Church Fathers (Cyprian, DE ECCLESIAE CATHOLICAE UNITATE 6; CC 3.254; Augustine, CONTRA MAXIMINUM 2.22.3; PL 42.794-95), appealed to this text in combination with John 10:30 to provide scriptural evidence for the orthodox doctrine of the equality and unity of persons in the Trinity. (See further the Declaration of the Holy Office, EB 135-36 [1897]; DS 3681-82 [1927]).

(from The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, article on The Johannine Epistles, page 992-993)

Iow, the Johannine Comma is not an original part of the text of 1 John. Rather, it was most likely a marginal gloss or interlinear comment which scribes accidentally copied into the text. And such a view has not been condemned out of hand by the Catholic Church. One piece of evidence for my view is this comment on 1 John 5.7f from the Rheims-Challoner-Confraternity edition of the New Testament (1941):

"According to the evidence of many manuscripts, and the majority of commentators, these verses should read -- And there are three who give testimony, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three are one -- The Holy See reserves to itself the right to pass finally on the origin of the present reading."


I conclude that the Johannine Comma is an example of scribes erroneously adding to the text. And since the Church has not insisted that recent translations include the Comma as part of the text, we are not bound to accept it as genuine.

Nor does excluding the Johannine Comma from the text of 1 John mean denying the divinity of Christ or the Trinity. Those cardinal doctrines of our faith are amply attested in many other texts of the New Testament. Such as Matthew 3:13-17 (the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist), John 1:1 and 2 Corinthians 13:13.

Sean M. Brooks

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