Chapter 4: An
Analysis of the Qur’an
by Gleason Archer
s a work of
literature, the Qur’an is without question one of the finest examples of
Arabic language poetry and imagery ever written. The Qur’an, which means
consists of 114 suras which vary in length from a few verses to
hundreds of verses. The Qur’an says, about itself, that it is the inspired
eternal revelation of God (Allah) to mankind, that there is no secret in
heaven that is not recorded within its pages, and that anyone who truly
believes in God will follow its teachings.
There is no secret in heaven or earth but is recorded in His glorious
book. This Qur’an declares to the Israelites most of that
concerning which they disagree. It is a guide and a blessing to
Muslims claim that the Qur’an is a document co-eternal with God Himself,
everlasting in its existence from before the beginning of time, but
finally dictated to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel (or Jibril)
in the seventh century A.D.
Focus on Period History
careful study of the contents of the Qur’an leads quite compellingly to
the conclusion that the essential focus of the Qur’an is centered on the
period of Mohammed himself. Whereas the Hebrew Bible covers the
history of Israel from the time of Abraham before 2000 B.C. to the period
of Malachi in 430 BC, addressing the contemporary issues and challenges of
each successive generation, the Qur’an relates just a few episodes in the
life of the patriarchs and Moses in order to bring out a few of their
prophetic utterances as traditions hallowed through the centuries
intervening between the time of Moses and the lifetime of Mohammed.
Not until Mohammed’s time do we find references to contemporary events and
places that have a bearing upon Mohammed’s career.
In other words, the atmosphere of the Qur’an is saturated with the
atmosphere and historical setting of Mohammed’s own time. This
seems to be hardly compatible with a holy revelation of God composed
before the beginning of time and co-eternal with God Himself. It
is, of course, compatible with divine foreknowledge of all future events
in the history of mankind, but the fact that it is so focused on the
lifetime of Mohammed himself strongly suggests that it was actually
Mohammed who composed the book himself, rather than its being dictated to
him by some angelic spokesman of Allah.
God Changes His Mind
This impression is greatly strengthened by the frequency with which God is
said to have changed His mind and abrogated verses previously revealed to
Mohammed. One notable example has to do with Qibla, or the
direction which the worshiper should face during times of prayer (salla).
During his earlier years when Mohammed was making overtures to the
Jews (as Yusuf Ali points out in footnote 141, commenting on Sura 2:142),
he chose Jerusalem for this purpose, but later on, when they proved
stubborn in rejecting his apostleship, he came up with a complete change
in the direction of prayer; that is, towards Mecca rather than Jerusalem.
The Qur’an quotes God as saying:
appointed the Qibla you were used to only to test the faith of
those who followed the Apostle from those who would turn away on their
This certainly sounds like a change of
direction resorted to only after the Arabian Jews had decided against
Mohammed’s claims to supersede Moses and change some of the regulations in
the Torah pertaining to the diet.
Another striking example of an
abrogated verse can be found in Sura 9:29, where we read:
Kill those who do not believe in Allah or the Last Day… nor acknowledge
the religion of truth (even if they are) the people of the Book, until
they pay the Jiza ya tax with willing submission.
But earlier in
verse 5 of the same sura, we see the regulation as far more severe:
But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the
polytheists (mushrikina) wherever you find them… But if they
repent and maintain regular prayers and regular charities, then open the
way for them, since God is oft-forgiving and very merciful.
This can be explained as referring
only to the incorrigible unbelievers who alone have to be killed—unless
they are willing to move out of Islamic territory, as Sura 5:6 provides.
The striking fact
emerges, however, that the Qur’an itself freely admits that some of its
scriptures have been superseded by others. In Sura 16:101 we read:
When We substitute one revelation for another—and God knows best what He
reveals—they say, “You are only a forger.” But most of them do not
Even plainer is the dictum in Sura
Whatever verse We cancel or cause thee to forget, We bring in a better
one or one like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all
This apparently means that Allah has
authority to change His mind or contradict Himself. If so, this
precludes the Muslim critique from attacking the credibility of the Bible
itself on the basis of alleged contradictions between different passages.
Yet we hasten to add that two propositions that contradict each other
cannot both be true. A credible defense of Scripture must deal with
alleged contradictions in such a way as to show that they are only
apparent, not real—even though the Qur’an does not regard this defense as
Inaccuracies in Transmittal
So far as the inscripturation of the “revelations” of the Qur’an is
concerned, we must take careful note of the claim of Muslim apologists
that the Qur’an itself, in contradistinction to the Bible, has been
faithfully and accurately written down and inerrantly transmitted.
This claim is, however, very difficult to sustain in the light of the
account given by Muslim authors concerning the standardizing of the text
of the Qur’an. In the Mishtatu ‘lMasabih, chapter 3, we are
informed that by the command of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, the text of
the Qur’an was “collected” by Zaid ibn Thabit “from palm leaves and stones
and from the breasts of those who had learned by heart” the various
revelations. This earliest collection took place in A.H. 14, or A.D. 636.
Abu Bakr’s copy was taken over by Caliph ‘Umar after the former had died,
according to Al Bukhari. Later it came into the possession of
Hafsah, one of Mohammed’s widows. Some time afterward the next
Caliph, ‘Uthman, commissioned Zaid to make fresh copies of Hafsah’s
manuscript and send it out to various centers of the Caliphate as the only
authoritative text. The reason for this was that there were by his
time so many discordant forms of various suras, even among the Hafizun
disciples of the Prophet who had learned it by heart, that standardization
was absolutely necessary if later schisms were to be avoided within the
Muslim community. Qustalani even states that after Hafsah’s death
her copy was torn to pieces by Mirwan, who was governor of Medina, and so
the identity of ‘Uthman’s text with that of Abu Bakr is called into
question. The only motive for Hafsah’s text to be destroyed could
have been that it was believed to be dangerously deviant or defective from
the standpoint of Governor Mirwan. The reason why no other early
texts of the Qur’an have survived from the time of ‘Uthman is that he, as
Caliph, commanded all other copies to be destroyed by fire. Only
the men of Kufa refused to burn their own cherished version, and as Alfred
Guillaume states, their version was certainly extant at late as 1000 A.D.
It should be added that the old Cuphic script in which Arabic was then
written was of rather uncertain interpretation. Not only did it
lack any vocalization, but far more serious was the lack of diacritical
dots to distinguish consonants like b, t, th, and
even y, all of which were written as a single vertical jog.
Needless to say, the fact that active verbs and passive verbs are often
identically written made for a good deal of disagreement as to what the
written text really meant, until such time as the vowel points were added
at some later period.
In the light of the foregoing data,
the problem of establishing the original, supposedly inspired, text of the
Qur’an is far more serious than is the case with the Hebrew Old Testament,
for which thousands of manuscript copies are available for textual
criticism, ranging in age from the second century B.C. to the eleventh
Similarities between the Qur’an and the Bible
In this connection it ought to be
recognized that the Qur’an contains much that is sound and true from the
standpoint of Holy Scripture.
The Qur’an teaches that there is only one God, the
absolute Sovereign over all of creation, which He alone brought into
The Qur’an rightly assumes that no accurate knowledge of
God is attainable to mortal man except through special revelation. God
has to tell us all about Himself if we are to know anything for certain
about His will for our life, or the meaning of our existence as His
Like the Scripture, the Qur’an affirms that God has
revealed authoritative guidelines for our moral behavior and holds us
fully accountable for their observance.
The Qur’an also teaches that human existence goes right on
after death, either in a never-ending heaven or in a never-ending hell.
Like the Bible the Qur’an insists that only through
recognition and acceptance of these revealed truths can any man be
saved, and therefore the knowledge of this salvation is the only hope of
These convictions we hold in common
with the Muslim community, even though we are scarcely in agreement with
their doctrine of God and of salvation.
Furthermore, it should be added that there are numerous references in the
text of the Qur’an to personalities and episodes in the Bible. The
Pentateuch is often referred to as al-Tawratu, the Prophets as
al-Nabiyunu or al-Anbiya’u, the Psalms as al-Zaburu, and
the Gospel as al-Injilu. Other Biblical names mentioned in
the Qur’an include Abraham, Adam, Amram, David, Ishmael, Issac, Jacob,
Jesus, Job, John, Joseph, Miriam, Moses, Noah, King Saul, Solomon,
Zecharias, and various others such as the angel Gabriel, who allegedly
dictated the whole text of the Qur’an to Mohammed himself.
The account given of some of these
personalities, however, does not always agree with the account in the
Bible. King Saul is credited with Gideon’s test in choosing out the
soldiers for his army:
set forth with the armies, he said: “God will test you at the stream: if
any drinks of its water, he goes not with my army. Only those who taste
not of it go with me. A mere sip out of the hand is excused.”
another sura, one of Noah’s three sons is said to have perished in the
The son replied: “I will betake myself to some mountain. It will save me
from the water.” Noah said: “This day nothing can save, from the Command
of God, any but those on whom He hath mercy!” And the waves came between
them, and the son was among those overwhelmed in the flood.
Nevertheless, the inclusion of the
events in the Exodus and of the birth and subsequent career of John the
Baptist and of Mary and Jesus make it clear that much information about
the Bible reached the Arabian prophet through oral tradition.
Mohammed’s first wife Khadiyah is reported to have become well acquainted
with the doctrines of both the Jews and the Christians; the same is true
of her cousin Waraka. Some of the Arab tribes in the neighborhood
of Mecca had actually converted to the Christian faith, and so it was only
natural that Mohammed would have obtained definite information about their
sacred scriptures, even though he was unable to read them for himself,
being nearly illiterate.
The Qur’an’s High View of the Bible
regard for the Sacred Scriptures was strikingly evidenced by his appeal to
their authority as a confirmation of his own doctrines and revelations set
forth in the Qur’an. Perhaps the most significant passage along
this line is found in Sura 5:44-48, which reads as follows:
was We who revealed the Law; therein was guidance and light. By
its standards have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed to
God’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of the Laws; for to them was
entrusted the protection of God’s book, and they were witnesses
thereto. Therefore do not fear man but fear Me… If any
fail to judge by the light of what God has revealed, they are
unbelievers. We ordained therein for them: Life for life, eye for eye,
nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth…. And in their footsteps We
sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law [Torah] that had come
before him. We sent him the Gospel (Injil); therein was
guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before
him, as a guidance and admonition to those who fear God. Let the
people of the Gospel judge by what God has revealed therein. If
any fail to judge by what God has revealed, they are no better than
rebels. To thee we sent the Scripture in truth [i.e., the
Qur’an], confirming the Scripture that came before it, and guarding it
in safety. So judge between them by what God has revealed, and do
not follow their vain desires, diverging from truth that has come to
Later in this same sura, the Qur’an
affirms that those who truly believe the Bible and live according to its
teachings are sure of heaven when they die.
But if the people of the Book had believed and had the fear of God, We
would surely have put away their sins from them and would bring them
into gardens of delight; and had they observed the Law and the Gospel
and what had been sent down to them from the Lord, they would surely
have had their fill of good things from above them and from beneath
their feet. Say: “O people of the Book, you have no ground to
stand on until you observe the Law (Torah) and the Gospel, and that
which has been sent down to you from your Lord.”
connection, note the dictum laid down in Sura 4:136:
you who believe! Believe in God and His apostle, and the Book which He
sent down aforetime. Whoever does not believe in God and His
angels and His Books and His apostles and in the Last Day, he truly has
erred a grievous error.
There are various other passages
besides these which could be cited in this connection, but those quoted
above are amply sufficient to prove that the author of the Qur’an firmly
believed in the full inspiration of the Old Testament, that the Gospels of
the New Testament contain the authoritative word of God, and that the
Hebrew-Christian Bible should be appealed to in confirmation of the fact
that what is revealed in the Qur’an is the very truth of God.
Correspondingly, the Qur’an is said to be a verification of the contents
and teaching of the Bible itself. From this it follows that all of
the current efforts of present-day Muslim advocates to discredit the
records or teaching of the Bible puts them in the impossible position of
contradicting the Qur’an itself. In Sura 5 they are
commanded to consult the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures for confirmation of
Mohammed’s revelations, and yet they are found to be ridiculing and
reviling and casting all manner of discreditation upon the very Scriptures
which their Qur’an really affirms to be the sure word of God. In
this sense, therefore, they seem to be rejecting the authority of the very
Qur’an which they profess to uphold!
The Bible of Mohammed’s Time
How, then, can this reproach be lifted from them? Only if it turns
out that the text of the Old and New Testament as we now have it is
radically different from that which existed in Mohammed’s time.
Only this could account for the fact that the Bible teaches a far
different doctrine of God, that He is Trinitarian rather than Unitarian;
and of Jesus, as being both God and man in two distinct natures within one
person; and of salvation, as received by faith alone on the basis of
Christ’s atoning sacrifice for those who truly repent and believe in him
and becomes new creatures by the transforming power of His Holy Spirit.
Since these doctrines permeate the entire Scripture as we now have it,
no reconciliation can be found with a Qur’an which essentially teaches
salvation by faith plus good works. Only if these elements were
somehow introduced into the text of the Old and New Testaments after
the time when the Qur’an was revealed to Mohammed could the Qur’an’s
blanket endorsement of the Bible be justified.
In point of fact, however, it is completely out of the question to
discredit the text of Holy Scripture as no longer conforming to what was
current in Mohammed’s time, that is A.D. 610-632. Entire
manuscripts of the New Testament which must on paleographic grounds have
been copied out in the fourth century (Codex Vaticanus) and fifth century
antedate the revelation of the Qur’an by at least three centuries.
The Bodmer Papyrus of John’s Gospel even dates back to about A.D. 200,
judging by the style of handwriting in which it was copied out.
As for the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Old Testament, numerous texts
discovered in the Dead Sea Caves date back to copies made as early as the
second century B.C. all the way to first century A.D. This makes
them contemporaneous with Jesus and His apostles who composed the
New Testament. All of these manuscripts date back more than a
thousand years before the Leningrad manuscript of the tenth century A.D.
on which our present day Hebrew text is based.
One striking testimony to the faithful preservation of the original
wording of Isaiah is found in the fragmentary manuscript known as IQIsb,
which preserves many columns of the text of the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s of
Isaiah with almost identical spelling, word for word correspondence, with
the text of Isaiah in the Leningrad. There is no way that a text
thus attested more than seven centuries before the Qur’an was
revealed could have been changed after Mohammed’s time.
In view of this universally acknowledged evidence of the antiquity of the
text of Scripture, the same Scripture which we now have with us in the
scholarly editions of the Bible in its original languages, it is
completely out of the question that the Qur’an could have been referring
to any other text than that which has been preserved to us down to the
present time. No other conclusion can be drawn from these data but
that the Qur’an certified the accuracy and binding authority of the Bible,
even though in point of fact it differs from it essentially in its
doctrine of God and of salvation. Any Muslim apologist, therefore,
who seeks to discredit the text of the Bible in any way puts himself in
rejection of the authority of the Qur’an itself, for he implies the Qur’an
is in error in regard to the Holy Bible! There is no way in which
he can evade the charge of imputing error to the very Qur’an which he
professes to uphold.
A Paradox Resolved
If, then, the Qur’an in point of fact teaches a different theology (that
God is a single person rather than the three Persons taught by the Bible),
and that Jesus
was only a human, Virgin-born prophet rather than the incarnate Word of
God, and that salvation is to be earned by accepting the Muslim creed and
by maintaining the stated prayer-times and pilgrimages and the fast of
Ramadan, and all the other cultic requirements of that faith—then we must
honestly recognize that despite the endorsement of the Bible by the
Qur’an, these two documents actually teach different religions which
cannot be reconciled with each other.
There remains only one credible explanation of this paradox: the author of
the Qur’an did not really know the full, or indeed the essential, teaching
of the Bible as it existed in his time, in the early seventh century A.D.
This ignorance betrayed in the Qur’an would seem fatal to its claims of
inerrant authority, and makes it clear that the Qur’an was indeed composed
by Mohammed himself rather than having been revealed to him by God. The
omniscient Lord of the universe could never have dictated the statements
cited in the suras above quoted, since they imply a harmony of doctrine
between Bible and Qur’an which simply does not exist.