Response to David Wood's: "Uthman: Corrupter of Muhammad's Message and the True Founder of Islam"

 

This will be a brief response to a paper by David Wood to be found here.

David Wood said:

"It's quite common for Muslim apologists to be inconsistent in their methodology."

My Response:

It's quite common for Christian apologists to be inconsistent in their methodology as well.

Besides, inconsistency in the methodology does not necessarily negate a Muslim argument against the Bible. One of the two arguments could still be right.

David Wood said:

"For instance, a Muslim will point to the Bible and say, "Ahhhh! You have textual variants! This is conclusive proof that your book has been corrupted!" Then, when Christians show that there are textual variants in the Qur'an, suddenly textual variants aren't important."

My Response:

Wood is generalizing here. He also fails to provide evidence: which Muslim apologist has argued in the above style? Which Muslim apologist has acknowledged the presence of "textual" variants within the Quran and then reasoned that "textual variants aren't important"? Who has done this?

The Bible DOES contain textual variants and some of them happen to be very important for exegetical reasons. With regard to the Quran, Muslims do accept the presence of variant readings, but these are NOT textual variants which come about as a result of scribal activity, whether intentional or unintentional. Instead, these are REVEALED variant readings. The Muslim position is that these readings are all revealed by God and that the differences between the readings are also revealed and is of equal authority (read more about this issue here and here). We acknowledge these REVEALED variants as we believe that the Quran was sent down in MULTIPLE READINGS. This is VERY DIFFERENT from the TEXTUAL variants we find in Biblical manuscripts, which rapidly propagated as manuscripts were copied and recopied. So Christian apologists such as Wood either innocently fail to comprehend the Muslim position or deliberately distort it in order to set up a straw man.

To be precise, scribes copying the Quran also made errors are mistakes. They sometimes made spelling mistakes; sometimes they missed copying a line or twice copied a line/word. Such unintentional scribal errors do exist among the manuscripts of the Quran. But, UNLIKE the New Testament manuscript tradition, for example, Quranic scribes are not known to have deliberately altered manuscripts for theological reasons. They are not known to have intentionally altered a passage. The unintentional scribal errors which do exist did not rapidly propagate on to other manuscripts during the recopying stage due to the existence of the parallel oral transmission and they do not cause doubt over the integrity of the Quranic text. By all accounts the Quranic manuscript tradition is far more uniform than the Biblical manuscript tradition.

David Wood said:

"Muslims will point to the Gospels and say, "Ha! Mark was written more than two decades after the life of Jesus! How can you trust such a late book?" Then these same Muslims will quote Sahih al-Bukhari as a trustworthy source on the life of Muhammad--despite the fact that it was written more than two centuries after Muhammad's life."

My Response:

This is the wrong comparison. First, it is not "Muslims" who, out of nowhere, suddenly began to proclaim that Mark was written more than two decades after Jesus. This is the position adopted by ALL New Testament scholars. Mark is generally placed around the 60-70 AD period, which means it came about some thirty to forty years after Jesus. Certainly, this by itself does nothing to invalidate Mark's historicity. However, more importantly, with the exception of fundamentalists, almost all CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS believe that the canonical gospels cannot be taken as inerrant sources on the life of the historical Jesus. Compare the gospels and you will find many differences (as well as similarities) between the stories common between them. This suggests that the stories about Jesus were being changed prior to the composition of these gospels. There were minor changes as well as major changes. As a result, we cannot just extract anything from the gospels and presume it to be historically accurate or as reporting the literal wording of Jesus. In the words of Christopher Tuckett:

Nevertheless the nature of the Gospel tradition means that we cannot simply take everything recorded in all the Gospels as unquestionably genuine reports about what Jesus said or did in a pre-Easter situation. (Christopher M. Tuckett, Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers, 2001, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 203.)

Moving on to Bukhari, even though this compilation itself came about some two centuries after Muhammed (peace be upon him), it contains much earlier material within it. Wood makes the mistake of thinking that the material within Bukhari's hadith collection was constructed or made up by him for the very first time. This is incorrect. Bukhari merely COLLECTED hadiths which had ALREADY been circulating MUCH BEFORE his time. He did not "make them up" (read more here)

While Muslims do accept the authenticity of the hadiths within Bukhari, they do not regard the collection to be inerrant. Thus we should continue to critically examine the hadiths and strive to improve and further the work carried out by earlier scholars.

David Wood said:

"Muslims are especially inconsistent in their conspiracy theories." 

 My Response:

As are Christians. Again the generalization.

David Wood said:

"Conspiracy theories are meant to rule out evidence, so that the facts no longer count. For example, let's say that I'm a paranoid schizophrenic. "Everyone is conspiring against me," I cry. How could anyone ever prove me wrong? "David," you say, "I promise you that we're not conspiring against you. No one's plotting behind your back." This is meant to be evidence against my position, and yet I reply, "Ha! That's exactly what I would expect you to say! If you're plotting against me, of course you're going to deny it! Now I know that everyone is conspiring against me!""

My Response:

We agree.

David Wood said:

"Muslims apply conspiracy theories in numerous ways, e.g. "There was a conspiracy at the Council of Nicaea! They wrote the Gospels themselves!""

My Response:

We will grant that many Muslims do this, but there are also many who don't (see below).

David Wood said:

"But I want to focus on one particular conspiracy theory--the theory that Paul invented Christianity. In his debate with James White, Nadir Ahmed used this theory to rule out all the relevant evidence. Nadir claimed, without offering anything even remotely resembling a careful argument, that Paul had corrupted Jesus' message. Since the writings of the New Testament come after Paul, none of them can be used as evidence concerning Jesus' teachings. Moreover, since even the early church fathers were writing after Paul, their views don't count either."

My Response:

Paul certainly did not single handedly "invent" Christianity, although his ideas became dominant at a later time. This is not a conspiratorial position. That the gospels come to the scene after Paul and could have been influenced by some of his teachings is also not conspiratorial but commonsense.

If not the inventor of Christianity, did Paul distort Jesus' message? The answer is both 'yes' and 'no'. That is because there are both continuities and discontinuities between Jesus and Paul. For now focusing only upon the discontinuities, Paul contradicts Jesus on his stance on the validity/keeping of the Jewish law, practise of circumcision and the food laws. Moreover, Paul believed Jesus to have been a divine pre-existent being. Numerous studies on the historical Jesus subject, however, have shown that it is highly unlikely that the historical Jesus viewed himself as a divine being, let alone the second person of the Trinity.  For example, Catherine M. Murphy, Under the heading "Things Jesus Didn't Talk About", writes:

His own divinity: One of the cardinal principles of historical Jesus research is that the belief in Jesus's divinity is a post-resurrection phenomenon. During his life, his acts of power were understood as signs that God (or Satan) was working through him - not that he was God.

The gospel of John presents Jesus teaching that he's divine, but most scholars treat this as a later interpretation rather than a historical fact because it's so much more highly developed here than in the earlier gospels and gospel sources ...
(Catherine M. Murphy, The Historical Jesus For Dummies, 2007, John Wiley & Sons, Indianapolis: Indiana, p. 178.)

Likewise, Paul's view of salvation cannot be found in the teachings of the historical Jesus.

To say that Paul 100% reproduced the message of Jesus is to push it a bit too far, however for one to say that Paul did not at all is to push it a bit too far as well.

David Wood said:

"Notice the difference between this conspiracy theory and a serious argument against Christianity. A serious argument would be based on the first century evidence. Nadir's conspiracy theory is meant to rule out everything that would normally count as evidence (and James pointed this out)."

My Response:

We agree that a careful argumentation is required, based on first century evidence.

David Wood said:

"But does Nadir apply this theory consistently? That is, would Islam be able to deal with a similar attack? Let's find out."

My Response:

Again bear in mind that inconsistency could still mean that one of two arguments is right. By pointing out Nadir's inconsistency, his argument pertaining to Christianity still remains unanswered.

What follows will be Wood's go at Islam with the type of arguments which, he claims, Muslims apply upon Christianity. Of course, he does not really believe in the theory hence he refers to it as a conspiracy

We will point out that Wood is once again making the wrong comparison and is also exaggerating.

David Wood said:

"I claim that Muhammad was a Christian. He believed in Jesus' death, resurrection, and deity. The vast majority of "Christians" in Arabia before the time of Muhammad were heretics. Hence, Muhammad came to restore true belief in Jesus Christ. He spent his entire life preaching the Gospel and turning people to faith in Jesus Christ. Many pagans were converted to Christianity under the powerful preaching of Muhammad and his disciples Abu Bakr and Umar. Muhammad gave his followers the Qur'an, which, in its original form, was simply an Arabic translation of the New Testament.

But there was an evil pagan named Uthman, who hated Christianity, didn't know Muhammad, and worshiped Allah, one of the many gods of Arabia. In order to destroy the work of Muhammad, Uthman pretended to be a faithful Christian. His deception was so convincing that he eventually rose to a position of leadership in the Christian community. Once he was in charge, Uthman asked all of the Christians in Arabia for their copies of the Qur'an (i.e. their copies of the Arabic New Testament). Uthman then rewrote the entire Qur'an, turning it into a book which denies the core teachings of Christianity. He took all copies of the true Qur'an and burned them, and he used his power to silence his enemies.

Thus, the Islam of today is not the religion that Muhammad preached. Muhammad preached submission to Jesus Christ. Uthman corrupted this message by claiming that Allah is the only true God and that Jesus was a mere prophet of Allah. He did this in order to degrade Jesus and to keep people from believing in Christianity, the religion of Muhammad."

My Response:

Reminder to the readers: Wood is not saying that the above really happened. He is not arguing that the above is historical. So there is no reason for us to spend time refuting this theory.

However, Wood has not given examples of "Muslims" who have mounted a similar sort of conspiracy theory to debunk Christianity. The closest Wood came to it was his mention of these arguments which he claims are often raised by a number of Muslims against Christianity: 1. Paul invented Christianity; 2. There was a conspiracy at the Council of Nicaea; 3. They wrote the Gospels themselves. Now none of these (with the exception of #3, an argument NOT made by "many" Muslims to begin with) are similar to the type of colossal conspiracy theory proposed by Wood above. Moreover, there are also many Muslims who do not make such arguments against Christianity (to name a few, Jerald Dirks, M. Azami, Timothy Winter, Lawrence Brown).

There aren't likely to be that many Muslims who have argued against Christianity in the way Wood has presented his conspiracy argument above.

David Wood said:

"Now for the fun part. How can Muslims refute my theory?"

My Response:

They do not need to refute the theory as long as it is just that: a theory/hypothesis. Unless, of course, Wood cares to submit some evidence to back up his claims.

David Wood said:

"They can't appeal to the Qur'an, since all copies of the Qur'an were written after Uthman corrupted them. But Muslims can't appeal to the Hadith, Sira literature, or commentaries either, since all of these were written after the time of Uthman. Muslims can't even say that Uthman was one of the companions, since I'm claiming that Uthman simply rewrote history to help his position. Isnad criticism is irrelevant, since later Isnad critics were under the influence of Uthman's false teachings."

My Response:

Wood will be the first one to agree that the above is indeed a conspiracy and an unfair/invalid method of argumentation. Secondly, Wood has yet to demonstrate that the above is how Muslims generally argue against Christianity. We agree that there are problems with a number of Muslim arguments (some briefly noted above), but we think it is not right to paint all Muslims with the same brush and to give the impression as if all argue against Christianity in precisely the above manner from page one to the last page.

David Wood said:

"I conclude that Muhammad preached Christianity and that Uthman was the true founder of what is now called "Islam."

My question to my Muslim friends is this: Do you really want to take the route of conspiracy theories?"

My Response:

Certainly Muslims (and everyone else) shouldn't take the conspiracy route. But note the problems pointed out above. Christians such as Wood need to stop exaggerating, generalising and face the issues in a serious scholarly manner for a change. Consider the scholarly work on Paul carried out by top notch scholars such as James Dunn and E. P. Sanders. These are well respected mainstream New Testament scholars who have proposed no wild "conspiracy" in their arguments, which show how Paul agrees and disagrees with the historical Jesus' teachings. Muslims should take the works of these scholars seriously in their investigation of early Christianity and the New Testament.

 

 

 

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