Respectful View of the Bible

Many readers of the Bible are fascinated to find out that the Muslim scripture, the Qur'an, contains references to earlier scriptures. The Qur'an does not mention "the Bible," but it contains references to three names which are readily recognizable: "Tawrat" (Torah), "Zabur" (Psalms), and "Injil" (Evangel, or Gospel).

One can easily check all of the passages in the Qur'an where "Tawrat," "Zabur" and "Injil" are actually named. What one finds is that in all of these references, the Qur'an speaks of the earlier scriptures only in the most positive and respectful way. For example, the Torah is characterized as containing "guidance and light" (Q 5:44). The same phrase is used to describe the contents of the Gospel at Q 5:46.

Next there are many references in the Qur'an to unspecified books which may reasonably be assumed to be earlier scriptures. For example, the phrase "We gave to Moses the book" (Q 2:87) and similar phrases repeat many times. Muslim interpreters understand these verses to refer to the Torah. Again, the Qur'an offers these references in the most positive and respectful way.

The Qur'an contains several other expressions which Muslim interpreters understand to refer to the earlier scriptures, such as "scrolls," "parchments" and "tablets." I give complete details of all of these references in chapter three of my book, "Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries of the Qur'an."

Why then do Muslim polemicists use verses from the Qur'an to attack the Bible? The answer is that there are several vague verses which contain verbs which seem to mean something like "to tamper with." These verses do not name the Torah, Psalms or Gospel, but rather indicate indistinct objects such as "book" or "words." Muslim interpreters of the Qur'an have disagreed about how to understand these vague verses. However, Muslim polemicists have insisted that the verses mean a material change in the texts of the earlier scriptures.

On the face of it, therefore, the overwhelming majority of references in the Qur'an to earlier scriptures are clearly positive and respectful. If the "majority rules," a positive view of the Bible could be said to characterize the Qur'an, and this would seem to be the best place to start. The interpretation of the few verses which are not clear must be dealt with in future columns.

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