Friday, January 27, 2012

The Bible Is the Word of God Debate - My Second Cross-Examination Answer

Despite its popularity and prevalence in Islamic apologetics circles, Muslim critics of the Bible should really learn the ins and outs of textual criticism of the Bible before they speak with such confidence combined with ignorance. Because of his ignorance, this debate has been more of a seminar on biblical textual criticism and history than a debate.

It would also help Saaib if he'd done his due diligence and ensured that his presentations and arguments used consistent premises that wouldn't, if consistently applied, result in the destruction of his own position. Here again we see him relying on naturalistic premises and arguments when he is in fact a theist who has to place a great deal of trust in his god to preserve that god's revelation to mankind.

This is how it should be. We should and must place our trust in God; naturalism and paganism are irrational and impossible alternatives. And since by definition an omniscient, omnipotent God who never lies is a higher authority and a better source of truth than human historical recordings, which are certainly fallible and by necessity vastly incomplete, we have to figure out which God is the right one to follow. This is what Saaib has not yet grasped and thus has not engaged in his arguments.

Saaib finds it difficult to accept that the NASB is 100% the unaltered Word of God. A few clarifications:
1) I mentioned the NASB because it's my favorite, it takes few translational liberties (ie, it is a formally-equivalent translation), and it is based on the latest (more or less) MSS information.
2) There are of course textual variants whose original referents are mysterious and may very well never be known. I already mentioned this in my opening statement. Most are movable "nu"s and other untranslatable particles of Greek grammar.
3) None of these variants affect any doctrinal teaching of the Bible.
4) What does "100% unaltered" even mean? Does Saaib think today's written Qur'an is compiled in the exact order in which each Surah was revealed? It's a statement appealing to an imaginary ideal.
5) Requiring "100% unaltered" is an unreasonable standard, and one that the Qur'an can't meet. Just look at the way Saaib answered my 9 challenges in his last answer. Appeals to faith, every time. How does he know these things? When questioning the credibility of a man on one issue (whether "Mohammed correctly repeated what he heard from Jibril"), don't appeal to other statements he has made that have no other confirmatory evidence as confirmatory evidence of the first statement! That's merely begging the question.

Strictly speaking, "corruption" means that textual variants exist within the extant corpus of NT MSS, but it does not necessarily mean that this corruption is irreversible or that the authentic original reading is undiscoverable. Quite the contrary, and that's what textual criticism is all about. Broadly speaking, even if all 5000+ extant NT MSS agreed with each other, but one of them had a movable "nu" in a different spot, "corruption" would exist. The question is not whether corruption exists in ancient documents. The question is to what extent, and whether the resources are present to overcome it. With thousands and thousands of MSS to cross-reference, I'm afraid that Saaib's objection comes up empty. Saaib needs to give us a good reason to think that
1) God couldn't or wouldn't have used the process of copying that we see in the NT MSS history to preserve His Word,
2) there is good reason to think that some doctrines are placed in doubt and that these are serious, and
3) that he has a better alternative.

Think about it - the Apostle Paul writes a letter to a church. He sends it. It arrives and the church decides to send it out to all the churches they know. They copy it 15 times and send out those 15 copies. Those 15 churches want to send it to the 15 churches they know. Each makes 15 copies and sends it out. Etc. The copying causes the amount of MSS to grow exponentially, and the copies are dispersed all over the world. Thus nobody ever has centralised and final control over the text (unlike Islam) and contrary to what Saaib ignorantly asserted, it was possible back then to cross-reference copies of a given document, and it's possible (and common practice) now.

A few other tidbits:
-The NASB puts the pericope of the adulteress in brackets and leaves a footnote referencing the fact that many earlier MSS do not contain it. That's called full disclosure, and it's impossible on Islam, given the Uthmanic purging of Qur'anic MSS.
Of course it's an interpolation; the question is, was it in the original and removed, or was it added? More probably it was added later, for several reasons. Whether it belongs or not, it affects no doctrine. I personally do not hold it to be authentic.
-A few extant NT MSS are earlier than 200 years after Christ.
-Saaib asserted that the "Pauline epistles present...a problem" but didn't say why or what problem.
-I would never claim that the NASB translators were unbiased. I think it's easily demonstrated that they were fair.
-Saaib falsely claims I contradicted myself in my last cross-examination answer. He needs to read more carefully. "Not necessarily" and "all other things being equal. However, all other things are never equal" should have informed his thinking at that point.
-Memory was backed with writing." Exactly. Same with the NT. Be consistent.
-Saaib says "The companions of the prophet made written copies of Quran. Thus those who listened to the companions had a written book to correct them." Exactly. Same with the NT and Jesus and the apostles. Be consistent.
-Saaib's answer to challenge #6 is bizarre. That's the point: if something is lost, it's not found. This merely demonstrates that Saaib must trust his god completely at this point. Whether he'll admit it is another question.

(Word count: 995)
(Link to comment repository post)