Some Muslims point out that Christian scholars have recorded 400,000 variations within the ancient manuscripts of The Bible. These Muslims say that this constitutes undeniable proof that The Bible has been corrupted and is completely unusable as a Holy Book. The sheer volume of Manuscript Variations in the ancient texts, these Muslims say, prove the total corruption of the whole text
Some Muslims go on to say that certain famous Bible Scholars have said that the original text of The Bible can no longer be determined since there are so many Manuscript Variants and the original Bible manuscripts have been lost. In this latter claim, that it is impossible to determine what The Bible originally said, certain Muslims quote the Bible Scholar, Bart Ehrman who said:
For practical reasons, New Testament scholars proceed as if we do actually know what [was in The original Bible. My view is] we can probably get close to what the author wrote. But the dim reality is that we really don’t have any way to know for sure.
Turning first to the claim that 400,000 manuscript variants prove that the text of The Bible has been completely lost, this claim is based on ignorance of what constitutes a Manuscript Variant.
A Manuscript Variant is defined as any variant in the text in any Manuscript such as spelling errors and duplication of words by copyists. Almost every single Manuscript Variant in the ancient manuscripts of The Bible fall into this category of trivial difference – differences with absolutely no effect on the meaning of the text. Of those differences which are actually real differences in wording, none of them affect the teaching or message of The Bible in any way.
As often noted, we have almost 25,000 ancient manuscripts of The Bible. If each of these Manuscripts contained 20 spelling errors we would have 500,000 Manuscript Variants, but not one of these would affect the meaning of the text in any way.
For purposes of comparison, since The Qu’ran was not originally written with vowelisation and diacritical marks, but modern editions are, this means that the entire Qu’ran, almost every single letter within it, is subject to Manuscript Variation.
A Difference Between The Topkapi Manuscript And The Current Version Of The Qu’ran
An example of diacritical marks affecting the meaning of The Qu’ran is provided by comparing the ancient Topkapi manuscript of The Qu’ran with the standardised version of The Qu’ran in general use today.
As the blog Reformed Apologetics Ministries notes,
In the Topkapi manuscript in Koran 14:38 it says “You know what we conceal and what he revealed,” while the modern edition reads, “You know what we conceal and what we reveal” (Keith Small, Textual Criticism and the Qur’an Manuscripts, [Lexington Books, 2012], p. 74).
2270 Manuscript Variants In Topkapi Qu’ran
In fact, the Islamic scholar Dr. Tayyar Atikulac, who was President of the Turkish Directorate Of Religious Affairs between 1978 and 1986, has identified 2270 differences between the Topkapi manuscript of the Qu’ran and the standardised Fahd manuscript in general use in the Islamic world today.
If there are 200 ancient manuscripts of the Qu’ran (and remember, the Bible has about 25000 ancient manuscripts), and each one, like the Topkapi has 2000 manuscript variants compared to the current standardised text, then The Qu’ran also has 400,000 Manuscript variants.
Now, Dr. Atikulac has catalogued the differences between the acient Topkapi Qu’ran and the modern Qu’ran and has found the vast majority of these differences have to do with differences in spelling i.e. same word now spelt differently in modern Arabic as compared to the ancient Arabic of the Topkapi.
Thus, while there may be 2270 differences, lets say 2000 of them are completely harmless changes in spelling. They do not change the meaning of the Qu’ran in any way and definitely do not prove or insinuate falsification, change, loss or forgery in the Qu’ranic text.
So it is with manuscript variations in The Bible. The vast majority are spelling errors and suchlike, none of which change the meaning of The Bible in any way and definitely do not prove or insinuate falsification, change, loss or forgery in the Biblical text.
As noted above, since The Qu’ran was not originally written with vowelisation and diacritical marks, but modern editions are, this means that the entire Qu’ran, almost every single letter within it, is subject to Manuscript Variation.
Since the entire text of The Qu’ran is subject to Manuscript Variation does this prove that the Qu’ran has been tampered with and falsified in order to conceal the truth about the Deity Of Jesus or that the meaning of The Qu’ran has been completely lost without any hope of recovery ? Of course not. Why then do Muslims insist that Manuscript Variations in The Bible prove that The Bible has been corrupted and its meaning lost forever ?
Turning now to Bart Ehrman’s statement, Muslims will be disappointed to learn that even though Bart Ehrman believes that the exact original wording of The Bible cannot now be determined, he also believes that the teaching of The Bible has never changed.
Ehrman, like the vast majority of Bible scholars, believes that no essential teaching of the Christian faith is compromised by Manuscript Variation i.e. Ehrman believes that John and Paul have always taught that Jesus is God, that the Bible has always taught that Jesus died on the cross, that Jesus is the final prophet and that The Bible has never said that a prophet named Mohammed would come after Jesus.
Ehrman does not believe that The Bible was originally Islamic or that it has been changed in order to falsify and conceal Islamic teachings or to present a false picture about Jesus or that any teaching contained in the The Bible text has been compromised, invented, concealed or fabricated.
In short, Ehrman believes in what is known technically as The Orthodoxy Of The Variants that no Manuscript Variant changes the message or teaching of The Bible.
Says Daniel Wallace, a Bible scholar who has debated Ehrman several times:
For more than two centuries, most biblical scholars have declared that no essential affirmation has been affected by the variants. Even Ehrman has conceded this point in the three debates I have had with him. (For those interested, they can order the DVD of our second debate, held at the campus of Southern Methodist University. It’s available here.
Islamic Hadith Variants
Finally, Muslims concede that there is variation in wording of Hadith, but state, sensibly, that this variation in wording of Hadith has no affect on meaning and has no effect on the revelatory status of those Hadith with variant narrations. All Sahih Hadith are considered Wahy (direct revelation from God) even if there are minor errors in the narration of The Hadith.
From the Islamic website Islam Question and Answer:
The existence of different versions does not represent a fault in the hadeeth if the meaning is the same
The most important thing, says IslamQ&A, is meaning, not wording. Multiple narrations of the same Hadith are unimportant even if there are differences of wording between them. These Hadith are still regarded as Wahy, direct revelation from Allah
What matters in transmission of a hadeeth is that the meaning be conveyed. As for the wording, it is not the matter of worship as is the case with the Qur’aan.
For example, the hadeeth “Actions are but by intentions” is also narrated as “Action is by intention” and “Actions are but by intention” and “actions are by intention.” The reason for these multiple versions is that the meaning was narrated. The source of the hadeeth is one, namely Yahya ibn Sa’eed from Muhammad ibn Ibraaheem from ‘Alqamah from ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him). It may be noted that the meaning that is understood from these sentences is the same, so what does it matter if there are multiple reports?
Islam Question and Answer tells us that mistakes in narration do not invalidate a Hadith since it is possible to identify the mistake by comparing one narration with another. This is exactly what Bible scholars do when comparing ancient manuscripts of The Bible. Why should a copyist error invalidate a verse in a Bible manuscript if a narration error does not invalidate a Hadith ?
One of the narrators may have made a mistake, so he narrated the hadeeth in a way that it was not narrated by others. It is possible to spot the mistake by comparing the reports with one another. This is what was done by the scholars in the books of Sunnah… Allaah guaranteed that there would always be in this ummah those who would explain it and highlight evidence against the errors of those who err and the lies of those who lie. This ummah will not agree on misguidance
So, Muslim scholars and Christian scholars agree. Mistakes in narration that do not affect the meaning of the text do not invalidate the revelation of The Holy Book.