It’s a book that has been called “a protective haven and lasting gift of bliss … an ocean whose depths will never be fathomed.” Former British prime minister Tony Blair
said it “extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition.” Another figure says this book has caused the greatest spiritual revolution in all of history. Christians might
think these comments are about the Bible. Not so. They’re
actually about the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.
Muslims from Muhammad (d. 632 AD) to the present
believe it is the only direct, infallible revelation from God
to humanity. Not only this, most Muslims believe the text
of the Qur’an has never changed and that current copies
can be traced back in an unbroken chain to the divine
messages given by God (through the angel Gabriel) to
These impressive claims deserve scrutiny – and are
faced with many challenges from recent scholarship.
For example, the earliest manuscripts of the Qur’an have
been dated recently, and they do not go back to the time
of Muhammad. They don’t even go back to the time of the
Muslim leader Uthman (d. 656), said to have established the
final text of the Qur’an. Also, comparisons of early Qur’an
manuscripts in Yemen, Paris, Istanbul, and at the British
Museum in London show variations in the Qur’anic texts.
It has become clear that Islam has no perfect agreement between all copies of its sacred text. Instead of supporting the idea of a perfect unbroken chain, the evidence
Andrew Rippin, recently retired from the University
of Victoria, is a famous expert on the Qur’an and a great
guide on Islam in general. He and other specialists are
also pointing out how parts of the Qur’an are rooted in
written and oral material from the Syriac Christian world
of Muhammad’s time and earlier.
For example, surah (chapter) 18 of the Qur’an has a
section on a figure named Dhul-Qarnayn. Muslim scholars
have long held this to be revelation from God about Alexander the Great. However, Kevin van Bladel has shown that
the detail and order of the material in the Qur’an is adapted
from a Syriac document known as the Alexander Legend.
Likewise, there are Syriac roots behind the story of the
Companions of the Cave, also in surah 18. In a parallel
case, the Qur’an’s version (in surah 27) of the Queen of
Will Muslims be open to new research?
Sheba’s visit to King Solomon is based in part on the Jewish Targum on Esther.
Evidence of human authorship and editing in the
Qur’an is now indisputable.
For Christian believers, of course, the Qur’an’s false
teachings about Jesus are and always have been more
important than such scholarly issues. While the Qur’an
affirms the supernatural power of Jesus and upholds him
as a prophet, the Muslim scripture denies his crucifixion
(see surah 4:157-158), resurrection and divinity.
Contrary to abundant and plain New Testament documents from the earliest disciples of Jesus, Muslims contend that belief in Jesus as Son of God is blasphemy and
an example of shirk, an unforgiveable sin.
How do Muslims respond to all these scholarly and
theological challenges to the Qur’an? Well, there are Canadian Muslim scholars such as Shabir Ally and Jamal
Badawi who work overtime to defend it at every turn.
They even make some good points. Yes, there are
beautiful elements in the Qur’an (“Let there be no compulsion in religion” 2:256), and its Arabic is sometimes
And it’s important to note that most Muslims, the
people of the Qur’an, are people of peace, hospitable
and opposed to Islamic terrorism, as polls regularly show.
But none of these good points can justify the Qur’an’s
errors on Jesus, occasionally nasty material on women
(see 4: 34, for example), preoccupation with jihad, constant denigration of Christians and Jews, and emphasis
How should a Christian respond to these problems in
the Qur’an? A truly Christian critique must be set in the
context of overarching grace and love in witness to Muslims. Christian intellectual analysis must also go hand in
hand with confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit to
lead people to the gospel.
This power is evident when people tell how they
came to accept Christ. The magazine Christianity Today
has published a series of such true stories on the back
page of recent issues. The stories of former Muslims
can be especially moving – for example, Son of Hamas
by Mosab Hassan Yousef (Tyndale Momentum, 2011).
Such accounts are proof of the living power of the gos-
JAmeS A. beVerLe Y of Tyndale Seminary in Toronto is
co-author (with Craig Evans) of Getting Jesus Right to be
published by Castle Quay Books in late 2013
( www.gettingjesusright.com). Find more of these
columns at www.theEFC.ca/Religion Watch.
Religion Watch n BY JAMES A. BEVERLEY