This article is the third of a series of articles (see the first and second) that are in part a refutation of Christian polemics and in part a discussion of recent academic articles by top experts in the field of Quranic exegesis and pre-Islamic Arabia. The two objectives are in fact two sides of the same coin as I hope to demonstrate.
In this article I continue to focus on the insightful recent research by Sidney H. Griffith (published 2013):
The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the ‘People of the Book’ in the Language of Islam by Sidney H. Griffith who is Professor in the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at the Catholic University of America. He is also a Roman Catholic priest. The following extract is of particular relevance to recent Muslim-Christian debates about how the Quran supposedly views the previous scriptures of the Christians and the Jews.
The Wider Horizon of Scriptural Recall in the Qur’an
By the time the longer Medinan surahs had come into their final form, the general pattern of the Qur’an’s recall of the major figures and narratives in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures had been set, and the basic principles of their relationship had been enunciated. Succinctly put, the Qur’an presents itself as confirming the truth that is in the previous scriptures and as safeguarding it. After speaking of the Torah, “in which there is guidance and light,” and of Jesus, “as confirming the veracity of the Torah before him,” and of the Gospel, “in which there is guidance and light,” God says to Muhammad regarding the Qur’an: “We have sent down to you the scripture in truth, as a confirmation of the scripture before it, and as a safeguard for it” (surah 5, vs 44,46,48). The previous scriptures were, of course, in the Qur’an’s telling, principally the Torah and the Gospel, as is clear here and in other places, where the Qur’an says to Muhammad, “He has sent down to you the scripture in truth, as a confirmation of what was before it, and He sent down the Torah and the Gospel (surah 3: vs 3). In these and other passages one might cite, the position of the Qur’an vis-a-vis the Jewish and Christian Bible is clear: the Qur’an confirms the veracity of the earlier scriptures. In other words, the Qur’an not only recognises the Torah and the Gospel, and the Psalms too, as we shall see, as authentic scripture sent down earlier by God, but it now stands as the warrant for the truth they contain.
But the matter does not rest there. For while the Qur’an, following both the then-current Jewish and Christian view, recognises the Torah as the scripture God sent down to Moses – “We wrote for him in the Tablets about everything” (surah 7 vs 145) – the Gospel that the Qur’an confirms is not the Gospel as Christians recognise it in the Qur’an’s own day. Rather, following the model of its own distinctive prophetology, the Qur’an speaks of the Gospel as a scripture God gave to Jesus: “We gave him the Gospel, wherein is guidance and light, confirming what he had before him of the Torah (surah 5: 46; surah 57 :27). Here, as in other instances we have noted in the previous chapter, the Qur’an apparently intends to criticise and correct what it regards as a mistaken view of the Christians’ own principal scripture. What is more, by the time of its collection, and principally in criticism of the behavior of the ‘People of the Book’ in regards to their scriptures, the Qur’an is already speaking of the ‘distortion’ and ‘alteration’ of scriptural texts. This is to be found in the very passages (e.g. in 2:75-79; 3:78; 4:46; 5:12-19) that in subsequent Islamic tradition will undergird the doctrine of the corruption of the earlier scriptures, a development that would effectively discount the testimonies drawn by Jews or Christians from their scriptures in behalf of the verisimilitude of their teachings.