A recent public debate between British Muslim polemicist Zakir Hussain and American Christian author Michael Brown helpfully illustrates the two most common Islamic approaches to the Bible. On the one hand, Muslims will often argue that the Bible predicts the coming of Muhammad. On the other hand, they will often undermine the Bible’s accuracy and authority.
For example, Hussain claimed Moses’s mention in Deuteronomy 18:15 of a future prophet to come was a prophecy about Muhammad. But when Brown carefully demonstrated that according to the verse the prophet would need to come from Israel (“A prophet like me from among your own people,” NRSV), the direction of the debate shifted. At that point, Hussain asserted the Masoretic Text had added the Hebrew word for “from your midst” to the verse, even specifying that the word wasn’t to be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The debate, accessible on Brown’s YouTube channel, points to the remarkable efforts some Muslims make to search the Bible’s text for claims about their messenger while casting doubt on the text when its content doesn’t agree with Islamic dogma. It also shows how, when all arguments fail, Muslims typically fall back on their accusation that the Bible is corrupt and falsified.
In the end, the debate exemplifies the necessity for Christians to know the Bible well and candidly declare its truths.
Making a case for the reliability and authority of the Word of God with Muslims is always worthwhile. This is especially true of the New Testament and, within it, the Gospel accounts.
Traditionally, Muslim accusations against the Bible have been the main line of attack against accepting the deity and redemptive death of Jesus. If Muslims are to converse with Christians about such basic gospel truths, many will demand “proofs” the New Testament Gospel accounts match the book they call the Injil (a book that Muslims claim was “sent down” upon ‘Isa, the Qur’anic Jesus).
Most Muslims know very little about the Bible and its contents, yet typically they’re familiar from childhood with several lines of accusation against it.
Most Muslims know little about the Bible and its contents, yet typically they’re familiar from childhood with several lines of accusation against it. They’ve been told by parents and mosque leaders that the Bible was allowed to become corrupt by its custodians at some point in the past or that it was actively falsified for a variety of reasons. Throughout Islamic history, the main accusation of falsification has been that Jews and Christians changed or erased references to the messenger of Islam allegedly found in the “original” Torah and Gospel.
Why will some Muslims go to such great efforts, even learning Hebrew and Greek, to cast doubt on the biblical text? It’s because the Bible bears witness to Jesus, not to the messenger of Islam.
Muslim accusations against the Bible can be meaningfully countered. The best context in which to respond to accusations is one-on-one within a personal relationship. Written apologetics and public dialogue can be effective and helpful. However, better than a merely defensive response to Muslim accusations is a proactive and positive presentation of the reliability and authority of the Bible in Muslim terms. To do this, Christians should familiarize themselves with the best scholarly resources and learn to tailor that information to the points Muslims are likely to raise.
For example, they should be prepared to address issues related to manuscripts, transmission, and the claim of abrogation. Contrary to the expectations of many in the West, Muslims generally respect principled, straightforward Christian expressions of support for the Bible and its witness to Jesus, even if at the same time they repudiate the truth of those expressions.
Also useful, though less common, is an appeal to Muslims for dialog on a level scholarly playing field. Muslim polemicists love to use statements from academic biblical studies that they believe support Muslim accusations of corruption or falsification of the Bible. Rarely will Muslims mention—or even admit into the conversation—academic scholarship that raises the same kinds of questions about the text of the Qur’an. A recent example of this kind of scholarship is Creating the Qur’an by University of Oregon professor Stephen Shoemaker. He shows that uncertainties surrounding ancient manuscripts are in fact a challenge Christians and Muslims share.
But beyond apologetics, the most fruitful avenue toward Jesus for Muslims is the Word of God itself. Many testimonies of Christians from Muslim backgrounds will highlight how their reading of the Bible and their personal encounters with the Jesus to whom the Bible bears witness were influential in their coming to faith in Christ. There are no substitutes for the Jesus of Scripture, the spiritual power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16), and the effective work of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12).
Point to Christ
In Brown’s debate with Hussain, the Muslim polemicist claimed the prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15 was the messenger of Islam. When faced with a firm and appropriate answer, however, he switched to accusing Jews of corrupting the verse in the Masoretic Text. In his alert response, Brown noted correctly that Deuteronomy 18:15 isn’t found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Meanwhile, he showed the Hebrew term for “from among their brothers” three verses later in Deuteronomy 18:18—which is attested to in the Scrolls—carries the same basic meaning as the expression disputed by the polemicist from the Masoretic Text.
Beyond apologetics, the most fruitful avenue toward Jesus for Muslims is the Word of God itself.
But more significant than Brown’s ready knowledge of manuscripts was his forthright proclamation of the fulfillment of Deuteronomic prophecy in Peter’s sermon from Acts 3. There, not only does the prophet emphatically come from Israel (3:22), but Jesus is confirmed as the One in whom the prophecy is fulfilled (3:20), precluding all later claims.
This is precisely the goal of the Christian endeavor in this important field: we support the reliability and authority of the biblical witness to Christ so Muslims can meet Jesus. Apart from Jesus, no one can come to God the Father. Apart from Jesus, no one can enjoy the forgiveness of sin, no one can “have life” (1 John 5:12). We desire our Muslim friends to experience these blessings.