The Qur’ans View of the Bible

For most Muslims today there is an understanding that the Bible has been corrupted, and are encouraged not to read or handle the Bible in any way. What is the Qur’ans view of the Bible, and does the Qur’an provide any basis for this belief?

Prof Gabriel Reynolds wrote the article some years ago “On the Qur’anic Accusation of Scriptural Falsification (tahrif),” looking at how the Qur’an uses the word “tahrif” (distortion) in relation to the Bible.

Reynolds reminds us that the context of the Qur’ans use of tahrif (Q 2:75; 4:46; 5:13; 5:41) is always used against the Jews and local disputes, likely in Medina, although at times the Qur’an specifies that only certain wrongdoers among them are at fault. The Qur’an describes tahrif (distortion) of scripture with eight different verbs or verb phrases:

  • QS 2:42: Do not cover up the truth with falsehood and conceal (cf. Q 2:140, 146, 159, 174; 3:71, 187) the truth, for you know it.
  • QS 2:59 Those who were in error exchanged the declaration with one which they were not told. (Cf. Q 7:162.)
  • QS 2:79: Woe to those who write revelation with their hands and then say, “This is from God.”
  • QS 3:78a: Among them is a group who twist their tongues with the revelation. (Cf. Q 4:46.)
  • QS 4:46: Among the Jews are those who shift words out of their contexts while they twist their tongues and speak evil of the faith.
  • QS 5: 13-14: They shift words out of their contexts. They forgot a portion of what was recounted to them.
  • QS 5: 15 O People of the Book, our messenger has come to you to present much of what you were hiding of the truth.

Based on the evidence above, the Qur’an is principally concerned with the misuse of scripture. In none of these examples does the Qur’an insist that books of the Bible have been destroyed and replaced by false scripture. Instead, the Qur’an argues that revelation has been ignored, misread, forgotten, or hidden.

It is important we approach the Qur’an in its context, with the Qur’an not being the Holy Book of a distinct religion called Islam, but is dealing with its own internal issues of “The People of the Book”, and an instruction for Arabs who lived in an oral community with no Bible in Arabic. It would seem from the verses above that this lack of scripture was exploited, with the scripture in a foreign semetic language being misrepresented by other ethnic groups.

For further reading in this area, please click here for an article by Prof Abdullah Saeed, “The Charge of Distortion”, and for the complete article by Prof Gabriel Reynolds, please click here.




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