Christian claims of apocryphal sources in the Qur’an.

Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.”But she pointed to the babe. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He said: I am indeed a servant of Allah: He has given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I will be and has enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) has made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.” (Qur’an 19:27-34 )

 

 

When Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission, and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, “This is not but obvious magic.” (Qur’an 5:110)

 

And a messenger to the Children of Israel, who will say, Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah. And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of Allah. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.” (Qur’an 3:49)

 

Comments:

In this article, I will give a response to those Christians who use as a polemic against Muslims the claim that the Qur’an contains apocryphal material in it and therefore cannot be a revelation from Allah (swt).

Now of course they will claim that there are more than the three verses of the Qur’an I quoted above as being from apocryphal material but I have chosen to focus on these three, as they are most often used by Christian polemicist in debates with Muslims.

Now personally I find it amusing this particular line of Christian attack against Islam. However, I guess they have to eventually come up with something right?

Now let’s notice and listen carefully to what these Christians are actually disputing with us about.

*Note*

  1. They are not raising issue against “healed the blind

  2. They are not raising issues against “cure the leper

  3. They are not raising issues against “give life to the dead

They are not disputing these points because they are miracles attributed to Christ Jesus that they find in their accepted canonical text. We will come to the term canonical in a moment.

What they are disputing about is:

  1. Jesus speaking as an infant

  2. Jesus creating birds out of clay

Why do they dispute about these miracles?

Because they are not in what they accept to be their canonical text.

So what do the terms apocryphal and canonical mean?

Canonical in relation to Christian scriptures means:

A biblical canon or canon of scripture is a set of texts (or “books”) which a particular religious community regards as authoritative scripture. … Believers consider canonical books as inspired by God or as expressive of the authoritative history of the relationship between God and his people.”

Apocryphal in relation to Christian scriptures means:

Biblical or related writings not forming part of the accepted canon of Scripture; or writings or reports not considered genuine.”

So if a Christian were to come to us as say that these statements in the Qur’an are found in apocryphal sources the first thing you have to keep in mind that what they are actually saying is that it is apocryphal according to their particular sect of Christianity!

The reason that is important is as follows: As I write this to you 11/3/2019 Christendom has still not settled the issue of what is and is not apocryphal for the whole of Christianity.

Glaring examples are the following:

Depending on how you want to word it you could say that the Protestants have 7 fewer books in their version of the Old Testament. Or you could say that the Roman Catholics have 7 extra books in their Old Testament that they accept to be inspired and not apocryphal.

You can read a small write up about that here:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/how-to-defend-the-deuterocanonicals

The same can be said for the Orthodox Church.

https://www.oca.org/questions/scripture/canon-of-scripture

Yet the Orthodox Church has additional Old Testament text (or if you wanted to be neutral the Protestant and Catholic have less). The same can be said for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The same goes for the New Testament.

What is canonical is an issue that is still not settled among them.

The Chaldean Syrian Church does not accept the following as canon:

2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, & Revelation of John.

In fact, many Protestant Christians have declared Mark 16:8-20, & John 7:53–8:11 to not be canonical.

You have to wonder about the Protestant Christian theologians like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and others who most likely held such passages to be canonical. Yet there are Christians who do not agree with the idea that such passages are non-canonical. These Christians very much believe that Mark 16:8-20, & John 7:53–8:11 are inspired scripture.

So what is the point that is being made?

The point is that when a Christian says to us that those verses in the Qur’an are allegedly taken from apocryphal sources it is important to understand that:

  1. That though it may be apocryphal for that particular Christian we can’t say for certain that it was apocryphal for the other Christians.

  2. To keep in mind that what is and is not apocryphal has been and continues to be an internal dispute among Christians.

If the Christian is to counter by saying, “Can you name for me any Christian denomination today that accepts such and such text as canonical?”

The answer to that is: No we can’t. Many Christian sects and denominations over time have long perished. Most often the information we do have about them comes from their opponents.

What is also interesting and I hope Muslims reading this bear in mind is that no Christian committed to a world view in which the supra-natural happens can tell us that:

  1. Jesus did not speak as an infant.

  2. Jesus did not create birds out of clay.

This is assertion is also supported by the text they accept as canon.

And Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31).

Comments: Now this writer apparently inspired by God felt that it was necessary to inform his readers that Jesus did many other miracles that are not contained within this book.

There are many more things that Jesus did. If all of them were written down, I suppose that not even the world itself would have space for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

Comments: Though we can all agree this statement is hyperbole, yet it is obvious that the writer knew that there was much more information about Jesus that could be shared.

Now a possible Christian objection to our understanding of John 20:30-31 is that ‘the many other miracles that are not present in this book‘ could only be a reference to the miracles listed in Matthew, Mark, Luke that are not in the Gospel according to John.

The response to this is that is simply an assumption.

It could be that:

  1. It could be a reference only to the miracles present in Matthew, Mark, Luke that are not in the Gospel according to John.

  2. It could be a reference to miracles that are not present in any of those Gospel accounts.

  3. It could be a reference to miracles present in Matthew, Mark, Luke as well as those not present in any Gospel accounts.

Christians could well ask: “Why wouldn’t these accounts of Jesus speaking as an infant or making birds out of clay make it into any of the Four Gospels commonly accepted among all of Christendom?”

Well, we have a clue about that from a text we have already mentioned.

And Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31).

Comments: This Gospel writer is telling us that he is informed about other miracles but the seven particular miracles that he has selected is so that we may believe that Jesus is:

  1. The Christ

  2. The Son of God

  3. Having eternal life through his name.

So in the example of this Gospel writer we have the reasons plainly stated why some miracles were chosen over others. Whereas for the other Gospels it’s hard to discern why they may have left out certain miracles.

For example, John’s Gospel includes the story of Lazarus rising from the dead. I’m puzzled why such an awesome event is not recorded by the other Gospels. Or Jesus turning water into wine is only included in the Gospel according to John.

Equally puzzling is the following awesome account which is not recorded by any ancient documents outside of Matthew itself.

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’” (Matthew. 27:51-54).

There are no extra-biblical sources that mention this awesome event. Surely witnessing such an event would have been worthy of mention somewhere. In fact, this particular text created controversy even among conservative Christians when New Testament scholar and associate professor of theology Michael Licona raised questions about this text.

You can read about where Christians have done some damage control concerning this at the following:

http://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/scripture/is-matthew-2751-53-historical/

So again going back to the Christian inquiry on why some awesome and miraculous events are recorded by some sources and not others we can only surmise as to the motives behind this.

  1. Why is it Jesus speaking as an infant is recorded in some sources and not others?

  2. Why is Jesus making birds out of clay is recorded in some sources and not others?

  3. Why is that the Gospel of Mark is now considered not to have a resurrection narrative but other sources have it?

  4. Why is it that Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is some sources and not others?

  5. Why is it that Jesus turning water into wine is in some sources and not others?

  6. Why is that only the Gospel of Matthew has this narrative about the mass resurrections of people appearing to many in the city?

Another interesting point to note is that in the case of the Christian tradition that many of us will encounter today, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants of many types we have 30 years of the life of Christ Jesus that is completely missing!

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli.” (Luke 3:23)

So imagine all the people who needed to be healed, those who needed salvation, and what does the current Christian canon tell us about the early life of Jesus? Its silence about the early life of Jesus is awkward, to say the least.

It is honestly both shocking and disappointing that Christians would use these types of arguments against the Qur’an. It absolutely reeks of atheism, radical skepticism, and a worldview bereft of the supra-natural.

For us, as Muslims, we are informed about what happened concerning Jesus through divine revelation. As Allah (swt) says to the Blessed Messenger (saw):

That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed. (Qur’an 3:44)

Also notice that when the Christians make their particular claim about the Qur’an they more often than not do put up the sources which they claim the Qur’an takes the following form:

  1. speaking as an infant.

  2. creating birds out of clay.

I also find it interesting that Muslims don’t ask them for their sources. The Christian polemicist usually has two sources in mind for this:

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas & The Proevangelian of James

This little child Jesus when he was five years old was playing at the ford of a brook: and he gathered together the waters that flowed there into pools, and made them straightway clean, and commanded them by his word alone. 2 And having made soft clay, he fashioned thereof twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things (or made them). And there were also many other little children playing with him.

And a certain Jew when he saw what Jesus did, playing upon the Sabbath day, departed straightway and told his father Joseph: Lo, your child is at the brook, and he has taken clay and fashioned twelve little birds and has polluted the Sabbath day. 4 And Joseph came to the place and saw: and cried out to him, saying: Why are you doing these things on the Sabbath, which it is not lawful to do? But Jesus clapped his hands together and cried out to the sparrows and said to them: Go! and the sparrows took their flight and went away chirping. 5 And when the Jews saw it they were amazed, and departed and told their chief men that which they had seen Jesus do.” (Infancy Gospel of Thomas Chapter 2:1-5)

Comments:

This narrative speaks about Jesus creating 12 birds. The emphasis on the number 12 is there twice. This must relate to the 12 disciples. Whereas in the  Qur’an we find no mention of this.

Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah.” (Qur’an 3:49)

There is no mention of Jesus doing this act on a sabbath day. There is no mention of Jesus creating 12 birds. It is interesting to note that the Qur’an does not name the number of Jesus disciples. Christians have not addressed this.

It would be interesting to know where the writer(s) of the ‘Infancy Gospel of Thomas’ got their information from. The earliest possible date of authorship is 80 A.D to 250 A.D. This is also roughly the time that the date of authorship is ascribed to ‘The Epistle to Titus‘, which is considered canonical by Christians today. These scholars date the epistle from the 80 A.D up to the end of the 250 A.D. Source: (Raymond E Brown An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Anchor Bible, p. 662)

And when Jesus was five years old, there fell a great rain upon the
earth, and the boy Jesus walked up and down through it. And there was a
terrible rain, and He collected it into a fish-pond, and ordered it by His
word to become clear. And immediately it became so. Again He took of the clay which was of that fish-pond, and made of it to the number of twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when Jesus did this among the boys of the Jews. And the boys of the Jews went away and said to Joseph His father: Behold, thy son was playing along with us, and he took clay and made sparrows, which it was not lawful to do on the Sabbath; and he has broken it. And Joseph went away to the boy Jesus, and said to Him: Why have you done this, which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath? And Jesus opened His hands, and ordered the sparrows, saying: Go up into the air and fly; nobody shall kill you. And they flew, and began to cry out, and praise God Almighty. And the Jews seeing what had happened, wondered, and went away and told the miracles which Jesus had done.”
 (Infancy Gospel of James Chapter 4)

Comments:

This story is very similar to the one in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas’. What becomes apparent is that both of these sources are relying upon some oral tradition-one in which does not have the chain of transmission.

Now here is what is interesting about the Protoevangelion Jacobi or Infancy Gospel of James. One of the Christian polemicists that use this type of attack upon the Qur’an was himself put in a difficult position in relation to this text.

Observe:

 

@19:20 Erhman asks: “What other documents are found in P72 as this is a document that resonates with you?


James responds, “there are
 some non-canonical documents in P72 …


Erhman replies, “
Right so I am just wondering about you resonating with this document do you think that the scribe thought what he was copying was scripture?


James, “
Well I don’t think you can simply jump to conclusion that because scribes included books in a single codex that they believed that everything within that codex was necessarily scripture. There are sorts of works that were considered to be beneficial to people that were included in codices that were not necessarily canonical.”


Erhman, 
Yeah I just that it was odd that that particular manuscript was one that you resonated with because its the earliest attestation that we have of the protoevangelium jacobi.(The Infancy Gospel of James) ..

In other words, you can’t know for certain if the scribe who was copying this text (obviously from an even earlier source) was transcribing what he thought was divine writ! Especially in light of the fact that it is in the same genre of manuscripts that are generally described as “the most significant” papyrus of the New Testament to be discovered so far.

Now, when the Lord Jesus had completed seven years from His birth, on a certain day He was occupied with boys of His own age. For they were playing among clay, from which they were making images of asses, oxen, birds, and other animals; and each one boasting of his skill, was praising his own work. Then the Lord Jesus said to the boys: The images that I have made I will order to walk. The boys asked Him whether then he was the son of the Creator, and the Lord Jesus made them walk. And they immediately began to leap; and then, when He had given them leave, they again stood still. And He had made figures of birds and sparrows, which flew when He told them to fly, and stood still when He told them to stand, and ate and drank when He handed them food and drink. After the boys had gone away and told this to their parents, their fathers said to them: My sons, take care not to keep company with him again, for he is a wizard: flee from him, therefore, and avoid him, and do not play with him again after this.” (The Arabic Infancy Gospel of Jesus)

Comments: 

This text has Jesus not only making birds but apparently donkeys, oxen, and other (undisclosed) animals out of clay. There is an inquiry about him being the son of the Creator. There is no mention of the sabbath or any mention of the animals being of any number.

It’s thought that this Gospel has it’s origins back to Syriac sources in the 5th or 6th century.

We find what follows in the book of Joseph the high priest, who lived in the time of Christ. Some say that he is Caiaphas. He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom you have brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to you; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world.” (The Arabic Infancy Gospel of Jesus).

Comments: 

There is no mention of Mary carrying Jesus as a baby. There is no mention of the people asking Mary where this baby came from. This text has Jesus addressing his mother, whereas the Qur’an has him addressing the people. The text above is filled with Christian doctrine, Jesus is the Son of God, he has a ‘Father’ and he was sent for the salvation of the world.

None of this is found in the account of the Qur’an.

Conclusion:

The attacks that Christian polemicists have leveled towards the Qur’an are the kind one would expect from radical skepticism, and a worldview bereft of the supra-natural.

We can see that these sources the Christians point to have important details and radically different theological statements that we do not find at all within the Qur’an.

More telling is that Christians do not even quote these sources, or give the details of the accounts. Many of the people they speak to will not go and double-check the sources.

The fact that some Christians find these sources as apocryphal is of no concern to us as Muslims. We as Muslims do not rely upon them or accept them as revelation either. Our acceptance of what is stated in the Qur’an comes from our faith in it as divine revelation and in what Allah (swt) himself has stated:

That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed.” (Qur’an 3:44)

Just as our faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Word of Allah, and the Son of Mary are not dependent upon any book of the New Testament (even if the whole of Christendom) accepts it as canonical.

Christians themselves cannot totally rule out the possibility of Jesus having spoken as an infant or from having giving life to the clay birds based upon the following evidence:

And Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31).

As well as the fact that the Gospel writers themselves have admitted to leaving out particular miracles that did not suit their desired goals.

The truth is from your Lord, so never be among the doubters. (Qur’an 2:147)

And when they hear what has been revealed to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they have recognized of the truth. They say, “Our Lord, we have believed, so register us among the witnesses.” (Qur’an 5:83)

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