No Man can change the Word of God

What does the Qur’an say about the falsification of the Bible?

Talking with Muslims we are again and again confronted with the view that the Bible in its present form has been falsified. That is why we want to examine this view with the help of statements from the Qur’an. We, as Christians, have many reasons to believe that the Bible has not been falsified – independently of what it says in the Qur’an. In this article we want to examine what the Qur’an really says about this question. It will become clear that the Qur’an does not contain the reproach that the Bible has been changed. Maybe our thoughts can also be a help for Muslims to reconsider the passages mentioned within their context. We appreciate every positive contribution to this topic.

We have collected different passages from the Qur’an and arranged them into three groups. We will start with:
a) Passages showing the immutability of God’s Word, followed by
b) Passages that seem to contain the allegation of a change and falsification of the scripture, after this we will look at
c) statements in the Qur’an about the Gospel (Injeel).
Finally we would like to think about
d) the implications for us today.

In this article we will focus on dealing with Qur’anic statements. Additionally we want to point to the excellent tradition of the Bible, especially the writings of the New Testament in a large number of manuscripts that were already written centuries before the Qur’an. For example, Papyrus 66, written in the second century AD, contains the complete Gospel of John. All present Bibles are based on manuscripts written before the 7th century. So it is impossible to say that the Bible was still authentic at the time of Muhammad, but was changed later.

a) No Man can Change God’s Word

Messengers indeed were cried lies to before thee, yet they endured patiently that they were cried lies to, and were hurt, until Our help came unto them. No man can change the words of God; and there has already come to thee some tiding of the Envoys. (Surah 6:34)

Perfect are the words of thy Lord in truthfulness and justice; no man can change His words; He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing. (Surah 6:115)

[...] for them is good tidings in the present life and in the world to come. There is no changing the words of God; that is the mighty triumph. (Surah 10:64)

Recite what has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord; no man can change His words. Apart from Him, thou wilt find no refuge. (Surah 18:27)

All these four passages speak in their direct context about the Qur’an and not about the Bible. Surah 6:34, however, also mentions the Messengers1 before Muhammad. This includes Moses and Jesus.

In these verses the statements about the immutability of God’s Word are expressed in such an absolute way that they are not only intended to be applied to the Qur’an but concern every revelation of God. For this reason, they also apply to the revelations of God that we find in the scriptures of the Bible, which indeed the Qur’an also accepts as revealed scripture.

When we read the New Testament we can see that in numerous cases the words of the Old Testament have their fulfilment in Jesus and in the Church of his disciples, in truth and righteousness (as Surah 6:115 expresses).

b) Passages concerning Falsification and Changing of the Word

Are you then so eager that they should believe you, seeing there is a party of them that heard God’s word, and then tampered with it, and that after they had comprehended it, wittingly? (Surah 2:75)

It is not so easy to grasp the context of this passage. Verses 67-71 speak about a cow that should be slaughtered by the Israelites at the command of Moses. Obviously they were not willing to do so. After a man who had been killed was smitten with part of the cow, God is praised for bringing the dead back to life (verses 72-73). Afterwards verse 74 says: Then your hearts became hardened thereafter and are like stones, or even yet harder. Then it continues about different stones. Some are split open, so that water issues from them. Others crash down in the fear of God. In this mysterious context it is not easy to say who is being reproached for tampering with God’s word wittingly (verse 75). The context seems to suggest that it speaks about Jews. Wittingly tampering with God’s word would mean, that (in verses 68-70) they behaved as if they did not understand what God wanted to tell them through Moses. If this understanding is correct, this text does not want to accuse the Jews of falsifying the text of the Torah, but the charge was that they disregarded the word after hearing it. Thus this text testifies that the Torah is God’s word. It also only speaks about “a party of them.” The Gospel is not mentioned here, its falsification is not the topic.

So woe to those who write the Book with their hands, then say, ‘This is from God,’ that they may sell it for a little price; so woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for their earnings. (Surah 2:79)

The context of this verse speaks about contemporaries of Muhammad who obviously tried to sell their own works as God’s word. Verse 80 addresses them directly: “Or say you things against God of which you know nothing?“ This text does not speak about an event before the time of Muhammad. All our Bibles are based on manuscripts written centuries before him. So this charge does not concern the Bible.

[...] whom We have given the Book, and they recognize as they recognize their sons, even though there is a party of them conceal the truth and that wittingly. (Surah 2:146)

Those who conceal the clear signs and the guidance that We have sent down, after We have shown them clearly in the Book — they shall be cursed by God and the cursers, save such as repent and make amends, and show clearly — towards them I shall turn; I turn, All-compassionate. (Surah 2:159–160)

There is a party of the People of the Book yearn to make you go astray; yet none they make to stray, except themselves, but they are not aware. People of the Book! Why do you disbelieve in God’s signs, which you yourselves witness? People of the Book! Why do you confound the truth with vanity, and conceal the truth and that wittingly? (Surah 3:69–71)

These passages speak about concealing the truth, as it was done again and again in the course of “church history” by different religious leaders. These verses, however, do not speak about a manipulation of the written word. Surah 3:69 speaks only about “a party of the People of the Book”. So not all “People of the Book” are concerned. But all “People of the Book” have the same Bible (Jews and Christians have the same Torah, all who call themselves Christians have the same New Testament = Injeel), thus this verse does not speak about a falsification of the text.

And there is a sect of them twist their tongues with the Book, that you may suppose it part of the Book, yet it is not part of the Book; and they say, ‘It is from God,’ yet it is not from God, and they speak falsehood against God, and that wittingly. (Surah 3:78)

Also here there is no reproach of having falsified the written text, but only that somebody manipulated it when reading and explaining a text.

Some of the Jews pervert words from their meanings saying, ‘We have heard and we disobey’ and ‘Hear, and be thou not given to hear’ and ‘Observe us,’ twisting with their tongues and traducing religion. If they had said, ‘We have heard and obey’ and ‘Hear’ and ‘Regard us,’ it would have been better for them, and more upright; but God has cursed them for their unbelief so they believe not except a few. (Surah 4:46)

The content of this verse shows that the topic here is not falsification of the text of the Torah, but some of the Jews are accused of dishonesty and perverting words from their meaning in their discussions with Muhammad or Muslims. It says, that they are “twisting with their tongues”, which means that they are saying something wrong, but not that they falsify the written text of the scripture.

12 God took compact with the Children of Israel; and We raised up from among them twelve chieftains. And God said, ‘I am with you. Surely, if you perform the prayer, and pay the alms, and believe in My Messengers and succour them, and lend to God a good loan, I will acquit you of your evil deeds, and I will admit you to gardens underneath which rivers flow. So whosoever of you thereafter disbelieves, surely he has gone astray from the right way. 13 So for their breaking their compact We cursed them and made their hearts hard, they perverting words from their meanings; and they have forgotten a portion of that they were reminded of; and thou wilt never cease to light upon some act of treachery on their part, except a few of them. Yet pardon them, and forgive; surely God loves the good-doers. 14 And with those who say ‘We are Christians’ We took compact; and they have forgotten a portion of that they were reminded of. So We have stirred up among them enmity and hatred, till the Day of Resurrection; and God will assuredly tell them of the things they wrought. 15 People of the Book, now there has come to you Our Messenger, making clear to you many things you have been concealing of the Book, and effacing many things. There has come to you from God a light, and a Book Manifest […] (Surah 5:12-15)

Here the Children of Israel are accused of (a) perverting words of their meanings and (b) having forgotten a portion of that which they were reminded of. Those who call themselves Christians are only accused of having forgotten a portion of that which they were reminded of. But they were not accused of having falsified the scripture.

Also in the case of the “Children of Israel” it is not clear what is meant by “perverting words of their meanings”. This formulation rather suggests that the Jews are accused of a wrong interpretation than of a falsification of the text. In a similar way we can understand the “forgetting” of “a portion of that they were reminded of.” The word “forget” rather shows a direction of not taking seriously parts of the words they received as an admonition, but not that these words were deleted from the text.

Also the reproach to those who call themselves Christians is not falsification, but only “forgetting”. Thus even the most negative interpretation can only mean that some parts of the Gospel were deleted, but not that the extant text was falsified. So the extant parts of the New Testament have to be accepted as authentic in any case. The text rather suggests that the “forgetting” should not be understood as deleting the text, but as the ignoring of important statements. Verse 15 speaks about the “concealing” of many parts of the books. This presupposes that the concealed information still exists. So neither do these verses say that Christians have falsified the scripture.

41 O Messenger, let them not grieve thee that vie with one another in unbelief, such men as say with their mouths ‘We believe’ but their hearts believe not; and the Jews who listen to falsehood, listen to other folk, who have not come to thee, perverting words from their meanings, saying, ‘If you are given this, then take it; if you are not given it, beware!’ Whomsoever God desires to try, thou canst not avail him anything with God. Those are they whose hearts God desired not to purify; for them is degradation in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement; 42 who listen to falsehood, and consume the unlawful. If they come to thee, judge thou between them, or turn away from them; if thou turnest away from them, they will hurt thee nothing; and if thou judgest, judge justly between them; God loves the just. 43 Yet how will they make thee their judge seeing they have the Torah, wherein is God’s judgment, then thereafter turn their backs? They are not believers. 44 Surely We sent down the Torah, wherein is guidance and light; thereby the Prophets who had surrendered themselves gave judgment for those of Jewry, as did the masters and the rabbis, following such portion of God’s Book as they were given to keep and were witnesses to. So fear not men, but fear you Me; and sell not My signs for a little price. Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down – they are the unbelievers. 45 And therein We prescribed for them: ‘A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation’; but whosoever forgoes it as a freewill offering, that shall be for him an expiation. Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down — they are the evildoers. (Surah 5:41-45)

The context of these verses shows clearly that – although the Jews are accused of perverting words of their meanings – they do not speak about a falsification of the text of the Torah. Verses 43 and 44 state clearly that the Torah contains God’s judgement, guidance and light. The Torah has not changed since the time of Muhammad. So we can confidently say that we also find God’s judgement, guidance and light in the present Torah. The reproach of “perverting words from their meanings” can only refer to a wrong interpretation.

The Bedouins who were left behind will say, when you set forth after spoils, to take them, ‘Let us follow you,’ desiring to change God’s words. Say: ‘You shall not follow us; so God said before.’ Then they will say, ‘Nay, but you’ are jealous of us.’ Nay, but they have not understood except a little. (Surah 48:15)

This verse does not speak about Jews or Christians but about people in the surrounding area of Muhammad who desired to take part in one of the campaigns of his followers. So this text is not relevant for our question.

Supplement: Falsification by Translation?

God loves all people in the same way. That is why it is his will that all people can hear and understand his word. On the other hand it is also clear that if God sends a prophet or a messenger this messenger will be a specific person belonging to a specific nation speaking a specific language. The Qur’an says quite clearly that he is a sign for all people, even for all beings:

And she who guarded her virginity2 , so We breathed into her of Our spirit and appointed her and her son to be a sign unto all beings. (Surah 21,91)

All people should have the possibility to get to know him who is this sign, even if they do not speak the language of Jesus.

Jesus himself sent his disciples to all nations so that they can hear his words and believe in them:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, […] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

In order to reach all people we have only two options: Either everybody needs to learn the language of the revealed words or the revelation needs to be is translated. As God revealed his word in different languages the second possibility would mean that all people should have to learn several languages. A muslim is obliged to believe in all holy Scriptures3. So he would have to learn besides the Arabic language also Hebrew in order to read the Torah and Greek in order to read the Gospel. As far as we know not even Muhammad had tried to learn the Biblical languages.

From the outset Christians have chosen a different way. They wrote down the words of Jesus in that language that was understood by most people of their time, in Greek, although Jesus himself had spoken Aramaic.

Even the Qur’an sometimes quotes the words of men of God from earlier times like Abraham (e.g. Surah 19:42-48), Joseph (e.g. Surah 12:4), Moses (e.g. Surah 2:54), Zechariah (e.g. Surah 3:37-40) or Jesus (e.g. Surah 19:30-33). The quotes of these previous messengers, however, are not written in the languages they themselves spoke (Hebrew or Aramaic), but in Arabic, a language that those men of God did not speak. Thus also the Qur’an contains translated texts. When the Qur’an emphasises that it was sent down in Arabic, the reason given is not, that Arabic was the “original language” but that Arabs should understand it and be warned by it:

We have sent it down as an Arabic Koran; haply you will understand. (Surah 12:2)

Even so We have sent it down as an Arabic Koran, and We have turned about in it something of threats, that haply they may be godfearing, or it may arouse in them remembrance. (Surah 20:113)

If the Almighty God declares his will, if He calls all people to Himself he is able to do this with clear words that cannot be falsified by a translation. Of course a translation will never be able to express all subtleties of a text. But all of us know that it is able to communicate with people of another language by the help of translation. Usually someone who learns a language only as his second language is unable to understand all nuances of a text written in the foreign language. Thus somebody who studies Hebrew, Greek of Arabic will not be able to understand all fine details of the original text of the Bible or the Qur’an. The basic message of these books, however, can be clearly understood even in a translated text.

Unfortunately there were and are still translations of the Bible that were consciously manipulated. But God cared for his message. Many old manuscripts survived. In this way the original text is still available and false translations can be uncovered. Important messages of faith can be found not only in one passage of the Bible, but are expressed in different ways. So even for a translation that has been manipulated it is not so easy to hide the truth of the Bible.

c) Statements concerning the Gospel

He has sent down upon thee the Book with the truth, confirming what was before it, and He sent down the Torah and the Gospel. (Surah 3:3)

This text expresses clearly that the Torah and the Gospel come from God. There is not a word about any kind of falsification.

And He will teach him the Book, the Wisdom, the Torah, the Gospel. (Surah 3:48)

This verse says that God will teach Jesus. If the Torah and the Gospel are mentioned an unbiased reader would think that these terms refer to those texts generally known as the Gospel and Torah at the time of Muhammad.

46 And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus son of Mary, confirming the Torah before him and We gave to him the Gospel, wherein is guidance and light, and confirming the Torah before it, as a guidance and an admonition unto the godfearing. 47 So let the People of the Gospel judge according to what God has sent down therein. Whosoever judges not according to what God has sent down — they are the ungodly. (Surah 5:46-47)

This text clearly presupposes that the Gospel which existed at the time when Qur’an was written is authentic. Therein is guidance and light. If the “People of the Gospel” should judge according to the Gospel, the Gospel which they have must be authentic and reliable. This passage confirms the authenticity of the Gospel at the time of Muhammad and also in our time, because our modern versions are based on manuscripts that already existed centuries before Muhammad.

Had they performed the Torah and the Gospel, and what was sent down to them from their Lord, they would have. eaten both what was above them, and what was beneath their feet. Some of them are a just nation; but many of them — evil are the things they do. (Surah 5:66)

Contemporaries of Muhammad are expected to “perform the Torah and the Gospel”. Thus these people must have known the Torah and the Gospel in their original state without falsification. Otherwise they would not have been able to follow these scriptures. This passage also suggests that the Torah and the Gospel had not been falsified at the time of Muhammad and consequently – as already explained – they cannot have been falsified to this day.

The same is valid for following passage:

Say: ‘People of the Book, you do not stand on anything, until you perform the Torah and the Gospel, and what was sent down to you from your Lord.’ And what has been sent down to thee from thy Lord will surely increase many of them in insolence and unbelief; so grieve not for the people of the unbelievers. (Surah 5:68)

Then We sent, following in their footsteps, Our Messengers; and We sent, following, Jesus son of Mary, and gave unto him the Gospel. And We set in the hearts of those who followed him tenderness and mercy. And monasticism they invented — We did not prescribe it for them — only seeking the good pleasure of God; but they observed it not as it should be observed. So We gave those of them who believed their wage; and many of them are ungodly. (Surah 57:27)

Similarily, this passage does not describe the gospel as a document which existed in the past but has since been lost or falsified. The Gospel is a reality that causes tenderness and mercy in the hearts of those who follow Jesus. Even if among those who call themselves “Christians” there are many who are evildoers, not only according to the Qur’an’s assessment, but much more according to the words of the Gospel, there are still people who follow Jesus with all their hearts and all their lives. The power and authenticity of the Gospel is visible in their lives.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 ESV)

The Qur’an calls these people in whose lives the words of Jesus become reality “those who possess the Message”. Muslims are encouraged by the Qur’an to ask the people who possess the Message:

Before thee, also, the messengers We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: If ye realise this not, ask of those who possess the Message.4 (Surah 21:7)

This verse also shows that the Message received by the Christians is still unadulterated.

d) Implications for us today

As the Qur’an does not support the theory of a falsification of the Holy Scripture by Christians, but rather confirms that we can find guidance and light in the Gospel we would like to encourage all readers of this article – both Muslims and Non-Muslims – to do away with their fear of the Gospel, and to open their hearts for the light brought by Jesus. Everyone who loves the truth will recognize full of gratitude that Jesus was right when he said:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Mark 13:31 ESV)

If Jesus – as Muslims believe – is a prophet of God, then God cares for the truth of this saying. If the words of Jesus had been falsified Jesus would have uttered a false prophecy in Mark 13:31. He would be a false prophet. Both Christianity and Islam who accept Jesus as prophet and messenger from God would be only a human concoction (a botch-up). If, however, Jesus was a true prophet of God, His words remain authentic and will never pass away.

The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63 ESV)

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17 ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. (John 8:51 ESV)

Everyone who reads the words of Jesus and accepts them with faith and receives a new life from him will find in his words the words of God and will confess together with Simon Peter:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68 ESV)

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Footnotes
  1. In Muslim thought a Messenger is a man chosen by God, who received a revelation from God and was charged to proclaim it publicly. In contrast to the prophets every messenger received a revealed scripture. Thus every messenger is also a prophet, but not every prophet is a messenger. Messengers are mainly Moses, David and Jesus whose words we can read in the writings of the Old (Taurat) and New (Injeel) Testaments. 
  2. Mary, the mother of Jesus. 
  3. This is the so called Third Pillar of Iman based on following verse of the Qur’an: Say, ‘We have faith in Allah, and that which has been sent down to us, and that which was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus were given, and that which the prophets were given from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit.’ Surah 2,136. 
  4. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, 1934