The Great Debate: The word of God
This post is a continuation from a previous post. For the whole story, read On debating an imam.
“How many copies of the Bible do you own?” asked the imam.
It was a question for which I had no definite answer. “Perhaps a dozen,” I thought to myself. But as I looked around the room I spotted a bookshelf full of Korans, everyone plainly marked down the spine in Arabic script.
I knew where he was going with his question.
Nevertheless, I answered with an approximation. He then asked me if they all said the exact same thing. In other words, he asked me if I had more than one version of the Bible. In this statement, he got to the thrust of his question, exposing what he saw as a major flaw in our understanding of Scripture.
As the conversation continued, the imam went on to tell of the miraculous giving of the Koran. The Koran came into being in a very different fashion than the Bible, and this is an important point for both Muslims and Christians alike.
His explanation went on to emphasize the divine authorship of the Koran. According to Islam, the words of the Koran were given to Mohammed through a series of revelations. Often, these would occur in a cave or another isolated location. Initially passed on orally and memorized by the early followers of Mohammed, these portions of revelation were later compiled into the Koran.
“It must be God’s word,” said the imam, “because Mohammed could not read!”
Muslims will quickly point out the differences between this process and that of the Bible. For instance, the words of the Koran are a literally dictated script from God. Said another way, Mohammed had nothing to do with the constructing of the Koran. He was just the vessel through which Muslims believe these literal words from God were received. This tenant has led them to believe that only the original Arabic script is the literal word of God. Once translated into any other language, the Koran looses the distinction of being the Koran.
Now, back to the above question.
When the imam asked me about my many versions (a word he preferred over translations) of the Bible, he was pointing out that they cannot all be God’s words, as they differ. Furthermore, since most of them were in English, they are not in the original language at all. Certainly, the imam suggested, that this process has caused these words to somehow be less than God’s as man has translated them.
How would you answer that question?
As a Christian, if you have never thought about that, then you should.
Considering that in each instance, whether Islam or Christianity, our holy book is the very foundation of all that we believe. To the Muslim, the Koran is held in such high regard that most will not write in it, most will not set it on the ground, and most would be appalled to see them lay around the house collecting dust as our Bibles do. As concerns evangelicals, we believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, and in such, see it as perfect, total truth. It is the very guide for the life of the believer and the church. It is never wrong, and it the primary authority in the life of the Christian.
Our understanding of the Bible is a big deal.
Considering carefully how to answer, I responded to the imam’s question. I began by asking him about the purpose of revelation. “Is it not to reveal truth?” I asked. This was a point where all could agree. For God’s purpose in providing his holy words was to reveal truth about himself, mankind, and the world around us.
With the purpose of revelation established, we began to talk about the audacity of God making that revelation available in only one language. If God gave us words to hear and understand, then he gave them in a way where they could be understood.
Furthermore, I pointed out to this imam that the Islamic method of conveying the Scriptures to it followers was no more precise than our own. While the Koran may exist only in Arabic, preventing error from slipping into its pages, it must then be translated out of Arabic for the masses of followers who seek to hear its meaning every week. Thus, the translation is not done by a committee of learned scholars, steeped in the original languages. Instead, it is done by thousands of imams across the globe every week, on the fly. Even the imam agreed that he had heard imams teach the Koran in an untruthful manner. Yet, without people being able to see it for themselves, the meaning of the Koran can only be passed on through these men.
In Christianity it is not so.
We chose to translate the original words into the languages of the world so that all may be able to read it for themselves.
The Christian understanding of inspiration is quite different from that of Islam. In Islam, Mohammed was given a word from God that had none of his own personality, none of his effort, none of his essence wrapped into it. In Christianity, it does not work that way. The Bible came to man as a divine word from God. Furthermore, it is completely divine, and it is fully God’s word. Yet, in God’s sovereign choice, he delivered that word through the unique use of the individual authors. The Holy Spirit told them what to write, and they did that. However, the process was no mindless scribbling. The words of the Bible show the definite imprints of human authorship. The personality of Paul seeps through his letters, and the pain of David falls heavy on anyone who reads one of his laments.
The word of God, as given in the pages of the Bible, is fully God and fully man.
It should. God’s clearest revelation of himself came when God wrapped himself in flesh and walked amongst us for 33 years. Like the Bible itself, God incarnate, the Word, Jesus Christ, was fully God and fully man.