The New Testament Greek manuscripts

Greek New Testament manuscripts vs. Arabic Qur’an and hadith manuscripts

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons)


Many Christian apologists argue that the Qur’an and hadith are historically unreliable. It is claimed that this is due to the scarcity of early manuscript evidence for either Qur’an or hadith. The latter is claimed to be far more unreliable because the earliest compilations date back to only Bukhari about 200 years after the fact. The following quotation is taken from a Christian paper on the subject captures the essence of such arguments raised against Islam by Christian missionaries :

“Documentary evidence for the Qur’an has always been difficult, due to the paucity of primary documents at our disposal (as was mentioned in the previous section). The oldest Muslim documents available are the Muslim Traditions, which were initially compiled as late as 765 A.D. (i.e. The Sira of Ibn Ishaq). Yet the earliest documents which we can refer to today are those compiled by Ibn Hisham (the Sira of the prophet), and the large Hadith compilations of al-Bukhari, Muslim and others, all written in the ninth century, and thus 200 to 250 years after the fact. They are much too late to be useful for our study here. Therefore we must go back to the seventh century itself and ascertain what documents are available with which we can corroborate the reliability of the Qur’an.” [1]

There are several erroneous claims made in the above quotation. The oldest surviving Muslim documents are not the ‘Muslim Traditions’, but rather the Qur’an itself. The so called “Qur’an of Uthman” at the Topkapi museum date to the late first century or early second century(hijri). Another so called “Qur’an of Uthman” which is kept at the Turk ve islam Eserleri muzesi is also dated to the late first century or early second century(hijri). Two other “Qur’an of Uthman” are found in Egypt (Masjid Al-Hussain, Cairo and Darul Kutub al-Misriyya) with similar dates. Then there are the first and late first century or early first century San’a manuscripts and codices. All of these and many more predate the the biographical works of Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham and also the hadith compilations of Bukhari and Muslim. The quotation also erroneously claim that all the hadith compilations date to the ninth century(200-250 after the fact). This is also false. The earliest documentation of hadith that has been discovered predate the Sihah Sittah(six authentic compilations e.g. Bukhari and Muslim) and it is the Sahifa of Hammam bin Munabbih written in the mid-first century(hijri). This has been noted by the hadith scholar Dr. M. Hamidullah in Sahifa Hammam bin Munabbih: The Earliest Extant Work On The Hadith. The compilations of hadith by the four great imams are also readily accessible today. All of them and others predate the compilations of Bukhari and the rest of the sihah sittah. The Christian missionary in the quotation claims that “They are much too late to be useful for our study here”. However, it has just been illustrated that this is an extremely inaccurate assertion. Nevertheless, the Christian author has made the judgment that anything that exceeds 200 years is too late to be of any use. Let us employ this criterion that he has used against Islam on his Holy Bible and see how it fairs. In order to do this I will produce scanned pages from Kurt and Barbara Aland’s The text of the New Testament [2] which was translated from their original Der text des Neuen Testaments in German. Both husband and wife(especially Kurt Aland) are notable textual critics and have worked with other prominent textual critics like Bruce Metzger. Kurt Aland was the head of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Germany and editor of the Nestle-Aland edition of Novum Testamentum Graece (Greek New Testament). Kurt and Barbara Aland list all the papyri, uncials and minuscules from the earliest to the latest. In the table one can easily ascertain that there are only two documents that can be definitely said to belong to the second century C.E. namely, p52 and p90. The other earliest papyri are p32, p46, p64+67, p66 and p77. They are dated to either the late second century or early/mid third century. Note that no single surviving document dates back to the first century in the table! The overwhelming majority of all the Greek texts date from the 3rd to as late as the 17th century! The following is the table from pages 159 to 162 of The text of the New Testament listing all the Greek texts and manuscripts.

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Based on the criterion that the Christian writer and many other Christian apologists also use shall we now discount the whole New Testament as useless since it is not grounded upon any surviving written material from the first century? But what about those very very few papyri from the second century e.g. p52? They do not even account for one percent of the New Testament! If the Christian writer and those like him/her are honest and consistent with the method of assessment utilised then the New Testament must be chucked into the recycling bin as useless.

Reference:

[1] http://debate.org.uk/topics/history/bib-qur/qurdoc.htm

[2] Kurt & Barbara Aland. The test of the New Testament : an introduction to the critical editions and to the theory and practice of modern textual criticism(1989). The Netherlands: Eerdmans & E.J. Brill. p. 159-162

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4 Responses to “The New Testament Greek manuscripts”

  1. Kaz says:

    Those who refuse to accept truth even when the evidence is presented to them will never be honest and consistent. I just can’t understand why do people try so hard to reject the truth.

    Anyway, good post here Ibn Anwar.

    Peace and blessings of Allah be upon you.

  2. heman says:

    i heard that the church father quotations were doctored by scribes to make them conform with readings available to the scribe. i also heard that church father quotations are earlier than the fragmentary manuscripts available to us. church father quotations only quote , i think, less than 1/2 of the nt.

  3. textig says:

    If the church father quotations were doctored then you have the problem with secular ancient quotes by non-Christians that speak of Christ.
    Nothing was doctored.

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