OF WHICH THE AIM IS TO SET FORTH THE PRINCIPAL DOCTRINES OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, AND TO SHOW THAT THEIR TEACHING IS IN CONFORMITY WITH THE CRITERIA OF THE TRUE REVELATION AS STATED IN THE INTRODUCTION.
A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE MAIN CONTENTS OF THE BIBLE
THE Bible consists of two parts, the Old Testament and the New. The former is often called the Torah and the latter the Injil, because the Law of Moses and the Gospel are the first books in these two volumes respectively.
It has been already stated 1 that the Jews divide the Old Testament into three main parts, the Law (Torah), the Prophets, and the Books (الّصُحُف). This third portion used more anciently to be called the Psalms (الزْبُور), because it begins with the Psalms. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, except a few chapters which are in Aramaic. The original language of the New Testament is Greek. The Jews have most carefully preserved the Old Testament in its original languages up to our own days. The Christians have accepted the Old Testament from the hands of the Jews on the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. 2 Our Canon of the Books of the Old Testament is exactly the same as that of the Jews in Palestine was in Christ's time and is still in all lands.
The Old Testament contains the Divine Revelation which was written down by Prophets and other Divinely commissioned men before the coming of Christ. In most cases the various books bear their writers' names, but in some these are known only by tradition. Yet the fact that our Lord Jesus confirmed these books, as the Qur'an also states, 3 justifies us in accepting them on His authority. In ancient times the Old Testament was divided into twenty-two books, 4 corresponding with the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Having separated the Book of Ruth from Judges and the Lamentations of Jeremiah from his prophecies, the Jews now often count twenty-four Books. It is more usual to divide Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, into two books each, and the twelve Minor Prophets are counted as twelve books, and not as one. Hence we now number thirty-nine books in the Old Testament instead of twenty-two. Yet this does not imply any addition to the Sacred Text, as the ignorant might imagine.
The Torah of Moses consists of five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These relate the history of the creation of the world and of man, and tell us how Adam, the Father of Mankind, disobeyed God, and thereby fell into sin and incurred death, but that the Most Merciful God then promised to send into the world a Saviour born of the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). When men sank deeper into sin and were guilty of all kinds of cruelty, God sent the Flood upon the earth to destroy all mankind except Noah and his family. After the Flood, all the nations which sprang from Noah gradually fell away from the worship of the True God. But from among all men God selected one, Abraham, who worshipped the True and Only God. Because of his faith Abraham, the Friend of God, obtained the promise 5 that the coming Saviour would be born among the descendants of his son Isaac. Of Isaac's two sons, God selected Jacob, whom He named Israel, 6 and with him He renewed His covenant and His promise to Abraham that all the families of the earth should be blessed in him and his seed. 7 In fulfilment of this promise, God afterwards raised up the Prophets from his seed, as the Qur'an admits, 8 so that they might with true wisdom reveal God's will, and by Divine Inspiration might write “the Book”, bearing witness to the promised Messiah.
Before the accomplishment of God's promise, however, it was necessary that the sons of Israel should be properly trained to become the religious teachers of the human race. The Torah tells us how they went down into Egypt, how they resided there for hundreds of years and became a numerous nation. When at last the King of Egypt cruelly oppressed them, God raised up Moses, and by his hand led His people out of Egypt (about 1320 B.C., or, as the Jews say, 1314 B.C.). Then at Mount Sinai God exhibited His glory to the Children of Israel and gave them the Ten Commandments, 9 along with many other injunctions, all of which are recorded in the Torah. One object of the Mosaic Law was to enable the people to grow in the knowledge of God's Holiness, a doctrine then unknown to all but Israel, and now not realized by any but Jews and Christians. Another object of that Law was to prevent the Israelites from becoming mixed with the surrounding heathen, lest the light of the truth and the doctrine of the Divine Unity should be lost in heathen darkness. This separation was to last until the coming of the Saviour of the world, unto whom the nations were to be obedient. 10
After forty years' wandering and residence in various parts of the wilderness now called At Tih (النِّيةُ), God led the children of Israel to the borders of the Promised Land of 111 Canaan. The Book of Joshua tells us of the conquest of Canaan and of the partial destruction of the idolatrous nations there, whom God Most Holy had condemned because of their fearful wickedness. They used to burn their children alive as offerings to false gods, and to indulge in licentious abominations 12 in Honour of the evil beings whom they worshipped. We are told that Israel took possession of Canaan in accordance with God's promise to Abraham. 13
The Books of Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles tell us the main facts in the history of the Children of Israel from that time forward until the Babylonian Captivity. During the first few centuries of their residence in Canaan, the Israelites many times fell into idolatry, and were punished by God, who on that account permitted the heathen rulers of the surviving Canaanites and other neighbouring nations to oppress them. But whenever His people repented and turned to God, He mercifully forgave them and interposed to save them from their enemies, by raising up among them some brave warrior to be their champion. After the reign of their first king, Saul (who is called Taluth, طَالُوتُ, in the Qur'an), 14 God appointed David 15 king over all the Children of Israel, about 1020 B.C. He was succeeded by his son Solomon, 16 who reigned from 980 to 938 B.C. The Biblical History goes on to tell how ten of the tribes rebelled against Solomon's son Rehoboam, and formed the Kingdom of Israel, leaving only the Kingdom of Judah to the family of David. The Kingdom of Israel soon fell away into idolatry, as did later the Kingdom of Judah. Hence the Israelites were conquered by the Assyrians, and many of them were carried away captive to Media, Persia, and other lands in 730 B.C. Judah followed the same evil course, and was subjected to the Babylonian yoke in 606 B.C. From this time they remained in bondage to Babylon for seventy years, until 536 B.C. In 587 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, destroyed the Temple which Solomon had built at Jerusalem, and carried the chief of the Jews to Babylon.
The Book of Ezra tells us that, when the seventy years' subjection to Babylon spoken of by the Prophet Jeremiah 17 was ended, God delivered them by turning the heart of Cyrus, King of Persia, who had become ruler of Babylonia and many other lands, to give them permission to return to Palestine. The account of the restoration of the Temple and the rebuilding of Jerusalem is given in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. But when the Jews rejected the promised Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Gospels relate, He predicted that terrible punishment would fall upon them, and that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed. 18 In accordance with this and with Moses' prediction, 19 the Romans destroyed the city and the Temple in A.D. 70. From that time to this the Jews have never had a king or a country of their own, but have ever remained scattered over all the earth, often most cruelly oppressed. Not yet are the days of their “tribulation” 20 ended.
From the Bible we gather that the Divine purpose in thus dealing with the Children of Israel and in commanding historians and prophets to record the most important events in their history was threefold: (1) To show the Jews themselves (and in later times all other nations) that the heart of man is so prone to rebellion that, in spite of God's great mercy and the bestowal of so many blessings and the continual guidance which He had vouchsafed by His holy prophets, it was yet possible for men to forget the True God, and at last to fall into idolatry. (2) To teach the Israelites that release from sin and from the dominion of man's carnal desires cannot be gained through the mere knowledge of the commandments of God or through the formal observance of outward rites and ceremonies, but that something more than this is necessary; so that thus there might gradually spring up in their hearts a desire and longing for the Saviour who had been promised in the Law (Torah) and the Prophets, 21 and that they might feel their need of Him. (3) That the Gentiles, having learnt how God had dealt with the Israelites and what a lofty revelation of His own Nature He had in His mercy made them, by showing kindness to them and revealing His Justice and His Holiness and the Moral Law, might come to know that their idols were nothing, and that the God of Israel was the One True God, Creator of Heaven and Earth; that thus the Gentiles also might be led to desire to serve Him and receive the light and salvation which the promised Saviour of the World should bring when, in accordance with prophecy, He should be born of David's progeny 22 in the town of Bethlehem. 23
Besides the books which we have already mentioned as containing the history of God's dealings with the Children of Israel, there are others which contain instruction in God's will, and also prayers, praises, and thanksgivings to God Most High, as well as prophecies of events which were future at the time when they were first uttered, though many of them have since been fulfilled. Among these are the Book of Job, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the twelve Minor Prophets. Although much of each Prophet's teaching was primarily intended for the warning and encouragement of the people of his own time, yet all of them by their teaching and prophecies were preparing the way for the advent of the promised Saviour, whose future coming had been Divinely announced to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. From these prophecies those who were pious and God-fearing among the Children of Israel might learn the chief facts about the time when He would come, the place of His birth, to what tribe and family He would belong, His character and the Divinity of His Nature, the kind of deeds that He would do, the sufferings which He would undergo for men, and how He would be put to death, and would rise again from the dead without seeing corruption. They might also understand the nature of the salvation which He would offer to men.
The Sacred Books of the Old Testament from beginning to end teach the Unity of God. The creed of the Jews is contained in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD.” This is the foundation-stone of all true religion, as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself afterwards declared (Mark 12:29). But in order that this great truth may be of practical value to mankind, it is necessary that God should reveal Himself to men in such a manner that He may be known and loved. Otherwise mere belief in the Divine Unity is of no more real value than belief in the unity of the Sun or in any other great fact, and will not save us, for the devils know that God is One and yet are not thereby saved (James 2:19), because they do not know and love Him. Hence it was that, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets of Israel, in the fullness of time He who alone is the Word of God (كلمة الله: John 1:1) came to reveal God to us, and thus to give everlasting life to true believers in Himself, according to His own declaration (John 17:3).
The great mass of the Jews did not accept the Promised Messiah when He came, because they were worldly-minded, and desired (not deliverance from sin, but only) freedom from the Roman yoke. They longed, not for the true riches and for peace with God, but to become the rulers of the world and to enjoy the plunder of the Roman and the Persian empires. Yet their own Scriptures clearly taught that at His first Advent the Promised Messiah would come without worldly pomp and power, that He would be despised and rejected by men, that He would not strive nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets, but would bind up broken hearts and deliver the captives of Satan from the slavery of sin. It was because of this love of the world and want of spiritual religion that many of the Jews rejected Jesus Christ. But the spiritually minded among them accepted Him before His Crucifixion or after His Ascension and became the heralds of salvation to the Gentiles.
The New Testament was written by the Apostles (الحواريّون) and their disciples with the aid of the Divine Inspiration promised by Christ 24 Himself. The Gospels contain accounts of Christ's teaching and miracles, and they tell us how in Him so many Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled. From them we learn the way of salvation, because they relate how Christ offered His own life as an Atonement for the sins of the whole world, and how on the third day after His crucifixion He rose again from the dead; how during forty days afterwards He often appeared and taught His disciples. He commanded them to evangelize all nations, 25 promising to give them the Holy Spirit, that they might thus receive power from God to be His witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth. He bade them wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit should come 26 upon them. He finally ascended to heaven before their eyes, leaving the promise of His return. 27 Many of the words and deeds of Christ were written down by His disciples during His lifetime. After His Ascension they at first preached orally His Gospel, the Good News of the Kingdom of God. This Gospel was finally written down in four separate books, under the respective titles of the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, before the end of the first century of the Christian era. Of these four Evangelists, Matthew and John were Apostles. Mark, the Apostle Peter's disciple, wrote what he learnt from Peter as well as from others, so that in his Gospel we have the evidence of a third Apostle. Besides this, the Gospel according to Mark contains many passages which must have been written down before the Ascension. Luke, a friend and disciple of Paul the Apostle, wrote in his Gospel the evidence not of one but of very many who had been eye-witnesses 28 of the events which he records. In the Epistles of Peter, James, and Jude we have the evidence of others who were among Christ's most faithful friends and disciples. John, His dearest earthly friend, has also left us Epistles. Paul's Epistles, the earliest of which (1 and 2 Thess.) were written about twenty-two or twenty-three years after the Ascension, tell us the way of salvation through Christ, and the duty of Christians to walk worthy of their holy calling and so please God. Part of the earliest Christian creed is given in one of Paul's Epistles (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4) in these words: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and He was buried, and He hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Thus it is clear that the very earliest Christians thought that the essence of both the Old Testament and the New was the Atonement for sin made by Christ Jesus, and the proof of its efficacy afforded by His Resurrection. Among the other books of the New Testament, the Book of the Acts tells us of the descent 29 of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, 30 seven days after Christ's Ascension, and how the beginning of the evangelization of the Gentile world was made. The Epistle to the Hebrews explains the relation in which the Law of Moses stood to the Gospel of Christ. The Revelation of St. John prophetically describes the struggle between the Church and the world, and the final triumph of Good over Evil. (The ninth chapter of Revelation is of especial interest to Muslims.) That book declares that Satan will strive to separate men from Christ by persecutions and temptations, that Antichrist will come to lead them astray, and that, saved by faith, the true Christians will come forth from the furnace of affliction like pure gold from the crucible, and that finally Christ will descend from heaven with power and great glory to establish for ever in the renewed heaven and the renewed earth His eternal Kingdom, into which “there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they which are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
All these New Testament books agree with those of the Old Testament in pointing out that the way of salvation, the way in which all nations are to be blessed (Genesis 28:14), is through faith in the promised seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), who was born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38) 31 to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), who gave His life a ransom for many (Isaiah liii. 11; Matthew 20:28), who rose again for our justification (Psalms 16:9-11; Acts 2:22-36; Romans 4:25), and through whom alone man can come to the true knowledge of God (John 14:6) and can obtain eternal salvation (Acts 4:12). Thus we learn how the promises made by God thousands of years ago to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David have been accomplished, how man is to be freed by the Saviour from the thraldom of sin and Satan, and how the earth is to be brought to a state of perfection and happiness far greater than in the days before Adam's sin.
To the honoured readers of these pages it will now be manifest that the Old Testament and the New taken together form but one Revelation of God Most High. The Old Testament tells us how men became sinners, and how God promised a Saviour from sin. The New Testament informs us how that promise was fulfilled, how Christ Jesus has made atonement for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) and offers salvation to all who truly turn to Him (Matthew 11:28; John 6:37).
With regard to the Prophets and the Apostles we Christians hold that they were men specially commissioned by God Most High to be preachers and teachers of mankind. Their commission was not to rule, but to warn men to turn from their sins and serve God. The Prophets and the Apostles were not sinless, since only one sinless Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, has ever lived on earth. Regarding His sinlessness we have the testimony of Prophets (Isaiah liii. 9; cf. John 8:46), His own disciples (1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5; Hebrews 4:15), and even of those who put Him to death (Luke 23:4, 14, 47). The Qur'an attributes sin 32 to other prophets, but none to Jesus. With this Muslim Traditions (احاديث) agree. 33 But in delivering their Divinely given message both Prophets and Apostles were preserved by God's Holy Spirit from teaching any error or omitting any doctrine necessary for salvation (Matthew 10:20; Mark 13:11; John 14:26; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). We Christians believe that Inspiration ((إلهام) was bestowed on the writers of the books of the Bible, but we do not believe that the Torah and the Injil were composed in heaven, ages before the creation of the world, and afterwards dictated word by word to the Prophets and the Apostles, and written down by them or at their command. God did not in such a manner use merely the hands and the tongues of these inspired men; besides this He employed the training and the wisdom which He had given them, their experience, their learning, their minds, hearts, and spirits as well as their bodies, in communicating through them His teaching to mankind. Hence in Holy Scripture a human element is found as well as a Divine element.
There are in the Bible some doctrines which are above our finite human comprehension. Some people therefore fancy that these are contrary to reason. In reality, however, this is not so. As our reason is God's gift, His True Revelation cannot be contrary to it. But as our Reason has its limits, it is unreasonable to expect that it should be able fully to comprehend the infinite Nature (ذات) of God Most High. If the Bible, or any other book which professes to come from God, gave us such an account of Him as to make everyone able to understand in its entirety the Divine Mode of Being as therein stated, that fact would at once prove the falsity of that book's claim to be from the Infinite God. It will be well to remember this when in the next chapter we consider what has been revealed to us regarding the Divine Nature and Attributes.
1. Part I, ch. i.
2. Matthew 5:17; 21:42; 26:54; Mark 12:24; Luke 24:27, 45; John 5:39, &c., &c.
3. Surah 5:50, &c.
4. Part I, ch. iii.
5. Genesis 12:1-3; 15:6; 17:15-21; 18:18; 22:18.
6. Genesis 32:28.
7. Genesis 28:14.
8. Surah 45:15.
9. Exodus 20.
10. Genesis 49:10.
11. Numbers 36:13; Deuteronomy 31:1-8.
12. Leviticus 18:24-30; Deuteronomy 9:4, 5; 18:9-14.
13. Genesis 13:14-17.
14. Surah 2, ver. 248.
15. Cf. Surah 2, ver. 252.
16. Cf. Surah 6, ver. 85.
17. Jeremiah 25:11,12.
18. Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21.
19. Deuteronomy 28:15-68.
20. Matthew 24:29.
21. See John 5:45-47; Luke 24:25-27.
22. Isaiah 11:1-10: Jeremiah 23:5.
23. Micah 5:2.
24. John 14:25, 26; 16:13-15.
25. Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8.
26. Acts 1:4, 5.
27. John 14:3; Acts 1:9-11.
28. Luke 1:1-4.
29. Acts 2.
30. John 16:7.
31. Compare Surahs 21:91 and 66:12.
32. See Surahs 20:119; 2:33, 34; 70: 29; 6:76, 77, 78; 14:42; 28:14, 15; 26:19; 7:150; 12:24; 38:23, 24, 34; 37:139-144, &c. [Adam, Noah, Abraham, are by Muslims called Prophets].
33. See Mishkatu’l Masabih, Bib i, fasl iii. 1, and Bab xxv, fasl i. 1.