The History of the Bible and the Qur’an

Question and answer details
Lady D
Salam.I have a sincere Christian friend. He has asked me about the history of translating the sacred scripture. I need to clarify for him when exactly the Bible was translated into Arabic. Also, when was it translated from its original language and what was its original language. Also, when were the Qur'an and Torah translated into other languages and what were their original languages. Please give me a clear, chronological documenting of how and when the three scriptures were collected and written down in books. I need you to give me historical facts without offending my friend, for sometimes Muslims use an aggressive, sarcastic tone when comparing how the Bible was compiled to how the Qur'an was kept and honored. Of course, our Islam respects others and should never be insulting. Thank you for your tolerance of my words.
Shahul Hameed

Thank you for your question.

First, I would answer some of the specific questions you have asked.

1. The first Arabic translation of the Bible: The Christian Web site:
The Interactive Bible states, “The first Arabic translation of the Bible came into existence about the 9th century.”

Prophet Muhammad died in the first half of the seventh century, to be specific, in the year 632 CE.

2. The original language of the Old Testament was ancient Hebrew. Jesus was a Jew, one of the Children of Israel, and he spoke Aramaic, which was a dialect of Hebrew, an Eastern Semitic language. But the books of the New Testament, including the Gospels, were written in Greek, a western language, some time after Jesus Christ.

3. The language of Muhammad was Arabic and the Qur’an was revealed to him in Arabic. It is the original Arabic Qur’an that is always called THE Qur’an, not any translation.

The Bible is a collection of writings done at different periods of history and by different writers. The many denominations of Christianity are not in agreement on the canon (a list of books accepted by the Church as authoritative or divinely inspired) of the Christian Bible. Some of these books are not universally accepted. The
Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say on the topic:
    The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council.
There is a lot of confusion about the earliest existing texts of the Bible. The oldest extant manuscript of the Bible is believed to be the Codex Vaticanus, (preserved in the Vatican Library) and which is slightly older than the Codex Sinaiticus (preserved in the British Library), both of which were transcribed in the 4th century.

As for the story of Jesus, there were at least some fifty gospels written in the first and second century CE. Four of them (Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John) were included in the official canon during the 4th century CE and are found today in every Bible. All of the original copies of the gospels were lost. What we have now are handwritten copies, which are an unknown number of replications removed from the originals.

Rudolf Bultmann, a prominent Twentieth Century professor of New Testament studies writes: “...we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary; and other sources about Jesus do not exist.” (Rudolf Bultmann,
Jesus and the Word, p. 8 )

The earliest of the four gospels is Mark’s and this was written sometime from 57 to 75 CE, according to scholars. The other gospels were composed much later than this and the last of the four Gospels (John’s) was probably written between 85 and 100 CE. All these gospels were originally in Greek and the authorship of these gospels is a subject of dispute.

The Bible does not contain self-reference; that is, the word “bible” is not in the Bible. In fact, only certain Christian groups believe that the Bible—in its entirety—is the revealed word of God. The presence of so many contradictions and patently questionable ideas makes this claim untenable.

In comparison, the Qur’an’s claim as the record of the word of God dictated to His prophet, is borne out by the following facts: The speaker in the Qur’an is God talking directly to man. The sayings of the Prophet, called hadiths, are in other books. The Qur’an repeatedly says that it is the word of God. It has self-reference; that is to say, it names itself 70 times as the Qur’an.

The verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), in the course of 23 years of his life, as and when the events in the unfolding development of the religion of God called for divine guidance. As soon as the Prophet received these verses, he dictated them to his disciples, who not only wrote them down, but also learned them by heart. There were so many people who memorized the Qur’an, we can say that from the first day of its revelation, as it were, the Qur’an was in the hearts and hands of the people.

Before the death of the Last Prophet, the whole of the Qur’an was written down, examined, and verified by the Prophet himself. From that time onwards, it has remained safe from corruption, as several copies of it were in the possession of the Muslims. Also, from the moment the verses were revealed, up to the present day, a considerable number of Muslims have learned them by heart. Did you know that the Qur’an is the most frequently read book in the world? Five times a day in prayer, Muslims have to recite from its chapters. This has been continuing throughout history, so it has been impossible to make any changes to its verses, even if someone wanted to do so. Moreover, God has promised in the Qur’an:

*{Certainly, it was We Who revealed the Reminder (the Qur’an) and certainly We shall preserve it.}* (Al-Hijr 15:9)

At the time of the Prophet’s death, a number of the Prophet’s Companions had already assembled the portions of the Qur’an into a volume. It was during the time of the first khalifah, `Abu Bakr, that Zayd ibn Thabit, a leading scholar and scribe of the Prophet, was appointed to compile an official version. After meticulous work, he prepared the official collection (mushaf).

One of the foremost reasons for the Qur’an’s continued incorruptibility is that it has been preserved in its original language, unlike the Bible. Thus the Qur’an we have today is the same Qur’an that the Prophet received from God. Its authenticity is unimpeachable.

One of the miracles of the Qur'an, which was revealed 14 centuries ago is the fact that it can be read and understood by the Arabic-speaking people living today. Every language undergoes changes as time passes, and a hundred or two hundred years is long enough for a language to undergo substantial changes. Thus anyone who knows the rudiments of the history of languages, knows that logically it should be impossible for the Arabic-speaking peoples of today to read and understand a book 1,400 years old. And yet, every day, every hour, every minute, in fact, every second of the 24 hours of the 365 days of every year of the past centuries has been alive with the reading and the studying of the Qur'anic verses. And so it goes on into the future.

Our Creator says in the Qur’an what means:

*{This is the Book; in it is Sure Guidance, no doubt, for those who are God-conscious.}* (Al-Baqarah 2:2)

*{And say: “The Truth has arrived, and Falsehood perished; for Falsehood is bound to perish.}* (Al-Israa’ 17:81)

I would like to underscore the fact that there was no Arabic translation of the Bible in existence during the time of the Last Prophet. (For a detailed account of this subject, read the article: Is The Bible Really The Source Of The Qur’an?

Ernst Würthwein informs us in his book
The Text Of The Old Testament:
    With the victory of Islam the use of Arabic spread widely, and for Jews and Christians in the opened lands it became the language of daily life. This gave rise to the need for Arabic versions of the Bible, which need was met by a number of versions mainly independent and concerned primarily for interpretation.” (Ernst Würthwein, The Text Of The Old Testament, 1988, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 104.)
Thus the first translations of the Hebrew Bible in Arabic appeared after the advent of Islam. In fact, the oldest dated manuscript of the Old Testament in Arabic dates from first half of the ninth century.

What about the New Testament? Sidney H Griffith, who has done extensive research on the appearance of the Arabic New Testament says:
    The oldest, dated manuscript containing the Gospels in Arabic is Sinai Arabic MS 72. Here, the text of the four canonical Gospels is marked off according to the lessons of the temporal cycle of the Greek liturgical calendar of the Jerusalem Church. A colophon informs us that the MS was written by Stephen of Ramleh in the year 284 of the Arabs, i.e., 897 AD.” (Sidney H Griffith, "The Gospel In Arabic: An Enquiry Into Its Appearance In The First Abbasid Century," Oriens Christianus, Volume 69, p. 131-132).
It is well known that the Prophet did not know how to read or write—he was illiterate. So the charge that he plagiarized the Bible is untenable, even if an Arabic copy existed in his time. Allah Almighty answered such criticism fourteen centuries ago in these verses:

*{Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. He was taught by One Mighty in Power.}* (An-Najm 53:2-5)

I hope this answer is informative and Allah knows best. In case you need more information, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Thank you and please keep in touch.


Useful Links:

How Were the Qur’an and the Bible Compiled?

Did Prophet Muhammad Copy the Bible?

Could the Qur’an Be a Copy of the Bible?!

Is the Bible the Word of God?

Scriptures of People of the Book