Variants In Scriptures

Muslims have been taught from young that the Bible is corrupt while the Quran has been perfectly preserved.

As evidence that the Bible cannot be from God, they like to point out verses like the variant ending of Mark or the passage in John 8.

The truth is, there are very few variant readings, only about twenty, all in the NT. These are all well-known, not hidden, and have been well-researched and documented and do not prove the muslim case. None of them affects the teaching of the Bible as a whole or its overall authenticity.

“We do not believe a book has to be perfectly intact to be the authentic Word of God but rather that, if it [the message] has been protected and handed down in its original form with only a few copyist errors, negligence variant readings and one or two uncertain passages, its overall integrity cannot be challenged.” None of the variants remotely contradict anything taught in the Bible.

In other words, these variants do not prove that the Bible, as a whole, has been so dramatically changed that it no longer contains what was originally written.

On the other hand, Islam teaches that every word and every letter of the quran has been perfectly preserved. This means, EVEN IF THERE IS ONE SINGLE VARIANT, the Quran falls and Islam collapses.

Here is where Christians and Muslims differ. While Christians are aware of the variants in their book, Muslims are unaware of the variants in theirs.


Historians such as Ibn Abi Dawud who compiled a record of Quranic variants which he titled “Kitab al-Masahif (Book of the Manuscripts)”, and Muhammad
Abu Jafar at-Tabari, author of the monumental work on the Qur’an titled “Jami al-Bayan fii Tafsir al-Qur’an” (A Comprehensive Compilation for a Commentary of the Qur’an), preserved a record of all the known variants between the various texts.

At-Tabari’s extensive records, show that there were literally hundreds of variant readings between the early manuscripts. Arthur Jeffery, who compiled a catalogue of the different readings mainly from Ibn Abi Dawud’s and at-Tabari’s works, listed them over no less than 362 PAGES of variants in his book “Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’an”. His book also contains the whole text of Ibn Abi Dawud’s “Kitab al-Masahif”.

They make the number of Biblical variants seem negligible in comparison and, once again, it has to be remembered that the Bible is centuries older than the Qur’an, five times its length, and was compiled by numerous authors over a two-thousand year period. The variants of the Bible fill half a page. The variants of the quran fills 362 pages!

The few variants of the Bible are easily accounted for and of such little importance that they in no way affect the integrity of the book as a whole. The scriptures, in their entirety, have been preserved for us virtually unaltered. On the other hand, consider the Qur’an where every manuscript transcribed by Muhammad’s own companions, like Ibn Masud and Ubayy bin Ka’b was burnt and destroyed.

The Bible has only been burnt by its enemies in history.  But in Islamic history, Uthman, the 3rd caliph burnt every other manuscript of the Qur’an other than the one he conveniently had at hand. This was long after Muhammad had died and after the lifetime of the first two caliphs of of the religion.

Codices that had been widely recognised as authoritative texts in the various provinces were burnt in favour of a manuscript that Hafsah had simply kept under her bed!

One of the teachers whom Muhammad commanded the Muslims to learn quran from was Salim.
In fact, he was the first to collect the Qur’an into a mushaf  (a manuscript or written codex) — As Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii `Ulum al-Qur’an, Vol.1 p.135).
sadly, he died in the Battle of Yamama, leaving behind his precious manuscripts. Where is this first mushaf of the Quran?
Gone up in smoke, thanks to Uthman.

The quran’s original textual integrity is far more questionable than that of the Bible – even though the Bible is five times the length of the Qur’an and was compiled over a much longer period many centuries earlier.

In conclusion, the major reason why Muslims do not believe in the Bible’s integrity is that they have no choice but to do so if they are to sustain their confidence in the Quran.

How many of you Muslims are honest to want to see the evidence of the variants of the quran?

Let none of you say “I have acquired the whole of the Qur’an”. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur’an has disappeared? Rather let him say “I have acquired what has survived.” (As-Suyuti, Al Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur’an).

Abu Musa al-Ashari, a close companion of Muhammad and one of the earliest authorities of the Qur’an, is recorded as teaching the Qur’an-reciters (qurra) in Basra: “We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara’at. I have, however, forgotten it….” (Sahih Muslim, Vol.2, p.501)

– adapted from John Gilchrist-

“Many (of the passages) of the Qur’an that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamama … but they were not known (by those who) survived them, nor were they written down, nor had Abu Bakr, Umar or Uthman (by that time) collected the Qur’an, nor were they found with even one (person) after them.” — Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p.23