Responses to "Islamic Information"

A Critical Analysis of Shabir Ally's Misuse of Bruce M. Metzger's Writings

In some of Shabir Ally's debates one will find him citing Bruce M. Metzger, a world renowned authority on the manuscripts and transmission of the Greek New Testament (NT) text, to support his argument that the NT text has been corrupted. The impression Shabir gives is that Metzger seemingly believes that the variants within the ancient manuscripts of the NT prove that scribes corrupted the text. Hence, Shabir gives his audience the impression that Metzger feels that Christians cannot confidently assert that today's NT is a faithful replica of the original autographs.

In this article we will quote Metzger's views on the variant readings of the NT text and how this effects its preservation. The following quotations are taken from Lee Strobel's book The Case For Christ (Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, MI 1998 pocket size edition). In chapter two of his book, Strobel personally interviewed Metzger on the reliability and preservation of the NT text. Strobel opens up the interview with Metzger on the issue of alleged "errors" of the NT text:


"With the similarities in the way Greek letters are written and with the primitive conditions under which the scribes worked, it would seem inevitable that copying errors would creep into the text,' I said.

"Quite so," Metzger conceded.

"And in fact, aren't there literally tens of thousands of variations among the ancient manuscripts that we have?"

"Quite so."

"Doesn't that therefore mean we can't trust them?" I asked, sounding more accusatory than inquisitive.

"No sir, it does not," Metzger replied firmly. "First let me say this: Eyeglasses weren't invented until 1373 in Venice, and I'm sure that astigmatism existed among the ancient scribes. That was compounded by the fact that it was difficult under any circumstances to read faded manuscripts on which some of the ink had flaked away. And there were other hazards - inattentiveness on the part of scribes, for example. So yes, although for the most part scribes were scrupulously careful, errors did creep in.

"But," he was quick to add, "there are factors counteracting that. For example, sometimes the scribe's memory would play tricks on him. Between the time it took for him to look at the text and then to write down the words, the order of words might get shifted. He may write down the right words but in the wrong sequence. This is nothing to be alarmed at, because Greek, unlike English, is an inflected language."

"Meaning...," I prompted him.

"Meaning it makes a whale of a difference in English if you say, 'Dog bites man' or 'Man bites dog' - sequence matters in English. But in Greek it doesn't. One word functions as the subject of the sentence regardless of where it stands in the sequence; consequently, the meaning of the sentence isn't distorted if the words are out of what we consider to be the right order. So yes, some variations among manuscripts exist, but generally they're inconsequential variations like that. Differences in spelling would be another example."

Still, the high number of "variants," or differences among manuscripts, was troubling. I had seen estimates as high as two hundred thousand of them. However, Metzger downplayed the significance of that figure.

"The number sounds big, but it's a bit misleading because of the way variants are counted," he said. He explained that if a single word is misspelled in two thousand manuscripts, that's counted as two thousand variants.

I keyed in on the most important issue. "How many doctrines of the church are in jeopardy because of variants?"

"I don't know of any doctrine that is in jeopardy," he responded confidently.


"None," he repeated. "Now, the Jehovah's Witnesses come to our door and say, 'Your Bible is wrong in the King James Version of 1 John 5:7-8, where it talks about "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." They'll say, 'That's not in the earliest manuscripts.'

"And that's true enough. I think that these words are found in only about seven or eight copies, all from the fifteenth or sixteenth century. I acknowledge that is not part of what the author of 1 John was inspired to write.

"But that does not dislodge the firmly witnessed testimony of the Bible to the doctrine of the Trinity. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father speaks, his beloved Son is baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends on him. At the ending of 2 Corinthians Paul says, 'May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.' There are many places where the Trinity is represented."

"So the variations, when they occur, tend to be minor rather than substantive?"

"Yes, yes, that's correct, and scholars work very carefully to try to resolve them by getting back to the original meaning. The more significant variations do not overthrow any doctrine of the church. Any good Bible will have notes that will alert the reader to variant readings of any consequence. But, again, these are rare." (Strobel, pp. 82-85)

Strobel continues:


Metzger had been persuasive. No serious doubts lingered concerning whether the New Testament's text had been reliably preserved for us through the centuries. One of Metzger's distinguished predecessors at Princeton Theological Seminary, Benjamin Warfield, who held four doctorates and taught systematic theology, until his death in 1921, put it this way:

If we compare the present state of the New Testament text with that of any other ancient writing, we must... declare it to be marvelously correct. Such has been the care with which the New Testament has been copied- a care which has doubtless grown out of true reverence for its holy words... The New Testament [is] unrivaled among ancient writings in the purity of its text as actually transmitted and kept in use. (Strobel, p. 91)

Strobel concludes:

As we stood, I thanked Dr. Metzger for his time and expertise. He smiled warmly and offered to walk me downstairs. I didn't want to consume any more of his Saturday afternoon, but my curiosity wouldn't let me leave Princeton without satisfying myself about one remaining issue.

"All these decades of scholarship, of study, of writing textbooks, of delving into the minutiae of the New Testament text - what has all this done to your personal faith?" I asked.

"Oh," he said, sounding happy to discuss the topic, 'it has increased the basis of my personal faith to see the firmness with which these materials have come down to us, with a multiplicity of copies, some of which are very, very ancient."

"So," I started to say, "scholarship has not diluted your faith-"

He jumped in before I could finish my sentence. "On the contrary," he stressed, "it has built it. I've asked questions all my life, I've dug into text, I've studied this thoroughly, and today I know with confidence that my trust in Jesus has been well placed."

He paused while his eyes surveyed my face. Then he added, for emphasis, "Very well placed." (Strobel, p. 93)

Hence, the last thing on Metzger's mind is to give the impression that the NT text is corrupt.

In one debate with Jay Smith, Shabir also misused Metzger's book The Text of the New Testament Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford University Press, second edition 1968). After citing examples Metzger gave on deliberate corruption made by scribes to the NT text, Shabir again gave the misleading impression that Metzger was claiming that the NT had been deliberately tampered with. By giving this impression, Shabir led the audience into thinking that Metzger felt that the scribes were not careful nor interested in accurately transmitting the NT text.

Here is how Metzger concluded the particular section Shabir alluded to throughout his debate with Jay Smith:

"Lest the foregoing examples of alterations should give the impression that scribes were altogether wilful and capricious in transmitting ancient copies of the New Testament, it ought to be noted that other evidence points to the careful and painstaking work on the part of many faithful copyists. There are, for example, instances of difficult readings which have been transmitted with scrupulous fidelity. Thus elthen at Gal. ii. 12 yields no good sense and can scarcely be the form intended by the author. Nevertheless, the scribes of the earliest manuscripts... refrained from correcting it to elthon. Another instance of a manifestly erroneous reading is ei tis splagchna kai oiktirmoi at Phil. ii. 1, which could have arisen when the original amanuensis misunderstood Paul's pronunciation of ei ti splagchna... However the solecism may have originated, the significant point is that all uncials and most minuscules have transmitted it with conscientious exactness.

"Even in incidental details one observes the faithfulness of scribes. For example, the scribe of codex Vaticanus copied quite mechanically the section numbers which run in one series throughout the corpus of the Pauline Epistles, even though this series had been drawn up when the Epistle to the Hebrews stood between Galatians and Ephesians and is therefore not suitable for the present sequence of the Epistles in Vaticanus. These examples of dogged fidelity on the part of the scribes could be multiplied, and serve to counterbalance, to some extent, the impression which this chapter may otherwise make upon the beginner in New Testament textual criticism." (Metzger, p. 206)

The fact is, the early Church Fathers tried their best to preserve the original readings, and spoke contrary to those who uncritically accepted any reading that could not be attested by the NT manuscripts:

"This number [666] is found in all THE MOST APPROVED AND ANCIENT COPIES [of Revelation]. Furthermore, those men who saw John face to face bear their testimony... I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech and have corrupted the middle number in the name... Afterwards, others received this reading WITHOUT EXAMINATION." Irenaeus, 180 A.D. (David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs [Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts, 1998], p. 640)

The second century Church Father Irenaeus is both aware of the most reliable and ancient copies from the ones that are unreliable. Furthermore, he also criticizes individuals for not critically examining manuscripts for authenticity. Since they both had the testimony of John's companions and accurate, ancient copies, they were able to know what the originals said.

"It is incredible to every man of sense that we [i.e., orthodox Christians] would have introduced any corrupt text into the scriptures. FOR WE HAVE EXISTED FROM THE VERY FIRST." Tertullian, 197 A.D. (Ibid)

"Now what is there in our Scriptures that is contrary to us? WHAT OF OUR OWN HAVE WE INTRODUCED? Is there anything that we need to take away again, or else add to it, or alter it - in order to restore to its natural soundness anything that is contrary to it and contained in the Scriptures? What we are ourselves, that also is what the Scriptures are, and have been from the beginning." Tertullian, 197 A.D. (Ibid, p. 600)

The majority of the time it was the heretics, not believers, who were trying to correct the MSS. Yet, they failed to do so since the believers had copies transcribed from the originals and knew what the ancient readings were:

"For this reason, the heretics have boldly laid their hands upon the divine Scriptures, alleging that they have corrected them... And many such copies can be obtained, for their disciples were very zealous in inserting these 'corrections,' AS THEY CALL THEM... Nor can they deny that the crime is theirs, when the copies have been written with their own hands. Nor did they receive such copies of the scriptures from those by whom they were first instructed in the faith. For they cannot produce the originals from which they were transcribed." Eusebius citing Caius, 215 A.D. (Ibid, 641)

In fact, believers warned of adding or taking away from the Word:

"If it is nowhere written, then let him fear the woe that comes on all who add to or take away anything [from the written Word]." Tertullian, 210 A.D. (Ibid, p. 600)

Hence, the early Church Fathers bear out the testimony given by Metzger on the reliability and accurate transmission of the NT text.

In conclusion, we have found that Shabir's consistent habit is to either misquote sources or give a false and misleading impression on what these sources actually are communicating to their readers.

Another example of miscitation of scholarly sources is his article on the Paracletos. The following response to Shabir's article exposes the poor scholarship and misquotation of sources found throughout his paper concerning the Paracletos.

The interesting part about all this is that in his debate with Dr. Robert A. Morey, Shabir's main criticism was that Dr. Morey misquoted sources in his book, the Islamic Invasion. Shabir tried to demonstrate that Dr. Morey was giving his readers a false impression on what the scholarly reference works cited in his book were actually stating. Shabir claimed that Dr. Morey used selective quotations and out of context citations to deceive his readers into believing that scholars were in agreement with Dr. Morey that Allah was indeed the moon-god and that Islam was nothing more than Arab paganism repackaged into a monotheistic context.

Sadly, Shabir is guilty of the very thing he accuses others of. We are reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, which amazingly were words used by Shabir against Dr. Morey in their debate:

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:1-5

In the service of our great eternal God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, forever and ever. Amen.

Sam Shamoun

>> Shabir Ally's response to the above and Sam Shamoun's answer to him

Responses to Shabir Ally and his "Islamic Information"
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