Systematic Theology 5: The Innerancy of Scripture

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology . The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted. Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson.

This lesson continues a study on the four characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority, (2) Clarity, (3) Necessity, and (4) Sufficiency. This post is the fourth of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology.

  1. The Word of God. Discussion of five ways that the phrase “Word of God” is used in Scripture. This lesson also discusses three reasons that the Bible as the Word of God is the focus for theological study.
  2. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). 
  3. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of [the Bible][1] are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of [the Bible] is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). 
  4. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that [the Bible] in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). 
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). 
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). 
  7. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that [the Bible] contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). 


Today’s Systematic Theology study will be in two parts. First, there will be a brief discussion about the inerrancy of Scripture and how this is related to the authority of Scripture. Second, the majority of this lesson will be a comparison of the manuscript evidence of the Qur’an versus the New Testament. Simply put, the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is better than for the Qur’an, however this is often not well known. Manuscripts are ancient copies of books that are still in existence. 

Inerrancy Defined

“The inerrancy of Scripture means that [the Bible] in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). Simply put, the Bible contains no errors in any way. This means that there are no scientific, historical, or other errors contained within God’s Word.

It is significant that Grudem uses the term “original manuscripts” in this definition. The only copy of the Bible that we can say has no errors are the original manuscripts. Unfortunately, we do not have the original manuscripts today. This fact has often led to confusion in Christian-Muslim dialogues since Muslims claim to have an unchanged Qur’an. Today, we will evaluate this claim by Muslims. In the end, we will see that both the Bible and the Qur’an have a history. 

A great book to read on this subject is Keith E. Small’s Holy Books have a History.

The History of the New Testament

The Bible as a book has a long history. It was written by dozens of authors in multiple languages over many hundreds of years. For the sake of simplicity, we will look only at the history of the New Testament. The textual evidence for the New Testament demonstrates that there have been no changes of any significance to the New Testament.

  • The original copies of the New Testament are no longer in existence. These ancient copies were either lost from age or from persecutions where many copies of the Bible were burned. For example, during the Diocletian persecution in 303-313 AD, many ancient copies of the Bible were destroyed by the Roman government.
  • There are about 24,000 ancient copies of the New Testament that are in existence today. You can see scans of many of these documents at www.csntm.org. These scans are freely and publicly available.
  • Many books are available to teach people about the various manuscripts of the New Testament, including detailed lists of where these manuscripts currently are. One excellent book on this subject is Kurt and Barbara Aland’s The Text of the New Testament. https://www.amazon.com/Text-New-Testament-Introduction-Criticism/dp/0802840981
  • You can purchase Greek New Testaments that include a textual apparatus. The textual apparatus shows any places where the manuscript evidence of the New Testament has any potential for disagreement. Here is the most commonly used Greek New Testament: https://www.amazon.com/Holy-Bible-Testament-Greek-english-Dictionary/dp/3438051605/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=na28&qid=1603964828&s=books&sr=1-1
  • Tens of thousands of people have studied these Greek manuscripts in detail and compared them and can testify that these resources are accurate. All of the information about these manuscripts are available for all. 
  • There are many small disagreements between various manuscripts and a whole science called Textual Criticism has emerged about how to compare and use these manuscripts to get to the oldest version of each New Testament text. All of the writings and research of scholars on these issues are published in journals that are readily available.
  • The final judgement of most scholars engaged in textual criticism is that we can be certain that the text of the New Testament that we have is almost identical to the original autographs of Scripture.

The History of the Qur’an

The Qur’an as a book has a long history. Muslims claim that the Qur’an has never changed but the evidence does not support that view. In fact, today, Muslims in different parts of the world use different Arabic texts of the Qur’an. 

  • 1924 Al-Azhar Version of the Qur’an. The Arabic text of the Qur’an that is used by most Muslims today comes from Egypt in 1924. In Egypt, there is a famous madrassa called Al-Azhar. This madrassa is the most highly regarded school for Islamic instruction by many Muslims around the world. Before 1924, there was confusion since many of the teachers at this school were using different Arabic versions of the Qur’an. Therefore, in 1924, they published an authoritative Arabic version. This version was compiled through the recitation of various hafiz[2] rather than on existing manuscripts. Therefore, the most common Arabic Qur’an used today is based on the oral tradition of Muslim scholars from less than a hundred years ago. 
  • How Uthman made an official Qur’an. According the Hadith, here is the story of how the oldest manuscripts of the Qur’an came into being during the reign of the Caliph Uthman (644-656 AD). The story is similar to the 1924 story. Muslims disagreed about which Qur’an was correct. Therefore, a small number of people gathered together and made an official version of the Qur’an and send out copies of this Qur’an to each of the nine Muslim provinces at that time. 

“Narrated Anas bin Malik:

Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to `Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to `Uthman, “O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur’an) as Jews and the Christians did before.” So `Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, “Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.” Hafsa sent it to `Uthman. `Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, `Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa`id bin Al-As and `Abdur Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. `Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, “In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue.” They did so, and when they had written many copies, `Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. `Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.” Sahih al-Bukhari 6.61.650

  • Some famous manuscripts of the Qur’an.
    • Topkapi Manuscript. The Topkapi Manuscript is found in Istanbul, Turkey. It is from the early-to-mid 700s AD. This copy of the Qur’an is almost complete, missing only Qur’an 5:3-8 and 17:17-33. Most Muslims today claim that this manuscript was owned by Uthman, even though it was from many years after his death.
    • Samarkand Manuscript. The Samarkand Manuscript is current in Uzbekistan. It is from the mid-to-late 700s AD. This manuscript is very incomplete and has many pages that have been replaced by newer pages. The oldest parts of this manuscript include portions of Qur’an 2-5, 11, 14-20, 24, 27, and 36-43. The Topkapi manuscript and the Samarkand manuscript contain significant disagreements with one another.
    • Sa’ana Manuscript. The Sanaa manuscript is a palimpsest that contains two old copies of the Qur’an. A palimpsest is a manuscript that has an upper and a lower text. Because writing material was so expensive in ancient times, scribes would clean off the text of manuscripts and write a next text on them. The lower text can now be identified through infrared technology. Therefore, the Sa’ana manuscript has an older (lower) text that is only visible through scanning the document and a new (upper) text that is visible to everyone. It is significant that the upper and lower text of the Sa’ana manuscript contain many disagreements with one another. 
  • Notes on the Qur’anic manuscripts
    • The most ancient manuscripts of the Qur’an are not identical with one another.
    • The 1924 Cairo edition of the Qur’an disagrees substantially with the most ancient manuscripts of the Qur’an. One study by a Turkish Muslim of the Topkapi manuscript identified 20,000 differences between the Topkapi manuscript and the 1924 edition of the Qur’an.[3]

To summarize the textual evidence of the Qur’an

  1. The official Muslim story is that Uthman (644-656 AD) created an official Qur’anic text and had all older copies burned. Most Muslims argue that the Topkapi manuscript is from the time of Uthman. Therefore, most Muslims argue that they currently have the Uthmanic version of the Qur’an. However, why did Uthman need to burn the ancient copies of the Qur’an? Was he trying to hide something? Was the Qur’an he had made the same as the Qur’an Muhammad gave? We can never know since the evidence was destroyed!
  2. The most commonly used version of the Qur’an today is from Cairo in 1924. This version contains about 20,000 differences from the Topkapi manuscript. Therefore, the version of the Qur’an that Muslims use today is different than the ancient manuscripts of the Qur’an that are available. Why don’t Muslims use the oldest copies of the Qur’an today?
  3. Therefore, the Qur’an has changed substantially over time. It is not possible today to know if the modern Qur’an is similar to the Qur’an from the time of Muhammad.
  4. A comparison of the textual history of the New Testament versus the Qur’an actually shows that the New Testament is better attested than the Qur’an. In simple words, there is better evidence that the New Testament has not changed than that the Qur’an has not changed.

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[1] In the definitions for the Authority of Scripture, the Inerrancy of Scripture, and the Sufficiency of Scripture, the term “Scripture” has been replaced by “the Bible” as seen in brackets. The reason is that the definitions could have been confusing from a perspective of Muslim-Christian conversation. 

[2] Hafiz are individuals who have memorized the Qur’an.

[3] Tayyar Altikulac, Al-Mushaf Al-Sharif. IRCICA, 2007.


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