Just as the Tawrah is not the Old Testament, or the
Pentateuch, as now received by the Jews and Christians, so the Injil mentioned
in Quran is certainly not the New Testament, and it is not the four Gospels, as
now received by the Christian Church, but an original Gospel which was
promulgated by Jesus as the Tawrah was promulgated by Moses and the Quran by
The New Testament as now received consists of;
four Gospels with varying
and other miscellaneous matters; viz.,
the Acts of Apostles
(probably written by Luke and purporting to describe the progress of the
Christian Church under St. Peter and St Paul from the supposed Crucifixion of
Jesus to about 61 A.C.);
twenty-one Letters of
Epistles (the majority written by St. Paul to various churches or individuals,
but a few written by other Disciples, and of a general nature);
the Book of Revelation of
Apocalypse (ascribed to St. John, and containing mystic visions and
prophecies, of which it is difficult to understand the meaning).
As Prof. F.C. Burkitt remarks (Canon of the New
Testament), it is an odd miscellany.
“The four biographies of Jesus Christ…are
not all independent of each other, and neither of them was intended by its
writer to form one of a quartette. But they are all put side by side, unharmonised, one of them being actually imperfect at the end, and one being
only the first volume of a larger work.”
All this body of unmethodical
literature was casual in its nature. No wonder, because the early Christians
expected the end of the world very soon.
The four canonical of Gospel were only four out of many,
and some others besides the four have survived. Each writer just wrote down some
odd sayings of the Master that he recollected. Among the miracles described
there there is only one which is described in all the four Gospels, and others
were described and believed in other Gospels, which are not mentioned in any of
the four canonical Gospels.
Some of the Epistles contain expositions of doctrine, but
this has been interpreted differently by different Churches. There must have
been hundreds of such Epistles, and not all the Epistles now received as
canonical were always so received or intended to be so received.
The Apocalypse also was not the only one in the field.
There were others. They were prophecies of “things which must shortly come to
pass”; they could not have been meant for long preservation, “for the time is at
When were these four Gospels written?
By the end of the
second century A.C. they were in existence, but it does not follow that they had
been selected by that date to form a canon. They were merely pious productions
comparable to Dean Farrar’s Life of Christ.
There were other Gospels besides.
And further, the writers of two of them. Mark and Luke, were not among the
Twelve Disciples “called” by Jesus.
About the Gospel of St. John there is much
controversy as to authorship, date, and even as to whether it was all written by
one person. Clement of Rome
(about 97 A.C.) and Polycarp (about 112 A.C.) quote sayings of Jesus in a form
different from those found in the present canonical Gospels. Polycarp (Epistle,
vii) inveighs much against men “who pervert the sayings of the Lord to their own
lusts,” and he wants to turn “to the Word handed down to us from the beginning,”
thus referring to a Book (or a Tradition) much earlier than the four orthodox
An Epistle of St. Barnabas and an Apocalypse of St. Peter were
recognized by Presbyter Clement of Alexandria (flourished about 180 A.C.) the
Apocalypse of St. John, which is a part of the present canon in the West, forms
no part of the Peshitta (Syriac) version of Eastern Christians, which was
produced about 411-433 A.C. and which was used by the Nestorian Christians. It
is probable that the Peshitta was the version (or an Arabic form of it) used by
the Christians in Arabia in the time of the Prophet.
The final form of the New
Testament canon for the West was fixed in the fourth century A.C. (say, about
367 A.C.) by Athanasius and the Nicene creed. The beautiful Codex Sinaiticus
which was acquired for the British Museum in 1934, and is one oft earlier
complete manuscripts of the Bible, may be dated about the fourth century. It is
written in the Greek language. Fragments of unknown Gospels have also been
discovered, which do not agree with the received canonical Gospels.
The Injil (Greek, Evangel = Gospel) spoken of by the Quran
is not the New Testament. It is not the four Gospels now received as canonical.
It is the single Gospel which, Islam teaches, was revealed to Jesus, and which he
taught. Fragments of it survive in the received canonical Gospels and in some
others, of which traces survive (e.g. the Gospel of Childhood or the Nativity, the
Gospel of St.
Barnabas, etc.). Muslims are therefore right in respecting the present Bible
(New Testament and Old Testament), though they reject the peculiar doctrines
taught by orthodox Christianity or Judaism. They claim to be in the true
tradition of Abraham, and therefore all that is of value in the older
revelations, it is claimed, is incorporated in the teaching of the Last of the
5:82 we are told that nearest in love to the Believers
among the people of the Book are the Christians.
I do not agree that this does not apply to modern
Christians “because they are practically atheists or freethinkers.”
I think that Christians thought (like the world’s thought)
has learnt a great deal from the protest of Islam against priest domination,
class domination, and sectarianism, and its insistence on making this life pure
and beautiful while we in it. We must stretch a friendly hand to all who are
sincere and in sympathy with our ideals.
The first two mentioned for Appendix II, and in addition:
Prof. F.C. Burkitt, on the Canon of the New Testament, in Religion. June 1934,
the Journal of Transactions of the Society for Promoting the Study of Religions;
R.W. Mackay, Rise and Progress of Christianity;
G.R.S. Mead. The Gospel and the
B.W. Bacon, Making of the New Testament, with its Bibliography;
Fredrick Kenyon, the Story of the Bible;
R. Hone, the Apocryphal New Testament,
Bell and T.C. Skeat, Fragments of an Unknown Gospels and other
Christians Papyri, published by the British Museum, 1935.
See also chapter 15 of
Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of Roman Empire, where the genesis of the early
churches and sects in the Roman Empire
is briefly reviewed.