Abdu Murray is a lawyer, apologist, and former Shia Muslim. Author of two published
In the salty-white landscape of the Detroit suburb of my youth, my family was a dash of
pepper. We stood out because, at that time, we were exotic—one of the few Muslim families in
the area. And I took Islam seriously so that I could stand out even more because that would cause
my friends to ask questions about my faith. That, in turn, would lead to opportunities to share
what I considered to be the beauty and truth of Islam with the low-hanging fruit of the many non-
Muslim, mostly Christian, individuals around me.
I was like many Muslims I knew. Even as a youth, I loved talking about God and my
Islamic faith. I was puzzled that the non-Muslims around me found it so uncomfortable to talk
about matters of religion. Don’t these Christians really believe their traditions? If their message
deep down that their religion is silly. They only need to be shown the truth of Islam to see the
Muslims get that kind of confidence from religious training received during their
home. Our parents, uncles, and older relatives sit us down and teach us Muslim apologetics: the
defense of the Muslim worldview. The Quran is the word of God, we are taught, because
Muhammad was illiterate and could not have come up with such beautiful, profound language on
his own. From this informal training, we come to believe that the Quran is proven to be
miraculous because it contains scientific information and facts that have only recently been
discovered. And we are told, time and time again, that the Quran we have today is exactly the
same as was delivered to Muhammad, with no changes whatsoever in fourteen hundred years.
Islam provides the best way to live a moral and just life. And on the teachings go. Those kinds of
discussions are steady fare at a Muslim family’s dinner table.
But we also have a steady diet of polemics. From a young age, I was told that although
Christians may mean well and may even sincerely follow their faith, their faith is fatally flawed.
Their sacred texts were once the unadulterated word of God, but they fell into hopeless
corruption. And Christians had invented logically ridiculous doctrines, like the divinity of Jesus
and the Trinity. The Quran was revealed to Muhammad in seventh-century Arabia to undo the
harm caused by the biblical corruption and blasphemous teachings of Christianity. Muhammad’s
mission was to restore true religion. And it was my goal as a good Muslim to continue that
But equipping young people to spread what is believed to be the truth is not the sole
motivation for this informal training. Muslims of earlier generations fear that the negative
aspects of American culture could be a powerful, corrupting influence on successive generations.
They fear their children will succumb to temptation and order their meals from the menu of illicit
drug use, drunkenness, and wanton sexual promiscuity that they believe is characteristic of
better equipped to resist the temptations. As bad as these lifestyle pitfalls are, they pale in
comparison to the ultimate dishonor of abandoning Islam, especially if it means becoming a
Christian. Islam is not just a set of religious beliefs. It is an all-encompassing identity. It is
inconceivable to change that identity, even for those who barely practice their Islamic faith. To
do so is like suicide. It kills the identity of the convert and leaves the rest of the family in a state
of shameful mourning.
A healthy diet of apologetics and polemics, spiced with cultural pride, it is believed, can
help prevent that disaster. And young Muslims are convinced by their families that being a
Muslim means to affirm Muhammad’s prophethood and the Quran’s divine origin while at the
same time resisting the very idea of becoming anything else, especially a Christian.
Most Christians have a hard time imagining what it is like to live with the tension of
blending in with American society while maintaining a Muslim identity. And so most don’t
understand the difficulty Muslims have in even considering that the gospel might be true. I thank
God that there are those precious (and all too few) Christians who exhibit Jesus’ love and caring
in their actions and who thoughtfully proclaim the beauty and truth of the gospel in their words.
God uses them to carefully navigate the waters of spiritual discussion without running aground
(well, as little as possible).
Like so many Muslims who eventually give their lives to Christ, it took me quite some
time to embrace the truth, though that truth is worth embracing, despite the tremendous price I
paid. I knew that fully embracing the person and work of Jesus Christ would cost me the very
identity that had been forged for me at the dinner tables of the Muslim community. Until I was
able to see that Christ is worth the cost, I was not willing to pay it. But eventually, I understood
no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Eliot rephrased Paul’s
words that “for his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order
that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8 ESV). Yet the price that Jesus paid for us dwarfs whatever
price we might pay to follow Him. C. S. Lewis wrote that God’s love for us “is quite relentless in
its determination that we shall be cured of [our] sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to
Following such a God is worth sacrificing our identities so that we can be given a new
one that looks more and more like Jesus.
Since giving my life to Jesus, the table set before me has quite different. Before, I
gobbled up superficial answers that left my stomach gnawing and my throat parched. But in
Christ, my hunger is fed by the Bread of Life and my thirst is slaked by the Living Water who
Edyth Draper, Draper’s Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton, IL:
Tyndale, 1992), 1533.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001), 133.
Mark Mittelberg is bestselling author and primary creator of the course Becoming a
Contagious Christian, which has trained 1.5 million people worldwide and has been translated
into more than twenty languages. He served as evangelism director with the Willow Creek
Association for more than a decade.
“It is important for you to know that Allah is the one and only God, and that Muhammad,
peace be upon him, was his true prophet. God is not divided, and He does not have a son. And
Jesus, peace be upon him, was not the Son of God. He was a true prophet, like Muhammad, and
we are to honor him, but we must never worship him. We worship Allah and Allah alone.”
These bold words, spoken by the imam—a man dressed in white who stood in front of
our group and was clearly in charge of the mosque that day—were communicated in a manner
that delivered more than just theological content. They were conveyed with an authority that
made clear that the message was something we were expected to accept, rather than test.
It was not that the imam wasn’t willing to entertain a few questions. Rather, he
apparently saw this as a chance to challenge the thinking of an entire group of Christians at one
time. So after a short period of teaching, he opened the floor to whatever issues we wanted to
raise. But even then, he responded with an emphatic tone, one that relayed his belief that he had
the truth and we were there to learn it.
This assuredness was borne out when I finally raised my own question. I asked the imam
that He rose from the dead three days later. As politely as I knew how, I explained that I, and the
others from my church who were visiting the mosque that day, believed these things on the basis
of the testimonies of Jesus’ own disciples. They were the ones who walked and talked with Him
for three years and who heard Him make repeated claims to be the Son of God. They saw Him
die on the cross and met, talked with, and even ate with Him after His resurrection. And they
were the ones who made sure it was all written down in the New Testament gospels.
“What I’m curious about,” I said, concluding my question, “is whether you have any
historical or logical reasons why we should accept your Muslim point of view over and against
what we understand to be the actual historical record?”
The imam looked at me intently and then declared resolutely, “I choose to believe the
prophet!” With that, our time for questions was over.
East meets West, indeed! I walked away that day with a fresh awareness that we do not
all approach questions about truth in the same way. In fact, years later, I wrote about what I
believe is a characteristically Eastern versus a characteristically Western approach to gaining
In the East, and for Islam in particular, what is accepted as true is generally what the
approach the Authoritarian Faith Path. In fact, the original meaning of the Arabic word Islam is
Mark Mittelberg, Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Beliefs (Carol
Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013), esp. chaps. 5 and 8.
“submission.” It seems fair to say that the prevailing tenor of the Muslim faith is one of
This squares with my friend Nabeel Qureshi’s assessment in this part 2 of his book
“People from Eastern Islamic cultures generally assess truth through lines of authority, not
individual reasoning. Of course, individuals do engage in critical reasoning in the East, but on
average it is relatively less valued and far less prevalent than in the West. Leaders have done the
critical reasoning, and leaders know best.”
As Nabeel indicates, this contrasts sharply with the more typical approach in the West,
which I refer to as the Evidential Faith Path. This approach decides what should be accepted as
true based not on the word of authorities but rather on logic and experience, including
experiences recorded in trustworthy historical records like the ones I cited in my interactions
with the imam.
Of course, both sides can have their pitfalls. Westerners in the evidential mindset often
need to be reminded to be lovers of truth (2 Thess. 2:10) who are willing to rigorously apply
reason and the study of evidence, and then follow them wherever they lead. Too often, people in
Western culture fall into an approach that limits possible causes to naturalistic ones, and they
won’t even consider supernatural causes. This prejudices the outcome and, in fact, makes
scientific and historical inquiry atheistic by definition. But if we can help people reopen their
minds to the full gamut of possible explanations, then I’m confident that logic and evidence
(along with the inner workings of the Holy Spirit) will lead them back not only to a belief in God
but also to the Christian faith.
Ibid., esp. chaps. 10–12, where I present twenty arguments for the truth of Christianity.
Easterners who embrace an authoritarian mindset need to be reminded that religious
credentials of the leaders are not scrutinized and their messages not weighed, how can one know
which should be followed? The Bible encourages us to “test everything; hold fast what is good”
(1 Thess. 5:21 ESV) and warns, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether
they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 ESV).
The question is, Will Easterners have the courage and tenacity to apply the needed tests?
This can be challenging because, as Nabeel reminds us, “When authority is derived from position
rather than reason, the act of questioning leadership is dangerous because it has the potential to
upset the system. Dissension is reprimanded and obedience is rewarded.”
Thankfully, more and more Muslims are willing to face the inherent dangers and
discomforts in order to seek not only the truth but ultimately the one who said He is the truth
(John 14:6). Nabeel is an inspiring example, one I trust many others will emulate.
Daniel B. Wallace
Dr. Daniel B. Wallace is a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological
Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, is the standard textbook in the English-speaking world
In my second year of college, I transferred to Biola University, a small Christian liberal
arts school in Southern California. I went there to study the Bible. I had the good fortune of
studying Greek from a bona fide textual scholar, Dr. Harry Sturz. Several weeks into the first
semester, on a hot Friday afternoon, Dr. Sturz briefly informed us that not all the manuscripts of
the New Testament said the same thing. “In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of textual
differences among the manuscripts,” Dr. Sturz calmly stated at the end of the hour. Then,
without further explanation, he dismissed the class.
I went home that afternoon, bewildered and confused. How can I have any assurance that
what we have today is the word of God? How do I know the Bible hasn’t been corrupted beyond
all recognition? I had committed my life to Christ a few years earlier. Now I wanted to know if I
had given my life to a myth.
Testament. Dr. Sturz wanted his students to own their convictions and to study the evidence for
themselves. This is why he sometimes threw his charges into existential crises of faith. I’ve been
studying the New Testament for more than forty years, largely inspired by his model. And I’ve
come to realize that while the great number of variants is only part of the story, it is an important
part that attests to the vitality of the gospel.
In my spiritual and academic journeys, I have learned that it is imperative for Christians
to pursue truth at all costs. And what I have learned about textual variants and their impact on the
Christian faith over more than forty years of examining both published Greek New Testaments
and hundreds of individual manuscripts has strengthened my faith in ways I never had thought
In this brief essay, I will lay out three important facts about textual variants and their
impact on the Christian faith.
The Number of Variants
The best estimate today is that among New Testament manuscripts there are about four
hundred thousand textual differences. The reason for this astounding number, however, is the
even more astounding number of manuscripts. There is absolutely nothing in the ancient Greco-
Roman world that compares to the New Testament in terms of the number of manuscript copies
or their dates. The average Greco-Roman author has fewer than twenty copies of his writings still
in existence. Usually, there are far fewer. The New Testament boasts more than fifty-eight
hundred copies in Greek alone. But the New Testament was translated into various languages
early on—languages such as Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Georgian, Gothic, Armenian, and Arabic.
Altogether, there are more than twenty thousand manuscripts of the New Testament. To be sure,
Nevertheless, the average-size manuscript is more than four hundred fifty pages long.
If all the manuscripts were destroyed in the blink of an eye, we would still not be left
without a witness. That’s because church fathers, from the late first century to the thirteenth
century, quoted from the New Testament in homilies, commentaries, and theological treatises.
And they did not have the gift of brevity. More than a million quotations of the New Testament
by the church fathers have been collected so far. Virtually the entire New Testament could be
reproduced many times over just from the quotations of these fathers.
What about the dates of the manuscripts? It is often claimed that there are very few
manuscripts of the New Testament written in the first millennium. That is true—relatively
speaking. Only 15 percent of all New Testament manuscripts were produced before the year
1000. But that is still more than eight hundred manuscripts—more than forty times the amount of
manuscripts from the average classical author in more than two thousand years of copying! The
average classical author has zero manuscripts extant today produced within half a millennium of
the composition of his writings. The New Testament has at least two hundred fifty
manuscripts—in Greek alone—produced within five hundred years after the composition of the
New Testament. Within three hundred years, the first complete New Testament—codex
Sinaiticus—was produced, along with more than one hundred other manuscripts that have
survived till today. And some of the manuscripts, though fragmentary, were produced within
mere decades of the completion of the New Testament.
The very fact that Christians were more concerned with getting the message out than with
crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s is testimony to the vibrancy of the Christian faith. But did
this passion for the gospel end up changing the message?
More than 70 percent of all textual variants are mere spelling differences that affect
nothing. And several more involve inner-Greek syntax that can’t even be translated into English
(or most other languages). Then there are variants that involve synonyms, such as between
“Jesus” and “Christ.” The meaning is the same; no theological issues are at stake. And there are
variants that, though meaningful, are not viable. That is, because of the poor pedigree of the
manuscripts they are found in (usually few or very late manuscripts), no plausible case can be
given for them reflecting the wording of the original. Remarkably, less than 1 percent of all
textual variants are both meaningful and viable.
An example of a meaningful and viable variant is “616” (instead of “666”) for the
number of the beast in Revelation 13:18. But even though meaningful and viable, this variant is
not significant enough to affect the essential teachings of the Christian faith.
Far and away the two longest passages that are textually doubtful are Mark 16:9–20 and
John 7:53–8:11. These involve a dozen verses each. The next largest textual variants are only
two verses long. Only about two dozen variants are between one and two verses long. The
consensus of New Testament scholars is that these verses were added to the New Testament
later, since they are not found in the earliest and best manuscripts and they do not fit with the
authors’ known syntax, vocabulary, or style. No doctrines are impacted by these variants. To be
sure, they may involve favorite verses for many people, but they do not in the slightest
jeopardize a cardinal tenet of the Christian faith.
The fundamental question that these textual variants raise is whether the Christian faith
has been fundamentally altered from what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote.
found only in verses that are dubious? Such questions obviously should be of profound concern
for anyone seeking the truth about Christianity. I wish to conclude this essay by quoting the
authority that many Muslims and atheists appeal to regarding textual corruption in the New
In the appendix to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, there is a dialogue between the
editors of the book and the author:
“Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on
the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?”
Ehrman’s response is illuminating: “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual
variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”
Even this skeptic, a bona fide New Testament scholar, had to concede that no cardinal
doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by textual variants. Many atheists and Muslims who
have followed in Ehrman’s path have exaggerated his claims way out of proportion to what he
The textual history of the New Testament is robust and fascinating. When the dust has
settled, we can be assured that what we have today, in all essentials, and even in the
overwhelming majority of particulars, is what they wrote then.
My friend Nabeel Qureshi has discovered this same truth for himself. Ever since I met
him, shortly after his conversion, I have seen in him an earnestness for truth, an acuteness of
intellect, and a heart for God that I have witnessed in only one or two others. I applaud him for
his enthusiasm, his zeal to pursue truth at all costs and to know Christ deeply, and his courage in
autobiography, will be used by the Spirit of God to reach many people for Christ.