Couldn’t the Church have changed the Bible for Political Motives?
“Could not the Church have changed the Bible for Political Motives?”
Critics allege that since the European Church was so connected with political power struggles and political vested interests, it may have adapted its teaching and scriptures based on these politically-motivated disputes. It is certainly true that political power corrupt religious establishments, but this accusation is based on a complete misunderstanding of church history. For the first three centuries after Jesus (until 311), Christianity was an illegal religion, banned by the polytheistic empire. It was an underground, persecuted network that had no political power. At A.D.311, the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and gradually the Church became a politically powerful organization. The Nicene Council in 325 is recognized as the beginning of political connections in the Church.
Yet by God’s will we have abundant manuscript evidence from the pre-Nicene pre-311 politicized Church period that the Scripture and gospel message of the pre-politics church were the same scripture and gospel as we have today. For example, we have papyrus copies of Luke, John, and ten of Paul’s letters from A.D.200, and early African church leader Tertullian quoted from the gospels 3,800 times throughout his writings (from A.D.200). Similarly, we know from numerous pre-311 canon lists1 that the there was no dispute about which gospels were in the New Testament, every list before and after 311 accepts the four gospels and no other. So there is abundant evidence that the gospel and New Testament before the politicized Church is the same as what we have today. During the first persecuted period, it is ridiculous to believe that believers would have intentionally deceived themselves by changing their own Divine Guidance, when there was no conceivable worldly benefit to their beliefs. The only benefit they could hope for was an eternal reward by God after death for faithfully following his Word.
The entirely apolitical early community of Jesus’ disciples is a stark contrast to the first two centuries of Islamic history, when the supreme religious authority of the caliph also governed an enormous political empire. Most of the early wars in this period were fought over religious matters (such as the Ridda wars). At this stage “many” false hadith were deliberately written to support a particular political faction or king.2 At times Muhammad (pbuh)’s closest relatives and companions lost against the political-religious establishment, such as when Muhammad’s upright kin lost the battle of Karbala to the irreligious caliph Yazid, or when Usman’s official Qur’ān eradicated by political force3 the Qur’āns of Ibn Masood and Ubay ibn Ka’b who were called by Muhammad the best reciters4 and who opposed Usman’s edition5. Ibn Masood’s Qur’ān was forcibly taken by Uthmān, and Uthmān ordered a servant to throw Ibn Masood out of the mosque, breaking his ribs.6 We do not allege that this means the Qur’ān was significantly changed. But it provides a comparison which vividly illustrates the merciful lack of political influences in early Christianity. The first three centuries of Jesus’ followers had no politically powerful leaders to force or coerce their views on others before Nicea. In fact, renouncing violence entirely was a basic expectation for believers during this period.
- For example the canon of Origen (A.D.185–254), Irenaeus, c. 160, and the Muratorian fragment of A.D.170.
- Prof. Ali Haydar Choudhuri, Hadise Rasul (Jhinuk Pustika: Dhaka 1975) p.47.
- Uthmān “ordered that all other Qur’ānic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.” Sahih Al-Bukhari , Vol. 6, p.479.
- Sahih Al-Bukhari , Vol. 5, p.96.
- Abdullah Ibn Masood said if Uthmān’s decree, ” Ya ahl al-Araaq, Aktumu al-Masahif al-lati indakum waghulquha, O people of Iraq, hide your Qur’āns and shut them up under lock and key.” (Ibn al-Athir, Kamil, Vol. III, 86-87, as cited by Khurshid, Hazrat Usman ke Surkari Khatoot.
- Khurshid Ahmad Khurshid, Hazrat Usman ke Surkari Khatoot, p.106.