Short Answer: Yes, the original message of the New Testament has been lost through the ages, due to missing, damaged, destroyed, or intentionally changed manuscripts.
Wa Alaykum Assalam Dear Brother,
Thank you for this question. It comes up very often in one form or another. I will confine my answer to the New Testament.
New Testament: Not Jesus’ Actual Words, and Not In His Language
It is important that we understand what we mean when we use the word “corrupted”.
Do we mean to ask if the Bible is a corruption of God’s Word? If so, where can we find God’s Word?
Nothing Jesus (on whom be peace) said exists in the language Jesus spoke, with the exception of a handful of words.
The oldest manuscripts—which are very few and (with the exception of four) less than a Chapter each—are not older than the third century CE and are all in Greek.
Jesus (on whom be peace) spoke Aramaic or Chaldean (sister languages to Hebrew and Arabic).
If we knew what the actual words were that Jesus (on whom be peace) said, perhaps then we could tell if the Bible was corrupted.
Since the Bible is not in the language that Jesus spoke, there has been human intervention in the writing/translation/transcribing.
Limitations of Translation of The New Testament
The Bible has been translated from Greek manuscripts.
While the translation may be excellent, there is a problem: what are the limits of interpretation or interpolation of the translation compared to the limitations in the Greek, then to Aramaic?
Many words can have very many shades of meaning and to chose one meaning over another may limit or expand the range of meaning originally meant.
There is no way to check this. However, we cannot say this is corruption, it is a limitation.
This, in general, applies to the translations from Greek.
But what of the translation from the language Jesus spoke? Again, we have no idea.
How can we say the translations from the Greek are the Words of God when even the scholars and the revising committees are reduced to voting which version is more correct?
Bible Prefaces Speak For Themselves
See for example the discussions in the Prefaces to any Bible.
Take, for example, the 1885 Revision of the Old Testament Bible, the English Standard Version (ESV).
Among the Rules laid down by the Revision Committee of Convocation for the guidance of the Revisers was one that no change should be finally made in the text of the Authorized Version except by the vote of two-thirds of the Company present and voting;
“… All points of ultimate difference between them and the English Revisers should be placed on record, and they will accordingly be found fully stated at the end of the Old Testament, or at the end of the several portions, according as the Revised Version appears in one or more volumes.
Many of them will be found to be of language which are involved in the essentially different circumstances of American and English readers; others express a preference for the marginal rendering over that given in the text; others again involve a real difference of opinion; but all show that they have been dictated by the same leading principle, the sincere desire to give to modern readers a faithful representation of the meaning of the original documents.”
10 July, 1884.
Now let us look at a different version:
“PREFACE TO THE EDITION OF A.D. 1881
…Thus the form in which the English New Testament has now been read for 270 years was the result of various revisions made between 1525 and 1611; and the present Revision is an attempt, after a long interval, to follow the example set by a succession of honoured predecessors.
Of the many points of interest connected with the Translation of 1611, two require special notice; first, the Greek Text which it appears to have represented; and secondly, the character of the Translation itself.
“With regard to the Greek Text, it would appear that, if to some extent the Translators exercised an independent judgement, it was mainly in choosing amongst readings contained in the principal editions of the Greek Text that had appeared in the sixteenth century.
Wherever they seem to have followed a reading which is not found in any of those editions, their rendering may probably be traced to the Latin Vulgate. Their chief guides appear to have been the later editions of Stephanus and of Beza, and also, to a certain extent, the Complutensian Polyglott.
All these were founded for the most part on manuscripts of late date, few in number, and used with little critical skill. But in those days it could hardly have been otherwise. Nearly all the more ancient of the documentary authorities have become known only within the last two centuries; some of the most important of them, indeed, with the last few years.
Their publication has called forth not only improved editions of the Greek Text, but a succession of instructive discussions on the variations which have been brought to light, and on the best modes of distinguishing original readings from changes introduced in the course of transcription.
While therefore it has long been the opinion of all scholars that the commonly received text needed thorough revision, it is but recently that materials have been acquired for executing such a work with even approximate completeness.”
Please check out Part 2 for the continuing explanation of the corruption of the message of the Bible.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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