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Hoover, Jon (2016) Why the Bible matters: Islamic

studies. In: Why does the Bible matter? The significance

of the Bible for contemporary life. Bible Society,
Swindon, pp. 80-87. ISBN 9780564045273

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Why does the
Bible Matter?
The significance of the Bible for contemporary life

Reflections from the Centre for Bible, Ethics & Theology

Why Does the Bible Matter?
The Significance of the Bible for Contemporary Life

Edited by C.L. Crouch, Roland Deines, and Mark Wreford

This publication was produced by the Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology at the University of
Nottingham, with the generous support of Bible Society.

First published 2016 by Bible Society

Stonehill Green, Westlea, Swindon, United Kingdom, SN5 7DG
© 2016 Selection and editorial matter, C.L. Crouch, Roland Deines and Mark Wreford;
individual chapters, the contributors
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form
or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including
photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permis-
sion in writing from the publishers.
ISBN 978-0-564-04527-3
Brian Howell
C.L. Crouch, Roland Deines, and Mark Wreford
8 Why Does the Hebrew Bible Matter?
C.L. Crouch
14 Why the Bible Matters: A Gospel View
Roland Deines
26 Why the Bible Matters: A Pauline View
Richard H. Bell
34 The Bible and Biblical Hermeneutics
Anthony C. Thiselton
44 The Bible and Eastern Christianity
Mary B. Cunningham
54 The Bible and Western Christianity
Thomas O’Loughlin
64 Why Does the Bible Matter for Ethics?
Philip Goodchild
72 The Bible and Systematic Theology
Simon Oliver
80 Why the Bible Matters: Islamic Studies
Jon Hoover
88 Why the Bible Matters: Jewish Studies
Holger M. Zellentin
100 The Bible and English Literature
Alison Milbank
108 Does the Bible Matter for Music?
Peter Watts
Why The Bible Matte

here is a sense in which the Bible does not matter at all to Muslims and is of no
interest for the study of Islam. Mainstream Islamic tradition has discouraged or
prohibited reading the Bible and has taken the Qur’an as the final and complete
revelation, making earlier revelations superfluous. Moreover, Muslims maintain that
Christians and Jews have either changed the very wording of their Scriptures or at least
corrupted the pure monotheistic message they originally contained. It is Islamic doc-
trine that God gave Moses the Torah, David the Psalms, and Jesus the gospel. However,
Muslims do not find sufficient evidence to believe that the Hebrew Bible and the New
Testament have transmitted those original revelations faithfully, and they maintain that
the original gospel given to Jesus has in fact been lost. The four Gospels found in the New
Testament are no more than accounts written by Jesus’ followers. They may contain some
parts of the gospel revealed to Jesus, but one cannot know for sure.

he relationship of the Qur’an and Is- they believe that the story it tells is essen-
lam to the Christian New Testament tial to God’s work brought to fullness in
may be compared to the relationship Christ. The fact that Jews and Christians
of Christianity to the Jewish Tanakh or He- share a Scripture with its stories, wisdom,
brew Bible. Historically speaking, Judaism and prophetic insights means that they
and Christianity as we know them today have much in common. They can talk to-
both emerged out of the variegated Jewish gether about the faith journey of Abraham
religious environment found at the time and Sarah and the drama of Samson and
of Jesus. Theologically speaking, howev- Delilah, and they can appreciate together
er, Christianity comes after Judaism and the prophets’ calls for justice and the deep
sees the New Testament message of Jesus psychological insights of the Psalms. Yet
Christ as the completion of God’s prom- the Christian relationship with Judaism
ises given in the Hebrew Bible. Christians remains ambivalent, because Christians
thus read the Hebrew Bible as the Old Tes- and Jews disagree on the fundamental
tament, preparing the way for the New, meaning of the Hebrew Bible and whether
and the Hebrew Bible is an integral part it finds fulfilment in the New Testament.
of the Christian canon of Scripture. Chris- Much as Christians confess to know
tians cannot reject the Hebrew Bible since better what the Hebrew Bible means than

page 80 Why the Bible Matters: Islamic Studies

ters: Islamic Studies
Jon Hoover
Jews, Muslims confess that good deeds—will have
the Qur’an trumps both their reward before their MEET THE AUTHOR
the New Testament and Lord. No fear will overtake
the Hebrew Bible. How- them, nor will they grieve’
ever, Muslims go one step (Q. 2:62). Moreover, the
further than Christians, by Qur’an refers to many sto-
excluding all earlier texts ries, practices, and beliefs
from the domain of author- familiar from the Bible and
itative Scripture. Emerging late antique Christian and
in the seventh century, Is- Jewish literature—to the
lam comes after Christiani- point that some historians
ty both historically and the- speak of a biblical subtext
ologically—and the Qur’an to the Qur’an. Yet Muslims
clearly refers to both Ju- have traditionally rejected
daism and Christianity in the notion that the Bible,
a way that the Bible could Judaism and Christiani-
never have referred to Is- ty had any influence on
lam. The Qur’an perceives the Qur’an or the Prophet
itself as proclaiming the Muhammad, and Muslims
same message as that given have not taken the Hebrew Jon Hoover is Associate
to earlier messengers, such Bible or the New Testament Professor of Islamic Studies at
as Moses and Jesus, and it into their canon of authori- the University of Nottingham. His
sometimes regards Jews tative Scriptures. Instead, interests include Islamic theology,
and Christians as having it is understood that the the history of Islamic thought, and
equal access to God’s bless- Prophet Muhammad re-
Christian-Muslim relations, and
ings and rewards: ‘Truly, ceived the Qur’an directly
those who believe, those from God, without the me-
he has published extensively on
who are Jews, the Chris- diation of the Bible or the the influential Muslim reformer
tians, and the Sabians— Jews and Christians of that Ibn Taymiyya and his student Ibn
whoever believes in God time. In Muslim doctrine, Qayyim al-Jawziyya.
and the Last Day and does the Qur’an proclaims the

Jon Hoover page 81

page 82 Why the Bible Matters: Islamic Studies

same essential theological fact they had not. The text have explained this qur’an-
message as the Bible and reads, ‘[The Jews] said, ic reference to Jesus’ death
provides the final correc- “We have killed the Messi- differently: it applies to
tive to all error found in it, ah, Jesus, son of Mary, the his dying a natural death
but the Qur’an is in no way Messenger of God.” They after returning to earth
dependent upon the Bible. did not kill him, nor did just before the final Day
The fact that Muslims they crucify him, though of Resurrection—not to a
have not adopted the Bi- it was made to appear like death during his earlier
ble as part of their canon of that to them… they cer- time on earth. This tradi-
Scripture means that they tainly did not kill him’ (Q. tional Muslim interpreta-
need not try to reconcile its 4:157). Many a Muslim in- tion makes no attempt to
stories with differing ac- terpreter has said that this reconcile the text with the
counts found in the Qur’an. verse denies that Jesus died New Testament crucifixion
In a simple example, the on the cross—God instead accounts.
biblical account of Noah raised him to heaven di- Even though the Bible
has all three of Noah’s sons rectly—and has suggested holds no religious authori-
and their families board the instead that one of Jesus’ ty for Muslims and despite
ark, and they are all saved disciples was made to look the widespread Muslim
from the impending flood like him and was crucified conviction that the Qur’an
(Gen. 7:13). However, the in his place. Christian read- and Islam owe nothing to
qur’anic account says that ers of the Qur’an have not- the Bible, Muslims have still
one of Noah’s sons refused ed that it also quotes Jesus found occasion to use the
to enter the ark and thought as saying, ‘Peace be upon Bible, in a variety of some-
that he could save himself me the day I was born, and times unexpected ways.
by seeking refuge on a high the day I die, and the day I It is here that the Bible be-
mountain; he of course am raised to life again’ (Q. gins to matter for Muslims
drowned (Q. 11:42-43). For 19:33), and have argued and the study of Islam, and
Muslims the qur’anic ac- that there is thus no rea- Muslim use of the Bible cer-
count takes priority over son to deny Jesus’ death tainly constitutes an impor-
the biblical version. on the cross, as the verse tant chapter in the history
In another example, the affirms both Jesus’ death of the Bible’s reception and
Qur’an does not say clear- and resurrection. It was, interpretation.

The Qur’an is not always
easy for readers today to
Even though the Bible holds no religious authority understand, even for na-
for Muslims and despite the widespread Muslim tive speakers of Arabic.
conviction that the Qur’an and Islam owe nothing Nor was it easy to under-
stand for the early Muslim
to the Bible, Muslims have still found occasion to
community either. This
use the Bible in unexpected ways.
created a demand for bib-
lical lore—stories derived
ly that Jesus died on the after all, the Romans who from the Hebrew Bible,
cross. Rather, it accuses the carried out the crucifixion, the New Testament and
Jews of claiming that they not the Jews. Muslim com- especially later religious
had killed Jesus when in mentators for their part writings of biblical inspira-
Jon Hoover page 83

tion—to fill in the gap. Two early Jewish the modern period. Just before Zionism ush-
converts to Islam, ‘Abd Allah ibn Salam ered in the state of Israel in 1948, a Muslim
and Ka‘b al-Ahbar, were well known for commentator in Egypt named Abu Rayya
knowledge of biblical traditions, while the labeled Ka‘b al-Ahbar the first Zionist, on
most famous early Qur’an commentator, account of what was now seen to be his

Ibn ‘Abbas (d. 686), apparently made liber- hideous attempt to undermine the Islam-
al use of their traditions. Moreover, there
was a saying narrated from the Prophet
Muhammad permitting borrowing from Many Muslim Qur’an scholars
the Jews. The Prophet is reported to have throughout the twentieth century
said, ‘Transmit from me, even if only one worked to cleanse qur’anic commentary
verse. And narrate [traditions] from the of biblical lore and interpret the Qur’an
Children of Israel; there is nothing objec- only through itself.
tionable in that’ (found in the hadith col-
lection of Bukhari). The net result of this
liberality toward biblical lore was that a ic religion. Many Muslim Qur’an scholars
lot of it found its way into early commen- throughout the twentieth century worked
tary on the Qur’an. With the passing of the to cleanse qur’anic commentary of biblical
centuries, however, some Muslims grew lore and interpret the Qur’an only through
increasingly ambivalent toward these sto- itself and traditions from the Prophet.
ries; the medieval Qur’an commentator Ibn Even though most Muslims no longer
Kathir (d. 1373) was one noteworthy critic. look to biblical lore to illuminate the mean-
Ibn Kathir argued that Muslims should ing of the Qur’an, the Bible is still of con-
rely solely on the Qur’an and traditions cern to them insofar as they encounter it in
from the Prophet Muhammad to interpret interaction with Jews and Christians. For
the sacred text, not on stories and legends readers of the Qur’an today, the ongoing
borrowed from Jews and Christians. existence of Jews, Christians and the Bible
One example will illustrate the point. The provide contemporary, even if inexact, an-
Qur’an is not entirely clear about which alogues for the Qur’an’s numerous refer-
son Abraham was commanded to sacrifice ences to them, and they continue to present
(Q. 37:100-107). Was it Isaac, as Jews and many of the questions to which the Qur’an
Christians contend on the basis of Genesis was responding 1400 years ago. If the Bi-
22:1-13, or was it Ishmael? Numerous tra- ble and those who read it as authoritative
ditions were gathered in support of both Scripture no longer existed, the Qur’an
views, and classical Qur’an commentators would lose much of its rhetorical force as a
weighed up the evidence, sometimes in fa- dialogical and polemical text speaking to a
vour of Isaac and sometimes in favour of sectarian religious environment.
Ishmael. Ibn Kathir sought to put an end to The fact that Jews and Christians take
this speculation by condemning the Jewish the Bible as authoritative and express their
convert Ka‘b al-Ahbar as the source for all religiosity through it also challenges Mus-
traditions supporting Isaac and by reinter- lims to read it and come to a view on its
preting the Qur’an, and even the Bible itself, contents. Muslims have adopted several
to support Ishmael as Abraham’s intended strategies in this regard. I will outline four,
sacrifice. Ibn Kathir’s attack on Ka‘b al-Ah- two of which are dominant. The first is to
bar reverberated through the centuries into demonstrate the corruption of the biblical
page 84 Why the Bible Matters: Islamic Studies

An 11th century North African

Qur’an in the British Museum.

text, and the second is to find predictions ever, John reports that Andrew and Peter
of the Prophet Muhammad in the Bible. followed Jesus before the arrest of John the
The eleventh century Andalusian schol- Baptist, not afterward (John 1:35-42), and
ar Ibn Hazm (d. 1064) adopted the first Luke reports that Jesus’ called them after
strategy. He is well known for pointing out they had been fishing all night, not before
alleged errors, contradictions and inappro- they were about to start out (Luke 5:1-11).
priate claims to prove the corruptness of Ibn Hazm concludes from the differences
the biblical text. He notices, for example, in these accounts that one or more of the
that the four Gospels differ over Jesus’ first Gospel writers must have lied and that
disciples Simon Peter and his brother An- the Gospels were written by liars. Beyond
drew. Matthew and Mark report that Jesus highlighting contradictions of this kind,
called these two disciples to follow him just Ibn Hazm complains that the Bible contains
as they were about to cast their fishing nets unfulfilled prophecies (e.g., Jesus’ promise
into the sea and after the arrest of John the that the disciples would see the Kingdom
Baptist (Matt. 4:12-20; Mark 1:14-18). How- of God before they die in Mark 9:1), por-
Jon Hoover page 85

rah that was revealed pre- and Christians but not the
viously and bearing good rest of the text.
news of a Messenger com- A third but less common
ing after me whose name Muslim strategy for deal-
is Ahmad [i.e. the Prophet ing with the Bible is to give
Muhammad]”.’ Follow- it an Islamic interpretation.
ing on from this, Muslims This approach allows that
frequently interpret Jesus’ the biblical text may not
promise of the ‘Comforter’ have been corrupted, but
or ‘Advocate’ (paraclete) in claims that Jews and Chris-
John 14:16, 26; 15:26; and tians have misinterpreted
16:7 to refer to the Prophet it. In this manner, the me-
Muhammad, not the Holy dieval scholar Najm al-Din
Spirit as Christians under- al-Tufi (d. 1316) wrote an
stand it. Similarly, Muslims extensive commentary on
have taken numerous texts various parts of Genesis,
from the Hebrew Bible the prophetic books and
to be predictions of Mu- the four Gospels in order to
hammad’s coming, as in ‘correct’ Christian interpre-
Deuteronomy 18:15 where tations. For example, al-Tu-
Moses promises, ‘The Lord fi considers the expression
your God will raise up for ‘God is with us’, found in
you a prophet like me from the birth narrative of Christ
among your own people.’ in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt.
Some Muslims have also 1:23, quoting Isa. 7:14).
claimed that Muhammad’s Al-Tufi accuses Christians
name appears explicitly in of taking ‘God is with us’
Habakkuk 3:3 and 3:9. literally, to refer to Jesus
It has often been ob- Christ as God incarnate,
served that upholding the when they should rather
trays an anthropomorphic corruption of the Bible is read it metaphorically. The
God (e.g., God as a warrior incompatible with using sense in which God was
in Exod. 15:3), and attrib- it to prove the coming of ‘with’ us in Christ was in
utes wrongdoing to proph- Muhammad. If the Bible is Christ’s performing mira-
ets (e.g., Jacob stole Esau’s corrupt, how can we know cles and in his command-
birthright in Gen. 27). that its predictions of his ing and prohibiting what
The second strategy, prophethood are reliable? God commanded and pro-
that of finding the Proph- The fourteenth century hibited; God was with us
et Muhammad predicted theologian Ibn Qayyim inasmuch as his messenger
in the Bible, takes its cue al-Jawziyya (d. 1350) neat- was with us. Al-Tufi notes
from the Qur’an 61:6, ‘And ly resolves this dilemma by a parallel with the interpre-
when Jesus, Son of Mary, maintaining that God pre- tation of the Qur’an verse
said, “O Children of Israel! served the predictions of ‘God is with you wherever
I am the Messenger of God Muhammad from corrup- you are’ (Q. 57:4) which,
to you, confirming the To- tion at the hands of Jews according to al-Tufi, means
page 86 Why the Bible Matters: Islamic Studies

his massive Qur’an commentary. The Bible
is not quite canonical for al-Biqa‘i, and he
A fourth and perhaps more recent maintains the authority of the Qur’an over
Muslim strategy for making sense of the Bible in case of difference. However,
the Bible is to treat it as one form of he quotes long passages from the Hebrew
revelation among the many in which Bible and the four Gospels to elucidate
the one God has revealed the truths of parallel texts in the Qur’an, often to the ex-
divine unity and transcendence. clusion of more traditional Islamic exeget-
ical materials such as the biblical lore men-
that God is our helper and protector, not tioned earlier and the traditions from the
that God in his very being is literally right Prophet Muhammad. For example, when
next to us. the Qur’an first mentions the creation
A fourth and perhaps more recent Mus- of Adam, al-Biqa‘i quotes the first three
lim strategy for making sense of the Bible is chapters of Genesis. Al-Biqa‘i elaborates
to treat it as one form of revelation among the long qur’anic narrative of Joseph by
the many in which the one God has re- copying in the biblical story of Joseph as
vealed the truths of divine unity and tran- well. He even uses the Bible as a source for
scendence. This approach is found among ascertaining what Jews believe, and he is
some Sufis, and a prominent proponent is fond of quoting the Ten Commandments,
Seyyed Hossain Nasr (b. 1933), for whom as self-evidently divine revelation.
the diverse religions vary in their outward Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), a prolific theolo-
forms but are one in their inner meaning. gian from Damascus, provides a different
Thus, the fact that the Bible and the Qur’an but equally unusual instance of a Muslim
differ and even contradict each other in finding an ally in Bible. In a treatise on
their particulars simply reflects God’s God’s creation of the world, he turns to
choice to manifest the single inner truth in Genesis 1:1-2 to show that his theological
diverse forms. There is no substantive dif- position enjoys support well beyond the
ference between the various religions and Muslim community. After citing the first
revelations. verse of Genesis—‘In the beginning of the
The four Muslim strategies just sur- matter, God created the heavens and the
veyed share the same aim of giving bib- earth’—Ibn Taymiyya emphasises that
lical texts an Islamic reading, in order to when God began to create the heavens and
blunt and replace Jewish and Christian the earth ‘water was [already] covering
interpretations that do not accord with Is- over the earth, and the wind was blowing
lamic doctrine. However, Muslims have over the water’ (Gen. 1:2). As Ibn Taymi-
not only read the Bible to neutralize an- yya saw it, God did not create the world
tithetical interpretations of the text. They from nothing. The world as we now know
have also, on rare occasions, turned to the it was created out of something else that
Bible as an ally in their pursuit of Islamic existed beforehand.
religious learning and even as a kind of in- That God created the world out of pri-
dependent sacred text. meval chaos is a common interpretation
Perhaps most noteworthy in this regard of Genesis 1:1-2 among biblical scholars
is the eccentric medieval scholar al-Biqa‘i today, but in medieval times it was rare
(d. 1480) who provoked considerable con- among both Muslim and Christian theolo-
troversy in Cairo by quoting the Bible in gians. Christians from the early centuries
Jon Hoover page 87

of the church argued that God’s creative one who does not create?!’ (Q. 16:17).
activity had a beginning—it was impossi- Ibn Taymiyya turns to the Bible to cor-
ble that the world extended back in time roborate his views on creation and does
infinitely—and the Fourth Lateran Coun- so with the intention of showing the uni-
cil enshrined this view as an article of faith ty of the three major monotheistic confes-
in 1215. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) did sions—or at least their Scriptures—in af-
allow that a good rational case could be firming God’s continuous creation of the
made for the eternity of the world as well, world from eternity to eternity. This was
but he ultimately found reason inadequate to resist the far more common view among
to decide the matter. It must be taken on Ibn Taymiyya’s Muslim theological com-
the authority of Genesis 1:1 that the world petitors that the world had a beginning.
had a beginning. Most Muslim theologi- To sum up, the Islamic tradition has
ans reasoned to the same conclusion, and usually discouraged or even banned read-
some even condemned Muslim philoso- ing the Bible, but Muslims have nonethe-
phers who argued for the eternity of the less found reason to engage it. The most
world as heretics. Along the way, though, obvious reason has been to appropriate
occasional voices wondered whether the the Bible into an Islamic frame of refer-
Qur’an really said clearly that the world ence, so as to take the edge off Jewish and
had a beginning. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. Christian readings of the text and firm up
1210), one of the sharpest minds the Is- an alternative Muslim doctrinal identity.
lamic tradition has ever known, conclud- Yet Muslims also turn to the Bible occa-
ed that neither reason nor revealed texts sionally to nurture their faith and support
could decide the matter. The only thing their doctrine. Even though the Muslim
that could be known for sure was that the relationship to the Bible is deeply ambiv-
world depended on God for its existence. alent, the Bible does matter for Muslims
Ibn Taymiyya was not so sceptical. The and the study of Islam, for without the
Damascene Muslim scholar quotes Gen- Bible, it would be difficult to understand
esis 1:1-2 to buttress a position on crea- what the Qur’an and generations of Mus-
lim scholars have been responding to and
tion that he had already come to on the
seeking to set straight. Islam claims to be
basis of qur’anic verses, such as ‘[God]
a correction of corrupted biblical religion,
created the heavens and the earth in six
and, without the Bible, Islam would lose a
days, and His Throne was on the water’
major constituent of its reason for being.
(Q. 11:7). To Ibn Taymiyya this verse in-
dicates the existence of water and God’s
Throne prior to the creation of this world;
there is, furthermore, nothing irrational Further Reading:

or unscriptural about believing in crea- • Adang, Camilla. Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew
tion without beginning. In fact, according Bible: From Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm. Leiden: Brill, 1996.
• Demiri, Lejla. Muslim Exegesis of the Bible in Medieval Cairo:
to Ibn Taymiyya it is profoundly rational Najm al-Din al-Tufi’s (d. 716/1316) Commentary on the Christian
that God should create perpetually from Scriptures. A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation with an
Introduction. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
eternity. A God who only started to cre- • Hoover, Jon. ‘Perpetual Creativity in the Perfection of God:
ate at some point in the past would have Ibn Taymiyya’s Hadith Commentary on God’s Creation of this
World.’ Journal of Islamic Studies 15.3 (2004): 287-329.
been imperfect prior to that. Rather, the • Lawson, Todd. The Crucifixion and the Qur’an: A Study in the
Qur’an speaks of creativity as essential to •
History of Muslim Thought. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.
Tottoli, Roberto. Biblical Prophets in the Qur’an and Muslim
God’s perfection, ‘Is He who creates like Literature. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 2002.