What is the interval between the giving of the Injil and the Koran?
The Jews continued to follow the three-fold division of the Hebrew Old Testament, whereas the church thought more in terms of the divisions originally given in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the books of Law, History, Poetry and Wisdom, Prophecy), and later adapted by the Latin Vulgate, and brought over to the order found in the present-day Bible we have in our hands.
The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had dealings with both Jews and Christians and learned something from each religion. He learned about the Law, the Psalms, the Gospel, and about many prophets. The mention of these four things could naturally lead to the three Jewish Old Testament divisions and the New
Christian leader Chrysostom (c. 354-407 A.D.) in his commentary on the Book of Galatians, makes a comment on the verse Galatians 4:21 which reads, "Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?" His comment reads, "It is the Book of Creation which he calls here the law, which name he often gives to the whole Old Testament." (Schaff, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: First Series, vol. 8, pg. 33.) So "the Law" can be understood as the books of Moses, or as the entire Old Testament.
Verses about the prophets and Prophethood abound in the Koran, but not one clear reference to the "book of the Prophets". This is not because the inspiration of the Old Testament prophets was not recognized. It has before been shown that the Old Testament prophets are recognized by Islam.
There seems to be no direct evidence that the Jews in the Prophet's day knew the Kethubim also as the Psalms. It can only be assumed based on the practice of Jews in preceding centuries. It is clear that the accepted Hebrew canon before Hazrat Muhammad's time placed Psalms at the head of the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and it is also clear that Hebrew Bibles today do the same. However, the Babylonian Talmud (pre-400 A.D.) places Ruth, not Psalms, at the head of the Kethubim:
"The oldest testimony of Jewish tradition about the order of the kethubim is
furnished by the Babylonian Talmud. In the treatise Baba Bathra (14b) we find after the Prophets the series of the kethubim as follows: 'The order of the kethubim is: Ruth, and the Book of Psalms and Job and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and Lamentations, Daniel and the roll (megillath) of Esther, Ezra and Chronicles.'" (Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of Job, pg. vii.)
Two things are worth noting here:
- that the section is not called Psalms but Kethubim (Writings), and
- that the first book is not Psalms, but Ruth.
This may mean that the Zabur of seventh century Arabia was only the book of Psalms, but not necessarily. "The first five editions of the Hebrew Bible begin the Hagiographa [Kethubim] with Psalms, Proverbs, Job." (Dhorme, Ibid., pg. viii.). The Babylonian Talmud was not the only authority in Hebrew scriptural matters at the time (e.g. - the Palestinian Talmud), and obviously its authority has not carried through the years in this
particular matter. So it is possible that Zabur stands for the Kethubim. This designation may have been used among Jews, but what about Christians? The church did not follow the Hebrew Bible divisions, seeing that their Bible was the Septuagint. What then did this term "the Psalms", or Zabur in Arabic, mean to the church?
"Tertullian, in the second century, tells us that the Christians were wont to sing Psalms at their agap, and that they were sung antiphonally. From the earliest times they formed an essential part of Divine Service. Hilary, Chrysostom, Augustine, all mention the use of the Psalms in the public service, and describe them, sometimes as being sung by the whole congregation, at others as being recited by one individual, who was followed by the rest." (Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vol. in 1, pg. 23.)
To emphasize the importance that the early and medieval church placed on the Psalms, Van Espen's comment on a canon of the Second Council of Nice (787 A.D.) that "a Bishop must know the Psalter by heart" is in order, because of what it says about prior church history:
"And it should be noted that formerly not only the clergy, but also the lay people, learned the Psalms, that is the whole Psalter, by heart, and made a most sweet sound by chanting them while about their work. But as time went on, little by little, this pious custom of reciting the Psalter... slipped away to the clergy only and to monks and nuns..." (Schaff & Wace, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Second Series, vol. 14, pg. 556, 557.)
It is no wonder that Gustav Oehler speaks of the Psalms as he does:
"The book of Psalms is, above all other portions of Old Testament Scripture, that which, from the first, has been most used by the Christian church, and which she has cherished as one of her noblest jewels. Just as the Lord himself, following the passover custom of his nation, at his last meal with his disciples sang the great Hallel out of the Psalms, Mat. xxvi. 30, so the apostle also, Col. iii. 16; Ep. v. 19, has exhorted the Christian community to edify itself out of the same. From this Israelitish book of song and prayer not only have the liturgies of the Christian church drawn many of their parts, but from it also has the sacred hymnology of the church itself proceeded. And how can we suitably express all the spiritual benefit which believers of all time have received from these songs?" (Fairbairn, The Imperial Bible-Dictionary, vol. 5, pg. 334.)
Of course, that statement holds true not only for the church, for as Perowne said, "the Psalter has been in the truest sense, the Prayer-book both of Jews and Christians." (Perowne, Ibid., pg. 22.) It appears from all this, that Arabic Christians would have understood Zabur to mean the book of Psalms, and that they treasured it.
The Koran's way of calling the New Testament, "the Gospel" or Injil is
something to be addressed. When the Koran mentions "the Gospel" is it referring
to the New Testament or to another book? After all, Christians do not commonly call the New Testament by this name today. If it can be shown that this was a common title (used by Christians) for the New Testament before and/or during the time of Muhammad, then it can be argued that the Koran is actually referring to the New Testament as it is known today.
One strong argument for identifying the Injil with the New Testament is the word Injil itself. This word found its way into the Koran ultimately from the New Testament. Christians would have been heard to use the word gospel quite regularly. Jews would not have used it much, and neither would Arabian idol-worshippers. Where did Christians get the word from? The New Testament, of course. The word euaggelion occurs some 77 times in the New Testament, and euaggelizw/euaggelizomai some 55 times. Injil or gospel is a New Testament word. Not only that, but the New Testament authors made it clear that they believed their message (whether spoken or written) was the gospel or Injil:
Mark 1:1-- "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
Romans 16:25,26-- "Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him --"
1 Thessalonians 1:5-- "...because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."
The common belief is that the original Injil was given to Hazrat Isa, and so people have difficulty in seeing the New Testament written by anyone other than him.
The following quote from the apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas may help to bridge the gap from the Muslim position and the New Testament as it stands:
"And when he [Isa] chose his apostles, which were afterwards to publish his Gospel, he took men who had been very great sinners; that thereby he might plainly shew, That he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (The Lost Books of the Bible, pg. 149.)
The New Testament itself bears abundant witness to the gospel being Hazrat Isa's gospel, a gospel which he committed into the hands of his followers to publish throughout the world.
From historical documents it is clear that the church of the centuries before Islam arrived, did use "Gospel" as a title for all or part of the New Testament:
"At a very early date it appears that the four Gospels were united in one collection. They must have been brought together very soon after the writing of the Gospel according to John. This fourfold collection was originally known as 'The Gospel' in the singular, not 'The Gospels' in the plural; there was only one Gospel... Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, refers to 'The Gospel' as an authoritative writing, and as he knew more than one of the four 'Gospels' it may well be that by 'The Gospel' sans phrase he means the fourfold collection which went by that name." (Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? pg. 23.)
Toward the end of the second century, Irenaeus gave a similar testimony, "The Word gave to us the Gospel in a fourfold shape, but held together by one Spirit". (Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament, pg. 99.)
In the fourth century, Chrysostom wrote,
"We assert, therefore, that, although a thousand Gospels were written, if the
contents of all were the same, they would still be one, and their unity no wise infringed by the number of writers. -- Whence it is clear that the four Gospels are one Gospel; for, as the four say the same thing, its oneness is preserved by the harmony of the contents, and not impaired by the difference of persons." (Schaff, A Select Library of Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: First Series. vol. 8, pg. 7.)
But what about the rest of the New Testament?
"The corpus Paulinum, or collection of Paul's writings, was brought together about the same time as the collecting of the fourfold Gospel. As the Gospel collection was designated by the Greek word Euangelion, so the Pauline collection was designated by the one word Apostolos... " (Bruce, Ibid., pg.25.)
Apparently, Augustine knew of the same divisions in his day in the fourth century, "For I ask them, is it good to take pleasure in reading the Apostle? or good to take pleasure in a sober Psalm? or good to discourse on the Gospel? They will answer to each, 'It is good'." (The Confessions of St.Augustine, pg. 144.)
In the same time period, "Gospel" was used by Christian church historian Eusebius in the same way, as well as for each of the four gospels individually.
The whole New Testament was known as simply the Gospel very early on however. In fact, Christian theologian B.B. Warfield states that it was the earliest name for the entire New Testament collection:
"The earliest name given to this new section of Scripture was framed on the model of the name by which what we know as the Old Testament was then known. Just as it was called 'The Law and the Prophets and the Psalms' (or 'the Hagiographa'), or more briefly 'The Law and the Prophets,' or even more briefly still 'The Law'; so the enlarged Bible was called 'The Law and the Prophets, with The Gospels and the Apostles' (so Clement of Alexandria, "Strom." vi. 11, 88; Tertullian, "De Prs. Hr." 36), or most briefly 'The Law and the
Gospel' (so Claudius Apolinaris, Irenus); while the new books apart were called 'The Gospel and the Apostles,' or most briefly of all 'The Gospel.' This earliest name for the new Bible, with all that it involves as to its relation to the old and briefer Bible, is traceable as far back as Ignatius (A.D. 115), who makes use of it repeatedly (e.g., "ad Philad." 5; "ad Smyrn." 7). In one passage he gives us a hint of the controversies which the enlarged Bible of the Christians aroused among the Judaizers ("ad Philad." 6). 'When I heard some saying,' he writes, 'Unless I find it in the Old [Books] I will not believe the Gospel,' on my saying, 'It is written,' they answered, 'That is the question.' To me, however, Jesus Christ is the Old [Books]; his cross and death and resurrection, and the faith which is by him, the undefiled Old [Books] -- by which I wish, by your prayers, to be justified. The priests indeed are good, but the High Priest better,' etc. Here Ignatius appeals to
the 'Gospel' as Scripture, and the Judaizers object, receiving from him the
answer in effect which Augustine afterward formulated in the well-known saying that the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is first made clear in the New." (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, pg. 413.)
Again, in his letter to the Smyrnns, early church father Ignatius identifies the Gospel, alongside the Law and the Prophets:
"Only in the name of Jesus Christ, I undergo all, to suffer together with him; he who was made a perfect man strengthening me. Whom some not knowing, do deny; or rather have been denied my him, being the advocates of death, rather than of the truth. Whom neither the prophecies, nor the law of Moses have persuaded; nor the Gospel itself even to this day, nor the sufferings of every one of us." (The Lost Books of the Bible, pg. 187.)
The Apostolic Constitutions, probably written in the late 4th century, though parts possibly dating from the 5th century, contains several interesting references to the "Gospel":
"Let him [a bishop] be patient and gentle in his admonitions, well instructed
himself, meditating in and diligently studying the Lord's books, and reading them frequently, that so he may be able carefully to interpret the Scriptures, expounding the Gospel in correspondence with the prophets and with the law; and let the expositions from the law and the prophets correspond to the Gospel". ...and let [the repentant] depart after the reading of "the law, and the prophets, and the Gospel, that by such departure they may be made better in their course of life..."
"Let us walk after the law, and the prophets by the Gospel." (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, pg. 397, 414, 461.)
These quotations make it clear that "the Gospel" was a title used to refer to
the entire New Testament, as opposed to the Old Testament ("the law and the
- Tawrat is quite properly and acceptably the title of the Pentateuch, however it also can signify the entire Old Testament in use today.
- Zabur (Psalms) not only referred to the book with that name, but at one time was also a title for the Kethubim or third division of the Hebrew Bible. It is highly possible that it was still commonly used that way by Jews contemporary to the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Hebrew Bible, not the Greek Septuagint, was the Old Testament known to the people of Arabia in the time of the Prophet, in view of the fact that they were aware of the Tawrat. "Zabur" then can be arguably used as the title of that section of the Hebrew Bible known as the Kethubim.
- The Prophets was unknown as a 'book' to Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh), but the prophets described therein were clearly believed in by him. He apparently had very little firsthand knowledge of this collection. An Arabic equivalent for the Hebrew title of this section of the Old Testament (Nebi'im) is Anbiya.
- Injil is rightly a title for the New Testament. It was not new with the Koran, but one known and used by Christians before the Koran was given.
(Copyright © 2001 Al-Kitab Scripture Research Institute
[http://al-kitab.org]. Used by permission.)