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Peake’s Commentary of the Bible
(A Christian scholarly work)

1.  Under the heading: “The Textual Criticism of the New Testament” (p.663)
Article authored by K. W. Clark, A.B., B.D., PH.D., Professor of Biblical Literature, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.  He writes:

“It is well known that the primitive Christian gospel was initially transmitted by word of mouth and that this oral tradition resulted in variant reporting of the original word and deed.  It is equally true that when the Christian record was later committed to writing it continued to be subject to verbal variation (involuntary and intentional) at the hands of scribes and editors.  The earliest written Gospel, by Mark in Rome, was promptly copied for wider circulation and was soon known as far as Ephesus and Antioch.  The correspondence of Paul was collected and copied and early circulated between Italy and Syria.  Each hand-produced copy, however, contained its own deviations in the form of error or of editorial revision by the theologian-scribe.  From the very beginning manuscript copies of New Testament books showed an increasing amount of variation in the text, and within a single century the original compositions were greatly altered."

He admits a few paragraphs later:

“For many centuries of Christian history believers seemed unmindful of textual alterations and therefore felt no need and made no serious effort to recover a text truer than the one they possessed.  In the absence of ancient manuscript witnesses, the numerous Byzantine copies of later date were generally accepted as the traditional text.  This late form of the text was familiar to all and remained firmly established in use until the 18th century.  The first serious doubt arose in the 17th century when Christian scholarship in the West was confronted with a 5th century witness of a different textual character.  This was an Alexandrian MS, which was carried to London in 1627 (and still remains there in the British Library, designated as Codex Alexandrinus).  This was followed by the discovery of other manuscript witnesses of even earlier date, which clearly pointed to the fact that the prevailing Greek text was substantially different from the original.  The desire to reconstruct the lost original, along with the reappearance of ancient copies long lost from view, caused the development of the modern scientific discipline known as textual criticism.  Its achievement to date has been to provide Christians with a Greek text of the NT Scriptures more trustworthy than any in use since the 6th century.  However, it is not to be thought that the “original” text has now been fully recovered, for significant discoveries and important refinements of the text and method continue to cast more light upon the problem."

On the many manuscript copies from which scholars try to put together a faithful reading, the learned author writes:

“…this circumstance has created the most intricate textual problem in seeking to recover the lost original text of the Greek NT.”

Admitting the interpolation of scribes, Dr. Clark reveals:

“…it may be recognized that the scribe (present or previous) exhibits a theological interest which might cause him to change the text of his exemplar (cf. John 1:18, referring to Jesus as ‘only God’ or as ‘only Son’).”

Further on the subject of the inaccuracies of the NT text, Professor Clark writes:

“To recover the NT writings in original form is the ultimate goal and will always be the main objective of textual criticism, as it unites with other disciplines to penetrate to Christian origins.  But textual criticism has other tasks that belong to lower criticism, concerned with tracing the course of transmission……….This sort of inquiry performs at least three services: it contributes to historical theology, it illumines church history, and it enables the textual critic to retrace the process of change which the text has undergone and thus to exscind accumulated error."

2.  Under the heading: “The Early Versions of the New Testament” (p. 671)
Authored by Bruce Metzger, M.A., PH.D., D.D., Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey.

Writing on the corruptions of the Latin Vulgate by Jerome:

“It was inevitable that in the course of transmission by recopying, scribal carelessness corrupted Jerome’s original work."

3.  Under the heading: “The Literature and Canon of the New Testament” (p.676)
Authored by Rev. Joseph Sanders, M.A., Dean, Domestic Bursar and Fellow of Peterhouse College, University Lecturer in Divinity, Cambridge.

The Reverend admits the windows in which the corruptions of the teachings occurred (as had Prof. Clark) as being during the time from the oral traditions to the written stage:

“So, however it is explained, we must recognize a certain reluctance on the part of Christians to begin a written literature…What happened in the oral period, was of immense importance, and has left clear traces in the written literature”.

The Reverend continues:

“In principle, there was no absolute necessity for any written material, at least, while the apostles were still alive, and written records may only have begun when the original ‘eye-witnesses and ministers of the word’ were no longer available.  It is highly unlikely that any of the four Gospels antedates the deaths of the chief apostles.  The church may have been driven to putting its tradition into writing when it was in danger of being lost, as the Rabbi’s were.  Nero’s persecution and the Jewish War would provide the impetus”.

Continuing on the progressive authorship of writings by the church, he says:

“But of all the needs of the early church which the NT was written to satisfy, that for the control, guidance and edification of the newly founded congregations was the first to lead to the composition of works still extant."

On the false authorship of certain letters of Paul and in the Bible in general:

“The authenticity of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus is also questioned, even more generally than that of Ephesians.  As they stand they seem to reflect a stage of development in church organizations impossible in Paul’s own lifetime.  They thus raise the whole problem of pseudonymity in Holy Scripture.”

Referring to the Canonization process, the Reverend elucidates:

“…the Church of the 2nd century had no other means of distinguishing genuine from pseudonymous apostolic works, orthodoxy tended to become synonymous with apostolicity."

Acknowledging the ‘combat writings’ nature of the Gospels. The Reverend says:

“It is quite possible that the fourfold Gospel was a Catholic counterblast  to Marcion’s single Gospel."

4.  Under the heading: “Pagan Religion at the Coming of Christianity” (p. 712)
Authored by Robert Wilson, M.A., B.D., PH.D., Lecturer in New Testament Language and Literature, St. Andrew’s University.

Writing about the ‘Mystery Cults’ of the Greeks, Dr. Wilson says:

“In its origins Christianity must have appeared to the men of the age as just another of these oriental cults.  Like them, it came out of the East; like them, it promised salvation.  Like them also, it centred upon a Saviour who died and rose again, and like them it gave special place to certain rites: baptism and a sacred meal.  It is therefore only natural that questions should be raised as to the possible influence of these cults on the thought of the early Church…”

Further on a related topic, the learned scholar writes:

“At a later stage indeed much was taken over and ‘baptized’ into the service of the Christian faith: in Mithraism, 25 December had a special place as the birthday of the god; the image-type representing the Madonna and Child has been traced back to statue of Isis and the infant Horus.  It must be admitted that the Church in later ages absorbed into its beliefs and practice those elements which it could take over without doing violence to its own essential faith….”

5. Under the heading: “The Life and Teaching of Jesus” (p. 733)
Authored by Rev. John Bowman, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, California.

Concerning the early years of Jesus’ life and how each NT author is expounding their own personal interpretation, the Professor states:

“It seems quite clear that at no time in its history has the Christian Church thought of its founder’s life as beginning with the manger in Bethlehem.  Each of the four evangelists gives expression to this fact in his own way.  The Fourth Evangelist, whose background appears to have been that of Hellenistic Judaism, employs the current “logos” doctrine to indicate the eternal character of him who became flesh as Jesus of Nazareth (Mt. 1:18; Lk. 1:34f).

In addition to the accounts in the Gospels other NT writers in one way and another give expression to the Church’s conviction on this point.  In the Revelation to John, not only does the eternal Christ say for himself, ‘I am the first and the last, and the living one’ (1:17), but he is also acclaimed ‘Word of God’ (19:13) and ‘Lord of Lords and King of Kings’ (17:14).  For the author of Hebrews, he is the eternal Son of God through whom the latter created the universe (1:1-14).  For Paul, he was ‘in the form of God’ before he became a man (Phil. 2:5-11).”

On how the ‘Coming One’, prophesied by John the Baptist was not the Messiah of Salvation, the Reverend writes:

“John never applied the term ‘Messiah’ to the Coming One whom he announced.  This Coming One was to act as judge of men, sorting out the chaff from the wheat on the threshing-floor of judgement in his time, and the figure who most nearly fits this description is that, not of the Messiah as popularly conceived, but rather the ‘Son of Man’ of 1 Enoch 37-71, who comes for judgement rather than for the salvation of the people of God."

Showing how Jesus responded to the Lordship of God (as opposed to the common claim of his own Divinity – my emphasis) through the call of John the Baptist, the Professor substantiates the notion that Jesus came to do works of the Lord:

“Jesus heard of this new prophetic movement inaugurated by John the Baptist and so, coming down from his native hills to the Jordan valley, Jesus purposed to ally himself with it.  By way of explanation, Matthew says that this was to ‘fulfill all righteousness’, that is to identify himself wholly with mankind in the endeavour to fulfill all of God’s righteous demand upon man…..Like all prophetic messages, accordingly, John’s represented a call to decision to submit oneself to the Lordship of God.  Jesus could no more resist the claims of such a call than could any of his contemporaries.  In obedience, therefore, to the prophetic voice represented by John he came to seek baptism at the latter’s hand.”

Further in his article, the learned Professor comments of the doublets concerning the disciples and the mission of the seventy.  He writes:

“Luke alone among the evangelists suggests that our Lord also sent out seventy-two others as well (10:1-22).  We incline to the belief that this is a doublet of the sending out of the twelve disciples, as the Greek characters for twelve and seventy two exhibit little difference and may easily be confused by a slip of the pen.”

6.  Under the heading: “Matthew” (p. 769)
Authored by: Krister Stendahl, PH.D., THEOL.D., Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, Harvard University.

In the opening commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, the Professor writes:

“…the image of the Gospel writers as ‘authors’ – with or without specific channels of inspiration - has faded away under the impact of comparative synoptic studies and under the impact of Form Criticism…”

He continues that Matthew was not a “mere redactor” but had his own way of putting the pieces together.  In this regard, Professor Stendahl admits:

“In carrying out his work by such an interpretative use of earlier material, written as well as oral, Matthew does not work in a vacuum, but within the life of a church for those whose needs he is catering; his Gospel more than the others is a product of a community and for a community.”

Dr. Stendahl admits the unsolved problem of the authorship of this Gospel in these words:

“It remains an unsolved problem how and why the Gospel came to circulate under the name of Matthew, who only in this Gospel is identified with a tax-collector called by Jesus (see 9:9, 10:3).  But it is highly unlikely that the man responsible for this Gospel had lived on the despised outskirts of Jewish religious life, nor does the Gospel itself (the title was certainly added later) intimate that Matthew was its author."

7.  Under the heading: “Mark” (p.799)
Authored by Robert McL. Wilson, M.A.,  PH.D.,  Lecturer in New Testament Language and Literature, St. Andrews University.

Speaking on the position of Mark in relation to the other gospels, Dr. Wilson writes:

“…Mk is now commonly recognized not only as the earliest canonical Gospel but also as one of the sources used by Mt. And Lk.”

The learned Doctor notes that the earliest reference to Mark is made by Papias (c. AD 140) however, he has this to say in its regard:

“There are several problems connected with this tradition, and it is probably not to be taken entirely at face value.  In particular the association of Mk with Peter should not be understood to mean that the Gospel records the testimony of an eye-witness throughout."

Concerning the type of mindset that authored this Gospel, the Doctor writes:

“Moreover, as Branscomb notes, a Roman origin would go far to explain the ready acceptance and rapid dissemination of the Gospel.  It would also explain the inclusion and preservation of Mk. among the Gospels finally admitted to the Canon."

Concerning the language source behind this Gospel, Dr. Wilson says:

“There are grounds for suspecting Aramaic sources behind the Gospel, though whether written or oral it is impossible to say."

Finally, Dr. Wilson observes:

“It is now generally agreed that 9-20 are not an original part of Mk.  They are not found in the oldest manuscripts, and indeed were apparently not in the copies used by Mt. And Lk.”

8.  Under the heading: “Luke” (p. 82)
Authored by:  Rev. Geoffrey W. H. Lampe, M.C.,  D.D.,  Ely Professor of Divinity, Cambridge University.

Commenting on the authorship of this Gospel by Luke, Professor Lampe notes:

“…this gospel and Acts have been attributed to Luke, the companion of Paul (Col. 4:11; 2 Tim 4:10).  He is said by the above-mentioned prologue to have been a native of Antioch in Syria, a tradition found also, possibly independently, in Eusebias (HE III, iv, 6), and, by many early writers (following Col. 4:11) a doctor.  How far these traditions are inferred from the ‘we passages’ of Acts including the short ‘we passage’ in Acts 11:27 in the ‘Western’ text, the setting of which is in Antioch, taken in conjunction with the Pauline references mentioned above, and how far they rest on genuinely independent records or reminiscences is quite uncertain."

Writing on the source usage of the Gospel of Luke, the Professor writes:

“On the whole it seems probable that Lk. handles Mk freely, modifying and supplementing as it suits his purpose."

9. Under the heading:  “John” (p. 844)
Authored by:  Rev. C. Kingsley Barrett, M.A., B.D., F.B.A., Professor of Theology, Durham University.

Simply put:

“The origin of this Gospel is veiled in obscurity.  Towards the end of the 2nd century a tradition became strongly established that it had been written by John the son of Zebedee (who was understood to be referred to in the Gospel itself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’) not far from AD 100 (John was believed to have survived till the principate of Trajan).  This tradition cannot however be traced early in the 2nd century.  It finds confirmation in some features of the Gospel itself, but is contradicted by others, and the position is complicated by both the similarities and the differences bewteen John and the Synoptic Gospels."

An oft-cited personage recounting the authenticity of this Gospel by the disciple John is Polycarp.  However, the evidence shows otherwise.  The Professor notes the history of the tradition by quoting the work of Irenaeus.  However, he says:

“The earlier evidence is however much less satisfactory.  Polycarp himself in his extant epistle makes no claim to personal contact with the apostle, and does not refer to the Gospel (though he does quote 1 John).  Iraneus’s statement about Papias, which is similar to that about Polycarp, is almost certainly incorrect.  Ignatius of Antioch, writing c. AD 112 to the Church at Ephesus, makes no allusion to John, though emphasizes Paul’s contacts with Ephesus.  In fact there is no early evidence to connect John with Ephesus or with the writing of a Gospel."

Speaking on the relationship of this Gospel with that of the Synoptics, the Professor writes:

“On account of these parallels it is today very generally agreed that John was familiar with the synoptic tradition – that is, the traditional material out of which the Synoptic Gospels were composed.  Whether he knew any of the Gospels themselves is disputed.  A strong case can be made for his having known Mk, a fairly strong case for his knowledge of Luke.  On any view of this question, however, one is bound to ask whether an apostle, equipped with such unrivalled first-hand knowledge as John the son of Zebedee must have possessed, would have a) found it necessary to consult and use other authorities, and b) come into conflict with the good and the early tradition of Mk on such an issue as the date of the crucifixion.  No simple answer to the question of authorship is possible."




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