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Wholly Holy?

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness... 2 Timothy 3.16

David Pailin, a philosopher of religion, provocatively suggests that The Bible is not to be regarded as "holy" - at least not in the same way as The Qur'an. His argument has to do with the way in which these "books", which are regarded as sacred scripture to Christians and Muslims respectively, present themselves. Of the Qur'an, it is maintained that God dictated it through the (illiterate) prophet Muhammad in one perfectly formed (Arabic) oration. Therefore it cannot suffer any change, be that in transcription or translation. By contrast, the Bible is more like a library of manuscripts composed in various languages over hundreds of years with multiple textual variations. Furthermore translation is seen as a missional imperative in order that people should benefit from its instruction in their native tongue.

The difference between Bible and Qur'an reflects contrasting attitudes, not only towards scripture but also towards cultural engagement. Muslims demand that believers adopt a specific language and culture, Christians prefer to give expression to faith through whichever culture the believer inhabits. That is not to say that Christians happily embrace every aspect of all the world's cultures or that Muslims repudiate everything about all of them. It's more nuanced than that and probably boils down to different experiences of revelation. For Muslims, their faith appeared ready-made through Muhammad's encounter with God at the Kab'ah, the sacred shrine of Mecca. Christians regard our faith as having developed over time: first through the Jews, partially, in anticipation of the manifestation of God in Jesus and continuing through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The fancy name for reflecting on how society is shaped by its formative influences is "hermeneutics". We do it all the time, although some pretend not to. It depends on whether you are the kind of person who seeks refuge in certainty or whether you are inclined to wrestle and fight and pray your way to faithfulness...



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