Dr Keith Small describes his research into the 'textual history' of the Qur'an, and compares it with that of the New Testament.

This talk contrasts the extensive studies carried out on the early New Testament manuscripts to identify the earliest form of the text, with the almost total absence of such studies on the Qur'an. Keith shows how this process of 'textual criticism' identifies the human errors made by copyists in the thousands of New Testament manuscripts available to us, with the  majority of these errors relating to spelling or grammar. Textual criticism has helped to demonstrate that our New Testament preserves a reliable version of the original text.

Although some of the same issues arise in textual criticism of the Qur'an, Keith shows how his work on some of the oldest Qur'anic manuscripts available indicates that other factors are highly significant for the copying and transmission of the Qur'an and that variant readings were intentionally suppressed.

He concludes that the Qur'an and New Testament

are similar in that there are textual variants of the same kinds in both traditions, but the significant difference, in textual history terms, is that the New Testament preserves a reliable version of the original text, while the Qur'an preserves an early edited form of its text made at the expense of more original forms.


A choice of faith that the Qur'an is a perfectly preserved book from a heavenly tablet must be done in the face of strong evidence both from within Islamic tradition and from the surviving manuscript tradition that there has been intentional editing and shaping of the text at many points in its history.

Keith concludes with some thoughts on how these ideas relate to the concept of inspiration of Scripture in Christian and Muslim belief.

© 2012 Christian Heritage

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