Abrogation and the Unalterable Word of God

Abrogation and the Unalterable Word of God


Criticism

In one of his brief articles1, Mr Jochen Katz has pointed out an apparent inconsistency in two sets of verses in the Qur'an. On the one hand, 6:34, 6:115 and 10:65 imply that no one can change the words of God, while on the other hand, 2:106 and 16:101 clearly imply that God changes His directives and replaces one directive for another. Mr Katz writes:

'The words of the Lord are perfect in truth and justice; there is NONE who can change His words' (6:115). Also see 6:34 and 10:65. But then Allah (Muhammad?) sees the need to exchange some of them for 'better ones' (2:106, 16:101). And it is not for ignorant people to question Allah because of such practices!

Let us start with a look at the verses upon which Mr. Katz has based his objection. The verses read:

Indeed messengers have been rejected before you as well. However, they persevered in the face of being rejected and in the face of being persecuted until Our help came to them. And, indeed, no one can alter the words of God. You have already heard of some of the accounts of these messengers. (6:34)

And the word of your Lord was fulfilled with absolute truth and justice. No one can alter His words. He is Hearing, Knowing. (6:115)

For them [who have faith and keep from evil,] shall be the glad tidings [of bliss] in this world as well as the Hereafter. There can be no change in the words of God. This, indeed, is the supreme triumph. (10:64)

If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We replace it be a better one or one similar. Did you know that God has power over all things? (2:106)

And when We replace a verse for another, And God knows best what He reveals, they say: 'You [O Prophet,] are an imposter'. [This is not true,] but most of them know it not. (16:101)

As should be quite clear from the above verses, Mr Katz's objection is based on the understanding that the word 'Kalimah' or 'Kalimat' (translated as 'word' or 'words' respectively) in the first three verses is used for the books and verses revealed by God. This understanding, as I have established in one of my previous responses to Mr. Katz's criticisms, is not correct2. Clarifying the usage of the words 'Kalimah' and 'Kalimat' in the Qur'an, I had written:

The Arabic words, normally translated as 'word' and 'words' in the above verses are Kalimah and Kalimat (plural form) respectively. The word Kalimah has occurred twenty-eight (28) times (including 6:115), either independently or prefixed to another word. While the word Kalimat has occurred fourteen (14) times in the Qur'an. (including 6:34 and 10:64) either independently or prefixed to another word. However, of these forty-two (42) occurrences in all, not once have these words been used by the Qur'an to imply the scriptures revealed by God (whether the Torah, the Injil or the Zabur).

As the words 'word' and 'words' in the English language, the words Kalimah and Kalimat in the Arabic language are used in quite a few meanings and connotations. For instance, these Arabic words (as well as these English words), besides other meanings, are used to imply:

· A promise3;

· A decree (judgment or a command) etc4;

· A prediction or an information5.

A lack of appreciation of the fact that words of a language can have different connotations -- the determination of which depends upon the appreciation of the style of the author as well as the context in which the words have been placed -- can lead one to commit grave mistakes in the understanding and appreciation of literature. I would like the reader to take a close look the following statement:

Jesus replied: 'Not everyone can accept this word...'6(Matthew 19: 11)

Ignoring the context of these words, one may be tempted to believe that 'the message of Jesus' (ie this word) cannot be accepted by everyone. However, interpreting the statement in the perspective of the context in which it is placed makes it clear that the phrase 'this word' does not imply the 'message of Jesus' in general, but is a reference to one of its particular aspects only -- relating to living a life of celibacy. The verse with its preceding verse reads as:

Jesus replied: 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.' The disciples said to him: 'If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry'. Jesus replied: 'Not everyone can accept this word... (Matthew 19: 8 - 11)

In the cited context, it is quite clear that the phrase 'this word' refers to the disciples' statement: 'it is better not to marry'.

Exactly in the same way, the words of the Qur'an as well as any other piece of literature should be interpreted in the light of the context in which these words have been placed. Ignoring the context in which these words have been placed invariably results in misinterpretation. It should, nevertheless, be kept in mind that misinterpretation of a literature does not evidence a weakness in the literature, but, on the contrary, it is a good evidence of the lack of the acceptable level of ability in the interpreter of interpreting literature.

As I had stated earlier, the Arabic words Kalimah and Kalimat have not been used by the Qur'an to refer to any of the scriptures (Torah or Injil) revealed by God. It should, nevertheless, be interesting if Mr Katz can find a verse in the Qur'an about which -- keeping in view the context of the verse -- he can prove that the words under consideration have been used to refer to the scriptures revealed by God.

After this explanation, in the referred article, I have explained the three referred verses and have shown that if interpreted in the light of their respective contexts, none of these verses can be taken to refer to the books revealed by God. In the first of the three verses (6:34) 'the words of God' refer to the God's law regarding the rejection of His messengers. In the second verse (6:115) the phrase 'the word of your Lord' refers to the unchanging law of God regarding those who are allowed to accept His guidance and those who are not. Finally, in the third verse (10:64), 'the words of God' refer to the unalterable law of God regarding reward of the pious7. None of the referred verses, as evidenced by their context, refers to the books or verses revealed by God. They refer to certain moral laws of God, which the Qur'an has declared to be God's established practices.

Courtesy: Understanding-Islam(http://www.understanding-islam.com/articles/responses/aatuwog.htm)

Reference:

1. Mr. Katz's complete article may be accessed at: http://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Contra/qi019.html

2. Reference is to the article titled: 'Do the Errors in the Bible Prove that the Qur'an is not from God?'. The article may be accessed at: http://www.understanding-islam.com/articles/quran/dteitbpttqinfg.htm.

3. As is the case in:

· 'My father', she replied: 'you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites'. (Judges 11: 36);

· 'As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?' (Psalms 18: 30 - 31). According to the 'Expert Commentary', the phrase (the word of the Lord) in the quoted verse refers to 'God's promise to David', though the reference is general.

4. As is the case in:

· Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: 'No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary'. (Exodus 36: 6);

· 'Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death.' (Joshua 1: 18);

· Jesus replied: 'And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said: "Honor your father and mother" and "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death". But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: "Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God", he is not to "honor his father" with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.' (Matthew 15: 3 - 6)

· For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalms 33: 4 - 5). According to the 'Expert Commentary', the phrase 'the word of the Lord' in the quoted verse refers to: 'God's royal word by which he governs all things'.

· I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word. (Psalms 119: 25). According to the 'Expert Commentary', 'word' refers to 'God's laws and promises'.

· for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. (Psalms 107: 11)

· All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal. (Pslams119: 160)

5. As is the case in:

· Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD: 'What is your name so that we may honor you when your word comes true?' (Judges 13: 17)

· The Lord announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it' (Psalms 68: 11). According to the 'Expert Commentary', the phrase 'announced the word', in the quoted verses implies: 'God declared beforehand that he would be victorious over the Canaanite kings'.

6. The given translation is according to the New International Version. The King James Version translates this verse as: 'All men cannot receive this saying…'. The New Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) translates it as: 'Not everyone can accept this teaching...'. The Revised Standard Version translates it as: 'Not all men can receive this saying...'.

7. For details, refer to the article titled 'Do the Errors in the Bible Prove that the Qur'an is not from God?'. The article may be accessed at:http://www.understanding-islam.com/articles/quran/dteitbpttqinfg.htm




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