One of the arguments Christian apologists make in support of the claim of the authenticity of the Bible is that the very men who wrote the Bible wrote rather unflattering things about themselves and Jesus:

  • Peter denies Jesus three times hours before his death
  • All of the apostles abandon Jesus during the time of his trials and death
  • Thomas has to have Jesus prove his bodily resurrection
  • Peter is perpetually rash, violent, and presumptuous
  • James and John want to have Jesus destroy a town who fails to welcome the Christ warmly
  • The apostles jockeyed for power amongst themselves, each wishing to rule the others
  • The majority of apostles were lowly fishermen
  • Jesus was a friend of outcasts, rejects, and people of ill-repute

 If the stories of the Bible are fiction or exaggerated and mythologized fact, wouldn’t the apostles depict themselves in a better light that they did?  They were unburdened by objectivity and had the freedom to make themselves look good, why would they include such unflattering depictions? 

By itself it is not the kind of argument you would want to base your entire faith on, but it is a nice point to add to others when making the case that the Bible is more than just another book on a shelf. 

Then when I read the first few ayahs of today’s surah I was struck that the same logic could apply here, but about the Qur’an this time. 

Usually the Prophet Muhammad is defended wholesale in the Qur’an.  The Muslims I have talked with here assert the great virtue — almost absolute purity — of the prophets.  So to see Muhammad corrected by God Himself is unusual. 

Evidently there was a pagan Arab custom that a husband could declare his wife to be “like [his] mother’s back to him” (58:2).  Besides the fact that this just sounds weird, this declaration functioned to deprive the wife of her marital rights, yet not produce a true divorce.  Hence the wife was unable to marry again, sealing her for a life of neglect and lack of fulfillment. 

Khawla, daughter of Tha`laba, had such a pronouncement uttered against her, so she appealed to Muhammad.  Islamic tradition says that the Prophet sided with pagan tradition and said “You are unlawful to him now.”    

The first part of today’s surah is a declaration from God that this custom is unfair and wrong, vindicating the woman’s desires. 

What they say is certainly blameworthy and false. (58:2)

God’s compassionate nature as a defender of the weak and oppressed is upheld and accentuated in this account.  Interestingly, though, Muhammad is corrected and shown to have faulty judgment.  Not a big deal; I don’t imagine a Muslim would say the Prophet was infallible. 

What strikes me is this: If one does not accept the Qur’an as inspired scripture (and, as a Christian, I do not) one has to come up with an alternate explanation for its origin.  The logical supposition is that Muhammad fabricated the words of the Qur’an, the same claim anyone who rejects the inspiration of a supposed sacred book (the Bible, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormom, or whatever) would offer. 

Now back to the apologetic argument stated at first in this post: if someone makes something up, why would they make themselves look bad?  If this surah was the invention of Muhammad’s fictional genius, why make God correct him?  If it lends support for the authenticity of the Bible, wouldn’t it do so for the Qur’an too in this case?  It seems so. 

Now, there is a bit of a difference in degree of embarrassment between outright denial or skepticism in the resurrection and making an incorrect legal ruling.  And the surah does go on to make the Prophet look really good and very authoritative:

Those who oppose God and His Messenger will be brought low, like those before them. (58:5)

And the embarrassment argument doesn’t hold a lot of weight by itself, but I was struck by the unusual candidness with which this surah is stated.

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