I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Bahá’í).
The Holy Books of the Religions
The question as to whether Christians have a Bible that is authentic and not corrupted has come up a couple of times in my Interfaith group, generating heated arguments between Christians and members of other religions.
The irony is that some Christians do also have issues with the holy books of other religions and do wonder if those could truly have come from God. It would appear then to be a general human characteristic for worshippers of one religion to look down on the holy books of other religious groups as less sacred and authentic than their own.
This article focuses on the question as to whether the Holy Bible is authentic and it does so from a Bahá’í standpoint. Bahá’ís are qualified to discuss this subject because they believe all religions are one and from God. As such, the Bible is their holy book too. Any attempt to belittle the sacredness of any holy book causes them distress.
The Origin of Religions
If one looks at the way religions begin, one will see similarities but also major differences. At the end of the day, the important thing to note is that the religions come into being according to a divine plan. Jesus did not receive tables of commandments from a mountain of fire as Moses did, nor did he reveal verses inspired by the Angel Gabriel as Prophet Muhammad did. He simply taught people in the streets or the countryside of ancient Palestine and later shared further insights with his disciples during their private moments. Much later, these teachings became the basis of his holy book, the New Testament. Did he have a choice in the matter? The answer has to be no. Everything must surely have transpired according to the will of the Father.
The Essential Message of the Bible
Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, does clarify in his writings many of the issues that have baffled or confused members of other religious faiths, more especially those of the Abrahamic traditions. He has, for instance, pronounced specifically on the question under consideration, in one of his major works, The Kitáb-i-Íqán (translated as The Book of Certitude), written in 1862, in Baghdad, in today’s Iraq. So, that is more than a century and a half ago. In the book, Bahá’u’lláh confirms that he had himself heard a number of people, ostensibly Muslims, argue the same thing, that “the genuine text of the heavenly Gospel doth not exist amongst the Christians, that it hath ascended unto heaven.” He responds to that argument by asserting that those making such claims were grievously mistaken and “oblivious of the fact that such a statement imputeth the gravest injustice and tyranny to a gracious and loving Providence!”
He goes on to ask how God could cause His holy Book, “His most great testimony amongst His creatures,” to disappear from the people after the departure of His Emissary. What would be left to that people to cling to in Jesus’ absence? What law could guide their affairs? And if there is no guidance for them, how then could God, “the omnipotent Avenger,” judge and punish them should they go astray? Above all, how could God withhold His grace and tender mercies from them by depriving them of access to His holy word?
And so, in short, as far as Bahá’ís are concerned, whatever guidance God wanted the followers of Jesus to have are preserved in the Holy Bible for them, irrespective of whatever errors or contradictions people may point to. Those seeming contradictions are not the essential message that God wanted to convey to Christians through Jesus.
The Perfect Holy Book
Indeed, to focus on the perfection or otherwise of the holy book of a religion is to preoccupy oneself with the nonessential aspect of that religion. It is not important. The essential aspect rather is the extent to which that Book, whether seemingly perfect or not, has brought about enlightenment, advancement, transformation, and ushered society towards a divine civilization. If it has achieved that, then the Book that gave rise to such marvellous developments is perfect in the truest sense of the word. If it failed to do that, then it, of course, has not proven itself to be perfect. That is all. Bahá’ís believe Christianity, despite many hiccups along the way, did succeed in bringing enlightenment to the whole wide world, and that proves the perfection of the Holy Bible. No better testimony to that achievement than the homage Bahá’u’lláh has paid to Jesus as the one who “purified the world.”
By "corruption of the holy text” is meant the interpretation of God's holy Book in accordance with man's idle imaginings and vain desires.
The True Meaning of Corrupting a Holy Book
But Bahá’u’lláh does not just defend the authenticity of the Holy Bible. He clarifies what “corrupting the holy text” truly means in the first place. By "corruption of the text,” he explains, is meant that in which the divines are “engaged today, that is the interpretation of God's holy Book in accordance with their idle imaginings and vain desires.”
So, when the clergy, of whichever faith, sect, or denomination, misinterprets a teaching of the holy book, distorts its true meaning, and subsequently misleads worshippers into erroneous ways, that in effect is corrupting the holy text, even if the Book itself is upheld to be perfect in every way and devoid of any flaws.
Some Outcomes of a Corrupted Holy Book
Based on the above definition, it can easily be deduced that certain negative developments in a religion are likely the outcome of the corruption of its holy text. A few examples are:
The splintering of religion into diverse sects and denominations usually occurs as a result of doctrinal differences and divergences in the interpretation of the holy book.
2. Abrogation of Sacred Laws:
This happens when existing laws and precepts of the holy book are not enforced as stipulated but are simply ignored, disregarded, or sometimes even specifically and formally annulled.
3. Enactment of Alien Laws:
This is when strange laws and practices are formally introduced, or gradually find their way, into the faith—laws and practices that contradict either the spirit or the clear provisions of the holy book.
4. Decadence in Society:
When a religious community constitutes a significant segment of a population, the expectation is for that community to be the agent of societal transformation and progress towards a divine civilization. If that does not happen, and that society is seen rather to wallow in the quagmire of materialism, corruption, pervasive inequality, sexual vices, tyranny, racism, political strife, abuses of human rights, conflicts, etc., that is a sure sign that that religious community is attempting to engage with the Divine through a corrupted version of its holy book.
So, these are some of the trends to help us know when masses of worshippers are being misguided and led away from the pure, untainted version of their holy book.
To conclude, the Holy Bible is a perfect holy book. But like any other holy book, it can become corrupted. This usually occurs, however, at the level of human interpretation.
© 2021 Kobina Amissah-Fynn