Communicating the Word

Communicating the Word: Revelation, Translation, and Interpretation in Christianity and Islam

David Marshall Editor
Afterword by Archbishop Rowan Williams
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    Communicating the Word
    Book Description:

    Communicating the Word is a record of the 2008 Building Bridges seminar, an annual dialogue between leading Christian and Muslim scholars convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Featuring the insights of internationally known Christian and Muslim scholars, the essays collected here focus attention on key scriptural texts but also engage with both classical and contemporary Islamic and Christian thought. Issues addressed include, among others, the different ways in which Christians and Muslims think of their scriptures as the "Word of God," the possibilities and challenges of translating scripture, and the methods-and conflicts-involved in interpreting scripture in the past and today. In his concluding reflections, Archbishop Rowan Williams draws attention to a fundamental point emerging from these fascinating contributions: "Islam and Christianity alike give a high valuation to the conviction that God speaks to us. Grasping what that does and does not mean . . . is challenging theological work."

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-803-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Participants
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    Beginning in January 2002, the series of Building Bridges seminars, convened and chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, has covered a wide range of themes at the heart of Muslim-Christian dialogue. This book offers a record of the seventh seminar, held from May 6–8, 2008, at Villa Palazzola, near Rome, formerly a Cistercian monastery and now owned by the Venerable English College. Whereas all previous seminars had included a public dimension, with lectures open to the public as well as closed sessions attended just by seminar participants, this seminar happened entirely in private. While this provided an ideal environment...

  6. Part I: Particularity, Universality, and Finality in Revelation
    • 1.1 Particularity and Universality in the Qur’ān
      (pp. 3-13)

      The specific question I address here is whether Islam, as a particular religion arising in seventh-century Arabia with all its particular doctrines, ethics, laws, rituals, and various other aspects, is conceived by its revelatory source, namely the Qur’ān, to be applicable to and binding on all humanity, or whether it is thought to be the necessary way of attaining salvation and truth only for its own adherents. In other words, does the Qur’ān regard Islam as the only religion that provides universal access to ultimate happiness, or does it recognize other religions as salvific and hence religiously and spiritually effective...

    • 1.2 Particularity, Universality, and Finality: Insights from the Gospel of John
      (pp. 14-25)

      That impressive array of abstract nouns in our section title—three -ities and one -ation—certainly puts us at high risk of falling into a morass of philosophical abstraction! Yet these words touch on some of the central issues and most concrete claims of our respective faiths. They are the vocabulary of confident and uncompromising faith, and so they often raise the thorniest of questions when it comes to the relations between believers of different traditions. What I hope to do here is to explore how Christians can use this vocabulary in a way that is fully consonant with Christian...

    • 1.3 Revelation in Israel: Deuteronomy 7:1–11; Isaiah 49:1–6
      (pp. 26-32)

      These two texts would seem to contradict one another. In Deuteronomy 7, Moses declares God’s special (even unique) love for Israel and then goes on to mandate the destruction of the seven Canaanite nations that Israel will encounter in the land. By contrast, the prophet known as exilic (or “Second”) Isaiah is charged with a ministry of restoration or reconciliation that extends beyond Israel: “I make you a light of nations” (ûnĕtattîkā lĕ’ôr gôyîm; Isaiah 49:6).¹

      Many if not most contemporary Christians would favor the second text as more adequately anticipating God’s salvific action in christ on behalf of...

    • 1.4 Revelation in Israel: Qur’ān 2:47–57; 5:44–48
      (pp. 33-36)

      To grasp the full significance of the first of the above passages (2:47–57) for our understanding of the Qur’ānic idea of revelation, we need to relate it to other passages in the Qur’ān concerned with the same spiritual phenomenon but as seen from different perspectives. The Qur’ān speaks in many verses of revelations that came before it. Each different revelation is identified with a particular prophet and in some cases is also identified with a named book that is presented as its scriptural manifestation as, for example, in the case of Moses and the revelation of the Torah, and...

    • 1.5 Revelation in Christ: 1 John 1:1–4; Matthew 28:16–20; John 16:12–15
      (pp. 37-43)

      The three New Testament passages considered here are all of great Christological and Trinitarian significance. They thus obviously raise issues that have been major points of division between Christians and Muslims. These passages also touch on two themes that are widely discussed in contemporary social reflection: innovation and globalization. However, whereas these themes would today be commonly understood in very secular terms, in these scriptural texts we are of course dealing with religious discussions of matters that were to prove determinative of the future development of the Christian community.

      This opening passage of the first letter of John, in which...

    • 1.6 Revelation in the Qur’ān: Qur’ān 6:91–92; 25:32; 21:107; 38:87; 33:40
      (pp. 44-56)

      The hermeneutic arenas delineated by the concepts of “finality,” “particularity,” and “universality” of divine revelation within Islam are rich and complex, and invite deep reflection. Given the constraints of length, this chapter will selectively discuss the meanings of the key verses in the Qur’ān printed above that deal with these concepts as refracted through the perspectives of some of the most important classical exegetes in Islam. The article will then conclude by comparing and assessing these varied perspectives through time and dwell on what insights we may draw from these works and their implications for interfaith conversations among contemporary religious...

  7. Part II: Translating the Word?
    • 2.1 Translating the Qur’ān
      (pp. 59-69)

      The Qur’ān was revealed at a particular time in a particular locality and in a particular language but it states that its message was intended to be universal, for all places and times (25:1; 34:28). However, two factors have made the process of communicating the message to non-Arabs complex: first, the conviction on the part of the faithful that the text is the divine word, that God Himself is the speaker throughout; second, the fact that, in several places in the Qur’ān, it is described as being Arabic (innā anzalnāhu Qur’ānan ‘arabîyan, 12:2).¹ The significance and implications of the way...

    • 2.2 Translation and the IncarnateWord: Scripture and the Frontier of Languages
      (pp. 70-82)

      The case for Bible translation rests squarely on the primacy of divine encounter rather than on claims of cultural advantage. There was longstanding resistance to the principle of vernacular Bible translation because it was feared that would open the scripture to corruption and to unauthorized access, including access by the untutored masses. Opponents argued that already God had at His disposal numerous languages enough for the peoples of the world to make their prayers and worship to need another language, with the suggestion that the limits had been set. That seems unassailable only if you grant the premise that the...

    • 2.3 The Body of Christ: 1 Corinthians 11:23–27 and 12:12–13, 27
      (pp. 83-87)

      The two passages to be considered here have, on the face of it, very little to do with translation or with scripture. So why were they chosen? In my previous chapter in this volume, I argue that in the Christian understanding the Word of God is expressed not in the first place in scripture, but in the Incarnation, in the “body language” of Jesus Christ. What follows from this is that the sacred language of Christianity is not the Aramaic of Jesus, nor the Greek of the New Testament, but the same body language in which, as john’s Gospel puts...

    • 2.4 An Arabic Qur’ān: Qur’ān 12:1–2; 14:4; 16:103; 26:192–99; 46:12
      (pp. 88-91)

      The passages to be considered here have been selected because of their relevance to the theme that the revelation given by God in the Qur’ān is in Arabic. Here I will briefly mention some key points from these passages, some of which have already been discussed in the chapter titled “Translating the Qur’ān,” in this volume.

      All of these passages are of Meccan origin and reflect the encounter between the Prophet and the Meccan disbelievers, who rejected the message of the Qur’ān and, indeed, the very possibility that Muhammad, an Arab from among themselves, could be the bearer of a...

    • 2.5 The Divine and Human Origins of the Bible: Exodus 32:15–16; Jeremiah 1:9; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; Luke 1:1–4; 1 Corinthians 7:10–13; Mark 5:41
      (pp. 92-97)

      My aim is not to give a detailed commentary on each of the selected biblical passages, but rather, with some reference to these texts, to explore the underlying theme of the divine and human origins of the Bible. Like many other Christian theological students, in my early stages at seminary I had the experience of having my understanding of the Bible as God’s word challenged and reshaped by the questions raised by my professors. A previously unexamined notion of the Bible as having somehow descended from heaven in its present form was exposed to questions about the diversity of its...

    • 2.6 The Self-Perception and the Originality of the Qur’ān: Qur’ān 2:23–24; 3:44; 10:15; 69:38–47
      (pp. 98-104)

      The divine origin of the Qur’ān is an issue that has been questioned since God revealed his word, the Qur’ān, to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century CE. During the Prophet’s time, his opponents accused him of having authored the Qur’ān through the creative power of jinn¹, calling him a poet and a soothsayer. Many also tried to prove the human authorship of the Qur’ān by creating their own “revealed” texts similar to the Qur’ān, but from a Muslim point of view they failed to produce anything like the Qur’ān. Muslims believe that the Qur’ān is the essential miracle...

  8. Part III: Methods and Authority in Interpretation
    • 3.1 Authority in Interpretation: A Survey of the History of Christianity
      (pp. 107-114)

      In one of his Oxford University sermons, preached in 1843 at the church of St. Mary the Virgin, John Henry Newman spoke as follows:

      Thus St. Mary is our pattern of Faith, both in the reception and in the study of Divine Truth. She does not think it enough to accept, she dwells upon it; not enough to possess, she uses it; not enough to assent, she develops it; not enough to submit the Reason, she reasons upon it; not indeed reasoning first, and believing afterwards, with Zacharias, yet first believing without reasoning, next from love and reverence, reasoning after...

    • 3.2 Authority in Qur’ānic Interpretation and Interpretive Communities
      (pp. 115-123)

      Any discussion about authority in interpretation within the Islamic tradition begins with the centrality of God’s word. God’s word is not just another text but the direct speech of God (kalām Allāh). Indeed, the speech of God, addressing the Prophet, began with the word iqra’—“Recite!” (Qur’ān 96:1). God’s word guides, advises, commands, prohibits, instructs, urges, rules, and encourages believers. It is the first and foremost authority in Islam, and is represented in the Qur’ān.

      The Prophet Muhammad, the intermediary between God’s word and the first community of Muslims, is both closely connected to the revelation of God’s word and...

    • 3.3 Reading Scripture in the Light of Christ: Matthew 12:1–8; Luke 24:44–49
      (pp. 124-132)

      My colleague, David Steinmetz, wrote an essay about reading scripture called “Uncovering a Second Narrative,” in which he compares reading the New Testament to reading a mystery novel.¹ Mysteries have complex plots with disparate events and characters, at the end of which the ingenious detective convenes all the characters in one room and retells the plot, drawing unexpected connections between characters and events, explaining how all has led to a particular conclusion, until—voilà!—the truth comes out. Something like this happens in the ways Israel’s scriptures are taken up and resignified in relationship to Christ in the New Testament....

    • 3.4 Interpreting the Qur’ān: Qur’ān 3:7; 2:106; 16:101; 31:20
      (pp. 133-141)

      The passages selected for consideration here raise three issues that have been significant in the interpretation of the Qur’ān, with a great deal of discussion taking place about them in works of Islamic jurisprudence and tafsīr: the distinction between “definite” (muḥkam) and “ambiguous” (mutashābih) verses (3:7); abrogation (naskh) (2:106 and 16:101); and the distinction between “outward” (ẓāhir) and the “inward” (bāṭin) (31:20). These three issues will now be explored.

      Verse 7 speaks of two types of verses: muḥkamāt, which are readily understood and clear in themselves, and mutashābihāt, which do not have such clarity, and thus are open to more...

    • 3.5 The Use of Scripture in Generous Love
      (pp. 142-152)

      Michael Ipgrave’s essay is printed after the following selection of passages (sections 1, 3, and 7) from Generous Love: The Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue: An Anglican Theology of Inter Faith Relations, prepared by the Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns and published early in 2008.¹

      Whenever as Christians we meet with people of different faiths and beliefs, we do so in the name and the strength of the one God who is Lord of all. Addressing the pagan Athenians, the apostle declares that this God is the One in whom all human beings live,...

    • 3.6 The Use of Scripture in A Common Word
      (pp. 153-162)

      Reza Shah-Kazemi’s essay is printed after the following text, which is the final section of A Common Word, “An Open Letter and Call from Muslim Religious Leaders” addressed to Christian leaders, dated October 13, 2007.¹

      Whilst Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions—and whilst there is no minimising some of their formal differences—it is clear that the Two Greatest Commandments are an area of common ground and a link between the Qur’ān, the Torah and the New Testament. What prefaces the Two Commandments in the Torah and the New Testament, and what they arise out of, is the...

  9. Conversations in Rome
    (pp. 163-174)

    This book consists chiefly of edited versions of papers delivered at the Building Bridges seminar in Rome in May 2008. But there was naturally much more to the seminar than these papers: above all, there was conversation, and plenty of it. There were a number of plenary sessions at which the papers were discussed or the proceedings of a whole day were mulled over. Rather more time, however, was given to discussion in groups of around seven whose membership remained the same throughout the seminar. These groups provided the context for conversations that started by engaging with the selected Christian...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 175-180)

    Islam, Christianity, and Judaism share a commitment to testing their claims and practice in the light of a sacred text believed to be inspired by God. While other faiths have sacred books, the Abrahamic faiths are distinct in looking to a single narrative that unifies the texts they study. But that apparently simple correlation proves to be a lot more complex when examined closely. For Christians, even the most resolutely fundamentalist, the text is a witness to the action of God, not itself the primary act of God (though its composition is directly under the direction of God). For the...

  11. Index
    (pp. 181-190)