Generous Reading

How do you read a text that’s controversial? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, rather, it only appeared to them. (Qur’an 4:157)”

This is a text from Islam’s holy book that many apologists use to say that Jesus was not crucified. Many Muslims do the same as you will find books about the “Cruci-fiction” out there. However, it was when I was reading a Christian book about Islam that I came to a different conclusion.

It’s not a hard and fast conclusion, but it’s one that is possible. That is that the Qur’an is not really denying the crucifixion, but it is rather answering the Jews who thought they brought it about and is saying it was really the doing of Allah. The author of the book argued that Muslims didn’t make denial of the crucifixion a claim until some time much later than the time of Muhammad.

That could be right. The point is that I don’t know enough about the Qur’an to know if that interpretation is correct or not. However, I do know that there is a right and a wrong way to read a text. If I have read the text and there can be a reasonable doubt that there could be a more generous reading of that text, I will not go with the reading that I have.

This is also a rule to follow with any text, and that includes texts that aren’t written, such as in speeches. If a case can be made for a more generous reading of a text that doesn’t present it in as negative a light as you would like, following the principle of charity, it’s good to be open to that one and not hold dogmatically to the one you have.

I did the same going through the Book of Mormon one time. When I would find something mentioned as existing here in America at the time, I would look and see if it was there. If it was found here, then I would go right on ahead. If I found evidence that that came to America at a later date, I would put it down as an item to use. After all, anachronisms are a powerful argument. For instance, it was either cement or concrete that I did find evidence of being over here. Scimitars? Not so much.

Note that this rule applies with all things being equal. It doesn’t mean the better reading is always right, but it does mean that if there is an equal probability of the two or it’s controversial and you don’t know the subject well, go with the one that is the more generous. If you don’t do that, it could be that you really want that person behind the text to be as bad as you want them to be.

I also want to stress that this isn’t a rule just for the Bible as I started out with texts that I do not think are from God in anyway whatsoever. I will happily debate that many Muslims do deny the crucifixion, which is certainly a fact, but that does not mean that the Qur’an necessarily does. If a Muslim denies the crucifixion in front of me, then I will argue against them on that point.

If you do know the subject well though and you can make a case that this is what the author of the text originally meant, then by all means make the case. This is in no way saying authors and books never say evil and/or stupid things. It’s just a general rule of thumb and it’s good for holy texts (Or claimed holy texts), political speeches, or any other text whatsoever.

This will also help your debates as someone is more apt to listen to you (Not a guarantee mind you) if they know you are really listening to them. Everyone wants to be treated fairly most of the time. If you’re a Christian, you are commanded to. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you want someone to be generous with your words, then do the same with theirs.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

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