One of the consistent argument made by Muslims is that the New Testament was changed somewhere between the time of Christ and the time of Muhammad. Their central contention about Jesus is that he was a prophet, who did not claim to be God and was not crucified, both are stated directly in the Quran and are expanded on in other sources. The idea that the gospels were changed is one of the central arguments underlying these beliefs.
But has the New Testament been changed, or more precisely is there evidence that the Bible has been changed in essential doctrines? Afterall, if we read a modern translation, there are footnotes indicating later changes to the manuscripts.
There are variations in manuscripts, this is widely known to be true. But there are no indications of a conspiracy to change the Bible. We know this because the Bible is the best attested work from the ancient world. There are more than 5000 Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament, 8000 in Latin, and thousands of other early translations known as “versions.” Additionally, the earliest Biblical manuscripts that we have collated come from the second century – within 100 to 150 years of the books authorship. By comparison, the next best attested work in the ancient world, the Illiad, is found in 500 manuscripts and the oldest manuscript is about 1000 years after the book was initially authored. No one argues that we don’t know the content of the Illiad. More to the point, we have manuscripts of the Bible that go back well before Muhammad’s time.
Gordon Fee, in one of the most erudite articles on New Testament Textual Criticism “P66, P75, Origin and the Myth of an Early Alexandrian Recesension” proved beyond any reasonable doubt that while changes occur, the close relationship between the early Alexandrian Manuscripts and the earlier papyri demonstrate that there was no conspiracy by the early Church to change Christian dogma as Muslim’s assert.
While there are Textual problems with the New Testament, arguing for changes in Christian doctrine is the result of a conspiracy theory when we take the New Testament as a whole.