Jesus’ Death on the Cross and the Quran
Christian belief is rooted in history
Christianity is rooted in God’s work in history. There is a connection between what Christians believe and what God has done in the world He created.
The Christian J. Gresham Machen wrote:
The primitive Church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also, and primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried”–that is history. “He loved me and gave Himself for me”–that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church (Christianity and Liberalism, 29).
George Eldon Ladd also pointed out the importance of history as it relates to the beliefs of Christianity:
The uniqueness and scandal of the Christian religion rests in the mediation of revelation through historical events. The Hebrew-Christian faith stands apart from the religions of its environment because it is an historical faith, whereas they were religions rooted in mythology or the cycle of nature. The God of Israel was the God of history, or the geschichtsgott, as German theologians so vividly put it. The Hebrew-Christian faith did not grow out of lofty philosophical speculation or profound mystical experiences. It arose out of the historical experiences of Israel, old and new, in which God made Himself known. This fact imparts to the Christian faith a specific content and objectivity which set it apart from others…. The Bible is not primarily a collection of the religious ideas of a series of great thinkers. It is not first of all a system of theological concepts, much less of philosophical speculations….The recital of God’s historical acts is the substance of Christian proclamation (“The Knowledge of God: The Saving Acts of God” in ed., Carl F. H. Henry, Basic Christian Doctrines [New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962], 7-13).
God makes Himself known not only in His Words but also in His works; God works in history. History matters because events that happen in history are true for everyone:
They [events pertaining to the Gospel] were true because they happened in history, and things that happen in history are not just true for direct participants, but are true for everyone (Michael Horton, “Heaven Came Down”; Modern Reformation, Nov./Dec. 1995, Vol. 4 No. 6).
The relationship between Christian belief and history is important because hundreds of millions of Muslims deny the historical event of Jesus’ death on the cross.
Hundreds of millions of Muslims deny Jesus’ death on the cross
157And because of their saying (in boast), “We killed Messiah ‘Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), the Messenger of Allah,” — but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but the resemblance of ‘Iesa (Jesus) was put over another man (and they killed that man), and those who differ therein are full of doubts. They have no (certain) knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture. For surely; they killed him not [i.e. 'Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary)]: 158But Allah raised him ['Iesa (Jesus)] up (with his body and soul) unto Himself (and he is in the heavens). And Allah is Ever All-Powerful, All-Wise. (An-Nisa 4:157-158, Muhsin Khan)1
Ibn ‘Abbas (d.68/687) a paternal cousin of Muhammad and esteemed by many Muslims as the “father of Quran commentary” and “the Ocean [of knowledge]” commented on Quran 4:157-158:
(And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger) Allah destroyed their man Tatianos [a Roman soldier]. (They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them) Allah made Tatianos look like Jesus and so they killed him instead of him; (and lo! those who disagree concerning it) concerning his killing (are in doubt thereof) in doubt about his killing; (they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture) not even conjecture; (they slew him not for certain) i.e. certainly they did not kill him. (Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas, translated by Mokrane Guezzou, http://www.altafsir.com/)
The commentator al-Baydawi (d.685/1282), a good example of classical Islamic interpretation, wrote of the crucifixion:
There is a story that a group of Jews insulted Jesus and his mother, whereupon he appealed to God against them. When God transformed those [who had insulted them] into monkeys and swine, the Jews took counsel to kill Jesus. Then God told Jesus that He would raise him up to heaven, and so Jesus said to his disciples: “Who among you will agree to take a form similar to mine and die [in my place] and be crucified and then go [straight] to paradise?” A man among them offered himself, so God changed him into a form resembling Jesus’ and he was killed and crucified.
Others say that a man pretended [to be a believer] in Jesus’ presence but then went off and denounced him, whereupon God changed the man into a form similar to that of Jesus, and that he was seized and crucified (translated in Francis E. Peters, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: The Classical Texts and Their Interpretation, vol. 1, From Covenant to Community, chap.3, no.30 [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990], 151).
Islam’s denial of Jesus’ death on the cross is a radical redefinition of history
Islam’s denial of Jesus’ death on the cross is a radical redefinition of history.2 Observation, witness, testimony, and human analysis have little or no role in learning about what happened centuries ago at Golgotha. The only thing that ultimately matters is that Muhammad claimed an angel revealed to him something about the past contrary to what was observed and recorded. This is all in spite of the fact that Muhammad came hundreds of years after the event, lived hundreds of miles away, and did not provide any evidence. Denying history has tragic consequences as can be seen in our day with those who deny the Holocaust.3
EMAILS FROM MUSLIMS ABOUT THE CRUCIFIXION:
Note: Most of the Muslims I have corresponded with have native languages other than English. In order to preserve the authenticity of dialogue I have chosen not to change my Muslim friends’ spelling, punctuation, use of capitalization, emphasis, and grammar. I’m hoping that readers will be able to look beyond outward appearances. Muslims writing to me know English far better than I will ever know their native language.
MY CHRISTIAN EXPLANATION OF THE CRUCIFIXION AND DEATH OF JESUS ON THE CROSS:
Please consider the facts behind the historical event of Jesus’ death on the cross:
The Old Testament prophets testified to Jesus’ death and burial.
Isaiah wrote almost 700 years before Jesus:
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
Jesus testified to His death on multiple occasions.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples,
“As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper,
a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.
“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.
When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.
Eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus on the cross:
- Mary Magdalene
- Mary the mother of James and Joseph
- Mary the mother of Jesus
- The disciple whom Jesus loved (John 19:26)
People who participated in the burial of Jesus’ dead body:
- Joseph of Arimathea
- Mary Magdalene
- Mary the mother of James and Joseph
Even non-Christian sources wrote that Jesus died:
- Josephus (Jewish historian born around AD 37 and died AD 100) refers to Jesus’ death (Antiquities 18.3.3).4
- Tacitus (AD 55-120), a renowned historian of ancient Rome wrote around AD 115 that Christ was “executed” by Pilate (Annals 15.44).5
The law/Torah requires that a matter be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). Therefore, the testimonies of Jesus, Old Testament prophets, Jesus’ followers, non-Christian historians, etc. is true, legal and believable compared to the testimony of Muhammad (or the Quran), which was written nearly 600 years after the event. To put it simply, the Law of Moses makes it unlawful to believe the Quran.
Muhammad’s claim that the angel Gabriel spoke to him is an historical claim.
Here is another reason why it is unlawful to believe the Quran. Muhammad’s claim that the angel Gabriel spoke to him is an HISTORICAL CLAIM. What historical evidence is there that the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad? Is there eyewitness testimony, or is Muhammad the only witness to his claim that Gabriel spoke to him? The Bible says such claims as Muhammad made need to be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Unlike Moses and Jesus, Muhammad was the only witness to what he claimed concerning the angel Gabriel. This means that believing Muhammad’s claim is a violation of God’s Law and is especially sinful because he contradicted the previously validated and lawful testimony of Moses and Jesus.
I have read that the Quran requires four witnesses when a woman is accused of adultery (Al-Maeda 4:15; Al-Noor 24:4; cf. 2:282). Of course, adultery is a serious charge, and witnesses should be required. And yet, Muhammad’s claim that the Christian Scriptures are adulterated is an even more serious claim. What testimony/witnesses did Muhammad give to support his allegation that the Christian Scriptures are adulterated?
Muhammad lacks witnesses that the angel Gabriel spoke to him. Muhammad lacks witnesses that the words he spoke are more authoritative than the Christian Scriptures. Muhammad did not and could not produce superior testimony to the historical fact of Jesus’ death on the cross and neither can you.
Even though it claims certainty, An-Nisa 4:157 is an historical claim that is far from historical certainty:
YUSUF ALI: That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
PICKTHAL: And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger—they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain.
SHAKIR: And their saying: Surely we have killed the Messiah, Isa son of Marium, the messenger of Allah; and they did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them so (like Isa) and most surely those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it; they have no knowledge respecting it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him not for sure.
From an historical point of view this claim is untrue. This claim was made hundreds of years after the event and has no historical support from the first century; none of Jesus’ followers wrote or testified that Jesus only appeared to die on the cross. The Quran does not explain who died on the cross, it does not explain whether the disciples of Jesus were deceived, and it does not explain why Allah has allowed the world to be deceived (or did Allah deceive the world?) about this for hundreds of years. It is Muslims who conjecture; Muslims who have no certain knowledge; Muslims who are full of doubts about what actually happened during the crucifixion. All Christians (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) agree that Jesus died on the cross. To be sure, Christians don’t agree about everything. There’s a lot we disagree about. But one thing Christians all agree about is the death of Jesus on the cross. Even non-Christian historians6 are in overwhelming agreement about the historicity of Jesus’ death on the cross.7
Serious problems arise when a person’s beliefs about the world don’t correspond to the real world. The story is told of a certain psychiatric patient who kept insisting that he was dead. Doctors tried and tried to persuade him that he was alive and not dead with little success. Finally, the decided to prove this by explaining to him scientifically that dead people don’t bleed, only living people. After observing observing autopsies, hearing explanations of how the circulatory system works, and reading medical textbooks, the psychiatric patient finally confessed, “All right, I guess only living people bleed.”
As soon as the patient admitted this truth, one of the doctors whipped out a pin and plunged it into the psychiatric patient’s veins. The doctors started shouting, “You’re bleeding. You’re bleeding! What does that mean?”
The psychiatric patient looked at his bleeding arm and exclaimed, “DEAD PEOPLE REALLY DO BLEED!”
In the psychiatric patient’s mind: he was DEAD. But what was in his mind didn’t at all correspond to reality.8
Islam has a similar problem. Its claim that Jesus did not die on the cross does not correspond to reality. It doesn’t correspond to history.
An honest look at the facts leads to the conclusion that the Christian Scriptures are superior to the Quran because of the superior evidence available demonstrating the death of Jesus on the cross.
I invite you to embrace Christianity as the truth and only way of salvation. Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24). Believe in Jesus, and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, and you can have certainty that you will inherit eternal life. This certainty is rooted in what God has done in the real world with respect to the death of Jesus on the cross, His burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
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(available for immediate download in PDF format; 180 pages)
- The Muhsin Khan translation of the Quran’s meaning is often distributed to Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. It is not just an interpretation of the Quran’s meaning but also a commentary on the Quranic text.
Quran 4:157 is the only verse in the Quran that refers to the crucifixion of Jesus and is the text Muslims have interpreted to mean that Jesus did not die on the cross. For a more detailed discussion of this verse and the several other passages in the Quran that speak about Jesus’ death and ascension see my chapter “History, Doctrine, and Muslim Agnosticism.” [↩]
- Some branches of Islam argue that the Quran does not deny the death of Jesus on the cross:
“Certain falasifa and some Isma?ili commentators have interpreted this passage thus: the Jews intended to destroy the person of Jesus completely; in fact, they crucified only his nasut [humanity], his lahut [divinity] remained alive; cf. L. Massignon, Le Christ dans les Évangiles selon Ghazali, in REI, 1932, 523-36, who cites texts of the Ras?ail Ikhwan al-?afa?(ed. Bombay, iv, 115), a passage of Abu ?atim al-Razi (about 934), and another of the Isma?ili Mu?ayyad Shirazi (1077). But this interpretation was not generally accepted and it may be said that there is unanimous agreement in denying the crucifixion [death of Jesus on the cross]. The denial, furthermore, is in perfect agreement with the logic of the Kur’an” (Anawati, G.C. “?Isa.”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, E. J. Brill, Leiden, CD-ROM version)
The small minority of Muslims who believe Jesus died on the cross do not interpret the meaning of Jesus’ death in terms of atonement for sin. Nor do they believe in Jesus’ bodily resurrection on the first day of the week for our justification (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). To learn more about the Shia Ismaili view see Khalil Andani, “They Killed Him Not: The Crucifixion in Shi‘a Isma‘ili Islam.” [↩]
- The following paragraphs discuss questions some have raised about the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust. They have important implications for varying details between the four Gospels which Muslims often point to when denying the historic event of Jesus’ death on the cross:
How many Jews died at the hands of the Nazis? The second major axis around which Holocaust denial turns is the number of victims. Paul Rassinier concluded in his 1978 book, Debunking the Genocide Myth…that “a minimum of 4,419,908 Jews succeeded in leaving Europe between 1931 and 1945.” Therefore, he argued, far fewer than 6 million died at the hands of the Nazis. Most Holocaust scholars, however, using reliable figures and cross-checking them with other sources, place the total between 5.1 and 6.3 million Jewish victims. And, of course, there were many millions more killed by the Nazis, including gypsies, Poles, Serbs, Czechs, Soviet civilians, mentally and physically handicapped patients, political prisoners, Soviet POWs, and the countless civilians in towns and villages throughout Europe who simply got in the way.
While estimates vary, there is independent corroboration among historians, using different methods and different source materials. Indeed, the variation adds credibility to the figure of around six million, for it would be more likely that the numbers were “cooked” if they all came out the same. The fact that they do not come out the same but are within a reasonable range of error variance gives us assurance that somewhere between the earlier estimates of five million and more recent estimates of six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Whether it is five or six million is central to the victims, but from the point of view of whether the Holocaust took place it is irrelevant. Either figure represents a large number of people. In any case, it was not several hundred thousand, or “only” one or two million, as some deniers suggest…(Michael Shermer & Alex Grobman, Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?; [University of California Press, 2000], 174). [↩]
- The text reads, “When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross…” This passage, called the Testimonium Flavianum, is disputed, and its entirety should not be accepted as original to Josephus. However, the renowned scholars John P. Meier and Joseph Klausner accept the reference to Jesus’ crucifxion as authentic. Quotes from these scholars can be found in my e-book. [↩]
- Muslims will sometimes reject the authenticity or relevance of Josephus and Tacitus. But they need to be pressed to give the historic evidence for their version of what happened. [↩]
- “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate” (Bart Ehrman, The Historical Jesus: Lecture Transcript and Course Guidebook, Part 2 of 2 [Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2000], 162). More quotes can be found in my e-book [↩]
- This is significant because Muslims believe in a concept called Itmam al-hujjah (Arabic for “completion of proof”). Itmam al-hujah is the belief that religious truth has been completely clarified by a Messenger of Allah. When it comes to the death of Jesus on the cross – Jesus, the Scriptures, and history are clear. If Muhammad was a Messenger of Allah, then he most certainly did not bring clarity or “completion of proof” by denying the historic event of Jesus’ death on the cross. Muhammad’s lack of clarity and Muslim confusion about what really took place during the crucifixion is proof that Muhammad was not a Messenger of Allah. [↩]
- This story is adapted from John Warwick Montgomery, “Death of the ‘Death of God,’” in Suicide of Christian Theology, 122. Dr. Montgomery’s point is that “if you hold unsound presuppositions with sufficient tenacity, facts will make no difference to you at all.” [↩]