In my earlier post (The Resurrection) I explore the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus — particularly four key facts: 1) It is an indisputable historical fact that Jesus was executed by crucifixion, 2) The tomb where Jesus’ body was buried after his death was later found to be empty, 3) There were multiple early eyewitnesses claiming Jesus had risen from the dead and that he appeared to them, 4) These appearances were witnessed by both friend and foe alike. Concerning Fact # 1, I made reference to the fact that there have been many skeptics in the past who have tried to offer alternative explanations to Jesus’ death on the cross — but noted that ALL such claims have been thoroughly discredited. Once more, NO expert takes them seriously, so I saw no need to respond to them in that post. However, in this post I would like to explore one such claim or argument against Jesus’ death. Not because it is any more or less credible than the other discredited claims, but because this one is believed by some one and half billion Muslims around the world today.
So what is their rationale against the undisputable fact of Jesus’ death by crucifixion? It is based entirely on one passage from the Quran:
“They said in boast ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’, — but they did not kill him, 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 did not kill him; — Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself …” (Surah 4:156-158).
There are two major interpretations of this passage by Muslims. The first, and more popular view, is that someone else was made by Allah (the Muslim name for God) to look like Jesus, and the Romans crucified that person by mistake. Sometimes this person is said to be Judas, who betrayed Jesus. The other interpretation is that Allah made it appear as if Jesus died on the cross when in fact he really didn’t. Then when he was placed in a tomb, Allah healed him. In either scenario, Jesus does not die and is (according to most Muslims) later taken to Heaven by Allah. Needless to say, there are numerous problems with this argument. In this post, I’ll just briefly explore some of the major fallacies.
First, why would God deceive others? For this act did not just “deceive” the Romans, but Jesus’ family, his followers and ultimately the entire world. That Jesus’ disciples and followers claimed Jesus rose from the dead is NOT disputed among virtually all scholars across the spectrum. For instance, scholar Gerd Ludemann, a well-known atheist, concedes the following:
“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
Therefore, since it is well established historically that Jesus’ followers sincerely believed he had been raised from the dead, this passage from the Quran would make Allah (God) a deceiver — deceiving both the enemies and allies of Jesus alike. Once more, under this scenario, the deception would ultimately lead to a “false religion” with some two billion followers (Christians) around the world today. Now I ask: If Jesus did not clarify the situation then is he too not a deceiver? Plus why would Jesus/God deceive his followers knowing this “false religion” would take root? And if God deceived his first century followers, how can Muslims today be confident they too are not being deceived? So this is not a matter of what God has the power to do, but what he would do, and he would NOT deceive people in this manner.
Second, the Quran does NOT present a historical or eyewitness account of Jesus, nor his life and deeds. It is, at best, a fifth hand account. Here is why. The “original” Quran, according to Islamic tradition (hadith), was conveyed to Muhammad from the Angel Gabriel. Muhammad memorized all that was said, and conveyed this to his followers, who in turn memorized what he told them. After his death, Muhammad’s followers had begun to record this “divine word” from Heaven. However, differences emerged, and a Muslim named Uthman standardized the Quran. Meaning the Quran today is what was selected by Uthman, with any and all other variations (alternatives) destroyed. But to the Muslim faith, the Quran as “received” by Muhammad remained perfectly preserved throughout this entire process. In short, the Quran does not present a firsthand account of what happened to Jesus. Nor does it claim to. Again, it is NOT based on any accounts from anyone who saw, knew or recorded anything of those events. Moreover, it was written some six hundred years after the fact, and well over six hundred miles away from where Jesus had lived. Compare this now to the Bible. The Biblical New Testament writings have many authors, which reflect the testimony of the first generation church, which largely depended on the testimony of Jesus’ own disciples. Moreover, they are thoroughly rooted in first century Judaism. The bottom line is that unless one is a Muslim who is already committed to the Quran, no scholar would place anything it has to say about Jesus above the much earlier New Testament, which contains eyewitness testimony. The whole Muslim argument against Jesus’ crucifixion is entirely based on faith. Not that there is anything wrong with faith. I too believe in miracles, as I believe in the resurrection of Christ. So it is not implausible to argue God could have substituted somebody else on the cross at the last moment. Why? Because God is God, and nothing is beyond his power. But the fact remains: What direction does the supporting evidence point? And what seems to be the most plausible belief? In the case of the Resurrection of Jesus, there is supporting evidence as noted in my earlier post. In the case of the Muslim substitution belief, often called the “swoon theory”, there is only one’s faith in the Quran. But again, unless you are already a Muslim predisposed to believe Islamic doctrines, nobody (scholar or not) would say the Quran is a credible source on Jesus.
Finally, as I discussed in my earlier post, it is an INDISPUTABLE FACT that Jesus was executed by crucifixion and died on the cross. Not only do experts and scholars who are Christians attest to this fact, but so too do experts and scholars who are well known skeptics and/or admitted agnostics and atheist. For instance, the skeptic James Tabor has said:
“I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus’ execution by Roman crucifixion he was truly dead.”
The previously mentioned Gerd Ludemann, a professed atheist, has also acknowledged that the historical evidence for Jesus’ execution is “indisputable,” and Bart Ehrman, who is a self-described agnostic with atheist leanings, has publically stated that the death by crucifixion of Jesus is an indisputable fact. What evidence leads ALL scholars and experts across the spectrum to the conclusion that Jesus died on the cross? Mainly, that it is reported in multiple independent sources from antiquity. Besides the New Testament documents that report the crucifixion of Jesus, we also have a number of non-Christian sources that attest to this fact. For instance, the Roman historian Tacitus records that Jesus “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius.” Mara Bar-Serapion, who was pagan, corroborates that Jesus was executed. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that Pilate had “condemned (Jesus) to be crucified”. Even the Jewish Talmud reports that Jesus was “hanged” which in ancient times referred to a crucifixion. With this fact firmly established, we need have NO doubt that Jesus truly died by crucifixion. Therefore, given the choice between the Cross or the Quran: The Cross Wins! All the historical evidence, among other considerations, supports that Jesus died on the cross. It is a surety as facts can get. Of course, that is NOT the end of the story. For supporting evidence that Jesus rose from the dead see my earlier post titled: The Resurrection.
That concludes this post. Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this insightful.