Thursday, January 12, 2012

Do Muslims deny the Crucifixion of Jesus?

Like most Christians living outside the Middle-East and northern Africa, my knowledge of Islam is limited, yet Islam's massive influence on world history from the time it began in the Seventh Century up to today make it a subject worth looking at. The question is: where to start? My most recent interest in looking into Islam came when a blogger named David made a post regarding the Muslim view of the Crucifixion. In particular, David was addressing a verse from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, which plainly says Jesus was not really crucified, but David came upon a few scholars who say otherwise. In looking into the evidence for myself, I believe that David is incorrect, and that I believe the Koran clearly denies the Crucifixion. This matter is important for Christian apologetics for obvious reasons: the Crucifixion is one of the central aspects of the Christian faith - if it didn't happen, Christianity is a lie; if it did happen, then the Koran is wrong and thus so is Islam. The first step then is to show the Koran does in fact deny the Crucifixion. 

Everyone admits that the only mention of the Crucifixion in the Koran comes from a single passage, chapter 4, verse 157. Why only a single verse? That's a good question that I will address later. First, I think it's good to look at the verse, particularly in context, since I've found most of the people who analyze this verse tend to forget to examine the context (my highlights in red).
153. THE FOLLOWERS of the Old Testament demand of thee [O Prophet] that thou cause a revelation to be sent down to them from heaven. And an even greater thing than this did they demand of Moses when they said, "Make us see God face to face" - whereupon the thunderbolt of punishment overtook them for this their wickedness. After that, they took to worshipping the [golden] calf - and this after all evidence of the truth had come unto them! None the less, We effaced this [sin of theirs], and vouchsafed unto Moses a clear proof [of the truth],
154. raising Mount Sinai high above them in witness of their solemn pledge. And We said unto them, "Enter the gate humbly"; and We told them, "Do not break the Sabbath-law"; and We accepted from them a most solemn pledge.
155. And so, [We punished them] for the breaking of their pledge, and their refusal to acknowledge God's messages, and their slaying of prophets against all right, and their boast, "Our hearts are already full of knowledge"- nay, but God has sealed their hearts in result of their denial of the truth, and [now] they believe in but few things -;
156. and for their refusal to acknowledge the truth, and the awesome calumny which they utter against Mary,
157. and their boast, "Behold, we have slain the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, [who claimed to be] an apostle of God!" However, they did not slay him, and neither did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been] so; and, verily, those who hold conflicting views thereon are indeed confused, having no [real] knowledge thereof, and following mere conjecture. For, of a certainty, they did not slay him:
158. nay, God exalted him unto Himself - and God is indeed almighty, wise.
159. Yet there is not one of the followers of earlier revelation who does not, at the moment of his death, grasp the truth about Jesus; and on the Day of Resurrection he [himself] shall bear witness to the truth against them.
160. So, then, for the wickedness committed by those who followed the Jewish faith did We deny unto them certain of the good things of life which [aforetime] had been allowed to them; and [We did this] for their having so often turned away from the path of God,
161. and [for] their taking usury - although it had been forbidden to them, and their wrongful devouring of other people's possessions. And for those from among them who [continue to] deny the truth We have readied grievous suffering.
As I just noted, the only mention of Crucifixion (or anything similar) is verse 4:157, so a lot hangs on how one interprets this. The context is pretty clear over all: it is a historical recap of the Jews, who have a history of doing various rebellious acts. Among the various things mentioned, one of them was "boasting" that they killed Jesus the Messiah. But the Koran states that this boast is a lie: "They did not slay him, and neither did they crucify him"! The great majority of Muslims, even today, interpret this as a plain truth that Jesus was not crucified. Further, the majority and prevailing opinion is that the line "but it only seemed so to them" means the Jews thought they crucified Jesus but they were wrong, in reality someone else was crucified that looked like Jesus. Popular theories for candidates for this "substitution" include Peter (accepting martyrdom for a greater spot in heaven) and Judas, who took on a similar look as Jesus and thus "appeared" as if Jesus was on the cross. 

Because of the serious ramifications of denying the Crucifixion (for reasons I'll address in a bit), a tiny minority of Muslims (mostly modern scholars) claim Jesus was crucified and that 4:157 is being misinterpreted. David made a post about what this minority had to say and ended up agreeing with them. The problem is their alternate interpretations don't do justice to the text, even if there is a theoretical chance they are right. I will now address their primary alternate interpretations.
  • When the text says "they did not slay him," some of the minority claim this means the Jews themselves didn't do it, but that the Romans were the ones actually responsible. This is reading into the text something that isn't there, and moreover it doesn't really amount to much. Surely everyone knows it was the Romans who did it, but the Jews were the ones who demanded it. This interpretation doesn't really affect the Jewish boast because they got what they wanted. Further, this doesn't make sense in light of the line saying the Jews were given the impression that they did and why it says God took up Jesus unto himself (as if to rescue Jesus from the danger).
  • In a similar approach, some (interestingly those who are Christian apologists), say this is to be read in the sense of John 10:18, where Jesus says nobody takes His life from Him and instead He freely lays it down. Thus, the Jews didn't kill Jesus, rather He laid down His life. This is very improbable for many of the reasons mentioned above (not to mention this very issue didn't stop the Jews from killing Jesus in the Gospels). Again, the context is a historical recap and not some deep theological thought. And the idea God had to "take up" Jesus in the very next verse makes little sense if Jesus was freely laying His life down. 
  • Some say the text is saying Jesus did indeed die physically, but His "spirit" lived on. That's an 'esoteric' interpretation that doesn't fit with how the Koran presents information, which is in a matter-of-fact, plain information and history approach. The verse prior recalls the slanderous comments they made against Mary, which most notably include the slander that Jesus was an illegitimate child. 
  • A final claim is that Jesus was crucified, but not killed, and that He was rescued before death. This interpretation goes against the plain text saying they neither killed nor crucified Jesus, ruling out the very thing this theory requires. Also, if they crucified Jesus only partway, and Jesus escaped, why would they boast about their failing?
All these "alternatives" are quite weak in light of the context, plain wording of the text, and the Muslim outlook on life. The Muslims see defeat as a bad thing, a punishment from God, and conversely see victory as a sign of God's favor. For the Messiah to be crucified means God let a faithful man lose to his enemies, which is an abominable thought. For God to let Jesus be Crucified (a most humiliating event) and die would smear God's mighty and holy character, and thus this is out of the question for Muslim thought. Lastly, the fact that the Koran only speaks of the Jews who are said to believe in the Crucifixion (while Christians are charged in the Koran with other non-related errors) further supports the idea it was an abomination originating with Jews and not something Christians would actually believe as an important doctrine. 

*     *     *

Now that it's established that Islam denies the Crucifixion, the Christian has to show why the Crucifixion is at the heart of Christianity and thus a historical and theological truth that cannot be denied. The fact is, the New Testament is so full of information on the Crucifixion and Resurrection that it's hard to find a single page not at least alluding to it. The Gospels would have no conclusion, Acts would be without any direction, and Paul's Epistles would be empty. In other words, the teaching of the Crucifixion is so extensive throughout the New Testament that you cannot simply say a passage here and there was forged or tampered with, rather the entire New Testament must be rejected. But to claim the entire New Testament is forged is too big of a claim for anyone to take seriously, for no ancient New Testament mauscripts give any evidence of such massive tampering. On top of that, the Early Church Father writings go back into the 1st Century, and they all universally and strongly testify to the Crucifixion as well. In short, denying the Crucifixion is far more of an extreme and unhistorical claim than the Mormons saying ancient Jews established civilizations in America. This realization is why I believe the main reason there is a minority of Muslims (particularly modern scholars) that accept the crucifixion. 

In the end, if a Muslim is going to deny the Crucifixion - which they have to per the Koran and their theology on salvation - they're faced with choosing that over a solid historical testimony to the contrary. 


Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

The Muslims, along with the Jews, also deny he is God in the flesh. This goes along with denying the crucifixion. Christ was crucified for the sins of the world, but his death would make no sense at all unless he was wholy rightous. Only God can be wholy rightous, so Christ had to be God in the flesh. The scriptures declare that to deny Jesus is Christ come in the flesh is anti-Christ. It is no coincidence that the two religions that have the most hatred toward Christianity are Islam and Judaism, both which have institutionalized the denial of Christ's incarnation in their creeds.

Nick said...

Hi Steve,

I agree that denying Jesus is God is the most serious heresy and even a key mark of the antichrist. But I think it's easier and more straightforward to prove the Crucifixion than the Deity of Christ because the Crucifixion is so strongly a part of the historical record.

That's why I think Muslims will be caught off guard to realize that for them to deny the Crucifixion isn't like denying some other aspect of Christian teaching but rather denying the heart of Christian teaching, making Christianity a nonsense religion.

David Waltz said...

Hi Nick,

I would like to thank you for bringing to my attention this new thread. I think you have done a pretty good job in your summary, even though a number of my own assessments on this issue differ from yours. (Hope that your readers will take the time to look into the resources I provided in the thread you graciously linked to.)

With that said, I do take exception with somethinig you penned, specifically, that I am, "a fallen away Catholic (and sad to say now agnostic) named David".

Though I no longer attend mass, I have not officially requested that my name be removed from the Church rolls. And further, I AM NOT AN AGNOSTIC. I retain my belief in the God the Bible, and in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who is "God from God".

Grace and peace,


Nick said...

Hi David,

I have updated my post regarding your status.

As for the subject at hand, I do agree that it is very important for people to look at all the evidence. I am a strong advocate of that method myself. In fact, I was on the fence as I was reading your links, and it was one of your links that actually made the best case.

As I said in my post, one of the main issues I took with the alternate interpretations is that they failed to consider the context.

Jae said...

I read some verses from Koran about the Eschatological scenario and a muslim friend of mine also affirmed this, that on the Last Day (General Judgment-End of the World) where both the dead and the living from all Nations and time will rise, converge and stand the terrible judgment of God. Accordingly, the One who will come on that Day and judge all humanity is none other than Jesus himself not their prophet Muhammad!

I asked him, how can a mere mortal-Jesus (lower than Muhammad their prophet) have such power, dominion and authority to judge ALL Nations at the end of the world? Further, the job description only fits a Being that is Almighty!

My muslim friend just can't answer and he too left the converstion scratching his head.

Jae said...

Oh by the way Nick , muslim might ignore the entire NT as being a bias reference to their cause that is denial of crucifixion of Jesus Christ for the mere fact it was written by Jesus' followers.

However, adding to the early christians' testimony and the SOLID HISTORICAL FACT of a secular jewish historian named, Josephus (37 A.D.) his writings in reference to the Cruxifixion of Jesus.

Josephus mentions the crucifixion of Jesus in passing.Christian additions (marked here in brackets and italics) are removed, Quoting Josephus: Antiquities 18,Chapter 3:

"Now there was about this time JESUS, A WISE MAN, [if it be lawful to call him a man;] for HE was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher [of such men as receive the truth with pleasure,] He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. [He was the Christ.] And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned HIM TO THE CROSS, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; [for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.] And the tribe of Christians, so named from HIM, are not extinct at this day. "

In the very next paragraph Josephus recounts the crucifixion in Rome of the priests of Isis, ordered by the Emperor Tiberius himself, for their misdeeds in arranging the sexual seduction of a virtuous women.

4. About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome . . . When he had said this, he went his way. But now she began to come to the sense of the grossness of what she had done, and rent her garments, and told her husband of the horrid nature of this wicked contrivance, and prayed him not to neglect to assist her in this case. So he discovered the fact to the emperor; whereupon Tiberius inquired into the matter thoroughly by examining the priests about it, and ordered them to be crucified, as well as Ide, who was the occasion of their perdition, and who had contrived the whole matter, which was so injurious to the woman. He also demolished the temple of Isis, and gave order that her statue should be thrown into the river Tiber; while he only banished Mundus, but did no more to him, because he supposed that what crime he had committed was done out of the passion of love. And these were the circumstances which concerned the temple of Isis, and the injuries occasioned by her priests. I now return to the relation of what happened about this time to the Jews at Rome, as I formerly told you I would."


Jae said...

Josephus: Antiquities 20,Chapter 5:

"The sons of Judas the Galilean, who had led a revolt in 6 C.E. over the Roman taxation census, were crucified by the Roman procurator Tiberius Alexander (46-48 C.E.), who was the nephew of the philosopher Philo.

2. Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to Fadus; he was the son of Alexander the alabarch of Alexandria, which Alexander was a principal person among all his contemporaries, both for his family and wealth: he was also more eminent for his piety than this his son Alexander, for he did not continue in the religion of his country. Under these procurators that great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn in Egypt at a great expense, and distributed it to those that were in want, as I have related already. And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified. But now Herod, king of Chalcis, removed Joseph, the son of Camydus, from the high priesthood, and made Ananias, the son of Nebedeu, his successor. And now it was that Cumanus came as successor to Tiberius Alexander; as also that Herod, brother of Agrippa the great king, departed this life, in the eighth year of the reign of Claudius Caesar. He left behind him three sons; Aristobulus, whom he had by his first wife, with Bernicianus, and Hyrcanus, both whom he had by Bernice his brother's daughter. But Claudius Caesar bestowed his dominions on Agrippa, junior. "

Jewish War 4: Chapter 5

Josephus reports on the Jewish custom of taking down the bodies of those crucified by the Romans during the Great Revolt and burying them, if permitted, before sundown. This was in response to the Torah Mitzvah found in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: "When someone is convictged of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and yo9u hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse."

2. But the rage of the Idumeans was not satiated by these slaughters; but they now betook themselves to the city, and plundered every house, and slew every one they met; and for the other multitude, they esteemed it needless to go on with killing them, but they sought for the high priests, and the generality went with the greatest zeal against them; and as soon as they caught them they slew them, and then standing upon their dead bodies, in way of jest, upbraided Ananus with his kindness to the people, and Jesus with his speech made to them from the wall. Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun. I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city."

Anyone can google and verify the authenticity and historicity of Josephus' writings lending support to the New testament acount of the Life and Crucifixion of a man named Jesus that is called the Christ.

Alenne said...

It's a shaky claim, to say that the historicity of the Crucifixion is BEYOND denial.

Nick said...

Few things are "beyond" denial in an absolute sense, but there also comes a point where something is either plausible or not. Like I said, remove references to the crucifixion in early Church Fathers, and you're left a few pages of disorganized thoughts.

As Jae points out, even one of the most important non-Christian historians of the 1st century, Josephus, saw the crucifixion as a historical event.

De Maria said...

Nick, you asked:
Do Muslims deny the Crucifixion of Jesus?
Like most Christians living outside the Middle-East and northern Africa, my knowledge of Islam is limited, yet Islam's massive influence on world history from the time it began in the Seventh Century up to today make it a subject worth looking at. The question is: where to start?...

A long time ago, a Muslim challenged me to provide a forensic defense of the Gospels. He claimed that compared to Islam, the Gospels had no verifiable evidence of even the existence of Jesus. In fact, he, point blank stated that evidence for the truth of the Gospels would be thrown out of court!

The first thing to remember is:

There are two types of evidence which are inadmissible in a court of law. Anyone making a claim which is supported by this type of evidence is regularly thrown out of court. In other words, the court will not even consider their case.

These types of evidence are:

1. Hearsay - Evidence given by anyone other than by the person giving the testimony.

2. Copies of maliciously destroyed originals


In Mohamed's case, he says that the Angel said that he should write the Quran and that the Angel told him what to write in the Quran. Therefore, all of Mohamed's case is based on the testimony of the Angel which no one else saw and no one else heard. According to Mohamed, the Angel himself was not speaking for himself but for Allah.

If Mohamed were to appear in a court of law today here is what I imagine the interchange would sound like:

Mohammed sir, is it true that an angel appeared to you with a message for mankind?


Sir, did anyone else see this angel?


Did anyone else hear the angel?


Can you bring the angel to court that we might hear the testimony for ourselves?


Mr. Mohammed, do you expect us to believe such an extraordinary claim without any evidence? Let me try a different tact. In the Bible, Moses was given a staff with which he could produce many miracles in order to prove the Divine source of his message to Pharoah. Mr. Mohammed, do YOU have any such miraculous signs which prove that an angel gave you a message?


Mr. Mohammed, there is not enough evidence here to warrant a case. Goodbye sir.

And that is how the case would end.... Read more.


De Maria

De Maria said...

Oops! I forgot to make my point. My point being that Muslims have no grounds for denying the Crucifixion since they base this claim upon the purported revelations by the Angel Gibreel to Mohammed. And this evidence is based upon hearsay and a copy of a maliciously destroyed original.


De Maria

CD-Host said...

Here is my $.02. I'd separate does the Qu'ran teach the crucifixion from does Islam teach the crucifixion; I'd also be careful on your conflating crucifixion and death by crucifixion IMHO Islam came out of Collyridian Christianity (post on my blog about Collyridianism) a cousin of Manichaeism and teaches ideas that were common among ancient docetic Christians. And that is what the Qu'ran is talking about. In fact AFAICT when the Qu'ran speaks of Christianity it is speaking of Collyridianism not Catholicism, and that can be confusing in a modern context since Collyridianism didn't survive.

And this BTW address the whole New Testament issue. The Qu'ran seems completely unfamiliar with the New Testament. We know that Collyridians, did not use the Catholic canon at all, though they knew of its existence. The only book even commonly used by Catholics that they made use of was the Diatesseron which was common in Syriac Catholic sects but because of its popularity with heretics was being pushed aside a century before Qu'ran was written.

Regardless of the history or original intent, mainstream Islam teaches that Jesus was bodily taken into heaven like Enoch and has never died. Whether he was incapable of death, was not on the cross long enough to die, whether Allah substituted someone else ... are matters of dispute but his non death is clearly part of Islam. I agree with your article that the most common approach is this idea of substitution.

FWIW I think the docetic approach would make the most sense. We know Tatian was familiar with the 4 gospels. But he would have rejected the idea that demons, who had created matter had any real power. Man consisted of material which didn't differ from that of animals, as well as a lower soul which from God's grace through Jesus was capable of being transformed into a higher soul. The death of Jesus' body would have severed the power demons of creation had over him. That's most likely what the Collyridians asserted and the Mohammed who was preaching a rather material religion couldn't make sense of.

Nick said...


Thank you for your contributions here and on your site.


How do you separate whether the Quaran teaches the crucifixion vs Islam teaching it? As I see it, Islam in practice and general teaching denies it, but this is also based on the "exegetical" basis from the Quran denying it. If the Book denies it, we can expect Believers to do so as well. This is also where Jesus being taken to heaven comes from, unless there is an Oral Teaching that says this.

I would agree that the Christianity that the Quran has in mind is some corrupt form, given the dubious nature of it's descriptions. For example, the passage talking about 12 year old Jesus turning clay pigeons into real birds is straight out of Gnostic literature.

I also agree that Mohammed was preaching a 'down to earth' material/simple religion, which is one key point I based my article on. Thus it is unlikely he had any sort of 'sophisticated' concepts in mind.

CD-Host said...

How do you separate whether the Quaran teaches the crucifixion vs Islam teaching it?

The Qu'ran is an element of Islamic teaching a source text. Islam is an entire culture. For example I think huge sections of the bible teach a flat earth cosmology but I wouldn't say that modern Christianity teaches a flat earth cosmology. Holy books for a religion and that religion don't necessarily agree, and in this particular case I think there is a total fork with the Qu'ran teaching Collyridian ideas and modern Islam teaching ascension.

Glad you agree on the "corrupt form". I make the strong poing about Collyridianism based on his belief that the trinity is the Father, the Mother (Mary) and the Son (Jesus) which was relatively uncommon and Collyridianism was a form that taught it that happened to also be in the middle east. Your clay pigeons is also a good example I hadn't thought of.

I also agree that Mohammed was preaching a 'down to earth' material/simple religion, which is one key point I based my article on. Thus it is unlikely he had any sort of 'sophisticated' concepts in mind.

Exactly, the Qu'ran is a mess theologically. I don't think Mohammed understood the Collyridians which is why the Qu'ran is such a jumble on theology.