Jesus’ Death on the Cross and the Quran
Christian belief about Jesus’ death on the cross 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.1
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.2
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)3 4
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 [Tatianos] instead of him [Jesus]; (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. (But Allah took him up unto Himself) in heaven. (Allah was ever Mighty) in His vengeance against His enemies, (Wise) by granting triumph to his friends: He saved His Prophet and destroyed their man. (Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas, translated by Mokrane Guezzou)
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.5
Islam’s denial of Jesus’ death on the cross is a historical clam that is not historical
Islam’s denial of Jesus’ death on the cross fails to understand what history is.6
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.7
The Historical Facts of Jesus’ Death on the Cross
The Old Testament prophets testified to Jesus’ death and burial.
Isaiah wrote almost 700 years before Jesus:
Isaiah 53:7-9 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.8
Matthew 16:21 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.
Matthew 20:17-19 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!”
Matthew 26:1-2 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.”
Matthew 26:6-12 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
Non-Christian sources wrote of Jesus’ death:
- Josephus (Jewish historian born around AD 37 and died AD 100) refers to Jesus’ death (Antiquities 18.3.3)9
- Tacitus (AD 55-120), a renowned historian of ancient Rome wrote around AD 115 that Christ was “executed” by Pilate (Annals 15.44).10
Multiple eyewitnesses saw Jesus resurrected: 11
Jesus chose disciples (Apostles) to witness and testify to what He did and taught. One of Jesus’ foremost disciples was Peter. Peter was an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and His ascension into heaven. Peter preached,
The Apostle Peter saw Jesus after He was crucified.12
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’ “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:32–36)
John was another disciple Jesus chose to witness and testify to what Jesus did and taught. John testified to Jesus’ death and resurrection,
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16)
It is a legal requirement of the Mosaic law to believe the testimony about Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
The law/Torah requires that a matter be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). There were hundreds of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Therefore, the testimony of Jesus, Old Testament prophets, Jesus’ followers, non-Christian historians, etc. is true, legal and is to be believed.
The Quran and followers of the Quran are uncertain about what happened during the crucifixion and why the followers of Jesus testified to Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
Even though it claims certainty, An-Nisa 4:157 is an historical claim that is far from historical certainty:
004.157 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:-
This claim is not true. 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 historians13 are in overwhelming agreement about the historicity of Jesus’ death on the cross.14 To put it simply, the Law of Moses makes it unlawful, illegal, and therefore sinful to believe the Quran.
It is not only immoral to reject God’s works. It is irrational.
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 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.15 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. 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.16
Jesus’ death and resurrection is good news17 for all people, because we all will die. Jesus rose again from the dead and you can live forever through faith in Him,
Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
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.
You may also be interested to read:
Anawati, G.C., "Isa.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, (Leiden, E.J. Brill 1986-2004).
Ayoub, M. M., "Toward an Islamic Christology, II: The Death of Jesus, Reality or Delusion?” The Muslim World, 70: 91–121.
Bauckham, Richard, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony.
__________, The Gospels as Historical Biography.
Brown, Raymond, “Imaginative Rewriting that Nullifies the Crucifixion.” In The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 1092-1096.
Craig, William Lane, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann (IVP Academic, 2000).
Crossan, John Dominic, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993).
________________, Who Killed Jesus?: exposing the roots of anti-semitism in the Gospel story of the death of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).
Dickson, John, "A Spectator’s Guide to Crucifixion.”
Din, Muhammad, "The Crucifixion in the Koran: The Moslem Point of View.” The Muslim World, 14:23-29.
Edwards, William D., MD; Wesley J. Gabel, M.Div.; Floyd E. Hosmer, MS, AMI; “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association 21 March 1986; Volume 255, 1463.
Gairdner, William Henry Temple, The Eucharist as Historical Evidence (Cairo: The Nile Mission Press, 1910).
Habermas, Gary and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel Publications, 2004).
Habermas, Gary, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MI: College Press, 1996).
Hengel, Martin, The Gospels as History
Islamic View of Jesus’ Death, Wikipedia
Judge, Edwin, History and Testimony
__________, How Christianity Changed the Writing of History
Licona, Mike, The Death of Jesus & the Defeat of Islam
Lawson, Todd, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an: A Study in the History of Muslim Thought (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2009).
al-Qayrawani, Faris, Was Christ Really Crucified? (Villach, Austria: Light of Life, 1994).
Robinson, Neal, Christ in Islam and Christianity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991).
Robinson, Neal, “Crucifixion”, in: Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Georgetown University, Washington DC.
Sanders, E.P. The Historical Figure of Jesus (London: Allen Lane Penguin Press, 1993).
Schirrmacher, Christine. The Crucifixion of Jesus in View of Muslim Theology.Siddiqui, Muzammil. What happened on the day of crucifixion?; World Fatwa Management and Research Institute (INFAD); Islamic Science University of Malaysia.
Smith, Jay. Did Jesus Die on the Cross?Stewart, Robert B. (editor), The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan And N.T. Wright in Dialogue (Fortress Press, 2006). Warfield, Benjamin, “The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Fact.” Originally published in The Journal of Christian Philosophy, vol. III., 1884, pp. 305-318. Wenham, John, Easter Enigma: Do the Resurrection Stories Contradict One Another? (Cambridge University Press, 1993). Who was Jesus? Did He Rise from the Dead?: A Muslim-Christian Debate between John Warwick Montgomery and Shabir Ally held in London, England on October 17, 2003.
Zwemer, Samuel, The Glory of the Cross, (London: Marshall, Organ & Scott, 1928).
- Christianity and Liberalism, 25,26
- Faith (including secular assumptions about the impossibility of miracles!) does not establish the truth or falsehood of historical events. Rather, the Hebrew-Christian faith "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” (George Eldon Ladd). One of Islam’s major deviations from the Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Christianity is that Islam is unhitched from God’s work in history. By this I mean that Islam rests entirely on the recitation and life of a single man and Muhammad’s claims to what happened centuries before him. The significance of this fatal aberration cannot be overemphasized. Some Muslims have tried–unsuccessfully–to resurrect Islam from this fatal flaw by claiming the corruption of previous revelation. The reality is that Islam’s dependence on the recitation of a single man is novel and a corruption of Abrahamic religion.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Qur’an not only denies history. It also invents history. Qur’an 7:172 asserts that long ago all our souls were called out of the loins of Adam and asked by God, “Am I not your Lord?” and every soul covenanted with the response, “Yes! We testify.” According to the Qur’an, the Day of Alastu is one of the most important events in the “history” of humanity. This covenant is foundational for Islamic theology, including Unitarian monotheism (Tawhid). However, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus never taught about the covenant in Qur’an 7:172. None of the other true biblical prophets mention it. This is proof that the message Muhammad brought was different from the true prophets sent before him. To learn more about this fictitious “Day” see “The Day of Alastu.”
- Some branches of Islam argue that the Quran does not deny the death of Jesus on the cross: “Certain falasifa and some Ismaili 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 Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa (ed. Bombay, iv, 115), a passage of Abu Hatim al-Razi (about 934), and another of the Ismaili 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.”
- It has been my experience that Muslims mistakenly think that the Christian gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are related to the Quranic Injeel (cf. Qur’an 5:46-47; 57:27). If Injeel refers to a holy book sent from heaven to Jesus which Jesus gave His followers, then the Christian gospels are not related to the Quranic Injeel. No such book (Injeel) was ever given to Jesus or His followers. The New Testament was revealed and written after Jesus ascended to heaven. To learn more see, “What every Muslim should know about the Bible.”
- 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’ crucifixion as authentic.
- Muslims sometimes reject the authenticity or relevance of Josephus and Tacitus. But are they able to give the historic evidence for their version of what happened?
- ‘Resurrection’—the word used in the Bible for what happened to Jesus after He was crucified, died, and was buried—refers to the supernatural event of death being undone. It refers to the continuation of Jesus’ same physical body and soul in the process of life, death, and a new glorified life after death. What happened to Jesus after He died on the cross and was buried—‘resurrection’—was a miraculous work of God. ‘Resurrection’ will happen to all people on the Final Day of Judgment, but only those who have been saved from their sin through the blood of Jesus will be glorified and live in the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 20:11-22:21).
Non-Christians–scholars who do not believe in Jesus’ miracles or His virgin birth–who specialize in biblical studies are increasingly coming to the conclusion,
“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”(Gerd Lüdemann, "What Really Happened to Jesus”, p.80.)Bart Ehrman, an agnostic professor wrote,
“Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some of the disciples claimed this…Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew at least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event.”According to Gary Habermas, there has been an increasing trend of scholarly research that is coming to similar conclusions as Gerd Lüdemann and Bart Ehrman. To learn more, see Gary Habermas’ survey of scholarly publications, Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are the Critical Scholars Saying?
- “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).
- 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.”
- Michael Horton, "Heaven Came Down”; Modern Reformation, Nov./Dec. 1995, Vol. 4 No. 6
- The Qur’an speaks about “good news” (Arabic bushrā), but the Qur’an’s "good news” denies the good news proclaimed in the Christian gospels—and the Christian gospels should never be confused with the Quranic Injeel (see "What Every Christian Should Know About the Qur’an”).
The good news Jesus preached (Greek: euangelizō) and His disciples wrote in the New Testament is about Who Jesus is and what He has accomplished. Christian theologians refer to this as the person and work of Jesus Christ. The person and work of Jesus Christ is the “good news.”
Jesus is both Messenger and Message. The good news is about Jesus because He is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law and prophecy, died on the cross for sin, was buried, rose again from the dead, now reigns as King from God’s right hand, and will return to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus not only announced the resurrection. He raised the dead and He is the resurrection and the life,
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,26and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus not only announced peace. Jesus established peace between God and men because He is the Prince of Peace,
6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Jesus not only preached forgiveness of sin. He forgives sin and died for sin. The Apostle Peter preached,
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul wrote about forgiveness of sin through Jesus’ death on the cross,
7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
The person and work of Jesus Christ is the “good news” Christians put their faith and trust in,