The Crucifixion and the Qur’an

The Quran makes a very interesting claim:

‘God has sealed them [the Jews] in their disbelief, so they believe only a little – and because they disbelieved and uttered a terrible slander against Mary, and said, ‘We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him – God raised him up to Himself. God is almighty and wise.’

Surat An-Nisā’ 4:155-157. Translation by Abdel Haleem

Is this claim at all plausible from a historical perspective? Was Jesus miraculously saved from crucifixion by God? Why should mankind pay any attention to what the Quran claims anyway? The distinguished Christian philosopher and believer in the crucifixion Rev Professor John Hick, was honest enough to admit,

 ‘Historically it is very difficult to dispute the qur’anic verse since presumably it would not be possible for observers at the time to tell the difference between Jesus being crucified and his only appearing to be crucified – unless what is suggested is that someone else was crucified in his place.’

Religious Pluralism and Islam, Lecture delivered to the Institute for Islamic Culture and Thought, Tehran, February 2005.

(The disputed historical question of the crucifixion of Jesus is really a very minor issue for Muslims as Jesus did not go around Galilee preaching that forgiveness of sins was made possible through his death but instead through simple repentance to God – without a mediator – which is what Islam teaches too, see Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) and passim).

So why do Western historians not use the Quranic data in their research into the historical Jesus?

There is the problem of miracles. Bart Ehrman writes apropos the resurrection of Jesus,

“But that is not why historians cannot show that miracles [including the miraculous deliverance of Jesus from crucifixion?], including the resurrection, happened. The reason instead has to do with the limits of historical knowledge. There cannot be historical evidence for a miracle. To understand why, we need to consider how historians engage in their craft. Historians work differently from the way natural scientists work. Scientists do repeated experimentation to demonstrate how things happen, changing one variable at a time. If the same experiment produces the same result time after time, you can establish a level of predictive probability: the same result will occur the next time you do the experiment….”

Ehrman continues,

“Historians work differently. Historians are not trying to show what does or will happen, but what has happened. And with history, the experiment can never be repeated. Once something has happened, it is over and done with…..”

“Did Lincoln write the Gettysburg address on an envelope? Did Jefferson have a long-term love affair with one of his slaves? …..Make up your own questions: there are billions.. There is nothing inherently improbable about any of these events; the question is whether they happened or not. Some are more probable than others. Historians more or less rank past events on the basis of the relative probability that they occurred. All that historians can do is show what probably happened in the past.”

“That is the problem inherent in miracles. Miracles, by our very definition of the term, are virtually impossible events… their very nature, (they) are always the least probable explanation for what happened. This is true whether you are a believer or not. Of the six billion people in the world, not one of them can walk on top of lukewarm water filling a swimming pool. What would be the chances of any one person being able to do that? Less than one in six billion. Much less.”

“….historians cannot establish that miracles have ever happened. This is true of the miracles of Mohammed, Hanina ben Dosa, Apollonius of Tyana – and Jesus.”

“But what about the resurrection? I’m not saying that it didn’t happen. Some people believe it did, some believe it didn’t. But if you do believe it, it is not as a historian, even if you happen to be a professional historian, but as a believer. There can be no historical evidence for the resurrection because of the nature of historical evidence.”

Ehrman’s comments about historical method (in reality Western post-Enlightenment secular historiography) and the resurrection apply with equal force to the Quranic claim,

‘They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them’.

Why should mankind pay any attention to what the Quran claims anyway? The Bible does not claim to be a revelation from Almighty God. Some parts of the Bible even deny that they are from God at all, for example, ‘To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer…’ from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 7:12. Here Paul carefully distinguishes between ‘the Lord’s’ teaching and his own opinion which is by definition not revelation from Almighty God.

In contrast the Quran actually claims to be a Revelation from Almighty God,

‘Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction’ Surah 4:82.

If there is a God then it is very likely indeed that he would wish to reveal His Will to guide us in the path most pleasing to Him. The Quran is one of very few extant books to claim a Divine origin. Therefore it would be sensible and wise to ponder the Quranic message – as it indeed invites readers to do.

Consider the Quran’s claims about itself…

‘He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:” and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.’ Surat 3:7

(The above is an extract from my book Jesus as Western Scholars See Him: A Resource for Muslim Dawah Carriers, page 82).


Recommended Reading: 

‘The Crucifixion and the Qur’an: A Study in the History of Muslim Thought’

‘According to the majority of modern Muslims and Christians, the Qur’an denies the crucifixion of Jesus, and with it, one of the most sacred beliefs of Christianity. However, it is only mentioned in one verse – “They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, rather, it only appeared so to them” – and contrary to popular belief, its translation has been the subject of fierce debate among Muslims for centuries.

This the first book devoted to the issue, delving deeply into largely ignored Arabic sources, which suggest the the origins of the conventional translation may lie within the Christian Church. Arranged along historical lines, and covering various Muslim schools of thought, from Sunni to Sufi, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an unravels the crucial dispute that separates the World’s two principal faiths.’


Categories: Bible, Gospels, Islam, Jesus, Qur'an, Recommended reading

29 replies

  1. “On the Day of Resurrection, God will judge between you regarding your differences.
    Are you [Prophet] not aware that God knows all that is in the heavens and earth? All this is written in a Record; this is easy for God.” QT.

  2. I never cease wondering why you have decided not to publish the book. After reading it, I could not help feeling that by concealing from the public arena, you are depriving a lot of people in the apologetics community of the insights therein. I am of course not a lone wolf. A friend who got the opportunity of reading it from my system said he marvelled not only at the simplicity of the arguments but also at the way they are presented and the logic with which you drive them home. Although, I do think that your engagement with dissident views is not enough and leave a lot of room for improvement, your arguments provide a strong foundation for your views on Jesus. In my view, it is cruel to tease us with excerpts. Publish the whole thing.

    • Thank you for your comments and feedback.

      Could you expand a little as to what you mean by this –

      ‘I do think that your engagement with dissident views is not enough and leave a lot of room for improvement’.

  3. (The disputed historical question of the crucifixion of Jesus is really a very minor issue for Muslims as Jesus did not go around Galilee preaching that forgiveness of sins was made possible through his death but instead through simple repentance to God – without a mediator – which is what Islam teaches too, see Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) and passim).

    26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

    Matthew 26:26-28
    my emphasis in embolding
    See also Mark 14:25 and Luke 22:19-22 also.

    just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
    Matthew 20:28 (and Mark 10:45 also)

    • Luke disagrees. He omits these verses. For him Jesus did not die as a sin offering/sacrifice. Repentance to God only thing necessary.

      • Luke even shows that some people can be righteous before God, which is agianst the religion of Paul.
        “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” Luke 1:6

      • [I have been very busy of late, but wanted to drop a quick line in this discussion. I hope to return to other correspondences on the blog latter.]

        I would submit that we should be careful about declaring that Luke disagreed.

        As we have (admittedly briefly) discussed before, while there is some debate about whether 22:20 is properly part of the Gospel of Luke, the fact that it continues to appear in the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland platform is a pretty clear indication that the question is not a settled one within academia. Moreover, it is a widely accepted (though not a universal) position that Luke and Acts have the same author, thus it is worth noting how both Luke 22 and Acts 8 apply parts of Isaiah 53 to Jesus (it becomes hard to accuse the author of rejecting the belief that Jesus suffered for the sins of others if the author applied Isaiah 53 to Jesus).

        Finally, the above aside, there is a methodological problem in arguing that if an author does not include content, it means the author therefore disagrees with that content. Nearly three years ago, I tried to convey this via an analogy which compared surat al-Hijr 15:28-35 (in particular the 31st verse) to sura Sad 38:71-78 (in particular the 74th verse) [see here and here]. Admittedly, it can at times be difficult to get a point across on Twitter, so I will attempt to elucidate here what I was attempting to convey there.

        [Now, as a disclaimer, this is not intended as an attack on the Qur’an, but rather as an attempted invitation to a clearer consistency in methodology/]

        Both surat al-Hijr and surah Sad (among other suwar) recount the story of God and Iblis conversing after the angels were commanded to prostrate towards the newly created Adam. Interestingly, while surah Sad explicitly calls Iblis a “kafir” (“kana min al-kafirin“), the text in surat al-Hijr omits that accusation. So, with the methodology of your approach in mind, I wish to ask this (admittedly rhetorical) question: while the author of surah Sad believed Iblis was a kafir, did the author of surat al-Hijr also believe Iblis was a kafir? If you answer that the two suratayn in question have the same single author, one (again, with the relevant methodology in mind) might object, “but they had different positions on whether Iblis was a kafir.” One might ask (again, rhetorically), “how can surah Sad and surat al-Hijr have the same author if the author the former believed Iblis was a kafir, while the author of the latter rejected that view?”

        The point of the analogy and thought experiment is to reach this point: if you adopt the position that it is possible for an author to omit a statement without rejecting that statement, then this would undermine the relevant approach to Luke.

      • No, Luke bases his gospel on the teaching of Jesus about repentance, on the atonement of the cross and the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

        Luke 24:25-27
        Luke 24:44-49

        Luke 22:19-20

        Just because Luke does not repeat the teaching in Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28, does not mean that he somehow “deleted” it or did not teach the concept somewhere else.

        The passages in Luke 22 and 24 prove that you are wrong.

  4. Do you agree with Todd Lawson’s main point / main thesis?

    That Jesus really was crucified and died on the cross, and that Surah 4:157 is only saying “the Jews” did not kill him; and that Surah 2:145 and 3:169 are saying “don’t think of Jesus as dead, but alive, since all martyrs are alive with God”, etc. (along with the plain reading of Surah 3:55; 5:117; 19:33 – all three seem to say that Jesus did die.

    Lawson’s main point is saying that Surah 2:154 and 3:169 interpret Surah 4:157. (and save the Qur’an from being a big contradiction to history)

    Surah 2:154 sheds some important light on the issue at hand:

    “Do not say that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware.” (Al-Qur’an, Ahmed Ali trans., p. 30 – see also 3:169.)

    Islamic scholar, Dr. Mahmoud M. Ayoub wrote:

    The Quran…does not deny the death of Christ. Rather it challenges human beings who in their folly have deluded themselves into believing that they would vanquish the divine Word, Jesus the messenger of God. The death of Christ is asserted several times and in various contexts, see for example S. 3:55; 5:117; 19:33. (“Towards an Islamic Christology II”, The Muslim World, Vol. LXX, April 1980, #2, p. 106.)

  5. Applying Occam’s razor would lead one to the conclusion that Jesus was really crucified but that he was not given a decent burial. We have great evidence that the earliest Christian belief was that Jesus was raised from the dead and given a spiritual body. Furthermore, the earliest evidence of a tradition claiming that Jesus wasn’t crucified dates from the middle of the second century, many decades after the gospel of Mark.

    Also, I would suggest that you provide Bart Ehrman’s full view on this: that it can be regarded a historical fact that Jesus was crucified by Pilate at the time of Passover. It seems to me like you’re quote mining.

    • secular historians can only deal in historical probabilities, not certain facts. Ehrman admits this. However muslims have certain knowledge derived from the Lord of history: God himself.

      • I think you know very well that a fact is defined in science, history and law as something that is true beyond any reasonable doubt. In Bart’s view the crucifixion meets such a definition.

      • I can quote him as stating that historical statements are probabilistic rather than absolutely certain. And God knows best. Are you an atheist?

  6. Are historical statements found in islamic scriptures also probabilistic?

    • No. God’s speech is without error and is by definition certain in its truth.

      • “The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans is one of the most secure facts we have about his life.” – Bart Ehrman

        Also how do you show with absolute certainty that the Qur’an came from God? It contains very little in the way biographical details and in places it is highly unimpressive from a literary standpoint.

      • I know the truth when I see it.

      • Right… So you know that Qur’an came from God because… well.. it just did?

      • Isaac Muslims view the saving of Jesus from the cross as a miracle. Ehrman says that the crucifixion happaned because he denies supernatural acts just like he denies the resurrection because that too is a supernatural act. You are cluching at straws here.

      • Atlas,

        The problem for Muslims, and anyone who thinks that the Bible is inerrant, is that we don’t have evidence of anyone making this claim prior to Christian gnosticism of the second century (many decades after the time of the gospel of Mark). The earliest Christians claimed that Christ was crucified but that he was still the Messiah. Where do we have evidence of this? From the 7 Pauline epistles. Wherein Paul clearly talks about his meeting with some of the apostles, including Jesus’s own brother James. If they disagreed fundamentally on whether Jesus was crucified surely we would see evidence of this. And furthermore, Paul even tells us that it was claimed that Jesus made appearances to his apostles after his crucifixion.

  7. And furthermore, it is funny that Muslims would use the Gnostic group of Basiledes as denying Jesus died on the cross, because that view is based on the fact that they did not think Jesus was human at all – Basiledes and those like him (Docetism and other Gnostics) did not believe Jesus died on the cross because they did not believe He was physical or human at all; He only appeared to be human/have a physical body. they believed He was a ghost /spirit and Deity, which is a totally inconsistent view for Muslims to grab onto as somehow as valid Christian view from the 2nd century, since Muslims believe in the full humanity and physicality of Jesus as a man.

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