By Keith Thompson
Positive Case Jesus died by Crucifixion
In Koran 4:157 Muhammad denied the historical event of Jesus’ crucifixion. Muslims today vehemently deny this event actually happened in history because of this one Koranic verse written 600 years later.
They do not care that the consensus of scholars who professionally study this issue affirm Jesus died by crucifixion. They are convinced Jesus either survived crucifixion (the swoon theory), or that he was taken up to heaven at the last minute with someone who looked like him being put on the cross in his place.
Demonstrably Authentic Sayings of Jesus
However, the most powerful rebuttal to the Islamic denial of Jesus’ death by crucifixion is to note there are four (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 14:32-41; Luke 22:15-20) indisputable sayings of Jesus which meet the criteria of authenticity where Jesus predicts his own death by crucifixion. These refute both the Muslim idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion, and that someone went on the cross in Jesus’ place. We will cover three of them.
In Mark 8:31 Jesus says he, the Son of man, must be rejected, killed and then rise from the dead. Now, in the immediate context (i.e., Mark 8:27-33) Jesus rebukes one of his leading apostles, Peter, and calls him Satan for defying what was to take place. This is an embarrassing feature about Peter later Christians would not invent. Thus, we know this text is authentic because it meets the criterion of embarrassment. Moreover, Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man” in this text is dissimilar to how later Christians identified Jesus which shows they didn’t invent Jesus’ statements here. Thus, the text also meets the criterion of dissimilarity. Also, there are Semitisms or Semitic elements in the text and in the parallel texts in Matthew 16:21-23 and Luke 9:22 (Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, IVP Academic, 2010], p. 285) showing Jesus’ statement truly does originate in a Palestinian, Jewish environment.
The Last Supper texts where Jesus tells his disciples that his body and blood were going to be broken and poured for them are supported by primitive tradition. They’re preserved in the pre-Pauline tradition in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Luke 22:15-20 and independently in Mark 14:22-24. We know this because 1 Corinthians 11:25 and Luke 22:20 are nearly word-for-word in the Greek. Thus, Luke and Paul drew from a common earlier tradition. Moreover, H. F. Bayer notes there are semitisms and non-Lukan peculiarities in the Lukan text indicating the saying is authentic (H. F. Bayer, Jesus’ Predictions of Vindication and Resurrection, [Mohr, 1986], p. 36). So this saying of Jesus meets the criteria of early attestation, multiple attestation, semitisms and peculiarity of words indicating the saying came from the historical Jesus.
In Luke 9:44 Jesus predicts his death and says, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” The phrase mellei paradidosthai (or “is about to be delivered”) points to an underlying Aramaic participle, and the phrase eis cheiras (or “into the hands”) is a non-Greek expression representing the original Aramaic word Lide. When translated into Aramaic the phrase shows a poetic paronomasia or word play indicating it came from Jesus (Ben Witherington III, The Christology of Jesus, [Augsburg Press, 1990], p. 250). The saying also therefore meets the criteria of earliness and dissimilarity since it uses the title “Son of Man” of Jesus as well.
Therefore, there is no question the historical Jesus predicted his own death by crucifixion according to the first century evidence. This shows Muhammad was wrong and deceived to mislead people on the issue.
Early “Q” Evidence
“Q” is short for quelie which is the German word for “source.” Both Matthew and Luke utilized this source when not using Mark. In this early "Q" material they used there is a saying of Jesus where he anticipates his death by crucifixion.
The relevant saying is found in Matthew 10:38, 16:24 and Luke 9:23. The statement reads, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This saying shows Jesus was aware of his imminent death by crucifixion and taking up of his cross which preceded it.
Commenting on this saying, the world class exegete R. T. France observes,
“It was not only the most cruel form of execution then in use, but it also carried the stigma of social disgrace when applied to a free person. . . . That is the death Jesus holds out before any ‘worthy’ disciple: a savage death and public disgrace. Jesus himself will literally go through that experience, and he offers his followers the prospect of the same” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, ed. Joel B. Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007], pp. 410, 411).
Principle of Embarrassment in Synoptic Passion Material
Another proof is the gospels mention Jesus’ weakened state and request for the cup to pass him (Matthew 26:39; Luke 23:26). This is not how fictitious, Jewish accounts of martyrs were at the time of Christ. Instead such martyrs were presented as extremely brave and strong as they endured their torture and execution (2 Maccabees 7; 4 Maccabees 6:1-30; y. Ber. 14b; b. Abod. Zar. 18a.) The fact the gospels do not follow this pattern but instead admit embarrassing features about Christ’s true incarnational humanness during his crucifixion helps show these accounts are genuine. They meet the principle of embarrassment and plausibility historians look for.
Also, in Mark 14:43-46 Jesus' inner-circle of disciples initially abandon Him and in Mark 14:66-72 Peter denies association with Him. These events surround Jesus’ arrest and death by crucifixion as reported a little later in the same gospel. Scholars note they meet the criteria of embarrassment later Christians would not invent about the disciples. Therefore, these events, and Jesus’ death by crucifixion they are connected with, must be authentic and historical since these events can’t stand alone without the crucifixion.
With regards to the early apostolic speeches recorded for us in the book of Acts which mention Jesus’ death by crucifixion, New Testament scholar Graham Stanton notes semitic material is behind them (Graham Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, [Cambridge University Press, 1974], p. 70). Non-Christian Jewish historian of ancient Judaism and Christianity Jacob Neusner observes certain Acts speeches are awkward in their contexts or attached to their contexts only by artificial links thus showing evidence of not being deliberately contrived by Luke. He concludes his study noting “Luke started with material of a primitive nature, some of it at least with roots back in the Aramaic stage of the tradition. . . . Acts arose out of the need to preserve and make sense of certain basic elements of traditional material; they were not pasted, so to speak, afterwards, but were of the very essence of the venture” (Jacob Neusner, Christianity, Judaism and other Greco-Roman Cults, [Wipf & Stock, 1975], pp. 213, 223, 224). Based on his studies the non-Christian Jewish scholar Geza Vermas similarly concluded, “The ideas attributed to the beginning of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem and Judea, chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles, have every probability of mirroring in substance the earliest thoughts of the first Jewish-Christian communities of Palestine” (Geza Vermes, The Resurrection, [Doubleday, 2008], p. 112).
At this time in history there was an expectation for historians who reproduced speeches to be accurate. Polybius tells us historians should only report speeches that actually occurred (Polybius, Histories, 2.56). That Luke conformed to this standard and did not intend to write entertainment or purposeful error, Bart Ehrman was forced to admit, “Luke meant to write a history of early Christianity, not a novel. Indeed, all of the ancient Christian authors who refer to the book appear to have understood it in this way” (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament, [Oxford University Press, 2008], p. 143, box 10.1). Thus, exegetical historian Samual Byrskog notes, “the consensus, it seems, has now moved away from U. Wilckens’ insistence on the strongly redactional character of most of them [i.e., Acts speeches] and acknowledges the author’s thorough dependence on earlier material” (Samuel Byrskog, Story as History, [Brill, 2002], p. 284).
Thus, there is good reason to affirm these early Acts speeches which mention Jesus’ death for sins and resurrection are reliable and reflective of the beliefs of the earliest Christians. This is because Jesus died on the cross and Muhammad was wrong.
There is an ancient pre-Pauline Christian Hymn found in Philippians 2:6-11. In this early hymn in v. 8 we read, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Moises Silva argues this is an earlier poetic Christian hymn Paul borrowed based on “rhythm, parallelisms, lexical links, and other features” (Moises Silva, Philippians, eds. Robert Yarborough, Robert H. Stein, [Baker Academic, 2005], p. 93). Philippians was written between the mid 50’s to early 60’s (D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, [Zondervan, 2005], p. 507). Thus, prior to this time, Christians were teaching Jesus died on the cross in hymns that spread across the Christian communities. How does one explain this if Jesus didn’t die on the cross? According to Muhammad Asad, as we will later prove, the Koran doesn’t even teach someone was put on the cross in Jesus’ place. So that idea can’t be used to explain the origin of belief in Jesus’ death among the primitive Christians.
There is another ancient pre-Pauline Christian Hymn found in Colossians 1:15-20. In this early hymn in v. 20 we read, “through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Peter O’Brien argues this is an earlier poetic hymn Paul borrowed based on “the presence of introductory relative clauses, the positioning of words in such a way that lines and strophes may be arranged, chiasmus and inclusion, and unusual terms (which either do not appear elsewhere in the Pauline corpus or are used with a different meaning)” (Peter O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, Word Biblical Commentary, [Thomas Nelson, 2000], p. 33). Colossians was written between the late 50’s or early 60’s (D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, [Zondervan, 2005], p. 522). Thus, prior to this time, Christians were teaching Jesus died on the cross in hymns that spread across the Christian communities. Again, how does one explain this if Jesus didn’t die on the cross in light of, as we will prove later, the Koran not even teaching someone was substituted for Jesus on the cross?
Pre-Pauline Oral Formulation in Romans 1:3-4
Romans 1:3-4 is a pre-Pauline oral formulation Paul borrowed from the early Jerusalem Church. In this text we read, “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4). Thus, the text affirms Jesus died and then rose.
This, according to most scholars, is an early oral formulation Paul borrowed which goes back to the primitive Jerusalem Church. We know this because in it there are participle constructions, parallelisms of two clauses, utilization of untypical Pauline words, and theological themes that are uncommon in Paul, like the reference to Jesus’ Davidic sonship, etc (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, ed. Moises Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 1998], pp. 39-40).
Paul wrote Romans around A.D. 57 (D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, [Zondervan, 2005], p. 394). Thus, prior to this Christians were teaching Jesus died and rose in oral formulations dating back to the primitive Jerusalem Church.
The 1 Corinthians 15 Apostles Creed
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul provides an ancient apostolic creed which is dated by scholars to very shortly to the end of Jesus’ life in the 30’s. And lo and behold, in this creed, which again does not originate with Paul, but with the most primitive Christians, Christ is said to have died for our sins and risen from the dead (vv. 3-4).
We know this is an earlier creed because in v. 3 Paul explains how he received and passed this creed using the technical rabbinic terms denoting passing of earlier oral tradition such as “delivered” (paredōka) and “parelabon” (received). Plus, this creed contains non-Pauline traits like using the phrase “for our sins” when Paul prefers the word “sin” itself, and the phrase “according to the scriptures” which is absent from Paul’s writings. Instead he prefers “it is written.”
While visiting Peter and James in Jerusalem in A.D. 35, five years after Jesus’ death, Paul said in Galatians 1:18 that he “went up to Jerusalem to historēsai Peter and remained with him for fifteen days.” The word historēsai means “gain a historical account.” This explains where Paul got this 1 Corinthians 15 creed about Jesus’ death and resurrection. He got it from Peter and James five years after Jesus’ death. This is all the more proven when we take heed to F. F. Bruce’s insightful remarks, “In that list two individuals are mentioned by name as having seen the risen Christ, and two only: ‘he appeared Cephas’ and ‘he appeared to James’ (1 Corinthians 15:5, 7). It is no mere coincidence that there should be the only two apostles whom Paul claims to have seen during his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion [in Gal 1:19]. . . . It was almost certainly during these fifteen days in Jerusalem that Paul received this outline” (F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, [Paternoster Press, 1977], pp. 85-86).
Even radical liberal and unbelieving critical scholars affirm this 1 Corinthians 15 creed dates to the 30’s A.D. Form critical scholar Reginald Fuller states: “It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition” (Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, p. 10). Liberal critic James D.G. Dunn likewise states: “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as a tradition within months of Jesus’ death” (James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 825). Jesus seminar critic Robert Funk agrees (Robert Funk, The Acts of Jesus, p. 466), as does atheist critic Gerd Lüdemann (Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 38).
Thus, belief in Jesus’ death for sins and resurrection goes back to the apostles and earliest primitive Christians even before Paul. This is because it is historical and the Koran is wrong.
Early Extra-Biblical Material
Now, early extra-biblical Christian testimony of the historicity of the crucifixion includes 1 Clement written around A.D. 101 (1 Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, Ch. 49), Ignatius of Antioch writing around A.D. 110 (Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 1.1), and Polycarp of Smyrna writing between A.D. 110 and 135 (Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Ch. 7). These writers knew Jesus’ original disciples and learned this truth from them (The Martyrdom of Ignatius Ch. 1; Eusebius, Church History, Book 3, Ch. 22; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.3; Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians, Ch. 6; Irenaeus, Letter to Roman Presbyter Florinus; Irenaeus, Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, 3).
Moreover, early non-Christian extra--biblical sources confirming the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion include Stoic philosopher Mara Bar-Serapion writing sometime after A.D. 73 (Letter of Mara Bar-Serapion, quoted in F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? [InterVarsity Press, 1981], p. 117), the first century Jewish historian Josephus (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3.3), the Roman historian Tacitus (Tacitus, Annals, XV.44) who wrote around A.D. 117, the second-century Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11–13 in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, trans. by H. W. Fowler [Clarendon, 1949] vol. 4), and The Babylonian Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a. written between A.D. 70-200).
The Consensus of Scholars
Now, the consensus of even liberal-critical and non-Christian New Testament and historical Jesus scholars affirms the evidence conclusively proves Jesus indeed died by crucifixion.
Liberal skeptical scholar Paula Fredriksen says Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the “undisputed facts” about Jesus (Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, [Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012], p. 268).
Atheist New Testament historian Gerd Lüdemann wrote, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable” (Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus, [Westminster John Knox Press, 1995], p. 17).
Non-Christian Jewish scholar Geza Vermes affirmed, “The passion of Jesus of Nazareth is part of history” (Geza Vermes, The Passion, [Penguin, 2005], p. 9).
Another non-Christian Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide said Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “historically certain” (Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus, [Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002], p. 32).
Agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman stated, “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: Lecturer Transcript and Course Guidebook, Part 2 of 2, [The Teaching Company, 2000, 162).
Liberal New Testament critic John Dominic Crossan said there is not the “slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate” (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, [HarperCollins, 1991], p. 375).
Hence, the only way to hold to the Muslim position is to ignore the historical evidence as well as the consensus of historical Jesus scholarship.
Now, in Isaiah 53:5-11 we read about a future redeemer who would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (v. 5), one on whom the Lord will lay our iniquity on (v. 6), one who is like a “lamb sent to slaughter” (v. 7), one who will be stricken for the transgression of God’s people (v. 8), one who will be crushed by the Lord as an offering for guilt (v. 10), and one who will declare people righteous or save them by bearing their sins (v. 11).
In response to this rather clear prophecy of Jesus’ death for sins, Muslims will sometimes claim Isaiah 53 is not actually about Messiah but instead about Israel. However, we know this is about Jesus for various reasons.
First, Jesus applies Isaiah 53 to himself in Luke 22:37, the Apostle Matthew applies it to Jesus in Matthew 8:17, the Apostle John applies it to Jesus in John 12:38, the Apostle Philip applies it to Jesus in Acts 8:30-35, and the Apostle Peter applies it to Jesus in 1 Peter 2:22. This is overwhelming.
Second, the very early extrabiblical Epistle of Barnabas written between A.D. 100 and 130 also applies Isaiah 53 to Jesus (Epistle of Barnabas, 5) showing the handed on tradition of Jesus’ early disciples was to interpret this Old Testament text as messianic.
Thirdly, Craig Blomberg notes the pre-Christian and early post-Christian Jewish sources that affirm Isaiah 53 is about an individual or the messiah: “The translation of the terms for ‘root’ and ‘child’ in the LXX of Isa. 53:2 match those used of the Messiah in 11:1 and 9:6, respectfully. The variant scroll found at Qumran (1QIsaa) reads a little more clearly as a reference to an individual, especially within its unique addition to 53:11, ‘out of the suffering of his soul he will see light.’ Other fragmentary materials from Qumran include 4Q491c (frg. 1), which seems to allude to Isa 52-53 in the context of a description of the Messiah, and 4Q541, which twice refers to a messianic-like figure as suffering (frg. 2-3) and once as providing atonement (frg. 9). . . a clear messianic interpretation of Isa. 52:13-53:12 appears in the post-Christian Targum of Isaiah (see explicitly in 52:13; 53:10). . . . By the time of the Babylonian Talmud, the messianic interpretation was well entrenched (as one of three main Jewish approaches. . .)” (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, eds. G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, [Baker Academic, 2007], p. 32). We can also add that Targum Jonathan applies Isaiah 53 to the messiah and that Midrash Rabbah interprets Isaiah 53:5 messianically (Ruth Rabbah 2:14).
Fourthly, the context of Isaiah 53 shows the suffering servant cannot be Israel or a remnant of Israel. One reason is because Isaiah 53:10 says he will be a guilt offering. Leviticus is clear the guilt offering had to be a perfect specimen without any defect. Only the divine Messiah could fulfill this. The nation of Israel could not since Ecclesiastes 7:20 is clear “there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Fifthly, the servant is righteous and yet suffers (Isaiah 53:3, 5, 7, 11), while the Old Testament is clear that if Israel was righteous it would be blessed and not suffer (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). Thus, it has to be the individual Messiah.
Sixth, Craig Blomberg relays, “the servant’s disfigured appearance, (52:14; 53:2), his label as ‘a man of sorrows’ (53:3), and his death and vindication (53:8-9, 11) prove far more intelligible when taken of a specific person within Israel” (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, eds. G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, [Baker Academic, 2007], p. 31).
Thus, although earlier in Isaiah the servant is identified as Israel (Isaiah 49:3), Isaiah then switches his identification and uses imagery only an individual could fulfill. Hence, the Messiah is “ideal Israel” who fulfills His nation’s task. During his mission and suffering, the Messiah, or ideal Israel, fulfilled the nation of Israel’s mission of bringing salvation and righteousness to the nations (Isaiah 42:1, 4, 49:3-6; 52:15; 53:10-12) – something the nation of Israel failed to do (Isaiah 48:18-19). As Michael Brown observes, “It is he [Jesus] who is the definitive expression of ‘Israel’. . . . He is the one who fulfills Israel’s destiny and mission in the world. He is the ideal righteous sufferer whose perfect life and atoning death bring healing—meaning forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration—to Israel and the world” (Michael L. Brown, Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53, eds. Darrell L. Bock, Mitch Glaser, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, [Kregel Publications, 2012], p. 82 parenthesis mine).
Now, some Muslims claim Isaiah 53 actually teaches the servant would not die. However, this is false since, again, v. 7 says he is like a lamb led to slaughter, v. 8 says he will be cut off from the land of the living, v. 9 says “they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death,” and v. 10 says “his soul makes an offering for guilt.” The reason some Muslims claim the text teaches he would not die is because v. 10 mentions “his offspring” which is taken by them to mean he would survive and have children as Islam teaches. However, “offspring” here refers to, as Rikk E. Watts correctly observes, “more righteous servants” (Rikk E. Watts, Mark, eds. G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, [Baker Academic, 2007], p. 178), and not literal children. This is why the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon affirms the Hebrew word for “offspring” here, zera‛, refers in this verse to a moral community and not literal children (F. Brown, S. Driver, C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 283). This explains why Jesus says the following in John 12:24, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
Addressing Muslim Objections to Jesus’ Death by Crucifixion
Certain Muslims claim various verses deny Jesus was crucified at all. Others who believe Jesus was crucified claim Jesus survived the crucifixion, did not die and was raised up to Allah after being injured instead. We will refute the arguments of both groups.
Jesus Survived Crucifixion?
Now, Muslims sometimes (Abdullah Kareem, Jesus Survived the Cross) claim while Jesus was in the tomb, the spices the women brought for him (Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56; 24:1; John 19:40) were actually medicines which supposedly healed and revived the injured but alive Christ. This is ridiculous since in the Old Testament dead kings were anointed with aromatic spices to honor them (see 2 Chronicles 16:14). This is what is going on here. The women were displaying Jesus’ kingly dignity and removing any disgrace of his crucifixion. It was not to revive Jesus. New Testament scholar James R. Edwards confirms, “The Jews anointed corpses with oil mixed with myrrh and aloes (John 19:39). . . . The purpose of anointing was . . . to perfume the decaying corpse as an act of devotion” (James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002], p. 491).
Next, Muslims will claim in John 20:17 Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to touch him or cling to him because he was allegedly in pain after being revived (Ahmed Deedat, Was Jesus Crucified?, [Library of Islam, 1992], p. 29) and was not resurrected. However, here Jesus is not revived but resurrected from the dead according to the parallel texts in Mark 16:6 and Luke 24:6-7. The reason He tells her not to “hold on” to him is because he was about to ascend. She must prepare for his absence instead of clutching on to him (J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, ed. Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, [Wm B. Eerdmans, 2010], p. 1000). The context does not say the reason was pain.
Moving on, Muslims also claim Jesus is presented as dying too soon in order for him to have actually died. For example Ahmed Deedat quoted Mark 15:44 where Pontius Pilate marvels that Jesus died so soon (Ahmed Deedat, Was Jesus Crucified?, [Library of Islam, 1992], p. 21). Deedat also noted how in John 19:32-33 the soldiers do not break Jesus’ legs to finish him off, but only those of the criminals next to him (Ahmed Deedat, Was Jesus Crucified?, [Library of Islam, 1992], p. 19). However, to answer these argument, John 19:33 says Jesus’ legs were not broken because the soldiers “saw that he was already dead” (John 19:33). Moreover, after Pilate marveled Jesus died so soon, Mark 15:44-45 says he summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus was dead, and the centurion confirmed He was. This is significant because centurions were professional executioners, and it was their job to kill and know if someone was dead (Mercer Commentary on the New Testament, [Mercer University Press, 2003], p. 1004). Moreover, the testimony of the narratives are explicit Jesus died from crucifixion here (Mark 15:37, 39; Matthew 27:50, Luke 23:46; John 19:30) and there were eyewitnesses who were present who confirmed it such as Jesus’ women followers (Mark 15:40; John 19:25).
Excursus on Jesus not Surviving Crucifixion
There are many reasons to affirm Jesus died by crucifixion and did not survive it because of the brutality of the method of crucifixion itself, despite the amount of time Jesus was on the cross. Victims of crucifixion were tortured ruthlessly by flogging. Josephus notes people would be whipped until their intestines were exposed (Josephus, Jewish Wars, 2.612). Seneca explains crucifixion victims had “battered and infective carcasses” and were “maimed,” “misshapen,” “deformed,” “nailed” and “drawing the breath of life amid long drawn out agony” (Seneca, Epistles, “To Lucilius” 101). And after flogging, the victim was nailed to a cross or tree (Philo, Post. 61; Plutarch, Mor. 499D; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 28.41-46, etc.).
There is only one report of a man ever surviving crucifixion in the ancient Roman world and it’s because he was removed from his cross very quickly and given Rome’s best medical care. According to this report Josephus pleaded with Titus the commander to remove three of his crucified friends from the cross. Of the three who were quickly removed after crucifixion and provided with Rome’s best medical care, two died and only one survived (Josephus, Life, 420-421). So even if Jesus was removed from the cross while alive, he did not have a chance of survival, especially since he was not provided any medical attention (much less Rome’s best!), and was put in a dark tomb with no air or water for three days! (Mark 15:46; Matthew 27:60; Luke 23:53; John 19:42). These are not survivable conditions.
After reviewing the material concerning Jesus’ crucifixion, medical experts wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “. . . interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge” (Journal of the American Medical Association, quoted in Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, [IVP Academic, 2010], p. 313).
Hebrews 5:7 Denies Jesus Died?
Muslims also misuse Hebrews 5:7 to claim Jesus did not die: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). This verse can either be understood in the Muslim way that Jesus did not die at all, or in the Christian way that Jesus did die and was saved from death by being resurrected from the dead. We will prove the Christian interpretation is correct. Before and after this verse, the book of Hebrews is abundantly clear Jesus died on the cross (Hebrews 1:3; 2:9-10, 14-17; 6:4-6; 7:26-27; 9:11-15, 25-28; 10:10-12, 19-22, 26-29; 12:2; 13:12; 13:20-21). Moreover, Hebrews 13:20 clarified 5:7 for us and says “the God of peace . . . brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus” (Hebrews 13:20). This explains what Hebrews 5:7 means when it says, “to him [God] who was able to save him [Jesus] from death” (Hebrews 5:7). According to Hebrews the Father saved Jesus from death by raising him from the dead after his crucifixion. Thus, the Muslim view is false.
Sign of Jonah?
Now, some Muslims claim when Jesus said in Matthew 16:4 that “an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah,” that this means Jesus would be alive in the tomb for three days just as Jonah was alive in the belly of a whale for three days. They argue this shows Jesus didn’t die by crucifixion (Ahmed Deedat, Was Jesus Crucified?, [Library of Islam, 1992], p. 30).
Well the sign of Jonah was actually Jonah himself. He was a sign to the Ninevites since he appeared to them as one who had escaped death (Matthew 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-30; D. A. Carson, Matthew, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, [Zondervan, 1984], p. 296). Thus, in the same way Jesus was a sign to his killers since he victoriously rose from the dead (or escaped death). We know this is the correct view because just twenty verses later in the same chapter Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21).
Jesus not Dead and Resurrected because of Wounds?
Ahmed Deedat argued because Luke 24:37-40 teaches the disciples wrongly thought Jesus was a spirit when he appeared to them after leaving the tomb, and because Jesus proved he was not a spirit by showing them his wounds and eating, this must mean he survived crucifixion instead of rising from the dead. Deedat thought this refuted the resurrection because he claimed Jesus taught resurrected bodies are “spiritualized bodies” in Luke 20:36, something Jesus allegedly claimed not to have in Luke 24:37-40 when he denied he was a spirit or phantom (Ahmed Deedat, Resurrection or Resuscitation?, [Abul-Qasim Publishing House], pp. 10-13).
However, Luke 20:36 does not deny resurrected bodies will have a material element. Scripture is clear it is the body that is raised in resurrected and transformed (John 5.28-29). So, Deedat’s assumption that the resurrected transformed body (Luke 20:36; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53) can not be material in any way is false. When Jesus showed he was not a spirit as the disciples falsely thought, this was not a denial of being bodily resurrected into a transformed body. Those are two different things. A spirit or ghost is not the same as a resurrected transformed body. Spirits or ghosts are what temporarily leave the body after death (Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], p. 520; cf. 1 Peter 3:19). A resurrected transformed body is when the spirit and the body again reunite at the end of the world at resurrection and get transformed together. This bodily resurrection was affirmed by pre-Christian Jews based on certain Old Testament texts (e.g. Daniel 12:2; 2 Maccabees, 7:9, 14, 23, 29; Psalms of Solomon, 3:12; 15:12-13, 1 Enoch 22:13; 61:5). The Pharisees, the most popular Jewish sect at the time of Jesus according to Josephus, affirmed this bodily resurrection as well (Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009], p. 338; cf. Tg. On Hos. 14:8). Jesus experienced this bodily resurrection early before everyone else (1 Corinthians 15:20) to show He was of the Father. So that means his spirit and his body were united, transformed and raised. It was a bodily resurrection from the dead and therefore contained an element of both physicality and spirituality.
Thus, he could show his wounds and eat (Luke 24:37-40) while also walking through locked doors (John 20:19)! This is because the resurrected, transformed body has a material element. If Jesus survived crucifixion while still severely wounded, and was not bodily resurrected with a transformed body, how did he walk through locked doors? Moreover, Jesus immediately went onto to explain he did indeed rise from the dead a little later in the same chapter in Luke 24:46 right after eating and showing his wounds to the disciples: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:46).
Jesus was not Sinless or Spotless Sacrifice?
Muslims claim Jesus could not have been a sacrificial spotless lamb because the Bible allegedly presents Jesus as sinful.
Muslims claim in Ezekiel 45:22 Jesus offers sacrifice for himself which presupposes he had sins. However, this text is not about Jesus. As Old Testament scholar Brandon Fredenburg observes, “the prince is explicitly excluded from any priestly activity on behalf of himself or the people (cf. Ezekiel 42:6). The New Testament portraits . . . seem to consider this aspect essential to Jesus’ ministry. Ezekiel refers not only to one prince, but to several princes (45:8, 9). This suggests that ‘prince’ is a role within the Israel of the new temple age envisioned by Ezekiel, rather than one limited to only one person. These princes are to ‘give up their violence and oppression’ (45:9). This, too, finds no correlation in Jesus’ activities. He is not clearly a symbolic prefigurement of Jesus” (Brandon Fredenburg, Ezekiel, The College Press NIV Commentary Series, [College Press, 2002], pp. 396-397).
Muslims claim John the Baptist baptized for remission of sins (Mark 1:4). And since Jesus got baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-15) he must have had sin. However, Jesus did not get baptized here because he thought he had sin. He never says this. Instead, Jesus was baptized here so He could enter into the Melchizedek priesthood and fulfill all righteousness - so He could be the High Priest and offer Himself as a sacrifice for sins. Jesus was baptized because He had to fulfill the legal requirements for entering into the priesthood. To be consecrated as a priest, one had to be washed with water (Exodus 29:1, 4, Leviticus 8:6, and Numbers 8:7). He also had to be 30 years old according to Numbers 4:1-3 and this is fulfilled in Luke 3:21-23 where we are told Jesus was 30 when he was baptized. This is the point Muslims miss.
Muslims claim Jesus stole a donkey which is sinful (Mark 11:2-5; Luke 19:29-34). However, Jesus’ knowledge of the donkey and its owners as seen in Mark 11:2-3 indicates acquaintance, which is why the owners do not stop the disciples from untying the colt after they are told the master needs it (v. 6). In fact v. 6 says, “And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go.” Thus, the owners allowed Jesus to have it because they knew him and thus it was not theft.
The Biblical material is explicit Jesus was without sin. 1 Peter 2:22 says Jesus committed no sin and had no deceit in his mouth. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says Jesus knew no sin. Luke 1:35 says Jesus was a holy child. 1 John 3:5 says in Jesus there is no sin. In John 19:4 Pilate says he found no guilt in Jesus. In John 8:29 Jesus says he always does what is pleasing to the Father. Isaiah 53:9 says he did no violence, nor was there deceit in his mouth. And 1 Peter 1:18-19 says Jesus was without blemish and that his blood was precious and spotless. This is the clear first century position, and misusing a few texts will not change that or make Islam true.
God Doesn’t Desire Sacrifice?
Muslims falsely claim certain passages in the Old and New Testaments show God no longer wanted sacrifices. Thus, they reason, God did not want Jesus to die as a sacrifice.
For example, they quote Isaiah 1:11-15, but in this text God is condemning Israel for offering sacrifices while remaining wicked and not repenting. That is why he dismisses their sacrifices. Thus, God identifies them with Sodom for their wickedness (v. 10). Moreover, v. 11 “implies an abundance of sacrifices well beyond the divine requirements” (Geoffrey W. Grogan, Isaiah, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, [Zondervan, 1986], p. 30). Grogan is referring to v. 11’s mention of the “multitude of your sacrifices.” Hence, the text is not saying God changed his mind on the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.
In regards to Isaiah 43:22-24, Muslims falsely assume when God says “I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense” (v. 23), that He is saying he no longer required of Israel the sacrifices He commanded in the Mosaic Law. However, this is incorrect. What God means here is the sacrifices He does require of them are not burdensome or enough to make them weary. Thus they should offer sacrifice. The Hebrew word for burden is abad and actually means “to burden a slave with toil.” Plus, we know such texts do not prove God no longer wanted sacrifice since a little later in the same book in Isaiah 53 there is a prophecy of the Messiah being sacrificed as an offering for guilt (Isaiah 53:10), where man’s iniquity is laid on Him (Isaiah 53:6).
These Muslims also bring up Psalms 40:6-8 where God did not desire the sacrifice of Israel. However, in context “David was opposed to mere formalism and declares his personal commitment to the Lord [v. 8]” (Willem A. VanGemeren, Psalms, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, [Zondervan, 1991], p. 320). Thus, He is not opposed to sacrifice, but to sacrifice from impenitent sinners who present it as a mere formality.
In regards to Psalms 51:16 which Muslims also bring up, it says God did not delight in Israel’s sacrifices. However, as VanGemeren observes, “That the Psalmist is not opposed to sacrifices comes out in the conclusion, where the community expresses its longing for the renewal of the sacrificial cult (v. 19). Rather, he senses God’s concern for inner loyalty as a prerequisite for the presentation of animals for sacrifice. He commits himself unreservedly to the Lord by presenting ‘a broken and contrite heart (v. 17. . .)” (Willem A. VanGemeren, Psalms, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, [Zondervan, 1991], p. 383).
Lastly, Muslims will quote Hosea 6:6 which says “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). They note Jesus quoted this text in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 as well. However, as Blomberg notes, “. . . in Matthew he adds the reference to Hos. 6:6. . . . As in its original OT context, the ‘not x but y’ form of seemingly absolute comparison probably meant ‘y much more than x’ (G. I. Davies 1992:239). Jesus never abolishes any of the written Torah (Matt. 5:17), and even the dramatic changes that he does introduce come fully into play only after his death and resurrection” (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, eds. G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, [Baker Academic, 2007], p. 34). On the original context of Hosea 6:6, Blomberg continues, “it is clear his people’s periodic good is too short-lived (6:4b). Verse 6a thus repeats the theme of 1 Sam. 15:22, that obedience, in this case by means of mercy, is better than sacrifice. . . . As in Matthew’s context, Hosea is not abolishing the sacrificial system, but rather declaring its meaninglessness apart from heartfelt repentance demonstrated through consistently changed behavior” (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, eds. G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, [Baker Academic, 2007], p. 34). Plus, in many books of the Old Testament written after the book of Hosea, sacrifice is offered to God with God’s approval (e.g. Amos 4:5; Jonah 2:9; Zephaniah 3:10; Zechariah 14:21) utterly destroying the Muslim argument.
Old Testament Saints were Forgiven Apart from Blood Sacrifice?
Muslims claim certain Old Testament prophets received forgiveness apart from blood sacrifice. Thus, they argue, Jesus’ sacrifice was unnecessary and did not happen.
Muslims assert Solomon in 1 Kings 8:34-36 teaches forgiveness can be gained through praying toward the temple and turning from sin. However, for Solomon this repentance, turning from sin and praying toward the temple was in the context of sacrifices being made, not apart from them. According to the very same chapter a little later in vv. 62-64 we read, “Then the king [Solomon], and all Israel with him, offered sacrifice before the LORD. 63Solomon offered as peace offerings to the LORD 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people of Israel dedicated the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:62-63). Thus, these blood sacrifices were part of the repentance of the Israelites Solomon mentioned which led to forgiveness.
Muslims claim in Psalms 141:2 prayer replaces sacrifice when David says, “let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” However, David does not mention forgiveness of sins in this Psalm. That’s not what it’s about. When he says let his prayer be counted as an evening sacrifice, he does not use the word zebach which is almost universally used for a slaughtered animal. Instead he uses the Hebrew word min·ca- which generally refers not to a bloody sacrifice that remits sin, but rather a gift-offering which has nothing to do with forgiveness of sins (see Genesis 4:3-5). So David is not saying prayer can replace blood sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. Old Testament scholar John Goldingay confirms the prayer being an offered, or the min·ca, means it was a gift to YHWH (John Goldingay, Psalms, Vol. 3, p. 105). So this is not just my opinion.
Muslims argue in 2 Chronicles 7:14 God says to Solomon if people humble themselves, pray and turn from wicked ways they can be forgiven. Yes, and in v. 17 it says to do all God commands and obey his statues. Well part of his commands or statutes are the blood sacrifices. Muslims must understand the ancient Jewish thought process. In context blood sacrifice is involved in the condition of turning from evil and coming back to God. In the very next chapter in v. 12 we read, “Then Solomon offered up burnt offerings to the LORD on the altar of the LORD that he had built before the vestibule” (2 Chronicles 8:12). Again, these burnt offerings which involved blood are, according to the ancient Jewish mind, part of the condition of coming back to the Lord and obeying him which leads to forgiveness.
God Detests Sacrifices of the Wicked
In Proverbs 15:8 we read “The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked.” Based on this text Muslims argue since wicked men killed Christ, it was not a valid sacrifice. However, the first century material based on the Old Testament and the oral Jesus tradition is that Jesus is the sovereign priest who offered himself as a sacrifice. Various texts affirm this. For example, Isaiah 53:10 says “his [i.e., the Messiah’s] soul makes an offering for guilt.” The Messiah makes the offering of himself here. Hebrews 7:27 says “He [Jesus] offered up himself.” Likewise Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus “made purification for sins.” Also Ephesians 5:2 says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” So, Christ offered himself as a sacrifice as sovereign priest according to the primitive church and the Old Testament, not the Romans. No Roman claimed he was making a sacrifice, and Jesus and the apostles never claimed any Roman did.
Jesus’ death was both a murder and a sacrifice. In the same way, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery it was both a betrayal for money and also a source of blessing leading to many people being kept alive (see Genesis 45:8; 50:20). It’s not either or but both. This is the same thing with Jesus’ death. It was both a sacrifice where Jesus offered himself as sovereign priest and a murder from the Romans which was part of the means used by the sovereign. This is because Jesus willingly went to his death or sacrifice (see Mark 10:45; Matthew 26:53-54; John 10:17-18), and presented his offering to the Father in the heavenly temple and alter (Hebrews 8:1-7; 9:11-12; cf. Isaiah 6:1-7; Micah 1:2-3).
Men can’t Die for the Sins of Others?
Muslims argue since Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20 say fathers can’t be put to death the sins of their children, and children can’t be put to death for the sins of their fathers, this means Jesus could not have died for the sins of others.
However, Christian’s don’t say a father was put to death for the sins of his child, or vice versa. We say, along with Isaiah 53, the divine Messiah who had no sin was put to death for the people as an offering for guilt.
Numbers 25:1-13 shows Israel put to death certain Jews who engaged in Baal worship with the Moabites, and according to v. 13 these deaths made atonement for Israel for specific sins. Moreover, references in 2 and 4 Maccabees show according to the pre-Christian Jews the death of Jewish martyrs had an effect on the Jewish nation, even as atonement for Israel’s sins. And rabbinic tradition in Numbers Rabbah 12:12 says the souls of the righteous are offered up to atone for Israel in the heavenly sanctuary.
Plus, the Islamic sources teach Jews and Christians will die for the sins of Muslims. Thus, Muslims are inconsistent when they make this argument. We read in Sahih Muslim: “There would come people amongst the Muslims on the Day of Resurrection with sins as heavy as a mountain, and Allah would forgive them and He would place in their stead the Jews and the Christians” (Sahih Muslim, Book 037, Number 6668). Moreover, in a sound hadith in the 110 Hadith Qudsi Muhammad claimed the sins of Muslims would be put onto the Jews and Christians who would then pay for them in hell: “Narrated Abu Musa: Allah’s Messenger said. . . . He will say: Unload the sins from them and put the same over the Jews and Christians” (110 Hadith Qudsi, trans. Syed Masood-ul-Hasan, [Darussalam], pp. 19-20). Hence, the Muslim gripe about Jesus dying or suffering in the place of others, or for the sins of others, is hypocritical in light of the teaching of their own sources.
The Bible Condemns Human Sacrifice?
Muslims cite various texts which affirm God detests human sacrifice (Lev 18:21, 24-25; Deut 18:10; Jer 7:31, 19:5; Ezek 23:37,39). Thus, they claim Jesus was not crucified for sins.
Yes, the Bible does condemn sacrifices of innocent children that were going on at the time, etc. However, Isaiah 53 is clear the divine Messiah will offer himself as a guilt offering for the people. Moreover, again, references in 2 and 4 Maccabees show according to the pre-Christian Jews the death of Jewish martyrs had an effect on the Jewish nation, even as atonement for Israel’s sins. Also, again, Numbers 25:1-13 shows Israel put to death certain Jews who engaged in Baal worship with the Moabites, and according to v. 13 these deaths made atonement for Israel. Plus, the Koran mentions human sacrifice being commanded by God with Abraham and Ishmael (Koran 37:107). Therefore, again, Muslims are inconsistent.
Sacrificial Mosaic Requirements not Fulfilled by Jesus?
Muslims argue sacrifices had to be made by the high priest in the temple with blood sprinkling the alter according to Leviticus 17:11. They claim Jesus didn’t meet this and hence was not a valid sacrifice.
However, Scripture mentions a heavenly tabernacle or temple which has an alter where God resides (Isaiah 6:1-7; Micah 1:2-3). There’s even rabbinic tradition in Numbers Rabbah 12:12 which says there the souls of the righteous are offered up to atone for Israel. And according to the New Testament Jesus, as high priest, presented his perfect final sacrifice to the Father in this heavenly temple and alter (Hebrews 8:1-7; Hebrews 9:11-12). So yes, Jesus’ sacrifice was presented by a high priest on a temple alter meeting the requirement.
Muslims also argue sacrificial lambs had to be a year old according to Exodus 12:5. And since Jesus was not one year old he could not have been a valid sacrifice. However, the point of Exodus 12:5 is the lamb has to be in its prime with strength which is why it says one year. Converted to human years, men are in their prime and most strong in late twenties early thirties - the time Christ died.
Plus, Muslims overlook how Exodus 12:6 says the lamb had to die on the 14th of the Jewish month Nissan which is exactly when Jesus died on the cross according to the study of Ben Witherington III on this issue (Ben Witherington III, The Paul Quest, [InterVarsity Press, 2001], p. 305). So yes Jesus does fulfill the Mosaic sacrifice requirements here.
Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Based on Pagan Myths?
Many Muslims claim the ideas of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were stolen from earlier pagan myths and did not actually take place.
However, the Koran and ahadith nowhere say Jesus’ death and resurrection was based on pagan mythology. So why Muslims adopt this position as a chief reason for rejecting Jesus’ death is strange. Are the few radical critics who make these kinds of claims smarter than Muhammad and Allah?
Also, the pagan parallel’s to Jesus movement arose in the late 1800’s in Germany and with the help of people like James Frazer writing in 1906, but was swiftly refuted by late 19th and early 20th century scholars like Samuel Cheetham, H. A. A. Kennedy, J. Gresham Machen, A. D. Nock, Bruce Meztger and Gunter Wagner. Since this devastating refutation in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was abandoned by scholarship. Now in the 21st century only a few fringe kooks espouse it and they’re rejected by scholarship.
These claims from a few modern fringe writers about Jesus’ death being based on pagan legends has been refuted in tons of modern scholarly works as well, such as Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?, Wallace et al’s Reinventing Jesus, Nash’s The Gospel and the Greeks, N. T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God, and Eddy and Boyd’s The Jesus Legend, etc. It’s been utterly destroyed so I am shocked Muslims adopt this line of argument. Its very desperate and not a position serious scholars who hold university chairs hold to.
Let us examine the most popular examples of dying and rising gods these few kooks claim Christianity allegedly borrowed from.
Osiris is not a dying and rising God. He was murdered with his body parts scattered. Then he was put back together and reigned in the gloomy under world, not raised to life in his original mode of existence like Jesus. Thus, the historian of ancient religions J. Z. Smith notes, “In no sense can Osiris be said to have risen in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern” (J. Z. Smith, “Dying and Rising God’s,” Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987, Volume 3, p. 524). Moreover, Bruce Meztger noted, “Whether this can be called a resurrection is questionable, especially since, according to Plutarch, it was the pious desire of devotees to be buried in the same ground where, according to local tradition, the body of Osiris was still lying” (Bruce Meztger, Historical and Literary Studies, [Eerdmans, 1968], p. 20). Hence, there is no resurrection if his body remained buried.
Tammuz or Dumuzi did not die and rise from the dead either. Initially people thought in the Mesopotamian myth of Tammuz that he ends up in the underworld and is then brought up by Ishtar or Innana since the ending of that myth is obscure. However, this has changed with the finding of the Sumerian version in the 20th century which shows Tammuz ends up thinking the goddess Ishtar was dead, Ishtar finds him in her abode reveling, and then out of anger she kills him and sends him to the underworld (Paul Eddy, Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend, [Baker Academic, 2007], p. 144). He does not rise from the dead. No resurrection.
Attis is not a dying and rising God. Attis simply castrated himself and bled to death in the forest. And as J. Greshem Machen noted, “The myth contains no account of a resurrection; all that Cybele is able to obtain is that the body of Attis should be preserved, that his hair should continue to grow, and that his little finger should move” (J. Greshem Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion, [Eerdmans, 1976], p. 228) This is not resurrection.
Mithras was not a dying and rising God. In fact Mithraic scholar Richard Gordon notes there is “no death, burial, and resurrection of Mithras. None” (Richard Gordon, Image and Value in the Graeco-Roman World, [Variorum, 1996], p. 96).
Apollonius of Tyana is not a dying and rising God. Philostratus’s book Apollonius of Tyana, which critics claim shows Apollonius was similar to Jesus, was actually written 150 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. So the gospels did not borrow from this work, this work borrowed from the gospels. Muslims have it backwards.
In sum the historian of ancient religions J. Z. Smith concludes, “The category of dying and rising deities is exceedingly dubious. It has been based largely on Christian interest and tenuous evidence. As such, the category is of more interest to the history of scholarship than to the history of religions” (J. Z. Smith, “Dying and Rising God’s,” Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987, Volume 3, p. 526).
In regards to the few other alleged dying and rising gods, a few points need to be made:
First century monotheistic Jews would not have assembled pagan myths into gospels and handed them to other monotheistic Jews telling them to believe them. That’s absurd. N. T. Wright has convincingly shown the background of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not pagan myths but second temple apocalyptic Judaism in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. Jesus’ death is also based on the Old Testament in Isaiah 53 concerning the suffering servant, not pagan myths. Lastly, we already showed Jesus’ death goes back to primitive “Q” sayings, his own prophetic synoptic statements meeting criteria of authenticity, early Acts speeches, and early creeds, hymns, and oral formulas dating to the early Jerusalem Church – not from pagan mythology.
Does the Koran Teach Someone Substituted Jesus on the Cross?
Muslims are divided on the question of someone being substituted for Jesus on the cross at the last minute.
Certain Muslims like Ahmed Deedat, Shabir Ally, Zakir Naik and Osama Abdullah believe Jesus was actually on the cross but survived. Others (the majority) such as Tafsir al-Jalayn, Ibn Abbas, Al Qushairi Tafsir, and Daryabadi believe Jesus was not put on the cross at all but instead taken up to heaven while a substitute who looked like Jesus was put on the cross instead.
We will now address both views for the sake of argument.
Addressing Jesus being substituted
Koran 4:157 says,
“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” (Koran 4:157).
The problem with the interpretation of this verse that says someone substituted Jesus on the cross is that, as Muslim scholar Muhammad Asad notes,
“There exists, among Muslims, many fanciful legends telling us that at the last moment God substituted for Jesus a person closely resembling him (according to some accounts, that person was Judas), who was subsequently crucified in his place. However, none of these legends finds the slightest support in the Qur’an or in authentic traditions” (Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Vol. 1, [The Book Foundation, 2003], p. 154 n. 171).
So, because there is no “inspired” hadith commentary on this verse or other Koranic verses illuminating its meaning, it is difficult for Muslims to interpret it. There are no authentic traditions in the hadith or sira literature saying someone was substituted for Jesus on the cross as an explanation of this verse. Thus, many Muslims disagree “it appeared so unto them” even means someone was put on the cross in Jesus’ place. That is the problem with this interpretation of Koran 4:157.
Therefore, the typical Islamic argument which says the early reports of Jesus’ death from the first century can be accounted for because someone was put on the cross to look like Jesus is called into question since the Koran and hadith material do not even teach such an idea – and this has resulted in Muslims being very divided on the issue.
Gnostic influence on Muhammad’s denial of Jesus’ death?
Now, if for a moment we do assume the Koran teaches the idea someone was substituted for Jesus on the cross, we run into a more serious problem concerning Muhammad stealing from unreliable Gnostic reports orally.
Two heresies which sprung up after the advent of Christianity were known as proto-Gnostic Docetism and later Christian Gnosticism. These cults believed the physical world of matter was evil and created by an evil god, and that the spiritual was good. Thus, since Jesus was good, they claimed he could not have been a real man made of evil matter. Hence, they claimed he was actually a phantom who only appeared to be a man.
When faced with the truth of Jesus’ crucifixion the Gnostics had to deny it since a good phantom could not be crucified after all. Thus, they had to come up with ways to explain his crucifixion. Some claimed Jesus was not actually crucified but stood by as a fake physical representation figure was crucified, and others claimed an actual person, Simon of Cyrene, was transfigured to look like Jesus and put on the cross instead. By inventing such tales, the Gnostics could maintain their strange phantom view of Jesus. This heresy spread and appears in some Gnostic documents. Docetics claimed such things as Ignatius tells us in his Letter to the Trallians, 10, as did later apocryphal Gnostic books like the late second century (Fred Lepham, An Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha, [T&T Clark International, 2003], p. 107) Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, 81), and the mid second century (Fred Lepham, An Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha, [T&T Clark International, 2003], p. 139) Acts of John (Acts of John, 101). The second century Gnostic heretics Basilides and Valentinus (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.24.4) also taught such things.
Thus, it’s not because Jesus’ crucifixion was ahistorical that such Gnostics denied it. Rather, they had to deny it in order to maintain their faulty Gnostic presupposition of a phantom Jesus who was not made of “evil matter.” As William Carl Placher notes, “Gnostics taught that our bodies and all the material world are evil or illusory. . . . Most Gnostics, convinced of the evil of the world of matter, denied that Christ could have a physical body. Some denied that he had been born of a woman . . . and few admitted that he had suffered or died” (William Carl Placher, A History of Christian Theology, [Westminster John Knox Press, 1983], p. 47). Are Muslims going to deny Jesus was born of a woman as well, even though their Koran says Jesus had a true physical birth? Many Gnostics denied this so it must be true, right? This refutes Muslim illogic.
Although Muslims speciously think such Gnostic writings are proof of their understanding of Koran 4:157, the truth of the matter is such Gnostic error, as we proved, is not only unreliable and polemical, but also contradicted by earlier writings which meet the criteria of authenticity, by early hymns, creeds and oral formulations proving Jesus was crucified.
We will prove now, more forcefully, that the Orthodox teaching of Jesus’ physicality and death is the original belief, and that the Gnostic denial of Jesus’ physicality and death is the later, false belief.
Muslims often falsely claim Proto-Gnostic Docetism was contemporary with earliest Christianity. Thus, according to them, the Gnostic denial of Jesus’ death may be the original belief. However, there are a number of reasons to reject this position.
Professor D. Larry Gregg notes the Docetic Gnostics emerge in the late first century (D. Larry Gregg, “Docetism,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000], p. 351) Belief in Jesus’ physicality and death on the cross pre-dates this period substantially. Also, the scholar Carl B. Smith likewise confirms Doceticism or Proto-Gnosticism emerged in the late first century based on dating the earliest polemics that refute them (Carl Smith, Ministry, Martyrdom, and Other Mysteries, eds. Michael F. Bird, Joseph R. Dodson, Paul and the Second Century, [T&T Clark, 2011], pp. 42-43).
We know orthodox beliefs which contradict Gnosticism like Jesus’ physicality and death are earlier than this, because, for example, we have creeds, hymns and oral formulations from the early to mid first century affirming Jesus’ physicality and death. This is before proto-Gnosticism even existed. So to claim Gnosticism was contemporary with earliest Christianity is false.
Such creeds include 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 and Romans 1:3-4 where Paul affirms Jesus was born from the seed of David according to the flesh. “According to the flesh” or “sarx” in the Greek refers to true human existence (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, ed. Gordon Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996], p. 47). This un-Gnostic oral formulation, which also mentions Jesus’ resurrection from the dead by the way, goes back to the early first century Jerusalem church which existed way before Docetism. We know this again, because in it there are participle constructions in the text, parallelism of two clauses, utilization of untypical Pauline words, and theological themes that are uncommon in Paul, like the reference to Jesus’ Davidic sonship (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, ed. Moises Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 1998], pp. 39-40).
Thus, Gnosticism and its denial of Jesus’ physicality and death post-date primitive orthodox, valid teaching which says Jesus was physical and did die.
Now, according to the second century church father Clement of Alexandria, the second century Gnostic heretic Basilides claimed his mentor Glaucias was the interpreter of Peter. And since Glaucias and Basilides denied Jesus’ crucifixion, Muslims sometimes claim such a Gnostic belief actually goes back to the Apostle Peter.
However, it was only to try to gain followers that Basilides clearly just copied or countered Papias’ earlier writings which affirmed it was the gospel writer Mark who was Peter’s interpreter. And Papias and Mark affirmed Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Richard Bauckham notes, “Basilides’ claim was imitative of the description of Mark as Peter’s interpreter [found in Papias’ writings]” (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006], p. 238). Likewise, scholar of early Christianity and Gnosticism Birger A. Pearsen notes, “The Peter-Glaukias tradition was a Basilidian counter to the Peter-Mark tradition current in Alexandrian ecclesiastical circles” (Birger A. Pearsen, “Basilides the Gnostic,” A Companion to Second-Century Christian 'Heretics', eds. Antii Marjanen, Petri Luomanen, [Brill, 2008], p. 4). Thus, Basilides was lying and imitating earlier factual traditions from Papias to try to get popular.
Papias’ earlier statement that it was Mark who was Peter’s interpreter is actually multiply attested in other traditions found in 1 Peter 5:13, Justin Martyr A.D. 103-165 (Justin Martyr, Dialogue 106), Irenaeus writing around A.D. 180 (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.I), and in the second century anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark (Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark quoted in Adam Winn, The purpose of Mark's Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperial Propaganda, [Mohr Siebeck, 2008], p. 47). Basilides’s claim that the Gnostic Glaucias was actually Peter’s interpreter is not multiply attested by different traditions, however.
Also, Basilides can’t be trusted since according to an author contemporary with him: “Basilides compiled twenty-four books on the Gospel and named (two) as his own prophets Bar-Cabbas and Bar-Coph and other imaginaries, inventing outlandish names to impress the gullible. He taught that there was no harm in eating things offered to idols or in freely denying the faith. . .” (Eusebius, Church History, 4.7). Thus, in light of all this, his claim that his mentor Glaucias was the interpreter of Peter is very doubtful.
It is interesting the religion of such Muslims who argue along these lines leads them to side with Gnostic heretics like Basilides and Glaucias who claimed the God who created the world was an evil demiurge. This is what defending Islam leads to, showing just how led astray Muslims are: siding theologically with such antichrist Gnostic heretics. It is quite shameful.
Now, we must get to the main point. Many scholars argue this late and unreliable Gnostic denial of Jesus’ death (and a substitute being put in Jesus’ place on the cross) found its way to Muhammad orally in Arabia. This is a serious problem since it would prove Muhammad stole late Gnostic fables not realizing how unreliable they were.
In his essay God and Humanity in Islam and Christianity, Ng Kam Weng, who received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge, notes the Koran’s denial of Jesus’ crucifixion, “. . . suggests that Muhammad was influenced by Gnostic sects in the Arabian Peninsula” (Ng Kam Weng, God and Humanity in Islam and Christianity, eds. Dieumeme Noelliste, Sung Wook Chung, Diverse and Creative Voices: Theological Essays from the Majority World, [Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015], p. 42). Similarly, John Trimingham has shown reports of Arab converts to Gnosticism as early as the second century, and that Gnostics influenced Arabian monastic lifestyles (John Spencer Trimingham, Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times, [Longman Groups Limited, 1979], pp. 51-52, 102, 134). Theodoret Cyrrhus was claimed to have called “Arabia the bearer of heresies” in a phrase attributed to him. In fact, Theodoret said the desert of Arabia was a place of exile for heretics like Pelagius and others who were banished from Christianity (Theodoret Cyrrhus, Ecclesiastical History, 4.12-13). This helps explain the Gnosticism in Arabia from which Muhammad borrowed his faulty view of Jesus’ fate.
W. St. Clair Tisdall explains why Muhammad would adopt such specious, Gnostic ideas:
“Muhammad’s denial of the death of Christ on the cross cannot be traced even to such untrustworthy authority as his favourite apocryphal gospels. It is needless to say that he contradicts both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles, though doubtless merely through ignorance. It seemed to him to be derogatory to the dignity of Christ to have been crucified and put to death by His enemies; and Muhammad was all the more convinced of this when he found his own enemies, the Jews, exulting at having slain Jesus. Hence he gladly adopted the assertion of certain heresiarchs [Gnostic heretics], with whose views in other respects he had little in common” (W. St. Clair Tisdal, The Original Sources of the Qur’an, [Alev Books, 2014], p. 130 parenthesis mine).
Thus, in this view, erroneous, Gnostic views denying the death of Jesus are not proof for Islam’s version of history. Rather, Islam’s false view of history is the product of erroneous, Gnostic views which post-date primitive, orthodox affirmations of Jesus’ physicality and death.