by Vijay Chandra
The attack on the crucifixion of Jesus is mounted by Islamist theologians: They consistently attack his deity and his crucifixion. So I will in this article defend the crucifixion and refute the attacks of these Islamic scholars. The devil uses means to undermine the crucifixion of Christ, he is using religion to suppress the truth of the crucifixion of Christ. Apologetically they misuse the Scriptures and bring their own spurious tradition.
The Muslim religion is one of the fastest growing religions of the world, if not the fastest. Among its many differences with Christianity is that it ‘denies’ the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They deny His divinity as well. Muslims believe in a ‘substitution theory’ [another person was crucified in Jesus’ place], ascension theory [Jesus was rescued from the cross and ascended to heaven], or swoon theory [Jesus did not actually die on the cross and survived the pains of the crucifixion]. Each of these theories clearly denies the death of Jesus by crucifixion.
The Islamic belief is not just something that Muslims conjured up in response to Christianity. Rather, the Qur’an clearly denies the crucifixion of Jesus in Surah 4:157-58 which states
“—they [the Jews] said [in boast], ‘we killed 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—Nay, Allah raised him up unto himself [Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, Tenth Edition.
A. The Muslim View:
Commenting on the above verses, the renowned Qur’anic translator and commentator, Yusuf Ali states “The Quranic teaching is that Christ was not crucified and nor killed by the Jews—-“The Muslim apologist and author Ahmed Deeat agrees. “On the subject of the crucifixion the Muslim is told in no uncertain terms in the Holy Qur’an—that they did not kill Him, nor did they crucify Him”. Therefore, the Qur’an’s teaching is that Jesus did not die by crucifixion, which is in direct contrast to Christianity which says there is no salvation apart from the cross. We see the fact in the following Scriptures which clearly demonstrate the blindness of Islamic apologists: Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:22, 23, 24. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s favor to us who are being saved [HCSB].
Putting all theological assumptions aside, what does this Bible evidence declare? Did Jesus really die on the cross or did he just appear to be dead?
B. The Historical View:
1. Eye witness sources
There are many streams of evidence [the source is the Inspired Scripture], from which one can argue for the historicity of Christ’s death by crucifixion, of which I will use only some.
The first line of evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion is from the testimony of eye witness sources. Many Muslims do not believe there is eye witness material in the accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. In fact, one Muslim apologist claims that “Not a single one of the Christians was a witness with them [the Jews]. Rather the apostles kept themselves a distance through fear, and not one of them witnessed the crucifixion. The argument points to Matt: 26:56, which says: ‘Then all the apostles forsook him, and fled’. Though the disciples forsook Jesus, some of them were still witnesses from a distance (Mark 14:54). Also, there was an anonymous disciple whom Jesus, while on the cross, commanded to take care of Mary (John 19:26, 27). The Gospel of Luke reports that while Jesus was carrying His cross “there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him” (Luke 23:27).
In addition to those people already mentioned, the Gospel also references Jewish leaders (Matthew 27:41, Mark 15:31, Luke 23:35, and John 18:18, 19], who all witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. For Muslims to argue that the crucifixion is not historical simply does not square with the historical data because there were multitudes of witnesses to the fact that the Romans crucified Jesus.
C. Medical Evidence:
In light of the eyewitness evidence from the Gospels, there is strong medical evidence that confirms the historicity of Christ’s death as presented in the gospels. Before examining the medical evidence, as a general point, the Romans knew how to crucify their victims. To suppose that the Romans would have allowed Jesus to escape the cross is nonsensical. The Romans knew how to kill someone, and they knew how to make sure that their victim dies. They were very thorough in their crucifixion of criminals.
a. First, in Jesus’ pre-crucifixion experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Gospel of Luke reports that Jesus’s sweated ‘great drops of blood’ (Luke 22:44).
b. Second, Jesus’ desire, while on the cross, to receive a drink confirms the fact that he likely was experiencing another known medical condition called ‘hypovolemic’ shock, which would have been caused by his beating. According to medical science this “hypovolemic shock” does four things:
- First, the heart races to try to pump blood that isn’t there.
- Second, the blood pressure drops, causing fainting or collapse.
- Third, the kidney’s stop producing urine to maintain what volume is left.
- Fourth, the person becomes very thirsty as the body craves fluids to replace the blood volume [Lee Strobel, The case for Christ].
c. One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water (John 19:34). All these evidences tell us that indeed Christ died on the cross. The spear went through his lung and into to his heart, so when the spear was pulled out, some fluid – the pericardial effusion and the pleural effusion-came out. This would have the appearance of clear fluid like water.
D. Early Statements of Belief:
There is evidence for the historicity of the gospel accounts, but also there is evidence from early Christian creeds which are located in various places in the New Testament including Luke 24: 34, also in Philippians 2:1-11, and in 1 Corinthians 15. The creed that provides the strongest evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus is from 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, 5, which says “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve”.
These few verses are just a sample of a much longer statement by apostle Paul on the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Following verses (1 Corinthians 15:6, 7, 8), go on to describe 500 people, James, the apostles, and Paul himself who all directly saw Jesus in person. Some scholars doubt the fact that the creed continues past verse 5; however, as one scholar notes, –“it is agreed by virtually all scholars that the creed includes at least verses 3, 4 and 5”.
Scholars believe that 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, 5 is a pre-existing Christian creed that Paul is quoting for several reasons. Looking carefully at these verses, we note the following:
- First, there are certain words in the text that indicate someone was passing on tradition. For example, William Lane Craig notes that the three-fold use of ‘and that’ is such an indication. Other words also point to the communication of earlier tradition such as ‘delivered’ and ‘received’.
- Second, there are many phrases in this text that Paul does not normally use in his writing, such as ‘for our sins’, ‘according to the Scriptures’, ‘he has been raised’, ‘third day’, ‘he was seen’ and ‘the twelve’. These seem to indicate that Paul did not compose this portion of the text on his own, but is rather quoting someone else’s words. These are just a few of the reasons why scholars think that this text is a creed, and—numerous critical theologians date it from three to eight years after Jesus’ resurrection.
Though there is compelling evidence that [1 Corinthians 15] contains an early creed, yet the question arises, How do scholars find the date of the creed? They generally start from the crucifixion of Jesus which is dated at 30 A.D., and then move to the fact of Paul’s conversion which took around 33-35 A.D. They then proceed to Paul’s testimony in Galatians 1:18 which states “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days”. By the simple fact that Paul tells the time when he went to see Peter, one can date this event to around 36-38 A.D. While in Jerusalem, Paul must have received the creed which is included in 1 Corinthians 15, as we see that verses 5, 7 indicate, as some scholars say, ‘the presence of both Peter and James mentioned in the list of appearances, indicates the probability that Paul received this creed from the apostles when he visited Jerusalem. Therefore, given the above evidence, the creed of I Corinthians 15 is within eight years of Jesus’s crucifixion. On top of this, if one adds to the idea that Peter had the creed for a while before delivering it to Paul, one has to acknowledge that it goes back practically to the events themselves.
In addition to the fact that the creed is early, the evidence from the creed points to eyewitness accounts of the resurrection appearance of Jesus. Verse 5 states, “he was seen of Cephas, then the twelve”. This verse implies that the disciples saw Jesus collectively as one scholar states, “—even if we take the shorter creed and quit at verse 5, we still have an eyewitness report of a collective experience (John 20:19-29, 31)—an appearance to the twelve. Therefore, this is strong evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Not only is this an early creed but also it likely contains eyewitness accounts. Furthermore, the fact that the creed acknowledges Jesus’ death and resurrection is strong evidence for the death of Jesus by crucifixion. Without the death, there is no resurrection.
Along with the creed in 1 Corinthians 15, there is also early preaching material which attests to the crucifixion of Jesus in the book of Acts. In the specific places in the Acts of the Apostles, we see references to the crucifixion. There are several verses, in addition to the creed in 1 Cor. 15, that provide specific evidence for Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Among many reasons that scholars believe these are creeds is the undeveloped theology in them. In Acts 2:23, Peter states “Him [ Jesus], being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”. Peter again makes his point in Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all of the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”. Therefore, not only is there early testimony that hints at the fact of the crucifixion but from the preaching of the apostles, The book of Acts clearly gives the historical fact of the crucifixion of Christ as the apostles preached it.
E. Transformation of the Disciples and the Emergence of the Church
Another evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the transformation of the disciples and the emergence of the church. It is a historical fact that the Christian church originated in the 1st century. This is something on which the Christians and Muslims can agree. However, the hypothesis that Jesus never really died on the cross does not account for this phenomenon. As has been shown, many people witnessed Christ’s death, and His disciples then saw Him risen. If Jesus had not really died, He could have set the disciples straight, as any good prophet would do. Muslims certainly do not believe that Jesus was a malicious deceiver trying to fool the disciples and start a false religion. Instead, Jesus affirmed their belief that He had died and came back to life. The disciples then began preaching a crucified and risen Messiah, and none of the other eyewitnesses came forward to refute them by denying Jesus’ death, nor by producing a body to show he had not risen. The disciples’ lives were completely changed by their absolute certainty that they had seen Jesus die and that they had seen Him alive again afterward, and no one else in the crowds that had also witnessed the events could refute them. Indeed, none of them even tried to refute their belief that Jesus had died on the cross. They saw it too! Any non-crucifixion theory just does not make sense.
Alternative theories of what happened to Jesus simply do not adequately account for the above evidence. For Muslims to believe that Jesus did not really die on the cross does not explain well the emergence of the Christian church. it has been shown that the Christians preached the death and resurrection extremely early in the history of the church and many of them died for their beliefs. To suppose that the disciples did not know that Jesus really died on the cross and arose from the dead does not go well with the fact that there is extremely early eyewitness creedal material that indicates Jesus died and arose from the dead. To suppose that the disciples knew Jesus did not die on the cross and then boldly proclaimed that it happened is simply absurd. People certainly die for things that they believe to be true, but for them to die for something they know to be false is beyond credulity. The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is historical fact. The skeptics like the Islamic scholars will deny this but the word of God is the authority and gives the authentic details of His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.