The Qur’anic view, which is also the orthodox Islamic view, rejects the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion. The Qur’an states:
“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” (4:157-158, Pickthall translation, emphasis added).
Here the crucifixion of Jesus is rejected because the Qur’an teaches that God did not crucify him. Those saying that Jesus had been crucified are mistaken. The crucifixion is not therefore factual; rather, God took Jesus to heaven. The late Muslim apologist Ahmed Deedat (1918-2005) articulated what he considered to be the orthodox Muslim view,
“On the subject of crucifixion the Muslim is told in no uncertain terms in the holy Qur’an, the last and final revelation from God, that they didn’t kill him nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear to them, and those who dispute therein are full of doubts, they have no certain knowledge, they only follow conjecture” (1).
The Historicity of Jesus’ Crucifixion
But the burden is squarely on the Muslim apologist’s shoulders. It is indeed a heavy burden not only because of historical evidence but also because all mainstream historians agree that Jesus died by crucifixion (2).
It is reported in many sources both inside and outside the New Testament. We find it attested in pre-Mark, Q, John, Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter, Clement, Ignatius, Martyr, Josephus Flavius, and Cornelius Tacitus. This is eleven independent sources, excluding some later sources, that attest to the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion. The crucifixion is also attested in early sources and passes the criterion of embarrassment and coherence. Scholar Bart Ehrman says that “The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans is one of the most secure facts we have about his life” (3). Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson agrees saying that “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its coagents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion” (4).
Based on these reasons, the Muslim rejection of the crucifixion of Jesus is incredibly difficult to defend on historical grounds.
Jesus Predicts His Impending Death
Further, there is good reason to consider it genuinely historical that Jesus predicted his death. According to the gospels, Jesus predicted his imminent death and resurrection multiple times: Mark (8:31, 9:9, 9:30-31, 10:33-34, 10:45, 12:1-12 14:18-28), M (Sign of Jonah: Matt. 12:38-40), L (Prophet Cannot Die Outside of Jerusalem: Luke 13:32-33), John (2:18-22, 3:13-14; 8:28; 12:32-34), and possibly even in Q.
Given this testimony, that Jesus made this prediction is strongly established across independent sources and can be taken as historically genuine without reasonable doubt.
Additional reasons support this fact, for example, the criterion of embarrassment. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus hopes to escape the inevitability of his impending death (Mark 14:32-40; Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46). This certainly does not paint Jesus in a brave and courageous light but makes him appear weak and incapable of carrying out his divine mission.
There is also the embarrassing portrayal of the disciples not understanding Jesus’ passion predictions or simply not believing him when he made them (Mark 8:31-33; 9:31-32; 14:27-31; Luke 24:11, 21). The details show that twice Jesus and his disciples are portrayed in a negative light. According to ancient historian Paul Maier: “If the story of Holy Week were a pious invention of writers who wanted to portray a superhero, this scene would never have been included” (5).
Furthermore, the criterion of plausibility applies to Jesus’ prediction of his impending death. Jesus’ death comes as no surprise within the Jewish-Roman historical context precisely because he made enemies with the prominent Jewish leaders given his controversial claims and activities (6).
A final reason to accept Jesus’ prediction of his death as historically genuine is its connection to his Son of Man sayings. Jesus called himself by this title many times: Mark (2:10, 28; 10:45), Matthew (13:37), in his suffering and resurrection (Mark 8:31;9:31;10:33), and in his eschatological function (Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62; Matthew 10:23; 13:41; 19:28; 24:39; 25:31). It is also attested to in Q. According to Ben Witherington III,
“Almost all scholars, of whatever affiliation or persuasion are utterly convinced that Jesus used the phrase “Son of man” to refer to Himself. This phrase is found in all the source layers of the Gospels whether we think of distinctively Markan, Lukan, Matthean, or Johannine material, or even in the sayings source that Luke and Matthew seem to have both drawn upon. By the criteria of multiple attestations this phrase has the highest claims to have been spoken by Jesus of Himself and used frequently” (7).
The Son of Man title appears in every gospel layer and multiple literary forms and was never applied to Jesus by the later church. As observed, many of the Son of Man sayings involve Jesus’ prediction of his impending death. This is an additional reason to accept that Jesus predicted his imminent death given that it is linked to his most used self-title.
The Islamic Catch 22
This presents a strong challenge to Islamic apologetics. If Jesus really did predict his violent and imminent death (which we have noted can be established on historical grounds) and that God rescued him from such a death, then he is a false prophet. He is a false prophet because his predictions failed to come true. But this contradicts the Qur’an because it refers to Jesus as being a true prophet several times,
“And verily We gave unto Moses the Scripture and We caused a train of messengers to follow after him, and We gave unto Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs (of Allah’s sovereignty), and We supported him with the Holy spirit” (2:87, emphasis added).
“O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers” (4:171, emphasis added).
“Then We caused Our messengers to follow in their footsteps; and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him. ” (57:27, emphasis added)
These texts teach that Jesus was an inspired prophet of God to whom Allah revealed truth. But if we follow the historical evidence and conclude that Jesus was crucified, then this would also contradict the Qur’an because it teaches that he was rescued from death (4:157-58).
The Muslim apologist is now stuck in a catch 22 situation: if Jesus predicted his death and failed to die, then the Qur’an is mistaken for it incorrectly claims him to be a prophet who speaks the truth. If Jesus predicted his death and died, then the Qur’an is mistaken because it rejects his crucifixion. Either way, the Qur’an is mistaken.
It is clear why this is a problem for the truth of Islam itself, particularly because the Qur’an is so essential to the religion. For Muslims, there is no book that is the Qur’an’s equal. It is considered to be the literal words of God that were spoken directly through the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. It was revealed from God via a “true spirit” (26:193) and it provides readers with “guidance” (2:2) and a “clear light” (4:174). Allah is the guardian of his revelation (15:9) and nothing can change in his words (6:115). In Q18:27, we read that “There is none who can change His words, and thou wilt find no refuge beside Him.” According to Q10:64, “There is no changing the Words of Allah.”
But, the critic points out, the catch 22 dilemma surely problematizes this lofty view of the Qur’an. It would suggest that the Qur’an was not revealed by God or a true spirit and cannot act as a guide and clear light. Allah would have failed to guard his revelation despite the claims to its inspiration.
1. Joel Williams, “Debate: Was Jesus Raised From the Dead? (1983),” YouTube Video, June 24, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8NZe2fzHjY&t=3664s [see 38:36-39:20]
2. Borg, Marcus. 1999. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. New York: Harper Collins; Mcintyre, John. 2001. “The Uses of History in Theology.” Studies in World Christianity 7:1-20. p. 8; Dunn, James. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 339; Ludemann, Gerd. 2004. The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry. New York: Prometheus Books. p. 50; Eddy, Pauk., and Boyd, Gregory. 2007. The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Ada: Baker Academic. p. 127; Stewart, Robert., and Habermas, Gary. 2010. Memories of Jesus: A Critical Appraisal of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group. p. 282; Ehrman, Bart. 2019. Why Was Jesus Killed? Available.
3. Ehrman, Bart. 2019. Ibid.
4. Johnson, Luke T. 1996. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus. New York: HarperCollins. p. 125.
5. Maier, Paul. 1997. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
6. Evans, Craig. 2016. Did Jesus Predict His Violent Death and Resurrection? Available.
7. Witherington III, Ben. 2016. Did Jesus Believe He Was the Son of Man? Available.