Alan’s monthly letter for November 2013
It’s not uncommon to find people who deny that Jesus rose from the dead. After all, a resurrection is supernatural. Dying, on the other hand, is natural. Yet, strangely enough, there are people who deny that Jesus died on the cross. Who would believe such a thing? It turns out at least 20% of the world’s population thinks Christ never died.
That large group of people consists of the 1.5 billion Muslims that believe the Qur’an’s teaching in Surah 4:157: “That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’;—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them.” Muslims think someone else who was given Jesus’ appearance was crucified, while Christ was taken up to Heaven.
Christians have responded in various ways to this claim. Some attack the Qur’an’s authority, some challenge the verse’s translation, while others point to other Qur’anic passages that suggest Jesus died.
I take a different approach. The most powerful and straightforward evidence for Christ’s death comes from the New Testament. All four Gospels testify that Jesus died. That’s what I tell Muslims.
Wait a minute! You can’t say that to a Muslim. They don’t believe in the Bible.
Though Muslims are skeptical about the Bible, they should believe in the Gospels. Why? They have better religious and historical credentials than the Qur’an.
From a Muslim’s religious perspective, the Qur’an teaches that the Gospels are divine scripture. Surah 2:136 says that Muslims should “make no difference between” the Qur’an and Gospel of Jesus. Surah 29:46 commands Muslims to “believe in the revelation [The Qur’an] which has come down to us and in that [the Gospel] which came down to you.” Both of these verses—and several others in the Qur’an—teach the Gospels are divine revelation. Since the Gospels teach that Christ died, that’s what Muslims are therefore commanded to believe.
I know that most Muslims think the Bible is corrupted, but this is a cultural belief. The Qur’an doesn’t teach that. In fact, as I’ve written in The Ambassador’s Guide to Islam, it teaches the opposite—that the Bible is the uncorrupted word of God.
The Bible’s historical credentials also trump those of the Qur’an. The Gospels contain eyewitness reports of Christ’s death, whereas the Qur’an does not. The Gospels were written during the lifetime of those who saw Christ get crucified, whereas the Qur’an was written 600 years later. The Gospels were written in the geographical location of the event in question, whereas the Qur’an was written over 1,000 miles away.
The Gospels also report physiological details that are consistent with a modern medical understanding of death by crucifixion. The Journal of American Medical Association, a prestigious medical journal, published an article called, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.” The authors studied many of the details surrounding Christ’s death: the scourging, the nails hammered through His hands and feet, the spear thrust into His chest, and the blood and water that flowed from his side. Based on the data, they concluded that Jesus died due to the rigors of crucifixion.
It’s also worth noting that the highly liberal Jesus Seminar believes Jesus died. This group of scholars represents the fringe of New Testament scholarship, rejecting all the miracles recorded in the Gospels. John Dominic Crossan, one of their leaders, not only denies the resurrection, but believes Jesus’ body was probably buried in a shallow grave and eaten by wild dogs. Despite his highly skeptical view of the historical details of Jesus’ life, he still believes Jesus died. “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be,” writes Crossan.
Several non-Christian sources record Christ’s death as well. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, documents the death of Jesus. Tacitus, a Roman historian, also cites it. Lucian of Samosata, a Greek poet, and the Jewish Talmud both acknowledge that Jesus was killed, as well.
Given the preponderance of evidence, it’s reasonable to take the Gospels’ testimony as credible while questioning the Qur’anic one. If the Muslim takes Qur’anic commands and good historical credentials seriously, then he should believe that Jesus died.
Thankfully, death is not the end of the story, as it was for Mohammed. On the third day, Jesus came to life again. It was good news for Him, and it’s good news for us. For because He conquered death, so will His followers one day because they are reconciled with God and forgiven.