by Daryl E. Witmer, AIIA Executive Director
On Saturday evening November 7, 1998, AIIA hosted a Dialogue Dinner with the Muslims at a popular restaurant in Bangor, Maine. While there was no ecumenical objective in the planning of the event, the spirit that evening was cordial, the exchange was open, and a number of areas of theological common ground were immediately confirmed. Many other essential differences, however, were also recognized – among them, Islam’s denial of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Based on notes from the November 1998 dialogue and a variety of other sources, a number of related observations and questions follow here. Directed to any or all of our Muslim readers, they are points which may provide the basis for a profitable follow-up exchange, or for further personal reflection as we all pursue our commitment to truth.
The essential difference
Historic Christianity contends that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried outside of Jerusalem during the thirty-third year of His life. Christians contend that there is Biblical and historical evidence for the crucifixion, and that it was significant theologically in providing an atonement for the sins of all who would/will believe.
Muslims dispute the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion, arguing that Allah would never have dishonored His prophet by allowing Him to undergo such a death. Muslims believe that Jesus was miraculously caught up into heaven and that someone (perhaps Judas Iscariot) surreptitiously took His place on the cross.
Does it really matter?
The historical reality of Jesus’ crucifixion is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Without the crucifixion the resurrection becomes irrelevant, and without the resurrection Christianity itself is rendered meaningless, i.e. I Corinthians 15:14 “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.”
Does the Qur’an actually contend that Jesus was not crucified?
Is it possible that this is really a case of misguided tradition? Surah 4:157-158 states: “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, 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.” Now if “they” refers to the Jews (and that seems clear), then the Qur’an might be considered technically correct in contending that the Jews themselves did not crucify Jesus (see also John 18:31) – that it was actually the Romans who did the deed. Is it possible that the heart of the conflict here really lies in a faulty interpretation of the Qur’an?
Why would Jesus as Allah’s prophet have so often predicted His crucifixion?
Matthew 17:22-23 says “And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.’ And they were deeply grieved.” Consider also Mark 9:31; Luke 9:22; John 12:32-33. Jesus stressed this over and over. Why?
Doesn’t the Qur’an corroborate the Bible regarding Jesus’ death?
Surah 3:54 states: “When Allah said: ‘O Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve…” In so many ways that seems to corroborate with Philippians 2:8-10 which states: “And being found in appearance as a man, He [Jesus] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth,”
Why would Allah deliberately deceive the world in such an insidious way?
It seems most incongruent with Islamic doctrine regarding the character of Allah to maintain that Allah would have either needed or chosen to resort to chicanery and mass deception in order to spare the life of Isa (Jesus).