The Qur’an and the Cross
In Islam the Prophets Do Not Suffer
In Islam Jesus is “Jesus (or Isa) the son of Mary,” and one of Allah’s great prophets. Muslims highly revere prophets as Allah’s servants (or slaves), but Mohammed, not Jesus, is Islam’s greatest prophet. Since Jesus is a revered prophet, Islam denies that Allah would permit one of his prophets to suffer as Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ did.
Jesus is not the only prophet whose sufferings are denied. Consider the example of Joseph. The book of Genesis teaches that Joseph was sold into slavery, was imprisoned on the account of the slander of Potiphar’s wife and was later exalted to be prime minister in Egypt. Joseph explains God’s hand in this: “God sent me before you to preserve in you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” and “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 45:7; 50:20). In the Qur’an, however, Joseph is exonerated, Potiphar’s wife is exposed as a liar, and Joseph presumably does not go to prison! (see Surah 12:21-29). Another example is Moses. In the Qur’an, Pharaoh’s magicians become Muslims despite Pharaoh’s anachronistic threat to crucify them (Surah 20:70-76). Even Pharaoh himself, as he sees his armies about to be overwhelmed in the Red Sea, repents and confesses the name of Allah and Allah saves him “as a sign” (see Surah 10:90-92).
The Bible, however, teaches that God’s people (especially the prophets) are called to suffer. One must only think of Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. We thus see two different ways of viewing the lives of the prophets.
The Qur’an’s Denial of the Cross
Therefore, it is not surprising that Muslims would find abhorrent the idea that a messenger of Allah could be crucified. In fact, the cross of Christ is a stumbling block, a scandal to Muslims and Jews alike. The Jews understood that a crucified Messiah meant a Messiah under the curse of God. Therefore, they concluded that Jesus of Nazareth could not be the Messiah. The Gentiles thought that a crucified Saviour who rose bodily from the dead was nonsense. Therefore they rejected the notion with scorn and derision. Muslims today revere Jesus of Nazareth as a prophet of Allah. Therefore it is unthinkable for them that Jesus could have died by crucifixion. Allah could not have permitted that to happen! Plus, from an Islamic perspective, the cross was not necessary because Christ did not (and could not) make a payment (an atonement) for sin.
The Qur’an promises blessedness and glory to Jesus, not shame and death. In the Qur’an, Jesus says (from the cradle), “Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute” (Surah 19:33-34). Jesus could not have had peace upon the day of His death if, as the Bible teaches, He was on the cross suffering under the wrath of God Thus the Qur’an teaches that Jesus died (presumably of natural causes), and He was taken up to Allah and will return before the end of the world: “I was a witness over them when I dwelt with amongst them; when Thou didst take me up Thou wast the Watcher over them, and Thou art a witness to all things” (Surah 5:117). Therefore the Qur’an has no room for the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
Surah 4:157 is the key text in the Qur’an: “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 that differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.” Surah 4:158 goes on to say, “Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.”
Surah 4:157 is the reason why Muslims reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Christian Gospel is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the cross God displays His love, power and justice. In the cross and the atonement which Christ accomplished there Christians receive the forgiveness of sins. Without the cross we face a holy and just God as sinners with no atonement and therefore no possibility of forgiveness.
We should examine the Qur’an’s text above. First, who are the “they”? Most Muslims believe that this is a rebuke to the Jews who boast of crucifying Christ. However, the Jews would not want to call Jesus the Christ. And they did not boast of crucifying Him. In fact, the Jews rejected Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and had the Romans crucify Him. The Romans did not call Jesus the Christ either, and for them Jesus was just another victim among countless others who died on a cross. Second, what does the Qur’an mean by, “so it was made to appear to them”? Made to appear to whom? And how? The popular theory is that there was a switch made (by Allah, presumably) so that the “wrong person” was crucified and Jesus was not crucified. That substitute was either Judas Iscariot or Simon of Cyrene. This would mean that Allah deceived the people into thinking that Jesus was crucified when He was not. Why would Allah do this?
The Law and the Gospel’s Testimony to the Cross
Surah 4:157 is a somewhat obscure text which stands in contradiction not only to a few passages, but to the entire testimony of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Islam rejects all of the prophecies and types concerning the suffering Christ. Such testimonies are found throughout the Law and the prophets. Here are a few of them.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me and from the words of my roaring? ... My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture (Psa. 22:1, 15-18).
Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (Psa. 69:20-21).
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:4-11).
If Jesus did not suffer on the cross these prophecies were never fulfilled in Him and He cannot be the promised Messiah. Jesus reminds His disciples both before and after His sufferings that His sufferings and death on the cross were necessary as part of the will of His Father:
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day (Matt. 16:21).
Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:44-48).
The Gospel narratives contain very detailed descriptions of the arrest, trial, sufferings and death of Jesus. If Islam is true, these accounts are almost entirely fabricated.
The Torah and the Injil
The denial of these explicit Old Testament and New Testament testimonies places Muslims in a difficult position. The Qur’an attributes the Psalms to Allah:
Before this: We wrote in the Psalms, after the Message (given to Moses): “My servants, the righteous, shall inherit the earth” (Surah 21:105).
The Qur’an also attributes the Law (Torah) and the Gospel (Injil) to Allah’s revelation:
It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went down before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong” (Surah 3:3); “And in their footsteps we sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. Let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel. To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have We prescribed a Law and an Open Way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute (Surah 5:46-49)
If only the People of the Book had believed and been righteous, We should indeed have blotted out their iniquities and admitted them to Gardens of Bliss. If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil (Surah 5:65-66).
If Mohammed during his lifetime spoke to his Jewish and Christian contemporaries to judge out of the Torah and the Gospel (Injil), which books did he mean? He must have meant the Law and Gospel which existed in the 6th/7th centuries (Mohammed lived from c. 570-632). We have many Old Testament and New Testament manuscripts from that time and all of them agree that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is fully God in human flesh, Jesus was crucified, buried and raised from the dead. None of them deny the fundamental truths which Christians confess today. Had the Jews and Christians consulted the Torah and Gospel (Injil) available in their day they would have found them to contradict Mohammed’s message in the Qur’an. Mohammed did not know this, of course, because (as most acknowledge) Mohammed was illiterate.
If the Muslim wants to answer that the Torah and Gospel (Injil) have been corrupted, we must ask when this alleged corruption took place. If it happened before Mohammed’s lifetime, how could Mohammed ask the Jews and Christians to judge out of such (allegedly) corrupted texts? And if it happened after Mohammed’s lifetime, it is easy for the Christian church to reconstruct the original text of Scripture. We have many manuscripts which are very old. In fact, there is more textual material available for the New Testament than any other ancient Greek text.
Next time, DV, we will look at what Scripture teaches about Christ's sufferings and death and further expound the Gospel which the Qur'an denies.
Click here to read Part 1 of the series of blogposts on Islam. Part 1 is "Jesus, the Trinity and the Qur'an."