The "Shame of the Cross" and its Glory

Part 3: The statements in the Qur'an and final conclusions

After having presented the Biblical record and message of the cross, let me quote the Qur'anic passages that speak on this topic. I am not sure these are all the relevant verses, I would be grateful if you can point out others. But these are the ones I am aware of. (Taken from my copy of Yusuf Ali's translation and searching through all verses listed under Jesus in the index). I am obviously not an expert in the interpretation of the Qur'an. I will give the verses and then a few thoughts and questions and hope you will take it up and give a more detailed explanation so that we can have a clear Bible exposition (the previous two parts) and a clear exposition of the Qur'an (hopefully soon) and then can on the basis of this discuss the matter further.

3:55. Behold! Allah said: Oh Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehood) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the day of resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.

It says here that Jesus is raised up to Allah Himself. Christians also believe that Jesus ascended to heaven. So, no difference in here at first sight, but we do interpret it differently. In the Bible, Jesus is ascending into heaven AFTER crucifixion and resurrection. Muslims SAY, he was raised to Allah and NOT crucified. This passage nevertheless does not say WHEN he was raised.

Another translation seems to be [I don't know whose translation, this is a from a posting I saved from s.r.i. some time ago]:

3:55. And when Allah said: O Isa (Jesus), I am going to *terminate* the period of your stay (on earth) and cause you to ascend unto Me and purify you of those who disbelieve and make those who follow you above those who disbelieve to the day of resurrection; then to Me shall be your return, so I will decide between you concerning that in which you differed.

Now, I do have a few questions on that: In Y. Ali the "return" is the return of "you all", while in this other translation it seems to be singular and addressed to Jesus(?) or is the "your" here plural too? Is it the return of all people, all Muslims, all Christians, both? Or who is disagreeing with whom about what? Is this verse allowing first death and then ascension or is "take thee" implying a taking without first dying?

5:117. "Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say to wit `Worship Allah my Lord and your Lord'; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou didst take me up thou wast the Watcher over them and Thou art a Witness to all things.

Another translation of the last three lines seems to be:

but when Thou *didst cause me to die*, thou wert the watcher over them, and Thou art witness of all things.

Same question as before in 3:55. "Taking up" is referring to before death, or "by physical death" and then ascension?

19:33. "So peace is on me on the day I was born, the day that I die, and on the day I am raised up to life (again)!"

Interestingly enough, the sequence in this verse is

and NOT - as often claimed by Muslims -

and it also is "raising to life" and NOT "raising to God",

so it seems to speak about the resurrection and not the ascension of Jesus, because according to the Bible Jesus was alive in his resurrected state for quite some time before his ascension, and according to popular Muslim belief did not even die.

According to the Bible there are 40 days between resurrection and ascension. Can you just 'switch' the statements in the Qur'an and say it really means "the day that I am raised and after that the day that I die"?

With the verses presented so far, the Qur'an seems to say similar things like the Bible. The main "problem passage" is the following.

4:155. (They have incurred divine displeasure): in that they broke their Covenant: that they rejected the Signs of Allah; that they slew the Messengers in defiance of right; that they said "Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve Allah's Word; we need no more)"; nay Allah hath set the seal on their hearts for their blasphemy and little is it they believe.
4:156. That they rejected faith: that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge.

First observation: Real messengers of Allah are said to have been slain by those who rejected Allah, his signs and messengers, so the contention can not be that Allah does not allow his messengers to be killed. And this also agrees with what the Bible says; that in their disbelief they utter blasphemy against God by rejecting him and claiming they already have 'enough revelation'.

4:157. That they said (in boast) "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle 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.
4:158. Nay Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.
4:159. And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.

Who is "them" to whom it appeared so? Verse 157 seems to be against the Jews or the Romans, and not the disciples of Christ as they would not have killed him. Although any Christian would readily confess that it was also his sin, that Jesus had to go to the cross for and die. So, in a sense, each of us is guilty of his death on the cross, but we certainly do not boast about killing him.

But if it is the "boastful" claiming that "WE did it" then maybe this verse can be interpreted that God declares "It might look to you as if YOU had done it, but [as the Bible says] it was really the work of the Lord. He Himself has done this wonderous work".

Also Jesus says

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." (John 10:17,18)

Is this verse 4:157 really denying the crucifixion as a fact, or is it only denying the boastful "We did it" in respect to the crucifixion? Could it be that it only appeared to them that they were in control but they really were only doing as God intended it in His greater purpose?

Does it say "they killed him not" or "it was not they who killed him or crucified him"? Is the Arabic unambiguous as to what the "not" has to refer to?

I think we probably can't stretch the interpretation that far, but I wanted to ask anyway.

As the verse goes, it says that he was "not killed or crucified". And that obviously is in stark contradiction to the Bible. It seems to say "INSTEAD he was raised to Allah" not "AFTERWARDS he was raised".

But also keep in mind the verse that says:

2:154 And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: "They are dead." Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not.

I think if you look at verse 4:157 in the light of this verse, it is clear that the case of the crucifixion need not be a special case. There might a problem in our perceptions of the death of all martyrs. Could it not be that even though Jesus died on the cross [in the way of Allah, i.e. being obedient to Allah], he is not dead, but now lives with God, just as it is said of the other martyrs who have undoubtedly died but are counted as alive?

Now, there is one huge problem I have with 4:157. All Christians at all times have believed that Jesus died on the cross, including the very disciples of Jesus who were sincere and honest men, whose desire it was to follow God [as even the Qur'an affirms in Sura 3:52-53], and who were so sincere about it that all but one of them died as martyrs for their convictions. My problem is, that as it seems, Allah is deceiving not only his enemies but also the followers of the Messiah, whom He had sent Himself.

If the Qur'an says that such deception of the honest seekers of truth is part of the character of Allah, then I do not know on what basis I can trust the rest of the Qur'an. If God ever did deceive those who desired to know and follow him, how can I have any assurance he did not do it again and the Qur'an is not part of this deception?

I hope you see the problem and don't do away with it lightly. This is in fact my biggest problem with this passage. And I think this is one of the most difficult questions that Muslims will have to answer.

There also seems to be a Hadith on the crucifixion, but the question is if it is a separate authority or if it is just a speculation on the verse in the Qur'an of what could have been meant by "it only appeared to them this way" (also saved from some earlier newsgroup post):

A Hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas mentioned that the Prophet told about the last day of prophet Isa on Earth that he gathered his pupils in a house and asked them "who among you shall be given my appearance to be crucified in my place and be my companion in Paradise?" The youngest among them stood up and said : "I" ...

[Could someone supply the complete hadith and the reference?]

It is also worth noting that pinning a disciple of Jesus to the cross would still not be a valid interpretation of the crucifixion because 2:154 appears to be a general statement. So, any pious person would only appear to have been killed. The hadith that claims only that the youngest disciple was killed, still has difficulty. What has he done wrong to deserve this death? Why could Allah not save Jesus without making up this switch? Would it not have been much more to the glory of Allah and vindication of Jesus as his prophet and Messiah, had Allah raised him to himself in the sight of all the people instead of letting everyone think that Jesus was indeed crucified and nobody saw and realized this "vindication"?

The above post was continued by

Jesus was raised up by Allah, before they could kill him. He was not crucified. A person who looked like him was put in place of him by Allah, and the people thought it was Jesus. Glory be to Allah, the All-Powerful, All-Wise .

I am truly mystified: Why would a fake crucifixion bring any glory to Allah? Especially if nobody knows about it until 600 years later?

Summary: In my impression the Qur'an gives a very little material on what actually happened. There are quite a few question marks over the real meaning of these verses. I know that most Muslims would insist that 4:157 makes clear that Jesus did NOT die and was rescued by Allah and taken up into heaven, though they are less clear about what happened at the cross and how this "illusion" really could have been. So, for the time being, I will accept that the Qur'an says: "Jesus was not crucified nor killed any other way, but was raised to Allah without dying".


Having seen that the cross is the very center of the Bible message, I cannot be satisfied that only one not even very clear verse in the Qur'an is sufficient proof to believe that it just didn't happen.

What "solution" is that and what character of Allah is this revealing if he puts someone else on the cross? Even another pious person if indeed there should have been a volunteer among his disciples?

Can that be called "justice" from Allah by any stretch of imagination?

Some propose it was Judas who got substituted, but is that mentioned in any early source? I don't know of any earlier than the so called "Gospel of Barnabas" which in all probability is a Muslim forgery of the Middle Ages.

In my opinion, Muslims who think they can deny the facts of history have at least to give an intelligible explanation what happened instead.

So far I have only seen "blind denial" without any reasonable alternative. (Note: I said "I have only seen..." Maybe there are good explanations out there, but they have not been presented to me so far).

I hope someone of you will take up the task of giving a real explanation of what, according to Islam, happened to the Messiah and how it could possibly be that everyone was deceived until 600 years after the event, when Muhammad comes along and denies everything without bothering to also give "the real story".

What really is the relative importance of the Torah, Zabur and Injil to the Muslim, since Muslims say it is one of the basic beliefs of Islam to equally believe in all the prophets and all the books that Allah has sent? Can ONE sketchy and relatively unclear verse in the Qur'an really undo hundreds of verses in the other revelations? Can one little verse 'abrogate' the center of God's earlier message and no reason need be given? Is this belief "in all the books" just lip service or where does it actually play any practical role in the Islamic faith?

And you may note in in regard to this whole question: Although the Jews have violently denied that Jesus is the Messiah and that he was fulfilling these prophecies, they never dared even once to tamper with their Holy Scriptures and cut these things out. The Jews knew it is God's Word, even though they accuse Christians of misinterpreting it. And Christians from the very start accepted all the Jewish scriptures and neither Jesus nor his disciples ever hinted even once at the possibility that the Torah could be corrupted. On the very contrary, Jesus says about the Jewish scriptures in Matthew 5:

17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; [the two major parts of the Jewish scriptures] I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus says, not the smallest letter, not even the "dot on the i" can by any means disappear from God's law as given in the Torah and the prophetic books. He acknowledges also, that there might be true or false teaching and good or bad practice of it, and that this can determine what your status in the overall purpose of God will be.

And actually, this is very similar to the following verse of the Qur'an:

6:115 The Word of thy Lord does find its fulfilment in truth and in justice: None can change His Words: For He is the one Who hears and knows all.

It seems to me that the Qur'an in this instance follows very closely the teaching of Jesus in the above verses, in teaching that nobody (!) can change His Words [note the plural "wordS", and there is no qualification that this holds only for the Qur'an, anything that is Word from God including Torah, Zabur, Injil, is unchangeable]. Also, just as Jesus emphasizes, it is important to actually live it out in righteousness, justice and truth. Only in that way will if come to its intended fulfilment. If we do not live it out, we might be the losers, but that does not affect God's word, which remains unchanged and true whether anybody believes and practices it or not.

And then on the Resurrection Sunday evening, after Jesus was walking with these two disappointed disciples I mentioned at the very beginning and was explaining the scriptures to them, he met with the whole group of his Apostles (which is reported in Luke 24):

44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me
* in the Law of Moses,
* the Prophets
* and the Psalms." [These are the three parts of the Jewish Scriptures]
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
46 He told them, "This is what is written:
* The Christ will suffer
* and rise from the dead on the third day,

[we have seen the crucifixion (death) references in the passages quoted, and in consequence of this event they are to do the following]

47 * and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
48 * You are witnesses of these things.

[That is the basis of their preaching, they are eye witnesses, who have seen it all, his life, his teaching, his miracles, but most important his death and his visiting them afterwards as the risen Lord, and they are personally commissioned to preach the Gospel message of forgiveness to all people - not just Israel. The Christian message is universal, it is explicitly for all times and for all mankind]

49 * I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

[The promise of the Holy Spirit as the one equipping them for this task.]

So, again, Jesus himself affirms that his death and resurrection and the message of forgiveness is already prophesied about in the books of the earlier prophets, and this is the very confirmation that what happened is really from God. Jesus does not appeal in these meetings to his miraculous appearance as if that were proof enough for the truth which he is proclaiming. He is basing _everything_ he says on the fact that this is what the earlier prophets have foretold. There is never ever a thought that they could be non-authentic and corrupted.

A little earlier I said:

And why can I confidently say "fact"? Even if I would discard all that the Bible says there are many other independent witnesses in historical documents which talk about Jesus Christ and his crucifixion.

Can Muslims just disregard historical facts? If so, what foundation do you have that your own "supposed history of revelation, the Qur'an and the Hadith" is not just as much a fraud and made up?

If you can confidently make up history about Jesus as to suit your own preference, which doesn't match at all what we know from all other sources and "invention of reality" is acceptable to you in this case, how do you know the rest of the "more important parts of the Qur'an" and the Hadiths are not also just made up and your whole faith is not therefore grounded on illusion?

If you want to seriously inquire about the historical evidence for the life and death of Jesus, the following is the book to study:

Now we have seen that the Cross of Christ is not an accident but the center of the Biblical message as taught by all the prophets and by Jesus himself, and then I have also quoted for you the opinion expressed in the Qur'an.

I think after reading this material everybody should be able to see the utter incompatibility of the two.

And that is (one of) the reason why Christians can not agree when Muslims say "no big deal" in regard to our insistence that the biggest problem with the Qur'an is its denial of the crucifixion.

I agree it is only a little part (just one verse) of the Qur'an and not really important a statement to Muslims in comparison to so many other things in the Qur'an.

But it is THE issue of importance when we talk about the center of God's message in the Bible. And because the Qur'an denies the very center of the Biblical message in Old and New Testament, therefore a Christian can never accept the Qur'an as Word of God or Muhammad as a prophet, at least not as from the same God who is revealing Himself in the Bible.

God does not make mistakes. God does not change plans. And the message of Islam is radically contradictory to the message of Jesus and all the other prophets before him.

It is not a little corruption here or there, it is the core of the Bible that is at odds with Islam's teaching. If you think that only a little surgery would do to remove the contradiction, then I do agree with you if we do the surgery on the Qur'an. Remove one verse from the Qur'an and _this_ contradiction is gone (but there are many more, so that this isn't really an option.)

But accepting Muhammad and the Qur'an means throwing out the Bible completely. There is no reconciliation possible between the two.

And the problem Islam has to confront is that it is contradictory in itself because it confirms the earlier prophets whose message is in total contradiction to the message of Muhammad.

This is self-contradictory "logic" in Islamic belief. And one criterium for determining truth is that the truth has to be consistent and cannot contain utterly contradictory statements.

In a different context Mr. Lomax wrote:

Otherwise we are no better than the Jews and Christians who, when it was said to them "believe that which Allah has revealed," replied, "We trust that which was revealed to us," and they reject everything else, though it is the truth confirming that which they already have.

Exactly! But I think I have to directly hand this question back to you. What about confessing to believe "all that Allah revealed" including that he revealed Torah, Zabur and Injil and STILL rejecting their very core? What about rejecting something just because it contradicts the Qur'an without giving any consideration to whether there is any evidence that the Qur'an is any more trustworthy than the Bible? [Not an accusation against Mr. Lomax in particular, just a general question to all Muslims.]

And is not the usual answer by Muslims indeed [at least in my experience]

and then they reject everything else? But on what basis do you justify such a course of action? If you want to convince a thinking Christian of the truth of the Qur'an, you will have to show that the Qur'an is more trustworthy than the Bible. And I have not seen any such evidence yet. And you will have to convincingly solve these self-contradictions I have pointed out above.

But even for yourself, even if you never want to convince anyone else, don't you want to make sure your faith, the thing you place your eternal destiny on is sound and surely the truth? I would be very restless until I found convincing answers that my faith is indeed founded on the true revelation of God and not on something I just never bothered to question, and never tested to see if it really could provide answers to the difficult and important questions.

And if you (Muhammad) are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Sura 10:94 (Pickthal translation)

Even Muhammad was exhorted to ask the Jews and Christians, do you think you know more than Muhammad and have no need to do so? I am very much in doubt about the validity of Islam, and think that there are grounds for you to have honest doubts, too. Maybe you should follow the advice of your own book and do some asking. I am willing to face any honest question and will try my best to give solid answers.

Continue with Part 4 of this article.

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