Islam and the Crucifixion

June 9, 2014 | 17 comments

Islam teaches that Jesus was not crucified. Instead, Muslims believe he was raised bodily to heaven by God. You may encounter this objection to the Christian faith when you engage in discussions with Muslim apologists. This argument finds its roots 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 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; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise..." ( 4:157-158)

Opinions vary, but generally you will encounter one of these three conclusions when speaking with Muslims about the Crucifixion:

  1. Jesus survived the Crucifixion.
  2. God made someone else look like Jesus.
  3. The Crucifixion simply did not occur.

As we will see, there is no good evidence to support any of these conclusions.

Jesus Survived the Crucifixion

In the Islamic view, Jesus’ death on the cross would have meant triumph for his enemies, but as the verse from the Qur’an states, “for of a surety they killed him not.” If the Crucifixion did happen, then Jesus must have survived the ordeal. This is not supported by the available evidence. All four Gospels describe the events in such a way that there can be no doubt Jesus died as the result of having been crucified.

In Matthew 27, Joseph of Arimathea asks for the body of Jesus in order to provide a proper burial, to which Pontius Pilate agrees. The Romans who handled the transfer would have known for sure that Jesus was dead. Even the Pharisees knew this and requested that the tomb be guarded so the disciples could not steal the body and falsely claim he had resurrected (vv. 45-66).

Mark and Luke both record the event in much the same way. Mark, however, reveals another detail: In his Gospel, Pilate specifically asks for confirmation that Jesus was dead before handing the body over to Joseph of Arimathea  (15:44-45).

John’s Gospel also reveals a critical detail. According to him, Roman soldiers came to break the legs of the crucified. When they had seen that Jesus was already dead, they pierced his side with a spear and, consistent with the other Gospels, his body was given to Joseph for burial.

God Made Someone Else Look Like Jesus

This is also known as the Crucifixion Substitute Theory. Most Muslims believe Jesus was raised to heaven by God, and that another person made to look like him was crucified in his place. Muslim scholars have debated the identity of the substitute, with the most popular contender being Judas Iscariot.

One popular source that some Muslim apologists point to is the so-called “Gospel of Barnabas.” This document claims to have been written down by the disciple Barnabas at the request of Jesus himself. In it, the author claims Judas was transformed by God into the likeness of Jesus and then crucified.

The only problem for the Muslim apologist is that scholars are virtually unanimous in their agreement that the Gospel of Barnabas is a medieval forgery. The list of anachronisms and historical blunders it contains is expansive, and evidence for it prior to medieval times is virtually non-existent.

The Crucifixion Simply Did Not Occur

The third and most popular objection to the Crucifixion among Muslim apologists is the argument that it never happened. In their view, the Gospel accounts of the event were corrupted and are laden with errors and falsehoods.

But the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross can be verified by sources outside the New Testament. The early Church Fathers were unanimous on this point. Ignatius of Antioch, writing early in the second century, tells us:

He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through his resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church. (Letter to the Smyrneans, Chapter 1).

Ignatius tells us that Jesus was certainly nailed to the cross. The term “through his resurrection” implies that he did die.

Another example from the early second century comes to us from St. Polycarp who wrote:

For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan…Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in His own body on the tree (Letter to the Phillipians, Chapter 7, 8).

There are many more quotes like these from early Christian writers. If the Muslim apologist is not willing to accept these quotes because they are from Christian sources, then consider this account from the Jewish historian Josephus:

Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principle men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first ceased not so to do; and the race of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct even now (J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 55).

Tacitus, a Roman historian and senator, also confirms the historicity of the Crucifixion:

Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular (Annals, 15.44, translation from Latin by A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb).

These two accounts from non-Christian sources have nothing to gain by propagating a falsehood. The Qur’an, on the other hand, does stand to gain by denying the Crucifixion.  

Muslims reject the Christian Trinitarian view of God, and consequently that Jesus was God incarnate.  They also reject the idea that Jesus atoned for the sins of mankind when he suffered on the cross by denying the Crucifixion altogether. But as I have demonstrated here, the evidence for the historicity of the Crucifixion is overwhelmingly on our side.


Jon Sorensen is the director of marketing for Catholic Answers.

Why Believe In Jesus?: A Case for the Existence, Divinity and Resurrection of Christ
Jesus of Nazareth was the most famous man in history—and certainly the most controversial. Was he the Son of God? A political revolutionary? Just a wise teacher whose followers turned his memory into legend? Or maybe he didn’t exist at all… except as a fanciful mixture of ancient myths. With so many competing versions of Jesus to choose from, how can we know that traditional Christian teaching about him is true—in fact, that it is worthy of our faith? In Why Believe in Jesus?, apologist Trent Horn examines the historical, biblical, and logical evidence to build a compelling case for the reasonableness of belief in the Christian Jesus: that he was truly God incarnate in first-century Judea, put to death on a cross and risen on the third day.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Josh Monroy - La Palma, California

Great article! Another common Muslim objection that I've heard recently is why would a just, loving, and holy God condemn a pious individual like Jesus to death and accept his sacrifice in behalf of wicked people? How would you respond to this?

God bless

June 9, 2014 at 7:29 pm PST
#2  Logan Rieck - Albany, Illinois

Josh, if I could attempt an answer before Jon has the chance is that Jesus Himself wasn't condemned as much as our Lord Jesus voluntarily gave Himself to be killed and sacrificed out of His love for humanity as shown in Philippians 2:6-11.

The Father gave us His Son because of His great love for us (John 3:16) and the Son voluntarily (not My will but Yours be done) and obediently followed what was prophesied and necessitated by the Father to reconcile Humanity to Himself in full knowledge (sweating drops of blood in expectation of the Cross in the Garden of Gethsemane) of the pain and humiliation He would bear unjustly.

He was condemned by men, not by God but God allowing it for our sake, and accepted because of the perfect love, obedience, and humility our Lord Jesus showed and gave to us and Him. Basically, the Muslim objection is based on ignorance of, or misinformed, theology.

I'm sure Jon could give a better answer but this is my best understanding.

June 9, 2014 at 8:06 pm PST
#3  Josh Monroy - La Palma, California

Logan that was an awesome answer straight to the truth. Thank you brother. You're right I wasn't looking at it through the eyes of Christ but through the eyes of Peter.

Mark 8:31-33

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of man was destined to suffer grievously, and to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again;

32 and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter tried to rebuke him.

33 But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do.'

God bless

June 9, 2014 at 8:17 pm PST
#4  Mari Lu - Los Angeles, California

How else can you prove that Jesus is just a man? By making sure that he didn't survive the crucifixion or that he didn't get crucified. Hence, these theories.

I believe in the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He voluntarily gave himself up for us. Nobody could harm Jesus if he didn't give them permission to. He could've called the legions of angels under his command but he chose not to. He decided instead to sacrifice himself like a lamb for atonement in the Old Testament. That way, he only had to make one sacrifice for the atonement of all mankind in comparison to the sacrifice that people who had sinned used to do back then--everytime they had sinned.

June 9, 2014 at 11:48 pm PST
#5  Jon Sorensen - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Josh, I was going to try and answer your question but I don't think I could top Logan's response. God bless you!

June 10, 2014 at 10:27 am PST
#6  Josh Monroy - La Palma, California

Another point of contention to the Muslim claim of a "Jesus substitute" is why would Allah allow Jesus to go through the road to Calvary and endure such immense pain if he would later just replace him on the cross?

June 10, 2014 at 11:08 am PST
#7  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

Excellent article, well-written and truthful. Even when I first learned the fundamentals of Islam, what struck me was how contradictory their beliefs in Christ were (namely, that Christ was a prophet who taught Islam and not what he taught in the gospels about himself). They're so at odds with every source we have of Jesus predating Islam that they have to settle with the theory that there was this massive search and destroy of all the "true gospels" and that the apostles all lied about who Jesus really was. It's easy to see how bizarre this theory is, and it's one reason I wish Muslims could be taught the history of Christianity vs the history of Islam.

June 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm PST
#8  Josh Monroy - La Palma, California

It's ironic that in their religion they have this doctrine taquiyya which allows deception. Yet they claim it's Christians who are dishonest about the true Gospel Jesus preached.

June 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm PST
#9  Christopher Travis - Huntsville, Alabama

Let us not forget they are so far off that they also believe Blessed Mary was part of the Holy Trinity and we know Christianity never taught that, however, there was a heretical sect nearby to Muhammed that did teach that.

I also like to point out to them that Muhammed was a single witness born hundreds of years later while the apostles were there at the scene and personaly knew Jesus. After telling them that I preceed to ask them this question..."How did your grandfather or great grandfather pass away?" When they answer that question with all sincerity and honestly, I tell them no he didn't, he died of this or that, something different than what they tell me. They then always look perplexed that I changed the history of someone they loved. After that they tend to understand my Christian point of view about truth and tradition. I can then explain that not one apostle died for a lie, and ask them i

June 11, 2014 at 6:05 am PST
#10  Christopher Travis - Huntsville, Alabama

(Sorry my hand hit the post comment button by accident before I was done) ....if they expect me to die preserving the false story I had just made up about their grandfather or great grandfather. They know the answer is no, then neither did the apostles and many more Chistians die for a lie.

God bless and let us be as brave and chairitable as St. Francis when having dialouge with Muslims. All we can do is plant the seed and pray it blossoms.

June 11, 2014 at 6:17 am PST
#11  Josh Monroy - La Palma, California

I agree Christopher. It's very clear from scripture that Jesus referred to himself with titles attributable to God only. Even his disciples called him "my Lord and my God" John 20:28. I think there are several way we can approach evangelization to Muslims.

The first thing we must admit is that Muslims worship the same God we do. While Muhammad may not have been a prophet of God because he ultimately denied the revelation of our Lord in the NT. He was indeed a social reformer. He did bring the polytheistic Arabs of his time to the one true God. He did so because in his time Arabs were part of warring tribes. I assume he saw something different in the Jewish and Christian communities that surrounded him. In them he saw uniformity, stability and peace.

June 11, 2014 at 8:15 am PST
#12  Josh Monroy - La Palma, California

He lacked legitimacy however in order to establish monotheism and the Judaic-Christian morality so he proclaimed himself a prophet of God. Islam has many aspects of our faith, so there is a light of truth in their religion but much of it is sadly clouded with distortions and outright lies.

June 11, 2014 at 8:19 am PST
#13  Mari Lu - Los Angeles, California

Agreed.

June 11, 2014 at 8:39 am PST
#14  Josh Monroy - La Palma, California

Secondly Islam is a religion based primarily on a book the Qur'an. We must dispel the lies that attack the fundamentals of our faith. We have to pray to God to give us the Spirit of truth to show Muslims that the Bible narrative is true. There are several points we need to clarify.

1. Are there variations within our scriptures? Sure some documents vary in words but not meaning for example replacing "man" with "mortal".
2. Why are some books rejected? Well the Gnostic books are outright forgeries which were written much later.
3. Who actually wrote the Gospel accounts? We can provide them with proof that it was common understanding by Christian tradition that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by said authors.
4. Why do Catholics have more books in their Bible than Protestants? We follow the Christian canon while Protestants follow the Jewish canon.
5. Show them that the dead sea scrolls prove that the Torah has not been altered that our community albeit Jewish has been faithful to preserving revelation.

June 11, 2014 at 8:42 am PST
#15  Liam Sutherland - pyongyang, P'yongyang Special City

Hello followers of God, this may be a bit of topic but please bare with me. I was recently a strong Catholic with a lot of faith in God (praise his glorious name). Sadly I have recently questioned his existence and have become more open minded on his existence. I have asked myself questions about life and how we came about on this planet Earth. I have studied a lot about this and I must say a lot of it does not make sense. I have to come to a conclusion that God may not exist and your life of following a mythical man in the sky is all fake. From what I know he may be a unicorn not trying to offend feel free to reply your thoughts

June 19, 2014 at 5:24 pm PST
#16  Logan Rieck - Albany, Illinois

Liam, first off we do not follow a mythical man in the sky; that is an absurd and ignorant conception of God. You probably mean Jesus Christ Who is fully Man and fully God yet we do not believe Jesus ascended and lives in the sky but in Heaven.

Secondly, God is Being Itself which would be why He wouldn't be a unicorn (God's I AM answer to Moses being the simplest proof). It is not simply a caricature of man, as some atheists posit it, but a fully transcendent Being "in Whom we live and breathe and have our being" as St. Paul said in Athens. He is ultimately incomprehensible to Man and beyond himself which is why it's silly to examine God next to the pagan gods of Rome, Greece, Egypt, etc.

I used to be an atheist and am now a Catholic. It's okay to question, it's what led me to God and His Church. If you have any thing else to say I'm here to help.

June 24, 2014 at 6:31 pm PST
#17  Maria Case - Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Liam,
For me, I feel God gave us the gift of intellect which can question, so it's not wrong to doubt, especially with all the misinformation out there, and the ridicule so handily dealt out to anyone who believes in something he can't see immediately for himself. But the Church doesn't teach us to have "blind faith" but to look into the facts and testimonies we have.

It would take, on the face of it, a completely blind, unjustifiable faith, to believe that:
1) all the Gospels and Epistles and Acts were made up or fictitional, and yet not only were so beautiful, detailed, consistant, and chronistic, but yet were somehow copied loyally, painstakingly, so accurately, and in such great peril by so many for so long, and then preserved (dude, Dead Sea Scrolls!?!?) through all those years of horrible persecutions;
2) that thousands of people all over the world *willingly* gave their lives in horrific ways, often publicly and unnecessarily if they'd only recanted, to testify to its truth;
3) that many of the greatest minds of antiquity till now, from Tertullian to CS Lewis, many of whom actually sought to refute it, came to believe in this faith and articulate it so intelligently all these centuries - that all of these great minds got it all wrong after all;
4) that all the archeological digs that have proven both Old and New Testament claims are all somehow faulty or hoaxes even though modern science accepts their findings;
5) that all of the overwhelming amount of breathtaking, inspired art, architecture, music, and writings dedicated to these teachings and the God that imparted them are simply misguided genius or done for the sake of the patron's money;
6) and that all of the people who have had near death experiences and met Him on the other side of the threshold, many not even Christians, many Muslim, atheist, etc., and who have come back to tell us that it is all true and that God really does love us and will meet us as Jesus - that all of those people are lying for attention, or were merely hallucinating even though they had no brain waves and wouldn't be able to remember hallucinations from a death state.

Something is going on, something beyond our five senses. And something happened 2,000 years ago, people who did experiece it with their five senses risked everything to get the word to us, us today. And there is no way that I am not going to be a part of that. No way I am going to believe all the naysayers who make a lot of money and gain fame, and fan their egos as they trot around trying to make me and every other believer out to be a moron.

I do however read their arguments. I read Bart Ehrman's book about the Gospels' inconsistancies. It only reconfirmed my belief that what the Church teaches is most likely, from an intellectual standpoint... all true.

For instance, he states in that book about 10 or more times that almost all of the differences from one Gospel copy to another are insubstantial; spelling differences before there were dictionaries or set spellings at all, synonyms that do not change the sense of the relating, etc.

But then he takes on things like:
a. the Johannine Comma's not being original and this indicating the Christian Bible never really mentions the Trinity (?!?! which it actually does in many places, AND there is better info saying it was in the very earliest copies anyway, but Mr. E conveniently leaves this out of his book);
b. that the story of the woman about to be stoned was added later and therefore it and everything else may very well not be true (huh? It was ALL word of mouth at one point; why not add something that was handed down from that time; why would that make everything suspect?).
and c. He says things that are said in the Bible are simply interpreted by others and turned into dogma, but in that very same paragraph he takes a turn interpreting the very same sample verse in his own words - in one fell swoop saying that no one can interpret it, that the church father had it wrong, and then proceding to tell us what it really means!!!
It's ludicrous, but he is rolling in dough and surrounded by people who put their blind faith in him and shower him with accolades.

Liam, read more posts on this site; go ahead and ask your biggest, toughest questions. If you don't get your answer, ask another question about whatever it was you didn't buy in the answer.

Did you get the unicorn thing from Dawkins? Try Pope Benedict's writings on Jesus of Nazereth.

Jesus' life as recorded in the Bible is the truest, most central, most important fact that has ever or will ever happen in human history or our future. Don't discard it out of hand. Search.

July 22, 2014 at 8:15 pm PST

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