© A.R.Miller, 2023
(1) Historical Roman Crucifixion
(2) The Origins of the Narration of the Crucifixion of Jesusﷺ
(3) What Does the Qur’an Say and Why?
(4) How Did the New Theology Develop?
(5) The Letters of Paul - The Context Is Key - Gentile Conversion
(6) The Qur’an in Contrast
(7) Complete Gospel Readings
“There shall be no compulsion in acceptance of the religion, for the truth stands out clearly from falsehood. So whoever renounces false gods and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah is All-Hearing and All-Knowing”.
Surah 2: 256
“And because of their saying (in boast) ‘We killed Messiah Isa, son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah’ - but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it appeared so to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts. They have no knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture. For surely they killed him not.”
The Crucifixion of Jesusﷺ is the key most important component of the New Testament in the Bible for most Christians. This event defines nearly the entire corpus of Christian theology as we know it today.
The above listed Surah (4:157) is extremely hard for a Christian to read, because the immediate feeling is “that can’t be right” or “how dare they make such a scandalous claim”. For a Muslim with no real experience of Christianity, the passage is pretty neutral. For the Christian however, it strikes a blow to the very core of the faith. This document will consist of my attempts to allow a Christian a better and deeper understanding of the Qur’anic verse (4:157). A Christian (or other non-Muslim) reader that understands the Gospels and the Christian Creed, it should be understood that this verse should not be interpreted as a refutation or rebuttal, rather if read as intended, it points out the confusion and uncertainty of the interpretation and narration of the events, and how these events have, over time, been manipulated to prove points that drive a wedge between the believer and God. Truly it is my hope that by the end of this paper you will see the real beauty of Surah 4:157, and how much hope and joy it can bring to you when you see its truth and understand it the way it was intended.
The Crucifiction is a topic that is so important and central to the modern day core understanding of what Jesusﷺ did while he was on this earth, that it could be argued that his actual “message” has been diminished because of this event. We can see that the apostle Paul devoted a great focus of his writings around this main theme and his writings consist of over 50% of the content that we find in canon of the New Testament. We will explore his reasons.
I am also going to attempt to show the relationship of Surah 2:256 (above) with Paul’s writings.
For a Christian considering Islam, this Surah (4:157) is one of the major stumbling blocks, or should I say blockers, for people considering converting to Islam. It was for me. This topic, in conjunction with feelings of the betrayal of Jesusﷺ , really kept me back and it took over two years of research and study until I was finally able to intellectually accept what the Islamic teaching proposed.
It is my hope that the content of this material will help you in some small way. I personally spent so much time researching this topic that I feel that I should share with you all what I have learned. Please note that this is my understanding and my justifications. I am not an Islamic scholar, nor am I a Christian scholar. What I am is a student of Islam, with a lifetime of Christian learning. I feel that I have done the best that I could in the job of understanding all the different aspects surrounding this event and that by offering them to you, the reader, for your consumption and review, it will be a small return for the blessings that God our Creator has bestowed upon me in this life.
What is going to be written here may be difficult for some readers, especially those who have never encountered arguments or other opinions outside of what they have learned in church.
We will first break apart historical components from the theological (or maybe better called historical theology), that we find in the re-telling of the event in the Gospels. I am also going to include the writings in Acts and other sources.
We will first look at the historical side of things, what crucifixion was and meant, from what we know from outside biblical sources. What I mean here is that to understand in a historical context what a crucifixion meant in terms of punishment in ancient Rome, we need to look at sources that will give us this information in a historical context. The Gospels are not true historical documents. Yes, they do have some historical components to them. However, they were written by trained scribes/writers in highly sophisticated Greek for theological purposes, many decades and even a century after the events happened. They were not written to give a day to day, month by month, hour by hour accounting of events. There is no chain of narration so we cannot understand who dictated what to whom. They are theological interpretations giving a perspective that falls in line with the agreed upon harmonization of theology to identify and understand the life work of Jesusﷺ. And while we have four Gospels that have been accepted into the canon of the New Testament, there are additional Gospels, for example the Gospel of James or the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Thomas, and others, that survived and were read all through the middle ages until they were turned aside because the theology that was taught in them did not align with the agreed upon theology of the time that persists to this day.
This may come as a shock to you. But yes, there are other Gospels out there that were considered “God’s word” for hundreds of years, that were allegedly written by an apostle (Peter, James, Thomas, Barnabas), and that had interpretations of Jesus’ﷺ death that were quite different from what we read in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Therefore, if you are someone who believes that the chosen four Gospels (chosen by men mind you) describe an actual historical event exactly as it happened with no contradictions, no differences, just the literal facts of what happened, that they came down from heaven immediately after the Messiah’s death, written down by scribes at that time and saved - then my advice to you is to stop right here and do not read any further, because nothing I am going to say going forward is going to make any sense to you and may just upset you. If you are interested in understanding why I am stating that the Gospels can not be interpreted literally as actual documentation of historical events, then please first take it upon yourself to become familiar with New Testament studies and critical analysis. I have some reading material listed at the end of this paper that you can review and start with if you wish.
I will promise you though, dear reader, that I will not disparage in any way any part or parts of theological opinions, teachings, or creeds that are found in or derived from the New Testament. But I will show how they were developed over time to meet theological needs and answer questions from arguments that were being posed. Therefore, please continue reading with the knowledge that your thoughts and feelings are taken into consideration as I write this.
Let us begin by taking a look at what crucifixion was and how it was used in the Roman world from a historical perspective.
Let's first understand what crucifixion was in the Roman world. Crucifixion was generally saved for those who committed extremely serious crimes against the state, or better said, against Rome, and who needed to be made an example of. An example of this is someone who is an enemy of the state, someone who generates insurrection against the Roman empire, or is condemned with sedition.
In these cases there would be no quarter, no mercy shown to the person convicted of any of these crimes. He would be severely beaten and then hung on the cross for days, and the average amount of time before death came was 2 to 3 days. Even after a severe beating, death was not quick to come. The person was meant to suffer for a long time. After death, the body was left to rot on the cross until finally it was taken down and thrown into a pit, a “dumpster” in modern words, with other crucified people. The body would be bloated, ready to burst (sometimes did), animals would eat from it while the person was still alive, as well as dead. No decent burial, no chance to pray before being crucified, while hanging there to be fed upon by wild animals whilst still alive as well as being dead. This is how awful crucifixion was.
The reason for leaving the body hanging was to warn anyone else out there that if they challenged Roman authority and rule, this is what they should expect. It took away and prevented someone from falling to their knees/face and supplicating to God for forgiveness before they died. Simply horrible.
And to say again, the crucifixion was a public deterrent, the body was meant to hang and rot away so that people were terrified that it could happen to them if they did not follow the law.
People who were crucified were not allowed to be buried in graves according to both Jewish and Roman law. The reason for this from the Roman side was that the Roman empire wanted to show clearly that if you decide to create a rebellion, insurrection or become an enemy of the state, you will be hung until you die a long and painful death and your body would be left out in the open to be picked upon and eaten by all the various animals while still alive and continuing once dead. All the while being in public view and naked. This shows that if you decide to rebel against the Roman power then this will be your expected end result. Pretty effective I would say.
Another interesting historical fact is that Jewish law did not permit people who were hung on trees and left overnight and died to be buried. If you were to die while being hung on a tree then you were considered to be cursed. We can find this in Deut. 21:22-23, “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a tree, you must not leave the body hanging on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance”. It is important to note here that the biblical writers of the New Testament were indeed aware of this law, and therefore it was important that Jesusﷺ was not left on the cross overnight, otherwise he would have fallen under God’s curse and he would then curse the ground he was buried in. Keep in mind here then that not being left hanging overnight is in fact a pretty big deal, and the writers of the Gospels needed to ensure that they had him come down early.
When we look at historical things and try to evaluate it we know that there must be historical evidence to back up its claims. Roman crucifixion, as stated above, has strong evidence and can be found in various historical resources. Without this evidence, it becomes a fictional story or just someone's interpretation.
Let us now turn our attention to where we obtain the narrative of Jesus’ﷺ crucifixion. Remember, this is a narrative that we have from the Gospels, not historical fact. I need only point out the many areas of non-historical accounts that the Gospels make that are not aligned with each other (ie: birth narrative), completely wrong about historical dates (ie: who was ruling what when), etc. This paper will not go through all these errors and contradictions in the Gospels, you can review any of the sources that I have listed in the bibliography for your own reference and knowledge. We will move forward by stating that the Gospels are not historical documents, but we can assume that something happened that they are narrating, and I believe that there is enough evidence to understand that it is not completely fiction. Just what happened, exactly, is unknown, and we will attempt to explore here.
First let us define what Jesus’ﷺ mission and message were. By all accounts he was an apocryphal prophet, following in the footsteps of John the Baptist, preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. What this meant is that Jesusﷺ believed that the Kingdom of God was coming, and that his 12 disciples would be given special positions of power in the new kingdom, and he would be the ruler (Mt.19:28).
In Matt.19:28 we find: “...age to come, when the Son of Man is seated upon his glorious throne, you will also sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel”. Please note that he said “12”, which therefore included Judas. Did Jesusﷺ not know of his betrayal forthcoming when he made this statement? Another topic for another time.
Jesusﷺ did not entirely shift away from John the Baptist’s apocalyptic message during his own ministry, but did add loving the Lord God with all your heart, mind, soul, and loving your neighbor as yourself. These thoughts, as well as charity, forgiveness and other unmistakable characteristics that were uniquely his and is what his message was about.
We can clearly see that he was not in any way creating or stating that he would be the “suffering Messiah” or the “bridge of the chasm between heaven and earth” or that he “must suffer and die to satisfy God’s righteous anger”, which were created later, mostly by Paul.
Paul’s writings pre-dated the Gospels including and up to 40 years. It was this message from Paul that fueled and originated the Gospel narratives about crucifying the messenger Jesusﷺ. We will talk about Paul’s message later on.
In the Qur’an we find this statement.
“but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it appeared so to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts..”
The Qur’an insists that they killed him not, nor did they crucify him. Let's explore this part a bit.
Most people know the crucifixion account given in the four Gospels. What I want to look at first is that in the book of Acts, we see a very different narrative of the account. Here are the verses.
Acts 5:30 “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree”
Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree” (reportedly Peter was speaking this)
Acts 13:29 “When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb” (reportedly Paul was speaking this)
What is important from these verses is that the word “tree” and “hanged” is used, and not cross or crucifixion. This is very important in my view, because:
This is one of the earliest documents written, certainly before Matthew, and John, and perhaps a couple years prior to Mark and debated with Luke.
Being hung from a tree is entirely different from being nailed to a cross (or being hung from a cross of any shape)
Nothing is mentioned about who laid him in a tomb, while all four Gospel accounts state it was Joseph of Arimathea. Now Paul (Saul) was a well respected, knowledgeable and influential Pharisee, who would certainly have known who Joseph was (a respected member of the council), so why was his name left out in Acts? Especially in verse 29 in which Paul is speaking.
The four Gospel accounts we have contradict each other about the event. Many Christians view the Gospel of John as the real account, and they will quote actively from it. I want to state that there are three other versions, and they do not all tie together. For instance, Matthew/Mark/Luke say the crucifixion happened After the Passover, whereas John says it was Before. “and those who differ therein are full of doubts..”
Some contradictions when comparing the four Gospels:
Three of the Gospels agree that another man carried the cross, one does not.
Each Gospel differs on what and when the drink was offered
Three of the Gospels agree that it was 3 o’clock at the time of his death, one does not
Two Gospels agree on his last words, the other two have different sayings
Three Gospels agree that people watched from a distance, John says they were near the cross *and it may well have been that John updated this part because of the possibility that someone else was hung there as a replacement and he wanted to stop that narrative.
Matthew/Mark/Luke say the event happened after Passover, John says before *again it may well have been that John updated this part because the after Passover removal was causing issues and he wanted to stop that narrative.
If he was taken down early, this in itself means that this is not a real, formal crucifixion, and the likelihood of survival is great. The crucifixion would have been non-lethal in the case of coming down after just six hours. The historian Flavius Josephus comments in his “The Life of Flavius Josephus” that he had seen people taken down from crucifixion and surviving afterwards (people who hung for much longer amounts of time).
So there are a number of contradictions, and to be fair there are also agreements. We see the Gospels being developed, one being written and then referenced and strengthened in their message for the next one that was written.
All of the Gospels agree on the location, Golgotha and that it was Joseph of Arimathea that took him down. Having these agreements makes for a compelling analysis of what our brains do when faced with contradictions and then agreements.
When something like this happens, the human mind will stick with the one narrative that is most compelling (and I think we can all agree that John is that one), and then use the other three to support it, while ignoring the differences. I find that this happens all the time and when I speak with Christians about the event, while kindly pointing out that there are differences, I am told that John is the correct historical account.
Make no mistake about this. The majority of people rely on the account given in John as the correct one. Why? Because it is the most compelling. I have the four accounts listed at the end of my paper that you can read, and after you have finished, see what happens when you try to reconcile them together.
The most common counter then that I give to my Christian friends is whether or not Passover had completed at the time of the crucifixion, and depending on their answer (either before or after), I then point to one or the other Gospels as ask why does this one disagree?
I think therefore we can safely agree with the Qur’an that “those who differ therein are full of doubts”.
I have heard Christians argue that the reason he was taken down early was because they did not want a fellow Jew hanging during Passover (never mind the other criminals and what they were). Well, this goes to further point out the development theory of the creation of the Gospels, here John is making a specific point about Passover to help cement the argument of being taken down early. But we know full well that if you are crucified, you are kept hanging up there for days as a public demonstration to the full power of Rome, and a local religious holiday is not going to change or stop anything.
“nor crucified him, but it appeared so to them” - It “appeared” so. This is the key statement, appeared. I think we have seen that yes, it did indeed appear that he was crucified. We have another man carrying the cross (as confirmed in three of the Gospels), we also know that by being taken down early, it was not a full, lethal crucifixion. This is in perfect harmony with my claims that the crucifixion was not a full, extended, ending with a rotting corpse crucifixion, it only appeared that he was crucified. The key word here is “appeared”, but the Arabic is a bit more complicated with this.
The Arabic of this verse and these words are in the passive state. What this means is that it does not directly identify “who” it was, so it can also be interpreted as “someone resembling him”. Remember that three of the Gospel’s stated that someone else carried the cross, and his followers were at a distance, so this is plausible. Let us not forget that Jesusﷺ had a twin, Thomas Didymos (Thomas - which means twin), and it could have been possible to have had a switch, Thomas instead of Jesusﷺ, or Jude, another brother (or cousin) of Jesusﷺ. In the early Eastern Church, this was the belief, that someone else that looked like Jesusﷺ was crucified. The Gospel of Barnabas also states this. So in this fact, it would be made to appear so and someone resembling him took his place.
And think about it. If the carrying of the cross was done by someone else, when that person got to the location, do you really think that the Roman guards are going to recognize who was who? The man carrying the cross was the man that was going to be hung on it. Also, if Jesus was severely beaten and then gave the cross to another to carry, there is a very good chance that someone then hid him in the crowd to care for him.
The Gnostics (and some modern churches) state that Jesusﷺ was two entities, one was the person of Jesusﷺ, the other was the Christ that was infused with him. Now during the crucifixion the Christ part left Jesus, and so he went back to being the mortal man that he was. So the Christ, the prophet, was not crucified.
Again the Qur’an is making sense and we can agree with it.
“but they killed him not” - I think here we have evidence that he was still alive, either because he was substituted, or not fully dead because it was not a full on crucifixion as it was terminated early. The resurrection accounts, which we will need to dive into in another article, state that he was indeed alive after this event, regardless of what happened. So then he was not killed, he survived. But also because they could not kill him, he was the prophet and messenger of God, and he is still alive, meaning he was taken to heaven (which the Gospels and the Qur’an agree upon). So in a literal meaning this statement in the Qur’an is correct.
So much confusion! When was he put up, when was he taken down, why was he taken down, was he hung on a tree, who was hung up? “full of doubts”.
The Qur’an (4:157) states: “And because of their saying (in boast) ‘We killed Messiah Isa, son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah’ - but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it appeared so to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts. They have no knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture. For surely they killed him not.”
When I first read this I was startled and confused, “it can’t be right” I told myself, he was crucified, there is no doubt. I really struggled with this, and prayed that God our Creator would enlighten me and help me understand.
So let's continue by breaking down this verse bit by bit to understand what it is trying to tell us.
“We killed Messiah Isa” - Who is “we” here? Well this is in reference to the Jews, and certainly it was not them that killed Jesusﷺ, as we have seen. It was the Romans who sentenced him. So this statement of the Qur’an is correct. Even if we removed the “we”, the Messiah was not killed, as we will see below.
“but they killed him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so to them” - as pointed out above he was not killed-killed (in that they left him there to rot until his body fell apart, and was taken down and thrown into a pit. We spoke at length already about appearing so.
“They have no knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture” - Because we have no on the spot, historical narrative written immediately after the events with a clear chain of communication and transmission. There is room for doubt. No one who was there wrote an account, and the writings we have are nearly thirty to fifty years to a century after the fact. So only making assumptions is straight on. We have four Gospels with four different accounts, we have at least three non-canonical Gospels, two not stating anything (remarkable that they would ignore it) and one giving a different account. We have the book of Acts giving yet another account (hung on a tree). We have the letters of Paul with different takes. We have different churches in different parts of the world giving different accounts in the early years. Yes, this verse makes perfect sense. The second part of this verse, about no knowledge whatsoever only making assumptions, I believe could point as an example to Paul and how he made assumptions, as did others, including me in this paper!
“For surely they killed him not” - because Jesusﷺ was alive after the event, and still is, and therefore, unlike other human beings, he could not be killed because death is final. It may have appeared so to them, but it was not the case. So they certainly did not kill him. This is my favorite line.
Surah 4:157 really is saying that God protected Jesusﷺ by creating confusion and disarray. Jesusﷺ was taken up to heaven, and is with God. This is the Islamic testimony, and you can see that it perfectly aligns with the Christian in this regard, that Jesusﷺ is alive in heaven.
The Surah in the Qur’an (4:157) is logical and makes perfect sense. While at first I struggled with it, I have come to terms because I can see that its narration is much more in line with what most likely was the historical event.
It also makes me happy, because in the end Jesusﷺ was victorious! They all plotted and schemed to have him killed, and he beat them all because God was with him, and protected him, and did not forsake nor abandon him.
The Qur’an does not contradict anything, and in fact, helps highlight the manipulations of the content of the Gospels to fit the needs of theologians throughout Christian history. By leveraging the Qur’an’s verse, we can focus on the mission of the Prophet Jesusﷺ and his message.
Think about it, if we were to focus on the message of Jesusﷺ, how much better off we would all be! Imagine focusing on the beatitudes, or the parables of love, charity, keeping God first in our lives, how we would be in a much better place and not be blinded by complicated salvation theology so that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism (will cover this shortly).
Jesusﷺ did not entirely shift away from John the Baptist’s apocalyptic message during his own ministry, but did add loving the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Which is truly what his message was about.
We can clearly see that he did not in any way create or state that he would be the “suffering Messiah” or the “bridge of the chasm between heaven and earth” or that he “must suffer and die to satisfy God’s righteous anger”, which were created later, mostly by Paul, and then added to the Gospel accounts.
Paul had a motive for his assumptions, he needed to bridge the gap between Gentile and the Jewish law, and he was able to manipulate the account to meet his ends. This was his resolution that he created to cover a huge problem in his day.
Paul was desperate, none of the disciples of Jesusﷺ (those who were actually with him) supported Paul and his efforts that Gentiles need not follow Jewish law, and because the end of days was soon to come in his mind, he needed a bridging event right then and there. And this is what he came up with. Let’s look first at who the Gospels were written for.
THE AUDIENCE THE GOSPELS WERE WRITTEN FOR
So let's look now at the Gospels and how they were written, who they were written by and who for. Finally we will look at when they were written. We will also inspect the different narratives on a high level. We will also review the historical facts versus the narratives, and see how they align. I am including this so that the reader can further understand how and why I am drawing my conclusions. If you want a more scholarly, detailed writing, I have included some excellent books in the bibliography that you can review.
I think the main point to understand is that the Gospels were not written in a “this is how it happened step by step” historical, literal and contextual way by people who were there and witnessed the event. We do not have any chain of narration from eye witnesses. We know that the Gospel accounts were not written down until a good 35 to 100+ years after the events happened. Mark was written roughly between the years of 66-70 AD. Matthew and Luke roughly 85-90 AD and John 90-110 AD. We don't know who frankly wrote the Gospels. And we don't know exactly when. There are many theories as to the dates of when the Gospels were written, which is all guess work, very good no doubt, but still guesswork. However I think that what we do know is that the gospels were written in separate places and times and they follow a pattern of development which means that after one was written its contents were known and further developed upon by the next one that was written, and so on.
Even though they were not written in a literal, historical way, they are currently used as such in modern day pulpits.
The only full manuscripts we have are copies that date back to the 7th century. So this means that the actual, original copies from the dates I have given are not available. What we have are copies of copies of copies of copies, you get the idea. And because we don’t have the originals, we can not say for sure what was actually written, nor when. Scholars are able to pinpoint best guesses as to when they were written, by analyzing where they were written, the events that are referred to, and many other small but important details. The Gospels were changed over time as well. Let me give a quick case in point.
There is a 5th century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark in Greek that states that Jesus’ﷺ cry from the cross is “my God, my God, why have you mocked me”. Although the Aramaic is the same, the Greek uses the word “mocked” instead of “forsaken”. Why is this? Well, one theory is that the Greek word for “forsaken” also means “left behind”, and during the time that this change was made, a Gnostic group was claiming that the Messiah (Christ) spirit in the human body of Jesusﷺ had left, leaving the human part of Jesusﷺ to suffer. In order to combat this developing theology of the Gnostics, the scribe(s) altered the words so that they could no longer make this argument. Even today we find some Christian churches using this view that the scribes tried so hard to erase! Keep in mind that the bible that we know of today was not in existence at this time, and therefore any one of the many Gospel accounts being used by the many different groups of Christians that existed created a number of interpretations that were very troubling to the church.
Another example in Mark is the first sentence, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, here we find that “the Son of God” is not found in some early manuscripts. Was it added? Or was the earlier version where it was not added a mistake? So is it okay for later scribes to correct what is supposed to be the word of God?
This is only two of the many, many, numerous alterations of the text that we will dive into at another time. Let me add that some of the alterations that were made will shake your belief to the core. They are even found in the letters of Paul, where scribes altered the text. I have listed in the bibliography some reading material if you are interested in this. Let me add that women not being allowed to speak while in church has a very interesting history.
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest known Gospel, and we can see that Luke and Matthew drew heavily from it, even at times verbatim, and developed the story even more. Am I saying that the Gospels were exaggerations? I would not go that far, but they were certainly written with clear, theological goals and persuasions in mind.
When we look back at that time (of Jesusﷺ), we need to understand that the language in use was Aramaic, and while there were a few people in the area who could write basic Greek, they were few and far between. So the question then is, is it possible that the eye-witnesses to the event could have related their experience in the written books that we have today known as the Gospels? Could uneducated, illiterate fishermen really tell this narrative of the crucifixion (in the way it is currently written)? There is no possible way that they themselves could have written it *(unless of course you wish to suspend your disbelief and they were miraculously gifted the ability to do so).
Then could it have been that they dictated in their language (Aramaic) and then the scribes refined and wrote in Greek with the disciples managing and reviewing? This is hard to imagine, especially if the fishman had no idea of the Greek that was being written. Again, the sophisticated style of the prose in the Greek used means that there would have been a lot of time considering the theological implications, and not a day to day, event by event listing, which is something we simply do not have from the Gospels we have today.
Which leads me to question, why don’t we have a dictated version of the events by a disciple written by a scribe at the time? Or even a student of a disciple dictating to a scribe the events? If this monumental event, that literally changed the world and closed the chasm between heaven and earth (a theory and idea that would not really come about until 400 years later), not have been recorded? Don’t you think that at least one of the disciples would do everything in their power to record this? And the dictation would read and sound like it was coming from a fisherman relating the events. And it would be saved, and stored, and the chain of who was keeping it, or even if it was a narration the chain would be kept. But we have nothing like this.
Then we have the question of who wrote them and how they were written. The Gospels were written in a stylized form of Greek, which means that the number of people who could actually write in such a polished way were very few. This leaves out the guess that perhaps the disciples dictated the narrative to a scribe who then translated it to Greek, polished and refined it, and then improved upon it immediately after the event. There was a great deal of time, effort and energy that went into the development and writing for each of the Gospels, so that leaves out this possibility.
The Gospels were written by educated writers who had clear theological goals in mind and were interpreting those goals into their contents, years after the events had happened. Which makes sense when we look at the development of each Gospel, and how they expand upon each other. Mark was the first Gospel written, 30 plus years after the events, and we see its content expanded upon in Matthew, then Luke, and finally John, another 30 years plus after Mark was written.
So the illiterate fisherman dictating the narrative at the time of the event, or shortly thereafter, is not feasible. However, these same men could very well “tell” their story to others, who then relate it to others, and so on. This makes sense. But where is the chain of narration, where is the evidence for this?
Let me point out an important fact. If these events happened as we are led to believe they did, don’t you think that the men and women who witnessed them would go through tremendous efforts to ensure that they were preserved? That the one who dictated the narrative would claim that they were told this by this eyewitness, or that eyewitness, or they were the eyewitness themselves. And this would carry down through each chain of narration, especially if a man, Jesusﷺ, whom everyone believed was the son of God and who was sacrificing himself for the redemption of the world, actually happened? Sadly though, we do not find this. In fact, there is nothing written until 20 to 30 years after the event, and written by a man who was not an eyewitness, nor a member of the group of disciples, who was writing a letter to a Christian community that he founded with his own interpretation of events.
Now I understand that the letters of Paul will argue that his death was 100% necessary, that Jesusﷺ had to die (had to be killed) in order to satisfy God’s righteous anger with humanity (stemming from Adam and Eve). It had to be a blood sacrifice. However, as the Qur’an states, Paul had no knowledge of the crucifixion whatsoever, and is only making assumptions on his part. And remember that Paul had a motive for his assumptions, he needed to bridge the gap between a Gentile wanting to become Christian and the Jewish law, and he was able to use and manipulate the account to meet his ends, basically bypass Jewish law by leveraging the crucifixion. This was a huge revelation to him, providing the solution to the problem that he encountered in his day.
What is so fascinating is that this man, Paul (originally named Saul before his conversion), did not initially believe that Jesusﷺ was anything more than one of many claimants to have special abilities and authority from God. He outright rejected the claims of his being the Messiah (again before he converted), because there was no “suffering Messiah” theology anywhere to be found in the Jewish religion. Jesusﷺ was the exact opposite of what the Messiah was suppose to be. Therefore Saul, like all the other Jews around him, outright rejected the claims being made by the disciples of Jesusﷺ. Even today, Jews reject Jesus’ﷺ claims outright.
But after he converted and began to fear that the end times were coming, Paul was faced with an incredibly difficult problem. You see, Jews were automatically given salvation by God because they were the chosen people. They had laws to follow, but these laws did not make or break their salvation. If you were born a Jew, you were automatically one of the chosen people. For Gentiles though, it was different. There was no salvation for them, they were not born Jews, so unless they became Jews themselves, meaning they had to be circumcised, follow kosher dietary laws, go through the conversion process, etc., they were left out, left behind. Many Gentiles, while responding positively to the message Paul was preaching, did not want to become circumcised (which at the time was a dangerous procedure for an adult), nor were they eager to become Jews necessarily. The disciples in Jerusalem however, (those who actually lived, ate, spoke with, slept with, traveled with Jesusﷺ) “insisted” that a Gentile had to convert to Judaism to become a Christian (the Jewish Rite of Christianity).
Paul was desperate, because to become a Christian you had to first become a Jew. This is what the early, first church demanded. Without becoming a Jew, a Gentile could not be saved and go to heaven. But not all Gentiles wanted to follow Jewish law, laws that required becoming circumcised. Paul needed a bypass. He met with the disciples of Jesusﷺ (those who were actually with him) in Jerusalem, and the ruling was that Gentiles would have to follow the laws of Noah if they wanted to become Christian. Remember Jesusﷺ came for the house of Israel (his own words) “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt.15:24). This decision was not what Paul wanted. None of the disciples supported Paul (there is even a passage where the disciples claimed to have peace after they sent Paul away), and because the end of days was soon to come in his mind, and the Gentiles needed saving, he needed a bridging event right then and there. And this “by faith alone” is what he came up with. He took this death event, twisted it to replace the sacrificial system of the Jews (which of course is not “blood” sacrifice) to mean that Gentiles need not be beholden to Jewish law. Notice how he defends his arguments, especially in Galatians, where he states if anyone (even the Angels or disciples) contradicts him they are accursed by God.
Paul was facing Gentiles who were polytheists, and so his salvation theology was centered around saving these polytheists by using the death of the Messiah as a bridge over the Jewish requirements, but also to reject the other gods they worshiped. In the Roman era, all citizens were “expected” to pay tribute to all the gods that were around. Not doing so would cause you trouble with the law (*side note - only the Jews were excluded from this requirement in the entire Roman empire!). Generation after generation of doing this type of worship meant it was ingrained in the society. Which meant that Paul had a two way battle going on, on the one side those people requiring Jewish law be upheld, and on the other polytheistic worship. You can also see that there was another important reason to become Jewish first before becoming a Christian, and that was so that you could be excluded from polytheistic worship. Gentiles rejecting becoming Jews may have also been rejecting monotheism.
If you were to re-read Paul’s letters in this light, it will really open your eyes to what he was trying to do. We can see this in the book of Acts. It is gravely unfortunate that his message was subverted and changed over the centuries, and re-read particularly as a means of fighting Catholic dogma by the Protestants. This famous “you are saved by grace through faith” came to be re-interpreted centuries later during the reformation with Protestants fighting Catholics, while the original intent of Paul’s meaning here was that you did not need to convert to Judaism in order to be a Christian.
Yet today, ask just about any preacher what this phrase means, and then stand back and be ready to be preached to, all the while you will know the real truth behind it.
Now manipulating content to meet your ends is a completely different subject matter, whether Paul was right or wrong to do so. But this is just yet another example of how the message was lost and replaced by something that was needed at that time.
A good question to ask here is why did the disciples insist on becoming Jewish first and not accept Paul’s interpretation? Did they not realize that this grace, this gift was for all of humanity?
The book “Acts of the Apostles” was written perhaps by Luke. Some scholars source it at 62 AD, about 30 years after Jesus’ﷺ death, while others date it to 80/90 AD because of references to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The author is named as Luke, who was a companion of Paul. Whether Acts was written before the Gospel of Luke is under debate. I tend to think that it was. Acts defends Paul’s version of Christianity, and the theology that he created, which is that Jesusﷺ was rejected by the Jews and therefore came to save the Gentiles. And the death of Jesusﷺ is what spares a Gentile from having to convert to Judaism in order to be a Christian.
This shows us how this book was influenced to be written with clear theological interpretation, the Christianity of Paul.
Let us find some more examples of Paul’s salvation theology. Take Paul’s comment, “And without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb.9:22). Paul needed this blood, so that he could show the powerful counter to the Jewish claims of owning salvation “And without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb.9:22). He also created a theology of “original sin”, which goes back to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. So their sin, according to Paul, is carried down father to son, mother to daughter, generation after generation, there is no escape. He was the one who first developed this thought, however, future generations of Christian leaders began to expand on it, all the way through the reformation that enhanced it more.
Jewish law forbade human sacrifice. The old testament negates passing along original sin as we see in Deuteronomy 24:16 “The fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers, a person shall be put to death for his own sin”. And Ezekiel 18:20 “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son”.
In spite of these clear and precise statements, Christians are led to believe in the inheritance of the original sin, even though the old testament denies this and it is not found in any of Jesus’ﷺ words or message - anywhere. This again is something that Paul came up with.
The theology of salvation and atonement through the sacrifice on the cross is not the only atonement theology in Christianity, and is not the only theory on the meaning of Jesus'ﷺ death. It is the main one of course, preached every Sunday all over the world. But in fact in the Gospel of Luke, we see another theory or theology, which is called the moral influence theory of atonement. In this scenario Jesus'ﷺ death is meant to persuade humankind to come back towards God. In this theory Jesusﷺ is a great and innocent prophet who was rejected and ultimately killed by his people. He was innocent of all wrongdoing. Therefore his innocent death brings about a great feeling of shame and guilt on us, and thus people would turn back and repent to God who would forgive them. Fascinating how Luke, the supposed author of both Luke and Acts, has theologies that are used by contemporary Christians to bolster one argument, and then completely ignored when it states a different idea.
So we see in the Christian theology that developed, everyone is condemned to suffer eternal torment in Hellfire regardless because of his or her inherited sinful nature unless they accept the atonement offered by Jesus through his blood. God will only accept a bloody, human sacrifice. No other way. And your salvation means you must accept this, no other way. Which of course means that the billions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, Taoists and everyone else who is not a Christian is automatically condemned. Well, to be quite frank and bold, the Aztecs also had religious requirements of shedding human blood. We tend to scoff at them, but isn’t the salvation theology doing the same thing?
Which is quite frightening, something Christianity has leveraged for ages, fear.
The Qur’an though, is much different. Have a look and compare to the Islamic points of:
No human being is born sinful (which Jesusﷺ himself attests to this very fact, see Mark 10:14-15).
That every person is accountable for their own actions and what they themselves commit
Whether you want to admit to your wrongs or conceal it, God will, in the end, call you to account for it. He then forgives whom He wills
We also see:
Qur’an 12:92 “God will forgive you; and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful”.
Qur’an 2:112 “Indeed, those who submit themselves to God and act righteously shall be rewarded by their Lord: they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve”.
For it is God who is “The most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Master of the Day of Recompense” Qur’an 1:3-4.
It just makes so much more sense and is logical and comprehensible. I think then you will come to the conclusion that it is God who will forgive, without the need for a blood sacrifice.
“There shall be no compulsion in acceptance of the religion, for the truth stands out clearly from falsehood. So whoever renounces false gods and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah is All-Hearing and All-Knowing” Surah 2: 256
“To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth, and whether you disclose what is in your own selves or conceal it, Allah will call you to account for it. Then He forgives whom He wills and punishes whom He wills. And Allah is Able to do all things. The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and so do the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books and His Messengers. They say, ‘We make no distinction between one and another of His Messengers’, and they say, ‘We hear, and we obey. We seek Your forgiveness our Lord, and to You is the return of all’” Surah 2: 284-285
Here is what each Gospel says about the crucifixion event. I cut some non-crucifixion verses/parts of the narratives out, but each verse that is listed is in its entirety. These selections are taken from NRSV Catholic Bible 1989. As you read these, please be sensitive to the subject matter, while also reviewing just how well written they are, and then after reading all four, see how your mind settles on John’s version.
Mark (15:21-26, 33-34, 36-37, 40, 42-45): 21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha. And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews’. 33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down’. Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 42 When evening had come, and since it was they day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph.
Matthew (27:32-37, 46, 50, 55, 57-58): 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha, they offered him wine to drink mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.
Luke (23: 26, 33. 38, 44-46, 48-52 ): 26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus, there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 38 There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’. 44 It was about noon, and the darkness came over the whole land, until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’. Having said this, he breathed his last. 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, breathing their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
John (19: 17-19, 25, 28-30, 38): 17 So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’. 25 …Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty’. A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said ‘It is finished’. Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.
Jesus’ﷺ cry “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” is interesting, as this could not have been made from a prophet of God, or someone who claimed to be from God. Yes, the common interpretation of this cry is the reference to Psalms and God leaving Jesus because he now encapsulated all of humanity’s sins and therefore could no longer be joined with him or be him - (which, when you think about it, contradicts the Trinity and verifies the Gnostic theology-which is another discussion). But to cry out (in two Gospels mind you, not all four) “why have you abandoned me” is something that is hard to understand, did Jesusﷺ think God was going to save him then and there, and nearing death, became despondent?
Now let’s come to the point of whether Jesusﷺ was “dead” or not. The Gospels tell us clearly that he “breathed his last” (Matthew, Mark, Luke) or “gave up his spirit” (John), and that even a spear was thrust in his side (Jn 19:34). John’s account wanted to assure everyone that he was indeed dead. I have a desire to dive into “Breath” but will hold off until another time, because that conversation goes deep into the breath of life, and theological points therein.
But was he really dead? He was hung for six hours according to the accounts. Yes, this certainly could have killed him, especially if he was savagely beaten before hand, but with the average time of death being one to two days and those condemned to be crucified were also savagely beaten, then this is a rather short period of time to have past away if we accept that he was hung for the full 6 hours. We should also note that Pilate was unsure if he was dead, as it was so short a time, as per Mark. There are theories that the Roman guards were sympathetic to Jesus, and thus allowed for this alteration of the rules, again another fascinating diversion.
The historian Flavius Josephus comments in his “The Life of Flavius Josephus” that he had seen people taken down from crucifixion and surviving afterwards. So if the body is not left up on the cross to rot away, then it is very possible that someone taken down early could end up surviving the ordeal. This to me is also an extremely important point, because it shows that there have been others that were crucified, and then for whatever reason, were taken down later, and ended up surviving. Non-lethal crucifixion. It also shows that people being taken down were not fully dead yet, so mistakes were being made in those times.
How Jesus became God, Bart D. Ehrman, HarperOne, 2014
My Great Love for Jesus led me to Islam, Simon Alfredo Caraballo and A.Mary.A., Gharb Alnaseem, 2009
The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2011
Misquoting Jesus, Bart D. Ehrman, Harper San Francisco, 2005
NRSV Catholic Bible, Harpers Collins, 1989
NIV Bible, Zondervan, 2005
The Life of (Flavius) Josephus, 95AD, Antiquities of the Jews.
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