Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
With the Wahabi-sponsored “PeaceTV” television station, the views of Ahmed Deedat and Zakir Naik have recently spread forcefully across the Indian Subcontinent. Many of the programmes teach good things—encouraging modesty, fear of God, and reading scripture. However, the programmes are also spreading some false Qadiani and Wahabi ideas which don’t accurately represent what the Scriptures actually say.
For example, Zakir Naik and Ahmad Deedat advocate a Qadiani theory about Jesus’ death called the “swoon theory” which was first invented by Western atheists and then introduced to Muslims by the Qadianis. This theory is scorned by almost all scholars, even critics of Christianity, and it has obscured the truth of Scripture.
In this booklet, we will attempt to see what the Qur’ān , Injīl, and history actually say about this important question of whether Jesus was crucified. We will deal with the following questions in this order:
- Does the Qur’ān deny that Jesus died?
- Can the Qadiani Swoon Theory be true?
- Does the Injīl really say that Jesus was crucified?
- Does the crucifixion fit with the Tawrat & Zabur?
- Are Zakir Naik‘s arguments true?
- What does the historical evidence say?
PART III: What Do the Tawrat & Zabur Say?
The Crucifixion Foretold in the Tawrat and Zabur
Atonement and Sacrifice
The Final Sacrifice
Jesus’ Death Foretold in Scripture
Jesus’ Own Predictions of His Death
WHAT DOES THE QUR’AN
AND ISLAM SAY?
The Islamic Views of Jesus’ Death
Zakir Naik tries to make it appear that Islam and the Qur’ān unanimously deny the crucifixion, but this is simply not the case. Naik’s interpretation is actually a discredited theory invented very recently by Western atheists and introduced into Islam by the heretical Qadiani sect. Many Muslims in the modern period think Islam teaches that Jesus did not die but was bodily raised directly to heaven. Actually, the major mufassirūn (Islamic commentators) like al-Tabari and al-Razi refute this, saying that accepting Jesus’ death is actually one consistent interpretation of the Qur’ān :
“O Jesus, I am causing you to ‘die’ [mutawaffika] and raising you to myself…” (Sura Al-‘Imran 3:55)
The early Muslim commentator Al-Tabari gives four possible meanings for this passage, one of which is that Jesus literally died. He writes:
“‘Death’ (wafat) means the death of real, literal dying, that is, ‘I am causing you to die literally.'”1
He goes on to relate traditions which support such an interpretation. Tabari himself thought the substitution theory most probable, which says that another innocent person was murdered on the cross in Jesus’ place who looked like Jesus. Renowned commentator Fakhruddin Razi also admitted that literal physical death of Jesus is a valid interpretation of this passage.2 However, Razi refuted the substitution theory of Tabari for six reasons (see page 8), and this theory is no longer popular. Muslim scholar Dr. Kamel Hussein writes:
The idea of a substitute for Christ is a very crude way of explaining the Qur’ānic text. They had to explain a lot to the masses. No cultured Muslim believes in this nowadays.3
Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub writes:
The substitution theory will not do, regardless of its form or purpose… it makes a mockery of divine justice and the primordial covenant of God with humanity.4
So what we see is that there is no one main Islamic view of Jesus’ death. The early Muslim authorities admitted that the literal death of Jesus was one very possible Qur’ānic scenario, but their own preferred theory regarding the crucifixion (the substitution theory) is by their own admission full of improbabilities and has been rejected by Muslim scholars as too improbable.
Does the Qur’ān Really Deny Jesus’ Crucifixion?
There is actually only one single verse in the entire Qur’ān which critics use to deny the crucifixion of Jesus:
‘They [The Jews] declared: “We have put to death the Messiah ‘Isa son of Mary, the apostle of Allah.” They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did. Those that disagreed about him were in doubt concerning his death, for what they knew about it was sheer conjecture, they were not sure that they had slain him. Allah lifted him up to His presence; He is mighty and wise.’ -Sura Nisa 4:157 (N.J. Dawood translation)
What Tabari and Razi failed to consider is that the above verse is actually not denying the crucifixion per se but rather it denies that the Jews (verse 153) performed the crucifixion as they proudly allege. These unbelieving Jews arrogantly “thought” that they had overpowered and killed Jesus, but the Qur’ān is setting the historical record straight. The Jews in Jesus’ day were actually weak and subjugated and unable to sentence people to death—it was actually the Romans who crucified Jesus.
This is in fact, is exactly what the Injīl teaches on the matter. The Jews were the proud instigators of the false charges against Jesus. However, Palestine was under Roman rule at that time and they had no authority to touch Jesus. If they would have killed him according to the shari’a of the Torah, they would have stoned him to death, not ‘lifted up’ as the prophecies of Messiah predicted. Jesus himself even predicted beforehand that he would be killed not by the Jews but by the Gentile Romans (Matthew 20:19). Tabari and Razi, who had no direct access to the historical account in the Injīl, would not have known about this natural solution.
But on an even deeper level, it was neither the Jews nor the Romans who killed Jesus, but it was God’s plan. We see a very good illustration of this in Sura Anfal which says:
“It is not ye who slew them; it was Allah: when thou threwest (a handful of dust), it was not thy act, but Allah’s…” – Sura Anfal 8:15
This passage describes the response of the Muslim warriors to their victory at the Battle of Badr. They were boasting and taking pride in what they considered their achievement until this passage corrected their error. The passage corrects their foolish boasting and instructs them to recognize that it was God who brought to pass all that happened that day. They were only the instruments that God used to fulfill His plan.
In this same way, in Sura Nisa verse 157, God is telling the Jews that their boasting is totally unfounded and in error. They didn’t kill the Messiah as they so proudly boast. What actually did happen to the Messiah is not the purpose of this passage to address. However, as we know from the earlier books, it was the Romans who actually killed him, though it was God’s plan that brought it all to be.
Perhaps the biggest reason that many cannot accept Jesus’ crucifixion is that it appears to be a humiliating defeat for the cause of Allah. However, the Qur’ān actually teaches that often in the past evil men have ” killed the prophets ” (2:61; 2:91, 3:21; 3:112, etc.). Jesus himself was well aware of his impending death beforehand when he said:
“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.” (John 10:17-18)
Because of the resurrection Jesus’ death was a clear victory, because he was “raised” again from the dead by God’s power and seen by at least five hundred people in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 15:6). Indeed, Jesus’ calm words in Sura Maryam 33 seem to point to the deliberate death and resurrection of Jesus:
“So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”! (19:33)
The Swoon Theory
Zakir Naik and Ahmad Deedat have recently popularized to the Muslim masses a Qadiani theory about Jesus’ death called the “swoon theory” which was first invented by Western atheists and then introduced to Muslims by the Qadianis. This theory is scorned by almost all scholars, even critics of Christianity, and it has obscured the truth of Scripture.
It would be helpful to give a little background on this “swoon theory” of Jesus’ crucifixion. This theory was first proposed by the European scholars Bahrdt and Venturini just two hundred years ago, almost eighteen hundred years after Jesus’ time. This view has not been widely held by non-Christian scholars since the 19th century rationalist theologian David Strauss dealt it a death blow. He wrote:
“It is impossible that a being who had stolen half dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill and wanting medical treatment… could have given the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life: an impression that lay at the bottom of their future ministry.”5
Strauss himself was an opponent of Christianity, but he admitted that this theory was particularly ridiculous and weak. Nowadays almost no Western scholar holds to this theory.
However, a hundred years ago, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, introduced Venturini’s swoon theory to the Muslim world—while also claiming that he himself was the promised Messiah, the Mahdi, and a ‘subordinate prophet.’ Deedat preached this Qadiani swoon theory in South Africa, but respected Sunni leaders and publications condemned Deedat’s methods and opposed his swoon theory as a non-Muslim Qadiani theory which is not Muslim doctrine. While Deedat has gradually lost his credibility among Muslims in South Africa, his disciple Zakir Naik has revived Deedat’s theories in South Asia. Naik also has been condemned by Islamic scholars such as Darul Ifta of the Darul Uloom Deoband (India’s foremost Islamic centre of theological learning). They say of Naik that he is “away from knowledge and wisdom, spreading mischievous things and misguiding simple Muslims to the wrong path”6
This ‘swoon theory’ has all the same problems as the rejected substitution theory which Fakhruddin Razi listed. Here are five of the six problems which Al-Razi lists which are also unanswered by the swoon theory:
- It necessitates doubting the truthfulness of historical reports and ultimately doubting fundamentals
- Since Jesus was aided by the Holy Spirit, why did he not simply protect himself?
- If God was able to lift Jesus up instantly, what was the advantage of this whole deception?
- This theory would end up misleading the eyewitnesses—”that amounts to forcing ignorance and deception on people. And that is not worthy of God’s wisdom.”
- “The Christians in masses, east and west… reported that they saw him dying on the cross. If we deny their report, that would be doubting the historically transmitted reports, and such doubt necessitates doubt in the prophethood of Mohammad, and the prophethood of Jesus, even their existence, and the existence of all the prophets.”7
These ‘problems’ listed by Al-Razi in his tafseer refute both the substitution theory and the swoon theory, but these five problems all disappear when we interpret the Qur’ān as correctly saying that it was not the Jews but the Romans that killed Jesus.
The Qur’ānic passages are indeed unclear, and give no definite interpretation either way. Surah Al-‘Imran 3:7 warns against arrogantly reading one’s own personal interpretation into unclear verses of the Qur’ān , which Zakir Naik seems to do so confidently. Where the Qur’ān is unclear regarding Jesus, it is obviously best to consult the Holy Injīl as the Qur’ān advises:
“And if thou art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee..” (Sura Yunus 10:94)
If we do as the Qur’ān instructs and ask those who read the Injīl, then all doubt is removed. We come to understand not only the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection and how it occurred, but also why he died – why it was God’s plan from ages past to have him die on the cross.
WHAT DOES THE INJIL SAY?
In his debate with a little-known pastor named Ruknuddin Pio, Zakir Naik makes the ridiculous claim that the Injīl never once says Jesus died and that therefore the crucifixion, which requires the death of the victim, never happened. Instead, according to Zakir Naik, the Injīl records a cruci-fiction – not an actual crucifixion, but a false one – a fiction since Jesus didn’t really die. However, when we look at the passages in the Injīl dealing with this, what do we see? It is Zakir Naik himself who presents us with a fiction as he totally misinterprets the Injīl account. To people who are familiar with the Injīl, this is simply ridiculous—rather like arguing from the Qur’ān that Muhammad never considered himself a prophet, or that the Qur’ān denies the existence of heaven and hell.
I record below the verses from the Holy Injīl that obviously refutes this:
12 Undeniable Statements in the Injīl that Jesus Died
- When the soldiers “found that he was already dead , they did not break his legs.” (John 19:33)
- “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” (Matthew 27:50)
- “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last .” (Mark 15:37)
- The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified .. go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead'” (Matthew 28:5,7)
- The Roman officer ” saw how he died ,” (Mark 15:39) as did the women (verse 40).
- “Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead . Summoning the centurion in charge of the crucifixion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so , he gave the body to Joseph.” (Mark 15:44-45)
- “You are looking for Jesus who was crucified .” (Mark 16:6)
- Jesus said to the repentant criminal crucified beside him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise .” (Luke 23:43)
- “Jesus said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last .” (Luke 23:46)
- Jesus said, “It is finished” and gave up his spirit . (John 19:30)
- “..one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water ” [which only happens with someone who has died] (John 19:34)
- The disciples “still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead .” (John 20:9)
It is simply undeniable that Holy Injīl says Jesus died on the cross. Zakir Naik’s claim is contradicted repeatedly by the plain words of the Holy Injīl. Zakir Naik says the Injīl never says Jesus died. In fact, the Injīl records his death in a great variety of ways just so there would be no doubt as to what actually happened.
In addition to these explicit statements from the Gospels, Jesus’ death is claimed very explicitly in at least 27 more places in the Injīl: Acts 2:23,24; 13:28; Romans 4:25; 5:10; 6:3,4,5,9,10; 1 Corinthians 11:26; 15:21; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 2:8; 3:10; Colossians 1:22; Hebrews 2:9,14; 9:14; 1 Peter 3:18; Revelation 1:18; John 11:51; 1 Peter 2:24; Colossians 1:20; and Hebrews 12:2.
The Unchallenged Audacity of Naik
Zakir Naik’s attempts to establish that the Injīl denies the crucifixion are rather like that of a university professor I know of who actually argues that the central message of the Qur’ān is reincarnation. Because of his respected position as lecturer, none of his students dare challenge his impossible claim. Likewise, Naik’s unique debating and oratory skills allow him to maintain a similar impossible claim. His job is made easier since most in his hearers have never read either the Qur’ān or the Injīl in their mother-tongue.
WHAT DO THE TAWRAT & ZABUR SAY?
The Crucifixion Foretold in the Tawrat and Zabur
When his disciple tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Do you not think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more that twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:53)
Hazrat ‘Isa was saying that his crucifixion was actually a long planned culmination of God’s plan foretold in the previous Scriptures, meaning the Tawrat, Zabur, and Prophetic Writings. Indeed, these Scriptures from up to 1,500 years before Jesus do foretell his crucifixion in various ways. Together they form a gradually unveiling story of God reaching out and calling a rebellious and disobedient mankind back to Himself. In the next couple pages we will overview this plan of God and then present some of the predictions of Jesus’ death in the previous Scriptures.
Turning to the first book of the Tawrat, Genesis, we find the description of God’s prefect creation of the world and all that is in it, including man, the pinnacle of creation. This is followed almost immediately by Adam and Eve’s rebellion and sin. As a result of their sin, Adam and Eve were put out of paradise and condemned to live with the results of their disobedience—– jealousy, anger, hatred, pride, lust, greed, and ultimately death.
Yet, God was not finished with his creation. He called Abraham and promised to bless him and make him into a great nation. He further promised in Genesis 12:1-3 that through Abraham and his descendants, all nations would be blessed. 400 years later, at the time of the Prophet Moses, these promises were coming true as the descendants of Abraham had grown into a huge nation of 12 tribes descending from the line of ‘Isaac and Jacob. To that nation, God began revealing His books and His own solution for mankind’s sin and the misery it created.
Atonement and Sacrifice
One of the first things God revealed to Moses was the seriousness of their sin and the means God provided for forgiveness. He did this by instituting the sacrificial system. Anyone committing an act of disobedience or sin was to give an animal sacrifice to obtain forgiveness. For example, the third book of the Tawrat, Leviticus, describes in chapter 6 and 7 the sacrifices to be made for different kinds of disobedience. In each case, the guilty person was to sacrifice an animal – a cow, goat or sheep. The animal was ritually killed as the animals at Eid-ul-Adha still are today and the blood sprinkled against the altar.
The reason for God instituting this sacrificial system was to show first of all the seriousness of sin. As is said elsewhere in the Injīl, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). It also indicates the means by which God offers forgiveness – through death as seen in the shedding of blood. As is described in the Injīl in Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” We see the same idea of sacrifice in the ‘Aqīqa prayers still done today for any newborn child. According to Islamic practice, two goats are sacrificed for a boy and one for a girl. And before the sacrifice is made, this du’a is recited:
بِسْمِ اللهِ وَبِا للهِ اَللَّهُمَّ هَاذِهِ عَقِيْقَةٌ عَنْ….بْنِ….لَحْمُهَا بِلَحْمِهِ وَدَمُهَا بِدَ مِهِ وَ عَظْمُهَا بِعَظْمِهِ وَشَعْرُهَا بِشَعْرِهِ وَ جِلْدُهَابِجِلْدِهِ اَللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْهَا وَقَاءًلاِلِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَلَيْهِ وَاَلِهِ السَّلاَمُ
“O Allah! This ‘Aqīqa is for my child ____. Its blood in exchange for his blood, its flesh in exchange for his flesh, its bones in exchange for his bones, its skin in exchange for his skin. O Allah, save my child from the fire of hell. In Allah’s name, Allah the greatest.”8
The Final Sacrifice
If God’s means of forgiveness had stopped with the sacrificial system of Moses, however, people would have been doomed to despair for several reasons. Those sacrifices never had an end. Every new sin or act of disobedience required another sacrifice in an unending cycle. Even worse, it was especially hard for the poor to afford all the expensive animals necessary, and some sins could not be atoned through sacrifice. The poor had no way of purchasing the expensive animals required by the law. Fortunately, such sacrifices were not meant as an end in themselves. They were intended to serve as a sign pointing to a final and perfect sacrifice God would himself provide at some future date.
That final and perfect future sacrifice became one of the central themes of the different Holy Books. All the different passages describing God’s future sacrifice centered around a coming person God promised to send called the ‘Messiah’ (meaning ‘anointed one’ or ‘chosen one’). This coming Messiah would be identified by the many signs that would accompany him. For example, he would be born of a virgin. He would come from the family of the Prophet David, being born in his ancestral village. He would perform many miracles and wonders, even raising the dead. But most remarkable of all, though without fault or sin, he would be punished and killed and then rise from the dead himself on the third day, freely offering himself as the final sacrifice to fulfill and end the whole system of sacrifice.
Jesus’ Death Foretold
I give below a sample of the different prophecies about this Messiah dealing particularly with his arrest, trial and death. They are all taken from the different books of the prophets who were from the line of Abraham, ‘Isaac and Jacob and were written from 1000 to 500 years before the birth of Jesus.
- Betrayed by a friend – (Ps 41:9 and Matthew 10:4)
- Sold for 30 pieces of silver (not gold) – (Zech 11:12 and Matthew 26:15)
- Money thrown (not placed) into God’s house – (Zech 11:13b and Matthew 27:5a)
- Money used to buy Potter’s field – (Zech 11:13b and Matthew 27:7)
- Forsaken by disciples – (Zech 13:7 and Mark 14:50/ Matthew 26:31)
- Accused by false witnesses – (Ps 35:11 and Matthew 26:59-61)
- Silent before accusers – (Is 53:7 and Matthew 27:12-19)
- Wounded and bruised – (Is 53:5 and Matthew 27:26)
- Smitten and spit upon – (Is 50:6 and Matthew 26:67)
- Mocked – (Ps 22:7,8 and Matthew 27:31)
- Fell under the cross – (Ps 109:24,25 and Lk 23:26 and John 19:17)
- Hands and feet pierced – (Ps 22:16 and Lk 23:33)
- Crucified with thieves – (Is 53:12 and Matthew 27:38)
- Interceded for his persecutors – (Is 53:12 and Lu 23:34)
- Friends stood afar off – (Ps 38:11 and Lu 23:49)
- People shook their heads – (Ps 109:25 and Matthew 27:39)
- All stared at him – (Ps 22:17 and Lu 23:35)
- Garments parted and lots cast – (Ps 22:18 and John 19:23, 24)
- Suffered thirst – (Ps 69:21 and John 19:28)
- Gall and vinegar offered – (Ps 69:21 and Matthew 27:34)
- Cry at being forsaken – (Ps 22:1 and Matthew 27:46)
- Bones not broken – (Ps 34:20 and John 19:33)
- Side pierced – (Zech 12:10 and John 19:34)
- Darkness over the land – (Amos 8:9 and Matthew 27:45)
- Buried in a rich man’s tomb – (Is 53:9 and Matthew 27:57-60)
As anyone who has read the Qur’ān knows, God’s prophecies of the Messiah who was to come were eventually fulfilled by the Prophet Jesus. He is called Messiah in both the Injīl and the Qur’ān. And each of the prophecies about the arrest, trial and death on the cross of God’s Messiah were fulfilled in his life. In the above list of passages, the first passage listed is the prophecy. The second passage cited for each topic is from the Injīl and records how that prophecy was fulfilled in the life of Hazrat ‘Isa.
Jesus’ Own Predictions of His Death
Thus, the death and resurrection of the Messiah was not something that was unexpected, for it was predicted repeatedly in the Tawrat, Zabur and the Books of the Prophets. Yet, even had one been totally ignorant of all the prophecies in the earlier books concerning his coming death, Jesus himself left no doubt that it would happen. He himself predicted again and again in his three-year ministry that he would suffer and die in Jerusalem in fulfillment of Scripture. If Jesus was to do what God had planned long before his birth, then there was no avoiding death as the atonement ( kaffara ) for our sins. His death was, after all, the primary purpose of his coming into the world.
At several points in his ministry, during times of great teaching and miracle working, he told his disciples that his time had not yet come. It was only immediately before his arrest and trial that he finally told his disciples that his time had come. The time for which he had entered the world was here – his death and resurrection. Below are some of the references he made during his ministry to his own death and resurrection:
- Matthew 12:38-40
- Matthew 16:21
- Matthew 17:22,23
- Matthew 20:18-29
- Matthew 26:32
- Mark 9:10
- Luke 9:22-27
- Luke 9:44
- Luke 12:50
- Luke 17:25
- Luke 18:31-33
- Luke 24:7
- Luke 24:25-27
- John 2:19-22
- John 12:34
- John chapters 14-16
It should be noted that in each of the above passages, the Prophet ‘Isa was quite clear and specific that he was going to both suffer and die in Jerusalem. It was not what his disciples hoped to hear, but he insisted they face God’s reality.
ZAKIR NAIK REFUTED
Jesus’ Disciples Witnessing the Crucifixion
Zakir Naik tries to defend his claim that Jesus didn’t die by saying that none of Jesus’ disciples were eyewitnesses to the crucifixion since they had all deserted him when he was arrested. In doing so, Zakir Naik once again exhibits his bias and desire to deceive. He has certainly read the Injīl account and knows better, yet he makes this deceptive claim.
Yes, the Injīl records the disciples initially fleeing at Jesus’ arrest. However, it also records in detail how some of them followed the soldiers at a distance as they led Jesus off to be tried (Matthew 26:58; Mark 14:54). After initially running away, Peter followed Jesus to the trial and was watching him (Luke 22:61; Mark 14:66). And in John 19:26-27, it records how Jesus on the cross actually talked back and forth with the disciple John and his own mother.
Why would Zakir Naik make such false statements contradicted by clear passages from the Injīl? It seems Zakir Naik is simply concerned to win an argument, not find the truth. If he has to conceal, fabricate and mislead, he is happy to do so as long as it helps his argument.
This desire to deceive comes out again when Zakir Naik claims that Jesus’ legs not being broken on the cross was further proof that he never died. According to Zakir Naik, the other two criminals had their legs broken so they would die quickly and since Jesus’ legs were not broken, it means he didn’t die. Listeners in the audience the day of the debate with Ruknuddin Pio, most of whom knew nothing of the Injīl, could only assume Zakir Naik’s point was valid. Zakir Naik only mentioned the incident in the Injīl, but never read the full passage, because it totally contradicts his claim. Here is the passage:
“The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” (John 19:32,33)
What do we actually see in this passage? We see the direct opposite of Zakir Naik’s claim. This passage shows that not having his legs broken meant not that Jesus therefore didn’t die, but that he had already died. The other two prisoners who were still alive had their legs broken to hasten their death. Jesus didn’t need it because he was already dead. Nothing could show more clearly Jesus’ death than this passage, and yet, Zakir Naik tries to make his audience believe just the opposite.
Not only that, but the same passage describes the soldier’s spear thrust into Jesus’ side that resulted in blood and water flowing out, a clear indication of his death, since only after death does water separate out from blood in that way.
A Resurrected Body
Besides Zakir Naik’s totally mistaken claim that the Injīl never says Jesus died on the cross, a second major claim against Jesus’ death is his resurrected body. Zakir Naik first refers to 1 Corinthians 15, where it describes the death and resurrection of Jesus. According to Zakir Naik, the passage says that we have a physical body until we die. We are then raised from the dead in spiritual form without bodies. Since Jesus had a resurrected body, he couldn’t have actually died.
Once again, Zakir Naik seems to be intentionally trying to mislead his audience. His interpretation of the passage from the Injīl totally contradicts what it actually says. The passage in 1 Corinthians first asks the question, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” It goes on to answer the question in verses 42-44,
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
The point is clearly not what Zakir Naik tries to say, that we first have a flesh-and-blood body and then, after death, a spiritual existence without a body. No holy book teaches such heresy and this passage is no exception. The contrast is not between a bodily existence and a spiritual existence as Zakir Naik would have us believe. Rather, it is between two types of bodies – an ordinary one before death and a spiritual one after death and resurrection. As the above passage explains, the ‘ natural body ‘ is perishable, it is one often dishonored and weak, while the resurrection body is a ‘ spiritual body ,’ meaning it is imperishable, honored and powerful.
What exactly our resurrected and spiritual bodies will be like we will only fully discover on the resurrection day. But we get a small glimpse when we look at Jesus after the resurrection. Not only did he ascend to heaven in his spiritual body before his disciples 40 days after the resurrection, but he also had the ability to pass through locked doors when he appeared to his disciples who were locked up in their room (Mt. 20:19). Jesus’ eating before his disciples and showing them his crucifixion wounds was not meant to prove he had never died. To the contrary, it was to prove to them that he was not a ghost, since they knew beyond any doubt that he had died and assumed he had now come back as a ghost.
Sign #1: The Destroyed Temple
There are two additional signs that Jesus referred to related to his death, one of which Zakir Naik refers to and one which he conveniently ignores. The one he ignores is found in John 2:19-22 where the Jewish leaders are disputing with Jesus at the temple site in Jerusalem. They ask Jesus what proof he has for his authority to teach and perform other deeds. The passage says,
“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:19-22)
What does this passage say? The Injīl teaches that our bodies are meant to be temples or worship houses where God is worshiped (1 Cor 3:16). In this passage, Jesus uses that image of his body as a temple to predict once again his own upcoming death and resurrection after three days.
Sign #2: The Sign of Jonah
Zakir Naik does refer to the second sign, the sign of the Prophet Jonah. In that passage, the Jewish religious leaders again demand proof from him of his authority and this time insist on a sign or miracle. The passage says,
“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40)
Zakir Naik claims that since Jonah was alive in the belly of the whale for three days, therefore Jesus also had to be alive in the belly of the earth – the grave. But that is not the point of what Jesus is saying. Jesus has already said repeatedly that he was going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. The point is not that Jesus was going to be like Jonah in every way – both alive, both the same age on entering their place, both having a beard, both wearing a robe, etc. That was not the point. The point was that when Jesus died, he would be placed in a tomb for three days, the same length of time Jonah was in the fish’s belly and then he too would come out alive. When he was resurrected from the dead after three days, that would be the supreme sign that he was who he claimed – the chosen Messiah that God had sent. Zakir Naik is interpreting the passage as he would like it to be and not as Jesus clearly meant it.
Let’s see how Naik’s logic applies to a similar prophecy Jesus made about his death. He said of himself,
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14,15)”
Here the parallel is drawn between a bronze serpent Moses made (see Numbers 21:9) and Jesus, both of whom were lifted up as a means of salvation for others. If we follow Naik’s logic, since the bronze serpent was dead before, during and after being ‘lifted up’, Jesus too must have been lifeless before, during and after he was put on the cross!
The Historical Record
Both Christians and Muslims may have biased opinions in this debate, so what do secular scholars say? What does the historical record say? Nonbelieving skeptics have tried to deny the Resurrection, but no serious modern historian doubts that Jesus was crucified. Why not? There is simply too much direct historical evidence.
Besides the testimony of the Injīl, Jesus’ crucifixion is acknowledged by Roman and Jewish sources. Two critical Roman historians. Cornelius Tacitus in his Annals, xv. 44 writes:
“Christus … was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontious Pilate.”
In his Peregrinus, Lucian of Samosata, a critic of Christianity, calls Jesus:
“.. the man who was crucified in Palestine”
The Jewish Talmud even records the crucifixion of Jesus:
“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [Jesus] was hanged [or crucified]. … Since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.” (Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a)It is impossible that Jesus’ Roman executioners would have mistakenly allowed Jesus to survive, because such a mistake was punished under Roman law by death. The Roman soldiers were experts in crucifixion, they would not have bungled it.
What then do we make of Zakir Naik’s efforts to prove from the Injīl that Jesus did not die? Anyone who has read the Injīl knows that Zakir Naik set himself an impossible task. Impossible, that is, unless one uses deception and trickery to twist the NT passages to appear opposite to their plain meaning. And that is just what Zakir Naik does, as can be seen from the above. In fact, as we have already seen, it is not simply the overwhelming testimony of the Injīl that Jesus did die on the cross and rise again, but it is also one of the crucial steps in God’s plan for sinful mankind. That plan is described in all the Holy Books from the Tawrat onward.
- Abu Jaf’ar Muhammad ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Tabari: Jami’ al-Bayan ‘an Ta’wil Ay al-Qur’an, Salah ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Khalidi (ed.) Damascus: Dar al_Qalam, 1997, loc. cit.
- Muhammad Fakhr al-Din ibn al-Allama Diya al-Din ‘umar Al-Razi, Tafsir al-Fakhr al-Razi , al-Mushtahir bi-l-Tafsir al-Kabir wa-Mafatih al-Ghaib, Khalil Muhyi al-Din al-Mais (ed.) Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1990, loc. cit.
- City of Wrong , Kenneth Cragg, London, 1960, P. 222.
- Ayoub, Mahmoud M., “Towards an Islamic Christology II”, The Muslim World, Vol. LXX, April 1980, No. 2, P. 104.
- David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus for the People, 2nd ed. Vol. I. London: Williams and Norgate, 1879, p.412.
- Darul Ifta, Darul Uloom Deoband-India, Question: 110(http://darulifta-deoband.com/viewfatwa.jsp?id=”11″0)
- Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir , Commenting on Sura Al-‘Imran 55.
- Al-Hajj Maulana Fazlul Karim M.A.B.L., Shariat Shikkha , (Azifa Khatun, 18 Bakshi Bazar Rd, Dhaka), p. 153.