Did Jesus actually die on the cross?
A Response to Islamic Claims

© Spotlight Ministries, 2012,


Although the information in this article is useful mainly in responding to the Islamic claim that Jesus didn't actually die on the cross, it is also equally useful to counter the claims of other critics who may use this line of reasoning in an attempt to explain away the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to the early Christians.

The Qur’an states that it only appeared that Jesus died (Surah 4:157-58) and Muslim tradition states that it was actually someone else on the cross (possibly Judas) who bared the likeness of Christ. This tends to be based on information in the so called Gospel of Barnabas (more on this book later on).

Obviously, a number of significant problems arise with this view:

God would be deceiving people, most significantly so the disciples, and Jesus’ own family, His mother and so on (who were at the crucifixion).

At the crucifixion surely Jesus’ mother would surely have recognised her own son.

If it was actually someone else on the cross (Judas or otherwise) wouldn’t this individual have been recorded as objecting to people thinking he was Jesus (when he actually knew for a fact that he wasn‘t), especially when they put the sign above His head which said “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37, emphasis added)?

There is much Old Testament prophetic typology (which Jesus fulfils in the New Testament) as being the sacrificial lamb who would die for sins (e.g. Isa. 53; Ps. 22:1, 6; Dan. 9:28; Zech. 12:10, 13:6). Example of fulfilment in John 1:29.

Throughout the New Testament Jesus constantly speaks of how he would fall into the hands of men which would result in His death (e.g. Matt. 17:22-23; 20:18, etc.).

Jesus’ death is attested to in multiple early historical texts. The New Testament books are the primary sources scholars and historians go to, but as well as these, we also have a number of non-biblical sources that mention this event:

Non-Christian historical texts:

In modern times, even the most radical critical scholars do not dispute that Jesus died by crucifixion. John Dominic Crosson of the Jesus Seminar, stated:

“That he [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” (John Dominic Crosson, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1991, p. 145; see also pp. 154, 196, 201. As cited in Gary Habermas and Micheal Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p. 49).

Gary Habermas and Micheal Licona, in their book: The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus make some very pertinent points with regards to the Islamic claims that Jesus didn’t die on the cross as claimed in the Qur’an and the Gospel of Barnabas. I reproduce this section below:

Muslims, like gnostics who preceded them by 500 years, object that Jesus never died. If he never died, he did not rise from the dead. The Muslim accounts are highly problematic in defending this proposition. Two sources, the Qur’an and the Gospel of Barnabas, state that when the mob came for Jesus, God made someone else, perhaps Judas, look like him. The mob arrested the look alike and crucified him instead.

This view is plagued by two major problems: First, since we can establish that Jesus’ disciples sincerely believed he had risen from the dead and appeared to them, what caused their beliefs if Jesus was never crucified? The Qur’an claims that God raised Jesus up to himself, apparently at the time of the rescue. So who or what did the disciples see three days later?…opposing theories cannot account for the appearances. Second, most scholars regard the Gospel of Barnabas as a Muslim forgery composed no earlier than the fifteenth century. Our earliest manuscript is from that era, nor is there any earlier mention of such a book. If Muslims were aware of such a supportive account, they certainly would have appealed to it in their frequent interaction with Christians. If the book was really written by Barnabas, it would have been cited by the early church fathers. None do. The book also contains a striking contradiction that would rule out Barnabas as its true author. It refers to Jesus as “Christ” on at least two occasions in the beginning, only to later deny he is the Messiah. This demonstrates an ignorance of the original languages, since Christ is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew/Aramaic word Messiah. This is not a mistake that Barnabas as a first-century Jew would have made, since he would have been well acquainted with both Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek. Several anachronisms also appear in the book, indicating a late composition. One indication of it’s date is that the Gospel of Barnabas mentions the year of Jubilee as occurring every hundred years. Yet, the year was celebrated every fifty years until a papal decree by the Catholic Church in 1343. Barnabas also mentions systems of medieval feudalism, a medieval court procedure, and wooden wine casks. Wineskins were used in first -century Palestine.

While the Qur'an is much earlier, it is a seventh-century composition, that still dates it over five full centuries after all of the New Testament sources, plus at least five full centuries from our best secular references to Jesus' death on the cross. (Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, pp. 184-185)

In conclusion we can confidently say that the claim that Jesus didn’t die by crucifixion on the cross is a very late claim which is totally unfounded. The weight of early historical evidence (both biblical and non-biblical alike) testify that it was indeed Jesus Himself who really did die on the cross.

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