The Bible and the Quran on the Crucifixion Part Three

Caught between a rock and a hard place in regards to the two options from the former blogs (here and here), Muslims will then turn towards the New Testament and attack it. Muslims will disregard the Gospels positing, because of alleged discrepancies within the multiple, historical attestations, that the event never occurred. The idea that an event is not historical because various eye witnesses say the same thing with minor variation is absurd. In fact, within a court room, if you have four eye witnesses to something and they say all say the same thing verbatim, something is up! The Gospels all generally agree in the major points concerning the crucifixion narrative. But, I will answer the supposed discrepancies anyway. I’ll make some comments that will smooth away most if not all of the alleged discrepancies.

It is important to realize that all four gospel writers are writing their work to specific people within specific times for specific reasons. They’re all recording history but they have an intent and motive for writing their gospel and giving it to a local community of Christians. They have different goals. Matthew’s goal is to present Jesus, the rejected Messiah of Israel, as the divine Son of God having all authority to establish His rule. Mark’s purpose is to reveal the crucified Messiah, i.e. the suffering Son of Man, as truly the Son of God. Luke’s goal is to  reassure Theophilus(and people like him) with respect to the preaching of the gospel by demonstrating that he had been given a special pledge; a pledge assuring the truthfulness of Christ’s death and resurrection and assuring the certainty that the gospel will go out in spite of opposition.

And, John’s goal is to present a narrative of Jesus’ life so you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. These goals are all about the same but are nuanced differently within the gospels. They are also being written to different peoples. Matthew is writing to a predominantly Jewish audience whereas Mark is writing to people in Rome. Luke is writing to Theophilus and John is writing in general. When you understand this point, you will see why certain writers emphasize different things in different ways.

I’ll answer some of the supposed discrepancies. Muslims mention the earthquake in Matthew (28:2) that is not mentioned in Luke, John, or Mark. This one is easy. Just because one apostle or writer includes a story within their narrative doesn’t mean the other writers are obligated to do so. Maybe the other three writers had no need or desire to include the story of the earthquake. I surmise that Matthew includes it to highlight the veil of the temple being torn in two to a Jewish audience who would have immediately understood that they can go to the Father now without reservation. They can come into the presence of God. John even admits he doesn’t include everything that he could when writing his gospel. (“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25; see also 20:30-31). If they had included everything, there would just be too much information.

Occasionally Muslims mention the various things that Jesus said when dying and ask “how can all these words be his last words?” The issue people miss is calling them his “last” or final words. Instead, you should see them as a collection of words he said upon the cross. He said them all: Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34), Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)., Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27)., My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)., I thirst (John 19:28), It is finished (John 19:30). And finally Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46). Now concerning the claim that Matthew and Mark use different words for God. Actually, Matthew uses the Hebrew Eli Eli whereas Mark uses the Aramaic Eloi Eloi. Matthew does follow Mark with the rest in Aramaic but this is not a contradiction in any sense of the word. They’re actually quoting Psalm 22:1. Both the Aramaic of Mark’s version and the modified Hebrew of Matthew’s can be found within synagogues.

Muslims mention the issue of the timing (third hour [Mark 15:25] and the sixth hour [John 19:13-16]) when Jesus died. This one is also pretty easy to answer. Mark is following the Jewish reckoning of time whereas John is following the Roman reckoning of time. The Jewish people counted hours from daybreak whereas the Romans counted hours from midnight. There is also no contradiction here. It should also be pointed out that 1st century historiography is different from 21st century historiography. History in the first century has no problem loosening chronological time restraints, using vivid symbolism, themes, and motifs, being exhaustive yet being as non-exhaustive as it desires, and trying to write without theological or philosophical biases. The point needs to be shown whether or not any history is unbiased or completely unblemished from any ideological biases. The Gospels do not hide such things.

Sometimes Muslims mention the words of the centurion. Matthew and Mark include Son of God language whereas Luke uses the language of innocence. John records nothing (refer to Matthew’s earthquake section). It is possible that he said both. But, it seems more likely that Luke is merely summarizing what the Centurion actually said. Luke uses the term innocent because the concept of righteous (δίκαιος) or being declared innocent occurs frequently within his gospel.  The main point stands: an innocent man who was the Son of God is being crucified.

Concerning Jesus drinking on the cross, it is unclear whether or not Luke/John’s (23:36; 19:29) material is supposed to be synonymous or paralleled with Matthew/Mark’s (27:34,48; 15:36) material. With being on the cross for so long, it might be the case that he was offered drink multiple times. It seems Mark and Matthew are offering drinks to see if a prophecy concerning Elijah was being fulfilled. Luke and John’s narratives seem to be saying that he is being mocked by the soldiers in a malicious way.  There is nothing wrong with this harmonization. It was actually a practice for a narcotic substance to be given to people being crucified so as to alleviate some of the pain. Jesus refused the narcotic drink so as to feel the full wrath of the Romans which was the wrath of God for your sin upon his shoulders!

Muslims often point to the crucifixion of thieves being unknown by the Romans. That is demonstrably false. The Romans crucified and tortured people irrespective of their jobs. If the thieves stole something great enough from Herod, Pilate, or any other big name leader, they could be unduly punished. Furthermore, the Greek word (Luke 23:40) for thieves in Luke (κακοῦργος) is actually not confined to the word “thieves.” This is why other translations translate the Greek term as “criminals.” Matthew (27:38-39) uses the Greek term (λησται) which actually implies more than a common “thief.” It is more rough and dirtier than that. Therefore, the issue disappears. Furthermore, some will erroneously claim that women were not allowed to be at crucifixions. This again is patently false. The Romans did not disallow women to get close to the crucifixions. In fact, they were so cruel that the crucified people on hills in front of everybody so the whole town or village could see and be demoralized. The Romans wanted their conquered people to know who the boss was and not revolt. They killed people right before others’ eye.

Lastly, the issue of the inscriptions and how they all a little different. We read in Matthew 27:37: “And set up over his head his accusation written, This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” We read in Mark 15:26: “And the superscription of his accusation was written over, The King of the Jews.” We read in Luke 23:38: “And there was also a superscription over him, This is the King of the Jews” (RV). And we read in John 19:19: “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” The answer likely lies in John 19:20 which says the superscription was written in all three Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. R.A. Torrey said:

Matthew (writing for the Jews) would naturally give the inscription as it appeared in Hebrew; Mark (writing for the Romans) would be likely to give it as it appeared in the Latin; and Luke as it appeared in the Greek. Presumably John gives it in the full Roman form, “Jesus of Nazareth” being a full and explicit statement of who Jesus was, and the charge being His claim to be “the King of the Jews.

Also, as Walter Kaiser (a noted OT scholar) said concerning the supposed issue:

Why, then, the differences in the Gospel accounts? First, each of the Gospel writers knows that words are precious. Papyrus only came in certain lengths, and three of our four Gospels fill the longest papyrus scrolls of the day. Mark, of course, could have bought a longer scroll, but by the time he came to this point in the story the scroll was already purchased and mostly used. The readers of the Gospels have no doubt about who is on the cross, so the only reason to include the name is for effect, if one has space. John includes the full name for he is going to make a comment on the accusation and the reaction it caused among the Jews (John 19:20-22). The other Gospels have not chosen to discuss the charge, so they can use a shortened form.

This issue disappears when all the evidence is taken into account.

Muslims stumble over the weakness of God dying. This reveals their philosophical presuppositions. It is not about discrepancies in the Gospels. It’s about their view of God and what he is allowed or able to do.  Their experience and opinions are almost verbatim as the apostle Paul describes it. He said in First Corinthians 1:22-23 that “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” It looks full of folly to a follower of Islam as a Gentile but it happened and it is the wisdom of God. Sinclair Ferguson said:

How does Christ’s death on the Cross demonstrate God’s wisdom? In this way: Through the Cross, our sin is judged, yet sinful men and women are forgiven precisely because God has judged that sin in Jesus Christ instead of in us. God has done what seemed morally impossible in a way that demonstrates rather than denies His holiness and justice. That is why the Cross is the trysting place, where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet. The Cross is the expression of God’s loving genius.

The wisdom of the cross was that Jesus Christ willingly laid down his life so that people could have eternal life. The cross lies at the heart of all God did through Jesus Christ. It is the supreme example of God’s power and wisdom displayed in what the world considers weakness and foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). And anyone who wants to know God must find Him in Christ crucified. His sufferings were planned and particular. J.C. Ryle said:

 All Christ’s sufferings on the cross were foreordained. They did not come on Him by chance or accident: they were all planned, counseled, and determined from all eternity. The cross was foreseen in all the provisions of the everlasting Trinity, for the salvation of sinners. In the purposes of God the cross was set up from everlasting. Not one throb of pain did Jesus feel, not one precious drop of blood did Jesus shed, which had not been appointed long ago. Infinite wisdom planned that redemption should be by the cross. Infinite wisdom brought Jesus to the cross in due time. He was crucified by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.

I implore Muslims to study this further. You can know God. I mean really know God. Not just know things about God. Not just know rituals and religious doings. Not just know certain things about God like he’ll throw me into Hell if I don’t do enough good works to counteract my bad works.  He is a God of love who longs for you to be satisfied in his Son Jesus Christ. He is a God who died for sinners and that is glorious!

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One response to “The Bible and the Quran on the Crucifixion Part Three

  1. Pingback: The Difference Between a Radical Christian and a Radical Muslim | Austin's Blog·

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