I have encountered the view that Pauline Christianity (that is, the theology drawn from the writings that are attributed to the apostle Paul in the New Testament) are a distortion of the true message that Jesus came with. It has been argued by some that all of the prophets sent by God taught a similar message — there is only one God, we must be morally good and charitable people, and there will be a resurrection of the dead and a judgement day at a time in the future known only to God. In this view, Jesus was a prophet sent to the Jewish people by God to help them to return to the law of Moses, and bring certain clarifications and improvements to the law. He was a prophet and not God, and never claimed to be God. This is the view of most Muslims.
Trying to understand whether the Christian Scriptures accurately reflect what Jesus said and did is nigh on impossible. There are so many diverse views in relation to the dating of the New Testament Scriptures and which books should be included in the canon, and therefore whether the words attributed to Jesus in our modern-day Bibles can be considered reliable.
Muslims believe that the Qur’an is a revelation that was sent by God to the prophet Muhammad over a period of around 23 years, in the early seventh century CE. It was given as light and guidance, to clarify matters of faith and religion for all people. It is understood by Muslims to be a very clear, lucid, and perfect revelation, which contains no falsehood. The Qur’an testifies that one of the reasons why it was sent down was to clear up the confusion among Christians and Jews on matters of faith, which are demonstrated in part by the huge number of factions and theological disputes that exist among Christians today, and that have existed throughout Christian history.
In this article, I would like to write briefly about the subject of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, as it relates to Christianity and Islam. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are of central importance to very many Christians, who are shocked to read in the Qur’an that these events never happened. Let us look at a few relevant Scriptures from the New Testament and the Qur’an, and then I will offer a few closing remarks.
In 1 Corinthians, we have words attributed to Paul saying the following:
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (NRSV)
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.1 Corinthians 1:18 (NRSV)
These scriptures exemplify the centrality of the crucifixion event in Pauline theology.
Also in 1 Corinthians, we read the following:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.1 Corinthians 15: 12-14 (NRSV)
The teachings of Paul develop a theology around the idea that Christ was crucified, and of course the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) all attest to the crucifixion of Jesus. I understand that there are also other historical sources, including early Christian philosophers and theologians (Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, for example) who attest that the crucifixion really happened.
With so much historical ‘evidence’ (in inverted commas because I believe all so-called evidence for anything is usually open to question), how could it be that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ never happened?
Here’s what we read in the Qur’an:
…and because they disbelieved and uttered a terrible slander against Mary, and said, ‘We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son on Mary, the Messenger of God.’ (They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him— God raised him up to Himself. God is almighty and wise…(Surah 4: 156-158)
According to the Qur’an, the resurrection of the dead will happen, so this agrees with Christian theology. The difference is that in Islam, Christ has not been raised from the dead, which, if true, means the Pauline “proclamation has been in vain” and many Christians’ “faith has been in vain”, at least, in certain respects.
But how could it be that Christians have not believed the truth for two thousand years? Isn’t this rather far-fetched? Well, it all depends on whether the Qur’an really is a perfect revelation which falsehood cannot touch from any angle, which is the claim made within its pages. The Qur’an repeatedly emphasises that God is in control of everything that happens, and that He does whatever He will, so causing people to believe certain things for two thousand years, even if they are incorrect, is no difficult matter for God. After all, wouldn’t most Christians argue that millions of Muslims have believed things that are wrong for many centuries?
The wisest course of action in relation to these matters, in my view, is to pray to God for truth and direction, and read both the Bible and the Qur’an with a prayerful and open mind. Then discern what resonates with you as truth, and whichever path you follow, this will be God’s will for your life.
In any event, this whole issue highlights the fact that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a central and pivotal matter for interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims — perhaps even the single most important matter, from a certain perspective.
The above article is an extract from my book titled Christianity, Islam, and the One True God. The book is available now in a range of formats from these retailers.