That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.” (Qur’an, 4:157-158, Yusuf Ali)
There are several obvious errors in this passage. (Muhammad had an amazing knack for making numerous mistakes in one or two sentences.) For instance, non-Christian Jews would never call Jesus “Christ” (i.e. “Messiah”), for they reject Jesus as the Messiah. Similarly, very few non-Christian Jews would call Jesus “the Messenger of Allah.” Moreover, no Jew who believes that Jesus is the Messiah would boast about crucifying him. Of course, the most egregious factual error in this Surah is that it denies Jesus’ death by crucifixion. The Qur’an errs further in its claim that those who believe in Jesus’ death follow nothing but conjecture, when we have tons of historical evidence to follow. There’s also a massive theological problem, namely, that the standard Muslim interpretations of 4:157 present Allah as a deceiver who tricks people into believing false things for no reason at all. None of this is what I want to talk about, however. I simply want to point out the amazing irony I see here.
People who believe that Jesus died by crucifixion are said to be “full of doubts,” to have “no (certain) knowledge,” and to follow “conjecture.” The irony is that Muslims who read these words seem to have absolutely no clue what happened to Jesus. Some confidently proclaim that God disguised Judas and made him look like Jesus, then allowed Judas to be crucified. Other Muslims claim that Jesus was replaced by someone other than Judas. Still other Muslims (Shabir Ally and Shadid Lewis among them) argue that Jesus was crucified (contrary to what the passage claims), but that God kept Jesus alive throughout the tortures of the Romans. There are even some Muslims who say they don’t know what to make of this passage. Hence, Surah 4 criticizes non-Muslims for being “full of doubts” about what happened to Jesus, and yet it leaves Muslims full of doubts about what happened to Jesus!
Muslims will respond by saying that they at least know that Jesus didn’t die, and that they are sure of this. But how can they be sure? Muhammad couldn’t even read, let alone perform a careful historical investigation. All of the first century evidence is unanimous in reporting Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Virtually all Historical Jesus scholars and New Testament scholars agree that Jesus died on the cross. Indeed, many non-Christian scholars consider Jesus’ crucifixion and death to be an indisputable fact!
So Muslims will say they’re “sure” because they read it in the Qur’an. But how does the Muslim, who believes that the Qur’an is the word of God when he reads about Jesus’ survival, have fewer doubts than the Christian, who believes that the Bible is the word of God when he reads about Jesus’ death? If the Muslim is at all concerned about evidence, he should certainly be full of doubts. For the Bible tells us that Jesus died, while the Qur’an tells us that he didn’t, and this is an area where we can test our holy books to see which is confirmed by the evidence. The Qur’an fails this test miserably, while the Bible passes with flying colors. So instead of saying, “I have no doubts that Jesus survived, because the Qur’an says he survived,” Muslims should instead say, “I have doubts about the Qur’an, because it denies Jesus’ death.”
Thus, even though this passage is supposed to give Muslims assurance of their beliefs, it (1) leaves them in doubt about what happened to Jesus, and (2) should cause them to doubt the entire Qur’an, because its claim in Surah 4 is thoroughly refuted by the facts of history. Additionally, Christians and Jews, who are said to be in doubt concerning Jesus’ death, find that our beliefs are fully confirmed by the evidence. History proves that we’re right!
How amazing, then, that so much irony and so many errors can be contained in such a short passage. Can this be the word of God?