The Crucifixion of Jesus in the Bible and the Quran

The Crucifixion in the Bible and the Quran: A Critical Examination

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“Behold! Allah said: "O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.”

-          The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Imran, 3:55

The story of the crucifixion is, without doubt, the most famous story in all of Christendom.  Moreover, it is this story which is at the heart of the differences which divide members of the two largest religions in the world: Christianity and Islam.  For Christians, the crucifixion of Jesus (Isa in Arabic) is not only a true event, but an event which served the ultimate purpose of atoning for humanity’s sins.  It is for this all-important foundation that Christianity places such emphasis on the crucifixion, for without it (and thus also the resurrection), there would be no salvation and the central tenets Christianity would fall apart.[1]  On the other hand, the Islamic view of the crucifixion is very different, denying not only that Jesus was crucified but that it has absolutely no importance to humanity’s salvation.  Given these opposing views on the importance (or lack thereof) of the crucifixion, it is therefore advisable to critically examine this event as told in the Gospels and the Quran in order to determine which version is factual and which is not and whether the Christian faith has any foundation to stand upon; for if the Christian story of the crucifixion (like many stories of the Bible) is false, then it behooves objective researchers to question the entire basis of Christian theology, and hence, Christianity itself.  In this article, we will briefly summarize the story of the crucifixion as told in the Gospels and objectively analyze it to reveal the difficulties and contradictions within the text.  Next, we will compare it to the Quranic version to see if the latter suffers from the same difficulties and contradictions.  Through this analysis, it should become clear to the reader that as with many stories of the Bible, the Biblical version of the crucifixion cannot stand the weight of objective scrutiny, and that faithful Christians should take a second look at the Quranic version which they have been taught to so easily cast aside.    
The Crucifixion in the Gospels

            The crucifixion story is found in all four Gospels.  While some details are similar, there are also differences.  These differences will be discussed in more detail in the analysis further below.  In this section, we will summarize the events surrounding the crucifixion, both before and after, as stated in the Gospels.

            According to the Gospels, while attending the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus predicted that one of them would betray him, referring of course to Judas.[2]  After the supper, Jesus went with his disciples to Gethsemane, where he prayed to God to save him from certain death, but ultimately consigned himself to God’s will.[3]  It was at this point that Judas arrived with a group of armed men, sent by the Jewish leaders to arrest Jesus.[4]
            After being arrested, Jesus was promptly taken before the Sanhedrin to stand trial for blasphemy.  After being questioned whether he was “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One”, Jesus stated that he was, causing the high priest to tear his clothes and render judgment upon Jesus.[5]  

            After being found guilty by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect.  After questioning Jesus, Pilate saw no reason to execute him, but because of the hostile Jewish crowd, he was forced to order the execution.  The crowd was so adamant on having Jesus crucified that when given the choice of choosing a prisoner to be released as part of an alleged Passover custom, they requested that Pilate release a dangerous rebel known as Barabbas, a man who had committed murder during a failed uprising.[6]
            With his fate sealed, Jesus was led to a place known as Golgotha, where he was crucified.  The time of the crucifixion was 9 a.m. on Friday and at noon, darkness covered the land and lasted until 3 p.m.[7]  Shortly thereafter, Jesus died.  Immediately following his death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two.[8]

            In the evening of the same day, Jesus’ body was turned over to Joseph of Arimathea, who placed it in a tomb and rolled a large stone at the entrance.[9]  Shortly after sunrise on Sunday, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome went to the tomb to anoint the body.[10]  However, they found that the stone had been rolled away and the body was missing.  Instead, they found a man (an angel) who announced to them that Jesus had risen and that he would meet the disciples at Galilee.[11]  Hence, Jesus’ earlier prophecy that he would be resurrected after three days and three nights, just as Jonah had spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, was fulfilled.[12]     
An Analysis of the Story

            In the short summary above, we outlined the events surrounding the crucifixion as told by the Gospels.  As such, it should be plainly clear to the reader that there is actually no agreed-upon version of these events.  The Gospels, while having some similarities, also differ greatly in their recounting of the events of that fateful day.  In this section, we will discuss these differences and show why they are irreconcilable and greatly damage the credibility of the Christian claims regarding the most famous execution in history.  We will also discuss other problems in the Gospel accounts.[13]
Judas’ Betrayal and Death -  

As stated in the summary, when attending the Last Supper, Jesus announced to his disciples that one of them would betray him.  All of the Gospels agree that this traitor was Judas.  However, Mark, Luke and John do not mention what actually happened to Judas afterwards.  The details of his remorse and suicide are found in the Gospel of Matthew only.[14]  According to Matthew’s account, in his remorse, Judas attempted to return the money he had been paid by the priests to betray Jesus, in fulfillment of an alleged prophecy made by the prophet Jeremiah:

“Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.””[15]

Interestingly, the New International Version states in a footnote that this prophecy is actually a combination of several verses from the books of Jeremiah and Zechariah.[16]  Hence, not only did Matthew misquote Jeremiah, he neglected to mention that parts of the alleged prophecy were also made by Zechariah.  However, it should also be noted that none of the verses from Jeremiah or Zechariah have anything to do with the Messiah and are merely taken out of context.  As Louay Fatoohi has stated:

“All that can be found in [Jeremiah] is a reference to the prophet being commanded to visit a potter (Jer. 18:2-3) and elsewhere to him buying a field from his cousin (Jer. 32:7-9).  
The closest passage to this text is found in Zechariah, but the context is completely different and has no relation to the Messiah.”[17]

Fatoohi also notes that in their realization of this misquote of the Tanakh, later Christian scribes attempted to hide the error:

“Matthew’s erroneous attribution of the prophecy to Jeremiah has resulted in some scribes changing ‘Jeremiah’ to ‘Zechariah’ in some manuscripts, or omitting the name of the prophet altogether in others!”[18]

Clearly, Matthew’s appeal to the prophets cannot be explained away as anything other than an error.  Incidentally, Matthew’s Gospel has other misquotes of the Tanakh, but that is outside the scope of this article.[19]  

            Another problem regarding Judas’ death is a different account found in the Book of Acts.  While the Gospel of Matthew claims that Judas returned the money to the priests who then used it to purchase the “Field of Blood”, Acts claims that he used the money to buy the field himself and committed suicide there:

“(With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)”[20]

It is obvious that the two versions are contradictory and cannot be reconciled.  Judas could not have returned the money to the priests and used the money to buy the field at the same time.  Similarly, the field could not have been purchased by the priests and Judas at the same time.

Jesus’ Prayer at Gethsemane -         

After the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples went to Gethsemane, where the former prayed to God.  The only difference between the Gospel accounts here, as previously mentioned, is the addition made by Luke:

“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”[21]

The theological ramifications of this incident are of course clearly evident.  Since Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate, it is difficult to understand why he would feel the need to pray.  Furthermore, who was he praying to?  The Gospels claim that he was praying to the “Father”, yet if Jesus is God the Son, and all three persons of the trinity are “co-equal”,[22] then why would Jesus pray to the “Father”?  Why was “God” praying to Himself?  Of course, this clearly human example of Jesus’ character is not unique.  The Gospels are littered with passages which clearly show that Jesus was human and not divine.  But that is the subject for another article.[23]   

The Arrest of Jesus –

            Having betrayed Jesus, Judas led a crowd of armed men to him so that he could be arrested.  The Gospels claim that in defense of Jesus, Peter attacked the servant of the high priest (Malchus) and cut off his ear.  However, Luke claims in addition that after rebuking Peter, Jesus healed the servant.[24]  At this point, we must ask the obvious question.  If Jesus really did heal this man in front of the entire hostile crowd, why did they still arrest him and take him to the Sanhedrin, instead of being amazed at his powers and perhaps running off in fear?  This inconsistency becomes even more difficult to explain given that during the trial, these same people began mocking Jesus by blindfolding him and asking him to identify who was hitting him![25]  Did they need more proof of his abilities?  Even if we assume that the people who arrested Jesus were not the same people who were later mocking him, we still have to ask why the former witnessed Jesus’ miraculous powers and yet still managed to keep calm and handed him over to the Sanhedrin!

Another curious incident during the arrest is Jesus’ admonition to Peter for attacking the high priest’s servant.  According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus rebukes Peter by stating:

“Put your sword back in its place”…“for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”[26]

So, according to Matthew, Jesus allegedly stated that anyone who uses a sword will die by the sword.  Of course, one need only look at the whole history of warfare to find numerous examples of warriors and generals who spent most of their adult lives in battle, yet who were not slain in battle or met their deaths “by the sword”.  A good example is Genghis Khan, the Mongol warlord who spent most of his life building his vast empire by conquering and pillaging numerous cities and nations, killing millions in the process.  Yet this tyrant’s death was definitely not by the sword but most probably by a combination of old age and a freak accident on his horse.  According to historical sources:

“The great Khan, who was over 60 and in failing health, may have succumbed to injuries incurred during a fall from a horse in the previous year.”[27]

Another good example of a warrior who “lived by the sword” is one of the most famous kings in Christian history, Charlemagne.  Charlemagne is described as a:

“A skilled military strategist, [who] spent much of his reign engaged in warfare in order to accomplish his goals.”[28]

Yet, Charlemagne did not die in battle but instead, from natural causes.[29]  So clearly, not everyone who has ever handled a sword has died by it.  Hence, Christian apologists have had to come up with possible explanations for Jesus’ warning to Peter.  “Barnes’ Notes”, a well-known Christian commentary on the Bible, argues that it was only a warning to Peter.  But even then, Barnes interpreted the verse to apply to everyone in general:

“…the most satisfactory interpretation is that which regards it as a caution to Peter. Peter was rash. Alone he had attacked the whole band. Jesus told him that his unseasonable and imprudent defense might be the occasion of his own destruction. In doing it he would endanger his life, for they who took the sword perished by it. This was probably a proverb, denoting that they who engaged in wars commonly perished there.”[30]

It should be noticed by the astute reader how Barnes inserted the word “commonly” to make the statement less restrictive.  Of course, there is nothing in the verse to indicate that Jesus was only making a general statement that could apply to some people and not all people.  He clearly stated that it applied to “all” people.  The Greek word used in the text is “πάντες” (pantes), which is defined by the “NAS Exhaustive Concordance” as meaning “all” or “every”.[31]  The same word is used in other instances throughout the New Testament where it is clear that it is referring to all parties concerned, and not just some.[32]  Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion is that the alleged statement attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew has been proven demonstrably false by the facts of history.  It can also be considered a false prophecy.    

Jesus before the Sanhedrin –

            After the arrest, Jesus was brought to a late-night session of the Sanhedrin.  It is generally agreed among the Gospels that the presiding priest was Caiaphas.  However, the Gospel of John adds that before being sent to Caiaphas, Jesus was first brought before Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas.  The author of the gospel claims that Caiaphas was the high priest “that year”, while Luke’s gospel claims that Annas and Caiaphas jointly held the position.  However, both assertions have been criticized by historians as being inaccurate.  As Fatoohi notes:

“First, the Old Testament, the writings of Josephus and Philo, and rabbinic literature unanimously testify that the office of high priest can be held by one person only.  Luke’s claim that Annas and Caiaphas held the high priesthood jointly is unhistorical.  Second, John’s claim that the high priesthood was rotated annually is untrue…”[33]

In fact, Josephus states clearly that Annas was followed by a brief succession of high priests who ruled for a short period of time (not more than a year), after which Caiaphas was given the position.  In other words, there was never an instance where both Annas and Caiaphas jointly held the position of high priest:

“[Valerius Gratus] deprived Ananus [Annas] of the high priesthood, and appointed Ismael, the son of Phabi, to be high priest.  He also deprived him in a little time, and ordained Eleazar, the son of Ananus, who had been high priest before, to be high priest: which office, when he had held for a year, Gratus deprived him of it, and gave the high priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus; and, when he had possessed that dignity no longer than a year, Joseph Caiaphas was made his successor.”[34]

It is also known that Caiaphas ruled continuously from 18CE-36CE.[35]  Therefore, the historical evidence negates the Gospel claims that the office of high priest was rotated annually or that there could be two high priests at the same time.

Besides this historical error, it must also be noted (as stated above) that while the Synoptics agree that Jesus was brought before Caiaphas only, the Gospel of John states that he was brought to Annas first and then Caiaphas.  This contradiction cannot be explained in any rational way.  Since Caiaphas was the high priest, why would Jesus have been brought to Annas first?  The Gospel of John offers no explanation.

Jesus before Pilate –

Having been condemned by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy, Jesus was sent before the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.  As stated above, Pilate saw no guilt in Jesus and wanted to release him.  According to Luke, Pilate even sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, who also found no guilt in the man.  However, Pilate was thwarted by the Jewish crowd in his effort to release Jesus.  They wanted blood and demanded that Pilate sentence Jesus to be crucified.  When Pilate gave them the choice to select a prisoner to be released due to the Passover custom, they chose a rebel known as Barabbas.  Each of these aspects of the trial presided over by Pilate render the story to be inconsistent and confusing, as we will now see. 

First, we must ask why a Roman prefect was so easily influenced by the Jews and anxiously willing to meet their demands.  After all, it was the Romans who were the rulers of the land, and not the Jews.  Furthermore, as Josephus makes clear, Pilate was known to be a persecutor of the Jews.[36]  Therefore, why would he be so anxious to please them?  Additionally, why would Pilate have sent Jesus to Herod?  Why would a Roman prefect need a Jewish tetrarch’s opinion? 

Furthermore, Luke claims that the trial of Jesus led to a friendship between Pilate and Herod, whereas before, they had been enemies.[37]  This would imply that at the time Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, they were still enemies, which makes Pilate’s sending of Jesus to Herod all the more incredible!  This contradiction makes Luke’s claim of Herod’s involvement in the trial all the more bizarre and nothing more than a historical fantasy.  Not only that, but the reality is that Pilate and Herod remained enemies until the end of the former’s reign.  As C. Dennis McKinsey states:

“Pilate and Herod were enemies to the day of Pilate’s recall to Rome.  Herod was continually plotting to unite his Galilee with Pilate’s Judea, which Herod’s father had promised him.”[38]

            Second, the Gospels’ claim of an alleged custom of releasing a prisoner to the Jews out of respect for the festival of Passover is also a historical fiction.  There is no evidence, outside of the Gospels, of any such custom.  As McKinsey notes:

“There is no historical authority or precedent whatever for this alleged custom.  No Roman government could have safely adopted it.”[39]

Furthermore, as Fatoohi observes, the Gospels contradict each other as to whose custom it really was:

“Mark is unclear as to whose custom the Passover amnesty was, Matthew makes it Roman, and John have [sic] Pilate clearly state that it was Jewish!  This alleged custom has no historical basis…”[40]

In addition, one must ask whether a Roman governor would so easily have released an enemy of the empire, such as the rebel Barabbas.  The Gospels state that Barabbas was an insurrectionist and had committed murder.[41]  It is hard to believe that a Roman ruler would release such a man to please the Jews or even give them the choice in the matter.[42]  A man such as Barabbas would have been considered an enemy of the state and far too dangerous to be allowed to go free, especially for such a trivial reason as some vague custom for which no historical evidence exists anyway.  Given the contradictory nature of this part of the story, as well as the lack of historical evidence vouching for its veracity, it must surely be rejected as another historical fantasy.  In fact, Biblical scholar Reza Aslan suggests that the story was concocted by the author of the Gospel of Mark (the first gospel to be written) as a way to break any link between Christians and Jewish revolutionary ideology, since the gospel had been written for a Roman audience in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem.[43]

The Crucifixion –

            Having now been condemned to death, Jesus was sent away to be crucified.  As stated in the summary, he was crucified on Friday at 9 a.m.  Three hours later, at noon, a mysterious period of darkness covered the land, lasting until 3 p.m., shortly after which Jesus died.  Following his death, more strange events occurred which obviously were meant to coincide with his death.  There was an earthquake, dead saints rose from their graves and the temple curtain was torn in two.  However, there are good reasons to reject these fantastical claims.  According to the Gospel of Matthew:

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”[44]

If these events were allegedly witnessed by many people, why do we not have any non-Biblical corroboration for it?  Surely, the dead rising from their graves would have been worthy of mention in the historical sources!  Yet, not one historical source from the time mentions it.  As McKinsey notes:

“As incredible as these events are, no historian of antiquity mentions them.”[45]

The same problem exists with the claim made in the Gospels about the period of darkness that allegedly covered the land when Jesus was crucified.  No historical evidence exists for this event outside the Bible.  Christian apologists have appealed to Julius Africanus, who quoted from the now lost writings of the historian Thallus allegedly referring to a solar eclipse which occurred around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  However, this appeal is without merit, as Julius Africanus actually refuted the possibility of any solar eclipse occurring.[46]

            Therefore, the Gospel accounts of strange events occurring during and after the crucifixion cannot be accepted as historically accurate.  Not only is there a total absence of any eye-witness accounts of these remarkable events, some could not have happened at all (such as the period of darkness due to a solar eclipse). 

The Resurrection -

            Finally, the Gospels state that after being placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus was raised from the dead, as he had predicted.  But as with the other aspects of the story of the crucifixion, the events surrounding the resurrection are marred by inconsistencies and contradictions.[47]             

                First and foremost, Jesus was supposed to have resurrected after three days and three nights, as mentioned in the summary.  Before we analyze this prophecy, it needs to be made clear that the time period of “three days and three nights” did not necessarily have to denote three 24-hour periods.  Biblical scholar Geza Vermes states that according to “Jewish time reckoning”:

"…part of a day or night was accepted as a full day or night (yShab 12a; bPes4a)."[48]

However, even with this concession, it is plainly obvious that there is absolutely no way for the prophecy to have been fulfilled if Jesus died on Friday and resurrected on Sunday.  As Vermes observes:

“This would allow us to count three days from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, but no stretch of the imagination could fit three nights into that period.”[49]

Hence, the prophecy of the “sign of Jonah” was clearly not fulfilled.  No satisfactory explanation can be offered to explain this.  Nevertheless, Christian apologists have made attempts at explaining the contradiction.  One of the most creative is the following which is taken from an email correspondence with a Christian apologist:

“In Jewish tradition, part of a day or night could be accepted as a full day or night. Also, when God created the world, He used the word “day” to refer to light, and “night” to refer to darkness. In the Bible, the words day and night can be used to refer to what we would call day and night, but they can also be used to refer to light and darkness. Jesus was crucified on Friday morning (9 a.m.) and between noon and 3 p.m., darkness fell upon the earth. Jesus died on the ninth hour (3 p.m.). He would have died when it was “night”. He hung on the cross for several hours (between 3 p.m. and the evening- when it would have been light outside again- day). In the evening, his body and buried it in a tomb, when it was dark, so that would count as another night. For the whole day on Saturday (day and night), his body lay in the tomb. He rose at dawn on Sunday.  Put another way:

3 p.m. - Jesus dies when it is still dark (Night 1).

3 p.m. to evening - Jesus hangs on the cross. It is no longer dark (Day 1).

Friday evening - Jesus is buried (Night 2).

Saturday dawn to evening- Day 2

Saturday night- Night 3

Sunday at dawn- Day 3”

Having considered this attempted explanation, we can now refute it.  First of all, even if “darkness fell upon the earth” (an event for which there is no historical evidence), it was still during the day.  Hence, it was still Day 1 when Jesus allegedly died, not “Night 1”.  In fact, Luke claims that the “sun stopped shining”, which is clear evidence that it was still during the day but that there was a solar eclipse.[50]  According to Genesis, the sun’s specific purpose was to “govern the day”:

God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.[51]

This is further proof that it was still day time.  Hence, the argument that since it was dark (which again is an event for which there is no historical evidence) then it was “Night 1”, is untenable.  In addition, since Jesus supposedly died at 3 p.m. when the “darkness” ended, then it was not dark when he died.  Matthew sounds rather uncertain as to the exact time since he claims that it was “about three in the afternoon” when Jesus died.[52]  This is rather ambiguous for a supposedly “inspired” text.  Furthermore, Matthew’s description of Jesus’ last minutes suggests that Jesus actually died shortly after 3 p.m.: 

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”  Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”  And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.[53]

As can be plainly seen, around 3 p.m., Jesus was close to dying.  However, Mark is clear that it was at 3 p.m. that Jesus first cried out,[54] so unless we want admit that this is yet another contradiction between the Gospel accounts, we have to accept Mark’s claim that it was actually 3 p.m. and not “around” 3 p.m.  It was at this point, shortly after 3 p.m. (when the darkness had ended) that an unknown person dipped a sponge in wine vinegar and brought it to Jesus.  Unless this person was moving extremely fast, he would have brought the sponge a few minutes later, at the very least.  It was only then that Jesus finally died.  The span of time during which these events occurred would have been a few minutes.  There is no way that it was still exactly 3 p.m.  Hence, Jesus most likely died after the darkness had already abated.  Even if it was still dark, then it means that Jesus was dead for a few seconds at most in the “darkness” before daylight appeared again.  It would have made far more sense if he had died sometime in the 3-hour interval of darkness, instead of during the last few seconds.  The latter scenario is impossible to prove.  And of course, none of this changes the fact that it was still during the day.  Hence, from the moment of his supposed “death” and his alleged “resurrection”, it would have been 3 days and 2 nights.  The Christian attempt to reconcile this contradiction is simply indefensible.

Second, besides the contradiction regarding the “sign of Jonah”, the Gospels offer contradictory accounts of other aspects of the resurrection as well.  As noted earlier, there are differences between the Gospels as to who exactly visited the tomb first.  Let us put the verses side-by-side:

Mark 16:1
Matthew 28:1
Luke 24:1, 9-10
John 20:1
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.”
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.”
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”

“When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.”
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.”

There are contradictions between the different Gospels, pure and simple.

            Third, there is a contradiction among the Gospels regarding how many angels informed the women of Jesus’ resurrection.  Mark and Matthew agree that there was one angel, although they disagree as to whether he was inside the tomb or outside it when he informed the women of the resurrection or where he was seated:

Mark 16:4-5
Matthew 28:2-3
“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.”
“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.”

However, Luke and John state that there were two angels.  Therefore, the Gospels contradict each other once again.  

Finally, the Gospel of John contradicts the other gospels with regard to when the angel(s) informed Mary Magdalene (and/or the other women) about Jesus’ resurrection.  The Synoptics all agree that it was during the initial visit that the angel(s) informed the women, but John’s Gospel clearly shows that it was during a second visit:

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.  Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)  Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.”[55]

Nothing in this passage suggests that Mary Magdalene saw the angel(s) during her initial visit.  Instead, John’s Gospel states that in her first visit, she saw that the stone had been rolled away and immediately went to the disciples and informed them of what had happened.  The disciples went to investigate and examined the tomb while Mary Magdalene waited outside.  It was then that the angels informed her of the resurrection.  The angels were not present or at the very least were not seen by Mary Magdalene during her initial visit.  Hence, the Gospel of John very clearly contradicts the Synoptics.

Conclusion –

In this exhaustive analysis, we have seen clear-cut evidence of the inconsistent and contradictory nature of the Gospel accounts regarding the crucifixion of Jesus.  Objective and fair-minded readers will readily admit this fact.  Let us now summarize and examine what the Quran has to say about the subject.  

The Crucifixion in the Quran  

            The story of the crucifixion as told by the Quran is unlike the Biblical version in many ways.  First, the Quranic account does not provide a long narrative of the events both before and after the crucifixion.  Second, it only makes a simple declaration regarding the attempt to crucify and kill the Prophet Isa (peace be upon him), which is that he was not crucified or killed at all, although his enemies certainly thought they had done so!  The Quran states that prior to the attempt on Isa’s life, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) informed the noble prophet that He would save him from his enemies and raise him to Himself:

“Behold! Allah said: "O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.”[56]

Furthermore, the Quran describes the erroneous claim of the boastful unbelievers that they had killed Isa (peace be upon him), making it clear that there was no truth to their claims:

“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;-”[57]

On a related note, since Isa (peace be upon him) was not crucified or killed, it makes perfect sense for the Quran to describe him as a “sign of the Hour”[58] since, as the authentic ahadith state, he will return to earth as the leader of the Muslims near the end times.  For example, a hadith in Sahih Bukhari states:

“Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, son of Mary (Jesus) will shortly descend amongst you people (Muslims) as a just ruler and will break the Cross and kill the pig and abolish the Jizya (a tax taken from the non-Muslims, who are in the protection, of the Muslim government). Then there will be abundance of money and no-body will accept charitable gifts.”[59]

Regarding the Quran’s claim about the crucifixion, Louay Fatoohi observes (emphasis in the original):

“The Qur’an is emphatic in denying both the killing and crucifixion of Jesus.[60]

So what exactly happened?  As the above verses show, there was a definite attempt on the life of Isa (peace be upon him).  There was also a crucifixion, as historians agree.  The only difference is that the Quran denies that the crucified person was Isa (peace be upon him), but rather someone else who was made to appear like him and that those who believed that he was crucified were following only “conjecture”.[61]  As Fatoohi states:

“Muslim exegetes agree that it was another person who was mistaken for Jesus and killed in his stead.  A number of them have even tried to identify the crucified person.  One popular theory is that it was one of Jesus’ disciples who was made to look like him and ended up being crucified instead of his master.  […] Others identified Judas Iscariot as the one who, involuntarily, became Jesus’ lookalike and was crucified…”[62]

We should note, however, that all of the theories about who exactly was crucified in Isa’s place are speculative and cannot be accepted outright.  Since the Quran and the authentic ahadith do not provide any details regarding the identity of the person, there is no point in trying to figure out who it was.  Any theory presented on the subject would be pure speculation.  What is clear, however, is that it was not the prophet Isa (peace be upon him) who was crucified.  

            Now of course, Christians have objected to the Quran’s claim about the crucifixion and the fact that Isa (peace be upon him) was not crucified or killed.  One of the most common arguments is an appeal to historical sources (including those which have been tampered with by Christians)[63] which all state that Jesus was indeed crucified.  Yet as we just noted, the Quran does not deny that a crucifixion occurred.  It simply denies that Isa (peace be upon him) was the crucified person.  In other words, the Quran states that the prophet was miraculously saved from his enemies who wished to do him harm.  As such, we would not expect secular sources to acknowledge this miracle.  They were, as were the attempted murderers of Isa (peace be upon him), simply assuming that he was crucified because that is what everyone seemed to believe, despite all the contradictions and inconsistencies of the story.  

            Moreover, there is historical evidence that many early Christians believed that Isa (peace be upon him) actually did escape crucifixion.  As Fatoohi states (emphasis in the original):

“Indeed, the ‘substitute’ theory, as it is known, was adopted throughout history by various heretical Christian groups that refused to accept that Jesus, as a divine being and Son of God could die…”[64]

Of course, this does not mean that the Quran endorses the beliefs of these early Christian sects.  It simply proves that the idea that Isa (peace be upon him) escaped crucifixion and death was not an Islamic invention.  It clearly had historical precedence.  At this point, it is expected that Christian apologists will change gears and accuse the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) of simply plagiarizing from these heretical groups!  However, what these people do not realize is that these groups had mostly disappeared by the time of the advent of Islam, thanks to a sustained and relentless campaign of persecution by the church.  Why else have the books of these sects only been recently rediscovered?  They would not have been known to the early Muslims.


            In this article, we have thoroughly analyzed the story of the crucifixion, as told by the Gospels and the Quran.  In the analysis of the former, we found irreconcilable contradictions, inconsistencies and errors, which render the story as lacking any credibility.  By contrast, the Quranic story lacks any such difficulties, aside from the fact that the claim of a miracle is not accepted by Christians and secular historians.  While the Quran does not deny the occurrence of a crucifixion (in agreement with historical sources), it does deny that the crucified person was the prophet Isa (peace be upon him).  Moreover, it states that those who believe that he was crucified and killed follow only a “conjecture”.  Given the contradictory nature of the main sources on this event (the Gospels), this is very clearly evident.  

            And Allah knows best!

[1] In 1 Corinthians 15:14, Paul stated that “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

[2] Mark 14:18, Matthew 26:20, John 13:26.  Matthew 27 states that Judas later felt remorse for having betrayed Jesus and, after returning the money he had been given by the priests, went out and hung himself.  This will be discussed in more detail later.  Luke mentions the Last Supper but does not mention Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal. 

[3] Mark 14:36, Matthew 26:39, Luke 22:42. Luke 22:43 adds that an angel appeared and “strengthened” Jesus, but this verse is considered spurious since it is not found in earlier manuscripts.

[4] During the commotion, one of Jesus’ disciples (identified by the Gospel of John as Simon Peter) cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, whose name was Malchus.  All of the Gospels mention this incident, but Luke’s version adds that Jesus healed the man’s ear, presumably while the crowd looked on.

[5] Mark 14:61-64, Matthew 26:65. Luke does not mention the details of the trial but only states that Jesus was taken to the house of the high priest (Luke 22:54).  The Gospel of John states that Jesus was first brought to Annas and then to Caiaphas, claiming that the latter was the high priest “that year” (John 18:13), whereas the synoptic Gospels do not mention Jesus being presented before Annas but only before Caiaphas.  However, Luke 3:2 states that John the Baptist had first begun preaching during “the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas”.  This will be discussed further in the analysis.

[6] Mark 15:6, 15; Matthew 27:15, 20; Luke 23: 18, John 18:39-40.  Luke 23 also adds that before condemning Jesus and releasing Barabbas, Pilate had sent the former to Herod Antipas for questioning.  Herod sent Jesus back, having found no evidence to condemn him to death, just as Pilate had determined.  The evangelists’ claim of the Roman custom of releasing a prisoner for Passover will be discussed in more detail later.

[7] Mark 15:25, 42; Matthew 27:45-46; Luke 23:44-46.  All of the Gospels state that it was the “Preparation Day” which is the day before the Sabbath (Saturday).  The Gospel of John does not mention the period of darkness or the time of Jesus’ death.

[8] Mark 15:38, Matthew 27:51-53, Luke 23:45.  The Gospel of Matthew claims that in addition to the tearing of the temple curtain, there was also an earthquake and the raising of dead people.  See the analysis of the crucifixion story for a discussion of these events.

[9] Mark 15:42-46, Matthew 27:57-60.

[10] Mark 16:1.  Matthew 28:1 states that only Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary” visited the tomb.  Luke 24:1 only mentions the “women” but later identifies them as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others (Luke 24:10).  John 20:1 states that only Mary Magdalene visited the tomb.  This issue will be discussed further in the analysis.

[11] Mark 16:4, Matthew 28:5-7, Luke 24:6.  Luke mentions that there were two angels who announced Jesus’ resurrection.  The Gospel of John also mentions two angels, but states that this was after Mary’s initial visit.  We will discuss the great difference between John’s gospel and the Synoptic gospels on the resurrection account in further detail in the analysis.

[12] Matthew 12:40, Luke 11:30, Mark 8:31.  Mark’s gospel does not mention the “sign of Jonah” and only states that Jesus will rise after three days only and not “three days and three nights”.  Luke’s gospel only mentions the “sign of Jonah” without stating “three days and three nights”.  The Gospel of John does not specifically mention the “sign of Jonah” but instead alludes to Jesus’ resurrection after three days in a parable about the temple (John 2:20-22).  Mark and Matthew also refer to the temple parable.  This prophecy will be discussed in the analysis in further detail.

[13] For a complete list of contradictions, errors and inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, see Louay Fatoohi, The Mystery of the Crucifixion: The Attempt to Kill Jesus in the Quran, New Testament and Historical Sources (Birmingham: Luna Plena Publishing, 2008), pp. 12-38.

[14] The Book of Acts also mentions Judas’ remorse and death.  We will discuss this later.

[15] Matthew 27:1-10.

[17] Fatoohi, op. cit., p. 29.

[18] Ibid.

[19] For a detailed analysis of other alleged “prophecies”, see our article: “The Gospel of Matthew and the Tanakh: An Analysis of Alleged Prophecies About Jesus”.

[20] Acts 1:18.

[21] Luke 22:43-44.

[22] According to one Christian website:

“God is a trinity of persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Father is not the same person as the Son; the Son is not the same person as the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not the same person as Father.  They are not three gods and not three beings.  They are three distinct persons; yet, they are all the one God.  Each has a will, can speak, can love, etc., and these are demonstrations of personhood.  They are in absolute perfect harmony consisting of one substance. They are coeternal, coequal, and copowerful.  If any one of the three were removed, there would be no God.”

[23] For a detailed discussion of Jesus in the Bible and the Quran, see our article: “Jesus in the Bible and the Quran: A Comparative Analysis”.

[24] Luke 22:51.

[25] Luke 22:63. Also Mark 14:65 and Matthew 26:67-68.

[26] Matthew 26:52-54.

[33] Fatoohi, op. cit., p. 35.

[34] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:3.

[35] Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, The Mysteries of Jesus (Oxford: Sakina Books, 2000), p. 240.  See note 18.

[36] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:3.

[37] Luke 23:12.

[38] C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 341.

[39] Ibid., p. 344.

[40] Fatoohi, op. cit., p. 38.

[41] According to Biblical scholar Reza Aslan, Barabbas had actually killed Roman guards (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Random House, 2013), p. 148).

[42] Ibid.  See also Maqsood, op. cit., pp. 14-15.

[43] Aslan, op. cit., pp. 149-150.

[44] Matthew 27:51-53

[45] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 340.

[46] Fatoohi, op. cit., pp. 79-80.

[48] Geza Vermes, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus (London: Penguin Books, 2003), p. 183.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Luke 23:45.

[51] Genesis 1:16.  On an unrelated note, the claim that the moon was a “light” contradicts scientific fact since the moon does not produce light on its own (unlike the sun), but instead reflects sunlight, as noted in our article “Science in the Bible and the Quran: Searching the Holy Texts for Evidence of Scientific Knowledge”. 

[52] Matthew 27:46.

[53] Matthew 27:46-50.

[54] Mark 15:34.

[55] John 20:1-14.

[56] Surah Al-Imran, 3:55 (Yusuf Ali).

[57] Surah An-Nisa, 4:157-158.

[58] Surah Az-Zukhruf, 43:61.  Isa (peace be upon him) will be one of the major signs of the approach of the Day of Judgment, which means that he will descend near its time.

[59] Sahih Bukhari, Book 34, Number 425.  See also Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 293.

[60] Fatoohi, op. cit., p. 99.  It should be noted, however, that Fatoohi’s opinion that Jesus was taken by God to an unknown heavenly location where the former died has no basis in either the Quran or the authentic ahadith.  For more on his theory, see pages 133-134 of his book.

[61] As the analysis of the Biblical story has shown above, there is nothing but conjecture and confusion regarding the events of that fateful day.  Hence, the Quran makes an accurate statement.

[62] Fatoohi, op. cit., p. 107.

[63] For example, the so-called “Testimonium Flavianum”.  For a good explanation of why this passage must be rejected, see the following:

[64] Fatoohi, op. cit., pp. 109-110.