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Biblical Reasons for the Crucifixion

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As Christians it is incumbent on us to refer to our holy book as the main source of our belief. Both the historical and archaeological evidence strongly supports the Biblical claims. These provide us with substantial facts that we need to present to a sceptic or a Muslim who does not accept our Biblical record alone. Let us also examine some of the Biblical references pertaining to our theme.


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First, the concept of atonement has never been a Christian novelty. It has been an essential part of religious practices even among the heathens. According to the Old Testament, these practices were primarily divinely ordained rites enacted by God after the fall of Adam and Eve. As they confessed their sins and realised that they violated God's law, God took an animal, skinned it and made garments for Adam and Eve to clothe them (Genesis 3:20). Linguistically, the word atonement means ``to cover or to hide''. Thus, according to Scripture the entire concept of atonement began with God as the result of man's failure to live up to God's standard. Evidently this ordinance persisted in religious rituals and worship. Abel and Cain both offered their sacrifices to God, but God accepted Abel's sacrifice and rejected Cain's because Cain's sacrifice was based not on blood but on his own deed. Likewise, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all offered animal sacrifices as God ordained. Later, during the time of Moses, these ceremonial sacrifices became a written law. Biblical scholars affirmed that those sacrifices were ritual symbols to the great and final sacrifice, that is, the crucifixion of Christ. Pagan nations took these liturgies from the devout men of God and offered them to their idols. They distorted their purpose, though basically they continued to be a symbol for expiation.

Atonement in Islam is founded on good deeds. Charity and good work obliterate offences. Also, the performing of the five pillars, fighting for the cause of Allah and the reciting of the Quranic chapters purchase the forgiveness of sins.

But there is another theme in Islam that is worth examining before we conclude this part of our study: the theme of ransom. Maybe the most outstanding reference to this subject is found in Sura al-Saffat 37:107, in the context of the story of Abraham and his son who consented to be offered as a sacrifice:

And we ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice.

Al-Baydawi illustrates this verse by saying: ``that is, by what is sacrificed instead of him, thus the act by that is fulfilled.''

In his exposition of this verse, al-Razi cites a tradition: ``The Suddi said: `Abraham was called out, he looked around and all of a sudden he saw a ram intermixed with white and black, descending from the mountain. He got up from beside him (his son), took the (ram), slaughtered it and freed his son. He said: ``My son, today you were given to me as a gift.''...it was said that the (ram) was called momentous for its great status since God...accepted it as a ransom for Abraham's Son.'?''

How was the son given to Abraham as a gift? That black and white ram was slain as a ransom for Abraham's son. It was the substitute. Thus he was given a new life. Also the ram was great, firstly, because God was the one who prepared it, and secondly, because it was a symbol for the greatest and the final sacrifice, that is, Christ the Redeemer of all humanity. He is the one about whom John the Baptist said: ``Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'' (John 1:29, NKJ)

In his book Ihya of Ulum al-Din, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, the greatest Islamic theologian who ever lived, states:

But be informed that slaughtering the sacrifice is (a means) to draw nearer to God...by way of obedience. Therefore perform the sacrifice and hope for God to liberate from hell by each part of it, a part of you. For as thus came the promise: The bigger the sacrifice is and the more numerous its parts are, the more fully your redemption from hell is.

In this same book al-Ghazali urges Muslims to seek God's nearness by sacrificing an animal. He says:

Seek nearness of God by sacrificing an animal. Try to sacrifice an animal which is strong and stout...the Prophet said: Nothing is dearer to God on the Day of Sacrifice out of the actions of men than the sacrifice of an animal. It will come on the resurrection day with its hoofs and horns and its blood falls in a place near to God before it falls on the ground. So purify your soul by sacrifice. There is in Hadith (Prophet's Tradition): There is reward for every hair of the sacrificed animal and for every drop of blood, and it will be weighed near God. So give good news. The prophet said: Sacrifice a good animal, as it will be your carrier on the Resurrection Day.


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Second, the Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning Jesus' death and resurrection. It is enough to have a general look at the Book of Isaiah to realise that Old Testament prophets were aware of this great event and looked forward to it. Since we do not have sufficient room to point to the ample references predicting Christ's death, agony and resurrection, I would like to refer the reader to some helpful sources pertaining to this theme.

Jesus' Testimony

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Third, Christ Himself talked about His death and His resurrection. The Gospel accounts are crowded with verses where Jesus predicted His crucifixion and suffering. In this case when He talked about His death He was either a liar, insane and confused, or an honest person who declared the truth. Indeed, neither Christ's mortal enemies nor any Muslim dared or would dare to accuse Him of lying or insanity. It remains for us to say that Jesus was truthful in all that He preached and ascribed to Himself. It is

futile here to claim that all the information recorded in the Gospel about Jesus' death are the invention of the disciples or the fathers of the early church. The integrity and honesty of Christ's disciples have never been questioned or doubted. John the

Evangelist ascertains in his first Epistle 1:1--2, NKJ:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life---the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life, which was with the father and was manifested to us---

The rest of the disciples reiterated the same testimony, especially the apostle Peter. All of them are honest eye-witnesses. But the greatest testimony we cite in the context of this study is Christ's testimony about Himself. Jesus quoted the prophecies of the Old Testament and applied them to Himself. He also expounded them in lucid language to dispel any doubt that may cloud the minds of His audience. He was accustomed to say, ``That the scripture may be fulfilled,'' or ``As it is written,'' or something similar. As He quoted Old Testament prophecies, He would explain to the disciples, along with the multitudes who gathered together to hear Him, how these prophecies were fulfilled in Him. For instance, in one speech to His disciples He said:

These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things concerning me must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled... Then He said to them, ``Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.'' (Luke 24: 44--46, NKJ)

The above verses include two important facts. First, the prophecies in the entire Old Testament refer to Jesus and not to any other prophet. When Jesus pointed to the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, He covered the whole Old Testament with the exception of the historical books. He documented all His claims by quoting these familiar prophecies and explained them to the astonished disciples. It is very interesting to see how Muslims selected some of these prophecies which Christ ascribed to Himself to prove to the Jews that he was the Messiah, and applied them to Muhammad. In the opinion of the author, based on the interpretations of Jesus and the disciples, the Islamic claims are invalid and deceptive.

Second, Jesus Himself made it clear to the disciples that He had to be crucified and die, and then be raised from the tomb on the third day. Jesus here attests to His crucifixion and defies any other claim that denies or rejects this historical fact. It is very hard for the sceptic to look Jesus in the eye and say to Him, ``You are a liar.''

The Historical Documents

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There are many historical documents attesting to the death of Christ. His crucifixion is mentioned in , Jewish, Gnostic and Christian literature. The evidence of Christ's existence and mode of death is multiple yet consistent. We will examine the crucifixion of Jesus through the writings of various historians.

The Pagan Documents

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The pagan documents play an eminent role in the story of the crucifixion, primarily because the authors do not belong to any Christian sect and do not take its side. The relevant passages quoted from such literature are more in contempt of Christianity rather than in praise, especially in the first era of church history.

Most pagan documents available to us are the product of the first two Christian centuries. They attest to events that took place in the life of Christ and during His time.

It is worthwhile to analyze the testimonies of these political writers and chroniclers in the light of the political and religious events of the age.

Among those outstanding authors who documented and shed light on the crucifixion of Jesus are:

Cornelius Tacitus (ca. A.D. 55--120), a Roman historian famous for his integrity and goodness. He outlived six emperors and was called the greatest historian of ancient Rome. His best known books are the Annals and the Histories. The Annals is composed of

18 books and the Histories of 12 books. Tacitus held the offices of Praetor in A.D. 88, Consul in 97 and Proconsul in 122. F.F. Bruce indicates that Tacitus might have received his information about Christ and Christians from the official records to which he had access. In his two major historical works, Tacitus recorded three references to Christ and Christianity. The most important one is found in his Annals:

Consequently to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populous. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

It is obvious from this historical document that Christianity derived its name from Christ, and that the procurator Pontius Pilate is the one who sentenced Jesus to death. The mischievous superstition or the evil rumour to which Tacitus alluded was doubtless the resurrection.

Thallus (ca. A.D. 52) was also one of the great ancient Roman chroniclers who reported the death of Christ. This author wrote a book about the history of the eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time. Only a few fragments of this historical work are preserved in the quotations of other authors, among them Julius Africanus. It seems that Julius was familiar with Thallus' work. In the context of his report about Christ's crucifixion and the darkness that enveloped the land when Jesus entrusted his spirit to the hands of his Father, Julius referred to a statement made by Thallus concerning this incident. He said:

Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun---unreasonably, as it seems to me.

Julius rejected this explanation in A.D. 221 on the basis that a solar eclipse ``could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Pascal [Easter] full moon that Jesus [was crucified].''

Thallus was not the only one who mentioned this darkness. Several other ancient authors also reported it. Dionysius the Areopagite said when he saw this darkness, ``Either the god of nature is meditating now, or he is lamenting someone dying.'' In the second century, Philophone, the astrologer, pointed to it, saying, ``The darkness that occurred when Jesus was crucified, nothing like it happened before....'' The Muslim chronicler al-Hafiz Ibn Kathir referred to it in his book al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya [Vol. 1, p. 182]. In his Annals, Ibn al-Athir recorded it on the authority of the narrators and expositors.

Lucian the Greek, a prominent Greek satirist of the second century, commented derisively on Christ and Christians. Since he followed the Epicurean philosophy, he failed to comprehend the true nature of the Christian faith. He could not understand the readiness of Christians to die for the sake of their beliefs. He regarded them as deluded people who yearned for the hereafter instead of enjoying the pleasures of the present world. He said:

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day---the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account...and then it was impressed on them by their original law-giver that they are all brothers, from the moment they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.

It is evident from the above quotation that the crucifixion of Christ was not a disputable issue even among the heathens who ridiculed the Christian faith. To them it was an historical event and not a myth. They never had a trace of doubt as to who the crucified one was.

Acts of Pontius Pilate

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In his First Apology, Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150) affirmed that Christ's crucifixion could be confirmed by Pilate's report. He also referred to Jesus' miracles and acts of healing, and added: ``And that he did those things, you can learn from the Acts of

Pontius Pilate.'' Tertullian (ca. A.D. 200) also pointed to the same document.

Another ancient author who mentioned the crucified Christ is Suetonius, the chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117--138). His office allowed him to inspect the official records and to become well acquainted with the different reasons that led to the

persecution of the Christian communities, specifically their faith in Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection. Also among the governmental officials who became interested in the status of the Christian community was Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. In his tenth book (A.D. 112), he referred to Christ as a deity worshipped by Christians. Another Epicurean philosopher, Celsius (ca. A.D. 140), who was a mortal foe of Christianity, attested the fact of the crucifixion in his book, The True Discourse, though he derided its purpose. He said, ``Christ endured the anguish of the cross for the welfare of humanity.''

Mara Bar-Serapion, in a letter sent to his son from prison, said:

What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king?... Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.

It seems that this letter was written sometime between the late first century and the third century. Naturally the pagan Mara viewed Christ as one of the philosophers, like Socrates and Plato, as the rest of the letter revealed.

In all these writings there is no mention of the Shabih as the Muslims claim. The authors of these pagan documents recognised that the crucified one was indeed Jesus of Nazareth.

The Jewish Documents

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The Jewish documents have a special significance despite their negative tone. It was very natural that the Jewish political and religious leaders would harbour a hostile attitude toward Jesus. They were the ones who compelled the Roman procurator to crucify Him. They realised that His revolutionary teachings threatened their political and religious status. Despite this, these documents are proof of the credibility of the crucifixion record as it is reported in the Gospel. In this part of our study, we intend to examine them as historical testimonies of the authenticity of the greatest event in human history.

Josephus (A.D. 37--97): In his Antiquities, which was written about A.D. 90--95, Josephus recorded a passage pertaining to the crucifixion of Christ. This historical piece created a heated debate among the paleographers. Some believed that zealous Christians might have interpolated some phrases which could not have been said by a Jew about Christ. But in 1972 an important Arabic manuscript was discovered and later published, which scholars believed to be a very close translation of the original text. Josephus said:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

Josephus' testimony preceded the testimonies of most pagan authors. Though he presented his report from a Jewish perspective, he proved to be objective and realistic in his approach. As we consider it, it becomes apparent to us that this is a reliable piece of historical evidence.

The Talmud

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The Talmud is divided into two main bodies: the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the oral traditions handed down from one Jewish generation to another until the time they were first recorded in the second century A.D. The Gemara is the compilation of the ancient commentaries on the Mishnah. The material in the Talmud concerning the disputed legal questions is known as the Halakah. The legends, anecdotes and other sayings used to illustrate the traditional laws are called the Haggadah. In Tractate Sanhedrin, it is stated:

Jesus was crucified one day before the Passover. We warned him for 40 days that he would be killed because he was a magician and planned to deceive Israel with his delusions. We asked whoever wished to defend him, to do so. When none did, he was crucified on the eve of the Passover. Does anyone dare to defend him? Was he not the stirrer of evil? It is said in the prophets, Deuteronomy: 13:8: ``To a person such as this do not listen, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you conceal him, but you shall kill him.''

Evidently the Talmud identifies the crucified person as Christ Himself. We do not find any trace of doubt about His identity in this testimony.

There is another Jewish hostile manuscript called Toledoth Jeshu. This manuscript does not refer to Jesus only, but it also relates to us a fictitious story about what happened to his body after His death. Its author claimed that Jesus' disciples plotted to steal Christ's body, but a certain gardener, whose name was Judas, discovered the conspiracy. He came secretly and removed the body from Joseph's tomb and relocated it in a newly-dug grave. When the disciples came to the original tomb and found it empty, they proclaimed that He had risen from the dead. Soon after, the Jewish leaders also approached Joseph's tomb and found it empty. The gardener then took them to the newly dug grave and showed them Jesus' body.

Though this tradition was not compiled before the fifth century A.D., it undoubtedly echoed an earlier Jewish tradition that was widespread among the Jewish circles after the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:11--15). This manuscript, despite its hostility to Christianity, is strong evidence for Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection, because it is the testimony of an avenging foe.

In his book, Biography of Jesus the Nazarene, Yohanan Bin Zakkai, a disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel, wrote:

The king and the Jewish rabbis had condemned Jesus to death because he blasphemed when he claimed that he was the Son of God...and God.

Then he added:

When Christ was on his way to death the Jews shouted in front of him, `May You destroy Your enemies, O Lord!'

The Gnostic Documents

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The word gnosis is a Greek term for ``knowledge''. Gnosticism is a religious philosophical movement including under its umbrella diverse groups who may agree or disagree on any number of principles. Knowledge was the main concept on which this movement built its religious doctrine.

We have already mentioned the theory of the Shabih as was taught by some of the Gnostics, the Ebionites and the Docetists. We also believe that their teachings had great impact on shaping the Islamic view of crucifixion. Yet the teaching of the likeness theory in Gnosticism stemmed from the controversy about the two natures of Christ. Gnostics believed that Jesus was God incarnate, thus He could not be subject to crucifixion because His body was a divine body unlike ours. So, they asserted that the one who was crucified could not be Christ but somebody else.

Islam does not deny the crucifixion but it denies that Christ was crucified, not on the basis of His divine nature, but because the whole concept of redemption has no place in Islamic theology. Muslims believe that man is born innocent, therefore there is

no need for a saviour or a cross. According to Islam, God lifted Jesus up to heaven alive before His enemies could arrest Him; then God cast His likeness on somebody else who was crucified instead.

But not all the Gnostics believed in the theory of the Shabih. It seems that the early religious and literary work of the Gnostics attested to the veracity of the Gospel record. They provide us with more evidence supporting Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, especially The Gospel of Truth (A.D. 135--160), The Apocryphone of John (A.D. 120--130) and The Gospel of Thomas (A.D. 140--200). Though these apocryphal gospels are not inspired by God and are regarded by the church as pseudo-Christian scriptures, they all referred to Christ as the Logos and as God and Son of Man. In The Gospel of Truth, for instance, we read the following paragraph:

Jesus was patient in accepting suffering...since he knew that his death is life for many...he was nailed to a tree; he published the edict of the father on the cross.... He draws himself down to death through life...eternal clothes him. Having stripped himself of the perishable rags, he put on imperishability which no one can possibly take away from him.

We also read in The Secret Book of James:

The Lord answered and said: ``I tell you the truth: no one will be saved who does not believe in my cross, for the kingdom of God belongs to those who believe in my cross.''

So the cross and the crucifixion were in the centre of the Christian faith, even among the heretical sects of the early phase of the church.

The Christian Documents

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The Christian religious, literary and historical documents are generally accurate records that reflect the deep faith of the early fathers of the church. They unquestionably believed in all the teachings and information they received from the disciples, either by way of transmission or authorised tradition, or the written word. Some of them were even the disciples' pupils, such as Clement of Rome (A.D. 30?--100), Ignatius (A.D. 35?--107), Papias (A.D. 60?--130) and Polycarp (A.D. 65?--155). The writings of the early fathers of the church are conclusive evidence of the authenticity of the Gospel's events and doctrines, especially those pertaining to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as these two events occupied a large part of the New Testament, they were also the focal point of the writings of the fathers of the early church.

Indeed these manuscripts emphasise the many prophecies related to the death of Christ and His resurrection, as does the Bible. By studying the writings of the early church since the first century and compiling their quotations from the New Testament, the entire text of the New Testament, with the exception of only seventeen verses, can be reconstructed. These texts do not differ from the texts of the New Testament we possess, particularly the passages relating to Christ's divinity, death and resurrection.

In addition to that there is no other book in the world (even the Quran) which is supported by thousands of ancient manuscripts as the Bible is. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has further added to the credibility of the Scripture.

Among the writings of the early fathers of the church are the two epistles of Clement, Bishop of Rome, and the two short letters written by Ignatius which he delivered to churches and individuals during his trip from Antioch to Rome before his martyrdom. The Didache, or ``The Teaching of the Apostles'', is an early handbook that deals with practical matters concerning Christian ethics and church order. There is also a letter ascribed to Barnabas in which he criticised those who do not reinterpret the Jewish law ``in light of its fulfilment in Christ.'' In the Shepherd of Hermas the main character claims that he ``received visions, commands and parables of Christian doctrines from an angel of the Lord.'' In the Apologies of Justin Martyr, he stated several Gospel facts, especially about the person of Christ, His earthly life, crucifixion and resurrection; the historian Eusebius quoted selections from Quadratus' Apology (2nd Century A.D.) as he addressed the emperor Hadrian. Among those selections is the following:

The deeds of our Saviour were always before you, for they were true miracles; those that were healed, those that were raised from the dead, who were seen, not only when healed and when raised, but were always present. They remained living a long time, not only whilst our Lord was on earth, but likewise when he had left the earth. So that some of them have also lived to our times.

Some of the early church writers were students trained under the auspices of the disciples. They undoubtedly received the indisputable facts from the disciples and may also have witnessed some of the miracles performed by the disciples in the name of Christ.

It is quite obvious from all these writings that those fathers of the early church, who were ready to sacrifice their lives for their faith, did not believe in a myth.

Additional Evidence

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In addition to the writings we have already discussed, early church history and archaeology can be examined. This would provide more significant evidence of the beliefs of the first century Christians about the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Drawings and inscriptions of the cross can be seen in the catacombs and vaults of Rome. These underground locations were the secret meeting places where early Christians gathered together to worship, away from the surveillance of the government's spies.

Early Christians also began to engrave the emblem of the cross on their tombs to distinguish them from the pagans' tombs. Had these Christians not been sure of Christ's crucifixion they would never have adopted the cross as their emblem. Though the cross was a symbol of shame to both the Jews and the Romans, after the crucifixion of the righteous Christ it became a symbol of hope and faith to the Christians. If the cross was not a fact deeply-rooted in the faith of these Christians, they would not have endured all the sufferings of persecution, even death, for the sake of their Saviour.

Some of those martyrs were eye-witnesses of the crucifixion. Others received these facts from the disciples or through the written words of the Gospel accounts and the Epistles which were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The ordinances of the Lord's Supper and Baptism are also historical evidence of Christ's death and resurrection. On the night in which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, He Himself performed this first ordinance and requested His disciples to continue it in His memory (Matthew 28:19). Since then the Lord's Supper has occupied an important place in the practices of the church through the ages. The real significance of this ordinance, as Christ interpreted it, is that it is a symbol of His crucifixion and death. When Christians exercise this ordinance, they always commemorate His death (Matthew 26:26--29; Mark 14:22--25; Luke 22:14--20; First Corinthians 11:23--27).

The same thing could be said about the ordinance of Baptism. It is a symbol of the Christian's death to the old life and resurrection with Jesus Christ. These two ordinances were practised by the disciples in compliance with Christ's commandment and are still practised by the church until this very day.

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