MC: Good evening ladies, gentlemen, and fellow McGill students and welcome to “Hoax or History,” a formal debate on the topic of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. My name is Anik and on behalf of Campus for Christ, I would like to thank you all very much for being here tonight. We hope you enjoy this event and on each of your seats there are comment cards which we would ask you to fill out and leave with us so that we can read your feedback. We will give some time after the debate for you to do that.
Campus for Christ is an interdenominational Christian club that exists here at McGill University to be a spiritual resource to students in order to create an environment where students feel comfortable to learn more about the message of Jesus and to grow in their relationship with God. We are holding this debate in order to encourage spiritual dialogue on campus. Based on our experience that students are interested in discussing such topics and, as such, we wish to hold events that are relevant and interesting. Our intent is that by respectfully presenting solid arguments for both sides of this debate, students will learn more and be able to better understand a topic whose historic significance is unquestionable.
Tonight we have the pleasure and privilege to introduce to you our two debaters both from very different backgrounds and extremely knowledgeable in the topic of the resurrection. Mr. Shabir Ally holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Laurentian University with a specialization in Biblical Literature and an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Toronto with a specialization in Qur’anic Exegesis. He is currently in his fourth year of PhD. Studies in Qur’anic Exegesis at the University of Toronto. He is also the President of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre International in Toronto where he functions as an imam. He travels internationally to represent Islam in public lectures and interfaith dialogues. He also explains Islam on a weekly television program called Let the Quran Speak. Past episodes of this show may be viewed online at www.quranspeaks.com.
Dr. William Lane Craig is married with two children and currently is Research Professor in Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in La Mirada, California. Dr. Craig earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Birmingham and a doctorate in theology at the University of Munich. He has authored, co-authored, and edited over thirty books and over one hundred articles in professional journals. He is a frequent public speaker and debater on university campuses. If you are interested in more of his work, he also has a website www.reasonablefaith.org with a large number of lectures, articles, and other resources available.
Tonight’s debate will be followed by a ten minute break during which you may fill out the comment cards and prepare questions for a question and answer period following the break. We are also pleased that the McGill Debating Society has accepted to moderate this debate and we would like to thank them for their participation. Here to explain the format of tonight’s debate is our moderator, Nicole.
MODERATOR: Good evening. As you know, my name is Nicole and I will be moderating the debate. We also have John in the first row who will act as our timekeeper. The format for the debate will be as follows. We will invite both of our speakers to begin with opening remarks lasting twenty minutes. Following that, each speaker will have an opportunity to present their first rebuttal for twelve minutes and then their second rebuttal for eight minutes. Finally, we will have closing remarks that will last for five minutes from each speaker. We will begin with Dr. Craig.
Good evening and to our Arabic speakers I say salaamu alaikum.
Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential person who ever lived. Twenty centuries after his death, he continues to exert his power of fascination over the minds of men and women. But who is Jesus really? I believe that the key to answering that question lies in the purported fact of his resurrection. If Jesus really did rise from the dead then he must have been who he claimed to be. Therefore, we come together tonight to discuss the question, “Did Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead?”
It is important for you to understand that, in our discussion, I am not going to treat the New Testament as an inspired, and therefore inerrant, book but simply as a collection of ordinary Greek documents coming down out of the first century. I am not interested, therefore, in discussing the inerrancy of the Gospels. Rather, we are interested in determining what facts they credibly establish concerning Jesus’ fate and what is the best explanation of those facts. Accordingly, in tonight’s debate, I am going to defend two basic contentions:
I. The New Testament documents establish five facts concerning Jesus:
1) His crucifixion
2) His burial in a tomb
3) The discovery that his tomb was empty
4) His post-mortem appearances
5) The origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection
II. The best explanation of these facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.
So let’s look at that first contention [I.] together. I am going to share with you five facts about the historical Jesus which are accepted by the majority of New Testament historians today.
1) Jesus was tried and executed by crucifixion.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was condemned by the Jewish high court on the charge of blasphemy and then delivered over to the Romans for execution for treason for claiming to be King of the Jews. Not only are these facts multiply attested by independent biblical sources like Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, but they are also confirmed by extra-biblical sources. From the Jewish historian Josephus and the Syrian writer Mara bar Serapion we learn that the Jewish leaders made a formal accusation against Jesus and participated in the events leading up to his crucifixion. From the Babylonian Talmud we learn that the Jewish involvement of the trial was explained as a proper undertaking against a heretic. And from Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus, we learn that Jesus was crucified by Roman authority under the sentence of Pontius Pilate. According to Luke Johnson, a New Testament historian at Emory University, “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its coagents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion.”
Perhaps the single most egregious error found historically in the Qur’an is its claim that Jesus was not, in fact, crucified (sura 4:157). Not only is there not a single shred of evidence for this remarkable hypothesis but the evidence supporting Jesus’ crucifixion is, as Johnson says, overwhelming. No historian believes that Jesus was not crucified. The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the most radical critics as – to quote Robert Funk – “one indisputable fact.” Indeed Paula Fredrickson, a skeptical critic, declares flatly, “the crucifixion is the strongest single fact we have about Jesus.”
2) After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
This fact is highly significant because it means that the location of Jesus’ tomb was known. New Testament historians have established the fact of Jesus’ honorable burial on the basis of evidence such as the following.
2.1) Jesus burial is attested in the very old information handed on by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians.
In the fifteenth chapter, Paul writes,
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures , and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
This old information handed on by Paul has been dated to within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. The second clause in the formula refers to Jesus’ burial. Comparison of this four line formula to the Gospel narratives on the one hand and to the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles on the other hand reveals that the second clause is a summary in outline form of the story of Jesus’ burial by Joseph in a tomb.
2.2) The burial story is part of very old source material used by Mark in writing his Gospel.
Since Mark is the earliest of the Gospels, his source material goes back even closer to the events of Jesus’ life. Thus we have very early independent attestation of the burial in both Mark and Paul.
2.3) As a member of the Jewish high court that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.
There was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the Jewish leaders who, in Christian eyes, had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. Thus, according to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable” since a Christian fictional creation of a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus is “almost inexplicable.”
2.4) The burial story lacks any signs of legendary development.
Dale Allison, an eminent historical Jesus scholar observes, “Mark’s story of Jesus’ burial by Joseph contains neither fantastic elements nor Christian motifs and so creates no impression of being a legend.”
2.5) No other competing burial story exists.
If the story of Jesus’ burial were a legendary fiction which arose much later than the original event then it is strange that we have no traces at all of the real account or even competing legendary stories. The unanimity of the burial tradition speaks in favor of the reliability of the Gospel account.
For these and other reasons, the majority of New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. According the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is one of “the earliest and best attested facts about Jesus.”
3) On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
Among the reasons which have led most scholars to this conclusion are the following.
3.1) The old information transmitted by Paul implies the empty tomb.
The expression “He was raised” following the expression “He was buried” implies an empty tomb. A first century Jew could not have thought otherwise. The reference being made here to Jesus’ empty tomb is again evident by comparing this four line formula with the Gospel narratives and the book of Acts. The third line is a summary of the empty tomb narrative. Thus, in Paul’s information, we have extremely early evidence of the fact of the empty tomb.
3.2) The empty tomb story is also part of Mark’s very old source material.
Mark’s source did not end with Jesus’ burial but with the empty tomb narrative which is tied to the burial account verbally and grammatically. Thus we have, again, very early independent attestation of the fact of the empty tomb.
3.3) The story is simple and lacks signs of legendary embellishment.
In Mark’s account, the women come to the tomb early Sunday morning and find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. They see an angelic figure who proclaims to them that Jesus’ is risen and will appear to them in Galilee. They then flee from the tomb in terror and silence.
To appreciate the simplicity of this account you have only to compare it to the accounts in the forged apocryphal gospels of the second century and beyond. They are colored by all sorts of apologetical and theological motifs which are conspicuously missing from the account in the book of Mark. At the very most, the critical historian would only want to excise from Mark’s account the angelic figure as an embellishment and what then remains is stark in its simplicity.
3.4) The tomb was discovered empty by women.
In Jewish society, the testimony of women was regarded as untrustworthy. Now, in light of this fact, how remarkable it is that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later legendary account would certainly have made male disciples, like Peter or John, discover the empty tomb. The fact that it is women rather than men who are the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that they were the discoverers of the empty tomb and the Gospel writers faithfully record what, for them, was an awkward and embarrassing fact.
3.5) The earliest Jewish response presupposes the empty tomb.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we find the earliest Jewish response to the disciples’ proclamation of the resurrection. What were Jews saying in response to the disciples’ proclamation, “He is risen from the dead!” – that these men were full of new wine? That Jesus’ body still lay in the tomb there in the hillside? No. They said the disciples came and stole away his body. Now think about that for a minute. The disciples came and stole away his body. The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing. Thus we have evidence for the empty tomb from the very opponents of the early Christian movement itself.
I could go on but I think enough has been said to indicate why, in the words of Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist, “By far, most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”
4) On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death.
This is a fact which is universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars for the following reasons.
4.1) The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul guarantees that such appearances occurred.
The old formula quoted by Paul goes on to say,
Then he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Given the early date of this information as well as Paul’s personal acquaintance with the people involved, such appearances cannot be dismissed as legendary but must refer to actual events.
4.2) The appearance narratives in the Gospels provide multiple independent attestation of the appearances.
For example, the appearance to Peter is attested by Luke and Paul. The appearance to the twelve is attested by Luke, John, and Paul. The appearance to the women is attested by Matthew and John. And appearances in Galilee are attested by Mark, Matthew, and John. The appearance narratives span such a breadth of independent sources that it cannot be reasonably denied that the earliest disciples did have such experiences. Even the skeptical New Testament critic Gerd Lüdemann therefore concludes, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
5) The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite every predisposition to the contrary.
Think of the situation the disciples faced following Jesus’ crucifixion.
5.1) Their leader was dead.
Jewish messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal. As Shabir Ally himself has put it, for a Jew, the idea of a crucified Messiah is as inconceivable as a married bachelor.
5.2) According to Old Testament law, Jesus’ crucifixion exposed him as a heretic – a man literally accursed by God.
According to the Law of Moses, anyone who is hanged on a tree as a criminal is under God’s curse. The Jews also applied this law to anyone who was crucified as Jesus was.
5.3) Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection at the end of the world.
Nevertheless, the original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to go to their deaths for the truth of that belief. Luke Johnson states, “some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was . . .” N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “That is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”
In summary then, there are five facts which are agreed upon today by the majority of scholars who have written on the subject: Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, his burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. Thus, the majority of scholars would agree with my first contention this evening.
But that leads to my second basic contention:
II. The best explanation of these facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.
In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all six of these tests.
1. It has great explanatory scope.
It explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
2. It has great explanatory power.
It explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
3. It is plausible.
Given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine vindication of those claims.
4. It is not ad hoc or contrived.
It requires only one additional hypothesis – that God exists. And even that need not be an additional hypothesis if you already believe in God’s existence as Shabir and I do.
5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs.
The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” does not in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead.”
6. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions 1 to 5.
Down through history, various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy theory, the apparent death theory, the hallucination theory, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars. So on this basis, it seems to me that we should conclude that the best explanation of the evidence is the one that the original disciples themselves gave; namely, God raised Jesus from the dead.
 A traditional Muslim greeting which, in English, is typically translated to something as “peace be upon you.”
 cf. Sanhedrin 43a
 cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, Section 3
 cf. Tacitus, Annals, 15.44
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 125.
 Sura 4:157 can be translated as, “And [for] their saying, ‘Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”
 Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape.
 Paula Frederickson’s remark during a,discussion at the meeting of “The Historical Jesus” section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 22, 1999.
 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
 Compare 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 with that of Mark 15:37-16:7 and Acts 13:28-31.
 Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1994), 2: 1240-1.
 [TODO need reference]
 John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 131.
 cf. Matthew 28:13
 Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien – Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.
 1 Corinthians 15:5-8
 Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.
 cf. Deuteronomy 21:23
 Johnson, The Real Jesus, p. 136.
 N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26.
 C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 19.
Thank you John for inviting me to this forum. Dr. Craig, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this platform with you. It is indeed my honor and great pleasure.
I begin by praising God as usual but before I go any further I realize that debates of especially a theological kind generally are taken very seriously. Sometimes we get too serious and I thought I will just share this with you. On my way here I picked this up – a piece of memorabilia and it says on it, “Montreal was so expensive I could only afford half a mug.” And, indeed it is only half a mug! How this relates to tonight’s debate, of course, is that in a debating situation each side is expected only to present one side of the argument and that is different from an academic discourse in which each person would have the obligation of presenting the whole discussion with all of its pros and cons, pluses and minuses, in favor and against, and so on. But for us to make sense of our debates, we have to think of the whole mug. We need to put together what Dr. Craig says and what I say. In fact, our debate tonight will bring together, I hope, people in dialogue – Christians and Muslims – so that what one person knows will add to what the other person knows and together we will complete the mugs. In fact, I would like to present this to my good friend, Dr. Craig.
I didn’t mean to take extra time for that; I hope that that also counts within my twenty minutes. Dr. Craig has said much already and what I have to say will obviously tag onto what he has said so I don’t have to repeat much of the background information that he has already given you. I want, in my first presentation, to not respond directly to what he has said. I’ve taken careful notes of what he has said and when I come back for a rebuttal, at that time I think it would be more appropriate to respond directly to some of the issues. Here I would like to lay out some broad points of my own. Naturally, there is going to be some inevitable rebuttals indirectly to what he has said but please bear with me for that.
First, what does the Qur’an actually say about the crucifixion of Jesus? Actually, Muslim scholars are not very sure. That is not something unique with regards to this reference regarding Jesus. The Qur’an is a book consisting of 6,000 and more verses and they deal with a wide variety of subjects – many subjects just being touched upon. Some main important components of Muslim belief are expanded again and again – such as our belief in monotheism and one God, our belief in the communication from God through the Qur’an itself, and the life of the Prophet Mohammed on whom be peace, and our belief in the life hereafter. But apart from the most central and core concepts that the Qur’an teaches, other issues are touched upon very lightly. That leaves Muslim commentators within a wide range of possibilities to give as a meaning of various verses. When it comes to the verse dealing with the crucifixion of Jesus then we are dealing with something that is peripheral to the belief of Muslims. It is central to the belief of Muslims to believe that Jesus is the prophet of God and it is central to the belief of Muslims to believe in every verse of the Qur’an as a divine revelation. But that does not impose on Muslims to accept every interpretation of every verse. As in this case we have a variety of interpretations offered for sura 4:157. In the classical period, however, I find that almost universally the Muslim commentators have said that Jesus was not put on a cross but someone else was made to resemble Jesus and that someone else was put on the cross and so in this way God fooled the enemies of Jesus who wanted to crucify him. However, in my own study of this, very carefully reading the classical commentators and modern, I find that there is no reason for holding that particular belief. It seems that the Muslim commentators on the Qur’an spoke to informers from those who were Jews and Christians and had some familiarity with the Judeo-Christian Scriptural background and they used that information coupled with a very literalistic approach to interpreting the Qur’an text. More literalistic than you might imagine because in that case they did not just take a verse literally as it says but they took every word literally as it said – disjointed from the surrounding words and the rest of the Qur’anic context. It seems then that on the whole what the Qur’an is saying is that even though the enemies of Jesus tried to crucified him, or they boasted that they killed him and crucified him, they didn’t kill him, they didn’t crucified him, it only appeared so to them and those who are in a difference about the matter or those who would differ about the matter are in hopeless confusion about it – that have no certain knowledge – but God raised him to himself and they killed him not for certain. So from that brief narrative in the Qur’an, one could not really build such an elaborate theory that someone else was made to look like Jesus and put on the cross instead. You may have questions about this specific wording about that passage and how the commentators came to their understanding that I’ve just explained but we’ll deal with that as it comes.
So, in brief then, it seems to me that the Qur’an does not necessitate the belief that someone else was put on the cross and does not deny the fact that Jesus was put on the cross. It just denies that the enemies of Jesus who boasted that they killed him really had the upper hand on him. That of course can give rise to a variety of interpretations as well – what really was the solution and what exactly happened? As a Muslim I am not required to know what happened because this is not one of the central beliefs of Islam as I have explained to you. I could be open to a variety of interpretations.
But now having explained briefly where the Muslim comes from at the subject, I would like to take a suggestion from Panikkar that when we enter into religious dialogue, we should have the ability to leave aside what we believe for the moment – suspend our own beliefs – in order to be able to listen to the other side. Otherwise, interaction and dialogue becomes impossible and if we are just simply in the debating mode trying to disprove we may not be able to improve on what we believe or help others to improve on what they believe. So let’s think about what a Muslim may find if he comes to the New Testament Scriptures if he were to leave his own beliefs suspended for the moment. As a Muslim, what do I find? Now, no longer thinking as a Muslim but as a reasonable person approaching the Scriptures – I should be aware, having said this much, that no one is completely unbiased and everyone does, no matter how much he tries, come to whatever he is studying with some degree of bias. So we have to be aware of that and call it when we see it. So now here we have the New Testament documents which tell us about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have four Gospels. One of the Gospels is unique – the Gospel According to Luke – in that it is followed by a second volume thus not ending with the resurrection appearances of Jesus but also with something about the life and teaching of his disciples after him. So we get a fuller and connected account here and we can see what happened with Jesus and what happened afterwards. To zoom in on the portion that most concerns us tonight, we are looking at the last couple of chapters of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is said to have been crucified on a Friday, it was the day before the Sabbath and because the Jews had the law that precluded leaving someone up hanging on a cross on a Sabbath Day, they hurriedly buried Jesus, not under the earth, but in some kind of an open chamber – in a tomb – and they put a rock against the tomb. The following day was the Sabbath so the followers of Jesus, being practitioners obviously of the Jewish faith up until this point, observed the Sabbath but then early on Sunday morning some of the women followers came to visit the tomb and they found it empty. They saw a visitation of a couple of angels who informed them that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. With this news they told the disciples, a couple of the disciples came and examined the tomb as well, and eventually Jesus will appear to a couple of his disciples who walked on a country road and then to a group of disciples as they sat in the upper room. Luke’s Gospel ends by telling us that after this appearance to the disciples, Jesus ascended to heaven. But then the second volume – Acts of the Apostles – continues to tell us that Jesus actually appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days. And of course fifty days after the Passover, the occasion on when Jesus was said to have been crucified, we have Pentecost and on that occasion the disciples together with many onlookers received an extraordinary appearance – they received the infusion of the Holy Spirit. With that they preached to the crowd about the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and many were converted on the spot.
So now that is the broad outline. But then what are the details? We have not only Luke’s Gospel, but we have Matthew, Mark, and John. Dr. Craig has told us that Mark was written first. Most scholars today will agree that Matthew and Luke actually copied from Mark but they didn’t just simply slavishly copy; they also made embellishment as they go – they added, they removed, or rather, failed to mention, and they made improvements as they went. As we study these Gospels in comparison with Mark, we will see the improvements that they made. In fact this whole story that I’ve given you is only partially related in Mark. Mark actually stops at chapter 16 verse 8 with the verse that Dr. Craig told us about – where the women fled from the tomb in fear and astonishment and said nothing to anybody because they were afraid. Now, many people obviously were not happy with this ending of Mark’s Gospel – this is how it appears in the oldest manuscripts that we have – so we also find some other endings floating around. There is a so-called longer ending, another so-called shorter ending, and then in a manuscript kept in a library in Washington called the “Freer Logion,” named after the library, there is even an insertion in the longer ending. So you have Mark’s Gospel stopping at verse 8, then you have another twelve verses tacked on in what is called the longer ending – verses 9-20 – and within those verses 9-20 you have a further insertion by somebody else in another variety of ending. And some manuscripts that did not have these endings have a shorter one which just simply tells us in brief that these women did in fact go and relate everything to the disciples. So all of the appearances that are mentioned in Luke’s Gospel are, in fact, missing from Mark’s Gospel. All we have in Mark’s Gospel as it is now is a promise from a young man who the women saw at the tomb – who may be an angelic figure but it is not specifically said so – who told them that Jesus is risen and they should tell his disciples to go to Galilee for there they will see Jesus as he already told them. And that is it – the women fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
Obviously, people were not happy with that ending of Mark and they tacked on additional endings to now tell us the same sorts of things which Luke’s Gospel tells us – the women went and told the story and the disciples eventually see Jesus. Matthew was also not happy with Mark’s ending – neither was Luke. So if we have Mark as the source and then we have Matthew and Luke borrowing from Mark, what did they do with that particular verse which says the women fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid? Luke has it that the women understood already what the whole score was – they knew everything about what Jesus had said previous to his crucifixion, how he said that he is actually going to go through all of this, and eventually rise from the dead. So they eventually went and told the disciples. That is how Luke rephrases that verse. What does Matthew do? Matthew tells us quite contrary to Mark that the women fled from the tomb with fear and great joy and they ran to tell the disciples. So you have a continuity with Mark’s wording but also a diversion from it towards a new meaning. Matthew has it that in fact the women on their way to tell the disciples actually meet Jesus. You can see a development in the story. Whereas in Mark’s Gospel all they ever saw was a young man who maybe an angel but not necessarily so; now, in Matthew, he is definitely an angel – explicitly said to be so. He tells the women and the women not only go to tell Jesus about what some angel said but in fact they can actually now report that they met Jesus themselves.
The message of the angel in Mark’s Gospel was tell the disciples to go to Galilee and there they will see Jesus as he told them, meaning that Jesus already told them this and this is Jesus’ message that the angel is giving to them. But in Matthew’s Gospel, the wording of the angel is changed and scholars believe that the wording in Matthew’s Gospel is to make room for the fact that Jesus himself will appear to the women and he himself will tell them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee. So in Matthew’s Gospel, the angel actually tells them that I have told you, not that his is Jesus’ message to you – this is my message to you – because Jesus will give his own message. If the wordings of angels can be changed like this then one wonders what else might have been changed.
But if we ask about this substantial fact of where Jesus appeared and to whom and when we can find no corroborating evidence from one Gospel to another. Let’s look at what happens. Let’s go back to Luke’s Gospel again. Luke’s Gospel has the disciples seeing visitations of Jesus in and around Jerusalem and that continues into the Acts of the Apostles. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, when he visits them, tells them specifically “You should stay in Jerusalem until that which has been promised will come to pass.” This is an obvious reference to the event of Pentecost. So they stay in Jerusalem – obviously if they follow Jesus’ command. But that is a very different and contrary command to the one given in Mark’s Gospel that they are to go to Galilee and in Matthew’s Gospel they are to go to Galilee. Either they are to go to Galilee to see Jesus or they are going to remain in Jerusalem to see Jesus right here. Some scholars try to dovetail the various reports in order to make them fit together. Somebody may suggest, for example, that Jesus went to Galilee, he saw them there, then came back to Jerusalem and saw them there as well – or they saw him. But as James Dunn, a reputable New Testament scholar has put it, this actually is not possible because, given the distance, it would take too much time to go to Galilee and come back to appear – not that it will take Jesus that much time but it would take the disciples so much time to go to Galilee and then come back to be there on Easter Sunday to see visitations of Jesus in Jerusalem. Raymond Brown, as well, who according to Dr. Craig, is one of the greatest New Testament scholars of our present time, actually says that to do it this way does violence to the textual material. It really does not allow for that.
I didn’t say anything about John’s Gospel yet. But let’s say something about that. I’ve already said that according to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus appeared on Easter Sunday to his disciples when they were in the upper room. Luke specifically says there were eleven disciples. John’s Gospel has it that Jesus did appear to his disciples on that occasion but he doesn’t tell us the number of them. But he tells us that a week later Jesus appeared when Thomas was present with the clear implication and the clear statement that Thomas was absent on the first occasion which means there were only ten disciples. Now, were there ten or were there eleven? According to Luke there were eleven, according to John only John. Now how does John get this down to ten? Raymond Brown tells us that John in fact gave us a variety of the same narrative in order to demonstrate some apologetic motifs. He wanted to show us that Thomas, the doubting one, will have the same kinds of doubts that we readers of his Gospel may have even today but the doubts were already answered. So Thomas wasn’t there, why? Because John removed him. Not in fact but for the literary purpose of creating this discourse to prove a point. So if the writers are writing to prove points like this then to what extent can we believe in their narratives and can we really distill certain unavoidable facts from this sort of narrative that they have put before us when we can see that they actually tailor the narrative to suit these apologetic motifs. Dr. Craig in his book Reasonable Faith, actually in the introduction, recommends another book – A History of Apologetics by Robert Dulles. Robert Dulles in his book actually tells us that the history of apologetics begins with the Gospels themselves. Each of the Gospels is an apologetic work. They are not academic discourses telling us all of the facts. They are giving us one side of that mug and in order for us to understand the whole picture we have to not only put all of the texts together but we also have to be circumspect. We have to look around to see if the rest of the mug is really there. Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to the twelve but by this time their never was a twelve. There was either eleven as in Luke or there was ten as in John but there never was a twelve at this time because of the twelve disciples Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus and he met his own deserved end. So maximum eleven. How did Paul say twelve? So you see then that the fact of who Jesus appeared to and when cannot be corroborated from one Gospel to another. If Dr. Craig says, look, multiple attestation, we do not have these multiple attestations; what we have are individual reports that contradict each other in a fundamental way. Thank you.
Well I find myself in something of a quandary here in that I don’t disagree with hardly anything that Shabir has just said in his speech! Remember I said I would defend five facts in tonight’s debate. First of all, that Jesus was tried and crucified; that he was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb; that that tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers on Sunday morning; that he then after appeared to various individuals and groups of people; and that the original disciples came to believe in his resurrection despite every predisposition to the contrary. And I gave multiple lines of evidence in favor of each of those points. Now, Shabir has quibbled about the details but he hasn’t disagreed with any of those points because I think he knows that these are historical facts that are accepted by the majority of historians today. What he did do was exactly what I said in my first speech I would not do – namely, worry about the inerrancy of the Gospels and the little details and secondary features of the narratives. Rather what I am focusing on is the historical core of these narratives however you may want to judge the historicity of the secondary details. The fact is that despite all of the inconsistencies that Shabir wants to mention, the core of these narratives is recognized as historical today. Michael Grant is a secular historian and he writes this in his book Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels,
True, the discovery of the empty tomb is differently described by the various Gospels. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.
As an example in secular ancient history – Livy and Polybius give us two irreconcilable accounts of Hannibal’s campaign to cross the Alps with elephants in his war against Rome. They are incompatible with each other but nobody doubts that Hannibal, in fact, did mount such a campaign against Rome.
So the fact of the matter is that the Gospel accounts are historical in their core however you might judge the secondary details. In fact all four Gospels agree that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem by Roman authority during the Passover feast, having been arrested and convicted on charges of blasphemy by the Jewish Sanhedrin and then slandered before the Roman governor Pilate on charges of treason. He died within several hours and was buried Friday afternoon by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb which was sealed with a stone. Certain women followers of Jesus, including Mary Magdalene mentioned by name, having observed his internment visited his tomb early on Sunday morning only to find it empty. Thereafter Jesus appeared alive from the dead to the disciples including Peter who became proclaimers of the message of his resurrection. All four of the Gospels attest to all of those facts. If you were to include facts that were mentioned by, say, three out of the four then even more details could be added to the list. But I think it is clear that the core is well attested. In fact, N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, in his book on the resurrection says that the empty tomb and appearances have such a historical probability as to be “virtually certain” like the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. That is how well established these appearances and the discovery of the empty tomb are.
As I look more closely at what Shabir had to say he didn’t present any arguments against the crucifixion. He didn’t deny the burial by Joseph of Arimathea. With respect to the empty tomb, he again said there are later developments in the Gospels but again that is why I focus on the core facts. He points out with respect to the appearances that Mark’s Gospel ends before narrating any appearances. That is true but Mark does foreshadow an appearance in Galilee which is then narrated in Matthew as well as in John. You can use the Greek New Testament to read these in the original language such as I do so we can read the original manuscripts as they actually existed. With respect to the appearances he says there is no corroborating evidence of the appearances and that is simply false as I explained in my first speech. In the Gospels we have multiple independent sources for these appearances. The appearance to Peter is attested by both Luke and independently by Paul; the appearance to the twelve independently by Luke, John, and Paul; the appearance to women by Matthew and John; and the Galilean appearances by Mark, Matthew, and John. This is one of the surest marks of historicity because you have independent sources narrating the same event which increases the historical credibility of those events. Finally, I pointed out that the original disciples’ belief in the Jesus’ resurrection was something that needs to be explained.
Now what is the best explanation of these? Well, I think it is the one the disciples gave; namely, that God raised Jesus from the dead. What Shabir contends in his published work is that the best explanation is to say that Jesus was taken down from the cross barely alive, placed in the tomb, and then God assumed him directly into heaven before he could die. Now I want to make a few observations about this theory. First of all, a preliminary observation: no true Muslim can hold to this view. The Qur’an is very straightforward and unambiguous. It says wama qataloohu wama salaboohu – “they did not kill him, they did not crucify him.” The ambiguity that Shabir is talking about is in the latter part of that verse, walakin shubbiha lahum, which says it only appeared to them that they did. But the first part is very clear, straightforwardly and unambiguously the Qur’an says they did not crucify Jesus, they did not kill Jesus. Unfortunately, the Qur’an is straightforwardly and unambiguously mistaken in this. The evidence is overwhelming for Jesus’ crucifixion. That is why Shabir deserts the Qur’an and instead affirms that in fact Jesus was crucified but he wasn’t killed. As a result, what Shabir winds up with is a view that is neither Islam nor Christianity but a kind of mishmash of the two, what we might call “Christlam” – a sort of mishmash of Christianity and Islam; namely, Jesus was crucified but he didn’t die. But what I want to know is, if you have already deserted Islam by denying that the Qur’an is correct in saying that Jesus was not crucified why not be consistent and go all the way and say that yes he was crucified and he was killed and then raised from the dead? I do think that this is the view Shabir should adopt because his own view has real problems, I think, both historically and theologically.
Let me mention some historical objections to his view.
First, mere visionary appearances cannot explain the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. The German scholar Hans Kessler points out that the idea of an isolated resurrection before the general resurrection at the end of the world goes against all prior Jewish modes of thought. So if the disciples saw visions of Jesus, as Shabir admits that they did, they would not have concluded he was risen from the dead. As James D. G. Dunn, whom Shabir quoted in his opening speech, says,
It remains an indisputable fact that the earliest believers . . . were absolutely convinced that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. And yet . . . why did they conclude that it was Jesus risen from the dead? – why not simply a vision of the dead man? . . . Why draw the astonishing conclusion that the . . . resurrection had already taken place in the case of a single individual quite separate from and prior to the general resurrection?
There isn’t any good answer to that question on Shabir’s view. Mere visions of Jesus after his death would not lead to belief in his resurrection.
Second problem is that the New Testament consistently draws a distinction between a resurrection appearance of Jesus and mere visions of Jesus. The appearances were confined to a short period of time following the crucifixion but visions of the exalted Christ went on in the early church. Even Gerd Lüdemann admits that most scholars recognize this distinction. What that means is you can’t explain the resurrection appearances as mere visions as Shabir wants to do.
Third problem historically is that it is highly improbable that Jesus was still alive when he was taken down from the cross. The Romans were professional executioners. They were good at killing people. If Jesus had still been alive they would have broken his legs so as to ensure his death on the cross and, in any case, the spear thrust into Jesus’ side by one of the soldiers is an attested method of ensuring death by crucifixion that is found in Roman sources outside the New Testament.
So, in short, Shabir’s hypothesis lacks, I think, explanatory scope, explanatory power, and plausibility. But not only are there historical objections there are theological objections to this view. Two of them I wan to mention.
Number one, it comes too little, too late, for Jesus has already been exposed to humiliation, suffering, and shame by his crucifixion. He is already been shown to be under a curse according to Mosaic Law by being crucified. The Jews thought, at least, that they had killed him. The Qur’an records the boast of the Jews – “we have put to death the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of Mary” – and you can almost hear them saying “Ha, ha, ha!” They were boasting that they had killed Jesus. As long as they thought they had done this, there is no point in bringing him back to life or raising him to heaven from inside the tomb once he has already been humiliated, suffered, and crucified. It comes too little, too late.
Secondly, Shabir’s hypothesis turns God into a deceiver who fooled the disciples into believing that Christ was risen from the dead thereby causing Christianity to come into being. On Shabir’s view, it is Allah himself who is responsible for foisting the false religion of Christianity upon the world. According to the Hadith of Sahih Muslim, on the Day of Resurrection, Christians will be summoned by God and thrown into the fires of hell because they worshipped Jesus as the Son of God. And yet according to Shabir’s view it is God himself who is responsible for this blasphemy by tricking the disciples into thinking Jesus was risen from the dead and thereby foisting the Christian religion upon the world.
So Shabir’s view is not only, I think, historically implausible but it is also, I think, theologically hopeless as well. I think his view is vastly inferior to the resurrection hypothesis which was, after all, the hypothesis that the original disciples gave to explain their experience of Jesus after his death.
 Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977), p. 176.
 N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, III: The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 710.
 cf. Qur’an sura 4:157
 James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit: A Study of the Religious and Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians as Reflected in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), p. 132.
 For example, see Hadith of Sahih Muslim, Book 37 “Pertaining to Repentance and Exhortation to Repentance”, Chapter 8 “Throwing of non-believers in hell-fire for believers as divine grace and mercy”, Numbers 6665-6666 where it says, “. . . When it will be the Day of Resurrection Allah would deliver to every Muslim a Jew or a Christian and say: That is your rescue from Hell-Fire. . . . No Muslim would die but Allah would admit in his stead a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire. . . .”
MR. ALLY: Thank you, Dr. Craig for that engaging response. You obviously are a man of humor yourself – “Chrislam?” [laughter]. There is more to that verse than Dr. Craig has been able to explain. He focused on the ending of that verse but the Muslim commentators focused on the middle section of that verse which says wama qataloohu wama salaboohu – “they killed him not, they did not crucify him.” They took that to be two separate statements without seeing the overlapping and the continuity between the two of them. We have this occurring in the Qur’an. The Qur’an says that “if you are killed or if you die.” Of course if you are killed, you die. But there are two separate modes being spoken about. Killed meaning that you are killed by some other entity and die meaning that you just simply die by what people might call natural causes. In this case, “they killed him not, they did not crucify him” seems to be two separate statements but there is an overlap. We can see that wherever in the Qur’an the term “crucifixion” is used it means to kill by the specific method of crucifixion. We have this, for example, in sura 5:33 where the penalty for a group of people referred to as the Muhariboon is that they may be either killed or crucified. The “or” here may seem that obviously there is no overlap. But obviously there is an overlap – the person might be killed by some other method or might be killed by the specific method of crucifixion. To me then what the Qur’an sura 4:157 is saying about Jesus is that they killed him not by some other means nor did they kill him by the specific means of crucifixion. Why is there a need for the mention of the specific method of crucifixion? I don’t know but there could be some interesting possibilities. It could be because there is a Jewish method of killing blasphemers – stoning – and there is the Roman method of killing criminals – crucifixion. The Qur’an could be saying that the Jews, even though they boasted that they killed Jesus, they neither killed him by their means nor did they, as a matter of fact, crucify him because after all crucifixion is not their method. Or it could be just simply to say that they did not kill him and responding already to the suggestion in their minds “but didn’t we crucify him?” and the Qur’an answers, “No, neither did you crucify him.” That is of course a method of Qur’anic discourse as well where the Qur’an answers the objections that may arise in the mind of the reader as it goes as we ourselves may do in some of our essays. When we anticipate an objection, we write the answer to the objection immediately dealing with the anticipated objection. In short, I don’t have to be a “Chrislam” to have that interpretation but as I said there is a variety of interpretations offered for this verse. It would have been binding on me have we had a clear interpretation of this verse attributed to the Prophet Mohammed himself because he is the primary commentator on the Qur’an. The farthest back we can go with this is attributions to Ibn Abbas, though being an important commentator, have had all kinds of conflicting opinions attributed to him – a positive point and also its negation – so one has to be careful in taking these attributes. In any case, after all, he may have explained certain things based on his own knowledge or based on what he received from informers of Jewish and Christian origins and in that case it is not necessary that Muslims should adhere to those interpretations.
So, so much for the interpretation of the Qur’an. What about the fact of crucifixion? Of course what Dr. Craig is stressing is that Jesus died by crucifixion and that this is attested widely by historians. Let me step back for a moment to say something about his five so-called facts. Now, after his debate with Gerd Lüdemann, Robert Gundry complained that Dr. Craig should not call these facts. He means that these are propositions – purported facts. He accepted the correction. But it looks like we are back where we started. Dr. Craig, they are not facts, they are your contentions. What about the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion? Well, the scholars who say that Jesus died by crucifixion accept that as a fact because we presuppose that anyone who was alive two thousand years ago is by now dead. And if he is missing, well then he is presumed dead. The scholars that we are dealing with are just simply presuming that Jesus died and that is the end of it. If we would have the number of scholars agreeing that Jesus was crucified and died by the method agreeing that Jesus also resurrected from the dead that is a different matter. That brings me to another point about Dr. Craig’s facts. What he does is that he borrows what some scholar said about one fact and what some scholar said about the other fact and then he tells us that the majority of scholars. But they are not the same majority of scholars. You may have a situation where, within certain conservative or evangelical circles, a large number of scholars still holding to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus – or to the belief in the resurrection of Jesus – and they would cull together a number of facts that they think support that final conclusion, including the fact that he died by crucifixion, the tomb was empty, discovered empty, he appeared to his disciples, and so on. But on the other hand if you mention, for example, Michael Grant, as Dr. Craig has mentioned in support of one of his facts, we will find that the same scholar does not hold to the fact that Jesus resurrected from the dead and he thinks that Jesus already preconditioned his disciples in such a way that after his event of the crucifixion they naturally believed that they were seeing Jesus, not that Jesus actually appeared to them. So the same scholar agreeing to one of these facts actually disagrees with the other. In a similar way, he cited Gerd Lüdemann as attesting to the fact that Jesus appeared to his disciples. But for Gerd Lüdemann, these appearances were not of Jesus actually appearing to his disciples but of his disciples thinking that they were seeing Jesus but in fact hallucinating. So we cannot take these scholars and say that these five facts are agreed on by the majority of scholars because it is not the same majority. Some scholars hold to this fact and some scholars hold to the other fact but not to that one. So what the scholars are doing is they are looking at the divergent information that I spoke to you about in my opening speech and they are asking what of this could really be true? What has to go and what can remain? So some shave off some parts of it which they think are totally unacceptable like for example Matthew’s depiction of the dead coming back to life. Matthew says that at the moment of Jesus’ death, there was a terrible earthquake, the tombs were open and the saints from old came back to life. And after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the city and were seen by many people. Most scholars dispute that fact. Dr. Craig doesn’t want to think about inerrancy but you have to because if Matthew can invent such an important and major statement about something that has happened – the resurrection of such multiple saints – then what else did he invent? That is a very important question. Dr. Craig himself has remarked that only a few conservative scholars will hold to that as a fact today.
So if we are to continue. The understanding that Jesus died of crucifixion is just simply because of the time in which he lived and the two thousand years that separate him from us. But if we ask what verification was there really that Jesus actually died at the time? You will be surprised that according to Jan Bondeson, it was for many centuries a puzzle for people to determine precisely the moment of death. In fact, it still remains a puzzle to this day. Occasionally we read about somebody who actually was presumed dead and, after all the arrangements were made to bury him, he actually miraculously comes back to life because, of course, something is mysterious here and it is difficult to understand. Jan Bondeson even quotes Pliny the historian – Pliny the Younger from the time of the early church – who actually expressed his dismay that we cannot really determine finally the time of death because there were so many instances of a person presumed dead who actually came back to life. The New Testament itself – in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 14 – the Jews stoned Paul and left him for dead but when they left he got up and walked away. So we have instances where in that time people could not determine finally that a person was actually dead.
What about the spear thrust in Jesus’ side? Notice Dr. Craig’s careful wording. It is attested that this was a method used in crucifixion – he means generally. But was it used specifically in the case of Jesus? I think Dr. Craig will have to admit that that was not the case. We do not have a proper attestation. We have John’s Gospel saying this but remember that John was the last of the four Gospels to be written. The writers of the four Gospels did not have specific information. They just wrote in a general way based on the general knowledge of what normally happened at crucifixions. John, in his case being the last of the four, is dealing with the fact that people were doubting that Jesus actually died and he introduced the spear thrust to convince those who might doubt. Pilate, according to Mark’s Gospel, had wondered if Jesus died so soon when the body was requested for burial. But Matthew and Luke, remember, were copying Mark. What did they do with this fact that Pilate expressed doubt? They didn’t mention it. Raymond Brown, dealing with this, says that Matthew and Luke obviously omitted this because they didn’t want their readers to ask the same question which readers of Mark will ask. When readers of Mark read that Pilate doubted that Jesus had died so soon, the readers themselves will start asking, “Well, wait a minute, was he really dead?” So Matthew and Luke – the later Gospels – not wanting the same question to be asked by their readers just simply omitted the mention. Of course, now, the four Gospels are together. You can read them all. But at the time when they were first written and circulated they were on separate scrolls and circulated in different areas. Traditionally, it was said that Mark was written in Rome, Matthew at Antioch, Luke at Caesarea, and John at Ephesus. So different writers were writing for different audiences and they modified the facts in order to prove their own apologetic points. So Dr. Craig thinks that he is starting with certain facts which are distilled from the Gospels which he can champion now in his own apologetic discourse not realizing – he has actually, because he recommended the book, History of Apologetics – but not bringing to his consciousness the fact that he is already dealing with apologetically introduced points that he is now using to base his interpretation. They are already interpretations. They are not facts. I will leave that with you.
You remember my first contention is that there are five facts about the historical Jesus which any adequate historical hypothesis must account for. Despite all of the tempest in a teapot about this, the fact is that Shabir agrees with all five of those facts because his own apparent death theory is an attempt to explain them. Namely, that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified despite what the Qur’an says, that he was buried in a tomb (Shabir agrees), that that tomb was found empty, that there were then multiple appearances to different individuals and groups, and that the original disciples came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead. We agree on those facts. Now Shabir does protest, “But these are not accepted by the same scholars in every case.” What I am saying is that these are accepted by the wide mainstream of New Testament scholarship. Now I know those of you who are not Christian believers find this hard to accept. You find this incredible. But in fact if you study the literature this is true. My friend Gary Habermas recently did a bibliographical survey of 1,400 articles published in professional journals over the last 25 years on these subjects. What he found was that 75% of scholars writing on the subject agreed with the historicity of the empty tomb and there was nearly universal agreement on the resurrection appearances to individuals and groups and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. So I stand squarely within the mainstream of New Testament historical scholarship in affirming these facts.
Now, what is the best explanation of the facts? The one the disciples gave or Shabir’s apparent death theory? I said, first of all, that no sincere Muslim can hold to the apparent death theory because the Qur’an says unambiguously and straightforwardly that Jesus was not crucified. Here I need my Qur’an. Shabir says, no, you are misinterpreting the verse and gives an example in sura 5:33 that he says is supposed to suggest the same sort of ambiguity. Here is what that verse says, “Those that make war against God and his apostle and spread disorder in the land shall be slain or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides or be banished from the land.” It is clear here they are not equated being slain and being crucified. It is talking about different alternative means of punishment. That is not the same phraseology that is found in sura 4:157 which is, as I said, wama qataloohu wama salaboohu – “they did not kill him, they did not crucify him.” It couldn’t be more plain or straightforward.
Shabir says, well, maybe in saying “they” didn’t crucify him what it means is the Jews didn’t crucify him, maybe it was really the Romans. This is simply a misreading of the passage. Kenneth Cragg, a very famous Islamicist, has written in this regard.
. . . it has been suggested that the intention is to indicate a non-Jewish subject of the verb, probably ‘the Romans’ or . . . even ‘God Himself’. This makes havoc both of the Arabic construction and of the evident sense. If the context intended to substitute ‘the Romans’ it would surely have to say, ‘It was not they, the Jews, who killed him: it was the Romans’. There is no such construction here, nor could it tally, if there were, with the rest of the passage. . . . We cannot escape the negation of crucifying by confusion as to the agent.
The Qur’an is clear and unambiguous; unfortunately, it is clear and unambiguously mistaken in saying that Jesus was not crucified. So I think indeed Shabir is guilty of endorsing “Chrislam” rather than being a faithful Muslim. If you are a Muslim tonight I don’t think you can follow him in his theory.
Then I raised historical objections to his theory. Number one, that visions of Jesus, which he says Allah granted the disciples, wouldn’t be sufficient to explain belief in his resurrection. Shabir didn’t respond to the point. Secondly, I pointed out that visions are not identical to resurrection appearances. There is a distinction between the two such that mere visions of Jesus don’t mean appearances. Shabir didn’t respond to that point. Thirdly, I said it is highly improbable that Jesus was taken down still alive. The Romans were professional executioners. He says, “Well, he could have been alive.” Sure, there is a possibility, but the point is it is highly, highly, improbable. This apparent death theory was already tried in liberal German theology in the late 1700s, early 1800s; it has been unanimously rejected by contemporary scholars. Josephus the Jewish historian tells an incident which he came upon three persons who were acquaintances of his that he found had been crucified. He immediately talked to the Roman authorities and got them taken down and yet despite the best attention medically that Rome could give two of them died immediately and the third died some time thereafter. The idea that Jesus could have survived his scourging and crucifixion, I think, is just highly, highly improbable.
The spear thrust in the side, remember I said, was common practice done by Roman executioners and that would ensure his death. As for Pilate being surprised that he died so soon – that is right, it was a quick death and so Pilate determined from the centurion that he was really dead. They verified his death and that is why they didn’t break his legs. So I think Shabir’s theory is at least highly improbable.
What about the theological objections I raised to it. I said first of all it is too little, too late. Saving Jesus after he is already crucified and taken down and placed in the tomb doesn’t do anything to save God’s prophet. He is already been humiliated and shamed before his enemies; it is just too little, too late. But secondly, it makes God responsible for the delusion of Christianity and hundreds of millions of people going to hell forever for believing in Christ as the risen Son of God and all of the problems that Christianity has been for Islam over the centuries. All of this is a result of Allah’s own doing in misleading the original disciples in thinking Jesus had been risen from the dead. So it just seems to me that, theologically speaking, this theory is really quite preposterous. Frankly, it is a desperate attempt to try to save the phenomenon – to try to admit all the five facts and yet to figure out some other way to explain them without recurring to the resurrection of Jesus.
But it is a highly improbable theory, it is a theologically objectionable theory, and I would just say why not go with the theory that the original eyewitnesses gave? Why not believe these men when they said God has raised him from the dead – a belief for which they were willing to give their lives. I think that they were telling the truth and I can’t see any reason to adopt this “Chrislamic” theory as the alternative to it.
 Gary Habermas, “Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 3.2 (2005), pp. 135-153. For an online copy of this article, see http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm (accessed July 19, 2013).
 “. . . approximately 75% favor one or more of these arguments for the empty tomb, while approximately 25% think that one or more arguments oppose it. Thus, while far from being unanimously held by critical scholars, it may surprise some that those who embrace the empty tomb as a historical fact still comprise a fairly strong majority.”, Ibid., p. 141.
 “With few exceptions, the fact that after Jesus' death his followers had experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus is arguably one of the two or three most recognized events from the four Gospels . . . Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus' death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort.”, Ibid., p. 149.
 “. . . the nearly unanimous consent of critical scholars is that, in some sense, the early followers of Jesus thought that they had seen the risen Jesus”, Ibid., p. 151.
 Kenneth Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim: An Exploration (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1985), p. 170.
 “I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered.” Flavius Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus, §75.
Thank you, Dr. Craig. Again that was very engaging and I am very glad that we are having this discussion. Notice what happens when we discuss the same point and if you follow the trace of what is being discussed. I said that Dr. Craig spoke about the spear thrust in a general way. Now he has come back and spoken about it in a more specific way but still not quite to the point. He did not get to the point of saying that this actually happened in the case of Jesus because obviously we cannot depend on John’s Gospel on this. So, in sum, we do not have a specific mention of some specific item that definitely killed Jesus; no such mention. Now he says it is common practice – he is upping the statement a little bit but I would like to get some documentation to show that this is actually common practice. Actually, the Gospel of John, in mentioning this, gives the impression that it was not commonly done. It may be done but it was not commonly done. I think Dr. Craig is just, for apologetic reasons, improving upon the evidence here.
He says that I did not answer anything about the crucifixion or burial or empty tomb but if you follow my discourse I have been answering. I have been speaking about the way in which the crucifixion does not actually contribute to a final conclusion that Dr. Craig wants to reach because Jesus may not have actually died on the cross. If you say that Jesus appeared again alive but he wasn’t dead in the first place well then you do not have a resurrection – you have a resuscitation. So in that case what need is there to deny the burial or even the empty tomb if the rest of the evidence does not actually add up to a resurrection which is what the topic of our discussion is tonight.
What about the appearances? Notice that Dr. Craig says that these appearances were multiply and independently attested – the key word there is independently. If we say that Paul said something and then Luke, his physician, wrote the same thing, is that independent? If we say that Mark said something and then Matthew and Luke depending on Mark said the same thing, is that independent? Obviously, you are dealing here with a development within early Christianity.
Actually, assumption was an earlier form of expression about the vindication of Jesus than resurrection. This has been put forward in a PhD thesis by Daniel Smith now published in his book, The Vindication of Jesus in the Sayings Gospel Q. Smith puts forward the hypothesis under this professor – the Q Gospel scholar Kloppenborg at the University of Toronto – and he has given ample evidence that show that an earlier form of proclamation about Jesus was that Jesus actually was assumed into heaven. And assumption is different from resurrection whereas resurrection you have the dead person coming out from where he is buried and he appears to his disciples. Assumption means he is taken up from God from where he is not dead and then in some way his disciples may be able to proclaim that he has now been exalted by God. If you look at Mark’s Gospel, he actually makes his case based on the Gospel Q but he also shows us that, by parallel, if you look at the ending of Mark’s Gospel, we have it that Mark ends at chapter 16 verse 8, as I have already spoke about, but verse 7 spoke about the angels saying to the women that Jesus is going ahead and you will see him in Galilee. That verse, verse 7, has actually been disputed by many scholars that think that that verse was not in the pre-Markan source and Mark introduced this. When we realize this, then we understand that Mark’s Gospel source did not speak about a resurrection of Jesus from the dead but an assumption of Jesus into heaven from wherever he was. Now there is a dispute as to whether Jesus was actually dead or whether he was actually assumed into heaven alive. A German scholar, Dieter Zeller, actually puts forward the hypothesis that the Q Gospel does not mention the death of Jesus because assumption was the paradigm by which it was understand that Jesus was exalted into heaven and assumption generally did not go with death but went with non-death. This would parallel what has happen to some biblical figures like Enoch who, according to Genesis, walked with God and he was no more because God took him and Elijah, in the book of Kings, who actually was taken up by God in a whirlwind. They did not die but they were assumed into heaven.
Does assumption actually count against the Qur’an? I think if we are speaking about the Greek language and some details of the New Testament, unless I rely on New Testament scholars, I would have to defer to Dr. Craig and what he says. I think in a similar way, in the case of the Qur’an, I would like to put before you that I am a student of the Qur’an, exegesis of the Qur’an is in fact my specialty, and I believe I know what I am saying in this regard. But you don’t have to take my word for it, I can also cite passages which in fact have bearing on our discussion that have not really come up yet but they are important. In more than one place, the Qur’an speaks and says that Jesus actually was taken in such a way that the term used is ambiguous as to whether or not Jesus died. The term is tawaffa which in Arabic actually can, as a euphemism, refer to death but it is not the original word for death. The word for death in Arabic mata – “he died.” Tawaffa or tuwuffia is a common way of saying that somebody died but it is a euphemism as if we said that somebody has passed on to met his Lord. So the Qur’an says that God said to Jesus, in sura 3:55, “innee mutawaffeeka warafi-uka ilayya” – “I am going to take you and raise you to myself.” So that “take” is the word that is generally used as meaning “taken in death” but it could also be “taken in sleep” and this is where the classical commentators differ. They could not decide – did God take Jesus in sleep or in death? So while they denied that Jesus was killed by his enemies on the cross some of them affirmed that Jesus actually died and then God took him. Or some said that God took him in sleep. In a similar way, sura 5:117 says that “Ma qultu lahum” – “When God said to Isa” and then Isa replies, “falamma tawaffaytanee” – “when you took me” – the same verb which could mean when you took me in death or when you took me in sleep.
Now from the details that we have, given the discussions that we have found, given the thesis of Daniel Smith and others, it is clear that there was in an earlier proclamation before the Gospels were written the declaration that Jesus was exalted into heaven, a declaration that fit in more with the idea of assumption and not necessitating a resurrection from the dead. This is why we do not have in Mark’s Gospel a further narrative which shows that Jesus appeared to his disciples because that would be resurrection. And the original proclamation in Mark’s source was actually about assumption. Reginald Fuller, in his formation of the Gospel narrative, actually told us, too, that in Mark’s source minus Mark 16:7 obviously we are dealing here not with a resurrection from the dead but with an assumption of Jesus into heaven.
So how certain were they that Jesus actually died on the cross? They couldn’t be certain because in fact they came to break the legs of the crucified victims to ensure their death, to hasten their death, but they didn’t break the legs of Jesus according to the Gospels. So what then finally killed Jesus? In fact we have no record. The Josephus story shows that these guys were up on the cross for three days and then taken down and still one survived. Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours – what killed him?
Well, we have certainly gotten into some technical issues of New Testament and Qur’anic scholarship this evening but I hope that it has at least provoked your interest to look further into these matters. I have defended two contentions tonight. First, that there are five generally accepted facts about the historical Jesus that need to be explained – his crucifixion, his entombment, the discovery of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief. Shabir agrees with all five of those facts. Where we differ is, while he agrees Jesus was crucified, he doesn’t think that Jesus died by crucifixion. But apart from that, we do agree on those five facts.
So the real debate comes down to what is the best explanation for these five facts? I suggested that Shabir’s view is deficient in a number of ways. First, historically I said it lacks explanatory scope because it can’t explain the origin of belief in the resurrection, it lacks explanatory power because visions are not the same thing as appearances, and finally, thirdly, it is historically improbable. Now in his last speech, Shabir attempted to respond to this by saying, well, the primitive Christian belief was not in resurrection of the dead – it was actually in assumption or exaltation into heaven. I submit to you that that is simply false. In 1 Corinthians 15:3, remember Paul quotes that old source that goes back to within five years of the crucifixion and even closer and in it it says, “Christ died for our sins, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Belief in the resurrection of Jesus was the primitive belief and exaltation was part of resurrection. He was not assumed into heaven. N. T. Wright in his book on the Resurrection says “the idea that there was originally no difference for the earliest Christians between resurrection and exaltation/ascension is a twentieth-century fiction based on a misreading of Paul.” Raymond Brown has said, with respect to belief in the resurrection, “it is not really accurate to claim that the N[ew] T[estament] references to the resurrection of Jesus are ambiguous as to whether they mean bodily resurrection – there was no other kind of resurrection.” So I think it is clear that in the primitive belief, the earliest Christians believed in and proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Visions, such as you have on Shabir’s hypothesis, just doesn’t cut the mustard in explaining that.
What about the improbability of Jesus’ being still alive when he was taken down from the cross? The reference for the spear thrust in the side comes from the Roman author Quintilian and is given in my published work. I cannot prove that it actually happened in Jesus’ case but what we can show is that this is a Roman executioner’s process to ensure death as is the breaking of the legs. John knows both the breaking of the legs as well as the spear thrust which shows that he is right in touch with 1st century normal practices of Roman execution and, therefore, I think we have no reason to doubt that Jesus was taken down dead which was after all the job of these Roman executioners to ensure.
Then the theological objections have never been answered in tonight’s debate. Shabir’s hypothesis is too little, too late and it makes God responsible for the delusion of Christianity and all these hundreds of millions of people going to hell for believing something that Allah deceived them into believing by presenting them with visions of Jesus and an empty tomb and making them think that he was risen from the dead.
So if you are a Muslim student here tonight, I want to encourage you to try to think outside the box. Try not to let your beliefs be determined just by your family and what they might think or what your friends might think. I would encourage you to begin to think for yourself about the claims of Jesus of Nazareth and who he is and whether he might not be who he really is. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home myself but I became a Christian as a teenage when I began to search for the big questions in life. I began to read the New Testament and I found in the teaching and person of Jesus a wisdom that I have never encountered anywhere else and an authenticity in this man’s life that was just undeniable. I eventually became a Christian and it changed my life. Tonight, out in the foyer, the Gideons are going to be giving away free New Testaments to any Muslim student who would like one. I would encourage you to pick up one of these, take it home, and do what I did – read it and ask yourself, “Could Jesus really be who he claimed to be?” God raised him from the dead as divine authentication of those radical claims for which he was crucified. I think that it could change your life in the same way that it changed mine. Thank you for sharing this debate with me tonight.
 N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, III: The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003); p. 625.
 Raymond Edward Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973), note 121, p. 70.
Now, finally, what about the theological objection to the Muslim position in this discourse? The idea that God is a deceiver has been launched against the Muslim position based on what Muslims had explained classically – that God made someone look like Jesus, had that someone crucified, and then Christians have asked “Doesn’t that make God a deceiver in the whole process?” But I don’t see how that objection counts against what I have explained. When I traced the development of early Christian theology and I see that there was an early proclamation of the assumption of Jesus from the tomb prior to the writing of Mark and the other Gospels – in that case, all we needed was for the disciples to be assured that despite whatever opposition Jesus faced, God was still with Jesus. God exalted Jesus into heaven. In that case they would go on with their preaching and the Christian religion would start. Where did this deception actually come about? How did people get to the idea that Jesus was the Son of God and eventually to worship him and then that led to the councils. Well, I believe it started with the teaching of some people who were not disciples of Jesus, especially the apostle Paul. It is in his writing to the Galatians 3:13 that Paul said that Jesus died as a curse for us. What Paul has done there is Paul had actually accepted the interpretation that Deuteronomy 21:22-23 actually can refer to Jesus and that would make Jesus an accursed person because he hung on a cross. Obviously, that passage cannot refer to Jesus; it must refer to a person who hung on a cross for a crime that he actually committed – a heinous crime. In that case, the curse of God is upon him as well. If Jesus, an honest person, an innocent person, was seized by the authorities by hook or crook and then put on a cross, how is that the fault of Jesus and why would the curse of God fall on Jesus? But Paul accepted that the curse of God has fallen upon Jesus. Now Paul set about to prove that Jesus resurrected from the dead. Apologists following in Paul’s footsteps are trying to prove that Jesus resurrected from the dead. They base everything in Christianity on this point – either Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection. But notice that based on the life and teachings of Jesus – and Dr. Craig alluded to this himself when he said that based on the life and teaching of Jesus this idea that he resurrected from the dead is in accord; his tests for the plausibility of his explanation is the best explanation. But that counts against his idea that the origin of the belief of the disciples must have necessitated this big bang. Because either you have Jesus proclaiming that he is someone special and his disciples believe that and the crucifixion cannot let them fail in that or you have them not knowing anything about Jesus waiting to see would he be vindicated from the cross and if they don’t see that then they think that he is now accursed. The idea of the married bachelor only applied to the specific idea that Jesus was the Davidic Messiah. But he may not have been. The Dead Sea Scrolls show us that in fact Jesus could have been one of three things and still be called Messiah – he could be the Davidic Messiah or a priest Messiah or a prophetic Messiah. In that case, if he was not the Davidic Messiah then the cross does not prove him wrong. He could have been believed to be a prophet as Muslims think he was and that belief would continue even after his crucifixion. Notice that when in the Gospel of Luke he meets the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they still proclaim their belief in him as a man of God and as a great prophet. That means the crucifixion did not kill the belief in the disciples that Jesus was a great prophet. So there was no need for a big bang to upstart Christianity and I think that Dr. Craig’s hypothesis fails on this point. But then if there ever was someone who turned the tables here and made Jesus appear to be false it is actually Paul because he accepts as a matter of fact that Jesus died an accursed death. If we now place ourselves on the Saturday following the crucifixion we have to be in a position of not knowing anything but knowing that Jesus is an accursed person. Now, his disciples needed, according to the storyline, an appearance of Jesus to convince them that he was not an accursed person. What do we have except reports that contradict each other? If we go by the reports that are here, I find it very difficult to bring faith in Jesus but if we go with the idea that Jesus was a prophet of God and therefore God’s Messiah who lived a life of honor and piety with God and convinces the disciples that he is a man worthy of being followed and that his disciples continued to believe in him despite his death as Josephus the historian wrote well then there is nothing else left to explain. The difficulty has been introduced and it is now difficult to solve. Difficulty is to first proclaim that he was declared accursed by God and now try to prove him innocent. Thank you.
QUESTION: … like sweating, tremoring, convulsion, while he was prophesying and making a sound like camel and making sound like crying and you know this is written in a book called “Aalamat Al Nobowwa”. Second thing, he fall at the time under a magic power from Jewish magician called Labeed Ebnul Aasum. This Jewish magician made magic for Mohammad the Prophet and he fall under this magic power and it is written in Sahih al-Bukhari that he was coming to intercourse woman. He is imagining that he intercoursed woman and he didn’t do it and he is imagining that he is doing something and he didn’t did it. In Sahih Al Bukhari, this Hadeeth sahih. All of this makes me in doubt about this book. Maybe Muhammad wrote it or received it under a magic power. Maybe he received it with all this hard symptoms that for me to believe this is a true prophet so I cannot – I just want to ask can we depend on the Qur’an and the man who took, or received, this Qur’an has all this doubts. Thank you.
MR. ALLY: It looks like we are not restricting questions only to the topic – is that right? We are accepting more general questions?
MODERATOR: We will ask that people keep the questions to the topic at hand; but since that question was already asked though we will accept it. Also, just a reminder to limit questions to thirty seconds, please.
MR. ALLY: OK. Obviously, Muslims have thought about what evidence they can offer to show that the Prophet Muhammad, in whom be peace, really received the message from God. There are better reasons than the speaker has asked about. There is, for example, the fact of the Prophet’s illiteracy, the fact that he was psychologically unprepared to announce the Qur’an and that the Qur’an is speaking to him and commanding him and telling him what to do and on occasion even criticizing him, the fact that the Qur’an speaks about past history that is being now corroborated by other independent historical investigation, the fact that the Qur’an actually speaks about the future and then the future unfolds as the Qur’an has already dictated, the fact that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was sincere. So even if he might be credited in some way as being able to write the Qur’an one would wonder why would he write the Qur’an and then fool people about it since it is known that he actually gave his life defending and preaching; when he was being tortured and persecuted he could have abandoned his mission but he didn’t. The fact that the Qur’an actually contains descriptions of physical phenomena which modern scientists are actually discovering now to be true. So how could that be from a man who wrote some 1,400 years ago? It looks like this is really from God. Nowadays we are finding also that the Qur’an, though it was from as far as we know in history, collected in a way which non-Muslims would describe as being an ad hoc process, we can see the guiding hand of God was actually there in the process now because there are certain ways in which things fall into the Qur’an into place giving mathematical patterns, such as, for example, the frequency of the occurrences of things in multiples of 19 in many different places in the Qur’an in such a complex method that one is hard pressed to say that this really is the work of a human being. So with all of these reasons together we can say that there may be reports in Sahih al-Bukhari or elsewhere which may actually count against all of this. One might look at it and say, well, how could he be a prophet? There could be answers for those. But the overwhelming testimony of all of these different areas of evidence that I have cited actually proved to me very clearly that Muhammad was a prophet of God and he received the Qur’an by divine inspiration.
DR. CRAIG: Well, I’m not very impressed with these sorts of arguments that the Qur’an prophesized things that have been discovered by modern science and so forth. Misguided Christians, I think, have tried to do the same thing with the Bible saying that it predicts television or atomic warfare and things like that. And inevitably, when you look at these passages closely, you find they are so ambiguous that they could be interpreted in any number of ways. You are reading things into them after the fact.
What I would like to say, though, about Muhammad that I think is interesting is to compare the quest of the historical Muhammad with the quest of the historical Jesus. We’ve talked a lot about the evidence for Jesus tonight but Islamicists are just beginning a quest of the historical Muhammad now. And what you find is that the sources for Muhammad’s life – like about his illiteracy and so forth – are really vastly inferior to the sources for the life of Jesus. The earliest biography of Muhammad comes over a hundred years after he died and doesn’t have any corroboration, you don’t have multiple independent sources like we do for Jesus. So this is an area that definitely needs more exploration by scholars to ask ourselves just what do we know about the historical Muhammad, his life, and teachings.
QUESTION: Dr. Craig, I wish to know what you have to respond to the fact that Professor Ally brought: that after the resurrection the women at the tomb got the message that the disciples should go to Galilee and the fact that the disciples were asked to stay in Jerusalem. I don’t think you responded to that.
DR. CRAIG: The best explanation, or the most straightforward one, would be that Luke doesn’t plan to narrate any Galilean appearances and so he has them stay in Jerusalem so that they will then just have Jerusalem appearances. But we know from Mark’s original Gospel and from Matthew and from John that there were Galileans appearances. So it has to do with Luke’s editorial work in terms of his limited purpose. I think he wants to show theologically that the Gospel spread out from Jerusalem and that it originated in the capital city of Judaism and from there spread out. So he just skips over the Galilean appearances and doesn’t narrate any of them. But he knew about them because he used Mark as one of his sources and Mark mentions Galileans appearances. So the Gospels, as Shabir rightly says, the Gospel writers exorcised editorial freedom to select and narrate and leave out facts as suits their literary purposes. That is not a problem for anything that I have said tonight – I am quite happen with that.
MR. ALLY: To me it is a problem regarding multiple attestation because surely Luke knows what Mark has written and yet Luke is choosing to go contrary to that. Luke specifically has Jesus say to his disciples, “Stay in Jerusalem until you receive the promise” which is widely understood to be the Pentecostal experience. So it is not only that they are selecting but they are also putting words into the mouth of Jesus. They are also writing in order to prove their own theological agendas and to prove who is greater than whom. So if somebody wants to prove that Peter is greater, they have Jesus appear to Peter first. If somebody wants to prove that James is greater, they want James to be the first one to see the appearance. And then apparently Paul combined the two narratives – one that says that Peter was the first and the other that said that James was the first now into a sequential whole. So when we speak of multiple attestation, that all of these different writers spoke about the appearances, what is affirmed in one is actually denied in the other. Either Jesus told his disciples to go to Galilee and see him or he told them to stay in Jerusalem where they do in fact see him. You cannot have it both ways.
QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Ally. You said that in the Arabic language there is a difference between the verb tawaffa and the verb mata. You said that if the Qur’an wanted to imply that Jesus was really dead, the verb mata would have been used. Then you tried to show that the Qur’an never used the verb mata when speaking about Jesus. But you never mentioned the verse 33 in sura Maryam which indeed used the verb mata and I would like you to comment on this verse. It goes like this, “Wassalamu AAalayya yawma wulidtu wayawma amootu wayawma uubAAathu hayyan” – “peace be upon me the day I was born and the day I shall die and the day I am raised to life again.”
MR. ALLY: Thank you. I didn’t say all the things you said that I said in quite the way you said them. I wouldn’t say that if the Qur’an wanted to say that Jesus died, the Qur’an or whatever. I can put it a different way. I can say that if the Qur’an had used the word mata it would be clear that he died. If the Qur’an uses tawaffa – now tawaffa is ambiguous. It could mean he died in which case the verb is used as a euphemism for death or it could be that God took him either in death or in sleep. There is some ambiguity there. You are correct in sura 19 it says, “Wassalamu AAalayya yawma wulidtu wayawma amootu wayawma uubAAathu hayyan.” This would indicate that Jesus dies at some time in the future from his saying that. When is that future? Muslim commentators generally said that when he returns to earth he will die at that time. But you have raised an interesting point. We should also think about what that could mean. But that of course does not contradict the passage which says “wama qataloohu wama salaboohu” when we understand that killing (qatl) and salb are two different things. Dr. Craig was right – they are two different things even in the sura 5:33 verse. Either the person should be killed – slain as he read in the translation – or he should be crucified. All of the commentators generally agree that crucified here means that he should be hung on a cross until he dies. It wouldn’t fulfill the requirement of that wording if the person was just put on the cross for a little while and then taken down. So they really mean that he should be crucified meaning he should be killed by that particular method. When this is denied in sura 4:157 “wama qataloohu wama salaboohu” – “they killed him not, and they did not crucify him” – it means they did not kill him by that specific method of crucifixion. My commentary on these passages – my exegesis – I feel is consistent taking into consideration all of these passages. The one that mentions mawt in sura 19, the ones that mentions tawafaa and also the ones that mention salb.
DR. CRAIG: The Qur’an is internally contradictory on this issue as the gal pointed out at the microphone. In sura 19:33, Jesus says “Peace be upon me the day I was born the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up to life.” Now since the Qur’an denies that Jesus died or was killed on the cross, commentators, as Shabir just said, have to say, “Oh, this means his death after he comes back again, not his death during his lifetime.” But that that is the wrong interpretation is evident from the fact that the very same thing is said of John the Baptist in sura 19:15 – “Peace be upon him the day he was born and the day that he dies and the day that he will be raised to life.” The parallel between John and Jesus show that it is contemplating Jesus’ death in this life prior to his resurrection at the end of the world. So, as Yusuf Ali in his translation of the Qur’an says, “Those who believe Jesus never died should ponder this verse carefully.”
QUESTION: I am very glad that we have two theologians here and I really enjoyed the debate by the way. My question is probably a little bit for both of you. The dating of the sources of Jesus’ life – you spoke about Josephus. From all accounts, he seems to have been born four years after Jesus’ death. So obviously it wasn’t a first hand account of Jesus’ life – it would have been a second or third hand account by any means. Another thing – the accounts of Jesus in the New Testament all seem to have been derived from one source as Professor Ally said. If this is true, if I understood correctly, can we really trust these sources if they were all copied from one? Are they really independent and is Josephus someone we should trust if it’s a second or third hand evidence?
DR. CRAIG: They really are independent. This was the point that I was making. There is literary dependence between Matthew, Luke and Mark. They probably knew Mark and independently wrote their Gospels using Mark. But there is independence between Matthew and Luke and between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and in between Paul and the evangelists. So that is why I was very careful when I talked about multiple independent attestation which is one of the most important criterion of historicity – to only use sources that are literarily independent. That is important because when you have two early independent sources testifying to the same event, it is much less probable that these things were made up; it is much more probable it is credible. So what is significant is that in this pre-Pauline formula that is quoted in 1 Corinthians 15, you have an incredibly early source that goes back to within five years of the crucifixion. In the pre-Markan passion story of Jesus, you have an account that goes right back to the first decade after the events. These are independent of each other and testify to some of these same events. So this is what has convinced many historians that this is reliable.
As for Josephus, right, he didn’t have any first hand contact with Jesus himself but he was a first century historian and is narrating events that happened within his generation. That is really exceptional when you look at the other sources for ancient history. For example, our sources for the life of Alexander the Great. The earliest sources for the life of Alexander are from Arrian and Plutarch who wrote four hundred years after Alexander’s death and yet they are largely regarded as reliable sources by Greco-Roman historians.
[The questioner then has a follow up point that is off-mic but he says, “Yeah, but Alexander didn’t rise from the dead” to which Dr. Craig answers . . . ]
Well, that is a question then of your openness to miracles and supernaturalism, not of the historical or literary quality of the sources.
MR. ALLY: Well, the puzzle is that no one outside of Christian sources have attested to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. How the disciples managed to contain their excitement over that forty day period when Jesus was appearing to them is really remarkable. How did they manage to do that? When every other miracle attested in the New Testament has people broadcasting it despite Jesus telling them don’t tell anyone. It seems that this obviously is a development within a certain closed circle of believers. They first proclaim it on the day of Pentecost and then the listeners accept the proclamation without even asking “Let’s go check the empty tomb.” Nobody seemed to be checking for evidence. Dr. Craig treats the narratives in a simplistic way without looking at the possibility of developments from one to the other. They are not independent. If Paul says something and then people within the Pauline church write something that confirms what Paul says that is not independent. Paul says Jesus appeared to Peter and somebody constructing a narrative in saying, “OK, Jesus did appear to Peter” maybe he got it from Paul. It is not independent in that case.
QUESTION: I am just asking a question about something you said near the end about the three different kinds of Messiahs. I was wondering if you could explain that a bit further and, I guess, give examples of maybe areas of the Bible where those three terms would be used or even the way that Jesus spoke about himself, whether he used the terms differently.
MR. ALLY: According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary on page 1,323, the Dead Sea Scrolls attest to the belief that three persons would appear who independently can each be called Messiah. One would be a King Messiah who would be a descendant of David and he would take over from the Roman rule. Another would be a priestly Messiah who would be a descendent of Aaron. A third would be a prophet Messiah who would be similar to Moses. The New Testament writers tried to make Jesus all of these things. But as Raymond Brown has said in his massive commentary on John’s Gospel in the Anchor Bible, there is no evidence that Jesus actually claimed to be the Davidic Messiah. Some wonder if he even actually used the term about himself in self-reference – the term Messiah – at all. But if he did claim to be the Messiah the obvious choices were the other two. There is no reason to presuppose prior to his assuming a temporal throne that he was the Davidic Messiah. But the Gospel writers tried to prove that he is a descendent of David, he was the Davidic Messiah, they tried to apply whatever prophesies they thought the Old Testament would apply to the Davidic Messiah, they tried to construct narratives that proved that Jesus fulfilled that. So they created a problem where they first proved that Jesus claimed to be the Davidic Messiah then they showed that he was crucified which is a contradiction in terms like a married bachelor which proves him false. According to Dr. Craig, the only way we can assert that Jesus rose from the dead is that God resurrected him from the dead. As a naturalistic hypothesis, this is absolutely impossible. But why should we even assume that God resurrected him from the dead when all we know prior to that is that he died an accursed death under God’s own law. So we are actually stuck. Dr. Craig’s proof actually flounders on this very important logical contradiction in his story.
DR. CRAIG: There were many different conceptions of Messiah that were floating around in the era prior to Jesus. But the overwhelmingly most important of these in common was the idea of a royal Davidic Messiah who would be the king of Israel who would reestablish the throne of David in Jerusalem. What that meant in Jesus’ time was someone who would throw off the Roman Empire. Now, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, this was in deliberate fulfillment of the prophecies of Zechariah in the Old Testament which says “Behold your King is coming to you. Humble is he riding upon an ass, the fowl of an ass.” The crowds hailed Jesus by saying, “Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna to the coming King of David.” They saw that this was the inauguration, or thought of it as the inauguration, of the Davidic Kingdom. Central to Jesus’ teaching was the proclamation of the Kingdom of God which he thought had broken into human history in his person. So I think Jesus definitely did think of himself as the Messiah and was crucified for that in the words of the plaque on the cross over his head, “The King of the Jews.”
QUESTION: Given that the Gospels and the Qur’an were written by people who believed in the resurrection and in the beliefs and doctrines in the Qur’an, how reliable can the texts be and where do they stand in comparison in their reliability to other historical texts?
DR. CRAIG: This is the central question of New Testament studies today because obviously these documents that were collected into the New Testament were written by Christian believers. So how do we know if they are historical accurate? So scholars have developed a number of tests of authenticity for these texts. Things like multiple independent attestation of a saying or event. Dissimilarity – if the event is unlike antecedent Judaism and unlike subsequent Christianity it is more likely to belong to the historical Jesus. Embarrassment – if a saying or event would be embarrassing or awkward for the movement that followed Jesus then it is more likely to be historical. Coherence with the other established sayings of Jesus, the presence of Semitisms in the tradition that would indicate an Aramaic original. There is a whole host of these sorts of criteria that scholars use and apply to the narratives to try to sort out what is historical bedrock. As I say, when you use these tests, you come up with at least these five facts that I have defended tonight as being part of the historical Jesus. Not simply because “the Bible tells me so” but because critical historians using these objective criteria are able to establish that these facts belong to the historical Jesus. Now, as I say, this is just being begun to be done with Muhammad. The Qur’an is not really a historical book – it doesn’t have the life of Muhammad in it so that really doesn’t apply a whole lot there. What we want to know is: how do we know about Muhammad? What was he really like and said? And that exploration really is in its infancy whereas the exploration of the life of Jesus now has been going on for the last two hundred years and has yielded great fruit.
MR. ALLY: People have tried to show that the Qur’an contradicts itself in which case it would not be the Word of God. Dr. Craig has tried that tonight. But I think he misunderstands, not the Arabic usage, but the logic of what was being said. If it is said in the Qur’an “peace be upon John the Baptist the day he dies” that said in the future but announced at the time of his birth then obviously his birth will be some time in the future. And if a similar thing is said about Jesus in his infancy then obviously he is going to die in the future. If his death in the future did not actually occur yet, there could still be some time in the future. So I don’t know why Dr. Craig fails to see that logic and thinks that there is a contradiction between the two statements. I think on the whole though the Qur’an’s approach to this question of the crucifixion actually shows where the gaps in the logic are. Like Dr. Craig thinks of the facts as independent facts and does not see the connections between them. For example, the discovery of the empty tomb. He fails to pay attention to the fact that the tomb wasn’t guarded on the night following the entombment so the body could have gone missing that very night. Then what?
QUESTION: I hope this isn’t a bad question. I am going to be asking it presuming that you do affirm that Jesus was assumed into heaven alive and you used a certain argument in the debate to try to prove that. I would like to pose two very quick questions. The first is a challenge. On the assumption, you said that most people who were assumed were alive. In the case of Elijah, that seems very clear from Scripture. In the case of Enoch, we are not so sure. But what about the account of Moses? This was not in the Scriptures; it is Jewish oral tradition. It is recorded in the Scriptures in Jude because it is quoted from 1 Enoch. In this account, Michael and Satan argue over the body of Moses, but he is already dead, and they are trying to get him assumed or not assumed. So that is the first challenge. The second thing is: if Jesus did assume – if you want to affirm the resolution that Jesus was in fact assumed into heaven alive, not crucified and dead, then why did the disciples of Christ – why did not his earliest followers – say that? Why not avoid the embarrassment of something else? If this was something tenable for the first century Jewish mindset (even if they were believers in this Davidic Messiah, whatever he was) why not go for that rather than the resurrection? Thank you.
MR. ALLY: Actually, my position is a minimalist one in that I start with the Qur’an and I ask what could the Qur’an allow for and I say, OK, assumption seems to be a reasonable possibility here. But I am not saying that I believe that Jesus was assumed into heaven in the way that, for example, Daniel Smith is describing and the way he believes. I am saying this is a possibility. And you are correct that the whole point of Daniel Smith’s book is that his difference with Dieter Zeller is that whereas Dieter Zeller thinks of assumption only of a live person – usually one who is rescued from death – Smith wants to prove that the very cases that you mentioned did exist and it was possible to think of the assumption of a just dead person as well when he’s exalted into heaven. Your further question is why not use that as the proclamation? Probably they did. Dr. Craig, in his writing on the empty tomb, actually tells us how the story about the placement of the guard in Matthew’s Gospel, though probably not historical, might have developed over time as a discourse that continued between Christians and their detractors. A Christian would say Jesus is risen, and the detractors would say, oh, but his body must have been stolen. The Christians would say but the tomb was guarded and so on. Then the narrative develops to its full and final form as it appears in Matthew’s Gospel. A similar sort of development could have occurred with the proclamation about Jesus. If Christians proclaimed that Jesus is alive and then someone says, but, wait a minute, isn’t his body rotting in the tomb? Then you move it one notch upward to say but his tomb was empty and so on. You go further from that.
DR. CRAIG: I commend you on the very perceptive question. The earliest Christian proclamation was not Jesus’ assumption into heaven, was it? It was “He is risen from the dead.” We see that in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and in the pre-Markan passion story. You are right, however, that even dead people could be assumed into heaven. If you look at the extra-Biblical book called The Testament of Job chapter 40 there is the story of two children killed in the collapse of a house who are immediately assumed into heaven. So the disciples could have declared that but they didn’t. And your question is key: why didn’t they say he was assumed into heaven? Why did they preach, in contradiction to Jewish beliefs, his resurrection from the dead? That requires a sufficient explanation and I think that is the huge challenge facing not only the naturalist but also the Muslim.
QUESTION: This is following up on the last one actually. Dr. Ally mentioned that the source Q for the Gospel of Mark mentioned, forgive me if I misunderstood, that assumption was the paradigm of the time and not resurrection for the Messiah, if I got that right?
DR. CRAIG: I don’t think he said that, but it is not true in any case. So what is the question?
QUESTION: What does the Q source actually say?
DR. CRAIG: The Q source is a hypothetical document that is material that is common to Matthew and Luke that they did not get from Mark. As such, it is a sayings source. It isn’t a narrative source so it doesn’t have a passion story or resurrection accounts or anything like that. It is just kind of like things from the Sermon on the Mount. It is a sayings source of Jesus, not a Gospel. So it is simply a mistake to think of Q as a Gospel. It is just like sayings of Jesus that Matthew and Luke may have incorporated in addition to what they got from Mark into their Gospels. But the only Q communities that we know of, as John Meier points out, in the New Testament times are Matthew and Luke’s communities and they both include the passion story along with the resurrection of the dead. So there is simply no evidence at all for any kind of primitive Christian Q community that lacked belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
MR. ALLY: What is interesting about this is actually Q does not specifically declare anywhere that Jesus died. There are statements about the killing of prophets which one may say may reflect on him but no statement that he actually died. Now why did that statement get omitted? According to Dieter Zeller it is because the proclamation about Jesus in that community was about assumption and assumption generally, according to him, did not go with death. It was a rescue from death. This belief, even though contradicted by Daniel Smith’s own study as I’ve mentioned previously, actually does have other attestation. For example, from the Gospel of Peter. According to N. T. Wright in his description in The Resurrection of the Son of God, what is depicted in the Gospel of Peter with Jesus being carried up by two angels must obviously refer to something like a resuscitation which is not the proclamation of the Gospels we know. And, of course, the Gospel of Peter has Jesus appear in a gigantic form with his head reaching beyond the clouds but nevertheless this might have started out as a resuscitation and a carrying up of the angels of a person who was obviously in that helpless position.
QUESTION: Are there any historical documents that support the Qur’an saying that Jesus was not crucified or killed?
MR. ALLY: First, I’ve tried to say that we have to think about what specific interpretation we have of the Qur’an here. And a wide variety of interpretations are possible. One interpretation that I did advance here, especially following the probing of Dr. Craig, is that Jesus was assumed into heaven. Now he could have been assumed in that case either alive or dead in which case his spirit would be alive with God in heaven. Is there any kind of independent attestation? When we look at the Gospels which are the only things we have commenting on Jesus now, sometimes we get locked into a box of thinking. We have these Gospels; we are staring at them saying if not this then what? Why do we have to have an answer? Why do we have to know about what happened to the remains of every individual who died in past centuries? Just because we have some stories which some people made up doesn’t mean to say we should make up another story to counter that one. But does the Qur’an say something that actually might be validated by some of our independent studies. And I have shown yes. When we look at the fact of how people died and were buried, if Jesus was actually taken down from the cross and buried as a common criminal in a shallow grave then definitely his remains are done for and nobody says that he resurrected. Somebody wanted to say that he resurrected from the dead, he could have come bursting out of the grave but that is not what happened. Obviously, what happened is that later on people are proclaiming that Jesus was exalted, he is alive with God, they are being questioned, and then they invent the story of the empty tomb. Then they are being questioned about the details of that so they say there was a guard but they omitted placing the guard on the first night and they didn’t check to see if the body was there. So the body could have actually been missing that night. Then it just goes on – from a person being alive, to the grave being empty, to the person being seen, and now being touched. If you look at the later Gospels, now suddenly Jesus is being touched in the Gospel according to Luke and John, for example.
DR. CRAIG: The short answer to your question is no. There aren’t any corroborating sources for the Qur’an’s remarkable claim that Jesus was neither crucified nor killed. All of the New Testament material says that he was crucified and executed. Josephus, the Jewish historian, Tacitus the Roman historian says this, the Jewish sources in the Talmud say this. There is nothing to suggest that Jesus somehow survived death or wasn’t crucified. This was written by a man living in Saudi Arabia six hundred years after the event with no independent source of information about Jesus of Nazareth. That is why no historian turns to the Qur’an as a primary source for the life of Jesus. It is just too late and too derivative to be regarded as a credible source of information for the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
QUESTION: What advice would you give to those of us who don’t have the time or resources to investigate the historical accuracy of, say, the New Testament? How can we be confident in our beliefs if even scholars and experts are still debating its accuracy and its message?
DR. CRAIG: This is one thing, I must say, I struggle with, too. I am painfully aware that I am debating these issues in front of a bunch of undergraduates, most of whom have probably never even cracked the New Testament much less read it. It is kind of like my going and listening to a pair of medical doctors debate on some tropical disease or something and the best treatment for it. How do you know who is telling the truth? That is why I’ve tried to quote over and over again non-conservative scholars to show that the majority of scholars agree with these points. I guess what I would say to you is I would first of all read the New Testament yourself. That is why I encourage you to get a copy. That is the minimum you have to do – read it yourself. Then I guess I would get a book like Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ and read that and weigh the arguments in it and see if they don’t make sense. But apart from that, I can appreciate how confusing this sort of thing would be to a layperson. But at least you can read the original documents yourselves and pray and ask God to reveal himself to you if he is real. If this is really the truth, if this is really his Son, if he really loves you and wants you to know him then he will make it clear to you. So I would encourage you to treat this not just as an intellectual quest but also as a spiritual search as well.
MR. ALLY: One way is to listen to the logic of the discourse. Notice that in Dr. Craig’s citation of scholars who agree on all of these points actually only conservative scholars who believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead actually admit to all of the points that Dr. Craig presented as facts. Take for example his insistence that even Roman historians from the period said that Jesus died. But not died and resurrected. Died and that’s the end of it. But the moment you say to one of those historians, you know we’ve seen Jesus, then they are going to be asking you did you really see Jesus or are you sure he was really dead in the first place? We are back to where the Qur’an is actually getting us to think. So even though the Qur’an was written later – Muslim’s believe that this is a revelation from God but even if we leave that belief aside and we just examine the logic of what the Qur’an is presenting – there is no hard evidence that Jesus actually died when the New Testament Gospels say he died. Dr. Craig’s difference from me in this debate has been whereas he is looking at the surface of the Gospels I’m going deep and looking at the scholars who have tried to trace the origin of the Gospel stories.
QUESTION: [the beginning of this question was not recorded] . . . All these books that go out and search this man out – doesn’t that push you or move you to believe that there was something special here?
MR. ALLY: Yes, I believe that Jesus was someone special and that his whole life demonstrated that he was a special person, a man of God, a prophet, God’s Messiah, one who should be believed and followed. The complication that arose and gave rise to our discussion here tonight is the complication that the New Testament Gospels in addition to everything that I’ve already said also presented him as the Davidic Messiah. By the logic of what we learned from Dr. Craig, if such a Messiah was killed, that proves that he was false. So in that case now you need something to prove him to be true finally. What would prove him to be true? The only thing we have left is the resurrection which is so difficult to prove. But by Dr. Craig’s own logic, you can see the difficulty. You mentioned the magi. If we think about everything that happened in the New Testament Gospels, we have to negate the bulk of that in order to have Dr. Craig’s fifth point of fact to be a fact. Why is that? Because if Jesus performed all these miracles, if he was attracting wise men from the east and if there were angels singing praises of the new born King and shepherds were watching the flock at night and a star is shining over a particular house in Bethlehem, then why would people stop believing in Jesus just because the Jewish leaders of the time crucified him in an unjust manner? But Paul said that Jesus died an accursed death. Dr. Craig is following that declaration about Jesus and now trying to prove that even though he died under the curse of God, God finally showed us that he is still with Jesus by raising him from the dead. We’ve seen how difficult it is to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead because in the first place, how do you know he was really dead? Think about the last thing that Dr. Craig said about the spear thrust. Now he lowered it from common practice to it was a practice. But he could not bring himself to say that this was definitely done in the case of Jesus because to do that he would have to claim inerrancy for the Gospels and claim that John’s Gospels, despite all scholarship, is actually true in all of its historical details. That of course means that his position is not really justified.
DR. CRAIG: .. . . Jesus was taken down alive that has this enormous burden of proof to prove something that is highly, highly improbable and contrary to all the sources. But notice what Shabir said in his question just before this. He said, “I start with the Qur’an and then ask what it allows.” You see this is not the way a historian works where you look at the sources and follow the evidence where it leads. He starts with the Qur’an and then says what can I wiggle around enough in here to allow me to remain a Muslim and yet affirm what I can and he says, well, I’ll affirm that Jesus was crucified but not killed and then you get into this sort of “Christlam” thing as I suggested. I think it is much better to follow the evidence where it leads and I think where it leads is to the resurrection of Jesus.
 cf. Zechariah 9:9
 cf. Mark 11:9; John 12:13
 cf. 2 Kings 2:1-12
 cf. Genesis 5:22-24
 cf. Jude 9
 To be clear, it was claimed by early church writers (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus) that this Jude 9 passage is a quotation from The Assumption of Moses (not 1 Enoch – the questioner probably confused this with Jude 14-15 which is referring to passages from 1 Enoch). However, it should be noted that there is no known surviving portion of The Assumption of Moses that contains this Jude 9 passage.
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