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#283 Do the Gospels Support a Muslim View of Jesus?

September 16, 2012
Q

Hello Dr. Craig

First of all I would like to thank you for all the work you have done. You've been a great influence on me throughout my life as a philosophy student. It was your work that led me to the path of God after being an Atheist for a couple of years.

I just watched a video of a Muslim theologian claiming that the gospels in a way have denigrated Jesus Christ in several occasions. He then went on to say these parts not only belittle him but might even be a proof that it was not Jesus who was crucified.

Here are the parts he referred to:

1. And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.'(Matthew 26:39)

Here the theologian referred to Muslim martyrs who were more than willing to sacrifice their lives for God, but here the Christian gospels portray Jesus as someone in fear of death who's begging God for getting him out of this agony. He then pointed out how Matthew 26:38 depicts Jesus as someone who's deeply in fear of death.

2. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me(Matthew 27:46)

The objections he brought up against this one were pretty much what he said about the first passage. Why would the unique son of God give up hope in God and utter such blasphemy?! Again he thought of this as a proof of the Muslim belief that it was not Jesus who was crucified.

To be honest I've had problems with these passages too, especially the second one which shocked me the first time I heard it. I'd be more than grateful if you could help me out with these problems.

Sincerely with the Grace of God,

M.

Iran

Dr. craig’s response


A

It is a privilege, M., to receive a letter from a Christian brother who lives on the front lines of persecution! May God strengthen you and guide you in the fullness of His will!

Ironically, the very denigration of Jesus that your friend discerns in the Gospels, while perhaps incompatible with a Muslim interpretation of Jesus, is not only compatible with the Christian view but actually reinforces the historical credibility of the Gospel lives of Jesus.

You see, because the early Christian church believed in the deity of Christ, you’d expect that if the Gospel accounts were largely the product of the church rather than accurate records of the life of Jesus, the Gospels would suppress or omit embarrassing or awkward traces of Jesus’ weakness and humanity. But they don’t! Instead we find many such traces: Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus’ exhaustion and falling asleep in the boat, Jesus’ ignorance of the time of his return, Jesus’ agony in the Garden, and so on. These are not the sort of features someone who believed in Jesus’ deity would just invent. They are therefore indications of the historical credibility of the accounts in which they appear. In fact, there’s actually a name of this tool of historical Jesus research: it’s called the criterion of embarrassment. It states that if a saying or event in the life of Jesus is embarrassing or awkward for the early church, then the probability is increased that the saying or event is authentic, i.e., actually happened.

So I delight in the spotting of such features in the narratives because it confirms that we are on good historical grounds in what we are reading. This undermines the Muslim claim that the Gospel records of Jesus’ life are so corrupted as to be unreliable. In particular, Jesus’ crucifixion is the supreme instance of the criterion of embarrassment, an event so firmly established historically that has itself become a criterion of authenticity in its own right, other events’ being assessed in light of the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion. Your friend’s view that someone else was crucified in Jesus’ place is so historically irresponsible that no historian (who is not already a committed Muslim) holds to such a view.

But don’t these incidents in some way really cast doubt upon Jesus’ divinity? Not at all, M.! Muslims very typically do not understand that Christians do not believe that Jesus is simply divine, masquerading as a man (like Superman disguised as Clark Kent). Rather Christians hold Jesus to be truly God and truly man, to have two complete natures, one human and one divine. So to point out features of Jesus’ human weaknesses and limitations is something in which the Christian exults because it goes only to confirm Jesus’ true humanity. He has stooped so low as to take on all our fragility and weakness.

Frankly, I’m glad that Jesus didn’t face his impending crucifixion like some phony action hero but was in agony about being savagely scourged and crucified. That’s someone I can identify with! That’s real courage! That’s a man I can admire and follow.

As for Jesus’ words on the cross, I am convinced that they have been seriously misunderstood by many Christians. I used to think, as many Christians believe, that when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, God the Father had turned His back on God the Son, and Jesus was at that moment bearing the penalty of separation from God for our sins. Of course, there’s something a bit strange about that theological interpretation. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death and that Christ died for our sins. But at this point Jesus obviously wasn’t dead! So how could this be the moment of atonement? And if it was, why did Jesus, having atoned for sin, need to go on to die? His other words from the cross don’t seem to express any such abandonment by God (“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit”). So what’s going on here?

Well, look at Psalm 22, M. Jesus was steeped in the Old Testament and knew the Psalms. Psalm 22 is the prayer of God’s righteous servant in distress. So what was Jesus doing at this most terrible moment of his life, in excruciating pain and humiliation? He was praying to his Father!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22.1)

Instead of wallowing in hopelessness and despair, he’s praying Psalm 22 aloud to God. I get choked up just thinking about it. What a man! What faithfulness! This is not the moment at which Jesus is farthest from God; this may well be the moment when he was nearest to God.

So I’d encourage you to revel in Christ’s true humanity as well as in his divinity. Both are vital to our salvation.

- William Lane Craig