In the discussion of the Qur'anic denial of the crucifixion of Jesus the most coherent Muslim explanation presented is the theory that it might all have looked to the people just as it is reported but it was only "appearance". Looking in depth at this argument is the purpose of the present article.
The deception of believers
Qur'an states that the disciples of Jesus were true submitters to God! For example, this is found in the following verse:
When Jesus found unbelief on their part [i.e. the children of Israel (verse 49)], he said: "Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?" Said the disciples: We are Allah's helpers, we believe in Allah, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims. Sura 3:52
When the Bible reports the crucifixion and the Qur'an denies the crucifixion, the first idea (for a Muslim) to resolve the tension might be to claim that the disciples made up the whole story, i.e. they lied and deceived. But this claim would be in contradiction to the above verse, which testifies to the disciples sincerety and them being true believers. The theory that it was all "appearance" and the disciples might have seen and experienced it subjectively just as it is reported, allowes not only to harmonize the two claims of the Bible and the Qur'an whether the crucifixion happened but it also saves the disciples from being deceivers.
Then what is the problem with this approach?
As I have shown in point 2. and 3. in the article on the historical reality of the Crucifixion, the Christians at all times have believed that Jesus died on the cross, including the very disciples of Jesus who were sincere and honest men, whose desire was to follow God [as even the Qur'an affirms in Sura 3:52-53], and who were so sincere about it that all but one of them died as martyrs for their convictions. My problem then is that Allah is deceiving not only his enemies but also the followers of the Messiah, whom He had sent Himself.
If the Qur'an says that such deception of the honest seekers of truth is part of the character of Allah, then I do not know on what basis I can trust the the Qur'an itself. If God ever did deceive those who desired to know and follow him, how can I have any assurance he did not do it again and the Qur'an is not part of this deception?
I hope you see the problem and don't do away with it lightly. This is in fact my biggest problem with this passage, even bigger than the historical aspect of it. And I think this is one of the most difficult questions that Muslims will have to answer.
I could accept that God tricks or deceives his enemies, e.g. those Jews or those Romans who want to kill Jesus. But God deceives not only his enemies, he deceives the very group who are the closest followers of his messenger. He makes the disciples of Jesus believe that Jesus died on the Cross. Three days after the (real or apparent) crucifixion Jesus appears to the disciples and he explicitely states that he was dead and that he is risen. Again, we have the choice whether the disciples made it up [contradicts their life testimony and the Qur'an] or Jesus lied to them [both Muslims and Christians will revolt against this thought] but if those are not true, then it is again God, who made it appear so and continues the deception beyond the event of the Crucifixion into 40 days of multiple appearances of Jesus to all of the Apostles as well as many other people. As before the responsibility of the deception rests with God. And it isn't only several dozens of the original Jewish followers, through their testimony God has supposedly no problem of deceiving billions of sincere Christians to be believers of a falsehood. They are lead by God's plan to believe that the Crucifixion and Resurrection are true, but there is more. The Resurrection is the final proof for the disciples to recognize the deity of Christ [as the approval of God on Jesus' claims about himself] and hence God's responsibility for the faith in the Resurrection is also his responsibility for the faith in the deity of Jesus. This means God is the one who deceived people into committing shirk, the one sin he most condemns and abhors.
And this is not just a later theological reflection but an immeditate reaction as we see in the confession of Thomas when he meets the risen Jesus, recorded in John 20:27-29 :
Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Does Jesus rebuke Thomas for his declaration of faith? No, Jesus affirms him. He even says you really should have believed this earlier. And then in the next verse John goes on to summarize, that "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believeing you may have life in his name."
The confession of Thomas is the climax of the Gospel as recorded by John. And the faith of Jesus to be God who came to live among us is finally proven to the disciples through the encounter with the risen Lord. With this report again, we have to ask: Are the disciples liars? If not, is then Jesus the liar? If not, then it is again God who makes it appear so and so the deception originates with him.
The Muslim theory of "God made it appear to them so" does not make any sense whatsoever. It makes God a liar and deceiver who leads people to believe the one thing he supposedly hates most. I don't know how Muslims can believe this. I can't. And cannot imagine that anybody can explain this satisfactorily.
I agree, the appearance hypothesis does solve the historical problem, but it creates more problems than it solves. It is horrendous in its theological consequences in regard to the character of God.
Therefore the crucial question is:
IF Allah deceives those honest submitters, how do you know you can trust him in what he says in the Qur'an? There is no reason to believe that the companions of Muhammad (or even Muhammad himself) were not just as deceived by Allah as the disciples of Jesus were deceived by him and the Qur'an itself is not part of the scam and deception tactics of this Allah.
If this is the nature of God, I cannot trust anything he does or says. And then there is no point in becoming a Muslim.
But in fact, I do believe that God is truth and he is trustworthy, and therefore Sura 4:157 gives me strong reason to doubt that the source behind the Qur'an is the God of truth.
The Holy Scriptures give the clear testimony:
Light signifying moral purity and darkness representing everything that is depraved and evil. And God condemns lying as evil many times in his word.
There are countless promises from God to those who trust him, that God will not fail those who trust him.
As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless.
He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
For who is the God besides teh LORD?
And who is like the Rock except our God?
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD's unfailing love surrounds the man
who trust in him. Psalm 32:10
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him
and he will make your paths straight.
And without faith it is impossible to please God,
because everybody who domes to him must believe
that he exists and that he rewards those
who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
... a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life,
which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of
time, ... Titus 1:2
But let all who take refuge in you be glad ...
for surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of a man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
This is good, and pleases God our Savior,
who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:3-4
... [even] if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.
2 Timothy 2:13
But ... the idolators, and all liars -
their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
Those verses should be enough to make completely clear that the deception of the believers with the staged appearance are out of character with the true God.
Interestingly enough, this is not the only place where the "Qur'anic Allah" seems to be at ease with deception or at least half-truths.
In Sura 8:43 a dream is mentioned. The verse reads,
This verse, which came after the battle of Badr, refers to a dream which Muhammad had before the battle, but it leaves more problems than it solves. It does not claim that the dream showed a victory, and it depicts God as showing the 300 Muslim fighters that there will only be a few enemy soldiers instead of 1000. Thus, it shows God using deception to achieve His aims in His own community of believers.
Why does God not show Muhammad (truthfully) that they are many and then also show him that they will be victorious? There is no reason that God should use deception.
For me personally this is a real difficulty and it contradicts the character of the true God. Is this the way the God of heaven and earth, Mighty and All-powerful, named the Truth and the Holy One, acts and carries on His affairs?
Yet we see this same type of action in other places. In Sura 19:26 God tells Mary to say that she is fasting when in fact she is eating water and dates.
In Sura 34:12-14 God keeps the Jinns working by fooling them that Solomon is still alive?
But all the above are small in comparison to the main issue of Sura 4:157 where supposedly Jesus didn't die, he wasn't crucified, it just looks like it, and as such God fools the disciples of Jesus and through them millions of serious believers about the identity of his messenger and about the way of salvation.
Does this not make you uneasy in your spirit? How do you convince yourself that these actions which the Qur'an attributes to Allah are not lying actions? And if they are, how can you continue to believe that the Qur'an comes from the God of Truth?
Copyright © 1997 Jochen Katz. All rights reserved.
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