Christianity’s Intellectual Defense
The Book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, points out that Christianity has some strong intellectual tools to rebut Islam’s claims about Jesus, Mary, the Trinity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. What follows is a restatement of part an earlier presentation: (Note: Recall that Nabeel is a Muslim pre-med student and David is the Christian pre-med student who both are friends discussing religion.)
1) Was Jesus killed on the cross? Nabeel holds that Jesus did not die, but that he pretended to die and after being buried alive, got up, pushed the stone aside with help from friends, and walked away. This explanation is a standard Muslim explanation called the “swoon theory” (i.e. Christ pretending to be dead.)
However, David said the Roman crucifixion process did not allow the condemned to escape death. He pointed out that a man being crucified had to push up with his feet to be able to get air in. To speed death, guards would sometimes break the condemn’s legs so they could no longer push up to get air. To check if death had occurred they would spear the condemn’s side to see if pulsing blood came out or if just a weak flow of both water and blood serum. (When a person dies his blood separates into water and blood serum (i.e. the non-water parts of the blood)).
Roman history scholars that explained the details of the crucifixion process which Roman soldiers were trained in. The Roman soldiers who supervised Christ’s crucifixion followed this process closely.
David produced information about the Shroud of Turin which is a burial wrapping cloth from first-century Palestine, which probably was Christ’s burial cloth, and which shows the Gospel account is correct. (e.g. blood serum had separated from water, there was an indication of a crown of thorns, there were signs of a flash energy source which sealed the shroud’s markings into the cloth. (This flash event squares with the report from the guards at Jesus’ tomb who experienced a high energy event, etc.)
2) Did Jesus rise from the dead? Nabeel’s explanation is included in the swoon theory (see #1 above). If Jesus was faking his death, all he had to do was pre-arrange with friends to come by and push away the stone in front of the tomb.
Mike, the history student, a friend of Dave happened to be invited to debate this issue with an Islamic scholar at nearby Regent’s University. Nabeel attended and noted that Mike made these points:
- There was an empty tomb otherwise the Jews would have paraded Jesus body around to discredit the apostles’ contention that Christ was raised from the dead, and
- There was testimony by disciples and even non-followers which indicated Jesus was risen. An actual resurrection is the best explanation of all this behavior. If, for instance, an actor was pretending to be the risen Jesus, the disciples would recognize the deception and walk away.
Dave and Mike pointed out that the swoon theory does not hold up. Even if Christ escaped death and got friends to get him out of the tomb, would these same friends face later persecution and martyrdom defending the reputation of a person who had arranged such a hoax.
3) Was Jesus truly God? Muslims ask: why does God need a son? Is Jesus a demi-god, a half God and half man being? To Muslims, it doesn’t make sense; and anyway didn’t Jesus say again and again that he was the “son of man”.
To answer this objection, David produced a mini book More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell which says Jesus creates all things including carpenters – “All things came into being thru Jesus” from John’s gospel. Also to answer the “son of man” objection David referenced the full quote from Daniel 7 “One like the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven who is worship by all and who sits at the right hand and would reign”. David then mentioned Ps 110 where the Messiah is to “sit at my right hand”
Nabeel finally realized the Bible has to be studied as a series of stories whereas with the Koran individual verses are studied. Muslims then use commentaries to gain a fuller understanding of these difficult verses. Nabeel realized that reading individual verses in the Gospels can be misleading; the Gospels are an integrated whole. Nabeel finally began to read the Gospels properly. Reading John Ch 1 it hit him like a truck; here John explains how the Father and Son are one and yet are separate with different roles.
Nabeel realized that if there was not a good refutation of John Ch. 1 then God the Father and Son are one. So he told David, John’s gospel wasn’t valid because it focuses on different things than the other gospels and is written in a different style. Perhaps John is talking about a different Jesus?.
So David produced a second 800-page book by McDowell. Nabeel wanted to see proof of divinity in the synoptic gospels. David pointed out Mark 14:62 where the Jewish high priest asked Jesus if he was God; Jesus said: “I am”. This admission led to his death.
Muslims feel the earliest Christians felt Jesus was God because of Paul’s misleading epistles. Nabeel had been told that Paul was a Jew who gave up his Jewish faith to gain power in Christianity. David countered that Paul was a successful Jew and well positioned for a high position among the Jews; he gave all this up to become an itinerant traveler promoting a new religion.
(This point was particularly difficult for Nabeel because Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet but not God. For Muslims it is major heresy for someone to believe that Jesus is God.)
4) What factors tend to affirm the accuracy of the New Testament? Historians use rules for textual criticism to rate the quality of an old text. With the Bible, the accuracy is affirmed by the fact that the four gospels tend to support each other and that they were written within 35 to 50 years of Christ’s death when eyewitnesses were still alive to affirm their accuracy, and that some facts mentioned in the Bible are supported by non-Christian sources. For instance, a character mentioned in Luke 3:1 was affirmed by archeological investigations that showed that a Lysanius lived at Abilene during Jesus’ ministry. Also, a Jewish historian, named Josephus, recorded Jesus life and death albeit in an unflattering way.
The Gospels tell stories, of miracles, teachings, etc., so some differences in the reporting are to be expected. This is very common when one is receiving multiple eyewitness reports of a single event; people remember details differently. Also, the gospels have been translated by many different people into many different languages. Differences in word usage and phraseology results from the preferences of these translators.
Muslims tend to focus heavily on these differences. The Koran, unlike the Bible, is composed mostly of short commands, permissions or admonitions. (Of course, throughout the Koran, there are many contradictory statements. This problem is resolved for Muslim by the doctrine of abrogation under which verses were written later in Mohammad life take precedence over earlier verses if a contradiction exists.)
5) Is the Godhead composed of three persons Father, Son, and Spirit? Here Islam is adamant. Belief in the Trinity is a form of polytheism. Nabeel had great difficulty understanding the Trinity especially since its details are a mystery. Some Christians attempt to explain the Trinity by noting that H2O can appear as steam, ice, or liquid water. This didn’t help Nabeel.
When Nabeel asked David where the Holy Spirit appears in the New Testament. David mentioned the Spirit descending upon Mary when Jesus was conceived, he mentioned the Spirit coming upon the assembled crowd on Pentecost Sunday 50 days after Christ’s death. Finally, there is a quote from Jesus who said to the apostles I will send “my spirit”.
Later when he was studying genetics one day, he suddenly thought it might make sense to say that three perfect people share one perfect nature just as millions of imperfect people share one imperfect human nature.
Materials other than Koran (Qur’an), used to create this report were:
3) The Outline of History by H. G. Wells (see the section on Islam page 410 and following)
Next: Twenty-Four Additional Points About the Koran