December 14, 2010
In a recent posting on YouTube, (see this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQbKXfi5EXQ) Dr. Craig addresses a question about the Muslim view of the crucifixion. In the course of denouncing the Quranic statement about this as being historical, he made reference to his debate with me, and my specific position, to which he made two objections. First, he asserts that my position compromises the Quran. Second, he asserts that I did not have a response to his objection that my position would imply that God deceived the disciples into thinking that Jesus rose from the dead.
In response, it may be useful to first lay out the core of my position on this. Although the Quran 4:157 has been commonly interpreted to meant that Jesus was never placed on the cross, I have explained that interpretation rests on a mistake. The word ‘crucifixion’ has two meanings: 1. To kill a person by means of impalement; and 2. Merely impaling a person regardless of whether or not he dies by the method. Whereas the interpreters took the second meaning to be the case, I have shown that wherever the word occurs in the Quran it always has the first meaning. Hence the denial: “They crucified him not,” means “They did not kill him by means of impalement.” In the light of this explanation, I fail to see how Dr. Craig could maintain that my position compromises the Quran. On the other hand, my explanation is, I believe, more faithful to the uses of the word in the Quran.
As for the objection about deception, this is premised on the supposition that we have the actual words of Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament so as to determine precisely what they believed. That premise is extremely doubtful. Moreover, God’s acts are often misunderstood, especially by simple folk who jump to conclusions. Think of Mary of Magdalene visiting the tomb and thinking that someone stole the body of Jesus. This is what she reported initially as a fact, though it was her incorrect inference. Another instance of jumping to false conclusions without examining the evidence occurs in Acts of the Apostles where Peter miraculously escapes prison and arrives at the door of the house where other followers of the Way were meeting. Rhoda, hearing his voice, recognized it to be that of Peter, but when she reported this to the rest they denied it outright instead of checking the evidence. When she insisted that it was indeed Peter they responded, again without examining the evidence, that it must be Peter’s angel. Their prior belief was for them more compelling than the evidence of one of their compatriots. Only Peter’s continual knocking got them to open the door and see the man for themselves. (See Acts of the Apostles 12:12-16).
That the disciples too could reach major conclusions based on inadequate observations is seen at the post-resurrection scenes reported in the gospels. Think of Matthew 28:17. “They worshipped him, but they doubted.” Thus it reads in the NAB. Did they worship without being sure that this was God? Is that not a compromise of monotheism? Think of Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel. The disciples he walked with and talked with did not recognize him throughout the journey. But when he broke bread and vanished they began telling each other that was Jesus. As evidence for this conclusion, they cited the fact that their hearts were burning while he spoke to them during the journey (Luke 24:33). They hurried back to Jerusalem to report this to the others. Before they could fully recount their own stories, they found the others saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon” (24:34). Yet no appearance to Simon, otherwise known as Peter, has been recounted in the gospels at this point. On the other hand, the Gospel of John shows that when Peter and another disciple had run to the tomb that morning, the other disciple saw that the burial cloth was rolled up he believed (John 20:8). We may ask, “Believed what?” Moreover, did Peter also believe? It would seem so, for this would explain the exclamation of the disciples that evening that Jesus also appeared to Peter. In that case, we have the rapid evolution of a belief that itself was arrived at from the simplest of evidence. If someone took away Jesus’ body they may have rolled up the cloths. But if Peter believed that Jesus rose from the dead merely from seeing the cloths, by that evening others were saying that Peter saw Jesus.
My response to Dr. Craig was simply that there was no deception of the believers in my explanation. If anything, there was a deception of the disbelieves. For, they thought that they had killed Jesus by means of crucifixion. But they did not succeed. As I pointed out, Dr. Craig was using a stock objection to the classical Muslim position that did not apply to my specific position. Is that because he does not really have a good answer to mine?