The Early Christians Who Believed Jesus Was Saved From Crucifixion
After the deity of Jesus, the crucifixion is perhaps the most contested issue about his life between Christians and Muslims. Today his death on the cross is taken as an almost indisputable fact of history, to the point where it’s not even questioned. Yet the Qur’an makes the bold claim that he was not crucified. Is it possible that the Qur’an, written some 600 years after Jesus, could be right? This article is going to show that there were in fact early Christian groups who believed that Jesus was not crucified, just as the Qur’an proclaims.
We can see that the Qur’an states that Jesus was not crucified; rather it was made to appear so. What “though it was made to appear like that to them” means is a topic of discussion among scholars. A major view is that God gave someone else Jesus’ appearance and it was this other person who was substituted for Jesus on the cross, causing his enemies to believe that Jesus was crucified. We find support for this view in the narrations of one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad, Ibn Abbas. He stated:
We can see that the Qur’an and other Islamic sources are crystal clear: God saved His beloved messenger from the crucifixion. Jesus was raised up to God, alive and unharmed, where he remains until this day. We find support for the Qur’anic crucifixion narrative in history. There were early Christian groups who denied the crucifixion of Jesus, such as the first century scholar Basilides and his followers, the Basilidians. They believed that Jesus was saved from the crucifixion and that another, Simon of Cyrene, was crucified in his place:
The beliefs of Basilides matter because he was living very close to the time of the disciples, and there are even traditions that he got these teachings from disciples of Jesus such as Peter . From this account we can see that it’s not the Qur’an that invented this claim that Jesus was saved from the crucifixion, it goes back to the earliest time of Church history.
ANSWERING THE CLAIM THAT SUCH GROUPS WERE HERETICAL
Now, critics tend to discredit groups such as the Basilidians by appealing to the writings of Church Fathers who condemned them as heretical. Sadly, nearly all the writings of such groups have perished, and we mostly know of them through the writings of their opponents. It is a well known fact among historians that Church Fathers would exaggerate to the extreme when writing about other Christian sects with whom they did not agree.
For example, the second century theologian Irenaeus claimed that the followers of Valentinus made indiscriminate copulation not only permissible but a desired act for those who are truly spiritual , and that the Carpocratians practiced indiscriminate sex and that their theology compelled them to violate every conceivable moral law and ethical norm . Perhaps the most outrageous example occurs near the end of the fourth century in the writings of the bishop Epiphanius, who in his discussion of a group of Gnostic Christians outlines their beliefs and describes their orgiastic and cannibalistic practices. Epiphanius claimed that they indulged in sumptuous feasts, with married couples separating to engage in sexual intercourse with other members of the community . The couples are alleged to have then collected the semen in their hands and ingested it together while proclaiming, “this is the body of Christ.” The couple also collected and consumed the woman’s menstrual blood, saying “this is the blood of Christ” . If for some reason the women became pregnant, the fetus was allowed to develop until it could be manually aborted. Then, claims Epiphanius, it was dismembered, covered with honey and spices, and devoured by the community as a special meal .
With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in the 20th century we have been able to study the actual writings of a bewildering variety of Gnostic Christians. A lot of the claims made by the Church Fathers against such groups were proven to be false, as far from condoning, let alone promoting, such outlandish moral behavior, their writings urge and assume just the contrary social and personal ethics. One of the few constants among all the Nag Hammadi writings is their ascetic orientation. Gnostic Christians appear to have believed, as a rule, in punishing the body, not indulging it. They endorsed ascetic lifestyles far from the hedonistic debauchery that the Church Fathers alleged. Apparently then, Gnostics were consistently attacked by orthodox Christians as sexually perverse, not because they actually were perverse but because they were the enemy.
In fact, a lot of what we know about the early Church comes from the third century Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea who pioneered work giving a chronological account of the development of Early Christianity. He is often called the “Father of Church History.” But he is not a reliable source of information as he openly admits to lying in order to propagate what he believes is the truth. In his work, Praeparatio Evangelica (Preparation for the Gospel), Book 12, Chapter 31 is titled as follows :
Eusebius makes it absolutely clear in his teachings that lying is necessary when it comes to the Gospel message. Chapter 31 reads as follows:
According to Eusebius it’s okay to lie, it’s okay to hold a false belief, if in the end the lie benefits someone. Eusebius, like most Christians today, held the death and resurrection of Jesus to be an essential belief for salvation. Based on Eusebius’ own principles then, there is no doubt that he would have been willing to lie about other groups who deny the crucifixion in order to protect what he would have seen as an essential truth. For Eusebius, the ends justify the means. It would therefore be difficult to believe that his writings are historically accurate and objective. His representations of competing groups of Christian sects are very likely not impartial.
In summary, we should take any claims of heresy made against early Christian groups who believed that Jesus was not crucified, with a pinch of salt. History is written by the winners, and much of what we know about these early groups has been painted by their opponents.
DID GOD DECEIVE THE WORLD?
A charge sometimes made against the Qur’an is that God ‘deceived’ people with the appearance of the crucifixion. The matter of the crucifixion was controversial in the formative years. The truth was out there and shows how the Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would not be harmed. So, the evidence that Jesus the Messiah could not be crucified is present within the Bible. Now, if some people of the past didn’t have access to the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and they thought Jesus was crucified, then according to the Qur’an they would not be blameworthy in the sight of God: “God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear…” [2:286] Here the Qur’an states that God does not hold people to account for what is beyond their capacity. Now that the final revelation, the Qur’an, has been revealed and clears up the misconceptions about Jesus, people have no excuse for ignorance. The test of life is to see if truth is what matters to you, as opposed to what is convenient or fits your desires, and ultimately you are judged on your honest commitment to follow the truth as it appears to you. It’s important to realise that life is a test. God is testing us in this life to distinguish those who believe from those who disbelieve: “Do the people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and God will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars” [29:2-3]. Such a claim about God deceiving us could be made about anything that seems confusing, contradictory or that needs a bit of investigation.
1 – Al-Nasa’i, Al-Kubra, 6:489.
2 – Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 24, section 4.
3 – Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, p. 349.
4 – Irenaeus , Against Heresies 1,6,3–4.
5 – Irenaeus , Against Heresies, 1,25,4.
6 – Epiphanius , Panarion 26.4.4.
7 – Epiphanius , Panarion 26.4.5–8.
8 – Epiphanius , Panarion 26.5.4–6.
9 – Accessed June 3rd 2017: http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_pe_12_book12.htm
10 – Accessed June 3rd 2017: http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_pe_12_book12.htm#100
Taken from Many Prophets, One Message