This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig,
You often say that the Achilles' Heel of Islam is in its denial of "the single most indisputable fact about Jesus": his crucifixion. This Islamic denial flows from the Qur'anic verse "They (the Jews) did not kill him (Jesus), nor did they crucify him, but it/he appeared so unto them." It seems like your argument is as follows:
1) If Islam is true, Jesus was not crucified
2) Jesus was crucified
3) Therefore, Islam is not true
To defend the crucial second premise, your cite biblical scholars who gain their information about Jesus through extra-Qur'anic materials. However, reaching the conclusion that Jesus was crucified according to historical memory is precisely what the Qur'an claims when it says "but it/he appeared so unto them." Thus, my question is: If we make the distinction between the historical memory of Jesus' crucifixion (which, historians and Muslims agree on) and what actually happened ontologically or behind-the-scenes (which, Muslims believe Jesus was substituted for theological reasons, and historians believe Jesus actually died based on the prima facie historical memory), would that go some way into alleviating or even diminishing the tension of the crucifixion scene between the historical and the Islamic Jesus?
On a side note, I, as a Muslim myself, deeply admire your respect of the Kalam tradition in your defense of the cosmological argument.
William Lane Craig's Response
It seems to me that this Muslim riposte, Samiullah, basically gives away the store. For it is, in effect, just the admission that the historical evidence overwhelmingly
supports premise (2) of the above argument. To say that it just appears to us that Jesus was crucified is to admit that the evidence indicates that Jesus was crucified. So the Muslim has to believe in defiance of the evidence that Jesus was not crucified, despite all appearances to the contrary. I don’t see how this gains him anything.
Now, of course, if the Muslim had some sort of reason to think that the historical evidence is misleading, that would be another story. But he has none, so far as I am aware. Just appealing to some sort of historical illusionism with regard to Jesus’ death is an ad hoc move without justification. Saying that God Himself is responsible for imposing this illusion is, again, a tacit admission that the historical evidence supports that Jesus was crucified and, moreover, makes Allah responsible for foisting the delusion of Christianity upon mankind. So appeal to mere appearance is, I think, of no help to the Muslim.
What the Muslim needs to do, rather, is to present historical arguments aimed at somehow undermining the reliability of the testimony to the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion (e.g., the traditional Muslim claim that the Gospels were hopelessly corrupted in the course of their transmission), a task which is in the opinion of virtually all non-Muslim scholars, whether Christian or non-Christian, practically impossible.
Thank you for your kind personal remarks, Samiullah! I have enjoyed reading medieval Islamic scholars and have learned a great deal from them. I am persuaded that one can retain the best of Islam while being a faithful follower of Jesus as described in the New Testament.
 See my articles posted at https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/
This Q & A and other resources are available on William Lane Craig's website.