Jesus the Messiah or Jesus the Son of the Father-- Who was Crucified?

By Ehteshaam Gulam 

Back in 2004 I did a lot of reseach for the subsitution theroy. The subsitution theory was told by Muslims to vindicate the Quranic account on Jesus's alleged crucifixion. The theory states that someone other than Jesus was crucified the day of the crucifixion and Jesus by the power of Allah was lifted into the heavens. It is an interesting theory, but the only Early Christian group I know of that says someone else was crucified instead of Jesus is The Basilideans (who believed that Simon of Cyrene was crucified instead of Jesus) who were active in the 2nd century and claimed to be taught by Glaucias-- an interpreter of Peter (the closest disciple of Jesus).

Other than the Apocrypahal books of Early Christianity, it appears that at least one canonical Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew supports the subsitution theory. The theory that Jesus Christ was released from crucifixion by Pilate and a different Jesus, Jesus the king of the Jews was instead put on the cross. This theory was first noted by Jerald F. Dirks (2001). The theory finds support from the New Testament Gospel of Matthew and the full name of Barabbas.

Early Syriac manuscripts of Matthew present Barabbas' name twice as Jesus bar Abbas: Jesus the Son of the Father, a.k.a. Jesus Christ manuscripts in the Caesarean text-type— the Sinaitic Palimpsest, the Syriac lectionaries and some of the manuscripts used by Origen (185-254 CE) an early church father, scholar, theologian in the 3rd century— all support Barabbas' full name as Jesus Barabbas in Matthew. As the New International Version Archarelogical Study Bible Commentary states:

“The reading “Jesus Barabbas” for his full name (Barabbas) in Matthew 27:16-17 was found by Origen (an early Church Father) in many manuscripts and is still found in some early versions….”  [1]

Even in early versions of the Manuscripts of Matthew in the verse 27:17, the full name is found to be Jesus Barabbas. So who really is Jesus Barabbas? None other than - Jesus the son of the father i.e. Jesus Christ. In Aramaic word Bar means “the son of” someone. So Jesus Barabbas is the Son of “Abbas”. And Abbas simply means Father in the New Testament. In the New Testament, Revised standard version, Simon is called Simon bar Jonah or Simon the son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17 Revised Standard Version). So Barabbas really is “the son of the father”.

Although Jesus Christ is not called the “Son of the father” in the New Testament, it can be implied that he is the “Son of the father”. For example if we read in Mark 14:36, Jesus allegedly calls on God as “Abba” meaning Father in Aramaic the language Jesus spoke. He says:

Abba, Father, he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36 NIV).

Keep in mind that Mark was the earliest Gospel written around 65-80 CE.

Although it is rare, Jesus did allegedly refer to himself as the “Son of God” in places of the New Testament such as ( John 10:36, Luke 22:70, etc.) And Jesus referred to God as the father in places such as Matthew 24:36, etc. 

So Jesus himself refers to God, as Abba, Aramaic for Father. And as we’ve seen Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God, God as Father and is “the son of the Father”. So really Barabbas and Jesus Christ are really the same person with different names. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which is based on the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, Pilate offers the mob a choice to release either Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah. The following is a quote from the Matthew passage:

So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (Matthew 27:17 New Revised Standard Version)

The mob choices Barabbas to be released and Jesus who is called Messiah to be crucified. Pilate does so, he releases Barabbas and lets Jesus who is called Messiah to be crucified. All this is found in the New Rrevised Standard Version of Matthew 27:17-26. So this begs the question Who is Jesus the Messiah? So Who is Jesus the Messiah? Before getting into that, let’s look at the name Jesus. Jesus (Greek rendering of Joshua) was a common name in Palestine at the time. What does Messiah mean? Simply the anointed in the Bible. Who were the anointed in Israel? The Kings and Preists in Israel. So Pilate is giving a choice between Jesus the son of the father or Jesus the King of the Jews who was probably an insurrectionist. This can be found in Mark 15:8-9,11:

The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate,…. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. (Mark 15:8-9, 11 New International Version)

So the crowd decided to let Barabbas go and let the king of the Jews be crucified according to the earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark (60 CE). Going back to Matthew 27:17 in the earliest manuscripts, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus the son of the Father was able to get away by Pilate and Jesus the King of the Jews, an insurrectionist was crucified .

The chief persists and elders had asked for Barabbas- the son of the father- Jesus Christ to be released and Pilate released him and allowed Jesus the King of the Jews- Jesus who is called the Messiah- to be crucified, satisfying the crowd. The sign above Jesus crucifix had said “Jesus the king of the Jews” and not “Jesus Christ” or “Jesus the son of the father” thus supporting that indeed Jesus Christ had gotten away and instead another name with the same name, Jesus the King of the Jews i.e. the Messiah, anointed of Israel was crucified instead (see Mark 15:26 and Matthew 27:37).

Both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew does pose an interesting question- what if Jesus Christ, the son of the father was released and instead a different Jesus the Messiah- the king of the Jews was crucified instead? It’s very possible. Through the confusion whoever wrote Mark, Matthew Luke and John must’ve believed that indeed Jesus Christ was allegedly crucified and allegedly resurrected  to fit their theological points for salvation through crucifixion. [2]  The trail of Jesus before Pilate and the main factors of the Passion story are all problemic- they can’t be taken as historical events. Rather they were created by early Christians for their own theological points. The truth was buried in a thelogical point of view and was buried in the fictions written by the gospel writers.

One last point to note how the churches would view Pilate if he indeed did allegedly had Jesus crucified? Not very good. However to the contrary the churches did indeed have a high opinion of him. As Jerald Dirks (2001) writes:

“If Pilate did, indeed, sentence Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion, how should the early churches have viewed Pilate and his associates? Would not Pilate have been vilified to the ends of the earth by the early Christian churches? Might not Pilate have been formally condemned by the early churches to eternity in hell? One would certainly think so. However the facts are radically different. On October 28th, the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar lists the feast day of Saint Procla, the wife of Pontius Pilate. On June 25th, the Coptic Christian Church lists the feast day of Saint Procla and of Saint Pointius Pilate! Procla was canonized as a saint by both the Eastern Orthodox Church and by the Coptic Christian Church. How did the early Coptic Christian Church ever justify canonizing as a saint the man who condemned Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion? This just defies all reason and all logic. What did these early Christians know that modern Christians don’t know? Perhaps they knew that Pontius Pilate, their beloved saint, was the man who released Jesus Christ. Perhaps, they had a better understanding of Matthew, than do most modern Christians.”  [3]

In One of Jerald F. Dirks books, he sums up things very nicely, so I quote him here:

"However, it is not just within the so-called apocryphal writings that one finds evidence that it was not Jesus who was crucified. The canonical gospel of Matthew 27:11-26 states that Pilate gave the crowd a choice between releasing "Jesus who is called the Messiah" or "Jesus Barabbas". (Any Christians who might wonder about the name "Jesus Barabbas" are urged to consult the New Revised Standard Version of Matthew 27:17 for this identification, which is based on some of the oldest surviving texts of this verse.) Matthew then goes on to state that the crowd chose Jesus Barabbas and that Pilate released Jesus Barabbas. Of note, Barabbas, i.e., "bar Abbas" is not a given name but is a patronymic, i.e. a statement that one is the son of so-and-so. Translating from the Aramaic language, the langauge spoken by Jesus, "bar Abbas" may be translated as "son of the father". In short, Matthew tells the discerning reader that Pilate released "Jesus, the son of the Father", and condemned a different Jesus, who was claiming to be the Messiah, i.e., the annointed one. So who was who? Does this help explain why Pontius Pilate was canonized as a saint by the Coptic Christian Church? Does one justify sainthood for the man who condemned Jesus or for the man who released him? Certainly, Matthew raises the very real question of who was actually released and who was actually crucified." [4]


At least two Canonical Gospels or Early Christianity support the Islamic position that Jesus Christ was not crucified and had got away from the alleged crucifixion. Pilate had released Jesus Barabbas- Jesus the son of the father, the Jesus Christ we all know and had another Jesus, Jesus the King of the Jews or the Messiah, an insurrectionist probably about to lead a revolt against Rome to be crucified. After this, the Gospel writers wanted to finish their theological story and thus made up the story to make it look like Jesus Christ was crucified   when in reality he had gotten away, thanks to Pontius Pilate. Anyways, this supports the Islamic view point of the crucifixion as always Allah knows best!

Notes and Bibliography

[1] (New International Version Archarelogical Study Bible pg. 1614)
[2]Dunn (1998)
[3] Dirks (2001) pg.109
[4] Dirks (2004) pg. 99

Archareological Study Bible: An illustrated walk through Biblical history and culture, New International Version, Zondervan Corporation Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 2005.

Dunn, James D. G.: The Theology of Paul the Apostle, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998

Dirks, Jerald The Cross and the Crescent Amana Publications, USA 2001

Dirks, Jerald: The Abrahamic Faiths: Judasim, Christianity and Islam Similarities and Contrasts, Amana Publications, 2004