Was Jesus substituted on the Cross?

                                                              By Ehteshaam Gulam

Muslims claim that somebody other than Jesus was put on the cross on the day of the crucifixion. The claim was first made by Muslim  scholar Al-Baidawi (1226-60 C.E.) writes that Jesus told his disciples in advance that whoever volunteered would go to heaven. The following narration recorded in the Qur'anic exegesis of Ibn Kathir (Who was an Islamic scholar and a commentator on the Quran)  is commonly told by Muslims as the authentic account of what happened on the day of the crucifixion by orthodox Sunni scholars:

Ibn Abbas said, “Just before Allah raised Jesus to the Heavens, Jesus went to his disciples, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping with water (as if he had just had a bath) and he said, ‘There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after you had believed in me.’ He then asked, ‘Who among you will volunteer for his appearance to be transformed into mine, and be killed in my place. Whoever volunteers for that, he will be with me (in Paradise).’ One of the youngest ones among them volunteered, but Jesus asked him to sit down. Jesus asked again for a volunteer, and the same young man volunteered and Jesus asked him to sit down again. Then the young man volunteered a third time and Jesus said, ‘You will be that man,’ and the resemblance of Jesus was cast over that man while Jesus ascended to Heaven from a hole in the roof of the house. When the Jews came looking for Jesus, they found that young man and crucified him. Some of Jesus’ followers disbelieved in him twelve times after they had believed in him. They then divided into three groups. One group, the Jacobites, said, ‘Allah remained with us as long as He willed and then ascended to Heaven.’ Another group, the Nestorians, said, ‘The son of Allah was with us as long as he willed and Allah took him to Heaven.’ Another group, the Muslims, said, ‘The servant and Messenger of Allah remained with us as long as Allah willed, and Allah then took him to Him.’ The two disbelieving groups cooperated against the Muslim group and they killed them. Ever since that happened, Islam was then veiled until Allah sent Muhammad (Peace be upon him).” An-Nasai, Al-Kubra, 6:489)

Without a doubt this is an intersting story about how Christianity got started. But there is no historical evidence for the rise of Christianity the way it is described here by Al Baidawi and Ibn Kathir. Rather like I mentioned in the Ealry Christainity section-- there were multiple churches after the Jerusalem Church was destroyed (around 70 CE) and many early Christians had different thoughts about who Jesus was. There were different Early Christian gospels, epistles, writings, etc. Only around The Council of Nicea (325 CE) were steps taken to not only canonize the New Testament but to make a set an orthodox set of beliefs (thus this is where the Trinity-- father, son and holy spirit are one, came from). (see Ehramn 2003 page 136)

Modern Muslim scholars also support the subsitution theory. Abdullah Yusef Ali in his The Meaning of the Holy Quran
Commentary supports that someone other than Jesus was put on the cross that day. In his commentary on Quran 4:157 he writes:

"The end of the life of Jesus on earth is as much involved in mystery as his birth, and indeed the greater part of his private life, except the three main years of his ministry. It is not profitable to discuss the many doubts and conjectures among the early Christian sects and among Muslim theologians. The Orthodox Christian Churches make it a cardinal point of their doctrine that his life was taken on the Cross, that he died and was buried, that on the third day he rose in the body with his wound intact, and walked about and conversed, and ate with his disciples, and was afterwards taken up bodily to heaven. This is necessary for the theological doctrine of blood sacrifice and vicarious atonement for sins, which is rejected by Islam. But some of the early Christian sects did not believe that Christ was killed on the Cross. The Basilidans [Basilides] believed that someone else was substituted for him. The Docetae held that Christ never had a real physical or natural body, but only an apparent or phantom body, and that his Crucifixion was only apparent, not real. The Marcionite Gospel (about A.D. 138) denied that Jesus was born, and merely said that he appeared in human form. The Gospel of St. Barnabas supported the theory of substitution on the Cross. The Quranic teaching is that Christ was not crucified nor killed by the Jews, notwithstanding certain apparent circumstances which produced that illusion in the minds of some of his enemies ; that disputations, doubts, and conjectures on such matters are vain ; and that he was taken up to God (see next verse and note)." (The holy Qur’an, text, translation and commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. 1872-1952, First published in 1938, 1973 ed., p. 230, footnote 663, commenting on 4:157)

The Problem here is that the Quran never says that someone else was put on the cross instead of Jesus. Rather what the Quran says is that it only looked like Jesus was crucified but in realtity he wasn't. The Quranic verse is as follows:

That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-  (Quran 4:157 Abduallah Yousef Ali Translation)

Abdullah Yousef Ali's translation is the most trusted translation of the Quran. Other trusted translations of the Quran also dont say anything about Jesus being subsituted on the cross. The following information from an Islamic website points this out. I quote the site:

While translating the complete verse, many translators remained, as far as possible, loyal to actual Arabic words and refrained from advocating specific theories. Here most translators did not omit any key word from translating, however, quite a few ventured beyond what Allah said. These few translators very surreptitiously interjected additional words inside the actual translation suggesting these were revealed text. Here are a few representative works:

Yusuf Ali ....            Only a likenss of that was shown to them. …
Pickthall ….             But it appeared so unto them; ….
M. H. Shakir ….      But it appeared to them so (like Isa) …..
Hilali and Khan ….   but the resemblance of 'Isa (Jesus) was put over another man (and they killed that man) ….
Rodwell ….             but they had only his likeness …..
T. J. Irving ….          even though it seemed so to them ….
Sher Ali ...                but he was made to appear to them like one crucified; ....
Rashad Khalifa ….   they were made to think that they did ….
Arthur J. Arberry …. Only a likeness of that was shown to them. …
Mohammad Ali ….   but he was made to appear to them as such. …
Al-bukhari ….          But this matter was made dubious to them. ….
Mohammad Asad ... but it only seemed to them (as if it had been so) ....
Zohurul Hoque ...      but he was made to resemble to them. ...

In the above sample, only Shakir, Hilali & Khan and Rodwell suggested that a different person be substituted. Shakir placed 'like Isa' within parenthesis to suggest what may have happened. Rodwell simply structured the sentence to suggest the substitution theory. Hilali & Khan overstepped all boundaries and clearly falsified by putting interpolated words inside the translation. Shakir suggested a theory by placing his opinion inside paranthesis and not in the actual text.  Shakir and Rodwell may be excused for inaccurate translations, but Hilali & Khan remain notoriously corrupt and unpardonable for absolutely wrong translation. No sane person can find the words 'Isa' and 'another man' in actual Arabic text. Hilali & Khan tried to justify the substitution theory by resorting to cheating, falsifying the Quran, interpolating totally imaginary words and staying miles away from revealed text. (Source)

The substitution theory was propounded to justify that Jesus was not crucified. Muslims do have a point when they say Allah clearly says in the Quran that they didn't kill Jesus nor crucify him. And I agree. However what does it mean when someone is crucified? It means that the person was killed by being nailed to a cross. The Jews and Romans had thousands of people crucified. However some people survived. Jesus himself predicted that he would survive the crucifixion (Matthew12:40) If a person surivived the crucifixion then walked away--- he wasn't killed nor crucified. And this is what happened to Jesus--- Jesus wasn't killed while he was on the cross--- rather he survivied and then came back to his disciples. I document this here.  So the swoon theory (that Jesus survivied the cross) vindicates the Quranic account of the Crucifixion. The subsitution theory, that somebody other than Jesus was put on the cross, raises too many problems. One it implies that Allah cheated and decieved everyone, two it implies that an innocent person died for nothing, and three it implies in the words of an Anti-Islamic writer, David Wood, "Allah created Christianity by Accident". Rather what happened is that Jesus was put on the cross and survived. He then by the power of Allah ascended to heaven. That's what the Gospels tell us-- and that's the version I support. It was probably Paul's (who never met the historical Jesus)  preaching of a spirtual resurrection of Jesus that the early Christians (probably the second generation of believers) misunderstood and developed the idea of a physical resurrection (although Jesus was never resurrected according to any of the gospels). I think the disciples believed Jesus was actually resisatated instead of resurrected and because of the growing myth--- whoever wrote the four gospels and Acts (whom Biblical scholars believe was the same annoymous author of Luke) started to say that Jesus died and rose again. However the four gosples clearly say that Jesus survived. Acts of the Apostles isn't really a historically reliable document--- since the author of Luke wasn't really a good historian. Historian Richard Carrier documents this well here. The author of Luke and Acts was not an eye witness to any of the events he writes about (See Luke 1:1-4)

Is there evidnece for the subsitution theory?

A common question I get asked is there evidence for the subsitution theory by Muslims. The early Chrsitian writings that I know that support someone else was put on the cross the day of the crucifixion is The Apocalypse of Peter (*) found in the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945 written sometime around 300 CE) and The Second Treatise of the Great Seth (*) (also found in the Nag Hammadi Library and also written around the 3rd century). The Acts of John (written around 150-200 CE) also says that Jesus crucifixion was an illusion. So these early Christian books support the Quran, that Jesus was killed nor crucified and support the subsitution theory. The Early Christian group the Docetists (100 CE) believed that Jesus crucifixion was an illusion.(Ehramn 2003 pg.15) Another early Christian group, the Basildeans ( around the 2nd century) believed that Simon Of Cyene ( the person who carried Jesus cross in Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26) was instaed crucified instead of Jesus. What is interesting about the Basildeans is that they claimed to have been taught by Glaucias-- a secert interpreter of Peter-- the disciple of Jesus. (Ehramn, 2003)  But as an historian and Muslim I believe that Jesus surivived his crucifixion and then ascended to Allah. There's a lot of good evidence for this.

When I embarked on researching this stuff five years ago (this actually partly launched my interest in compartive religion ) I found it excruciatingly hard to find anything supporting the subsitution theory. There is also some evidence from the Gospel of Matthew that supports the subsitution theory, which I document here.

The more I reserached I believe that Jesus survived his ordeal, thus completing the sign of Jonah then ascended to Allah. Who knows maybe one day, Christian scholars and archeologists will find evidence from a book actually written by a disciple that Jesus wasn't really crucified and instead someone else (possibly Simon of Cyene or antoher man named Jesus the political leader of the Jews). But till we find hard evidence for the subsitution theory-- I am sticking with the swoon theory that Modern schoalrs on Islam such as Maulana Muhammad Ali and Shabir Ally believe. Ahmed Deedat ( a late Muslim scholar on the Bible--- May Allah bless him) wrote extensively on the swoon theory. However Ahmed Deedat also believed that someone else was crucified instead of Jesus and Jesus got away. And as always, Allah knows best!

Further reading:



Ali, Abdullah Yousef: The Meaning of the Holy Quran. Beltsville, Amana Publications, 1992
Ehrman, Bart . Lost Christianities: Battle for the Scripture we never knew New York City, Oxford Press, 2003
Ehrman Bart . Lost Scriptures: Books that never made it into the New Testament, New York City, Oxford Press, 2003