Thank you for your frank letter. Thank you also for sharing with me the way you view Nabi Isa, as you name Jesus in the Arabic language. A different name makes nobody another person. It is the person behind the name that matters. It is obvious that the ‘person’ Nabi Isa as he is described in the Qur’an, and the ‘person’ Jesus in the Bible, do differ greatly. Yet it is the same person we are talking about!
I suggest we first of all look for evidence that can assure us of the divine origin of our ‘Holy Books’. Both of us will insist that our respective Scriptures are inspired by God and consequently revelation from Him. But since your Book and my Book differ on crucial matters, both cannot really come from the same source. You will agree with that. Take for example the crucifixion and death of Jesus. This event is explicitly and abundantly reported of in the Bible. However, this is contradicted by the Qur’an, and, consequently, by Islam. Logic tells us that one of the views cannot possibly be true. This is a touchy statement to make, and it can cause anger or hurt, which I by no means wish to cause. Therefore, I would like you to approach this topic with an open, ‘cool’, and yet a critical mind. It is likely that I will introduce to you something that you are not familiar with.
How on earth can anyone be sure whether a book was revealed by God? Perhaps it was written hundreds or even thousands of years ago by some well meaning and concerned man who wanted his book to better the thinking and actions of the people around him? Someone like Buddha, or Confucius.
You may well say, that religion is a matter of faith, and not or reason. What has logic to do with faith? What has the ‘heart’ to do with the mind?
We have to ask whether faith in God and His revelation is believed with the heart. Is faith activated by our emotions, or our mind? The Bible repeatedly challenges us not to follow God half-heartedly, and believe Him with our whole heart. But God has also given us a mind and our senses that are required to distinguish between true and false. Let is consider again the question that was raised: Was Jesus crucified as the sacrifice for our sins – or not? If your faith is placed in the wrong ‘object’, it does not make it true! We got to establish the truth before we put our trust in it. And that is hardly done. The overwhelming numbers of people believe without question what their parents, and the social context makes them believe. To sum it up: We use our mind to discover, and to make sure where or what the Truth (about God) is, and then follow this faith in God and His Word with all pour heart.
Let me illustrate: I found the truth about God and His Word in the Bible, because it carries an undeniable imprint of His authorship. I am speaking here of absolutely unpredictable events, which were foretold by the biblical prophets hundreds of years before they were eventually fulfilled. We are, in fact, instructed over and over again, and in no uncertain terms, that a prophet, whose prophecies do not come true, is not to be believed or trusted:
“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If, what the prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken, That prophet has spoken presumptuously” (Deuteronomy 18:21, 22).
“Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
And through Isaiah God said :
“I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My idols did them’” (Isaiah 48:5).
“I am the Lord, who has made all things, who carries out the words of His servants and fulfils the predictions of His messengers” (Isaiah 44:24, 26).
The attentive Bible reader can detect three main themes of prophecy. One foretells the very unique history of the Jews, right up to the present time. The second pictures in dramatic detail the Time of the End of this world, and the third predicts, again in much detail, the life of Jesus the Messiah. In graphic description the prophets also foretold His suffering and death on the cross, as well as His resurrection from the dead. Had these not been fulfilled, we might have a good reason to question the message and its divine source. Excepting, of course, the predictions that describe the end of the world, these prophecies were all fulfilled. This gives us the confidence to rely on the message of the Bible, for no man could have predicted these historic happenings. Only God could have known and revealed them.
Little wonder then that throughout the Gospel we read phrases like “as it was written”, or “as the prophet has said”. In the New Testament we read about Jesus:
“I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve [Apostles of Jesus]. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep [have died]” (1 Corinthians 15:3 – 7).
The words “according to the Scriptures” refer to what had been written by the prophets who had lived hundreds of years before the fulfilment of the announced events. My letter is rather long already, therefore I can only refer to the most noteworthy texts, hoping that you have the opportunity to look them up for yourself:
The following prophecies reported the time and place of Jesus’ coming (Micah 5:2, Daniel 9:24ff [this passage needs introductory information to be understood]); that He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), and what His name would be (Isaiah 63:8) [Saviour in Hebrew is Yeshua; this is the name Jesus actually had, while on earth]. Also His divinity was foretold (Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6 [Immanuel means‚God with us]). Now let us look at some prophecies that predict His crucifixion and death. David wrote about Jesus around 1000 BC, stating:
“Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:16 – 18).
Isaiah the prophet spoke in 700 BC, saying:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Surely, He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth. He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth . . . by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities . . . He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:3 – 12).
Can any honest person ignore, side-step, or ‘explain’ away such evidence for the truth of the crucifixion of Jesus??
To amplify this even further, the Bible contains a number of eyewitness reports, which would certainly have been rejected by the contemporaries, had they not been true:
“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him” (Acts 2:22-24).
What would the Jews have done, had Jesus not been crucified or killed? They would have strongly rejected this public address. But nobody ever queried this, because they all knew what had happened. While the Jews always objected that Jesus is the Messiah, they never denied His death on the cross. They knew that it had happened, for they were present at the scene.
May just one more noteworthy piece of evidence be added in support of the trustworthiness of the crucifixion report in the Gospel? We are aware that the life of Jesus in a remote place like Judea was of no significance to the Roman historians of His time, who wrote the annals of wars and mighty conquerors. Yet Rome’s most prominent historian, Cornelius Tacitus, being an aggressive opponent of early Christianity, wrote inter alia:
“The name ‘Christian’ is derived from Christ, who was executed under the government of the procurator Pilate” (Annals 15.44).
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish general, fighting the last battle for Jerusalem against the Romans (AD 70). Having been taken prisoner, he became the Roman historian for Israel. He lived shortly after the time of Jesus, and wrote:
“Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again on the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him” (Antiquitates Judearum)
Evidence of such importance must have been given for a reason. And that is, no doubt, God’s way to verify the truth of His message for generations to come, for they as we depend on some kind of tangible proof or evidence to believe what He has revealed.
Why do I write all this? Why do I risk disturbing peace and harmony between us? I hope you have detected by that I care for you! Up to now you have probably not been aware of the need to verify the truth and trustworthiness of our faith. As said before, most of the world’s people practise their respective religions in the sincere belief that all is well and that they are following the right path. There were many people who sincerely believed that Hitler and Stalin were good people in their effort to change the world for the better. But they were sincerely wrong. The two dictators were responsible for the tragic and violent deaths of more than 150 Million people who just wanted to live in peace.
You raised certain objections to the trustworthiness of the Bible. You would not have done it, had you not been influenced by other people with the same conviction. And now I have to challenge you to test the foundations on which your eternal future rests.
You must understand that I do not write this letter to destroy your faith in God, but rather to amend and enhance it. That demands scrutiny.
The other day my wife and I wanted to visit someone in hospital. A relative explained the way to get there. It was done very accurately – except for one little slip. At one turn we were told to turn left, where we should have turned right. When I checked out the route on the map, I discovered the mistake. Had I not checked, we would not have reached our destination. Sometimes this does not matter all that much, but when it concerns your and my eternity, it does!