For 1,400 years, Christians have wrestled with how to defend their faith to Muslims. While Islam accepts Jesus as a prophet, it denies his divinity. And as for his sacrifice for sin on the cross, the Quran denies the crucifixion and by extension the resurrection, claiming instead that God took him directly to heaven.

Christian responses have often been polemical, seeking to invalidate the message and morality of Muhammad. They have also been apologetic, sometimes employing legal arguments that Muslims view as manmade and changeable—thus lacking authority to adjudicate matters of eternal significance.

Baptist pastor Suheil Madanat seeks instead to ground the authenticity of the gospel account within Islam itself. In Evidence for the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ Examined through Islamic Law, the former president of the Jordan Baptist Convention (2016–2022) consults expert sharia compendiums and relevant scholarly works to learn sharia’s criteria for validating relevant evidence—including eyewitness testimony, confession, expert opinion, and circumstantial evidence—and examines the New Testament accounts against it.

Endorsed by scholars at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman, the book is a new resource for Muslim apologetics and comparative religion. CT interviewed Madanat about liberal source criticism, the divergence in resurrection accounts, and his ultimate hope for Muslims who read his book.

How does traditional Islam look at the Bible?

In principle, they accept both the Old and New Testaments as the word of God, but they believe that they have been largely corrupted. Though they accept that some accounts read today still have some truth, they do not accept the Bible as authentic. This is especially the case for the parts that contradict Islam—mainly the divinity, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.

How do Arab Christians tend to address these objections?

Most of what I read in Arabic is a polemical approach rather than apologetic. They are more concerned about attacking the ethics of Muhammad and the teaching of the Quran rather than defending the Scripture. I have not seen much done to vindicate the authenticity of the Bible, though some is done in academic circles.

But I must add that Muslim scholars do not provide solid testable evidence that can be argued against. They say the Bible is corrupt, but what is the alternative? The Quran speaks about preserving the divine text, but where then is the authentic text? How did God allow this? When did the corruption happen exactly? To be sure, they do tell a story of the alleged corruption, but it contradicts plain historical facts.

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They do not give objective answers to these questions, inviting the polemical reply.

Is this why you wanted to defend the Bible through an Islamic framework?

My task here is not to defend the whole Bible but the reliability of the accounts of crucifixion and resurrection, the backbone of our Christian faith. The libraries of the West are full of conservative responses to liberal source criticism and other critiques, but they do not mean much to most Muslims. Since the Quran says that the Bible is corrupt, they ask: Why should we care about an intra-Christian dispute?

But when I say I want to examine evidence for Chistian claims through the filters of divine Islamic law—it immediately catches their attention.

What is your method?

Islamic law has established strict criteria to examine eyewitness testimonies, but those who experienced the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are long deceased. Their evidence exists only in documentary form—the Gospels. These must be first authenticated, so they can be equivalent to live eyewitness accounts, and then examined.

The problem is that Islamic law, unlike the Anglo-American common law, has no criteria for authenticating ancient documents. Nonetheless, the primary divine sources of Islamic law, the Quran and Sunna [recorded traditions about Muhammad’s words and deeds], are themselves ancient documents. What standards do Islamic scholars use in their literature to defend their authenticity?

I reviewed this literature, and it makes a convincing case in the face of Western liberal criticism. I am convinced the Quran is largely authentic, written by Muhammad, with only minor variants. This critique, however, is similar to that levelled against the Bible and often quoted by Muslim scholars in their anti-Christian claims. I then simply ask Muslims to be consistent—and fair.

How do you proceed?

Step one uses the existing apologetic material to establish that the New Testament accounts were written by eyewitnesses. I examine the ancient manuscripts’ textual purity, as well as the dating of the gospel records and their internal evidence that includes the incidental details of personal names, dates, and geographical places.

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When Jesus fed the multitude, for example, it says they sat on lush grass. But paying attention to the chronology of Jewish feasts, it lines up beautifully with the only season in which the fields are green even today, both in Palestine and Jordan.

Once the gospels are proven to be authentic records, the next step is to pass the Christian evidence through the filters of the Islamic law and see how it responds. Here I remind Muslims that since they believe that sharia is immutable, sent by God, they must trust it.

This is how I started my research in the first place, and, amazingly, Christian evidence passed the test of Islamic law par excellence.

What are these filters?

One is the required number and gender of eyewitnesses. Credibility usually depends on two males, with female testimony worth half of that as a man, as a well-known tradition in Islam says that women are deficient.

The biblical testimonies were written by eyewitness men: Matthew, John, and Peter as direct eyewitnesses of the crucifixion and resurrection. Paul also saw the risen Christ, and his confession—along with that of James—satisfies the criteria of Islamic law. But we also have indirect witnesses, which Islam accepts in the case of a death that has been established within the community. Mark, Luke, and several non-Christian ancient writers fit this category, with Luke further established as an expert witness.

Each witness must also satisfy several strict criteria, both at the time of witnessing the event and at the time of giving the testimony. All these have been applied to each biblical witness, and they all passed. Among these, for example, is the criterion that there should be no hint of personal benefit. And we know that the disciples died as martyrs for their faith; they had nothing to gain through deception.

Another criterion is that a non-Muslim cannot give witness against a Muslim. But the Quran calls Jesus’ disciples—Hawariyyun in Arabic—righteous men who therefore count as Muslims. Eyewitnesses furthermore must be able to reason clearly—which the written accounts establish—and cannot be blind, deaf, or dumb. They must also be free men, not slaves, and have reliable memory.

Are there objections about the divergent details in the gospel accounts?

That is another criterion, that witness accounts be consistent. But Islamic law presents many cases demonstrating that if there is a possible scenario to account for apparent differences, it must be accepted. Christians have long created harmonies of the gospel and, except for minor details, the main events of crucifixion, burial, and resurrection pass the test.

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Yet the Quran says Jesus was not crucified, only that it appeared to them as such.

This claim does not make sense. This is the prevailing viewpoint in 99 percent of the Muslim world. But we must remember that Muhammad never saw the New Testament to examine the account himself; it was not translated into Arabic until the second Islamic century.

The principle they draw upon is that God would not allow his distinguished prophet to suffer such humiliation, and so God substituted Jesus with someone else. But when? If directly before the crucifixion, then it was Jesus who still underwent the humiliation of his unfair trial and public scourging. If it was before or during the trial, then certainly the unfortunate person in Jesus’ place would have cried out and given evidence during the trial that he was not Jesus.

What do you expect will happen if open-minded Muslims read your book?

If it simply raises doubts about the allegation that Jesus was not crucified, this would be enough. But once a person starts thinking about questions to their received faith, they may begin to doubt the whole story. Why does the Quran deny an account, they might wonder, that the divine Islamic law establishes through credible testimony?

This might prompt readers seeking the truth to search for additional evidence. My ultimate hope is that they come to believe.