Muslims think that the following Lukan text is in error and even proves that Jesus wasn’t killed:
“Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.” Luke 13:33
These polemicists assume that the foregoing text clearly contradicts the fact that Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem. As we shall see, the problem doesn’t lie with Luke but with this gross misreading of Luke by these Muhammadans.
In the first place, Jesus clearly says that he will be killed outside of Jerusalem:
“And he began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant; him also they beat and treated shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.” And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.’ When they heard this, they said, ‘God forbid!’” Luke 20:9-16
The tenants refer to the Jewish leaders and the vineyard refers to Jerusalem. In this parable, Jesus says that he, as the beloved Son, will be thrown out of the vineyard and then be killed. To put it another way, Jesus was saying that the Jewish leaders would have him killed outside of Jerusalem.
Now we anticipate that the Muslims will say that this doesn’t resolve the problem and will wish to say that this only contradicts what Jesus said in Luke 13:33. Does it? Let us read the immediate context and see:
“Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.’ And He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.” Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!”’” Luke 13:31-35
We can glean from the immediate context that Jesus was addressing the Jews who warned him about Herod’s threat. Jesus responds by basically saying that Herod can’t do anything against him since he has a goal to reach Jerusalem, and once there he will die.
Now from this context we can see that Jerusalem stands for the Jewish leaders, in contrast to Herod, who will kill Jesus just as they killed the other prophets. Obviously, Jerusalem didn’t literally kill the prophets but its leaders and people did. This serves to affirm that Jesus’ point was that Herod wouldn’t be the one to condemn him to death, but the members of the Sanhedrin who were in Jerusalem. This is reiterated in the Matthaean parallel:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom YOU will kill and crucify, and some YOU will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that ON YOU may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom YOU murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:29-39
What Jesus was basically saying is that he could not be condemned to death by anyone other than the Jewish leaders. Jesus was obviously using Jerusalem as a metaphor for its leaders, personifying the city and blaming it for the bloodshed caused by its people, since the city is being identified with its people, specifically the Sanhedrin. As noted Bible expositor John Gill stated:
for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem;
because the great sanhedrim only sat at Jerusalem, to whom it belonged to try and judge a prophet; and if found false, to condemn him, and put him to death; the rule is this;
“they do not judge, neither a tribe, nor a false prophet, nor an high priest, but by the sanhedrim of seventy and one.”
Not but that prophets sometimes perished elsewhere, as John the Baptist in Galilee; but not according to a judicial process, in which way Christ the prophet was to be cut off, nor was it common; instances of this kind were rare, and always in a violent way; and even such as were sentenced to death by the lesser sanhedrim, were brought to Jerusalem, and publicly executed there, whose crimes were of another sort; for so runs the canon;
“they do not put any one to death by the sanhedrim, which is in his city, nor by the sanhedrim in Jabneh; but they bring him to the great, sanhedrim in Jerusalem, and keep him till the feast, and put him to death on a feast day, as it is said (Deuteronomy 17:13) “and all the people shall hear and fear.””
And since Jerusalem was the place where the prophets were usually put to death, …
F5 Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 1. sect. 5. & T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 18. 2.
F6 Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 10. sect. 4. (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/luke-13/)
Jesus’ comments regarding a prophet not perishing outside of Jerusalem refers to the judiciary process which was necessary for an execution to be carried out lawfully. Christ was simply reiterating a known fact that those invested with authority are to make decisions regarding the death penalty, that there must be a judicial decision on the part of Jerusalem’s leaders before one can be rightly condemned. The reference to Herod proves this point. Since Jesus was in Herod’s district the latter had the judicial authority to kill Jesus. Now obviously, the Jerusalem council wrongly condemned Jesus to death, even though they thought that they were correct to kill him on the basis that they viewed him as a blasphemer. Jesus’ resurrection vindicated him of these charges and supernaturally confirmed that he was no blasphemer, but actually was who he claimed to be – the divine, unique Son of God.
Jesus essentially affirmed this very fact, namely, that the Sanhedrin would condemn him to death, elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel:
“But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.’” Luke 9:21-22
“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be HANDED OVER TO the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.’” Luke 18:31-33
The Sanhedrin handed Jesus over to the Gentile rulers who then mocked, mistreated, spat, scourged and killed him by crucifixion. Note the process that takes place. The Sanhedrin condemned Jesus as worthy of death, but since they couldn’t kill him themselves they proceeded to hand him over to those who had the authority to do so.
It is therefore obvious from the preceding that there is no contradiction in the words of Jesus, but only the Muslim gross misunderstanding of what Jesus meant when he referred to not perishing outside of Jerusalem. Jesus wasn’t using Jerusalem to refer to the city, but to its people, specifically to its leaders who condemned him to die.
But even if we were to assume that Jesus was referring to the city, and not to its leadership, these Muhammadans would still have no case. As we noted, Jesus’ statements are made in a particular context, standing in Galilee, being informed by others about Herod’s intention of killing him, and says he must first go to Jerusalem. That is his purpose, and not even Herod will keep him from getting to Jerusalem and being put on trial there. Jesus isn’t talking about his exact execution place. From the perspective of standing in Galilee, in a different province, several days journey away from Jerusalem, just outside the city wall was still Jerusalem. Moreover, every city always has some land around it that belongs to the city. The walls are for protection of the people and their houses, but they still would have land for agriculture that belonged to the city, but which would be outside the walls themselves.
Finally, that a text such as Luke 13:33 remains intact within the Holy Bible is an argument for the Scriptures’ veracity. It shows that Christian scribes, for the most part, tried to preserve the Scriptures as best as they could, no matter what difficulties a text may have posed to their theology and understanding.