And there is none among the People of the Book but will believe in it before his death; and on the Day of Ressurection, he (Jesus) shall be a witness against them (4:160)
This verse contains three implied references, two of which are hanging and depending on where they are turned give it a different meaning. The discussion which follows examines implications of turning these references one way or another.
And there is none among the People of the Book but will believe in him (Jesus) before his (Jesus) death; …
Many scholars who believe in Jesus to be still alive base their claim on this understanding. By pointing both references bihi and mauti-him to Jesus, they contend that each and every one of the People of the Book will believe in Jesus at some indeterminate time in future, and this will happen before Jesus’ own death. The logic goes that since not all Jews have yet believed in Jesus therefore this verse mandates Jesus to be still alive. They say this event (all Jews believing in Jesus) will occur after he descends from the heavens.
As to how will this come about? It is said that upon his return Jesus will wage a war of extermination against the Jews. But before going on this all-out offensive, he will issue an ultimatum: they can accept him and live or they can reject him and die. And forthwith he will begin the killing process that will spare not a single rejecting Jew. This is a key point. This understanding does not allow even a single rejecting Jew to survive. The usage of the all inclusive in-min-ahlil-kitabi at the beginning of the verse requires that 100% of the Jews must participate in of what follows—here, ‘belief in Jesus’. What better way to ensure 100% participation than to kill 100% of those who do not! When Jesus is done with the holy massacre the only type of Jew left alive will be one who believes in him. And having accomplished this, Jesus will have successfully removed the primary obstacle to his own death and in due course will also die. But until then, he remains very much alive, they say.
Of course the first (and glaring) problem here is the genocide of the Jews, but that apparently is a non-issue with the proponents of this translation. They are resigned, if not quite comfortable, to the complete extermination of the Jews as a race. Trying to shame them into changing their minds is probably not going to work, so let us focus on dialectical analysis and see if that leads somewhere. The expression in-min when applied to a group of people or things means each and everyone of them with no exclusions permitted. In this verse it is applied to the People of the Book, i.e. the Jews. While it simply means all Jews, past and present, the proponents of #1, have placed a number of exclusions on it. All Jews who have existed and died before Jesus’ reappearance are excluded. All those who reject him after his reappearance are also excluded (they will be killed by him, of course). It is also said that after the extermination of the world Jewry and subsequent death of Jesus, qiyamah, the calamity that will bring the world to an end would soon follow; yet at other places it is also said that the world will be choke-full of disbelievers when it happens. The question is, if everyone ends up believing in Jesus and by extension in God and Muhammad, who, on earth, would be these non-believers? It turns out these wretched people will be those Jews and others who will go “astray” after Jesus’ death. One would imagine that the Jews converted under duress would be particularly eager to revert the moment Jesus dies and the threat to their lives is lifted. Who could blame them for that! Anyways, that is the third exclusion. So the term which connotes universal inclusion, gets progressively sliced such that only a very thin sliver of its intended targets remain its purview. This, in my opinion, is mutilating a uniquely all-inclusive clause. Let the reader be the judge.
And there is none among the People of the Book but will believe in him (Jesus) before his (person of the Book) death; …
Proponents of this translation say that in their death-throes Jews are forced by angles to believe in Jesus. This, obviously, is impossible to verify. However, it does not help the argument of Jesus' life or death either way.
What it “really” means:
Clearly, the first translation is logically absurd and also in violation of Arabic usage, notwithstanding it requires extreme cruelty on the Jews; a type of cruelty that would make Nazi era atrocities look quite tame by comparison. The second translation is acceptable only in that it is neither provable nor disprovable.
Here is an alternate reading of the verse which clarifies its meaning.
And there is none among the People of the Book but will believe in it (conjecture expressed in 4:158) before his (own) death; …
The previous verses (4:158-159) state that though they claim to have killed Jesus, yet it is merely a conjecture about which certainty eludes them and they are in a state of doubt about it. They neither managed to kill him nor did they successfully crucify him; they tried to humiliate him, whereas Allah exalted him. It is this conjecture to which the implied reference bihi turns in 4:160. It means the state of doubt of Jews/Christians on this matter will remain as long as they live, only in the afterlife will this matter be resolved for them, and not in the way they expect.