Paul Derengowski, ThM
Muslims love their prophet. They love him so much that they believe he is aligned with previous prophets found in the Bible, including both Moses and Jesus. They go so far as to argue that his identity is not only found in the Bible, but that there are specific biblical references which actually predict his coming. In fact, both Moses and Jesus are two significant individuals found in both the Old and New Testaments which make statements which the Muslim claims can be interpreted to mean that the Bible predicted Muhammad’s revelation as a prophet. Where in the Bible is such commentary found? According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who is the author of the popular English translation of the Qur’an, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an,
In the Old Testament as it now exists, Muhammad is foretold in Deut. xviii; and the rise of the Arab nation in Isiah. 42:11, for Kedar was a son of Ismail and the name is used for the Arab nation. Also, in the New Testament as it now exists, Muhammad is foretold in the Gospel of St. John, 14:16, 15:26, and 16:7; the future Comforter cannot be the “Holy Spirit,” as understood by Christians, because the Holy Spirit already was present, helping and guiding Jesus. The Greek word translated “Comforter” is “Paracletos which is an easy corruption from “Periclytos”, which is almost a literal translation of “Muhammad” or “Ahmad; see 7:157 and 61:6 [of the Qur’an]. Further, there were other Gospels that have perished, but of which traces still remain, which were even more specific in the reference to Muhammad; e.g., the Gospel of St. Barnabas, of which an Italian translation is extant in the State Library of Vienna. It was edited in 1907 with an English translation by Mr. Lonsdale and Laura Ragg.
But are the Muslim conclusions based on sound exegesis, or are the Muslims like Ali playing fast and loose with their proof texts and doing what all cults and cultists do, and that is to abuse the Bible to suit their purposes? In other words, are the biblical references cited by Islamic sources necessarily pointing toward Muhammad, or do the contexts associated with those references point to other persons altogether? Upon further review of just what Deuteronomy and John have to say, it should be evident that the latter is the case.
Deuteronomy 18 is broken up into three discussions, the first of which has to deal with the Levitical priesthood and the duties they were to perform as a part of their calling. The discussion itself begins in verse 1 and extends all the way through verse 8. Nowhere is Muhammad mentioned, nor would he have been, given that Muhammad was not Jewish, much less did he serve in the capacity of a Levitical priest. Therefore, at least from the standpoint of the opening of Deuteronomy 18, Ali and others would be mistaken to conclude that the chapter could be used to support the idea that it predicts the coming of Muhammad.
The second subject of discussion starts in verse 9 and extends through verse 13, and deals with the Jews behavior in the Promised Land upon entering it, particularly as they relate to occult practices. No one was to involve himself in the practices of divination, witchcraft, the interpretation of omens, sorcery, the casting of spells, mediumship, spiritism, or necromancy. Those practices were characteristic of the pagan people already in the land, and the Lord found them “detestable.” The Jews were to shun occultism, for they “shall be blameless before the Lord [their] God.” While Muhammad admonished those at Mecca to also refrain from idolatry and the occult, clearly these set of verses cannot apply to him, since Muhammad did not lead, or even prepare to lead, anyone anywhere, much less to a “Promised Land.” Moreover, once again, the admonition in the current passage is applicable only to those who belonged to the Jewish tribes. Since Muhammad was not Jewish, then Deuteronomy 18:9-13 cannot be interpreted, much less applied, to include him and the Arab Muslims he would later lead.
The final discussion in Deuteronomy 18 continues the previous topic, yet adds the concept of the prophet who will lead the nation, which is most likely what most Muslims are referring to when citing Deuteronomy as a proof text to support their position that Muhammad was predicted to come in the Bible. In the passage, which extends from verse 14 to the end of the chapter in verse 22, there is not only the repeated admonition that the Jews were to steer clear of those who would engage in the occult, but that God would raise up a prophet like Moses to help lead the way. Verse 15 reads, “The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” Verse 18 repeats the same prediction by stating, “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” Several observations are worth noting in these two verses, along with a qualification at the end of the chapter to help identify a prophet of God’s when he came forth making certain claims.
The first observation worth noting is that Moses is talking to the Jews and no one else. It is a further extension of the context ranging not only back to the start of the chapter, but the start of Deuteronomy itself. The Jewish law, including the prophecy found in Deuteronomy 18, was a prescription for only the Jews as they were about to enter the Promised Land. Since Muhammad was not Jewish, then once again, these verses do not apply to him.
Second, the prophet that God would raise was to be like Moses. He would not only be a great leader, but someone who received and then revealed God’s law to God’s people. God’s law is only found in the Torah, and God’s people were the Jews. Therefore, only a person who had a precise knowledge of what God’s law entailed, as well as belonged familiarly to the Jewish tribes, could fulfill the role of the predicted prophet to come. Muhammad knew very little, if anything about the former, and only distantly had anything to do with Judaism as a relative.
Third, the prophet himself was to be Jewish himself. Proof of this is found in the phrase “from your countrymen.” Countrymen is the plural form of the Hebrew word ach (pronounced awk), meaning “brothers,” “kinsmen,” or “relatives.” While the Muslim might contend that they, as the Arab people, could be the “brothers” of the Jews through the person of Ishmael, again, the context does not warrant such a conclusion, since Ishmael did not accompany the Jews as they embarked on their journey in the Promised Land, nor did his progeny. Clearly what Moses is conveying to the Jews is that the prophet would be of Jewish lineage, relative to the tribes he was leading. Since Muhammad was not Jewish at all, then the prophet label would not be applicable to him.
Finally, Moses gives two qualifications of the prophet who would claim to be sent by God. First, he would have an ear for God and His Words. In other words, there would be an internal consistency with what the prophet had to say in conjunction with those God had already spoken. He would not go off on his own and contradict previous statements, but would stay in tune with God, especially as it had already been revealed through Moses and found in the Torah.
Second, when a prophet spoke in God’s name, predicting a future event, that event would come to pass exactly as spoken. Why? Because the ultimate source of the prophecy itself was none other than God himself, who not only knows the future, perfectly, but is able to convey to His spokesmen with such precision that it cannot do anything other than come to pass. Should the prophet fail in his pronouncement, then one would know that that prophet had spoken “presumptuously,” and hence should face capital punishment.
A further note regarding what prophecy means in this context is that it specifically had to do with Israel itself. Many times even Christians use this verse to rebut notions that a person in contemporary society is not the prophet he claims to be, yet forgets the Jewish perspective involved. A Jewish prophet, in other words, predicted events that were relative to the Jewish nation. Even when speaking of foreign nations and their impending judgment, the prediction itself had something to do with Israel was well. Failure to recognize this characteristic often times leads to a mishandling of the text and opens up the door to the false prophet to argue his case to the contrary.
Therefore, reflecting back on the full context of Deuteronomy 18 there is no reason to believe that it would apply to the future revelation of Muhammad. The first 13 verses obviously do not apply to him, given that they have nothing to do with predicting the future. The last nine verses do predict the coming of a prophet, as well as his qualifications, but since Muhammad was not Jewish, nor did he actually predict anything of a Jewish nature coming to pass, then those verses which do speak of the prophet’s coming, after the order of Moses, cannot apply to him.
Some may argue that Muhammad did make predictions, as in the coming forth of the Qur’an or even a judgment upon Israel for her rebellion. The problem with such retorts are that self-fulfilling prophecies are not really prophetic in nature, and breathing threatenings toward a people that one personally despises, simply because those persons will not bow to the claims of the self-professed prophet, is not a prophecy either. Predicting that the Qur’an would be written is hardly a prophecy, in other words, when the person doing the predicting is also the one doing the dictating of it. It would be no more a prophecy that to say that I will finish writing this article shortly, and because it happened, then I’m a prophet. Also, to commit acts of plunder and murder against a people, as what happened when Muhammad finally got the upper hand against those he sought vengeance, is no more the fulfillment of godly judgment than it was when Adolf Hitler persecuted the Jews. So, as much as the Muslim may point to Deuteronomy 18 as biblical evidence to support the idea that Moses predicted Muhammad’s coming, a closer look at just what the context states leaves the Muslim apologist wanting.
From the preceding commentary by Ali, he offers three reasons why John 14:16, 15:26, and 16:7 all point to the person of Muhammad as fulfilling the predictions given by Jesus as a replacement for him when he departs the earth. The first one is based on a theological assumption, that the Holy Spirit cannot be the one spoken of, since he’s already present. The second reason is a textual critical argument; someone corrupted the text. The third is a canonical issue; although the present gospels do not support the Muslim contention that they speak of Muhammad, alternatives gospels do (i.e. the Gospel of Barnabas). However, are any of these reasons any more valid than the ones already presented above to support the idea that Muhammad can be found in the Bible, or is this simply more specious reasoning based on unwarranted presuppositions? Let’s take a look and see.
In John 14:16 we read, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;” Jesus goes on to explain just who this Helper is by stating, “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.” From just these two verses Jesus not only tells of a person who will be after the order of Jesus, He is identified as the Spirit of truth, and He will reside within the person of the believer. For the objective reader of Scripture what Jesus is saying is quite clear. So, how does one address Ali’s claims to the contrary?
Ali’s first notion that the Holy Spirit is already present fails to take into account that what Jesus is talking about is a time when the Holy Spirit will set up residence in the believer permanently upon regeneration. Up to the point in history in which Jesus is speaking the Holy Spirit had not come, as a Helper, to reside permanently. Instead, He came and went at intervals. It would not be until Pentecost that that would change. So, to use the rationale that the Spirit was already present, therefore Jesus had to be speaking of someone else, simply ignores the overall context of the Bible which sees the progressive nature of three persons in the Trinity as they gradually fulfill their roles in the redemption of mankind. Besides, what Jesus is saying about the Holy Spirit residing in the believer cannot apply to Muhammad, given Muhammad’s human constitution being unable to reside inside the person of another human being, much less to be able to reside in all humans simultaneously throughout eternity, which the Holy Spirit does and will do.
Ali’s second bit of reasoning equally falls short, which is based on the notion that the text itself is somehow corrupted. Instead of providing manuscript evidence and/or pointing to the relevant Greek apparatus to show where alleged corruptions occurred in the text leading to his conclusion, he merely imposes a presupposition upon the reader and props up a lexical straw man to prove his point. Unfortunately for him, and others who do similar things, when making the textual critical argument, he is doing nothing more than misleading the reader, given that in our day there is a plethora of manuscript evidence and textual variants to test textual critical claims. And in this case, there is nothing in the Greek text to show that either a corruption took place, much less is there even a variant, aside from possibly the insertion or exclusion of the personal pronoun humin (ὑμι̑ν), meaning “to you,” after the phrase “whom the Father will send (ὑμι̑ν) in my name.” 1 Therefore, the Muslim argument from the textual critical viewpoint is vacuous. The Holy Spirit is positively identified and that designation excludes the person of Muhammad.
The third argument deals with alternative gospels. Questioning the biblical canon, when all else fails, often becomes the weapon of choice to the biblical critic. It should be mentioned here that whenever these kinds of arguments are raised against the biblical canon, that it is nothing new. In fact, critics of the Bible have dated all the way back to Marcion, who was the first to level criticism against certain books and letters he felt were unworthy of mention, and so he set forth to establish his own canon which would give impetus to the Church to discern which books were inspired and which were not. The same attitude and approach can be witnessed today among the Jesus Seminar people.
The Gospel of Barnabas is one of many pseudepigraphical writings that the early church dealt with and found wanting. The book itself is a “false writing” for a variety of reasons. It was either written by someone other than Barnabas, it was written too late to be included in the biblical canon, the churches of the times did not actively promote its contents, or the doctrines it taught were inconsistent with previous revelations, to name just a few reasons for the rejection. So, it is really irrelevant whether Muhammad is mentioned in the Gospel of Barnabas (which he is some 15 times), given the dubious nature of the book.
A second New Testament reference that Muslims assume demonstrates that the Bible predicts Muhammad’s revelation is John 15:26. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me.” The Helper is assumed to represent Muhammad in the Muslim eye, not the Spirit of truth as Jesus explicitly points out. Since Ali, et al, uses the same rationale as he did in John 14:16, is he correct this time to assume that it refers to Muhammad? Let us revisit all of his reasons, except the last one, since to do so would add nothing to his argument, and see if Jesus was predicting the coming of Muhammad or if indeed he was speaking of the Holy Spirit again.
This is the third discourse out of four that Jesus uses to explain not only his mission, but his eventual departure, and how the disciples were to conduct themselves in his absence. In the second discourse, which is found at the beginning of Chapter 15, Jesus stresses the disciple’s total inability of carrying out their responsibilities as followers of his without abiding in him: “for apart from Me you can do nothing” (v. 5). The third discourse actually begins in verse 18 where Jesus points out the utter contempt by the world toward him, and that if the world hated the disciples of Jesus, it was because it hated him first. It was because of the world’s hatred of Jesus, coupled with the blindness of the Jews, who were looking for someone other than Jesus as their Messiah, that he would be cruelly and unjustly put to death. This is when Jesus predicts the coming of the Helper in verse 26, which is another allusion to the coming of the Holy Spirit found in John 14:16-17. From a theological vantage point, Jesus is stressing not only the Spirit’s role in the continued ministry of Jesus after he departs, but given the surrounding context where the Father, Son, and Spirit are addressed, Jesus is giving the disciples a classic view of the Trinity at work. Jesus is hated and departs, the Holy Spirit comes and bears witness of Jesus, while the Father is hated by the world, yet sends the Spirit. Clearly no mere human could fulfill what Jesus is speaking about in this verse, much less could someone like Muhammad, who by his own testimony was just an ordinary man, be who Jesus is talking about.
Textually there is no precedent for the claim that a corruption or mistake in transmission was made which would allow for an alternate translation other than the Spirit. Aside from the possible variants “and” or “but” (δὲ) being excluded at the start of the verse—“And when the Helper…” or “But when the Helper…” as opposed to the regular reading, “When the Helper…”—as well as the variant “I am sending” (πέμπω) versus “I will send” (πέμψω), the text itself is straightforward and clean. There is no linguistic confusion between paracletos and periclytos, as Ali falsely imagines. Jesus is simply reiterating what he explained before, and that is when he departs this world, another one, just like him, would come and assist the believer, taking up residence inside them, in order that they would be able to carry out their missions of bearing witness of Jesus. Since that is the case, and given Muhammad’s rejection of Jesus as the Son of God who came to redeem man via his sacrifice on the cross, then the textual argument fails to vindicate any claims that Muhammad is being spoken about in this verse.
A final biblical reference that Ali and the Muslim community wishfully point to the person of Muhammad is John 16:7. It states, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” Jesus’ statement is a mere extension of his previous prediction concerning the Helper which was the Spirit of truth. It is only if one completely ignores the surrounding context of Jesus’ four discourses that one could possibly arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is not talking about the Holy Spirit. For not only did Jesus explicitly tell the disciples that the Helper was the Spirit of truth in John 15:26, with no possible textual variant to argue otherwise, Jesus reiterates the Helper’s identity in John 16:13 by stating, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes…” Theologically, once again, we see the Father, Son, and Spirit all mentioned, working in tandem as they prepare for Jesus’ final days on earth. Jesus goes, the Spirit comes, and the Father discloses, none of which could possibly apply to Muhammad.
Textually speaking, there are two insignificant variants that do nothing to favor the Muslim argument that Muhammad is being spoken of in the verse rather than the Holy Spirit. When Jesus states, “…for if I do not go away,” a variant reading includes the first person personal pronoun ego (ἐγὼ), which is typically used for emphasis when coupled with an active verb like the one found in this phrase: apeltho (ἀπέλθω). The second variant again deals with emphasis. When Jesus continues by stating, “The Helper shall not come to you,” a variant reading has Jesus saying, “The Helper will never come to you,” (οὐ μὴ ελθη). As far as paracletos versus paricletos, it is a non-issue; there is no textual or linguistic reason to assume that Jesus meant someone other than the “Helper” or “Comforter,” which has been clearly identified as the Spirit of truth or the Holy Spirit.
Muslim scholars and adherents of Islam, like all others who attempt to align themselves with Christianity and Judaism, frequently resort to biblical claims to try and bolster their image that they and their religion is in tune with the God of the Bible. In the case presented above, Muslim scholar Abdullah Yusuf Ali argued that based on theological, textual, and canonical reasons the “prophet” of Islam, Muhammad, was predicted to come according to the Bible. Upon further review, though, none of his references stood up to theological, textual, or canonical scrutiny. In each of his references significant ignorance of the details was needed in order to stretch the texts to fit his presupposition. Such neglect of the text, however, is not a proper way to handle the text, if one is to be intellectually honest in his attempt to discern the meaning of the text. Hence, Ali’s claims are found to be without basis. Muhammad’s predicted coming cannot be found in the Bible, mainly because Muhammad is a nobody in the grand scheme of biblical thought. He meant nothing to the nation of Israel when Moses wrote Deuteronomy, and he meant nothing to the church when Jesus walked the earth.
To the Muslim who might read this article you are implored to try and understand that from sound biblical interpretation, one cannot pick up any book (including the Bible), magazine, or any other kind of literature, pick out a few lines and make them say whatever one feels like making them say. Sound interpretation requires astute observation and respect for context in order to arrive at an understanding of what the author was attempting to convey. Failure to do so will not only show contempt for the author, but will ultimately lead the one doing the misinterpreting far astray. Mr. Ali and others do manage to misinterpret the Bible by ignoring its context in order to satisfy their presupposed idea that Muhammad can somehow be found in, as well as predicted by, Scripture. Therefore, it is my plea that you not fall into the same faulty line of thinking as Mr. Ali. Observe what the author has said. Observe the background and grammar of the text you are considering. Leave you presuppositions on the shelf and let the author of the particular text you are reading speak his mind first. By doing so you will not only allow yourself to come to a closer understanding of what the author intends to say, you will avoid imposing your views upon the text and what you think he ought or should have said.
- See the Nestle-Aland apparatus in the 27th edition of Novum Testamentum Graece. ↩