Thursday, 16 April 2009

Muhammad in the Bible? Part I

Part One: The Major Prophecies:

According to many Muslims, the Bible is full of prophecies about Muhammad.
[1] Christian apologists have spent a great deal of time refuting this claim, but, as the following account will demonstrate, the Bible DOES contain clear prophecies about Muhammad. Nevertheless, the Muslim search for prophecies supporting Islam has been sloppy; as a result, defenders of Islam have failed to provide a single well-evidenced example of a Biblical prediction about their prophet. Thus, after briefly examining the Qur’anic claim to Biblical support, we will show (1) that the standard Biblical verses used by Muslims to support this claim are extremely problematic for Islam, and (2) that Christian apologists are wrong when they claim that the Bible is silent when it comes to Islam.

Qur’an expressly states that both the Old and New Testaments contain references to Muhammad:

Those who follow the Messenger, The unlettered Prophet, Whom they find mentioned In their own (Scriptures)—In the Law and the Gospel— ... It is they who will prosper”. (Qur’an 7:157) [2]
“And remember, Jesus, The son of Mary, said: "O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of Allah (Sent) to you, confirming The Law (which came) Before me, and giving Glad Tidings of a Messenger To come after me, Whose name shall be Ahmad [i.e. Muhammad]." (Qur’an 61:6)

early Muslim writings suggest that the Bible contains numerous prophecies about Muhammad:

Ata Ibn Yasar narrated: "I met Abdullah bin Umar bin Amr bin Al-As and asked him: ‘Tell me about the description of Allah’s Apostle (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) which is mentioned in the Torah (i.e. Old Testament).’ He replied: ‘Yes, By Allah, he is described in the Torah with some of the qualities attributed to him in the Qur’an.’" [3]

I was told the story of Abdullah bin Salam, a learned rabbi, by one of his family. He said: "When I heard about the apostle I knew by his description, name, and the time at which he appeared that he was the one we were waiting for, and I rejoiced greatly thereat. . . . I emerged and said: ‘O Jews, fear God and accept what He has sent you. For by God you know that he is the apostle of God. You will find him described in your Torah and even named.’" [4]

Among the things which have reached me about what Jesus the Son of Mary stated in the Gospel which he received from God for the followers of the Gospel, in applying a term to describe the apostle of God, is the following. It is extracted from what John the Apostle set down for them when he wrote the Gospel for them from the Testament of Jesus Son of Mary: "He that hateth me hath hated the Lord. And if I had not done in their presence works which none other before me did, they had not had sin: but from now they are puffed up with pride and think that they will overcome me and also the Lord. But the word that is in the law must be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without a cause’ (i.e. without reason). But when the Comforter has come whom God will send to you from the Lord’s presence, and the spirit of truth which will have gone forth from the Lord’s presence he (shall bear) witness of me and ye also, because ye have been with me from the beginning. I have spoken unto you about this that ye should not be in doubt." [5]
“So Heraclius ordered the Roman generals [who were Christians] to assemble in a room and commanded that the doors should be fastened. Then he looked down on them from an upper chamber (for he was afraid of them) and said: "O Romans, I have brought you together for a good purpose. This man [i.e. Muhammad] has written me a letter summoning me to his religion. By God, he is truly the prophet whom we expect and find in our books, so come and let us follow him and believe in him that it may be well with us in this world and the next." [6]

Recognizing the importance of the Qur’anic assertion that the Bible contains clear prophecies about Muhammad,
Muslims have spent nearly fourteen centuries trying to find these prophecies. While hundreds of verses have been suggested as candidates, only a handful are now being seriously put forward as Biblical references to Muhammad. Of this handful, two are most common:

1) Moses’ prophecy of a prophet similar to himself and

2) Jesus’ prediction of the coming "Comforter."

Since these are Islam’s most significant examples of Biblical support for Muhammad, we shall call these two prophecies the "
Major Prophecies." The remaining, less important ones shall be referred as the "Minor Prophecies."

The Major Prophecies

In his note on verse 7:157 of the Qur’an, commentator Yusuf Ali offers the following evidence for the claim that Muhammad is mentioned in "the Law and the Gospel":

In this verse is a prefiguring, to Moses, of the Arabian Messenger, the last and greatest of the Messengers of Allah. Prophecies about him will be found in the Tawrah and the Injil [Gospel]. In the reflex of the Tawrah as now accepted by the Jews, Moses says: "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me" (Deut. 18:15): the only Prophet who brought a Shari’ah [Law] like that of Moses was Muhammad al Mustafa, and he came of the house of Isma’il, the brother of Isaac, the father of Israel. In the reflex of the Gospel as now accepted by Christians, Christ promised another Comforter, (John 14:16): the Greek word Paraclete which the Christians interpret as referring to the Holy Spirit is by our Doctors taken to be Periclyte, which would be the Greek form of Ahmad.” [7]

Hence, to defend the validity of the Qur’an on this issue,
Ali offers a single prophecy from the Old Testament and another from the New Testament. Together, these two predictions form the "one-two punch" of the Argument from Biblical Prophecy. Yet Muslims have to tear both prophecies out of context in order to make them conform to the Islamic interpretation. (This is why Islamic books and pamphlets rarely quote entire passages; to do so would expose the context and would refute the argument.) A careful analysis reveals the truth about these texts.

first of the Major Prophecies comes from Deuteronomy, where Moses predicts the rise of another prophet:

„The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him”. (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)[8]

Muslims argue that this prophecy could only have been fulfilled by Muhammad, who, like Moses, was a lawgiver, a prophet, and a military leader. Further, this Prophet was to come from the brethren of the Israelites, which must be a reference to the Ishmaelites (Muhammad’s purported ancestors), for Ishmael was the brother of Isaac, the father of Israel. These facts, along with other similarities between Muhammad and Moses, support the identification of "the Prophet" with Muhammad.

If we were to take Deuteronomy 18:15 by itself, completely ignoring the rest of the book, we might have some reason to agree with the Muslim apologists on this issue. However, even a cursory examination of the context of this prophecy demonstrates the flaws in the Islamic position.

First, the passage says that God will raise up a prophet like Moses, because the Israelites didn’t want to speak directly with God. The Israelites said, "Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God ... that I die not," and God replied, "They have well spoken that which they have spoken." Hence, when verse 18:15 is taken in context, we see that the Jews were asking for a mediator, someone to stand between them and God just as Moses did. The ultimate fulfillment of this passage would be someone who stands as a permanent mediator between God and man. While Muhammad could certainly be viewed as an intermediary of some sort, the passage seems to fit more comfortably if the Prophet is Jesus. At best, one could argue that Muhammad was a link in the chain of transmission from the Qur’an, from Allah, to Gabriel, to Muhammad, to mankind. But this doesn’t fulfill the prophecy. Muslims don’t believe in the sort of mediator required by Deuteronomy 18. In Christianity, however, Jesus is a permanent mediator: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

Next, Moses says that God will raise up a prophet "from the midst of thee." Since he is talking to Israelites, it sounds as if God is telling them that he will raise up a prophet from the midst of Israel. In any case, Muhammad surely wasn’t raised up from the midst of Jews. Jesus, on the other hand, was born and raised in Israel, so the context again fits more comfortably if Moses is referring to Jesus.

Third, although Muslims often claim that the term "brethren" must refer to the Ishmaelites, the Book of Deuteronomy shows that this claim is completely false. To be sure, "brethren" can be used to refer to people other than the Jews, and it is used in this manner with the Edomites earlier in Deuteronomy (see 2:4). However, the term "brethren" is most commonly used when referring to other Israelites:

If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother. (Deuteronomy 15:7)

That this verse refers to fellow Israelites is clear from the verses that follow, for Moses tells his listeners not to ignore the brother just because the year for canceling debts is near (the year of debt-cancellation was meant for fellow Israelites).

"Brethren" is also used regarding the selection of a king:

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. (Deuteronomy 17:14-15)

The Jews obviously weren’t being commanded to seek an Arab king here. Rather, they were commanded to
get a king "from among thy brethren," meaning a fellow Jew. The term "brethren" is even used as a reference to other Israelites in Deuteronomy 18, the same chapter from which the prophecy is taken:

The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: They shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and his inheritance. Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren: the LORD is their inheritance, as he hath said unto them. (Deuteronomy 18:1-2)

The Levites were to have no inheritance among their brethren (the other tribes of Israel). This is how chapter 18 begins, and we’re never given so much as a hint that the meaning of "brethren" has changed so that, by verse 15, it refers to Ishmaelites. Given this repeated use of "brethren" to refer to Israelites, it is disturbing to read Muslim polemics which claim that "Ishmaelites" is the only possible interpretation of "brethren." Consider, for instance, what Deedat says about "brethren":

The children of Isaac are the brethren of the Ishmaelites. In like manner Muhammed is from among the brethren of the Israelites because he was a descendent of Ishmael the son of Abraham. This is exactly as the prophecy has it—"FROM AMONG THEIR BRETHREN". (Deut. 18:18). There the prophecy distinctly mentions that the coming prophet who would be like Moses, must arise NOT from the "children of Israel" or from "among themselves", but from among their brethren. MUHAMMAD THEREFORE WAS FROM AMONG THEIR BRETHREN!” [9]

Contrary to what Deedat suggests, Moses’ prophecy doesn’t say that the prophet must not come from the children of Israel. Indeed, given the repeated use of "brethren" to refer to Israelites in Deuteronomy (especially in chapter 18),
it is a wonder that anyone would interpret it otherwise. Deedat is therefore either completely ignorant of how "brethren" is used in Deuteronomy, or deliberately deceptive towards his Muslim readers (knowing that few of them will actually examine his claim).

Fourth, the conclusion of the Book of Deuteronomy tells us how we should interpret Moses’ phrase "like unto me":

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses. And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:9-12)

Here the phrase "
like unto Moses" suggests a prophet who would speak with God face to face and perform signs and wonders "in the sight of all Israel." Muhammad doesn’t fit either of these criteria. He claimed to have received his revelations from Gabriel, not directly from God, and he admittedly could not perform miracles. [10] Jesus, however, both performed miracles (as even the Qur’an acknowledges [11]) and spoke directly with God:

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. (John 5:19-20)

Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lift up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. (John 8:28)

For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak. (John 12:49)

He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which you hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. (John 14:24)

Finally, while Muslims appeal to Deuteronomy 18:15-19 as evidence for their prophet, they would do well to
read the next verse, which, when combined with a certain embarrassing event from Muhammad’s life, turns out to be proof against the prophet of Islam. In Deuteronomy 18:20, God declares:

But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

Here God gives us
two criteria for recognizing a false prophet: (1) If a person delivers a revelation which doesn’t come from God, the person is a false prophet; and (2) if a person speaks in the name of other gods, the person is a false prophet. Interestingly, Muhammad meets both criteria, for he delivered the infamous "Satanic Verses" (i.e. verses he gave to his followers as part of the Qur’an but later claimed were inspired by Satan). Since these verses did not come from God, Muhammad meets the first criterion. And since the verses promoted polytheism, Muhammad meets the second criterion as well. Hence, the very passage that Muslims claim as their primary Biblical prophecy about Muhammad turns out to proclaim that Muhammad can’t be a prophet at all! (For a much fuller treatment of Deuteronomy 18:20 as evidence against Muhammad, see "
The Deuteronomy Deductions.")

True, Moses and Muhammad had some similarities. Nevertheless, when we examine the context in Deuteronomy, we find that
these similarities count for little. Moses told the Israelites that God would send them another intercessor; in the New Testament, Jesus is the mediator between God and man. Moses told the Israelites that God would raise up a prophet from the midst of them; whereas Jesus was born in Israel, Muhammad was born in what is now Saudi Arabia. Moses told the Israelites that the prophet would come from among their "brethren," a term that is used over and over again to refer to their fellow Israelites; Jesus was a Jew, yet Muhammad was an Arab. Moses was known as a miracle worker who spoke directly to God; it is Jesus, not Muhammad, who was like Moses in these respects. On top of all this, Deuteronomy 18:20 rules out Muhammad as a prophet.

Of course, Muslims are free to believe that Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18 refers to Muhammad. But when they offer this verse as evidence of Muhammad’s prophethood, the burden of proof of is on them. Since the major characteristics of the Prophet in Deuteronomy apply most directly to Jesus,
Muslims need to find another Major Prophecy to sustain the Qur’anic claim to Biblical support.

At this point,
Muslims turn to the book of John, where Jesus predicts the coming "Comforter":

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. (John 14:15-18)

These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:25-26)

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

Oddly enough,
Muslims see these passages as predictions of the coming of Muhammad. Indeed, after quoting all three passages about the Comforter, Maulana Muhammad Ali maintains, "All these prophetic words predict in unequivocal terms the advent of another prophet after Jesus." [12]

Muslims reason that, since the Comforter will not come unless Jesus returns to the Father, this prophecy cannot possibly be referring to the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit was already present in Jesus. Thus, Jesus must have been predicting the rise of another prophet, and (for some reason) Muhammad is the only possible candidate. Such a claim is, to say the least, quite baffling to anyone familiar with John’s Gospel.

First, Muslims draw this prophecy from a book that begins by declaring that Jesus is God and that he created all things (John 1:1-3). In the Book of John, Jesus claims to have existed before Abraham (8:58) and describes himself as the ladder between heaven and earth (1:51; cf. Genesis 28:10-17). A blind man who receives his sight worships Jesus (9:35-38), and Thomas calls Jesus "My Lord and my God" (20:28). Jesus is crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected, events that are all at odds with the Qur’an. Further, in the very chapters to which Muslims appeal for their predictions about Muhammad, Jesus proclaims that he is the only way to God (14:6), that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father (14:9), that he is "in the Father" and that the Father is in him (14:11), that he can answer prayers (14:14), and that we cannot bear fruit unless we abide in him (15:4). We might wonder why Muslims appeal to a book that is so diametrically opposed to Islam. However, we must remember that Muhammad declared that there are prophecies about him in the New Testament. Muslims are thus forced into grasping at anything that will help them vindicate Muhammad’s claim.

Second, the three passages from John repeatedly identify the Comforter as the Holy Spirit (or the "Spirit of Truth"). Yet Muslims argue that these verses simply can’t refer to the Holy Spirit:

The terms of the prophecy do not warrant the conclusion that they are applicable to the Holy Ghost. "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" are words too clear to need any comment. The New Testament says that John was filled with the Holy Ghost even before he was born. Then it speaks of Jesus himself as receiving the Holy Ghost in the shape of a dove. Thus the Holy Ghost used to visit men before the time of Jesus as well as in his own time. [13]

This argument clearly misses the point of Jesus’ prediction.
Jesus acknowledges that the Spirit was already with them: "... for he dwelleth with you." The prophecy was that the Spirit would be IN THEM and dwell with them forever. This was something entirely new, and it was by no means invalidated because the Spirit was already in Jesus.

Third, as we just saw, Jesus says that the Comforter would be with his disciples forever. In no sense was Muhammad ever with Jesus’ disciples, let alone with them permanently.

Fourth, according to the prophecy, the world cannot receive the Comforter because it cannot see him. Thousands of people saw Muhammad during his lifetime, for he was visible. Thus, the invisible Comforter cannot be the visible Muhammad.

Fifth, Jesus tells the disciples that the Comforter was already with them. While the Holy Spirit was with Jesus’ disciples, Muhammad wasn’t born for more than five centuries after this prophecy and therefore couldn’t have been with them.

Sixth, the Comforter was to be in the disciples. Muhammad is not in Jesus’ followers and never will be. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, filled the believers at Pentecost and has been in Christians ever since.

Seventh, Jesus said that he would send the Comforter from the Father. Muslims do not believe that Muhammad was sent by Jesus; they believe that Muhammad was sent by God. So, unless Muslims are willing to admit that Jesus is God, they should not accept this as a prophecy about Muhammad.

Finally, prior to his ascension, Jesus predicted that his followers would "be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:5). The Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ followers shortly after his ascension to the Father:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)

Thus, the fulfillment of this prophecy came within a matter of days. Muhammad came more than five hundred years later.

Putting all of this together, we see that
Muhammad could not have been the Comforter. He was not with the apostles, he was not in the apostles, he was not with them forever, he was not invisible, he was not sent by Jesus, and he did not come quickly, as Jesus said he would. Yet the Holy Spirit matches this description perfectly. Jesus identified the Comforter as the Holy Spirit, who was with the disciples, was in them at Pentecost, was invisible, came quickly, was sent by Jesus, and has been with Christians for nearly two thousand years. Given the facts, Muslims who apply these verses to Muhammad should be ashamed of themselves.


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