Muslims have made the claim for a long time that the coming of Muhammad is prophesied in the Bible namely the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament), and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Why do Muslims make this claim? The claim rests on the assertion in the Qur’an that Muhammad’s coming is described in the Scriptures of the ahl al-kitab, i.e., the People of the Book, a title given to Jews and Christians. It states, “Those who followed the Apostle the unlettered Prophet [Muhammad], whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures) in the Law and the Gospel” (Qur’an 7:157). The Law and the Gospel refer of course to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures respectively. An inconsistency emerges at this point when the Bible is brought into the discussion by Islam. Many Muslims charge that the Bible is:
1) Corrupted and unreliable.
2) Some parts of it are true.
3) Some parts of it are false.
If (1) is true, then the argument that Muhammad is predicted in the Bible is moot and irrelevant because the Bible cannot be trusted. Both (2) and (3) essentially amount to saying the same thing and most Muslims opt for either (2) or (3). The reason for doing so however is not based on any consistent criterion but rather an ad hoc approach, it is contrived from the beginning. How do Muslims argue what parts of the Bible are true and reliable and which ones are not? They do so by using the Qur’an as their reference guide. When the Bible agrees with the Qur’an, it is right, when it does not, it is flat out in error. This is the exact same methodology that cults use in judging the Bible, if it does not conform with their “new” revelation or scripture, it is in error. The same methodology is employed by Islam in its treatment of the Bible.
In order for the Muslim to claim that the Bible predicts Muhammad’s coming he/she must hold to point (2) above. The three main passages that are quoted to support the claim Muhammad is predicted in the Bible are:
1) Deuteronomy 18:18-19
2) Song of Solomon 5:16
3) John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7
We will examine each of these passages and see whether or not they substantiate the Muslim claim.
Deuteronomy 18:18-19 (NIV)
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.”
Muslims reason that that Muhammad is “the prophet” spoken of here and argue that the expression “their brothers” refers to the Ishmaelites who were half-brothers of the Israelites by virtue of the fact that they were both descended from Abraham. The reason Muslims point this out is because Ishmael was also a son of Abraham and thus a half-brother of Isaac, the forefather of the Jewish nation. Ishmael, it is argued is the father of the Arab nation, and since Muhammad was an Arab, he would be a descendant of Ishmael, and hence relationally, a Semitic “brother” to the Jews. We point out however that if the Ishmaelites or descendants of Ishamel are “brothers” of the Israelites, why could not the Edomites also be their “brothers” spoken of here? The Edomites were descended from Esau (Genesis 36:9), who was the brother of Jacob from the same father Isaac making Esau a full brother.
Furthermore, Esau was a direct grandson of Abraham (Genesis 25:19, 24-26). If this is the case, would not the Edomites better qualify as full “brothers” of Israel rather than the Ishmaelites who were half-brothers?
It is the immediate context however that concerns us here. From the context of the passage and that which precedes it, it is clear that the term “their brothers” is a reference to the Israelites exclusively and no one else. Note Deuteronomy 18:1-2: “The priests who are Levites-indeed the whole tribe of Levi-are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel…They [the Levites] shall have no inheritance among their brothers…”It is clear from these verses that the “they” refers to the Levites and that “their brothers” refers to the remaining eleven tribes of Israel. In the preceding chapter, Deuteronomy 17:15, this point is further made crystal clear: “…be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.”
One need only read the lists of the kings who ruled over the Israelites in the books of 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings and 1&2 Chronicles to verify the fact that they were all Israelites. Throughout the Old Testament, one finds the expression “their brothers” referring to the tribes of Israel (see Judges 20:13; 2 Samuel 2:26; 2 Kings 23:9; Nehemiah 5:1). Who then is this prophet like Moses? Jews and Christians have consistently recognized this passage as referring to a prophet who would arise out of the people of Israel. The Bible which contains this prophecy of the coming prophet also provides us with the fulfillment of this prophecy. The New Testament reveals that this prophet is Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. Jesus came from the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Judah, and therefore was one of “their brothers”, the Israelites (John 4:9, 20-22; Romans 9:4-5; Hebrews 7:14).
Jesus claimed to be the One whom Moses prophesied. Jesus Himself said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (John 5:46). In fact, Jesus’ first disciples believed Him to be the “…one whom Moses wrote about in the Law…”(John 1:45). After Jesus sent the apostles to preach the Gospel to the world, the apostle Peter appealed specifically to Deuteronomy 18:18 as a prophecy which was fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah (Acts 3:19-26). Even Stephen, the first Christian martyr, when he stood before the Sanhedrin, also quoted Deuteronomy 18:18 as fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, because Moses was one who also “predicted the coming of the Righteous One”(Acts 7:37, 52). The prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 cannot be Muhammad, contextually, culturally or historically. He was not a Jew and not a member of any tribe within Israel as Jesus was. This prophet is Jesus Himself as the people of His day testified,“Surely this man is the Prophet” (John 7:40). Not only did the disciples of Jesus affirm this fact, so did Jesus (Luke 24:44).
Song of Solomon 5:16
If there was ever a text that has been so brutally contorted beyond the limits it is Song of Solomon 5:16. The unsound reasoning in the Muslim interpretation of this text is an example of the phonetic fallacy, confusing the sound of one word for another and assuming they are the same. If I were to say the word “sun” and “son”, even though they both sound the same, they are by no means the same by definition and context.
Song of Solomon 5:16 reads,“His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”Muslims point out that the phrase “altogether lovely” in Hebrew is the word machmadim. This Hebrew word machmadim is a third person masculine plural noun and it comes from the root word machmad. They argue that the Hebrew word machmad actually refers to Muhammad! The first problem with this line of reasoning is that the word machmad is not a proper name like John, Tom, or even Muhammad. It rather functions in this case as an adjective even though it is a noun. The reason for this is that this word appears in an adjectival clause describing in the context of the Song of Solomon the love and desire that the woman feels for her husband.
The Song of Solomon is a poetic love poem addressing the delights of marital love between a husband and his wife. The context is explicitly clear on this point. The word machmad means “desirable”, “precious thing”, “pleasant thing” and its plural form machmadim in Song of Solomon 5:16 is grammatically intended to heighten the sense of the word. Hebrew scholars refer to this as the ‘plural of intensity’. In other words, this passage has to do with the description of the lover in the poem as being “altogether lovely” or “very desirable”. Muslims in this case engage in a form ofeisegesis where they read into the text a foreign concept that was never part of the context.
Another problem and inconsistency with the Muslim concept that Muhammad is referred to in Song of Solomon 5:16 is the passage in Song of Solomon 5:1 where the husband or lover speaks the following words, “I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine…”. The problem here is the fact that the drinking of wine is strictly forbidden in Islam, “O you who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divine arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside that you may succeed” (Qur’an 5:90). The idea that Muhammad would consume wine as a prophet would be inconceivable. However, drinking wine in Hebrew culture was wholly acceptable. What is surprising from an Islamic point of view, is that while wine is forbidden here on earth, it will be permitted in abundance in paradise, “A similitude of the Garden which those who keep their duty (to Allah) are promised: Therein are rivers of water unpolluted … and rivers of wine delicious to the drinkers” (Qur’an 47:15). All of these points considered, grammatical, cultural, and historical militate against the inconsistent view that Muslims impose on this text. This text says nothing about Muhammad at all.
John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7
The other principal passage that Muslims appeal to is from the Gospel of John. What is ironic is that the Gospel of John which so forcefully advocates the Deity of Christ and amplifies the identity of Jesus as Son of God is also one of the main texts that receive the most scathing attack from Muslims. Here again the inconsistent methodology used by Muslims becomes apparent. Where they feel the gospel of John can be used to support the Qur’an, it is right, where it does not, it is wrong. In short, the reader will note that there is no concern for the biblical texts themselves or whether they can stand on their own merit. They are arbitrarily and selectively used by Muslims to suit the Qur’an. This would be the same as Christians using the Qur’an to prove the Bible whenever it agrees with it and rejecting when it does not. Our Muslim friends would be quick to charge us with inconsistency here and yet this futile exercise is always practiced in Islamic dialogues with Christians. It should always be remembered that an inconsistent methodology and argument, are always signs of a failed argument because in the end they are contrived.
Turning to the gospel of John let us examine a few passages:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” (John 15:26)
“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
The word “Counselor” in these passages comes from the Greek word“parakletos”and literally means “called to one’s side”. Thus one who is called to one’s side provides counsel, comfort, aid, help, etc and thus this word has also been translated as “Comforter”, “Helper”, “Intercessor”, and “Advocate” in other Bible translations, but they all convey the same idea. What is interesting is the Muslim claim that the “Counselor” or “Comforter” in these passages in John’s gospel is really in fact Muhammad. Moreover, they make the claim that the original Greek word here is not “parakletos” but “periklutos” which means the “praised one”, and is the equivalent of the Arabic name Ahmad, which Muslims claim is the short form of the name Muhammad. In the Qur’an it is stated that Jesus predicted the coming of “Ahmad” (Qur’an 61:6) whom Muslims say is Muhammad. Since Jesus predicted Muhammad’s coming, Muslims allege that the record of that prediction is found in John 14-16.
Again this is the selective methodology that we see in Muslim apologetics. The Bible is corrupted, except when they can use it to buttress Islam. The major problem with this approach is that all of the Greek manuscripts we have of John’s gospel ALL contain the word“parakletos”, which as we saw means “Counselor” or “Comforter” and never “periklutos”. We have over 5700 Greek manuscripts. Of the many that we possess, not one of them differs on this reading in John 14-16. Scores of these ancient manuscripts predate Islam. It should also be remembered that “parakletos” is a noun whereas “periklutos” is an adjective, thus grammatically they are different words altogether. The Comforter Jesus spoke of is not a human being, but as the text identifies is rather the Holy Spirit. “Counselor”, “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit of truth” are interchangeable terms speaking of the same Person.
The fact that Jesus uses the masculine gender “he” and “his” doesn’t infer He is speaking of a human being. God is also spoken of in the Bible and Qur’an in the masculine gender, and yet God is Spirit (John 4:24). Similarly Jesus speaks of the Counselor as a Spirit, not as a man. The text logically bears this out. The irony in the Muslim use of John 14-16 is that these chapters are heavily Trinitarian in nature. They speak of the economical Trinity and how the Persons of the Godhead function. For instance, the Father sends the Holy Spirit in the name of the Son (John 14:26). The Son also sends the Holy Spirit from the Father (John 15:26). Let us examine what Jesus said about the Counselor/Comforter and see if it fits the description of Muhammad:
1)“He [the Father] will give you another Comforter”. Jesus promised the disciples that the Father would give them another Comforter. During His earthly life, Jesus had been their Comforter. Now that He was going to leave them, He promised them another Comforter in His absence, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is “another Comforter” which implies more than one. In another New Testament passage Jesus is also called the “parakletos” (same word used of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16), our Advocate with God (1 John 2:1). The other “Comforter” was as He said, “the Spirit of truth”. If Jesus meant Muhammad by the word “Comforter”, would it not be absurd for Jesus to have said “He will give you another Muhammad”? The disciples did not have to wait 600 years for the Comforter to come, He came over a month after the death and resurrection of Jesus on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
2) “To be with you forever”. Jesus promised the Comforter would be with His disciples forever. Muhammad did not stay with his people forever but died in A.D. 632. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit has been with the Church for 2000 years.
3) “You know him” The disciples of Jesus knew the Comforter. Muhammad was not born until more than 500 years later and therefore was obviously not known by the disciples of Jesus.
4) “He dwells with you”. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit dwelled with the disciples of Jesus and thus this was something the disciples experienced in their lifetime. Muhammad was not even born yet.
5) “He will be in you”. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit would be in the disciples and by extension all believers in Jesus. This shows that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual reality, not a physical one. This can never be said of Muhammad.
It is clear from a consistent and honest reading of all the texts mentioned above that the Muslim claim that Muhammad is prophesied in the Bible is absolutely baseless. One can make the Bible or any book saying anything one wishes if context is ignored. The same is true of the Qur’an. If we are going to appreciate proper exegesis (“reading out”) of the Bible we have to be consistent with its context, its grammar, and its historical setting. When the Bible is read this way it will become quickly evident that the Bible does not predict the coming of Muhammad at all. It rather points to Him who is the theme and subject of its focus, the One of whom the disciples testified, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth” (John 1:45).