Muhammad in the Bible?
Muslim Arguments from Biblical Texts
5.1 The Prophet Like Moses in Deuteronomy 18
Muslim: In the original Tawraat there were clear predictions of the coming of our holy Prophet. One of them survives and is found in Deuteronomy 18:18 where Moses clearly foretells the coming of another prophet who would be just like him.
One of the great arguments raised by Muslims in discussion with Christians is their claim that Muhammad is foretold in the Bible. The issue derives from a passage in the Quran which has led Muslim scholars, from the earliest days of Islam, to search for passages in both the Old and New Testaments to prove that their Prophets coming was indeed prophesied by the former prophets. Some of the books Muslims have written on this subject draw numerous passages from all over the Old Testament and one or two from the New but, in general conversation with Muslims, only two prominent examples are usually put forward and it is these that we will consider in this chapter. The Quranic verse is:
Those who follow the Apostle, the unlettered Prophet, will find him mentioned in the (books) with them, in the Tawraat and the Injil. Surah 7:157
In both cases Christians will find that there can be no doubt that the particular passages refer to Jesus and the Holy Spirit respectively.
Muslim Arguments on the Prophet "Like Unto" Moses
The first of the prophecies they claim foretells the advent of their Prophet is found in the following passage where God addresses Moses:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. Deuteronomy 18:18
The first argument is that Muhammad must be the prophet foretold because he was like Moses in a way that none of the other prophets were. As Christians claim the prophecy refers to Jesus Muslims argue further that they do not have to consider any other prophets but only have to bring comparisons between Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. The arguments run generally like this:
1. Moses and Muhammad led Normal Lives in Every Way
Their lives followed a perfectly normal course unlike Jesus where every feature of his life was unique or unusual. They both had a father and a mother whereas Jesus was born of a virgin-woman and had no human father. Both died normal deaths at the end of lives that went their full course whereas, according to the Bible, Jesus died tragically when he was only thirty-three. Moses and Muhammad both married but Jesus remained a bachelor all his life. So Muhammad must be the prophet who was to come like Moses.
2. Moses and Muhammad Became the Leaders of their People
In the later years of their lives, after initially being rejected by the Jews and Arabs respectively, Moses and Muhammad became the political and religious leaders of their nations. They died as undisputed rulers whereas Jesus had only a few followers at the end of his life, having been rejected by the chief priests and the people.
3. Their Successors both Conquered the Land of Palestine
Shortly after their deaths successors to both Moses and Muhammad led armies into the land of Palestine and conquered it. Joshua conquered the land of Canaan, as it was then known, and settled the Jews in what became the land of Israel while Umar, the second Caliph after Muhammad, conquered the same land for Islam and settled Muslim Arabs in it where they are to this day. Jesus, however, was driven out of Jerusalem and put to death by the Romans who continued to rule the land for centuries to come.
Similar arguments are put forward to supposedly prove that it was Muhammad, and not Jesus, whose coming was foretold.
The Key Features of the Unique Prophet to Come
The Muslim arguments hardly touch on the key issue. Moses was a unique prophet who had been commissioned to introduce a covenant between God and the people of Israel. The prophet who would be like him would obviously have to have certain distinguishing features that would make him like Moses in a way no other prophet was. Christians can argue like Muslims that Moses and Jesus both left Egypt to fulfil their ministries which Muhammad never did. "By faith he forsook Egypt" the Bible says of Moses (Hebrews 11:27), and again "Out of Egypt have I called my Son" it says of Jesus (Matthew 2:15). What, however, were the unique features in Moses prophethood? Let us consider them.
1. Moses was the Mediator of a Covenant
In the same passage as the prophecy we are reviewing God said to the people of Israel that he would indeed raise up for them a prophet like Moses, "just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly" when they had pleaded that God speak to them through a mediator only (Deuteronomy 18:16). Moses mediated a covenant between God and the people when, after the ten commandments and other laws had been delivered to them, he anointed the Book of the Law and the people with the sprinkled blood of calves and goats as well as the tabernacle and vessels used in worship, saying "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you" (Hebrews 9:20).
2. Moses Knew God Face-to-Face
Moses had a unique relationship with God. For forty years unabated God spoke to him directly in a way he never did with any prophet who preceded or followed him. The Bible says:
Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Exodus 33:11
The Quran confirms this unique relationship, saying "And to Moses Allah spoke directly" (Surah 4:164) in contrast with another verse where the Quran says "it is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by the sending of a messenger" (Surah 42:51). We need, therefore, to look for a prophet who had a similar unique relationship.
3. Moses Performed Great Signs and Wonders
For many years Moses performed many miracles, such as the many plagues he brought down on Egypt, the dividing of the Red Sea and the daily manna from heaven. No prophet could be said to be like Moses if he could not do the same. We have already seen that Muhammad performed no miracles during his life according to the Quran and the following charge against him by the pagan Arabs during the time of his own mission is very significant:
Why are not (signs) sent to him, like those which were sent to Moses? Surah 28:48
Simply put, the argument is that if Muhammad was indeed the great prophet he claimed to be, why was he not like Moses in the key features of his prophethood? Muhammad mediated no covenant, did not know God face-to-face (the Quran, according to all Hadith records and Surah 2:97, was mediated to him solely through the Angel Jibril), and performed no miracles. So he cannot be the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:18. This verse, describing Moses ministry at the end of his life, emphasises the uniqueness of his prophethood:
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for 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. Deuteronomy 34:10-11
It is clear from this passage that the prophet to come who would be like Moses would be identified at least by his close direct relationship with God and by many signs and wonders attending his ministry. That prophet could only be Jesus as we shall see in the next section.
5.2 Jesus – The Prophet Foretold by Moses
Muslim: What evidences do you have for your claim that Jesus was the prophet foretold by Moses? He was a great prophet but his mission appears to have ended in failure after just a few years. He did not share the greatness of Moses and Muhammad.
It is important, right at the start, to point out to Muslims that the Bible expressly applies the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18 to Jesus on two occasions. The Apostle Peter, claiming that God had foretold the coming of Jesus through all the prophets, quoted the text as proof that Moses had done so (Acts 3:22). Stephen, the early Christian martyr, also appealed to the same text as proof that Moses was one of those who had "announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One", Jesus, whom the Jewish leaders had now betrayed and crucified (Acts 7:37). We will proceed to see how Jesus fulfilled the three unique features we have already considered.
The Mediator of the New Covenant
Muslims occasionally argue that, according to Christian belief, Jesus was the Son of God and could not have been a prophet in the normal way. In reply there are numerous passages where Jesus called himself a prophet (e.g. Matthew 13:57) as well as the Son of God (John 10:36). Having taken human form to proclaim the Word of God just the previous prophets had done made him likewise a prophet in the true sense of the word. Let us now see how he was the prophet to come like Moses.
1. Jesus was also the Mediator of a Covenant
At the time of Jeremiah, many centuries after Moses time but long before the days of Jesus, God promised that he would make a new covenant between himself and his people. As the nation of Israel had consistently rejected his laws he regarded the original covenant made with Moses obsolete, but promised that he would now enter into a special relationship with his own people by forgiving their sins and writing his laws on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The New Testament declares that Jesus was the mediator of this covenant (Hebrews 9:15). To ratify the first covenant we read:
Moses took the blood and threw it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words". Exodus 24:8
As the first covenant had been mediated through Moses and ratified with blood it was only to be expected that the prophet to follow like Moses would do likewise. So, just before his death on the cross, Jesus said:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me. 1 Corinthians 11:25
2. Jesus also Knew God Face-to-Face
Just as Moses knew God directly and communicated with him personally throughout his ministry, so Jesus could say "I know him, I come from him, and he sent me" (John 7:29). On many other occasions he made it clear that he had seen God face-to-face, such as in these words "Not that anyone has ever seen the Father except him who is from God – he has seen the Father" (John 6:46). The most telling comparison at this point is found in two passages which speak of the effect of the close relationship Moses and Jesus had with God. The first tells what happened when Moses spoke with God face-to-face:
Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. Exodus 34:29-30
When the image of the invisible God was directly revealed through Jesus as God spoke of him as his own Beloved Son, we read:
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. Matthew 17:2
No other prophet could claim such a distinction. No one else knew God face-to-face in such a way that his face shone as he communed with him. Certainly there are no evidences anywhere in the Quran or any other Muslim records that Muhammad ever emulated the experience. Even the story of al-Miraj, his supposed ascension to heaven, do not state that his face ever shone in any way.
3. Jesus Likewise Performed Great Miracles
There are numerous stories of great miracles which Jesus did during his life but once again a direct parallel with Moses will help to emphasise the likeness between them. Both of them had power to control the sea, a feat never emulated by any other prophet.
Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind. Exodus 14:21
Other prophets after Moses had power over rivers (Joshua 3:13, 2 Kings 2:14) but no one could emulate Moses great miracle of controlling the sea until Jesus stood over the Sea of Galilee one night and, during a raging storm, calmed it with just three words "Peace – be still" (Mark 4:39). His disciples exclaimed:
What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him? Matthew 8:27
One of Moses greatest miracles was to feed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai with bread known as manna which appeared on the ground every day. When the Jews saw Jesus feed five thousand people besides women and children from only five loaves of bread and two fishes so that there was enough left over to fill twelve baskets, they immediately recalled Moses prophecy.
When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." John 6:14
When they saw the sign, they declared that Jesus was the prophet, the one foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18. There can be no doubt from all these evidences that Jesus is the prophet whose coming was prophesied by Moses and not Muhammad. The evidences relating to the unique features of his life, specifically named in Deuteronomy 34. 10-11 as the ones which would identify the coming prophet, prove conclusively that he was the one of whom God spoke to the people of Israel.
5.3 The Prophet From Among their Brethren
Muslim: The promise was of a prophet to come from among the brethren of the Israelites. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, and their brethren were the Ishmaelites. Muhammad was descended from Ishmael and he is therefore the prophet.
This is one of the favourite arguments of Muslims in trying to prove that the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:18 was Muhammad. They emphasise the words "from among their brethren", assuming that it is the "brethren" of the Israelites as a nation that are spoken of in the prophecy. A brief survey of the context of the passage shows quite conclusively that it was not the Ishmaelites who were in mind.
The Brethren of the Levites
The prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18 is set in a context of a whole discourse where God gave Moses certain directions about the future conduct of the people of Israel once they reached the promised land, especially the Levites, the priestly tribe. A look at the first two verses of the chapter will reveal very clearly who God was speaking of when he said he would raise up for them a prophet from among their brethren.
The Levitical priests, that is, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel ... They shall have no inheritance among their brethren. Deuteronomy 18:1-2
It is abundantly clear here that they means the Levites, and that their brethren means the other tribes of Israel. No honest method of interpretation can possibly yield any other conclusion. Therefore the correct interpretation of Deuteronomy 18:18 must be: "I will raise up for them (the Levites) a prophet like you from among their brethren (the other eleven tribes of Israel)". Therefore the passage cannot refer to the Ishmaelites and the prophecy most certainly cannot apply to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.
It is interesting to note that, throughout the Old Testament, the expression "their brethren" often occurs and in every case it refers to one of the tribes of Israel as distinct from the one actually mentioned. A typical example is found in the following verse where there can be no doubt as to who the brethren are:
But the children of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel. Judges 20:13
Here "their brethren" is specifically stated to be the other members of the nation of Israel as distinct from the tribe of Benjamin. In the same way Deuteronomy 18:18 refers to the other tribes of Israel as distinct from the tribe of Levi. In another passage we read that Moses said to the people of Israel:
One from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Deuteronomy 17:15
Only one of the brethren of the Israelites could be appointed as king over the nation. They were not allowed to place a foreigner, such as an Ishmaelite, over them. Here the principle is reinforced that the prophet who was to come from among "their brethren" was to be an Israelite, only not one of the people of the tribe of Levi. In Europe for many centuries it has been customary for monarchs to come from various nations so as to maintain a close relationship between the various countries. German, British, French and Greek princes have often intermarried with princesses or other royal women from other nations. In Israel, however, there was an express command to the people that they were not to put anyone from another nation over them as king because they had been set apart as the people of God distinct from the pagan nations around them.
Jesus the Prophet from Among Their Brethren
Do we have any evidences, however, to prove that Jesus qualifies as the prophet foretold in this particular context? The New Testament quite clearly records that Jesus was descended from Judah through the line of David. He is expressly said to have descended from "Judah, the son of Jacob" (Luke 3:33) and in another place we read "Now it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah" (Hebrews 7:14). Jesus is therefore obviously the one who was to come from one of the other tribes of Israel. Together with the other evidences we have considered there can be no doubt that he is the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:18. Muhammad meets none of the vital criterion for qualifying for this office.
Other Muslim arguments in favour of Muhammad also do not stand the test of close scrutiny. God said of the prophet to come "I will put my words in his mouth" and Muslims say that, by revealing the Quran to Muhammad who repeated it to his followers, the prophecy was fulfilled. According to Islam, however, the Tawraat was equally so revealed to Moses, the Zabur to David, and the Injil to Jesus. So each of them had the words of God in their mouths. To Jeremiah God said "Behold I have put my words in your mouth" (Jeremiah 1:9).
Likewise God went on to say to Moses "he shall speak to them all that I command him". Jesus once said to his disciples:
For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. John 12:49
The Muslims can raise no unique evidences to prove, from the context of the prophecy, that Muhammad was the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:18.
Another argument centres on the questions the Jews once put to John the Baptist after he denied that he was the Christ, namely whether he was Elijah and, if not, whether he was the Prophet? (John 1:21). They argue that the Jews distinguished between Elijah, the Christ and the Prophet, and that they were, in order, John the Baptist, Jesus and Muhammad.
Nothing conclusive can be drawn from the speculations of the Jews, however. Once they said of Jesus "This is indeed the prophet" (John 7:40). On another occasion they concluded he was "one of the prophets" (Matthew 16:14), on another "a prophet" (Mark 6:15), and thought of him as both Elijah (Mark 6:15) and as possibly John the Baptist himself (Matthew 16:14). Nothing conclusive can be drawn from their guesswork.
There can be no doubt, from all we have considered, that it was Jesus Christ and not Muhammad whose coming was foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18.
5.4 Jesus Promise of the Coming Comforter
Muslim: According to your Bible did not Jesus speak of another prophet to come after him whom he called the Comforter? This was obviously a prophecy of the coming of our holy prophet Muhammad. The Quran even confirms the prophecy.
The greatest of all the Muslim claims that Muhammad is foretold in the Bible comes from the promise of Jesus to his disciples, recorded four times in Johns Gospel, that he would be followed by yet another person sent from God whom he called the Comforter, one who would guide them into all the truth. From the earliest centuries of Islam Muslim scholars have endeavoured to prove that the Comforter was Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Of all the challenges made to Christians in witness among Muslims, this one is undoubtedly the most frequent. Yet even here Christians have, when responding to their arguments, tremendous opportunities for witness to Muslims of who the Comforter really is – the Holy Spirit – and how he fulfils the redeeming work of Jesus.
Muslim Arguments about the Comforter
It is in the following texts that Muslims believe they have proof that Muhammad was duly foretold by Jesus in terms of the Quranic text which states that they would find his coming prophesied in the Injil as well as the Tawraat (Surah 4:157):
But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26
Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7
Both these sayings come from a lengthy discourse of Jesus on the last night he was with his disciples before his crucifixion. On two other occasions in the same discourse he again spoke of the coming Comforter (John 14:16, 15:26). Muslims claim that he was undoubtedly speaking of Muhammad for the following reasons:
1. Muhammad Led the World into all the Truth
Muslims argue that, when Jesus said the Comforter will "teach you all things", this was fulfilled in their Prophet who, in delivering the Quran, taught the world all it needs to know about God, his laws, and the way of life he expects his servants to follow. So likewise, when Jesus said "he will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:13), Muhammad is claimed to have done exactly this as the Quran discourses at length on the Last Day (Yawmal Akhir), the Resurrection, the Final Judgment, and the destiny of the human race to heaven (Jannat) or hell (Jahannam).
2. The Use of the Masculine Gender
Muslims often make much of the fact that, in speaking of the coming Comforter, Jesus used the masculine gender no less than eight times. They argue that, when Jesus said "He will glorify me, he will not speak on his own authority, he will guide you into all truth", etc., he was obviously speaking of a man, a prophet, and not the Holy Spirit. A spirit it is claimed, being neither male nor female, cannot be spoken of in anything but the neutral gender but, as Jesus consistently used the word he to describe the Comforter, this must refer to a male prophet, namely Muhammad.
3. The Comforter Was to Come after Jesus
The third argument commonly used by Muslims to prove their case is that, as Jesus said the Comforter would not come until he had gone away, this must mean Muhammad. Once again, they reason, it cannot refer to the Holy Spirit because, according to the Bible, the Holy Spirit had always been there. David prayed that God would not take his Spirit from him (Psalm 51:11) while John the Baptist was said to have been filled with Holy Spirit from his mothers womb (Luke 1:15).
The Christian Response to these Arguments
There are simple answers to these three arguments. A careful study of the whole context of the relevant verses shows quite clearly that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit who indeed came down within ten days after Jesus ascension as he had promised (Acts 2:1-21).
Firstly, the Holy Spirit duly brought to the remembrance of Jesus disciples all that he had said to them. John only wrote his Gospel some sixty years after Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, yet he was able to record the whole of his last discourse to his disciples accurately in no less than four chapters (John 13:1 - 16:33). The complete teaching which followed is recorded, not in the Quran, but in the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. All its teaching is inspired by God through the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16) and none of it is subject to mans interpretation, because it never came through human impulse since "men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21).
Secondly, throughout the Bible both God and the Holy Spirit are always referred to in the masculine gender. "He is your Praise, he is your God" (Deuteronomy 10:21) is a typical example of its constant use to describe the Divine Being even though God is not man but spirit (John 4:24). The Muslim argument can be turned on its head by referring to a passage of the Quran where Allah is spoken of in the masculine gender no less than seven times in quick succession (Surah 59:22-24). "He is Allah and there is no god besides whom he is" is the middle text (v. 23) and it begins and ends with the masculine huwa ("he is") and not the neutral hiya ("it is"). If Allah, who is spirit and not man, can nonetheless be spoken of in the masculine gender in the Quran, why can the Holy Spirit likewise not be spoken of in the same terms? There is no hint in the four sayings of Jesus about the Comforter that he would be a man or a prophet, rather he is expressly identified as the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
Thirdly, Jesus not only said he had to go away before the Comforter would come, but also promised that he would personally send him to his own disciples, to Peter, James, John and the rest. "I will send him to you" he said (John 16:7), not to Arabs in Mecca or Medina six centuries later. It could hardly have been to the disciples advantage if the Comforter was not to come almost immediately after Jesus left the earth. When he was about to ascend to heaven Jesus expressly told them to wait a short while in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit before they went out proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 1:4-5). The Comforter had indeed been present in the world before this time but now he was to be poured out in a new way right into the hearts of all who believed in Jesus. They had experienced the ministry and presence of Jesus with them for three years but now his presence was to be known in a way even more to their advantage – by the fact of the Spirit actually living within them.
5.5 "His Name Shall be Ahmad" in the Quran
Muslim: According to the Quran Jesus specifically predicted the coming of Muhammad as the "Praised One". This was his actual prophecy. You Christians have since changed the original word Periklutos ("Praised") into Paracletos ("Comforter").
Muslims particularly concentrate on Jesus promise of a coming Comforter because it seems to confirm a similar text in the Quran where he is said to have expressly predicted the coming of Muhammad:
And remember Jesus, son of Mary, said "O Children of Israel! I am a messenger of Allah to you, confirming what is before me from the Tawraat, and announcing tidings of a messenger to follow me whose name shall be Ahmad". Surah 61:6
Although the prediction is not of Muhammad by his actual name, Muslim scholars point out that Ahmad comes from the same three root letters as his own name, hmd, meaning "praise". It seems Muhammad knew that Jesus had spoken of someone to follow him but had not done so by name and, for this reason, he avoided any mention of himself personally in adapting the prophecy to the Quran, using a title as close to his name as he could to ensure the necessary inference that it was him.
Periklutos or Parakletos?
The original word in Johns Gospel translated as "Comforter" is paracletos, meaning (as the English equivalent "paraclete" implies) one who clings closely as a counsellor, consoler or mentor. It never means "one who is praised". It is obvious from the sayings of Jesus that the original word is the correct one as everything he had to say about the Comforter related precisely to this concept of a close adviser.
"He will take what is mine and declare it to you" is typical of the description Jesus gave to the Holy Spirit. He was to dwell in hearts of his disciples and would give them an insight and guidance into Gods ways and the power to fulfil them from within their own souls. He would come to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment as Gods agent speaking through the witness and proclamations of Jesus disciples.
Nevertheless Muslims have, in their writings, argued that the Christian world has corrupted the original saying of Jesus and that it incorporated the word periklutos which means "Praised One". This roughly coincides with the title Ahmad in the Quran, having the same basic meaning. Is there any substance in the Muslim claim? Are there any evidences to prove it?
1. Periklutos is not a Biblical Word
There is no manuscript evidence whatsoever that the original word may have been periklutos. In fact the word nowhere appears in the Greek New Testament and is accordingly not a Biblical Word. The Muslim claim is based, not on any kind of concrete, factual testimony but purely on a supposition to suit themselves.
2. The Word does not Fit into the Context
As pointed out already, the definition of the coming one whom Jesus promised was primarily of a counsellor and advocate. There is nothing in all four sayings of Jesus about the Comforter to support the contention that he was to be "the Praised One". On the contrary, when Jesus said "he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak" (John 16:13) he made it clear he would specifically not draw attention to himself. "He will glorify me" Jesus went on to say (John 16:14), meaning he would give praise to Jesus through the witness of his followers rather than claim any praise for himself.
3. It is Muslims who are Changing the Bible
The irony of this issue is that we have here clear evidence of a Muslim attempt to do what they have always wrongly accused the Christian world of doing, namely of trying to change the Bible to suit their own preferences! They have had to resort to a strange distortion to make the prophecy of Jesus fit Muhammad, and purely to bring into being some kind of connection with the name (or title) Ahmad in the Quran. It is clear they cannot prove their point directly from the Biblical texts as they stand.
There is no justification for the claim that the original word used by Jesus was periklutos or any Hebrew equivalent of it. Most importantly, as we have seen, it does not linguistically fit the context of his sayings.
The Title Ahmad in the Quran
There have been a number of disputes over the years about the employment of the word Ahmad in the Quran. Today it is a common first name among Muslims throughout the world, but there is no evidence in Arabian records dating back to the time of Muhammad that it was ever used as a personal name in the early centuries of Islam. It almost certainly came into popular use as a result of this text of the Quran.
It is more probable that the actual form of the word in Surah 61:6, ahmadu, was a simple adjective in the Arabic language of the time. This is supported by the fact that, in the sayings of Jesus we have considered, a proper name of the coming comforter is entirely omitted.
It is also very interesting to note that in one of the early codices of the Quran which Uthman ordered to be burnt, namely that of the expert reciter Ubayy ibn Kab, Surah 61:6 read somewhat differently. He omitted the conclusion "his name will be Ahmad" (ismuhu ahmad) and in its place records Jesus as saying that he was announcing a prophet who would bear the seal of Allah from his prophets and messengers (khatumullaahu bihil-anbiyaa wal-rusuli).
From a Christian perspective Surah 61:6 is an attempt to modify the prophecy of Jesus about the coming of the Holy Spirit to apply it instead to the Prophet of Islam. Some centuries before his time a counterfeit messiah named Mani also tried to apply the prophecy to himself and it seems that it was well known in the vicinity of Arabia during the centuries following the time of Jesus. It would only be natural for someone like Muhammad, believing he was the last of the messengers of Allah, to want to secure it in some deliberate way for himself – hence the adaptation of the title into the name Ahmad in the Quran.
5.6 The Holy Spirit: The Promised Comforter
Muslim: You cannot deny that Jesus did speak specifically of another messenger of God to follow him. As he was only one of a long line of prophets and apostles sent by God, is it not surely logical to assume that the Comforter was to be Muhammad?
In discussion with Muslims on this subject it is useful to take just one of the four sayings of Jesus about the coming Comforter, and to show from it that he could only have been speaking of the Holy Spirit. At the same time a healthy witness can be given to just how the Holy Spirit brings true believers into a relationship of personal unity with God himself. The ideal text for this purpose is this one:
And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. John 14:16-17
There are a number of reasons why this passage can only apply to the Holy Spirit and not to the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad.
Another Comforter: The Spirit of Truth
By applying sound principles of interpretation to this passage we will find at least seven reasons for concluding that the promised Comforter was the divine Holy Spirit who Jesus promised would come to his disciples shortly after his ascension to heaven.
1. He will give you Another Comforter
Jesus specifically told his disciples that he would send the promised Comforter to them. He repeated the promise later by saying "I will send him to you" (John 16:7). Thus the coming of the Spirit of Truth, also specifically declared to be the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), was something the disciples of Jesus were to expect in their time and environment. Muhammad only appeared six centuries later.
2. He will give you Another Comforter
If, as Muslims claim, the original title was periklutos, then the sentence would have read "He will give you another praised one". It not only makes no sense but is completely out of context. What Jesus is saying here is simply: "I have been your comforter, your counsellor and adviser. I have yet many things to teach you, but I will send you another counsellor and guide like me". He had come from God as a spirit from heaven and had taken human form for the duration of his short life on earth. He would send another spirit from above to fulfil his ministry to his followers.
The Quran interestingly confirms that Jesus came from God, calling him a "spirit from him" (ruhun-minhu), a title given to no other human being in the book (Surah 58:22). In the only other instance where the Quran speaks of a ruhun-minhu, it speaks of a spirit whom God sends into the hearts of true believers to strengthen them – precisely who the Holy Spirit is. So the Quran agrees that there were only two spirits whom God has ever sent from himself into the world, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, each one a paracletos, a guide and mentor, to comfort and lead the true followers of God on earth.
3. To be With You Forever
When Muhammad came to the fore as the Prophet of Islam in Arabia in the 7th century after Christ he did not stay with his companions forever but died at the age of 62 years. He was buried in Medina where his body has lain for nearly fourteen centuries. Jesus stated that the promised Comforter, however, would be with his disciples forever and the Holy Spirit has done just that, living in the hearts of all true followers of Jesus to this day.
4. The Spirit of Truth whom the World Cannot Receive
The Quran says that Muhammad came as a universal messenger to all mankind (Surah 34:28). Muslims believe that one day the whole world will submit to Islam and become followers of their Prophet. If so Jesus could not have been speaking about him for he declared that the world as a whole cannot receive the Spirit of Truth. Only the true followers of Jesus, who turn to him as their Saviour and Lord, can be born anew of the Holy Spirit and become heirs of eternal life.
5. You Know Him
It is quite obvious from this statement that Jesus disciples already knew the Spirit of Truth. As Muhammad was only born more than five hundred years later it could not have been him. The Comforter was a Spirit with whom the disciples were already familiar. The next clause states precisely how he was already known to them.
6. He dwells With You
When Jesus first came to John the Baptist to be baptised by him at the very beginning of his ministry, the heavens were opened and John himself records what happened next:
I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptise with water said to me, He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptises with the Holy Spirit. John 1:32-33
The Spirit of Truth was at all times in the person of Jesus himself, and in this manner the disciples of Jesus had already come to know him. At no time could Muhammad have been said to have already been with Jesus disciples.
7. He Will be In You
As the Spirit was already in Jesus, so it would also enter into and be forever present in the hearts of Jesus disciples once he had returned to heaven. This happened on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all who heard the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus for the first time. Gods love continues to be poured into the hearts of those who turn in faith to Jesus through the same Holy Spirit given to them (Romans 5:5). The Greek word here is en, meaning "right inside you". The promise clearly cannot refer to Muhammad who has never entered personally into the hearts of all true Christian believers.
Christians can not only easily refute Muslim arguments in favour of Muhammad as the promised Comforter but, as you can surely see, have at this point an excellent base to witness effectively to Muslims.
Facing the Muslim Challenge [Table of Contents]
Materials by John Gilchrist
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