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Archive for February 20th, 2013

Brief_Illustrated_Guide_To_Understanding_Islam

INTRODUCTION

There is a popular colorful pamphlet arguing for Islam titled, A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam.  Not too long ago I looked into one of the evidences it gave for Islam here, while for this post I want to consider another argument the booklet presents for Islam in which the author(s) claims that the Bible made a prophecy pointing to Muhammad.  At the outset, I want the readers to know that this discussion cannot be divorced from one’s methodology of apologetics and I think the best method of Christian apologetics interacting with Islam is to begin with the Bible as the authoritative and infallible Word of God.  No doubt Muslims will object, saying the Bible has been corrupted while some Christians will dismiss this strategy as ineffective in light of the predictable Muslim reaction to such an apologetic.  However, as I have argued here on this blog, the Muslim is not permitted to dismiss the Bible as corrupt and no longer authoritative because the Quran’s teaching is contrary to this, expounding explicitly the view and appealing directly to the Bible as authoritative and a reliable text.  Thus, the benefit of this methodology is three-fold: (1) it makes the Muslim conscious of the issue of authority, and allow the Christian to quickly press them on the internal tension within the Muslim’s own worldview concerning the Bible, (2) while the Christian continues to have the Word of God as his foundation even in his apologetic (3) and also exposes the Muslims to the Bible, God’s Word, which does it’s work among the hearers and readers. (Note: This approach would be consistent with the apologetic methodology of Presuppositional apologetics.)  Of course, when the Muslims read the Bible they will read it as a Muslim and might be inclined to see it pointing to and validating Islam which require a Christian to look more closely at their own Scriptures concerning these claims.

THE PROPHET AN ISHMAELITE?

Such a claim for the Bible as evidence for Islam appears on page 33 of the booklet: “The Biblical prophecies on the advent of the Prophet Muhammad  are evidence of the truth of Islam for people who believe in the Bible.”  It then quoted Deuteronomy 18:18-19 as evidence.  Whereas Muslims believe Deuteronomy 18:18-19 predicts the coming of Muhammad, Christians believe that that this passage was fulfilled by Jesus.  Deuteronomy 18:18-19 as quoted from the New American Standard Bible states,

 I will raise up a prophet from among their [l]countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.

The book then tries to extrapolate from Deuteronomy 18 that this coming prophet

must have the following three characteristics:
1) That he will be like Moses.
2) That he will come from the brothers of the Israelites, i.e. the
Ishmaelites.
3) That God will put His words into the mouth of this prophet
and that he will declare what God commands him.

Of these three characteristics, the second seems to be the most problematic: that the prophet must be an Ishmaelites (which Muslims believe Muhammad was a descendant of).  Ishmael was the son of Abraham through his wife’s slave Hagar, as the Bible in Genesis 16 records.  Since the nation of Israel was a descendant of Abraham through the line of Issac, one might say that Issac and Ishmael were “half-brothers.”  So the Muslim argument here is that Deuteronomy 18 teaches this “Prophet” will be coming from their “brothers,” that is from the Ishmaelites, and since they say Muhammad is a descendant of Ishamel, he must be the Prophet predicted.

The Muslim no doubt will object to the NASB translation of “countrymen” in verse 18 and prefer it to be translated “brothers” which they do have a point.  The Hebrew word that the NASB translated as “countrymen” is the Hebrew word אֲחֵיהֶם.  Literally, אֲחֵיהֶם is from the Hebrew word meaning “brother” in the plural form with a third person masculine plural suffix that’s functioning possessively  thus a woodenly literal translation would be “their brother.”  The NASB here interprets “their brother” to refer to fellow Israelites, hence the translation of “countrymen.”  Just because the Hebrew word translated literally would be “their brothers” does not necessarily entail this is a prophecy for Muhammad however, since “brothers” can possibly refer to Ishmaelites or the Israelites themselves.  Determining the referent must be done in light of the consideration of the context of Deuteronomy 18, which suggests that Moses here has in mind that the Prophet will be Jewish rather than an Ishmaelite.  There are three reasons that opposes the interpretation that Deuteronomy 18 is talking about an Ishmaelite.

The first reason against the Muslim interpretation is the fact that the context of Deuteronomy 18 has no reference to Ishmaelites.  There is nothing explicit (“Ishmaelites” or “Ishmael”) or implicit (“Hagar,” etc).  The Muslim then has no warrant to suddenly assume “their brothers” to refer to Ishmaelites.  No doubt the Muslim might say this is an argument from silence for the view that Deuteronomy 18 refers to a Jew, but here I am not using an argument for silence to prove that Deuteronomy 18 is referring to a Prophet of Jewish descendant  but I am only showing that the Muslim has no justification to read into the text that an Ishmaelite is the referent.  The other two points below is my basis for interpreting the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18 must be a descendant of Israel.

The second reason against the Muslim “Ishmaelite” interpretation is within Deuteronomy 18:18 itself.  The Hebrew word following אֲחֵיהֶם (“their brothers”) is כָּמֹוךָ, which has a preposition of comparison (“like, as”) coupled with a second person plural suffix.  The second person plural refers to those whom Moses is addressing, which specifically were the second Generation Israelites that left Egypt and waiting to enter into the Promise Land.  This Prophet will be as an Israelite, a Jew, and not an Ishmaelite.

The third reason against the Muslim “Ishmaelite” interpretation is from the contextual flow leading up to Deuteronomy 18:18-19.  Deuteronomy 18:15 is similar to Deuteronomy 18:18-19:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your [j]countrymen, you shall listen to him.

And like Deuteronomy 18:18, the NASB translation of “your countrymen” here is the same Hebrew word in verse 18 that refers to “brothers.”  Verse 15 narrows and specify whom Moses meant by “brothers” when he said “from among you.”  The phrase “from among you” in Hebrew is מִקִּרְבְּךָ, which is a construction of a preposition indicating source coupled with the noun קרב and second person plural suffix.  According to Holladay’s concise Hebrew lexicon, the noun קרב always refer to something internal as opposed to outside or external in all it’s lexical range of meaning whether it refers to the inward nonphysical parts of a person (compare Genesis 18:12, 1 Kings 17:21, Isaiah 19:3, Jeremiah 4:16), the inner physical body (compare Genesis 41:21), inner part of a city (Genesis 18:22), or sacrificial animal (Exodus 12:9).  This is also true when it is referring to people (for example, Exodus 34:12, 1 Samuel 16:13).  When the preposition מִ appears before the nounקרב, it has the idea of “from among” (for example, compare Numbers 14:13), that is, internal from within one’s group.  The source of the Prophet’s origin is indicated by the second person plural suffix, which again refers to the second generation Israelites that left Egypt waiting to enter into the Promise Land.  Thus, this Prophet can only be from among the Jews and not some external group of non-Jews.  Though it is not visible in our English translation, in Hebrew the construct מִקִּרְבְּךָ (“from among you”) is even nuanced, appearing before the phrase “like me,” or “from your countrymen.”  That is, the author Moses was emphasizing to his readers so that they won’t miss the truth that this Prophet will be from among their own kin, effectively ruling out Muhammad as a candidate for fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18.

A DENIAL OF JESUS’ FULFILLMENT OF DEUTERONOMY 18

As demonstrated above, Muhammad cannot be the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18 because he is not a Jew.  The other reason why Deuteronomy 18 cannot point to Muhammad is because Jesus fulfills the prophecy in Deuteronomy as “The Prophet.”  Of course, most Jews would disagree but Christians following the New Testament are obligated to believe this, since the New Testament teaches that Jesus is the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18.  Likewise, Muslims are also obligated to believe this since the Quran teaches that the Bible  including the New Testament is authoritative and not corrupted (as it is established elsewhere in our blog).  Muslim however reject this conclusion, instead arguing against Jesus as the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18.  On page 34 of A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam, the author (s) argued

If we look in a Bible with cross-references, we will find in the marginal notes where the words “the Prophet” occur in John 1:21, that these words refer to the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18.1  We conclude from this that Jesus Christ is not the prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:18.

The footnote in the book indicates that the source used for cross-referencing John 1:21 is from the NIV Study Bible.  Reading John 1:21, one wonders how the book can conclude from this passage that Jesus is not the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18.  For context, John 1:19-23 states:

19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not [q]the Christ.”21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he *said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

Note that this passage records the conversation John the Baptist had with the Jewish priests and Levites from Jerusalem (v.19).  From verses 19 to 23, the Jewish religious leaders were trying to figure out who John was, by first asking him “Who are you?” (v. 19), then specifically whether he was Elijah (v.21a), or the Prophet (v. 21b).  In both instances, John denies being Elijah and “the Prophet” (v.21), with the Prophet being an allusion to Deuteronomy 18.  Instead, John identifies himself as the one predicted in Isaiah 40:3 as preparing the way for the Messiah.  Yet how could the booklet then “conclude from this that Jesus Christ is not the prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:18” when the passage record John the Baptist denial of himself being the Prophet?  John the Baptist’s denial of being the Prophet is not the same thing as him denying Jesus as the Prophet of Deuteronomy and neither is it the equivalent of Jesus denying Himself to be the prophet.  This is rather fuzzy thinking on the part of the author (s) of A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam where once again there is a confusion of referent nor does the conclusion follow from the text.

JESUS IS THE PROPHET OF DEUTERONOMY 18

The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is the one who fulfilled Deuteronomy 18.  If the New Testament does teach this, as re-iterated before, the Muslim is obligated to believe this because of the Quran’s bibliology.  Any Muslim who deny Jesus as the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18 faces the internal tension between the Muslim’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 18 and the Quran’s teaching concerning the truth of the Bible.

In a sermon that Peter preached to the Jews during the early days of the church after Pentecost, Peter paraphrased Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19 in Acts 3:22-23:

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet [k]like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’

The contextual flow of Peter’s sermon is the preaching of Jesus Christ to the Jewish people (v. 12-21). For instance, right before verses 22-23, Peter states in verses 19-21:

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the [i]Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the [j]period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.

For the Muslim critic, Peter’s inspired message from God cannot be taken to refer to Muhammad as the referent of the Prophet since verse 24 makes it clear the timing of everything he is talking about (the Suffering Servant, the Prophet to be listened to, etc) were taking place “these days” (that is during the time of Peter’s contemporary) rather than six hundred years later (Muhammad and Islam):

And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days.

What other event could be more central to Peter and the early believers than the suffering and death of Jesus Christ which Peter keeps on talking about in chapter 3?  It is important to remember that Peter’s citation of Deuteronomy 18 is situated in a context dominated by the centrality of Christ.  Note again how verse 24 mentioned that “all the prophets who have spoken…announced these days.”  This is similar to how Peter have said earlier in verse 18 that “all the prophets” were making prophecies in the Old Testament that Jesus has now fulfilled:

 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

Because Jesus have fulfilled these Messianic prophecies, Peter assigns Messianic titles to Jesus such as “His Servants” (v.13 and 26, an allusion to Isaiah’s prophecies), “the Holy and Righteous One” (v. 14), “Prince of life” (v.15) and Christ (v.18 and 20).  In such a context the reference to “that Prophet” of Deuteronomy 18 is just one more Messianic Old Testament titles that Peter is saying Jesus fulfilled.

If Jesus is the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18, verse 15 of that chapter makes it clear that He must be listened to, which Acts 3:23 paraphrases.  That’s exactly what God Himself announces during the Transfiguration.  The same author of Acts, the Physician Luke, also recorded in Luke 9:35 echoes of Deuteronomy 18:15, when God declared that Jesus is the one whom people must listen to:

Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”

Thus, Jesus is the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18 according to Acts 3.  Since Jesus is the referent in Deuteronomy 18, this does not give room for Muhammad to fulfill this prophecy especially since Muhammad is not Jewish, a criteria of Deuteronomy 18.  Muslims should read the Holy Bible (both Old and New Testament) and come to know Jesus as their Lord God, and Savior of their sins.  Have faith (trust) in Jesus and repent (turn away) from your sins.  Trust in Jesus as your Prophet, Priest and King.

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