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Did Jesus foretell Muhammad’s coming?

Posted August 2, 2018 by Mark Anderson Leave a comment
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Medieval Persian manuscript depicting Muhammad leading Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayer. Source: The Middle Ages. An Illustrated History by Barbara Hanawalt (Oxford University Press, 1998) 36.

Did Jesus foretell Muhammad’s coming?

Posted August 2, 2018 by Mark Anderson Leave a comment

The most vital claim the Qur’an makes about Jesus is that he foretold Muhammad’s coming (Q 61:6). This claim is more important than any of the other things the Qur’an says about Jesus because, if true, it means that Jesus effectively:

  • Confirms that Muhammad* is God’s prophet and the Qur’an is true
  • Admits that he, Jesus, is not the bearer of God’s definitive revelation for humankind
  • Condemns the worship of Jesus central to Christian practice[1]

For those same reasons, the claim is highly problematic to Christians.

Taking Ahmad to be another name for Muhammad,* most Muslims read Jesus’ words in Q 61:6 like this: “Children of Israel, I am God’s messenger to you, confirming what the Torah revealed before me and giving you good news of a messenger to come after me whose name is Ahmad….” However, ahmadu, transliterated “Ahmad” here, isn’t likely a name at all, but rather the comparative adjective “more praiseworthy.” All the early Muslim commentators took it as that. Till the 9th century, no one took it as a name.[2] Thus, we must look in the Gospels for a prediction of a messenger “more praiseworthy” than his predecessors, Jesus included.[3]

The problem comes when we look for this prediction in the New Testament. For there we see that

  • Jesus repeatedly promises to return himself (after leaving his disciples)
  • He also promises to send the Holy Spirit to take his place
  • He nowhere announces another prophet to come after him—certainly no one more praiseworthy than himself

Most Muslims offer two explanations for this. They claim the text of the Injil, or New Testament, has been corrupted. They also suggest that “Ahmad” is the translation of the Greek word parakletos in John 14:16, which they say was originally periklytos—meaning, the “celebrated” or “praised one”—before it was corrupted. Parakletos means “Helper,” “Advocate” or “Counselor.” In other words, the uncorrupted text has Jesus promising to send Muhammad,* the praised one. However, not all Muslims use the biblical verse in this way.

Christians respond in two ways. First, they say there’s no evidence whatsoever to support the claim of biblical corruption. Numerous manuscripts of John 14:16 predating the Qur’an attest to the word’s always having been parakletos. And as the early Muslim commentaries show, the Qur’an, when scrutinized, doesn’t actually say that the biblical text has been altered. It always speaks respectfully of the scriptures the Jews and Christians in Muhammad’s day possessed. It only criticizes Jews—and possibly Christians too—for misusing their texts.

Second, Christians say Jesus clearly states that the promised parakletos is the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26). And he makes the promise in response to his disciples’ immediate need, due to his imminent departure (John 14-16). In that context, the promise of a prophet who wouldn’t come for almost 6 centuries would be of no help. Acts 1 and 2 follow this up with accounts of Jesus reminding his disciples of that promise just before leaving them and of his sending the Spirit a few weeks later in fulfillment of it. For the Muslim explanation to be true, Christians would have had to change whole chapters of the biblical text, not just a single word in it. And again, hundreds of ancient manuscripts show that these texts have been faithfully preserved and today read as they always have—aside from minor copyist errors, the sort found in all ancient manuscripts.

Christians will at least appreciate their Muslim brothers and sisters’ high regard for every word spoken by God, as well as their respect for Jesus and his word. Like Muslims, we also appreciate the challenge of having to acknowledge evidence that doesn’t support our belief and believing scriptural claims we have no external evidence for. Hopefully, both Muslims and Christians can affirm that we all honor God by walking faithfully in the path he leads us in and by granting others we disagree with the freedom to do the same.

*Peace be upon his descendants

For a much fuller examination of this topic, see the author’s The Qur’an in Context: A Christian Exploration.

[1] This follows from the first point, for if the Qur’an is true, then Jesus isn’t God and worshipping him is condemned.

[2] Corroborating this, Muslims didn’t name their boys Ahmad for more than a century after Muhammad’s death. Since they did name their boys Muhammad from the first, this implies that the Muslims who knew Muhammad* never took ahmadu to be his name. Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an (Oxford: Oneworld, 1995) 98-99.

[3] It is standard Muslim belief that Muhammad* is more praiseworthy than his predecessors—Jesus included—as the Qur’an consistently teaches.

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