Christ, Elia and the Prophet

The following argument is presented by many Muslims.

I think the above argument is a great misunderstanding:

First: the Greek text is in both verses, 21 and 25: "ho prophe:te:s" which literally translated means "the prophet". [ho = the definite article, "e:" being the Greek letter "eta"]

Obviously, whether you translate "the" or "that" doesn't change anything, since in both cases it is clear that a particular one is meant. And you are right, it refers back to Deuteronomy 18:18. About that we are in agreement. So, there is no corruption of any sort as you want to imply. Literally it is "the prophet" but one of the translations stresses the intended particularity by translating it as "that prophet". No big deal. Any translation is the translation of the meaning. And both translations are faithful to the intended meaning.

Now about the logical flaw in your interpretation. Let me illustrate it with a claim from the Muslims themselves. Many Muslims believe that Muhammad is "that prophet" mentioned in Deut. 18:18, and they also believe that Muhammad is "the comforter" mentioned in John 14-16.

Reading those passages it is certainly far from obvious that they talk about the same person [and I don't believe that they do]. What would you think Muhammad would have answered to the question "Are you that prophet? Are you that comforter?" Well, we can't speculate what Muhammad would have said since he wasn't asked the question, but according to many Muslims he is supposed to be both.

In the same way, there are many prophecies in the Old Testament about future figures to come. For some it is obvious that they are prophecies about the same person, for some it could refer to another person or just be a description of another role that the same person was to fulfil.

When John comes on the scene, he has an incredible impact on the Jews and the people start to ask whether he is the fulfillment of one (or more) of these prophecies. So, they go through the list of the major prophecies. Are you the Elijah who is supposed to come? Are you the Messiah who is supposed to come? Are you the prophet who is supposed to come? It is not settled in their mind that those are to be three different persons. It is certainly not clear from the OT that this is so. They are just trying to make some sense of John in the light of the promises of God.

Their question did not imply: If you are the one then you can't be the other. They only tried to find a slot for him in the fulfilment of their scriptures.

I do not accept that any of the two (Muhammad being the Prophet or the Comforter) are valid interpretations. But the point is that you think they are, and therefore you need to answer this question: if you think that Muhammad could be "that prophet" *and* "that comforter" why do you think that "the Messiah" and "the prophet" necessarily have to be two distinct people?

If you think of the way you approach the issue in regard to Muhammad, you will have to admit that there is no logical problem for Christians to recognize that Jesus is both the Messiah and that prophet. Our interpretation of Jesus filling more than one role or more than one prophecy is as valid as the claim that Muhammad does so.

In my commentary on Deuteronomy there is not much detail on this particular question [just as most commentaries are answering the questions that THEIR readers have and not questions of Muslims because not many Muslims buy commentaries on the Bible] but a short footnote refers to the Dead Sea Scrolls and states that this passage was interpreted to talk about the Messiah, i.e. "that prophet" is the Christ.

This is another confirmation that this is an inclusive 'or' and not an exclusive 'or'.

Now, whether Muhammad even fits the particular prophecy in Deuteronomy or the Gospel according to John, that is an issue for another discussion.

Further articles on this passage:

  • Rebuttal to Misha'al Al-Kadhi
  • Wider context and relevance of this passage in connection with John 8
  • Implications for understanding Deut. 18:18

  • Bible Commentary Index
    Answering Islam Home Page