A Series of Answers to Common Questions
The New Testament anticipates a Prophet to come, the one like Moses, along with the Christ and Elijah (cf. John 1:19-21, 25). Clearly these Jews were expecting the Prophet like Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. Doesnt this prove that Jesus, who is the Christ, is not the Prophet but that the Prophet would be someone else who was anticipated to come, namely Muhammad?
Muslims are constantly proving our assertion that they do not bother pondering over biblical texts carefully. This is even more so in the case of John 1:19-25. After all, if the Muslims had taken the time to carefully analyze this specific passage they would have avoided raising the following problems which we are about to mention. But first, note what the reference says:
"And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord," as the prophet Isaiah said.’ (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’" John 1:19-25
A careful look at the foregoing demonstrates that Muslims are basing their case on the (mis)understanding of the Jews that three figures were expected to come, and that Christ and the Prophet were two distinct individuals. Unfortunately for them, the Muslims havent bothered to stop to think that if the Jews were correct then Muhammad couldnt be that Prophet like Moses. The reason for this is very simple: if the Prophet was to be an Ishmaelite, or a non-Israelite, then why in the world did these Jews ask a fellow Israelite, John, if he were that Prophet to come? Why did they ask John, an Israelite, if he were that Prophet if the Prophet was to be a non-Israelite, a Gentile?
Hence, if the Muslims believe that the Jews were correct that the Prophet was a distinct figure from the Christ then they must also accept that they were correct in believing that the Prophet would be an Israelite. But if the Muslims concede that the Jews may have been incorrect regarding the nationality of that Prophet, then they must likewise concede the possibility that they may have been wrong for assuming that the Prophet and Christ were two different figures. The only way we can know whether these Jews were right, wrong or whether they were partially correct is to see what the rest of the Holy Scriptures say about this matter:
"Philip found Nathanael and said to him, We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." John 1:45
Jesus agrees with Philip:
"Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" John 5:45-47
John wasnt the only Gospel to identify Jesus as the One announced by Moses:
"And he said to them, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Luke 24:25-27
"Then he said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures," Luke 24:44-45
"To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Acts 10:43
"To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles." Acts 26:22-23
The foregoing shows that whereas the Jews were correct to assume that the Prophet was an Israelite they were incorrect to think he was a separate person from the Christ.
Some Muslims seek to further prove that Jesus as the Christ cannot be this Prophet since, according to John 7:40-43 and 50-52, that Prophet would not come from Galilee whereas Jesus was from Galilee. This therefore means that Jesus could not be that Prophet. Let us ponder over the passages and see if whether the Muslim claims hold any weight:
"When they heard these words, some of the people said, This really is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was? So there was a division among the people over him." John 7:40-43
"Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does? They replied, Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee." John 7:50-52
We can see from the foregoing that Muslims have once again failed to pay careful attention to the biblical texts. Not only did these Jews erroneously assume that the Prophet wouldnt come from Galilee (1), but some of them also thought that the Christ couldnt be from there either! Thus if these Jews were correct then not only could Jesus not be that Prophet but he couldnt even be the Christ! But if that is the case then both Christianity and Islam are false religions since both of them teach that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Messiah of God. Hence, those Muslims who use such arguments have only managed to undermine both religions, theirs and ours!
Thankfully there is an answer which shows that the difference in opinion among the Jews whether the Christ was from Bethlehem or Galilee was a result of their confusion, not on the solid exegesis of the Hebrew Bible.
The Hebrew Scriptures demonstrate that these particular Jews who thought that Christ would come either from Bethlehem or Galilee, but not from both, were wrong. The OT prophets announced that the Messiah, even though he would come from Bethlehem, would also shine forth in Galilee:
"But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this." Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7
"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days." Micah 5:2
The NT shows how the birth and life of Jesus fulfills both of these predictions:
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel."" Matthew 2:1-6
"Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-- the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:12-17
Note how Matthew had no problem with Jesus the Messiah being from both places. As an eyewitness who knew Jesus and his family personally Matthew was aware that Christ was born in Bethlehem and then later settled in Galilee. Hence, the preceding data indicates that this was another time where the Jews were wrong since they were clearly mistaken about what the Scriptures actually said about the Messiahs point of origin.
Besides, the passage in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 doesnt say where the Prophet like Moses would come from:
"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen-- just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die. And the LORD said to me, They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him."
As long as he was an Israelite he could have came from anywhere. Lest the readers misunderstand this point we need to further qualify what we mean here.
The passage in Deuteronomy does not explicitly link the Prophet with the Messiah, nor does it tell us from what land he would come. So if we were to base our case on that passage alone, in isolation from the rest of the Holy Scriptures, then we couldnt definitely say or know where that Prophet would come from.
On the other hand, the Hebrew Bible does say where the Messiah would come from and the location of his ministry, i.e. Bethlehem of Judea, Galilee of the Gentiles etc., so that point we know for sure. Yet seeing that the NT documents identify the Prophet with the Messiah, with later rabbinic Jewish interpretation agreeing with this interpretation, this means that the Prophet would have to also come from Bethlehem and Galilee.
Note how this works out logically:
Moreover, this shows a rather inconsistent methodology or selectivity on the part of the Muslims since they quote the words of the Jews who differentiated between the Christ and the Prophet but fail to quote the following comments of the Jews:
"After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat? He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? Jesus said, Have the people sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost. So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world! Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself." John 6:1-15
These Jews concluded that Jesus must have been the Prophet like Moses since he performed a similar miracle to Moses, namely the miraculous feeding of multitudes. Why do Muslims not accept this testimony of the Jews, especially when it completely agrees with Jesus own statements that he is that Prophet who was to come into the world?
To conclude our discussion, we want to advise Muslims (and anyone else for that matter) that they shouldnt be basing their theology on rather shaky foundations, on the statements of uninspired men or women who were confused, but on the explicit teaching of the message of the prophets of God who were communicating Gods thoughts on this subject. And once this approach is applied to this specific issue it will become quite obvious that Jesus is not only the Christ but also that Prophet who was to come into the world!
(1) Note, here, that the Jews are not simply denying that THE Prophet of Deuteronomy 18 would come from Galilee, but that ANY Prophet would actually arise from this place. This shows just how ignorant they were of their own Scriptures since Jonah was an inspired prophet who was originally from Galilee:
"He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher." 2 Kings 14:25
Gath-Hepher a town of Lower Galilee, about 5 miles from Nazareth, was allotted to the tribe of Zebulun:
"The third lot came up for Zebulun, clan by clan: The boundary of their inheritance went as far as Sarid. Going west it ran to Maralah, touched Dabbesheth, and extended to the ravine near Jokneam. It turned east from Sarid toward the sunrise to the territory of Kisloth Tabor and went on to Daberath and up to Japhia. Then it continued eastward to Gath Hepher and Eth Kazin; it came out at Rimmon and turned toward Neah." Joshua 19:10-13
The foregoing should further caution those Muslims from uncritically basing their case on statements from uninspired individuals without checking whether such views are supported by clear passages reflecting Gods view of the matter.
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