Is John1:19-21 Referring to Prophet Muhammed?
It has become a common argument from the Muslim camp to suggest to the Christian that John 1 contains a reference to Prophet Muhammed. This reference is not an explicit reference by name but an implicit reference by the title of “the Prophet” which is not referring to the Prophet Jesus (the Christ). This argument can be found in the first appendix which provides a link to the Muslim claim.
The evangelical Christian camp, however, have stepped up efforts to counter this Muslim claim. This is the reason of my writing of this short paper; the Christian camp in the form of an apologist for Christianity, Sam Shamoun, did comment on this claim and attempted a refutation on the ABN (Aramaic Broadcasting Network).
As a word of note to the readers; if the response by Shamoun was convincing I would not be writing this as I would have accepted Shamoun’s response in order to be intellectually honest. On the flip-side if Shamoun’s response is insufficient (which is what I feel) I would not accept it as it would be equally intellectually dishonest to do so. Also, in the way of fairness and scholarly etiquette I have appended a link to Shamoun’s response so the more interested reader can listen to it and judge my response with a more potent measuring stick, see the second appendix.
I do ask Shamoun’s Christian audience (as well as any non-Christians amongst his audience) to maintain intellectual honesty and also re-evaluate his views based on my points of contention. Shamoun is a fine orator and puts his points across in an enthusiastic and passionate fashion. I feel his enthusiasm did get the better of him as he began to interpolate his own biased views into the Biblical text spoken of. Allow me to expand upon this. Essentially Shamoun devotes much of his attention in trying to explain away John 1:19-21 in a fashion which would exclude an intimation of the Prophet Muhammed from the text (John 1: 19-21)
It is important to quote this text for the reader’s ease of following (John 1:19-21):
1:19 now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
1:20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”
1:21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
So we realise the Jewish elite question the John the Baptist, he tells them that he is not the Christ and they proceed to ask him whether he was Elijah or “the Prophet”.
What we glean from this text is that the Christ, Elijah and the Prophet are three separate people and thus the Jews who were questioning John the Baptist were expecting the arrival of three distinct figures in the future; Elijah, the Christ and the Prophet.
The Muslim suggests that the Prophet is Muhammed and not the Christ (Jesus), this is a reasonable suggestion in so far as “the Prophet” is distinct and independent from the Christ. It should also be noted that John the Baptist did not question the Jews concerning “the Prophet” and nor did he seem perplexed once questioned about “the Prophet” which suggests he (John the Baptist), like the Jews, was aware of a Prophet to come who is not Jesus (the Christ).
As a note to the lay reader, Christ simple means Messiah (literally the anointed one) in Greek and does not mean God or the son of God. The Muslims have been making this argument for numerous years now concerning this particular passage of John 1.
Shamoun’s is an interesting response, superficially it may have sounded pretty convincing to much of his audience but with a little analysis we see gaping holes in his argumentation. He initially (wrongly) goes onto impress upon the inquiring Jews of John 1:19-21 his own views which is not supported by the text. His view is that the inquiring Jews believe “the Prophet” to be an Israelite. This view does not have any Scriptural support from the passage quoted. Shamoun adds this to the equation, he recklessly tells us that the inquiring Jews “knew” that “the Prophet” was an Israelite as John the Baptist was an Israelite. He says this as Muhammed was an Ishmaelite and he is moved by his focus to try and remove any intimation of Muhammed from the passage. Of course being moved by such a task quite naturally leads to an underpinning bias which leads Shamoun into this reckless manipulation of his own Holy Book which yields his warped understanding of the passage.
This is a peculiar understanding which Shamoun states rather forcefully, however it is not only a peculiar understanding which lacks proof from the passage in question but it is an inconsistent view as Shamoun fails to use the same “peculiar” method of exegesis concerning the passage when it mentions the Christ.
Shamoun’s lack of consistency is highlighted by John 1:20 where if he was to use the same far-fetched reasoning and assumption without any authority he should also conclude that John the Baptist believes that the inquiring Jews believed that the Christ was to have a natural birth as John the Baptist tells them that “I am not the Christ”. The inquiring Jews would have known that John the Baptist was not born of a virgin birth but that of a normal birth; therefore Shamoun (being consistent) would conclude the Jews believed Christ to be a man born of a husband and wife.
Why Shamoun lacked the consistency to judge the whole passage by his own erroneous yardstick is a mystery. Shamoun simply interpolates his own unfounded assumption into the text; the text does not teach us that “the Prophet” is an Israelite; in fact it does not teach us anything about the lineage of “the Prophet” despite Shamoun’s inconsistent assertion.
Shamoun also suggests that the Jews could have been mistaken when they mentioned “the Prophet”. He suggests that no such Prophet was expected as the inquiring Jews may have believed this erroneously. Well, Shamoun misses the other key party in the conversation; namely the Prophet John the Baptist. In this passage John the Baptist seems to know of “the Prophet” the Jews inquire about as he answers their question concerning him without any hesitation, confusion or any correction/questioning of the existence of “the Prophet” thus we realise John 1:19-21 suggests to us that “the Prophet” is real and was being expected by the Jews and they were not mistaken. Therefore we realise Shamoun’s assertions are lacking firm foundations and Scriptural support.
The facts remain; all we realise from John 1: 19-21 is that the Jews were awaiting three distinct individuals (the Christ, Elijah and “the Prophet”) and they did not believe “the Prophet” to be either Elijah or the Christ. We do not realise Shamoun’s interpolations as the text does not mention anything of the like.
Needless to say Shamoun moves on after his fanciful manipulation of his own text. He tries to convince us, rather erroneously, that “the Prophet” and the Christ are the same person despite the above passage (John 1:19-21) militating against him.
Strangely enough he tries to use John 1:45 to state this claim. As the reader can see, John 1:45 does not help Shamoun one iota:
John 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
In fact Shamoun seems to hesitate in quoting the passage fully as the passage seems to be opposing the Christian doctrine of Jesus divinity and the miraculous birth as Jesus is described as “the son of Joseph” (not the son of God), hence it is unsurprising to me to hear a perceived shift in the intonation of Shamoun’s voice when he came to this part of the verse. Surely this passage opens up a new can of worms for Shamoun and his colleagues.
To address Shamoun thoroughly and to do his points justice I would state that Moses and other Prophets writing about Jesus in the Law (Torah) does not mean the Christ is “the Prophet”. This was a confusing argument which Shamoun presented and the more discerning amongst the audience would have felt the same in my view. Also, as a worrying point of contention for Shamoun and other Christian apologists; Philip seems to be claiming that Moses wrote about Jesus “the son of Joseph”, thus Philip is not only denying the miraculous birth of Jesus but is intimating that Moses wrote about somebody (a Prophet to come) who was to have a natural birth, this could not have been Jesus so the question remains, who is this person? This passage, ironically cited by Shamoun to support his views, does not aid Shamoun at all but further compounds the confusion and leads to a multitude of important questions.
Shamoun fluently moves onto John 5: 39-40 and tries to build his argument upon this passage. This passage does not shed any further light on the matter, the readers can judge for themselves:
5:39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me,
5:40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Thus we realise this passage (John 5:39-40) does not support Shamoun’s assertion that “the Prophet” and the Christ are the same person. Shamoun, after much positing of irrelevant or impotent “evidences”, moves onto his main Biblical citation which he believes supports his views that “the Prophet” is the Christ. Shamoun brings forth the Biblical reference of John 6:14-15:
6:14 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
6:15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Again, this reference does not prove Shamoun’s belief that “the Prophet” and the Christ was the same person. All this reference teaches us is that a group of people saw Jesus performing a “miraculous sign” and then they believed him to be “the Prophet”. There is no mention of the people calling him the Christ as well in this passage and nor is there any mention of the people exclaiming the two are the same person. Suffice it to say Shamoun interpolates his own understanding and imposes it upon the people of this passage without any authority or logical reasoning whatsoever. Even if we go with the view that Jesus is “the Prophet” then the question of who was the Christ arises.
We of course now know that Jesus was the Christ so could not have been “the Prophet” as these two were two distinct people (as gleaned from John 1:19-21). So it is more reasonable to view these people as being mistaken when pronouncing Jesus to be “the Prophet” (other people were mistaken concerning the identity of Jesus in Matthew 16:13-14, which is discussed later) as this would erroneously mean that Jesus was not the Christ unless one adopts Shamoun’s position which requires interpolating an unsubstantiated belief (the belief that the Christ and “the Prophet” are the same person) into the text. That would mean that the Biblical text is prevented from speaking for itself and Shamoun would act as an intermediary between the Bible and the reader.
In fact the context of this passage is that Jesus feeds the five thousand through food multiplication (this is the “miraculous sign” which they observed) the people saw this and then concluded that Jesus was “the Prophet”. Now, we realise from this that the sign of food multiplication is linked to “the Prophet”. If we look at the life of Mohammed we realise he too performed similar miracles of multiplying both food and water and feeding a great number of people due to the miracles [1, 2].
So this strengthens the Muslim claim that “the Prophet” is Mohammad. One, naturally, may ask “what about Jesus”? Well, the context concerning Jesus was that there was much discussion and confusion concerning his identity, even John the Baptist did not know who Jesus was and questioned him. Those who knew of Jesus did not even know who he was so it is of no surprise that some people (John 6:14-15) viewed him to be “the Prophet” initially as if we cross reference this with Matthew 16: 13-14 we realise there were many conflicting ideas concerning the identity of Jesus, quite simply people did not know who he was:
13: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14: They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Using Shamoun’s method we would simply combine all these titles and proclaim Jesus to be John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and other prophets all in one despite all these being separate entities just like “the Prophet” and the Christ are separate entities. Rather than using an exaggerated form of Shamoun’s methodology we can simply use the Scripture and logic and realise Jesus was the Christ and therefore was not John, Elijah, Jeremiah or any other prophet.
So going back to Shamoun’s point we now know that Jesus is the Christ therefore the people of John 6:14 who claim Jesus to be “the Prophet” are incorrect as the two are not the same person according to the Bible. So Shamoun has a dilemma; either accept the Bible and realise the Christ is not “the Prophet” or manipulate the Bible in order for it to suit his own purposes.
Not only does Matthew 16:13-14 highlight the uncertainty of who Jesus was but it also shows a good number of people did not believe Jesus to be God which is an issue for the Trinitarian Church but is not the focus of this article.
Just to further highlight the lack of knowledge concerning who Jesus was we can look to no less than John the Baptist who does not know who Jesus really was (Matthew 11: 1-2):
11:1 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
11:2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
This passage further highlights the lack of knowledge concerning Jesus and the potential to misidentify Jesus. As a side note, it further militates against the Trinitarian form of Christianity as John the Baptist (a Prophet) does not recognise Jesus as God. However, going back to Shamoun’s assertions; surely it would be more logical for Shamoun to free himself from the shackles of bias (and conflicting ideas) and accept either he does not have a full understanding of the text or accept that “the Prophet” is not Jesus but somebody else. If he accepts the issue requires further contemplation and research then that would be admirable as we are all human beings and have huge gaps in our knowledge and of course only God is the All-Knower. Shamoun does not lose much ground, to his Muslim counterparts either, if he accepts what the Biblical text indicates namely; “the Prophet” was being expected by the Jews and was not Jesus (the Christ) but somebody else.
I say Shamoun does not lose much ground to the Muslims in this discussion as Shamoun could quite easily counter and say there is no Biblical proof from this passage that it refers to the Prophet Muhammed and he could go further and say for all the average reader knows is that it could refer to Joseph Smith, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad or other figures believed to be prophets by their respective followers. The neutrals could point to the fact that the passage was contained within the Gospel of John which scholars view to be the most theologically evolved and thus the least reliable of the four Gospels and they too could argue that the passage is not proof of another Prophet to come yet alone Muhammed.
So Shamoun has room to manoeuvre if he is willing to free himself of his own bias and desire to manipulate the Scripture in order to realise this bias.
Shamoun must always remember he is not an intermediary between his audience and the Bible as the audience are well capable of reading and deciding for themselves without the view of Shamoun, otherwise it stops becoming the Bible but becomes Shamoun’s handbook they are reading into.
Shamoun has no Biblical foundations for his view that “the Prophet” and the Christ is the same person. John 1: 19-21 clearly indicates that the two people are separate thus rendering Shamoun into the realms of textual acrobatics and interpolations in order to oppose the ideas presented by John 1:19-21.
We also realise that there was much confusion as to who Jesus actually was and a miracle of multiplying food and feeding a multitude of people is a key factor in identifying who “the Prophet” was highlighted in John 6:14-15. We note Biblical evidence (John 1:19-21) highlights that the Christ is not “the Prophet” and there is no Biblical evidence to show the two are the same despite Shamoun’s assertions.
We also see Philip appearing not to believe in Jesus as God but as a human who was “the son of Joseph” (John 1:45), this passage re-opens the Unitarian arguments.
As a side note, many Muslims would state that Muhammed performed a miracle of feeding the multitude and this is a key identifying feature of “the Prophet”, thus their claims are in fact strengthened by this analysis.
The question still remains; who is “the Prophet”? Of course the reader is left to go away and independently decide who “the Prophet. was It is not for myself, Shamoun or anybody else for that matter to decide for the reader we can merely put the facts out rather than opinion; that is what I have attempted to do in the course of this paper. I do feel Shamoun lent heavily on supposition and interpolating his own views into Biblical text but if anybody feels I have inadequately dealt with this subject or made a mistake then do contact me and let me know.
Search for the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.
Note: All Bible references were taken from the New International Version of the Bible
1. Link to the Muslim argument suggesting Muhammed is referred to in the Gospel of John:
2. Link to Shamoun’s claims which I responded to in the course of this article (video entitled: Muhammad in the Bible? John 1:19-21):
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