Is Muhammad Mentioned in the Bible?
Islamic apologists have attempted to bolster the credibility of their beliefs by claiming that the Bible, itself, makes reference to the coming of the prophet Muhammad. Ironically, this claim comes even in the face of the prevailing Islamic contention that the Bible has been corrupted, and thus cannot be relied upon as an accurate record of God’s Word. Nevertheless, the reader is urged to weigh these claims in light of the exegetical evidence for five of these passages.
First, Muslims appeal to Isaiah 29:12—“Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, ‘Read this, please’; and he says, ‘I am not literate.’” Muslims insist that the book referred to in this verse is the Quran, that the one to whom the book was delivered is Muhammad, and that the one who ordered Muhammad to read the book is Gabriel. They claim that Muhammad fits the description of this individual, since Muhammad was illiterate when the angel Gabriel revealed the words of Allah to him.
To understand the context of the verse, one must remember that Isaiah, who lived in the 8th century B.C., is known as the “Messianic prophet” because he prophesied so many details about Jesus—not Muhammad. Isaiah 29 is in a context in which God pronounced woes on Judah for her sins at that time, i.e., 702 B.C. The context indicates that within a year, the great Assyrian king Sennacherib would lay siege to Jerusalem in 701 B.C. (vs. 3). Jerusalem (called “Ariel”) would be attacked by her enemies and punished for her crimes against God, and then those enemies would, themselves, also receive their just desserts (vss. 4-8). God’s people were in the throes of deliberate spiritual blindness, and Judah’s false prophets/seers were not helping the situation (vss. 9-10). Notice that Isaiah then described the unwillingness of the people of his day to heed the truth by comparing them to a literate person who is told to read something, but refuses, excusing himself by saying the document is sealed (vs. 11). It then is delivered to an illiterate person, but he excuses himself by saying he cannot read (vs. 12). The point is that the people of Isaiah’s day refused to pay attention to God’s Word spoken through His prophets. They did not want it! Verses 13-16 explain that because of their closed minds, they would all suffer for their rejection of His Word when the Assyrians arrived to besiege the city. But, as usual, God revealed a better day when people would listen (vss. 17ff.). Having examined the context, it is transparently evident that these verses have absolutely nothing to do with Muhammad!
A second verse that Muslims brandish in support of their claims is the promise of a coming prophet in Deuteronomy 18:18—“I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.” Muslims claim that the prophet to whom God referred was Muhammad.
Again, a simple examination of additional biblical evidence reveals that the statement made to Moses was divinely intended to refer to Jesus Christ—not Muhammad. Shortly after the establishment of the church of Christ and the Christian religion (in A.D. 30 in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the death and resurrection of Jesus—Acts 2), two of the twelve apostles, Peter and John, went to the Jewish temple and healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-11). When people began to gather in large numbers out of amazement at what had happened, Peter used the opportunity to preach the Christian message to them (Acts 3:12-26). He made several crucial points pertaining to the person of the Christ: (1) the recently crucified Jesus was, in fact, the One Whom the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had glorified (vs. 13); (2) God had raised Him from the dead (vs. 15); (3) it was the “name” (i.e., authority/power) of Jesus, and faith in Him, that procured the miraculous healing of the lame man (vs. 16); (4) the suffering of Christ was predicted previously by God through the prophets (vs. 18); (5) at the conclusion of human history, God will send Jesus back (not any of the prophets, let alone Muhammad)—an unmistakable reference to the Second Coming of Christ immediately preceding the Judgment (vss. 20-21; cf. Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7ff.). It is at this point that Peter quoted from the passage in Deuteronomy and applied it to Jesus—not Muhammad (vss. 22ff.). Peter’s inspired application is unmistakable; he clearly identified Jesus as the fulfillment: “God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (vs. 26). Observe further that God stated explicitly that the prophet that He would raise up would come "from your brethren" (vs. 15; cf. vs. 18). In context, He was speaking to Moses, who was a descendant of Isaac. Arabs descended from Ishmael, not Isaac. Muhammad was not from the brethren of Moses and the Jews--he was an Arab. Muhammad does not fit the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18.
A third attempt by Muslims to gain credibility for their viewpoint by linking their beliefs to the Bible concerns the multiple allusions to the Holy Spirit in John chapters 14, 15, and 16. John 16:7 reads: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I go not away, the Helper will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him to you.” Again, Muslims claim that Jesus was referring to Muhammad. Yet anyone who has spent even a minimal amount of effort examining the teaching of John chapters 14, 15, and 16 is astounded that anyone would claim that the “Helper” (NKNV), or “Comforter” (KJV), or “Counselor” (RSV, NIV)—the one who stands beside (paracletos)—is to be equated with Muhammad. The three chapters have as their setting Jesus giving His twelve apostles special encouragement and specific admonitions in view of His eminent departure from the Earth. He reassured them that even though He was about to exit the planet, He would not abandon them. They would not be left “orphans” (14:18). He would send in His place the Holy Spirit Who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance those things that Jesus had taught them (14:26). The term translated “Helper” occurs three times in the context (14:26; 15:26; 16:7). Without question, Jesus was referring to the power and directional assistance that the apostles would receive from the Holy Spirit beginning on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:8; 2:4). A simple reading of the three chapters makes this conclusion inescapable.
Since Muslims do not believe in the notion of Trinity (God in three persons—Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14), they reject the reality of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is referred to in the Quran, it is speaking of the angel Gabriel (Surah 2:87,253; 16:102; see Pickthall, n.d., p. 40, note 3). But using their own reasoning, the “Helper” cannot refer to Muhammad since the context specifically identifies the “Helper” as the “Holy Spirit:” “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (14:26). If the Quran is correct, and the Holy Spirit is Gabriel, then John 14:26 teaches that the Helper is Gabriel—not Muhammad! No, John 16:7 does not refer to Muhammad.
A fourth passage brought forward in an effort to show biblical support for Muhammad’s claim to be a prophet of God is John 1:19-21—“Now 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.’” Muslims claim that the Jews were waiting for the fulfillment of three distinct prophecies. The first was the coming of Christ. The second was the coming of Elijah. The third was the coming of the Prophet. Muslims point out that the three questions that were posed to John the baptizer in this passage show this expectation to be true. They further maintain that since the Jews distinguished between the Christ and the Prophet, Jesus Christ was not the prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15,18.
Muslims certainly are correct in their observation that the Jews of Jesus’ day thought that the Christ and the Prophet were two separate personages. But the meaning and proper application of the Bible does not rest on the perceptions and misconceptions of mere humans. The Bible records the opinions and viewpoints of a wide range of individuals throughout human history—including Satan himself (Matthew 4:3,6,9)—even though their opinions and viewpoints were incorrect. The Bible does not authenticate such opinions simply by reporting them. The Jews were confused.
The real question is, does the Bible indicate whether the Christ and the Prophet were/are to be understood as the same person? As already noted, the apostle Peter certainly thought so (Acts 3:12ff.). So did the great evangelist and Christian martyr, Stephen. Standing before the highest-ranking body of the Jewish religion, the Sanhedrin, and in the presence of the highest-ranking religious figure in Judaism, the high priest, Stephen recalled the words of Moses from Deuteronomy (Acts 7:37), and then forthrightly declared Jesus to be the Just One Whom they had betrayed and murdered (vs. 52). The “Just One” is precisely the same person that Peter identified as the fulfillment of the Deuteronomy passage, i.e., Jesus Christ. Likewise, Paul referred to Jesus (not Muhammad) as the “Just One” (Acts 22:14). An objective appraisal of the biblical data yields the unmistakable conclusion that the Bible identifies the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18 as Jesus Christ—not Muhammad. Jesus is both the Christ and the Prophet.
Song of Solomon 5:16
A fifth passage alleged to be a reference to Muhammad is found in Song of Solomon 5:16, where it is claimed that Muhammad is actually referred to by name in Hebrew. In English, the verse reads: “His mouth is most sweet, yes, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem!” (NKJV). A phonetic transliteration of the underlying Hebrew text reads: Kheeco mahm-tah-keem vuh-coollo ma-kha-madeem zeh dodee veh-tseh ray-ee beh-note yerushalayim. Muslims claim that the bolded word, though translated “altogether lovely,” is the name of Muhammad (Naik, n.d.). Consider six linguistic evidences that dispute their claim:
1. The second syllable (kha) utilizes the Hebrew letter heth which has a hard initial sound like the “ch” in the Scottish word “loch.” It is to be distinguished from the Hebrew letter he which is the same as the English letter “h.” If Muhammad was being referred to, the simple “h” would have been more linguistically appropriate.
2. Muslims claim that the eem (or im) in ma-kha-madeem in the Hebrew language was “added for respect” (Naik). This claim is untrue and unsubstantiated. The letters constitute the standard form for changing a singular to a plural—like adding “s” or “es” in English (cf. Weingreen, 1959, pp. 35ff.). As the eminent Emil Rödiger (who was professor for oriental languages at the University of Halle and the student of the well-known German Orientalist, H.F.W. Gesenius) noted in his editorial comment in the prestigious Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar: “The use of the plural as a form of respectful address is quite foreign to Hebrew” (p. 418).
3. The meaning of the Hebrew ma-kha-madeem is different from the meaning of the word “Muhammad” in Arabic. According to Sheikh Abd al-Azîz, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the word “Muhammad” is derived from the Arabic root word hamd meaning “praise.” It is the emphatic passive participle of that root and can be translated as “the Oft-Praised One” (n.d.). However, the Hebrew term (makh-mahd) in the passage under consideration has a completely different meaning. It refers to “grace, beauty” (Gesenius, 1979, p. 464), “a desirable thing, delightfulness” (Brown, et al., 1906, pp. 326-327), “a pleasant thing” (Payne, 1980, 1:295), or “precious” (Holladay, 1988, p. 190). English translations render the term “altogether lovely” (NKJV, NIV), “wholly desirable” (NASB), and “altogether desirable” (ESV, RSV). No reputable English translation would render the underlying Hebrew as “Muhammad.” All Muslims have done is happen upon a Hebrew word that phonetically sounds somewhat like “Muhammad” and have erroneously concluded the word must be referring to him. Such handling of linguistic data is irresponsible.
4. Further, the claim that Muhammad is intended in the verse completely disregards the context and message of the book of Song of Solomon. The book consists of a dialogue between Solomon, his Shulamite bride-to-be, and the “daughters of Jerusalem,” with perhaps even God interjecting His comment (5:1b), as well as the Shulamite’s brothers (8:8-9). The term used in 5:16 that Muslims claim refers to Muhammad is also used in 2:3 to refer to the Shulamite’s beloved—“Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down in his shade with great delight.” “Great delight” is the Hebrew word also used in 5:16; in both cases the words of the Shulamite refer to her beloved—not Muhammad.
5. Forms of the same Hebrew word are used elsewhere in the Old Testament, yet Muslims do not claim that those passages refer to Muhammad. Rightly so, since those verses cannot be forced to fit the notion that Muhammad is under consideration. For example, Isaiah 64:11 mourns the destruction of Jerusalem: “Our holy and beautiful temple, where our fathers praised You, is burned up with fire; And all our pleasant things are laid waste.” “Pleasant things” is a form of the same word in Song of Solomon 5:16. Would the Muslim contend that Muhammad was “laid waste” in Jerusalem? Additional occurrences of the same word—which dispel the misuse of the term by Muslims—are seen in 1 Kings 20:6; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Lamentations 1:10,11; Ezekiel 24:16,21,25; Hosea 9:9,16; Joel 3:5; et al. (Wigram, 1890, p. 687).
6. Even if the Hebrew word “lovely/desirable” in Song of Solomon were the Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic word “praised one,” it still would not follow that Muhammad is being referred to in the Bible. Instead, it would simply be an indication that the underlying word stands on its own as a term used for other applications. For example, the Hebrew word for “bitter” is mah-rah. It is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the concept of bitter. Yet, due to her unpleasant circumstances in life, Naomi (meaning “pleasant”) requested that her name be changed to “bitter” (mah-rah) to reflect her bitter predicament. It does not follow, however, that when the Hebrew word “bitter” appears in the Old Testament it refers to Naomi. If parents today were to name their child John, it would not follow that they intended to reflect an association with others in history who have worn the name John. Muslims have the cart before the horse. Their claim is equivalent to parents naming their child “wonderful” or “special”—and then claiming that an ancient writer had their child in mind when the writer used the word “wonderful” or “special” in referring to another person contemporary to the writer.
All of the above verses may be understood with a little study and consideration of context. Those who would attempt to use these verses to apply to Muhammad demonstrate that they have a very superficial, cursory understanding of the Bible. The truth is available for anyone who cares to “check it out.” But searching for the truth requires effort. It requires proper motivation, sincerity, and honesty. Yet it can be done. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
al-Azîz, Sheikh Abd (no date), “The Meaning of the Prophet’s names ‘Muhammad’ and ‘Ahmad,’” Islam Today, http://en.islamtoday.net/quesshow-14-738.htm.
Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs (1906), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000 reprint).
Gesenius, William (1847), Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979 reprint).
Holladay, William (1988), A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Naik, Zakir (no date), “Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the Bible,” Islam 101, http://www.islam101.com/religions/christianity/mBible.htm.
Payne, J. Barton (1980), hamad in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, Jr. and Bruce Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Pickthall, Mohammed M. (n.d.), The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (New York: Mentor).
Weingreen, J. (1959), A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew (Oxford: Clarenden Press), second edition.
Wigram, George W. (1890), The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980 reprint).