A while ago I took part in a Muslim-Christian discussion. At one point in the evening, I heard the old chestnut that Jesus prophesied the coming of Mohammed in John 14-16, when he promised to send “the Helper”. It’s a common argument that does the rounds on Muslim websites. Now, it’s an “interesting” feeling when people who don’t know the Bible very well, seize it, and claim that it’s talking about their religious leader. But when I explained why this was a complete misreading of the verses, one interesting response that I’d not heard before was that Christians did just the same to the Jews, in seizing their Scripture and applying it to Jesus.
It was an interesting parallel to make. But that comparison does not follow at all. The fact is, the first Christians were all Jewish. That means the Bible was already “theirs” and they understood Jesus to be fulfilling it. They weren’t seizing a foreign, unfamiliar set of Scriptures and claiming them as their own. The apostle Paul was Jewish, schooled at the feet of Gamaliel, an expert in the Law (Acts 22:3; Phil 3:5). Yet he found Jesus to be the key that unlocked the Jewish Scriptures (2 Cor 1:20; 3:15-16). Jesus Christ was the one he was looking for, and whom the Law and the Prophets pointed to. Just do a quick search of Paul’s writings and see how often he’s using the Jewish Scriptures.
Likewise, when those first Christians went out preaching Jesus to the Jews, they used the Scriptures to persuade them that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17:1-4; 28:23-25). They spent a lot of time in the Old Testament to make their case. The more time they could spend in the text, the better! They didn’t shoehorn Jesus into texts that had nothing to do with him. Did they see deeper meanings in the texts, which their fellow Jews didn’t see? Sure! Did they have “Aha!” moments, when the penny dropped, and they saw that this Jesus was, indeed, the one whom their Scriptures talked about? Sure. Did the scales fall from their eyes? Sure! But that deeper meaning was not in spite of the surface meaning, but because of the surface.
When the Gentiles (non-Jews) were invited to Jesus, it was clear that they were being invited in to the Jewish Scriptures, rather than stealing the Jewish Scriptures from the Jews (Rom 11:17-18; Eph 2:12-13).
In contrast, no Christian who knows their Bible is persuaded by the flimsy argument that the “Helper” promised in John 14-16 is to be identified as Mohammed. It’s impossible for someone, who’s sincerely engaged with the meaning of John 14-16 as a text, to make that argument with a straight face. You have to read against the text, not with the text to find Mohammed there. You draw that conclusion in spite of the text, not because of the text. Quite simply, it’s manipulating a text, or “twisting” it (2 Peter 3:16).
So, to my Muslim friends, here’s a thought experiment for you. You say: as Christianity reformed Judaism, so Islam reformed Christianity. So why not treat the Christian Scriptures like Christians treat the Jewish Scriptures? As Christians, we still love the Jewish Scriptures; we aren’t afraid of them, or arguing against them. We delight to read them, and don’t need to cherry-pick from them. Why not get hold of a copy and read the Christian Scriptures for yourself? If you’ve used the argument that Jesus prophesied about Mohammed, why not look more closely and see if that argument really holds up?