Sami Zaatari's futile attempts to inject new life into a dead argument
David Wood made an argument that Muhammad is a false prophet based on criteria taken from Deuteronomy 18:20. His argument is strong because Deuteronomy 18:18-19 is one of the main passages that Muslims appeal to as evidence that the Bible predicts the coming of Muhammad.
Sami Zaatari thought he found a way to refute David Wood's argument, and wrote a rebuttal. Before continuing with my evaluation of Zaatari's claims the reader would do well to first study David Wood's article Deuteronomy Deductions: Two Short, Sound, Simple Proofs that Muhammad Was a False Prophet and Sami Zaatari's response Who really is the False Prophet?
A couple of days after the publication of his article, I informed Zaatari via email that I had alredy answered his (mis)interpretation of Deuteronomy 18:20 more than ten years ago, and gave him the link to my article. He wrote back: "and there is still 3 other answers EVEN if your response is correct". Zaatari is quite obviously not willing to rethink his response, let alone retract it.
For the time being, I am going to discuss the one "answer" he has given, and will be patiently waiting for his three other answers. Assuming that he has presented his best answer, these other ones will hardly be more impressive. In the following, I will only quote as much as necessary from Zaatari's article. He argues:
Basically that is David's argument, let us summarize it up:
-Deuteronomy 18:20 says a prophet who speaks a revelation that is not from God is actually a false prophet
-The prophet Muhammad spoke of a revelation that was not from God, but from Satan, i.e. the satanic verses
-Therefore Muhammad is a false prophet
That's the argument, very simple.
Now, is David's conclusion correct? Or has David over-zealously arrived at his conclusions? Well if we study the matter carefully, then we shall see that David was a tad bit too over-zealous in his reading and conclusions. ...
For starters, let us read verse 20 again, let us read the most important and crucial part, the part that David over-zealously looked over:
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die." (Deuteronomy 18:20)
Notice the verse goes on to say that the false prophet shall die! So therefore the criterion is as follows:
-A prophet who makes a revelation which is not from God is a false prophet
-This prophet shall then die
So therefore that is the criteria which David conveniently left out because he knows that completely takes his ENTIRE argument down.
Now off course David and other's will reply back by saying that by die the verse actually means that the Jews will have to pass out the execution, i.e. they will have to personally kill the prophet.
This explanation could be true, but ...
Zaatari already knows the answer, but in the remainder of his article he tries hard to fight against it, and to turn the meaning of this verse on its head. He makes the same argument that I have already refuted long ago. So, let me simply quote it here before I add some more observations:
In Deuteronomy 18:20 we read:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.
Based on this verse, some Muslims have therefore concluded the following:
Muhammad spoke for God for over 22 years. If he were an imposter, God would have killed him as this verse promises. God didn't kill him, therefore, he was a true prophet. Hence we have to accept him and convert to Islam.
Well, sure. But let's not stop there. Deut. 17:12 says that anyone who won't obey the priest or the judge shall die; so all those criminals, thieves and murderers in our society must really be innocent since God didn't strike him dead, right? Deut 22:25 says that a man who rapes a maiden in the field shall die, so if the man isn't instantly struck dead by God then she must have wanted it, right??? Deut 24:7 says that if you sell your relative as a slave you shall die, so if you're not struck dead then it must have just been a lease, not a sale :-)
In English we can also use what is commonly the future tense to give a strong command. When I say to my son "you are going to clean up your messy room today" then I am not really making a statement about the future (he could disobey) but I am giving a very serious command. I could also say: "Clean up your room", but the very seriousness is expressed in using the future tense for it.
And the Hebrew works similarly and the future tense is often used to give commands to be obeyed instead of predictions of what God will do.
For example, the Ten Commandments are (nearly) all expressed in future tense. "You shall not have other gods before me" is a strict commandment, not a prediction. In fact, the Israelites fell into idolatery many times and God had to punish them for their disobedience.
Therefore the NIV translates this verse Deuteronomy 18:20 appropriately in this way:
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.
It is not a promise from God what he will do, but a command to the people of Israel how they have to deal with false prophets.
They did not always obey and that is why we read about the existence of false prophets at many times of the history of Israel.
Technically, the translations who say "shall die" are right. Semantically and contextually, the NIV is the correct translation of the intended meaning.
Several such commands in the Torah follow with something like "And you shall put away the evil from among you." That makes it pretty clear that the sense being conveyed is that of execution, not divine wrath. For example, in Deuteronomy 17:12 (just one chapter before our verse) we read:
The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.
It is absolutely unambigiuous that the phrase "that man shall die" is a command to be acted upon by the people of Israel, not a prediction of what God will do.
Grammatically prediction and command are pretty much the same in Hebrew. These Deuteronomy passages use the participle of "die" whereas Ezek 18:4 "the soul that sins shall die" uses the imperfect, but that's probably a feature of later Hebrew (i.e. post-exilic vs. the age of Deuteronomy). But the reductio ad absurdum at the beginning should make this point clear enough.
And the crucifixion of Christ fits in exactly with this scenario. God didn't strike Jesus dead for blasphemy and false prophecy, but the religious authorities decided to kill him for blasphemy. They are the ones to act and to decide and they did.
Obviously, as in every society, the authorities can be wrong every once in a while. The fact that somebody was killed for blasphemy doesn't prove that he is guilty nor does geting away for a while without being punished (Muhammad) automatically prove the authenticity of the person claiming prophethood.
The Muslim claim about this passage is based on a misunderstanding of the Hebrew language - or rather of the English translations they read without comparing how this construction is used in many other places of the scriptures.
To anyone with a sound mind, this should suffice to clarify the issue. However, as we have seen, Zaatari already knows this answer but is nevertheless trying to fight it. I sympathize with him. After all, his prophet is at stake. Let's look a bit closer at Zaatari's struggle:
Now off course David and other's will reply back by saying that by die the verse actually means that the Jews will have to pass out the execution, i.e. they will have to personally kill the prophet.
This explanation could be true, but there is a slight problem, the verse does NOT say you will kill him, or you should kill him, for instance it does not say:
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die by you." (Deuteronomy 18:20)
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die at your hands." (Deuteronomy 18:20)
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall be killed by you." (Deuteronomy 18:20)
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet should be killed." (Deuteronomy 18:20)
None of the verse say that, rather the verse says:
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die." (Deuteronomy 18:20)
So as you can see no where in this verse does it explicitly state that death will be done only by the hands of the people, hence David cannot rely on this sole interpretation as it does not exist in this verse. The verse simply says the false prophet shall die, and we can confidently say by this wording we see that it means that God himself will lay the judgment and execution on this false prophet.
Now some may say I am being desperate, ...
You got it. This is a desparate argument. There are usually many ways of formulating a statement and still communicate the same meaning. The fact that the command could have been formulated also in several different ways does not imply it cannot mean what it actually means. In my earlier article, quoted above, it is made very clear that this was a common way of expressing a strong command in Hebrew. There is nothing ambiguous about it.
Zaatari claims that because the agent of death is not explicitly stated to be the people it therefore has to be God. But if his argument had any weight at all, I could just as well say, because the agent of death is not explicitly stated to be God, therefore it has to be the people. [After all, It does not say: "I will kill that prophet" or "that prophet will be killed by me", or "that prophet will die unexpectedly", or "that prophet will be struck dead by a lightening bolt", or any such formulation.] This should make it sufficiently clear that Zaatari is merely arguing from silence. If taking the verse in isolation both interpretations may be possible. But the verse is not isolated! There are plenty of other verses in the Torah that have a similar wording and which make it absolutly clear how this construction is to be understood.
Nevertheless, Zaatari argues:
Now some may say I am being desperate, but am I? I can go on to list dozens and dozens of verses where God EXPLICITLY commands the people to go and kill sinners and false prophets, so therefore my analysis is very correct and accurate. ...
Zaatari doesn't realize that even if it were true, this would weaken his argument, not strengthen it. Assuming that Deut. 18:20 is ambiguous, if all other passages then explicitly state that the people should execute such false prophets, then this affirms that Deut. 18:20 should be understood the same way. Otherwise, what should the people do? When they realize that somebody who calls himself a prophet proclaims a false message, should they then bring him before the courts and have him condemned and executed, or should they let him preach and wait until God takes his life? The ambiguous passages have always to be interpreted in the light of the clear passages. If Zaatari's claim were true that there are dozens of verses in which God explicitly commands that the people have to kill false prophets then this is strong evidence against Zaatari's case. It would not at all show his analysis to be correct; on the contrary, it would prove that his thesis is wrong. However, this argument is merely hypothetical since, in the context of the whole of the Torah, Deuteronomy 18:20 is not ambiguous but clear.
Just for illustration, here is a parallel passage from the same book, just a few chapters earlier, in which the formulation is absolutely clear:
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NIV)
For comparison, Deuteronomy 13:5 and 18:20 quoted again in a translation that retains the future tense construction:
But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (13:5 ESV)
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. (18:20 ESV)
The comparison with other verses that contain the same "future tense" construction to express a command has already given conclusive proof that the last phrase of Deut. 18:20 is to be understood as a command. If anyone still wanted to enterain doubts about that, the passage in chapter 13:1-5 removes all uncertainty, because here the same topic is expressed in absolutely unambiguous language. It is the duty of the people to purge the evil from among them.
Zaatari is clearly misinterpreting the text of the Bible. What makes his twisting of the text all the sadder and absolutely inexcusable, is the fact that he must know better. Zaatari is one of the participants in an upcoming series of debates on March 21-23, 2008. The advertisment for the debate has a short intro for each of the debaters. The intro to his person states:
Sami Zaatari has written hundreds of articles defending Islam and runs the website www.muslim-responses.com. He is currently studying literature in London and is working on a book on Jesus' crucifixion. (The Easter Debates: Christianity vs. Islam, March 21st, 22nd, and 23rd; source, accessed on March 12, 2008; underline emphasis mine)
Zaatari is a literature student, i.e. he is professionally trained in interpreting texts. Zaatari's abuse and mishandling of this text is therefore unexcusable. He knows better and would never dare to hand in such an interpretation as paper to be graded by his professors. But misleading readers on the internet with such shoddy scholarship for the purpose of defending Islam is apparently alright. That displays a severe deficit in intellectually integrity. Given his training, this is not merely a matter of ignorance, it is a moral issue.
Now some may say I am being desperate, but am I? I can go on to list dozens and dozens of verses where God EXPLICITLY commands the people to go and kill sinners and false prophets, so therefore my analysis is very correct and accurate. The fact is is that in this verse, verse 20, God does NOT say go and kill the false prophet, it just says the false prophet shall die, and by the wording we see that it infers that God himself shall kill this prophet. If the interpretation of this verse solely meant that the prophet's death would come at the hands of the people, then God would have explicitly commanded it like he does in many other verses, yet in this verse he does not say go and kill the false prophet, it simply says the false prophet shall die.
So therefore David will not be able to respond back to me by saying that the death of the prophet shall come at the hands of the people, this will only be David's INTERPRETATION of the verse, yet the exact and actual direct wording of the verse does not support this interpretation. And I repeat again, there are many verses in the Bible where God explicitly calls on his believers to kill the sinners and false prophets, yet in this verse it is absent.
Despite the fact that the evidence has been laid out and the argument is already finished, let's take Zaatari by his boastful words. Isn't it interesting that he claims he can list dozens and dozens of verses ... and then does not list even one of the alleged multitude of such verses? Note the meaning of "dozens and dozens": The word "dozens" is plural, so it refers to at least two dozens and, consequently, "dozens and dozens" are therefore at least four dozens. That is a minimum of 48 such verses! Here is my challenge: Since sinners in general are not the topic here, but what to do with false prophets is the issue, please list only one dozen passages from the Bible where God explicitly commands the people to go and kill false prophets. If you are right, this should not be too hard for two reasons. First, there are plenty of references to false prophets in the Bible. Second, there are wonderful search engines available on the internet. Just search for "false prophet" and "false prophets" at the Bible Gateway. And if you want to make sure that you are not overlooking anything, search for every passage that contains the word "prophet". We'll all be waiting for you to report back.
More importantly, if Zaatari's interpretation were correct, we should find several examples in which God himself kills the false prophet(s). Please provide these as well. If Zaatari fails to find much in that regard, perhaps this may cause him to rethink his interpretation?
We have seen that Zaatari is wrong on linguistic and exegetical grounds, but there are more reasons why his proposed interpretation doesn't make sense. Zaatari continues:
Now as we all know the prophet Muhammad certainly did not die after making this mistake, in fact as we all know the prophet Muhammad went on to finish the revelation and the entire revelation of the Quran!
That is not quite so clear. Muhammad died somewhat unexpectedly. For one, he had not made any provisions for a successor as the head of the new Muslim state, and this matter is dividing Muslims to this day. "Revelation" came to him until the end. How does Zaatari know that all was finished what he was supposed to receive? It is simply the Muslim belief and definition that it was finished, but the circumstances of his death suggest that Muhammad was not really prepared and he also left his community unprepared for his death. Regarding Muhammad's death and the events after that, the reader may consult these articles (1, 2, 3).
Back to our main topic. Deuteronomy 18:20 doesn't say the prophet shall die immediately. It simply says: "that prophet shall die." And, no doubt about that, Muhammad died. So he is a false prophet after all, even granting Zaatari's twisted interpretation!? This exposes one of the problems for Zaatari's misinterpretation. What Zaatari says basically means: Even if an alleged prophet proclaims or speaks in the name of one or more other gods, as long as he is (still) alive, he is a true prophet that people should believe in and follow. How long should people wait until they either accept or reject somebody claiming to be a prophet? Is God going to kill him immediately, i.e. minutes after he gave his first false message? One hour? One day? One week? One month? One year? Ten years? The whole point is, Zaatari turned that last phrase of the verse into a criterion for determining whether an alleged prophet is a true prophet or a false one. But it doesn't work. There is no timing given, and for that reason it is rather useless as a criterion.
It doesn't work for another reason either: Every prophet dies sooner or later. Does that mean there are only false prophets? Certainly not. But if the death is one or even the distinguishing criterion to determine whether the prophet was a genuine messenger coming from the true God or false prophet, it is necessary to say something more about this death: What kind of death are false prophets going to die? Otherwise the question remains: Did this prophet die because he finished everything that God has given him to do, and we should therefore obey him and preserve his message, or did this prophet die as punishment from God, and we should therefore reject his message? How are we to know? If this verse meant what Zaatari wants us to believe, it is useless, because the verse does not specify what it would have to specify in order to be meaningful.
What Zaatari wants us to believe simply doesn't make sense, even if it had been possible linguistically. Thus, both responsible exegesis of the text and common sense are against his interpretation.
What is the historical context? God was about to bring the Children of Israel from the desert into the Promised Land. Moses had been leading the Israelites for over 40 years. However, because of an act of disobedience by Moses, God prohibited Moses to enter the Land (Deut. 1:37). What would happen with them when Moses would no longer be there to lead them? Deuteronomy 18:15-22 responds to that question; and this text has a very clear structure.
15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die." 17 The LORD said to me: "What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." 21 You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?" 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-22, NIV)
God is going to grant their earlier request also for the future, and will raise up a prophet for them. With this prophet comes a duty or responsibility for the people. God is going to send a prophet, but the Israelites must listen to him (Deut. 18:15). A refusal to listen and obey will have consequences (18:19). On the other hand, there will also be false prophets, people who claim to be prophets but are not sent by God. They either speak presumptiously in the name of the Lord, or even speak in the name of other gods. This case also has a responsibility attached to it. Such false prophets have to be put to death. (18:20, cf. 13:1-5). For prophets who proclaim other gods the issue is clear, but if a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, the one true God, how can the people know if he is a true prophet? Verses 21-22 provide an answer to that question.
Zaatari has twisted the meaning of the passage by exchanging the criterion and the punishment. The criteria are "presumptiously speaking a word in the Lord's name that He has not commanded him to speak", or "speaking in the name of other gods". The consequence or punishment is "that same prophet shall die". Zaatari wants to ignore the criteria that were given, and turn the command into the sole criterion: If the prophet did not die then he is a true prophet. That is what I call "corrupting the word of God". God's word is clear, but ever so often Muslims seek to corrupt it because it exposes Muhammad as a false prophet.
One final observation on Deuteronomy 18:18-20 and Islam in regard to the treatment of those who do not listen to / believe in / obey the prophet. Note what the Torah states:
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. (Deuteronomy 18:18-20 NIV)
18 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. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. (Deuteronomy 18:18-20 ESV)
Comparing verse 20 with verse 19 should have given Zaatari yet another clue. In verse 19 God uses a formulation that is missing in verse 20. He says "I MYSELF". As much as Zaatari might wish for it, it is not permissible to transfer the phrase "I Myself" from verse 19 into verse 20.
God says: (1) it is your responsibility to listen to my prophet, but (2) those who (for whatever reasons) cannot or do not believe in my prophet, leave them to me; I myself will deal with them.
Islam does it exactly the opposite way. The false prophet Muhammad is given allegience and unquestioning loyalty, but those who do not believe in him are insulted, persecuted and killed instead of leaving it to God to call them to account himself.
This concludes our discussion on Deuteronomy 18:20. However, Zaatari makes some more statements regarding David Wood's use of the story of the Satanic Verses, which I want to comment on. He states:
Now we must also be honest, ....
That would be fantastic, for a change. It is quite revealing that Zaatari qualified this statement by adding the word "also". Does he not think one should always be honest? Only at certain occasions one should ALSO be honest, although in most circumstances that is not so important? Or no matter what else is said, one should also say something that is honest? Is that phrase perhaps his admission that what he had written so far in this article was not quite honest, but he intends to be honest for the rest of the article? Anyway, let's have a look at what he wants to say:
Now we must also be honest, David must be honest as well, when we read the story of the Satanic verses we must not pick and choose, we must simply read it all and tell the entire story. Sadly missionaries never do this, they quote the entire story but simply like to stick to the part of the satanic verses, they don't like to talk about the other part of the story where angel Gabriel came and told the prophet of the mistake, and corrected it!
Let us read the rest of the story:
Then Gabriel came to the Messenger of God and said, "Muhammad, what have you done? You have recited to the people that which I did not bring to you from God, and you have said that which was not said to you." Then the messenger of God was much grieved and feared God greatly, but God sent down a revelation to him, for He was merciful to him, consoling him and making the matter light for him, informing him that there had never been a prophet or a messenger before him who desired as he desired and wished as he wished but that Satan had cast words into his recitation, as he had cast words on Muhammad's tongue. Then God cancelled what Satan had thus cast, and established his verses by telling him that he was like other prophets and messengers, and revealed:
"Never did we send a messenger or a prophet before you but that when he recited (the Message) Satan cast words into his recitation (umniyyah). God abrogates what Satan casts. The God established his verses. God is knower, wise. (174)
This is from Tabari's book.
So as you can see the angel Gabriel came down to the prophet Muhammad and told him of this error, and God himself sent down a revelation to the prophet Muhammad which reprieved him of this mistake! So how can the prophet Muhammad possibly be a false prophet?!
If David wants to accept this story then he will have to accept this part, he can't simply accept the part which seems to help his case, and ignore this part which completely debunks his case! So David, what will it be? Either you accept the entire story as it is, which means you have to become a Muslim, or you stop using this story all-together, you can't have any other choice unless you willingly employ dishonest tactics.
What a silly argument. It happens every day. People do something wrong, they get into problems because of what they did, and then they try to justify somehow that what happened was not really their fault. For illustration: A son borrows the car of the father to go to a party with his friends. He knows that he is not allowed to drink any alcohol, and promises to abide by that rule. However, he drinks anyway. On the way back, late at night, he is no longer fully alert. He falls asleep on the wheel and drives the car against a tree. At home he tells the father that he did not drink, but while driving home suddenly a huge bear came out of the woods and he simply tried to avoid a collision with the animal. That is the reason he ended up at that tree. It is not really his fault. "My Son," the father says, "there are no bears in our part of the country."
According to Zaatari, if we are not willing to accept the cover-up lie that was told by the son, the accident actually never happened. According to Zaatari one cannot accept the factuality of an event without accepting the justification or excuse that is given for it by the culprit.
Again, this is totally silly. It does not work that way. We have to use some common sense. In fact, the existence of the excuse is further evidence that something happened. If there had not been an accident, the son would not have told a bear story. Even a wrong story, a lie devised to cover up what really happened, can be evidence that the incident was real. If there is a lie, then there was a need for that lie.
What does that mean for the story of the Satanic verses? Here is my take on it: For whatever reason, Muhammad has spoken these verses. Later he realized that he had made a big mistake since these verses contradicted his main message. What could he do? He had spoken them as being revelation from God! How could he get out of this mess without completely losing his credibility? I can imagine that this matter cost him some sleepless nights. In the end he came up with this ingenious (?) solution. He got another revelation which claimed that these had been verses which Satan had thrown in without Muhammad realizing (and thus they were cancelled by God) and, to minimize his own fault in this matter, he adds the claim that the same has happened to all other prophets before him just as well. Actually, this incident even authenticates him as being part of the true prophets because the same thing that had happened to them happened to him!
Again, the existence of the cover-up story is evidence that there was something that needed covering up. We can very well accept the historicity of Muhammad speaking those verses without having to believe his justification for it. This does not mean we are dishonest. It does not tarnish our intellectual integrity. This is not "picking and choosing" arbitrarily. It shows that were are using common sense and are carefully evaluating the sources.
Moreover, Zaatari's demand is not only a silly, but coming from a Muslim missionary such a demand is utter hypocrisy! Isn't that what Muslims are doing with the Bible all the time? Pick and choose some parts they like and reject others that they don't like? Let's just take one small example. Muslims see no problem to accept most of what is written in Luke 1 about the annunciation of the birth of Jesus:
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38 NIV)
This agrees to a large part with the Muslim understanding of the annunciation event as narrated in the Qur'an (cf. this article). However, Muslims will not accept that the angel Gabriel called Jesus "the Son of the Most High" and again "the Son of God". This contradicts the Qur'an that strongly denounces such terminology. In fact, our topic of discussion is another example of this approach. Muslims want to accept Deuteronomy 18:18-19 and some other passages in the Bible as being genuine prophecies of Muhammad (cf. this article), but they will reject all those passages which clearly expose Muhammad as being a false prophet. I am convinced that even after this rebuttal, Zaatari will either continue to argue that Deuteronomy 18:20 does not mean what it clearly says, or he will reject it; either reject it completely or reject that it is applicable to Muhammad. Nevertheless, he will still appeal to Deuteronomy 18:18-19 as proof that Muhammad is prophecied in the Bible.
Again, Zaatari's demand that we cannot take only part of a text, but need to either accept it completely or reject it completely is rather amazing given that appeal to selected verses in the Bible has been the approach of Muslims for centuries. Zaatari continues:
In fact this story perfectly fits what what I earlier said about Deuteronomy 18 verse 20, that the false prophet shall be killed by God, yet in the Satanic verses incident we see that God actually sends a revelation down to Muhammad which reprieves him and explains that this has happened to other prophets as well, indeed if Muhammad was a false prophet then God would have not sent down the revelation reprieving Muhammad, rather God would have just killed Muhammad as Deuteronomy 18 verse 20 says!
That is what you get when you combine factual error with unproven assumptions. As shown above, your interpretation of Deuteronomy 18:20 is wrong. Period. Moreover, it is merely a Muslim assumption that it was God who sent this second revelation to Muhammad. It can be explained satisfactorily like I did above. It is Muhammad's "bear story", i.e. his cover-up story and justification for a major blunder he committed by speaking those "Satanic Verses". Note: There is no need to assume that those first verses were satanic. It is merely Muhammad's claim that those were from Satan. They can just as well be explained by Muhammad's very natural desires of reconciling the Muslims with the non-Muslim Meccans. And the second "revelation" on this issue is perfectly explained by his desire to do damage repair as best as possible, and to get out of this mess without losing all credibility.
There is no need to assume any divine activity in this event at all. On the contrary, according to God's Word, according to the criteria given in the Torah, anyone who claims to be a prophet and speaks the way Muhammad did is a false prophet. Despite Muhammad's claim that the same thing happened to all the prophets before him, there is no evidence for this in the Bible. It is a claim without any evidence supporting it. What is more, the Qur'an itself doesn't contain even one story of another prophet who spoke revelations from Satan. It is all a rather obvious cover-up attempt by Muhammad to protect his claim to prophethood.
Last but not least David is acting under the proposition that commands by God in the Bible are final, meaning he does not change his mind. David very well knows that in the Bible God has changed his mind, and often gone back on a command he made and did something else! So therefore if David is not satisfied with any of what I said then this will be enough to satisfy him, that his God does change his mind sometimes and becomes forgiving and shows mercy to the one who errs.
God is forgiving and merciful. That is his part of his nature. He does not need to change his mind for that. However, he does not simply forgive everyone who errs. He forgives those who repent, and that forgiveness is based on the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus who paid for our sins. Where is Muhammad's repentance? Sure, if Muhammad had genuinely repented of presumptiously speaking as if he were a prophet of God, I am confident that God would have forgiven him. But there is no sign that Muhammad ever showed any such repentance.
Moreover, there is a difference between committing personal sins and presumptiously speaking words as if they are from God while they are not. That is very serious indeed. Prophets are mere sinful human beings. Moses was disobedient to a clear command from God. He was forgiven for his sin, but his disobedience still cost him the entry into the Promised Land. He was not able to enter it with the Children of Israel. David committed adultery. He repented and he was forgiven, but the child that resulted from the adultery still died, despite David praying and fasting for his life for a long time.
Why is Muhammad a false prophet? The reason is not only those couple of "Satanic verses". In those verses Muhammad merely contradicted the rest of his message that is found in the Qur'an. Those verses are merely used to show Muslims from the Muslim sources themselves why Muhammad is a false prophet. Even if those Satanic verses had never existed, Muhammad would still be a false prophet because the entirety of the Qur'an, those verses that are allegedly "divine verses", contradicts the core of God's true message as proclaimed in the Bible. Because Muhammad rejects and attacks the essence of the Gospel, the deity and divine sonship of Jesus, and his atoning death on the cross, therefore Muhammad is a false prophet.
Should we kill false prophets today?
Some final remarks are necessary. The command to put to death a false prophet is not in force today, neither for Jews nor for Christians. It was given for a specific historical situation and cannot simply be generalized. First, it was given to Israel when they just began to become a nation and start their own state, a state with a theocratic system. In my view, this period ends at the latest when their sovereignty ends and the Jews were exiled to Babylon. In the later period of Israel, God deals very differently with false prophets. The reader may look up all occurrences of "false prophet(s)" in the Bible and research this issue for himself.
That does not mean that God changed his mind. It is the context that changed. Israel was often disobedient to God's word and many parameters changed so that the theocratic system was no longer in effect. At the very latest, with the Roman occupation of Israel, the Jews did not longer have the legal right to impose death penalties.
However, the first part of Deut. 18:20 is still in force. The criteria for discerning a false prophet are universal and remain true but the punishment is no longer executed for various reasons. Jesus often speaks of false prophets; he warns us that we need to beware of false prophets so that we may not be deceived, but he never commands his followers to kill them. It is a command belonging to the Old Covenant, it never was part of the New Covenant.
Moreover, even if the command had still been in force in Israel at Muhammad's time, Muhammad did not come to Israel. God never told the Jews to send their secret police all over the world to see whether they can find a false prophet somewhere, and then assassinate him. The punishment of Deuteronomy 18:20 only applied to prophets that stood up in the midst of Israel and tried to seduce the people away from obeying the Word of the Lord.
To summarize, Muhammad came on the scene at a time when this law was no longer in force. Moreover, he did not appear in Israel. Thus, he was outside the scope of this law, and his non-death doesn't prove anything about his validity, neither pro nor contra. Zaatari has not only misinterpreated the passage, he has also misapplied it to a situation for which it is not valid.
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