Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Who is the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18?

By Silas


Muhammad claimed that the Bible foretold his prophethood.  Today many Muslim apologists claim that the term "brethren" in Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18 could include anyone who is a descendant of Abraham.  They believe that since Muhammad was an assumed descendant of Ishmael, Abraham's first son, then Muhammad qualifies as a 'brother' to the Israelites, and is indeed the prophet who Moses foretold in Deuteronomy 18:18.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the prophet Moses foretold (Acts 3:22).  Let's examine the biblical evidence and see if Muhammad has a claim to be the prophet foretold by Moses.

Context of “Brethren”

The term used for 'brethren' is used in a variety of ways in the Old Testament therefore, what must be addressed is its context.  If the context of how it is used means anyone loosely related to the Israelites then perhaps it is possible that Muhammad could be the prophet.  If the context means that the future prophet is to be an Israelite, then Muhammad could not be that prophet.

In one sense, since Muslims and Christians believe that all humans are descendants of Adam and Eve, then all of us are brothers and sisters.  But Muslims insist that the meaning of "brethren" in the Deuteronomy 18:18 verse is one who is a descendant of Abraham, not Adam.  Is their definition valid?  What is the context for the use of the term "brethren" in the Old Testament and specifically in Deuteronomy?

Here are three different ways the term 'brethren' is used in Deuteronomy:

1) used for relating the 12 tribes together,

2) used to relate the Levites amongst themselves as brothers, as in 18:7

3) used to relate the Israelites to the Edomites, as in 2:4.

The Hebrew word for brethren is 'awkh'.  It generally means 'a brother' used in the widest sense of literal relationships, and metaphorically, having an affinity or resemblance.  'awkh' is also translated (in the King James Version - I'm using a Strong's King James Version concordance) 'another' as in 1 Chron. 26:12, ('relatives' in New International Version), as 'like' in Ezekiel: 18.10, and as 'other' in Genesis 13:11.

Brown's Hebrew lexicon also reinforced Strong's definition.  It states that the word can be translated in various ways:  1) as brother, meaning born of the same mother,  2) indefinite relative, a kinship in a wider sense, as in Lot being a 'brother' of Abraham in Genesis 13:8, (Lot was Abram's nephew, not literal brother), or the Israelite tribes being brothers, or as in Israel and Edom being brothers, and likewise for Israel and Judah.

It is also used to denote close friendships as in 2 Samuel 1:26, which illustrates the relationship between David and Jonathan, or used for allies as in Amos 1:9.

Other metaphorical uses found in Brown's:

- as a figure of resemblance as in Job 30:29

- to denote the cherubim facing each other in Exodus 25:20

- as 'the sight' of a crocodile in Job 41:9

- ties a slack worker to him who destroys in Proverbs 18:9

All of the above shows that the term 'awkh' can be used in various ways.  Its actual meaning is defined by the context.

Now let’s focus on how "brethren" is used in book of Deuteronomy.  The first clue to the context of "brethren" is from the purpose of the book of Deuteronomy itself.  The name Deuteronomy means 'copy of the law'; the law for the Israelites.  No one else was given this law.  This book was given specifically to the Israelites as it was Moses' farewell address to them.  A large part of it was a review of the laws between God and the Israelites, and its reading was to prepare them to enter into the Promised Land.

The term 'brethren' (King James Version) is used 20 times in Deuteronomy.  Fourteen times it means 'fellow Israelites' - members of the 12 tribes.  Twice it is used to refer to the Edomites, once for Levitical brothers, once for literal brothers (25:5), and twice for the verses in question:  18:15, 18.

Therefore, the majority of times the context is used for referring to 'fellow Israelites'.

So let's carefully examine the verses in question, and see if we can find any clues to the context in question.  Let's start with verse 14.  The New International Version uses 'brothers' usually in place of the King James Version 'brethren'.  Words in ( ) parenthesis are mine.  From Deut. 18:

14:  "The nations you (i.e. the Israelites) will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination.  But as for you (the Israelites), the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.

15:  The Lord your God will raise up for you (the Israelites) a prophet like me from among your own "brothers".  You must listen to him.

16:  For this is what you (the Israelites) 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 (the Israelites) say is good.

 18:  I will raise up for them (the Israelites) a prophet like you from among their (the Israelites) brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.

 19:  If anyone (an Israelite) does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him (an Israelite) to account.

It's very clear here that the context for 'brethren' is from amongst the fellow Israelites.  Not an Edomite, or other non-Israelite, who were not given the law, not part of the group Moses was addressing.  Moses meant that the prophet would come out of the 12 Israelite tribes.

We should also try to cross reference [though the noun can be written that way, it seems the verb needs the hyphen: cross-reference] to other verses in Deuteronomy to see if we can get additional understanding of the context.  In Deuteronomy 2:4, 8, 'brethren' was used in conjunction with the Edomites, who were basically their cousins.  Moses plainly described who the brothers were and the context of them being brethren was (i.e. Edomites being the descendants of Esau).  By understanding the context here we would not confuse the Edomite 'brethren' with the Levitical 'brethren' found in 18:7, or the Israelite 'brethren' found in 1:16 or 33:24.  Edomite 'brethren' would clearly not fit the context for 18:7, 1:16, or 33:24.

In Deut 17:15 a very strong statement is given regarding who "brothers" means in the verses in chapter 18:

"Be sure to appoint over you the King the Lord your God chooses.  He must be "from among your own brothers.”  Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a "brother Israelite.”

Compare these terms with 18:15:

"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him."

Clearly, this verse has much in common with 17:15.  Moses did not add 'brother Israelite', because they understood what he was talking about based upon what he had said just a few moments earlier in Chapter 17.  The context is the same for both.  The future prophet had to be a fellow Israelite.

Therefore, the weight of the evidence for understanding the context, and who actually the "brethren" were, shows clearly that the future prophet had to be from the 12 tribes.  Jesus fulfills that requirement, Muhammad does not.

Other uses of the word “brethren”

Let’s examine the other books of the Torah and see if we can find any context that calls the descendants of Ishmael, or the descendants of the Abraham's other sons, "brethren" to the Israelites.

Genesis 25:1-4 lists some of Abraham's sons.  Note in verse 5 that Isaac was the main inheritor.  His sons listed here are from his concubine Keturah, they are:  Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.  Some of these brothers’ descendants were the Asshurites, the Letushites, and the Leummites.

[Note in verses 25:5, 6 that Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac, but while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, and sent them away from his son Isaac, to the land of the east.]

Let’s examine these sons, and their descendants, and see if there is any reference to them being "brethren" to the Israelites.

Zimran - only mentioned in Genesis 25:2 and 1 Chron. 1:32

Jokshan - He is only mentioned in Genesis 25:2 and 1 Chron. 1:32, but his descendants are named - Sheba and Dedan.

Medan - only mentioned in Genesis 25:2 and 1 Chron. 1:32

Midian - His descendants are mentioned with regards to the Israelites.  They will be addressed in a few paragraphs.

Ishbak - only mentioned in Genesis 25:2 and 1 Chron. 1:32

Shuah - only mentioned in Genesis 25:2.

Let's see if Sheba or Dedan are called "brethren" to the Israelites.

Dedan - is mentioned several times, often with Sheba.  In no place are Dedan or his descendants called "brethren" to the Israelites.

Sheba has the same results as Dedan.  When Sheba's descendants are mentioned, they are never referred to as "Kin" or "brethren" in any way.  Refer to the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon.  Note her comment to Solomon in 1 Chron. 9:8.  She acknowledges how God has blessed Solomon and chosen Israel.  In Isaiah 60:6, Sheba, Midian, and Ephah are mentioned as being distinct peoples apart from the Israelites.

The sons of Dedan are mentioned in 25:3:  "Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim.  Are these peoples ever referred to as "brethren"?  No, not even mentioned beyond 25:3.

So far, not one reference to the other sons of Abraham, or their descendants being 'brethren' to the Israelites.

Let's examine Midian.  The Midianites are mentioned in Numbers chapters 25, 31, 10, 22.  Not once are they called "brethren", or anything closely related to that.  If anything, they were mortal enemies to the Israelites.  Refer to Num. 25:16, 17.  These people are Abraham's descendants, yet God ordered the Israelites to destroy them.  Since Ishmael was Midian's brother, wouldn't it follow that Ishmael's descendants would not be considered "brethren" in the way the Midianites were not considered "brethren"? 

What about Midian's sons, and any specific reference to any of their particular descendants as being "brethren" to the Israelites?

Going throughout the OT, I found that Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, Eldaah are never mentioned as being "brethren" to the Israelites.

Finally, we come to Ishmael and his descendants, and for good measure, we'll throw in the "Hagarites".

Ishmael's sons are mentioned in Genesis 25:13-18.  Never are they or their descendants referred to as "brethren" to the Israelites.

The Ishmaelites are mentioned in Genesis 37.  Not once are they referred to as brethren of the sons of Jacob.  They were not considered brethren.

The Hagarites are mentioned in Psalm 83:6, along with the Ishmaelites.  They are portrayed as the enemies of God.  Likewise they are mentioned in 1 Chron. 5:10.  Again, they are the enemies of God's people - the Israelites.  They are never mentioned as "brethren" to the Israelites.

There are two interesting references to Ishmael and his sons.  One is found in Genesis 16:12.  The other is in Genesis 25:18.  25:18 says:

"His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur.  And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers."  [The quote ends here; the rest is your comment and should not be indented with the quotation.] Here is the only implication that Ishmael's sons were called "brethren" to possibly the Israelites.  But if this verse is taken in context with Genesis 16:12 it is shown that "brother" were immediate relatives.  So, 25:18 looks like Ishmael's sons were hostile towards each other.

The context of this passage, taken with the references concerning the Ishmaelite, Hagarites, Midianites, etc. show that these people were not considered "brethren" to the Israelites.  Therefore by judging from the references it would not be correct to consider the descendants of Ishmael to be "brethren" of the Israelites.  There is no support for the Muslim’s assertion that the descendants of Ishmael were considered "brethren" to the Israelites.  In several cases, these descendants are considered enemies of Israel and God.

The only non-Israelite people to be called brethren are the Edomites.  Esau was Jacob's brother.  Jacob was the father of the Israelites.  That seems to be as far back as the term "brethren" goes.  And, Esau was a descendant of Isaac, not Ishmael.  Since the promise to the descendants was named through Isaac, it is understandable for Esau's descendants to be considered "brethren" to the Israelites.

Numbers 20:14-21.  It details the conflict between the two 'brethren' nations of Esau and Jacob.


An important Muslim objection

Some Muslims object to Muhammad being ruled out as the prophet, and assert the following:

"Jesus never claimed to be the prophet Moses foretold".

Jesus never said directly "I am the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18," however, He say that He was a prophet, and probably meant that He was that prophet.  Other parts of the New Testament declare Him to be that prophet.  Let's start with Christ's implications [and] then go on:

1)  Luke 7:39 - the Pharisee said to himself, 'if this man were a prophet...Jesus knew his thoughts and addressed them, proving to the Pharisee that he was a prophet.

2)  John 5:46 - Jesus said "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he (Moses) wrote about me."  Moses did write about Jesus; Jesus is the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18.  Jesus claimed to be the prophet Moses foretold.

3)  In various places, at various times, various people called Jesus the 'prophet' of Deuteronomy 18:18, yet Jesus never corrected them, rebuked them, or told them otherwise.  He always accepted those particular statements.  When the Pharisees called him otherwise, He set them straight.  Matt. 21:11, John 1:45, 6:14, 7:40, Luke 7:16, 24:19, etc.

4)  Jesus did call Himself a prophet - John 4:44

5)  After His ascension His disciples emphatically said He was that prophet: Acts 3:22, 7:37.

In view of the biblical context Muhammad could not be the prophet Moses foretold.  The only acceptable and logical context for Moses' words is that "the prophet" must be an Israelite.  No non-Israelite can meet the requirement.  Muhammad was not an Israelite and thus he could not have fulfilled the conditions Moses set forth.  Jesus is the prophet Moses foretold.

"Like unto me"

Another point often brought up by Muslims is that Moses said that the future prophet would be "like unto me".  Muslims then list the similarities between Moses and Muhammad, and the dissimilarities between Moses and Jesus as proof that Muhammad is the foretold prophet.

There can be found similarities and differences between all men.  What needs to be identified are the crucial attributes that the future prophet would have to possess to be "like unto Moses".

Here is the Deut. 18 passage again from the NRSV:

"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.  This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said:   "If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die."  Then the Lord replied to me:  "They are right in what they have said.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command."


So, the first requirement is (1)  this future prophet is to speak the words that God puts in his mouth.

Additional implicit requirements to make this prophet "like unto Moses" can be found in the last verses in Deuteronomy 34.10-12:

"And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, (2) whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the (3) signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel."

These three requirements are:

1)  This future prophet is to speak the words that God puts in his mouth.

2)  This future prophet would speak with God face to face

3)  This future prophet would perform miracles, signs, and wonders.

How do Jesus and Muhammad compare to these requirements?

Requirement 1:  the future prophet is to speak the words that God puts in his mouth.


Jesus said that He spoke God's word; he heard directly from God.

"My teaching is not mine but his who sent me.  Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own."  John 7:16, 17

"So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me."  John 8:28


Muhammad heard the Quran from a spirit he believed to be Gabriel.  Muhammad repeated the words that this spirit spoke.

"Your comrade does not err, nor is he deceived, nor does he speak of his own desire.  It is an inspiration this is inspired, which one (Gabriel) of mighty powers has taught him."  Quran, 53:2-5

Muhammad fails the requirement because he did not hear from God directly.  In fact, the Bible contains warnings about angels teaching false messages:

"And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades an angel of light."  2 Cor. 11:14

"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"  Gal. 1:8

Requirement 2:  the future prophet would speak with God face to face


Jesus was with God prior to being revealed on earth.  While he was on earth, he spoke with God face to face.

John 1:18 - "No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known."  John 1:18

"So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed."  John 17:5

"While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"  Matthew 17:5


As stated before, Muhammad never spoke with God directly.  The entire Quran was given to him through a medium - a spirit.

I'll also note that after Moses spoke with God face to face, his face glowed with the glory of God.  Jesus was transfigured when he spoke with God face to face.  (Exodus 34:29, Matthew 17:2).  Muhammad was never transfigured; he never radiated the glory of God.

Requirement 3:  the future prophet would perform miracles, signs, and wonders.


Jesus performed many miracles.  Read Luke chapters 5, 7, and 8 to find some of them.  The Quran agrees and confirms that Jesus did many miracles and highlights some of them.


The Quran shows that Muhammad performed no miracles.  Even the people who did not believe him pointed it out that Muhammad lacked miracles.

Say:  "For me, I (work) on a clear sign from my Lord, but you reject Him.  What you would see hastened (a miracle) is not in my power.  The command (to perform a miracle) rests with none by Allah:  He declares the Truth, and He is the best of judges.  Say:  if what you would see hastened (a miracle) were in my power, the matter would be settled at once between you and me.  Quran 6:57, 58

...They (the people who did not believe in Muhammad) say, "Why aren't miracles sent to him like those sent to Moses?"  Quran 28:48

It must be noted that the Hadith records many fanciful miracles, several of them being copycat miracles from the Christian and Jewish faiths.  Some Islamic scholars argue that these are purely mythical, because they contradict the Quran's statements about Muhammad being unable to perform a miracle.  On the other hand, to be fair, on the basis of the importance of the hadith texts it could be argued that Muhammad did indeed perform miracles.

However, the Quran states the opposite regarding Muhammad performing miracles:  Muhammad did not perform miracles.  This lack of miracles is addressed by the Quran.  The testimony of the Quran passages prove that Muhammad was challenged on his lack of authenticity or certification as a true prophet able to perform miracles.  His credibility was on the line.  The Quran's response to this is weak; it was NOT Muhammad’s role to perform miracles.  By the testimony of the Quran, Muhammad fails this test.

With respect to performing miracles, based on all the Islamic source materials it was probable, but if you hold the Quran to be 100 percent truthful and infallible, then it contradicts the hadith and sira miracles and states that Muhammad did not perform miracles. 


Another comparison criteria

One very important similarity between Moses and Jesus was that they each mediated a covenant.  Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant (Testament); Christ of the New Covenant, or Testament. (Exodus 19 and 20, Hebrews 12:24).  Muhammad did not bring a covenant.  Muhammad's Islam is but a synthesis of Jewish, Christian, and Pagan religious themes mixed with his own ideas.

Jesus satisfied the requirements to be "like unto Moses".  Muhammad did not.  Jesus fulfilled the requirements, Muhammad fails all or at least two of the requirements.  Jesus spoke God's direct words, Muhammad did not speak God's direct words, he spoke a spirit's words.  Jesus spoke with God face to face; Muhammad did not speak with God face to face.  Jesus performed many miracles, Muhammad may or may not have  performed miracles.


Jesus fulfills the Old Testament requirement of being the prophet that Moses foretold.  He is an Israelite, a member of the “brethren,” Muhammad is not.  Jesus fulfills the prophetic requirements of being “like Moses,” Muhammad does not.  Jesus is the prophet Moses foretold, Muhammad cannot be the prophet Moses foretold.

Rev A 8 June 1997, Rev B 16 Apr 2000, Rev C 4 Dec 2020