Sunday, January 2, 2011

Was Mohammed a prophet?

What makes someone a prophet?  Well, it depends what you mean by the word “prophet.”  (I’m not going to get into the “apostleship” of Mohammed (رسول الله) in this post.)

I can recall 8 ways I have heard people, be they Muslims or Christians, affirm the “prophethood” of Mohammed.  Here they are below.

Could it be argued that Mohammed was a “prophet” in the sense that…?

  1. he was not a taxi-driver; his vocation was prophethood.  Although it could also be said that Mohammed was a false prophet (1 Jn. 4:1) in this sense. See also Titus 1:12.
  2. all people receive general revelation from God (Rom. 1:20), and some receive special prompting (revelation?) from God to follow Christ (Acts 10:30-33). In this sense one could say that Mohammed’s cave experience was actually a dream from God when he was half-asleep, but in the end the dream was (horribly) misinterpreted.
  3. Gandhi was a prophet. Gandhi was an unbeliever who nevertheless fought against tyranny and sparked a worldwide movement for biblical values such as peace, justice, and dignity.  Ghandi communicated some very true things.
  4. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophet.  He was a Christian minister and follower of Jesus who, despite some moral failures, preached a biblical and much needed message of racial reconciliation that inspired millions. Martin Luther King Jr. communicated truth.
  5. Balaam was a prophet (2 Pet. 2:15-16; Num. 23ff). Balaam was called a prophet in 2 Peter (!), although he did not know the Lord and was ultimately judged (Num. 31:8, 16).
  6. King David was a prophetKeep in mind, morally speaking, David and Mohammed have much in common. David looked forward to the Lord, who was the Messiah (Ps. 110; Matt. 10:41-46). Some have argued that Mohammed “pointed” to Christ as well (e.g. Surah 43:61).
  7. some regenerate, new covenant believers are gifted by the Lord Jesus Christ as prophets (Eph. 4:11).  In the New Testament, prophesy is a gift that some believers are given by the Lord Jesus for the edification of the church that will be effective until Christ returns (1 Cor. 12-14).  Prophecy in this sense is not authoritative or equal to Scripture (Acts 21:4; 21:10-11; 1 Thess. 5:20-21; 1 Cor. 14:29).  “The essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus” (Rev. 19:10 NLT).  In John’s thought, Jesus is the conquering, crucified lamb, King of kings, Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14), incarnate God-man in the flesh (John 1:1, 14) sent to save people from their sins (John 1:29), usher in the new rule of His kingdom(John 18:36; Rev. 1:6), and raise victoriously over death as the Messiah to commission His disciples to continue His mission of the forgiveness of sins (John 20).
  8. Islam believes he was the final authoritative prophet of the One True God whose message supersedes and replaces all previous revelations.

Some evangelicals have argued that affirming the “prophethood” of Mohammed greatly enhances witness and dialogue with Muslims.

Could or should Mohammed’s prophethood be affirmed in any of the senses above?  Why or why not?  If you think it is wise to affirm any of the above, what kind of qualifiers would you need to communicate in order to clarify what you believe about the nature of prophecy and the rule of King Jesus?


Elnwood said...

I have noticed that in some Christian circles, such as black churches and liberal evangelicals, to describe someone as being "prophetic" is to talk about them as voices of social criticism and change (i.e. Amos, Martin Luther King). In conservative evangelicalism, "prophetic" is more likely to mean being a mouthpiece of God, or predicting the future.

I think we need to be careful that we do not describe Muhammad as a prophet because we are able to do based on how we feel like defining it. In cross-cultural communication we need to convey our beliefs accurately within the culture of the listener, and thus we need to use words and definitions according to how they understand it.

Without a doubt Muhammad was an instrument of social reform and change, but I think we would give a false impression if we said Muhammad was a prophet without clarifying what we mean by that.

Thomas said...

I understand that words can have a range of meanings that differ from context to context.

In the context of Muslim-Christian dialogue we should recognize that both communities have clear definitions of "prophet" (which are remarkably similar). Is it honest to try to redefine the term to mean something different?

Whatever is gained in goodwill by affirming the prophethood of Mohammed on some level will quickly be lost when our friends stare at us in disbelief that we are not Muslims and do not follow and obey this person we say we believe is a prophet.