Can we call Muhammad a Prophet?

Insider movement advocates discuss the appropriateness of converts saying the Shahada which identifies Muhammad as God’s prophet. There is not a consensus on this point. Yet saying the Shahada is part of Muslim identity.  Is there any way that we can refer to Muhammad as God’s prophet without compromising the authority of the Bible?

In 2014 the International Journal of Frontier Missiology published an article by Harley Talman entitled, “Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?” (vol.31:4 Winter 2014). Subsequent issues contain responses and counter responses with Ayman Ibrahim (vol. 32:4 Winter 2015; 33:3 Fall 2016) and John Azumah (vol. 33:3 Fall 2016). I am not going to detail their discussion. You can read their whole dialogue in the archives section of the IJFM website.

Talman’s plan for answering the question in his title entails:

…a reconsideration of four issues: our understanding of Muhammad and Islam, our theology of revelation, the criteria for prophethood, and the possibility for a positive prophetic role for Muhammad. (International Journal of Frontier Missiology, 31:4 Winter 2014,170)

I find myself aligning with Ayman Ibrahim’s critique of the article. Talman suggests a reconstruction of Muhammad and the origins of Islam that is not widely accepted by traditional Muslims (see Ibrahim, IJFM, 33.3 Fall 2016, 116). His theology of revelation and criteria for prophethood is too open in my opinion. He explores various categories of prophets and suggests the model of NT prophet that was not infallible and subject to evaluation.  I would think that would offend Muslims as much as saying he was a false prophet. According to Talman, seeing Muhammad as a prophet in some sense is seen as essential to showing respect. I think we can be respectful without conceding some kind of biblical prophetic role.

Certainly Muhammad is the prophet of Islam as Joseph Smith is the prophet of Mormonism. There have been charismatic leaders/prophets both within Christian contexts and outside Christian contexts since the close of the New Testament. Historic evangelicals have insisted that the Bible is the only authoritative special revelation from God. All  prophetic claims to revelation need to be tested by their conformity to the Bible.

Talman seems to see more continuity between the Bible and the Qur’an than I believe is warranted. While there are some points of agreement between the Bible and the Qur’an, there are many significant points of conflict. The crucial difference is the person and work of Christ, to whom all the biblical prophets point (Luke 24:27, 44).  In his book, The Qur’an in Context: A Christian Exploration, (IVP, 2016) Mark Robert Anderson writes:

… the Qur’an radically diverges from the Bible on Jesus in two basic ways: it both dehistoricizes and marginalizes him. In terms of the former, the Qur’an is far more interested in extrabiblical than biblical accounts of Jesus’ life – for example, presenting him as a child miracle worker. Of Jesus’ story as found in the gospels, the Qur’an actually gives only two brief, barely recognizable snippets – in other words, nothing that would give its readers any clear sense of who he was or how his ministry played out. In keeping with that, the Qur’an calls Jesus the Messiah but gives the term no meaning whatsoever. – kindle loc. 4987

So while the Qur’an honors him, it honors only its dehistoricized version of Jesus, a version radically reduced from that of the Bible. And even then, it honors him uneasily, stripping his story of virtually all the biblical narratives and teachings that convey his greatness and glory. – kindle loc. 4996

Further, the Qur’an does not view Jesus’ death and resurrection as redemptive in the sense that Jesus died to bear the sins of the world and was raised to life as the beginning of God’s new creation. In the Qur’an, Jesus’ death is no more than that of a noble martyr for God’s cause. – kindle loc. 4999

The Qur’an’s ultimate purpose relative to Jesus is clearly to establish his unqualified endorsement of Muhammad as God’s ultimate prophet, – kindle loc. 5005

Trying to find some kind of biblical prophetic role for Muhammad by reconstructing history rather than carefully reading the Qur’an will only lead to wishful thinking. In light of 1 John 4:1-3, it is clear that the recorder of the Qur’an departs from the biblical teaching about Jesus Christ. If we say that Muhammad is a prophet in the biblical sense of being a spokesman for God, then we are denying the Jesus of the Bible. As Anderson points out in his book, the Qur’an marginalizes and dehistoricizes Jesus. We can only access Muhammad’s message from what is written and what is written contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

We can and ought to show respect for Muhammad and Muslims, but giving him some kind of biblical prophetic status undermines and marginalizes the Christian Scriptures. We can acknowledge him as the prophet of Islam. But, I don’t see how a follower of Christ can say that Muhammad is God’s prophet without redefining the phrase to the point of offending Muslims or compromising the finality of Jesus Christ. Does respect for our different beliefs require affirmation of those different beliefs? And if we are affirming them tongue-in-cheek, aren’t we being deceptive?

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