Apparently for Daniel Peterson—Mormonism’s most prominent living apologist who is also the leading LDS scholar on Islam—denying that Jesus is the Lord and Savior who died on the cross and rose from the dead isn’t enough to make one a false prophet. He writes, “I’m not sure whether Muhammad was a prophet or not.” Yes, he really did say that.
What follows is a summary of some key points in the discussion that ensued.
Rob Bowman replies to Daniel Peterson, “Why haven’t you simply prayed about it? Don’t you believe that if you ask God in faith, he will make known to you whether someone is a prophet or not?”
Peterson ducks the question with, “Why do you assume that I haven’t?” And he goes on to shrug it off:
Whether Muhammad was or was not a prophet is not a matter of existential concern to me, and would make no difference to the way I live my life. I have found the gospel and church of Jesus Christ, and I don’t think God really cares that much about answering questions of merely antiquarian curiosity.
He then does some fancy dancing:
I’m inclined to think that Muhammad was not a full prophet in the LDS understanding of the word. But I was impressed, years ago, by the way in which what I believe to be his authentic call narrative matches ancient Semitic throne theophany visions, and I’m open to the theoretical possibility that the text of the Qur’an as we now possess it may not quite accurately represent his teachings — and that it is, specifically, the relative handful of anti-Christian verses in the current text that may have been inserted after his death, when the Muslim community came into fierce military conflict with the (Christian) Byzantine empire. Those who know Arabic, and particularly the way in which jahili poetry and the Qur’an are structured, will readily understand how easy it is to insert (or excise) a verse without detection. So I don’t altogether rule out the possibility that, in the case of Muhammad, we may be dealing with distorted information about a genuine ancient prophet of some sort. To decide whether he was or was not a prophet, at this juncture, would be, in my judgment, to go beyond the evidence. But I’m entirely willing to defer to the decisions of those who have plainly given this question more thought than I have and know more about the topic.
I had asked you if you didn’t believe, as a Mormon, that God would give you an answer if you asked him about an alleged prophet. You ducked that question…
From your earlier statement that you didn’t know if Muhammad was a prophet I can see only two possible conclusions: (1) you asked God if Muhammad was his prophet and didn’t get an answer, or (2) you didn’t ask. Scenario (1) doesn’t fit the LDS doctrine of revelation, which is why I tend to think scenario (2) is the reality. Your comment quoted above would seem to confirm my assumption, since someone who claims not to care if Muhammad was a prophet is unlikely to bother asking God about it.
To your statement quoted above I might retort that whether Joseph Smith was or was not a prophet is not a matter of existential concern to me and would make no difference to the way I live my life, but that would be a lie. If I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, I would become a Mormon. Likewise, if I knew that Muhammad was a prophet of God, I would become a Muslim. Since Islam is incompatible with both Mormonism and orthodox Christianity, neither one of us can plausibly claim not to know if Muhammad was a prophet of God; our choice to remain where we are proves we have answered that question in the negative. And the question of whether Muhammad was a true prophet of God certainly ought to be a matter of existential concern to anyone who claims to care about God’s truth and who is an expert on Islam!
On one point, though, I can agree with you. God does not need to answer questions about whether Muhammad was a prophet of God. We have the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and can see for ourselves (even from our very different theological perspectives) that the religion of Muhammad is not compatible with that revelation in Christ. I don’t need to ask God if Muhammad is God’s prophet, because I know Christ is God’s Son. Likewise, I don’t need to ask God if the Book of Mormon is the word of God, because I know the Bible is the word of God and that the religion founded on the Book of Mormon is not compatible with the Bible. Disagree with that conclusion you will, but the principle is a sound one: we need not pray to know if a religion is true if we have what we consider good, God-honoring reasons to conclude that it is not.
Rob goes on to ask, “Is there anyone in the history of the world who claimed to be a prophet of God that you can say confidently was or is a false prophet?” Jason replies, reflecting what I believe is a general Mormon reluctance to denounce any significant religion’s prophet as false: “No, not with full confidence. I can name some people who definitely were true prophets, however.”
Are we really trusting and following Jesus if we have this above attitude toward prophets? Rob makes this an issue about Jesus:
[T]he Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles repeatedly warned us to guard against following false prophets (Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; Luke 6:26; Acts 13:6; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 4:1-6; Rev. 2:2; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). How can you be on guard against them if you are not capable of determining who they are?
In the same thread, “Ahab” writes to “nackhadlow”:
Okay, so you are saying you are confident that those men were false prophets of God. Does that mean you think those men never said anything true? The way I see it, we are prophets of God when we declare what is true, just as God declares what is true, and we are false prophets when we declare the truth is false.
That is not a biblical way of thinking about it. Jesus didn’t say, “All of us are sheep when we say the truth and savage wolves when we say something incorrect.”
Someone asks him, “How would Rob know who was a true prophet?” He answers that a true prophet would
- be consistent with previously established revelation from God (i.e., the Bible)
- live, not sinlessly, but generally speaking to a standard at least as high as that of righteous believers of his own time
- build faithfully on that foundation with additional revelations that show him to be “ahead of the curve” in some way
- give a coherent account of why God had raised him up to serve as a prophet at the particular time and place that he did
- tell the truth about himself and others
At the end of the thread I couldn’t help but think: If you can’t trust Mormon apologists to make an honest assessment of Muhammad (who denied the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus), how can you trust them to make an honest assessment of Joseph Smith? Also, why the gigantic double-standard on praying to God for a spiritual/emotional epiphanic confirmation on whether a prophet is true or false?
Update: One Mormon is complaining at MADB that Peterson’s “comments differentiating between what Muhammad may have personally taught, and what was eventually included in the Qur’an are never addressed by the commentators [at MC], of course.”
I’m not buying into Peterson’s dance of differentiation for two main reasons:
– It’s not reasonable to believe that Muhammad was ignorant of Jesus. Any non-false/true prophets after Jesus ought to be heralding Jesus, pointing to Jesus, pushing Jesus as THE Messiah, as the Son of God. Muhammad affirmed some true things about Jesus, but Muhammad didn’t get on board with the Jesus-centered, Jesus-focused messages of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Yet Peterson still isn’t sure if Muhammad was a false prophet.
– So what if Peterson has doubts over Muhammad’s original teachings? He still should be able to simply pray to God for a clear yes or no answer to the question of whether Muhammad was a false prophet. Otherwise, he is selectively applying Mormonism’s spiritual/emotional epiphanic confirmation test to Smith and not to Muhammad. The question still stands to Daniel Peterson: “Why haven’t you simply prayed about it? Don’t you believe that if you ask God in faith, he will make known to you whether someone is a prophet or not?”
Peterson’s non-answer of, “Why do you assume that I haven’t?”, is simply embarrassing.