By Keith Thompson
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already" (1 John 4:1-3 ESV).
Muslim apologists will often selectively cite these first three verses of 1 John 4 in order to try to demonstrate that Muhammad passes this test of prophethood. They argue that since Muhammad confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh that therefore Christians ought to consider Muhammad a true prophet. Sami Zaatari, for example, argues:
"Muhammad perfectly fits the description of a BELIEVER according to these passages! … So note, the person who confesses that Jesus is the Christ, is from God. Those who do not confess that Jesus is the Christ are the anti-Christ. Therefore Muhammad is from God, the prophet Muhammad did confess that Jesus is the Christ…" (Source)
The error in this type of argumentation is clear in light of the fact that 1.) The meaning of confessing that Jesus has come in the flesh is misunderstood by Zaatari and 2.) The test of prophethood is not simply limited to v. 1-3; the test extends throughout the entire chapter. Regarding point 1, there are two major interpretations. The first is that “confessing that Jesus has come in the flesh” is to be taken as a s tatement about Jesus’ incarnation – God becoming man (John 1:1-3, 14; Philippians 2:6-11, John 8:58). This is the view of scholars like Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer who remarked:
“The Spirits and prophets are to be tested by whether they confess that Jesus “is come in the flesh,” a confession that has two elements of content. It affirms both that Jesus existed before and also that He has come in the flesh. In other words, spirits and prophets must acknowledge both Jesus’ pre-existence and His incarnation."(1)
Hence, Muhammad fails this test since he did not affirm that Jesus pre-existed as God and became a man in the incarnation as the Scriptures clearly teach. The second interpretation is that “confessing that Jesus has come in the flesh” is to be taken as a polemic against an early Gnostic heretic sect called Docetism which, because of their Gnostic presupposition, believed all matter to be evil and hence rejected the belief that Jesus was truly man. They believed Jesus was only a spirit or phantom.(2) However, even if this were the proper interpretation it can still be argued that “has come in the flesh” is a reference to both Jesus’ true humanity as well as his pre-existence and incarnation. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. In order for Jesus to truly “come in the flesh” in human form it assumes he came from somewhere (pre-existence) and based on the totality of Scripture we ought to conclude that Jesus came in the flesh after leaving His exalted status in Heaven as the second person of the Trinity.
If Zaatari is going to take the surface level approach and claim this means anyone who says Jesus is Messiah and was truly alive is from God, then he would have to say Joseph Smith, the prophet of Mormonism was a true prophet since Smith affirmed that Jesus was the Messiah and that he lived.(3) Obviously Zaatari would not say such a thing so when Zaatari says that since Muhammad believed Jesus was the Messiah who lived without question proves “Muhammad is from God” he must be consistent and say it proves Joseph Smith is from God as well. As we have seen Zaatari does not understand the Christological nature of 1 John 4:1-3 and thus his argument falls apart.
Muhammad Fails the 1 John 4 Test
Zaatari’s second error is that he assumes the prophethood test is limited to v. 1-3. However, as we will see, the entire chapter contains tests that people must pass in order to be true Christians and that Muhammad fails the test. For example, to demonstrate that Muhammad is an anti-Christ who must not be followed, 1 John 4:15 says:
“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15 ESV).
This clearly shows that the testing does not end at v.3. In v. 15 we see that in order to be considered in God (a true believer), you must confess that Jesus is the Son of God. However, this is something the anti-Christ Muhammad emphatically denied:
“Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is (S. 19:34-35 Pickthall).”
Therefore, according to the 1 John 4 prophethood test Muhammad is a false prophet. We are also told that the true message of God’s love is that not only does the Father have a Son but the Son was sent to die for the sins of His people.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10 ESV).
Muhammad fails and is shown to be a false prophet with the spirit of anti-Christ since he rejected Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice on the cross for our sins and claims that Allah tricked everyone to believe the crucifixion!
“And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger - they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain" (S. 4:157 Pickthall).
Although Muslim apologists appeal to 1 John 4 as if it validates Muhammad, we have shown that they do not understand what it means to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. We have seen that this is a reference to Jesus’ pre-existence as God and His incarnation. Moreover, we have seen that the prophethood test does not end at v. 3 but continues throughout the chapter and clearly shows that Muhammad is a false prophet with the spirit of anti-Christ since he rejects Jesus’ Son-ship and crucifixion – the clear message of the Gospel that saves.
Christ has Risen, He is Lord.
1.) Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian View of spirituality, Vol. 3, [Good News Publishers, 1985], p. 179
2.) Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, [Zondervan, 1994], p. 540
3.) Along with Joseph Smith he would have to affirm as true prophets Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and Baha’ullah the founders and prophets of the Ahmadiyya Muslim movement and the Baha’i Faith respectively who also proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah and that he lived on this earth as a true human being.