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How Does Paul’s Testimony Compare to Muhammad’s Testimony?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In a previous blog post, I was quoting from historical scholar Mike Licona on the importance of the apostle Paul’s testimony about Jesus’ resurrection.  There are skeptics, however, who want to discount Paul.  One such skeptic is atheist Michael Martin, who questions why Christians accept Paul’s testimony, but not Muhammad’s testimony about the angel Gabriel.

Mike Licona picks up the challenge in his book The Resurrection of Jesus:

Martin cites as a primary source of revelation the conversion of Muhammad from polytheism to monotheism based on an appearance to him of the angel Gabriel.  According to Muhammad, Gabriel directly communicated revelation from heaven: the Qur’an.  So why accept Paul’s testimony while rejecting Muhammad’s?

Martin’s point has some weight.  Muhammad’s testimony that Gabriel revealed the Quran to him appears four times in the Qur’an. Accordingly, both the Qur’an and Paul may qualify as providing eyewitness testimony.  However, Martin overlooks some very important differences.

What are the differences between Paul and Muhammad?  There are several that need to be examined:

First, the overall sources for the event are far from equal in quality.  Outside of the Quranic texts, the appearance of Gabriel to Muhammad is found in the early biographies and hadith, all of which were written more than two hundred years after Muhammad’s death.  These are secondary sources that are, in a sense, similar to Luke’s accounts of Paul s conversion.  However, Luke’s accounts are much closer to the time of the events they purport to describe and may even be provided by a traveling companion of Paul, whereas the Muslim sources are more than two hundred years removed from Muhammad.

For example, Luke is reporting events in Acts that allegedly occurred between A.D. 30-62 and is writing between A.D. 61-90.  He is writing 31-60 years after the events and may have personally known some of the subjects.  In the case of the biographies and hadith, the earliest sources are more than two hundred years removed from the subjects and could not have had any first-, second-, third- or fourth-hand acquaintance with them. Accordingly, although the biographies and hadith probably contain some traditions that go back to Muhammad, those traditions are not of the same historical quality of the traditions preserved in the New Testament literature.

Second, Paul’s experience is in a sense corroborated by other eyewitnesses who claimed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them.  Friend and foe alike reported that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.  On the other hand, Muhammad is the only one who claimed to have been visited by Gabriel in connection with the rise of Islam.

Third, Muhammad’s dissatisfaction with the paganism and idolatry in his society existed prior to his alleged revelations.  Thus no conversion from polytheism occurred as a result of his religious experience, even according to Muslim sources.  On the other hand, Paul seems to have been quite content with and extremely sold out to his strict sect within Judaism.  Indeed, he was on his way to arresting Christians on his own initiative when his experience occurred.  Muhammad’s experience confirmed his views, while Paul’s opposed his.

Perhaps most important of all, however, is that historians need not deny that Muhammad had an experience that he interpreted as a supernatural being appearing to him.  They are at liberty to support an alternate explanation to Muhammad’s for the experience just as they do for the experiences of Jesus’ disciples.

There you have it: a quick and concise summary of some key differences between the testimony of Paul and the testimony of Muhammad.  I consider Martin’s challenge answered.


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Comments

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    Perhaps most important of all, however, is that historians need not deny that Muhammad had an experience that he interpreted as a supernatural being appearing to him. They are at liberty to support an alternate explanation to Muhammad’s for the experience just as they do for the experiences of Jesus’ disciples.

    But there is no way for historians – or us, for that matter – to determine whether or not any of these incompatible ‘revelations’ were anything other than false attributions, imaginings, or outright delusions. One might be tempted to doubt all of them equally on this basis alone.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    So of course we can have no doubt that Joseph Smith really saw the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates since we have corroboration from known contemporaries.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    What contemporaries of Joseph Smith saw the angel Moroni and the golden plates?

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Every copy of the Book of Mormon contains the affidavit of the Three Witnesses who claim that the Angel Moroni appeared to them and showed them the Golden Plates as well as the affidavit of the Eight Witnesses who claim that Joseph Smith showed them the Golden Plates while they were in his possession.

  • Ggodat

    You forget that they all later claimed they were NOT eyewitnesses to the event, so again, where are the eyewitnesses?

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    The Mormons would disagree with you on that.

  • Darrell

    No they wouldn’t Vinny. As a former Mormon, I know a little bit about this. The witnesses were not eyewitnesses to the plates being delivered to Smith. The witnesses just claim to have seen the plates themselves. However, there is much scholarship on this – IN MORMOM CIRCLES – that claim that the vision was spiritual not physical. Smith was heavily involved in occult like activitiy and he and his followers were heavily into seeing things with their “spiritual eyes” rather than their physical eyes. In addition, every single one of the witnesses later left the Church – believing Smith himself to be a false prophet. This is NOTHING like Paul’s situation.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Darrell,

    In one way it sounds very much like Paul’s situation. Since he gives us absolutely no details about the resurrection appearances, we are really up in the air concerning what the appearance claims in 1 Cor. 15 mean as well. It is also similar in that there is plenty of liberal Christian scholarship that suggests that the resurrection appearances weren’t really the physical experiences that the first reports suggested.

  • Darrell

    Vinny,

    The thing is Paul never defected from the faith. The three and eight witnesses did. That says something. Furthermore, we have evidence that Smith and the witnesses were into seeing things with their “spiritual eyes” rather than physical reality. We have no such evidence for Paul. Thus, your claim of similarity is really bunk.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Darrell,

    Why is that the thing? Why isn’t the thing that none of the Eight Witnesses recanted their stories even after falling out with Smith? That seems like an impressive point in their favor.

    Bill asserted that Paul’s claims had better corroboration than those of Muhammed. Based on the factors he cited, I think that Joseph Smith’s claims have even better corroboration.

    In what sense “do we have evidence that Smith and the witnesses were into seeing things with their “spiritual eyes” rather than physical reality”? The affidavit of the Eight Witnesses seems pretty clear that they are claiming a physical encounter with the Golden Plates. On the other hand, what evidence do we have that Paul’s encounter was physical reality rather than a purely spiritual experience?

  • Darrell

    Vinny,

    If you are honestly looking to start researching how Smith and gang interpreted “seeing things”, I would recommend starting out with An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”. Bottom line – I don’t find their testimony’s or those of their followers to come anywhere close to that of the Apostles and the Saints who followed them (many of whom went willingly to their death glorifying God). We will just have to agree to disagree.

    God bless.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Darrell,

    I don’t find the affidavit of the Eight Witnesses terribly convincing either, but at least it qualifies as first person contemporaneous corroboration of Smith’s claims, and on its face, it purports to describe a physical encounter. Moreover, the witnesses stuck to their story even when several of them had motive to expose Smith as a fraud.

    The only first person claim to witnessing an appearance of the risen Christ is Paul’s and he doesn’t provide us with any details that would enable us to determine the nature of his experience. The corroboration of the appearance claims is found in documents written decades after the fact by unknown authors based on unknown sources. The evidence that any of those that originally made the appearance claims stuck by them through adversity is extremely sketchy.

    The big difference between the evidence for Christian origins and the evidence for Mormon origins is that for the latter we have copious independent primary source material produced by non-Mormons who dealt with Smith and his followers and ex-Mormons who left the fold. That makes any conclusions we draw about the former necessarily more speculative.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    It is also important to note that the case for the resurrection of Jesus is not only built on Paul’s first person witness of Jesus alone. Paul’s first person testimony is a certainly a key portion of the case, but it’s not everything. There are also important oral traditions, creeds, and formulas that build the case. We could also include the early sources for Mark, Matthew, and Luke as further lines of evidence.

    Bottom line is that simply comparing Paul’s first person testimony to the evidence for Smith’s visions of angels and golden plates is totally insufficient an analysis.

  • darrellboan

    It is also interesting to note (I should have pointed this out earlier) how many of the “witnesses” were direct relatives of Joseph Smith. Little bit of nepotism going on there??? :-)

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    We can’t include the early sources for the gospels as lines of evidence because we don’t have them. Our evidence is the accounts that we have. Q and the oral tradition are inferences that scholars have drawn from the evidence or theories about how the evidence came to be. They are not evidence.

    What the history of Mormonism shows us is that people will believe supernatural tales with no credible evidence whatsoever and that those people will risk property, liberty, and even life for claims that are pure poppycock.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Darrell,

    I cannot help but suspect that if Christians had those kind of affidavits corroborating Paul’s resurrection accounts, they would be touting them as incontrovertible proof of the resurrection and deriding anyone who doubted them as hyper-skeptics.

  • Boz

    “How Does Paul’s Testimony Compare to Muhammad’s Testimony?”

    Bill Pratt, as a christian apologist, your answer to this question will certainly be one-sided.

    Would you be interested in posting a similar-length response to this question from a muslim apologist, for balance purposes?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    No, but a Muslim apologist is welcome to post a comment in response.

  • Pingback: Articles on the Resurrection of Jesus « Ratio Christi-At The Ohio State University()

  • abdullah

    Praise be to Allaah.
    Muhammad(Peace Be Upon Him)in the bible
    Bible
    prophecies about the advent of muhammad
    Abraham is widely regarded as the Patriarch
    of monotheism and the common father of the Jews, Christians and Muslims.
    Through his second son, Isaac, came all Israelite prophet including
    such towering figures as Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus.
    May peace and blessing be upon them all. The advent of these great prophets
    was in partial fulfillment of God’s promises to bless the nations of
    earth through the descendents of Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3). Such
    fulfillment is wholeheartedly accepted by Muslims whose faith considers
    the belief in and respect of all prophets an article of faith.

    BLESSING OF ISHMAEL AND ISAAC
    Was
    the first born son of Abraham (Ishmael) and his descendants icluded
    in God’s covenant and promise? A few verses from the Bible may help
    shed some light on this question :

    Genesis 12:2-3 speaks
    of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants before any child
    was born to him.

    Genesis 17:4 reiterates God’s promise
    after the birth of Ishmael and before the birth of Isaac.

    In Genesis, ch.21. Isaac is specifically
    blessed but Ishmael was also specifically blessed and promised by
    God to become “ a great nation” especially in Genesis 21:13,
    18.

    According to Deuteronomy 21:15-17 the
    traditional rights and privileges of the first born son are not
    to be affected by the social status of his mother (being a ‘free’
    woman such as Sarah, Isaac’s mother, or a “Bondwoman” such as Hagar,
    Ishmael’s mother). This is only consistent with the moral and humanitarian
    principles of all revealed faiths.

    The full legitimacy of Ismael as Abraham’s son
    and “seed” and the full legitimacy of his mother, Hagar, as Abraham’s
    wife are clearly stated in Genesis 21:13 and 16:3.

    After
    Jesus, the last Israelite messenger and prophet, it was time that God’s
    promise to bless Ismael and his descendants be fulfilled. Less than
    600 years after Jesus, came the last messenger of God, Muhammad
    (Peace be Upon Him) , from the progency of Abraham through Ishmael.
    God’s blessing of both of the main branches of Abraham’s family tree
    was now fulfilled. But are there additional corroborating evidence that
    the Bible did in fact foretell the advent of Prophet Muhammad (Peace
    be Upon Him)?
    MUHAMMAD
    (Peace be Upon Him):
    The Prophet Like Unto Moses
    Long
    time after Abraham, God’s promise to send the long-awaited Messenger
    was repeated this time in Moses’ word.
    In
    Deuteronomy 18:18, Moses spoke of the prophet to be sent by God
    who is :

    From among the Israelite’s “brethren” a reference
    to their Ishmaelite cousins as Ishmael was the other son of Abraham
    who was explicitly promised to become a “great nation”.

    A prophet like unto Moses. There were hardly
    any two prophets who were so much alike as Moses and Muhammad.
    Both were given comprehensive law code of life, both encountered
    their enemies and were victors in miraculous ways, both were accepted
    as prophets/statesmen and both migrated following conspiracies to
    assassinate them. Analogies between Moses and Jesus overlooks not
    only the above similarities but other crucial ones as well (e.g.
    the natural birth, family life and death of Moses and Muhammad
    but no of Jesus, who was regarded by His followers as the Son
    of God and not exclusively a messenger of God, as Moses and Muhammad
    were and as Muslim belief Jesus was).

    THE
    AWAITED PROPHET WAS TO COME FROM ARABIA
    Deuteronomy
    33:1-2 combines references to Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.
    It speaks of God (i.e. God’s revelation) coming from Sinai, rising from
    Seir (probably the village of Sa’ir near Jerusalem) and shining forth
    from Paran.
    According
    to Genesis 21:21, the wilder-ness of Paran was the place where
    Ishmael settled (i.e. Arabia, specifically Mecca).

    Indeed
    the King James version of the Bible mentions the pilgrims passing through
    the valley of Ba’ca (another name of Mecca) in Psalms 84:4-6.

    Isaiah
    42:1-13 speaks of the beloved of God. His elect and messenger who
    will bring down a law to be awaited in the isles and who “shall not
    fail nor be discouraged till he have set judgement on earth.” Verse
    11, connects that awaited one with the descendants of Ke’dar. Who
    is Ke’dar? According to Genesis 25:13, Ke’dar was the second
    son of Ishmael, the ancestor of the prophet Muhammad.
    MUHAMMAD’S MIGRATION FROM MECCA TO MEDINA
    : PROPHECIED IN THE BIBLE?
    Habakkuk
    3:3 speaks of God (God’s help) coming from Te’man. (an Oasis North
    of Medina according to J. Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible), and the
    holy one (coming) from Paran. That holy one who under persecution migrated
    from Paran (Mecca) to be received enthusiastically in Medina was
    none but prophet Muhammad.
    Indeed
    the incident of the migration of the prophet and his persecuted followers
    is vividly described in Isaiah 21:13-17. that section forerold
    as well about the battel of Badr in which the few ill-armed faithfull
    miraculously defeated the “mighty” men of Ke’dar, who sought to destroy
    Islam and intimidate their own folks who turned to Islam.
    THE QUR’AN (KORAN) FORETOLD IN THE BIBLE?

    For
    twenty-three years, God’s word (the Qur’an) were truely put into Muhammad’s
    mouth. He was not the “author” of the Qur’an. The Qur’an was dictated
    to him by Angel Gabriel who asked Muhammad to simply repeat the words
    of the Qur’an as he heard them. These words were then committed to memory
    and to writing by those who hear them during Muhammad’s life
    time and under his supervision.
    Was
    it a coincidence that the prophet “like unto Moses” from the “brethren”
    of the Israelites (i.e. from the Ishmaelites) was also described as
    one in whose mouth God will put his words and that he will speak in
    the name of God., (Duteronomy 18:18-20). Was it also a coincidence
    the “Paraclete” thet Jesus foretold to come after Him was described
    as one who “shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear,
    that shall he speak.. “(John 16:13).
    Was
    it another coincidence that Isaiah ties between the messenger
    connected with Ke’dar and a new song (a scripture in a new language)
    to be sang unto the Lord (Isaiah 42:10-11). More explicitly,
    prophesies Isaiah “ for with stammering lips, and another tongue,
    will he speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:11). This latter verse
    correctly describes the “stammering lips” of Prophet Muhammad reflecting
    the state of tension and concentration he went through at the time of
    revelation. Another related point is that the Qur’an was revealed in
    piece-meals over a span of twenty-three years. It is interisting to
    compare this with Isaiah 28:10 which speaks of the same thing.

    THAT PROPHET – PARACLETE – MUHAMMAD

    Up
    to the time of Jesus, the Israelites were still awaiting for that prophet
    like unto Moses prophecied in Deuteronomy 18:18. when John the
    Baptist came, they asked him if he was Christ and he said “No”. they
    asked him if he was Elias and he said “No”. then, in apparent reference
    to Deuteronomy 18:18, they asked him “Art thou that Prophet”
    and he answered, “No”. (John 1:19-21).
    In
    the Gospel according to John (Chapters 14, 15, 16) Jesus spoke
    of the “ Paraclete” or comporter who will come after him, who will be
    sent by Father as another Paraclete, who will teach new things
    which the contemporaries of Jesus could not bear. While the Paraclete
    is described as the spirit of truth (whose meaning resemble Muhammad’s
    famous title Al-Amin, the trustworthy), he is identified in one verse
    as the Holy Ghost (John 14:26). Such a designation is however
    incosistent with the profile of that Paraclete. In the words of the
    Dictionary of the Bible, (Ed. J. Mackenzie) “ These items, it
    must be admitted do not give an entirely coherent picture.”
    Indeed history tells us that many early
    Christians understood the Paraclete to be a man and not a spirit. This
    might explain the followings who responded to some who claimed, without
    meeting the criteria stipulated by Jesus, to be the awaited “Paraclete”.

    It
    was Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) who was the Paraclete,
    Comforter, helper, admonisher sent by God after Jesus. He testified
    of Jesus, taught new things which could not be borne at Jesus’ time,
    he spoke what he heard (revelation), he dwells with the believers (through
    his well-preserved teachings). Such teachings will remain forever because
    he was the last messenger of God, the only Universal Messenger to
    unite the whole of humanity under God and on the path of PRESERVED truth.
    He told of many things to come which “came to pass” in the minutest
    detail meeting, the criterion given by Moses to distinguish between
    the true prophet and the false prophets (Deuteronomy 18:22).
    He did reprove the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgement (John
    16:8-11).
    WAS THE SHIFT OF RELIGIUS LEADERSHIP PROPHECIED?

    Following
    the rejection of the last Israelite prophet, Jesus, it was about time
    that God’s promise to make Ishmael a great nation be fulfilled (Genesis
    21:13, 18).
    In Matthew
    21:19-21, Jesus spoke of the fruitless fig tree (A Biblical symbol
    of prophetic heritage) to be cleared after being given a last chance
    of three years (the duration of Jesus’ ministry) to give fruit. In a
    later verse in the same chapter, Jesus said : “Therefore, say I unto
    you, the Kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and given to nation
    bringing forth the fruit thereof” (Matthew 21:43). That nation
    of Ishmael’s descendants (the rejected stone in Matthew 21 :42)
    which was victorious against all super-powers of its time as prophecied
    by Jesus : “ And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken,
    but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder”
    (Matthew 21:44).
    OUT OF CONTEXT COINCIDENCE?
    Is it possible that the numerous prophecies
    cited here are all individually and combined out of contect misinterpretations?
    is the opposite true, that such infrequently studied verses fit together
    consistently and clearly point to the advent of the man who changed
    the course of human history, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon
    Him). Is it reasonable to conclude that all these prophecies, appearing
    in different books of the Bible and spoken by various prophets at different
    times were all coinsidence? If this is so here is another strange “coincidence”!

    One
    of the signs of the prophet to come from Paran (Mecca) is that he will
    come with “ten thousands of saints” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV). That
    was the number of faithful who accompanied Prophet Muhammad to
    Paran (Mecca) in his victorious, bloodless return to his birthplace,
    to destroy the remaining symbols of idolatry in the Ka’bah.
    Says God as quated by Moses :

    And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words
    which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deuteronomy
    18:19).
    Dear Readers:
    May the light of truth shine in your heart and mind.
    May it lead you to peace and certitude in this life and eternal bliss
    in hereafter.
    AMEEN .

    Islam Q&A
    Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid

  • angel

    are u going to answer abdullah? i’d really like to see one cuz am sure there is

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Abdullah basically copied and pasted a really long article that I don’t have time to deal with. However, if you would like to read to your heart’s content about Christian answers to Islam, I would recommend this site:

    http://www.answering-islam.org/index.html

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    I will make a couple general statements about Muslims quoting the Bible. First, Muslims argue that the Bible has been hopelessly corrupted by Jews and Christians, yet they quote from it as if this never occurred. You can’t have it both ways. Either it is hopelessly corrupted or it is not. If it is, they need to stop quoting from it. If it is not, then the Bible has lots of things to say about Jesus that Muslims need to come to grips with.

    Second, the corruption argument does not work because historians have written manuscripts of the biblical books that date back as far the first or second century BC for the OT. For the NT, we have books that date to the early second century AD. So, we know that the modern copies of the Bible we have today are the same as what was written thousands of years ago.

  • Bigbob Maowong

    Jesus IS LORD, OUR REDEEMER AND EMANUEL . JESUS = EMANUEL = GOD WITH US.::: God – The Alpha And The Omega -First Appeared to ancient saints Via The Holy Spirit – Then to the Jews As Jesus Christ = Emanuel…God With Us…then to the rest of “us”…via The Apostles and The Church. God Have Spoken Through Jesus about false prophets who claim to be
    from God….so be aware and need not compare….

  • Bigbob Maowong

    The evil one can get into “one” of the Twelve Apostle
    s right in the midst of Jesus….Can’t “it” get into an ordinary man from another place to dispute who Jesus IS ? Just meditate and pray to Our Lord for Spiritual Guidance to know beyond knowledge, sight beyond sight….Our Lord Will Guide you…Brethren ! AMEN.

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