The twenty-fifth chapter of the Qur’an, “The Criterion” contains a universal call to prophethood. “The Criterion” contrasts blasphemy and prophecy — blasphemers and prophets differ in how they relate to the Logos, or in Qur’anic terminology, the Book. Blasphemers are unable to do anything outside the Logos (outside the Book), even though they call themselves “gods.” Prophets, following the sign of Jesus and Mary, are called to spread the good news to all nations. To the extent you allow your actions to be guided by God’s Spirit you are a prophet, and The Criterion is your elaboration of the Logos in this world.
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:21
A reading, from the Book of Numbers
Then the Lord met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, “Go back to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” So he came to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab were with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the Lord spoken?”
Then he took up his oracle and said:
“Rise up, Balak, and hear!
Listen to me, son of Zippor!
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
Behold, I have received a command to bless;
He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.”
A Psalm, from the Psalms:
Let all be put to shame who serve carved images, Who boast of idols.
Worship Him, all you gods.
Zion hears and is glad,
And the daughters of Judah rejoice
Because of Your judgments, O Lord.
For You, Lord, are most high above all the earth;
You are exalted far above all gods.
A reading, from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
1 Corinthians 14:1-5
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Matthew:
And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.
These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
A Qur’anic Homily
Briefly, the Qur’anic author describes a number of Prophets, and the written works they were given. The phrase “We gave—,” when attributed to angels, can apply to…
Moses and the Book:
Certainly We gave Moses the Book and followed him with the apostles, and We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and confirmed him with the Holy Spirit. Is it not that whenever an apostle brought you that which was not to your liking, you would act arrogantly; so you would impugn a group, and slave a group?
Other Prophets the Book:
And We gave [Abraham] Isaac and Jacob and guided each of them. And Noah We had guided before, and from his offspring David and Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses and Aaron — thus do we reward the virtuous — and Zechariah, John, Jesus, and Elijah — each of them among the righteous — Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah, and Lot – each We preferred over all the nations — and from among their fathers, descendants and brethren — We chose them and guided them to a straight path.
That is God’s guidance: with it He guides whomever He wishes of His servants. But were they to ascribe any partners, what they used to do would not avail them.
They are the ones whom We gave the Book, the judgment, and the prophethood. So if these disbelieve in them, We have certainly entrusted them to a people who will never disbelieve in them. They are the ones whom God has guided. So follow their guidance.
Then We gave Moses the Book, completing on him who is virtuous, and as an elaboration of all things, and as guidance and mercy, so that they may believe in the encounter with their Lord.
David and the Psalms:
Your Lord knows best whoever is in the heavens and the earth. Certainly We gave some prophets an advantage over the others, and We gave David the Psalms.
And Christ the Gospel:
We followed them with Jesus Son of Mary to confirm that which was before him of the Torah, and We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, confirming what was before it of the Torah, and as guidance and advice for the Godwary.
Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God has sent down in it. Those who do not judge by what God has sent down — it is they who are the transgressors.
As St. John calls he who reads and hear prophecy “blessed,” so is the Logos itself Blessed. For all right words come from the Logos, and all right hearing is the hearing of the Logos, and all mercy is in the Logos:
And this Book We have sent down is a blessed one; so follow it and be Godwary so that you may receive mercy.
This is the context for the unknown prophet and his Criterion. God is known through the Logos, and the Logos (in an elaboration of the Book which is not the Torah, or Psalms, or Gospel, but something else) is sent down to an unnamed prophet in a work called the Criterion.
Blessed is He who sent down the Criterion to His servant that he may be a warner to all the nations.
The phrase “all the nations” seems reserved for Jesus and Mary in the Qur’an, meaning the unnamed prophet is associated somehow with bringing the Christ and the Virgin into the world:
And her who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and made her and her Son a sign for all the nations.
The identity of this prophet and his elaboration of the Book, the Criterion, is the dramatic tension that drives the opening of this chapter. So what do we know about the Prophet?
The Identity of the Prophet
The Prophet is embodied — he buys and sells. He is vulnerable to persecution — he does not have any visible angelic protection. He is limited as all men are limited — he does not possess unlimited wealth:
And they say, “What sort of apostle is this who eats food and walks in the marketplaces? Why has not an angel been sent down to him so as to be a warner along with him? Or why is not a fortune given to him, or does he have a garden from which he may eat?’ And the wrongdoers say, ‘You are just following a bewitched man.”
The prophet preaches to those who need conversion:
He was indeed about to lead us astray from our gods, had we not stood firm by them.” Soon they will know, when they sign the punishment, who is further astray from the Way.”
People will mock the prophet…
When they see you, they just take you in derision: “Is this the one whom God has sent as an apostle?!”
And if you need to re-read the above sentence: the prophet is you, insofar as you spread the good news of salvation and warm others of the wages of sin:
We did not send you except as a bearer of good news and warner. Say, “I do not ask you any reward for it, except that anyone who wishes should take the way to his Lord.
You and the Bishops and God
The Qur’anic authors views of the the Christ’s commissions to his disciples is much closer to the Presbyterian or Unitarian perspectives than to the Catholic one. The Qur’anic author clearly does not see a role for apostolic succession and does not believe Christ is establish it. Rather, Christ’s commissioning of the apostles is a type of the Holy Spirit commissioning men after Pentecost.
A notable difference int he Qur’anic authors terminology, as opposed to the early Protestant Reformers, is the use of “Prophet” as opposed to “Saint” to describe a follower of the Logos. The Qur’an presents the Logos as a passive Book to be read, rather than a an active Man united with God, so the prophetic rather than saintly aspects of a godwary Logos-follower are emphasized.
Thus, those who point away from God are basically anti-prophets, taking gods who are not God. Without God and His Logos these fake gods (and there was a species of bishop at the time who called themselves “gods”) are only men without the ability to truly destroy or create. (As with Reformation-era Presbyterians and Unitarians, the Qur’anic author is rather obsessed with the Catholic hierarchy.)
Yet they have taken gods besides Him who create nothing and have themselves been created, and who have no control over their own harm or benefit, and have neither control over death, nor life, nor resurrection.
Also like the Presbyterians and Unitarians of the Protestant Reformation, the Qur’anic author emphasizes the value of prophecy and ministry, against the Catholic view of office. Aaron’s role as the first High Priest is minimized, his personal role as a minister is emphasized:
Certainly We gave Moses the Book and We made Aaron, his brother, accompany him as a minister. Then We said, “let the two of you go to the people who have impugned Our signs.” Then We destroyed them utterly.
The “false gods” (the bishops) and the the “prophets” (the godwary) are both men. The Qur’anic authors emphasis of the incarnate nature of the bishops does not by itself deny their divine mandate, but does serve to emphasize that at best a bishop can point the way to God, but should not be taken for a God Himself:
Have you seen him who has taken his desire to be his god? It is your duty to watch over him?
The Justification of the Prophet by Works
The prophet — that is you — should not despair at the lack of conversion of the powerful. God will judge them in time. God will decide which of them are god-fearing and which are not. Judgment is reserved to God, even from those who are made to be prophets:
On the day that He will muster them and those whom they worship besides God, He will say, ‘Was it you who lead astray these servants of Mine, or did they themselves tray from the Way?’ They will say, ‘Immaculate are You! It does not behoove us to take any master in Your stead! But You provided for them and their fathers until they forgot the Reminder, and they were a ruined lot.”
They mock you as they do not see your guardian angel. But they will not be mocking when they do see the angles.
The day they will see the angels, there will be no good news for the guilty on that day, and they will say, “Keep off!” Then We shall attend to the works they have done and turn them into scattered dust.
Yet in at least one way the Qur’anic author would have been uncomfortable with the Protestant Reformers: his focus on the importance of good works. The righteous “prophets” are defined their actions, from social actions such as saying “Peace” to their manner of prayer:
The servants of the All-beneficent are those who walk humbly on the earth, and when the ignorant address them, say “Peace!” Those who spend the night for their Lord, prostrating and standing. Those who say, “our Lord! Turn away from us the punishment of hell. Its punishment is indeed enduring. It is indeed an evil station and abode.
Belief and action are not taken as separate things in the Qur’an, but as a unity. For instance, the right prayer itself is a work. The Qur’anic author does not make salvation as easy as a question of belief, but nor is it physically impossible for any accomplish:
And those who say, “Our Lord! Give us joy and comfort in our spouses and offspring, and make us leaders of the godwary.” Those shall be rewarded with sublime abodes for their patience sand steadfastness, and they shall be met there with greetings and peace, to abide in them, an excellent station and abode.
A Prophet, not a “God”
Unlike the bishops who during the Roman period say themselves as temporal rulers, the ruler of this world (According to the Qur’anic author) is clearly God: God organized the cosmos…
It is He who merged the two seas: this one sweet and agreeable, and that one briny and bitter, and between the two He set a barrier and a forbidding hindrance.
along the lines described by St. Ephrem the Syrian
The upper waters, because they had been separated on the second day from the lower waters by the firmament set between them, were also sweet like the lower waters. (The upper waters are not those that became salty in the seas on the third day.)
St Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis
God uses water to bring the dead to life:
And it is He who sends the winds as harbingers of His mercy, and We send down from the sky purifying water, with which We revive a dead country and provide water to many of the cattle and humans We have created.
And even water to create the first life:
It is He who created the human being from water, then invested him with ties of blood and marriage, and your Lord is all-powerful.
It is God, and not man, who placed the lights in the sky: For as these lights help man to know the night from the day, but cannot create themselves, so a prophet is a boon to his fellow man, but is not a god to be worshiped by him:
Blessed is He who appointed houses in the heavens and set in it a lamp and a shining moon. It is He who made the night and the day alternate for someone who desires to take admonition, or desires to give thanks.
The Criterion is the work of your life, you are the prophet who hears the Book from the Spirit. Does your prophecy point to God or to seductive idols? Do you look ahead to a house with many mansions, or to an evil abode in hell?