Questions on the Trinity for Muslims

Questions on the Trinity for Muslims
February 2006 version

Very simply, the Trinity says that there is only One inseparable God, but three distinct beings: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some people have a hard time grasping the Trinity because you cannot picture it. There is nothing on earth that is a perfect analogy of the Trinity, for nothing on earth is a perfect representation of God in Heaven.

Most Muslims have heard of the Trinity, but many do not know much about it. Surprisingly, Islam has a number of teachings that serve as approximate analogies of the Trinity. Here are some rough parallels, along with an explanation of the Trinity.

Q: Let's start very simply. Could Allah have a finger?

Shi'ite Muslims call 'Ali the finger of God. Now the term "finger of God" is not meant physically, but as an expression. While a finger is distinct from the rest of the body, that does not mean it is separated from the body, it is a different body, or that you have more than one physical body. Likewise, nothing restricts God from having three distinct parts, yet with no separation. Saying that God has a finger, part, or spirit, does not mean there is more than one God.

Thus, when speaking about God in human terms we must be careful not to jump beyond what a metaphor is saying.

Q: Could God's Word be from God, yet be uncreated and eternal?

A: Yes. Many Muslims believe the Qur'an is from Allah, yet it existed eternally and is uncreated. While Christians disagree with that, they and Muslims can agree that God's Word can be from Him, and yet be uncreated and eternal.

Q: Could Jesus be God's Word?

A: In Islam, Sahih Muslim vol.1:43 p.21-22 says Jesus is His (Allah's) word. Moreover, the Qur'an itself says, "O Mary! Allah giveth thee Glad tiding of a Word From Him: his name Will be Christ Jesus." (Sura 3:45a)

Q: Could God Almighty be a Father if He chose to be?

A: What restrictions are there on the Almighty?

What reason could be given so restricting God so that He is incapable of having a child in any sense of the term? The real issue is not whether God is capable of being a Father, but whether or not God chose to be a Father, in any sense of the term.

Q: Could God be the only Father Jesus had?

A: Both the Qur'an and the Bible teach that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. God, our Creator, is involved with the bringing to life of all of us. However, Christians have an expression of how Jesus is different from every created being: He is the Son of God. In the case of Jesus there was no one else (i.e. a man) involved in Jesus' conception. If God did not make Mary pregnant with child, then who did? The Christian Church as always taught that this was in a miraculous, non-sexual way; Mary was still a virgin when Jesus was born. Anyone who says Christianity has taught otherwise should stop misrepresenting what Christianity teaches.

Q: Could God appear in a physical form?

A: Yes, according to Islam. God will appear at the final Judgment to Muslims in a deceiving form, and then he will visibly appear in his true form. It does not describe his true form however. You can read all about this in Sahih Muslim vol. 1 p.115-118 (349).

Q: Could Muslims correctly believe their mistaken views of the Trinity are wrong?

A: Yes. A mistaken view of the Trinity, that does not mean a correct explanation is wrong. Sura 5:116 says, "And behold! Allah will say: 'O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, 'Take me and my mother For two gods beside Allah''?..." People reading this could get the impression that the Trinity includes Mary, but the Trinity is no such thing. People could also get the mistaken impression that the Trinity teaches three separate gods, but the Trinity teaches no such thing either. Rather Jesus was one of the three Persons of the Trinity of God, but not a separate God.

Q: Where did Jesus say and show that He was God?

A: He did so in a variety of ways.

Jesus accepted worship in John 9:38, Matthew 8:2; 28:9; 2:2; 14:33; Luke 24:52; 28:17.

Jesus called Himself by the most Holy name of God in John 8:58.

Jesus accepted Thomas saying to Jesus, "My Lord and My God" in John 20:28.

Only God can forgive sins, and Jesus forgave sins against God in Matthew 9:2-6; Mark 2:5-12, Luke 5:20-23; 7:48-50.

Jesus would send His angels in Matthew 13:41, yet these are angels of God in Luke 12:8-9; 15:10.

Jesus said all are to honor the Son just as they honor the Father in John 5:23.

Jesus would judge the world in (Matthew 24:31-46, 25:31-3; John 5:21-22, 27). Yet is God who is coming to judge the world (Psalm 50:1-6; Joel 3:12; Deuteronomy 32:35)

There are more things, and they are listed in the tract "Proving for Muslims That Jesus is God"

Q: Briefly, what is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity?

A: God is not subject to man's limitations, and God can reveal Himself to us however He wants. The Trinity actually is not just one doctrine, but seven doctrines that God has revealed in the Bible.

There is a threeness in Scripture: Matthew 28:19 ("...baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"); 1 Peter 1:2; Ephesians 2:18; Revelation 4:8; 2 Corinthians 13:14; John 15:26.

There is only One God. Deuteronomy 4:35-39; 6:4; ("Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One") Isaiah 43: 10-2; 44:6,8; 45:5-6,14,21; 46:9; 1 Timothy 1:17;6:15-16.

Three distinct persons: Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22 (at Jesus baptism the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove); John 1:1;6:38;14:31;15:26; 16:28; 17:5; Acts 5:31-32; Mark 10:38-40. Even simple things on earth, such as fingers on a hand, lobes of a cloverleaf, or peaks in a mountain range can be distinct and not separate. God can have distinct parts and still be inseparable too.

Jesus is God. John 1:3 ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"); John 9:38 ("The man said, 'Lord I believe,' and he worshiped him.") Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:6-9; John 9:38; 2 Corinthians 11:3; John 20:28-29; Revelation 5:8-9;22:20

The Holy Spirit is God. 1 John 4:12-16 ("... God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.") Romans 8:9-16; Luke 1:35; 1 John 4:12-16; 1 Corinthians 3:16 vs. 1 Corinthians 6:19; Acts 5:4

They are equal in nature, glory, and honor. John 5:18; 5:23 ("...all must honor the Son just as the honor the Father who sent Him"); Colossians 2:9-10; (Isaiah 44:6; Revelation 1:8 vs. Revelation 1:17-18; 22:13)

They differ in role and rank. Philippians 2:5b-6 "Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped [held onto] but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 15:25-28; Matthew 12:18; Ephesians 1:3,17; John 1:33; 14:16,26,28; Romans 8:26-27. A common metaphor is that on earth a father and son are equal in value, the same nature, etc. However, the father has a different role in the family than a son.

Q: Who were some of the early followers of Jesus that taught the doctrines of the Trinity?

A: Here are 16 writers I found, plus three others that mention the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Ignatius, a disciple of the apostle John, frequently referred to Jesus as God. For example, in the Second Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians chapter 9 Ignatius says, "And ye are prepared for the building of God the Father, and ye are raised up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross; and ye are drawn by the rope, which is the Holy Spirit; and your pulley is your faith, and your love is the way which leads up on high to God" (Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 1 p.101)

Letter to Diognetus(c.130 A.D.) written by a a disciple of the apostles chapter 7 wrote "As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him."

Irenaeus (120-202 A.D.) "But that He [Jesus] is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have obtained to even a small portion of the truth." (Irenaeus Against Heresies 3:19:2).

"Know thou that every man is either empty or full. For if he has not the Holy Spirit, he has no knowledge of the Creator; he has not received Jesus Christ the life; he knows not the Father who is in heaven;..." (Against Heresies 3:16)

"She [the church] also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul.... For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different nor do those in Spain nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East nor those in Egypt nor those in Libya, nor ..."

Justin Martyr (wrote about 135-165 A.D) in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew chapters 57-65, also gives a very good explanation of the Trinity, and why we should worship Jesus, though without actually using the word Trinity.

Bishop Theophilus of Antioch, (168-181/188 A.D.) mentioned the Trinity in his Letter to Autolycus 2:15.

Tertullian (200-220 A.D.) wrote extensively about the Trinity, in his letter Against Praxeus.

Clement of Alexandria (wrote 193-217/220 A.D.) also spoke of "the Holy Trinity" in Stromata 5:14.

Novatian (210-280 A.D.) from Rome wrote 32 chapters in Treatise on the Trinity.

Hippolytus (225-235/6 A.D.) after quoting part of John 1:1

"If, then the Word was with God and was also God what follows? Would one say that he speaks of two Gods? I shall not indeed speak of two Gods but of one; of two Persons however and of a third economy (disposition), viz., the grace of the Holy Ghost. For the Father indeed is One but there are two Persons because there is also the Son; and then there is the third the Holy Spirit. The Father decrees, the Word executes and the Son is manifested, through whom the Father is believed on. The economy of the harmony is led back to one God; for God is One. It is the Father who commands and the Son who obeys and the Holy Spirit who gives understanding; the Father is above all, and the Son who is through all and the Holy Spirit who is in all. And we cannot otherwise think of one God, but by believing in truth in Father and Son and Holy Spirit." Against the Heresy of One Noetus chapter 14.

Origen (230-254 A.D.) mentions the Trinity in de Principiis book 1 3:7.

Gregory Thaumaturgus (240-265 A.D.) in A Declaration of Faith mentions the Father, Son, and he mentions the Trinity three times in his "Declaration of Faith" in the Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.6 p.7

Dionysius of Alexandria (246-265 A.D.) mentions the Trinity by name twice in Letter 4 ch.8 p.93.

Bishop Munnulus of Girba uses the word "Trinity and quotes Matthew 28:19 "...in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" The Seventh Council of Carthage (258 A.D.) p.567

Bishop Euchratius of Thenae uses the word Trinity and quotes Matthew 28:19 "...in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" The Seventh Council of Carthage (258 A.D.) p.568

Dionysius of Rome (259-269 A.D.) says that the Trinity is declared in Scripture, but three gods is neither taught in the Old or New Testament. Against the Sabellians ch.1 in Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.7 p.365. He also mentions the Trinity in ch.3 p.366.

Thus those who followed the teachings of Jesus were very outspoken in affirming the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Trinity, like faith, goes beyond what people could have reasoned out for themselves in their own minds, but the Trinity does not go against reason and logic. As the preceding shows, many concepts of the Trinity have approximate parallels in Islam.

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