THE TRINITY EXPLAINED TO MUSLIMS
By Abdullah Ibrahim
The Bible categorically pronounces that there is only one God!
Jesus:…”Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Mark 12:29, or Romans 3:29-30, James 2:19)
The Quran too testifies that Jews and Christians, the people of the Book, believe in one God:
And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): But say, “We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” (Surah 29, ‘Ankabut, verse 46)
The blasphemous idea of Christians worshipping three gods comes from a wrong understanding of the Trinity. In the fifth century AD there was a Christian cult called Maryanya which spread the false belief that Jesus and his mother Mary would be two separate gods besides God. The Quran was right to speak out against such impiety:
And behold! God will say: “O Jesus, the son of Mary, didst thou say unto men, ‘Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God,?’ He will say: ‘Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.'” (Surah 5 Maida, verse 116)
To say, as the minority cult of the Maryanyas did, that Mary was the mother of God through whom He produced a physical son, and both were to be taken as separate gods besides God, is absurd! This ludicrous and heathen concept of the Trinity is completely condemned by both Islam and Christianity! The Quran rejects it in clear terms in Surah 4, Al Nisa, verse 171. The Trinity has also been missuderstood to mean that God is three persons and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. Neither are there three substances in one substance. In opposite to this contradictions the Christians definition of the Trinity is expressed in the Athenasian Creed: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Substance (Essence)” The word “person” is here used in the sense of “self with a particlular function.” (“The Illustrated Bible Dictionary” by F.F. Bruce, IVP Leicester, 1962, see “person”)
The danger one faces when confronted with extreme or complicated ideas, is, “to throw the baby out with the bath-water,” this means to reject everything about a matter, even the true and the good. Here is what C.S. Lewis, professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University has to say about such an attitude: “If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How Could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.” ( “Mere Christianity”, Macmillan Company, New York, 1943, page 145)
The main stream of Christianity throughout all the world believes in one God, the Holy Trinity. It is indeed a mystery, as God Himself is, and as eternity and infinity are. “It is held that although the doctrine is beyond the grasp of human reason, it is, like many of the formulations of physical science, not contrary to reason, and may be apprehended though it may not be comprehended by the human mind.” (See, “Encyclopedia Americana”, “Trinity”, by F.C. Grant, Danbury, Con.: Americana Corp., 1980)
The religion of Islam too faces such intellectual challenges. The Quran speaks about God anthropomorphically (it uses human terms to describe him). Orthodox Muslims do not explain the “how”. Similarly, it is a fact that God’s word was revealed in a book, but how the infinite can be expressed in the finite is not clarified.”
I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us – yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, “Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me”; and so he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. (Isaiah 63:7-10)
In a number of other verses in the Torah, the Old Testament, (see Genesis 1:2-3, 18:2, 2 Samuel 23:2-3, etc.) the Trinity is alluded to, even though the concept was not recognized as such by the Jews of the Old Testament. The plural Hebrew word “elohim” used for God many times in the Old Testament also points to the Trinity, especially since there is no royal plural of respect in Hebrew.
There are a number of verses in the New Testament that call Jesus and the Holy Spirit God, besides God the Father. (John 8:58, compare with Exodus 3:14; Acts 5:3-4 etc.) In the light of this truth the following verses are understood to be speaking about the Trinity:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular!) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,… (Matthew 28:19)
In Acts 2:38, 8:16, 19:4 People are baptised in the name of Jesus only. Since Jesus is now included in a way he was not in John’s baptism (19:4), the abbreviated form is used in the beginning to emphasize the distinctive quality of the new baptism.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:13)
For more verses speaking about the Trinity when one considers the Biblical context see, Ephesians 4:4-6, 5:18-20, 1 Cor 12:4-6, Romans 8:9-11.
Even tough the word “Trinity” does not literally occur in these passages, nevertheless the concept is quite clearly taught. In Islam too God is called “El Adl”, meaning “the Just”, “El Wajid”, meaning “The Inventor or Maker”, “Edh Dhur”, meaning “the harmful”, etc. in the list of the 99 names of God. However these words are nowhere found in the Quran but Muslims still accept these attributes as belonging to God. (see “The Muslim doctrine of God”, by S.M. Zwemer, American tract Society, 1905, pages 39-45)
As seen above, the doctrine of the Trinity is based on Biblical facts and the word itself is first found in writings of the church father Tertullian at the end of the 2nd century. The teaching was officially formulated in the 4th century as a response to false teachings. (“The Illustrated Bible Dictionary” by F.F. Bruce, IVP Leicester, 1962, “Trinity”)
In trying to come to terms with this subtlety it will be helpful to realize that everything in this world consists of a kind of Trinity, namely substance, form and purpose! To put this statement to the test let us think of a pencil. Like everything else it is made out of a substance that is formed into something, in our case into a pencil. Its purpose is to enable people to write, in the same way as all other things have some purpose! The geometric illustration of the Trinity is found in a triangle.
The thre corners are inseperable and simultaneous. The one that represents Jesus is touched by a circle that stands for his human nature, whereas the corner indicates his divine nature. (Philipians 2: 5 -11) Questions and apparent contradictions regarding Jesus being God (e.g. “How can God eat, die, etc. like Jesus?”) are easily solved by taking his two natures into consideration. What he did in one he did not in the other.
St. Augustine compared the Trinity with love that involves a lover, the loved one and a spirit of love beteen them.
It may also be valuable to see the one universe as made of space, matter and time. Time by itself consists of past, present and future. If any one of these is removed then universe and time will cease to be! Fire generates heat and light. Thus fire, with its light and heat is one thing. Multiplicity in unity is a very common phenomena. This kind of spiritual unity which reflects the Biblical understanding of the Trinity is distinguished from mathematical unity where 1+1+1 = 3. In mathematical terms one could compare Trinity with 1 x 1 x 1 = 1.
“Further, some have pointed to the fact that Muhammad was simultaneously a prophet, a husband, and a leader. Why then should a Muslim reject the idea of a plurality of functions (persons) in God.” (“Answering Islam”, by N.L. Geisler & Abdul Saleeb) Baker Books U.S.A. 1993, page 269″
He who thinks of God as an absolute unity where there is no room for multiplicity at all, is forced to believe in a god who does not know himself. Self-knowledge demands a distinction, a multiplicity, between knower and known. This brings us to another analogy for the truth of the Trinity, that of man’s mind. He has one mind, which is capable of thinking thoughts and expressing them in words. Mind, thoughts and words are one. No one can say that God has no Mind that expresses itself in Thoughts and Words. God in Mind and Thoughts and Words is one God and He never claimed that there would be two other gods beside Him!
The Trinity of Christianity is truly representative of the Mind of God (commonly referred to as God the Father), His Thoughts (commonly referred to as God the Holy Spirit), and His Word (commonly referred to as God the Son).
In the the Gospel according to John we read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh (in Jesus) and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:1,14)
The context shows clearly that Jesus is God in the flesh: He was in the beginning, that means he is not created, he is eternal as God is eternal. Verse three states that through Jesus, the Word, all things were made, that means that he is God the Creator.
Some people have doubted that Jesus is really called God in this verse because in the Greek language the first word for “God”, “ton theon” is different from the second, “theos”. However in Greek it does not suggest this sort of shift in meaning. “This can be seen by reading other passages in the New Testament where “theos” appears in the same context both with and without the definite article, yet with no change in meaning (John 3:2, 13:3, Romans 1:21, 1 Thess. 1:9, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 4:10-11). Whenever the word “theos” is used in the same construction, it always clearly refers to the true God (Mark 12:27, Luke 20:38, John 8:54, Phil. 2:13, Hebrews 11:16)” (“Why you should believe in the Trinity”, by R.M.Bowman,Jr., Baker Book House, 1993, pages 93-94)
The “word” proceeds from the “mind”. Both words derive their meaning from the Greek original “Logos”. The word “Logos” has many meanings. One form “Logo” gives us the English “logic”, which means not just ordinary speech (words), but mind expressed or intelligent expression. God created the world by His intelligent Mind, or by His Thoughts, or by His Word, all of which mean the same.
For God and His mind are the same being. An example of this is when we say, “We solved the problem with our minds.” Is it us who solved it or our minds? Both are the same thing. This distinction between us and our mind is merely intellectual and does not involve separation but difference of function. Likewise, when we speak about God, His Mind of which His Thought and Word proceeds, we are not separating them, but only clarifying the issue.
In the Quran Jesus is called “a Word from God”:
Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him; his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to God; ” (Surah 3, Al-i-‘Imran, verse 45)
The English translation uses the relative pronoun “his” to render a masculine personal pronoun in the Arabic language. Since “Kalima” (Arabic for “word”) is in the feminine gender it becomes clear that “a word” does not just mean “a word of language” but a person! We also find this clarified in the sayings of one of the Muslim scholars. (“Fusus al Hukm”, Part II, pages 13,36, by Al Shaikh Muhyi al Din al ‘Arabi)
The Bible speaks about the Holy Spirit being God:
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit… You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3,4)
In a similar way the Quran (Surah 4, Al Nisa, verse 171) speaks about Jesus being a Spirit proceeding from God! In other parts people are described as having been strengthened with a spirit from God (Surah 58, Al Mujadilah, verse 22). At the creation Allah has breathed into man of His spirit (Surah 15, Al-Hijr, verse 29), but Jesus only IS the Spirit from Allah!
This is why Islamic tradition calls Jesus “Ruhullah”, that means “Spirit of Allah”. Neither the Spirit of Allah (the Thoughts) nor the Word (the mind expressed) of Him can have been created since whatever proceeds from God Himself is part of Him and must therefore have existed eternally.”
If God was without Mind at any time He would not be God; or if he was without Thoughts at any time He would cease to be the Almighty One which is impossible! Muslim theology confirms this belief by stating that the Quran is uncreated and has existed in eternity with God. There again we find plurality within unity, something that is other then God but it is at the same time one with God.