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Islam and Understanding The Trinity

A Defense of the Trinity

As Christian doctrine, the deity of Christ and the Trinity are inseparable. If one accepts the biblical teaching about the deity of Christ, then he has already acknowledged that there is more than one person in the Godhead. Conversely, if the doctrine of the Trinity is received, then the deity of Christ is already part of it. This is precisely why Muslims reject both, since to accept either is to them a denial of the absolute unity of God.

Muslim Misunderstanding of Biblical Data on the Trinity

There are several obstacles in the Muslim mind that hinder accepting the Christian doctrine of the triunity of God. Some are philosophical and others are biblical. We have already discussed how Islamic scholars engage in an arbitrary and selective use of the biblical texts as it suits their purposes (see Chapter 10). However, even the texts they pronounce "authentic" are twisted or misinterpreted to support their teachings. An examination of several of the more important ones will illustrate our point.

Perhaps no concept in all of Christian terminology receives such a violent reaction from Muslims as Jesus is the "only begotten" son of God. This raises red flags immediately in the Islamic mind. Indeed, as we shall see, they understand it in a grossly anthropomorphic manner. Clearing away this misunderstanding is necessary to open the Muslim mind to the concept of the Trinity.

The Bible refers to Christ as the "only begotten" Son of God ( John 1:18; cf. 3:16). However, Muslim scholars often misconstrue this in a fleshly, carnal sense of someone literally begetting children. For them, to beget implies a physical act. This they believe is absurd, since God is a Spirit with no body. As the noted Muslim apologist Deedat contends, "He [God] does not beget because begetting is an animal act. It belongs to the lower animal act of sex. We do not attribute such an act to God."1 For the Islamic mind begetting is creating and "God cannot create another God.… He cannot create another uncreated."2 The foregoing statements reveal the degree to which the biblical concept of Christ’s sonship is misunderstood by Muslim scholars. For no orthodox Christian scholar believes that "begat" is to be equated with "made" or "create." No wonder Dawud concludes that from a "Muslim point of belief the Christian dogma concerning the eternal birth or generation of the Son is blasphemy."3

However, this extreme reaction to Christ’s eternal Sonship is both unnecessary and unfounded. The phrase "only begotten" does not refer to physical generation but to a special relationship with the Father. Like the biblical phrase "Firstborn" (Col. 1:15), it means priority in rank, not in time (cf. vs. 16-17). It could be translated, as the New International Version does, God’s "One and Only" Son. It does not imply creation by the Father but unique relation to him. Just as an earthly father and son have a special filial relationship, even so the eternal Father and his eternal Son are uniquely related. It does not refer to any physical generation but to an eternal procession from the Father. Just as for Muslims the Word of God (Qur’an) is not identical to God but eternally proceeds from him, even so for Christians, Christ, God’s "Word" (4:171) eternally proceeds from him. Words like "generation" and "procession" are used by Christians of Christ in a filial and relational sense, not in a carnal and physical sense.

Misunderstanding of Christ’s sonship reaches an apex when some Muslim scholars confuse it with his virgin Birth. Nazir-Ali notes that "in the Muslim mind the generation of the Son often means his birth of the Virgin Mary."4 As Shorrosh notes, many Muslims believe Christians have "made Mary a goddess, Jesus her son, and God almighty her husband."5 With such a carnal misrepresentation of a spiritual reality, little wonder Muslims reject the Christian concept of eternal Father and Son.

Islamic misunderstanding of the Trinity is encouraged by the words of Muhammad who said, "O Jesus, son of Mary! didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?" (5:119). Even Christians living hundreds of years before Muhammad condemned such a gross misunderstanding of the sonship of Christ. The Christian writer Lactantius, writing about a.d. 306, said, "He who hears the words ‘Son of God’ spoken must not conceive in his mind such great wickedness as to fancy that God procreated through marriage and union with any female,-a thing which is not done except by an animal possessed of a body and subject to death." Furthermore, "since God is alone, with whom could He unite? or [sic], since He was of such great might as to be able to accomplish whatever He wished, He certainly had no need for the comradeship of another for the purpose of creating."6 In summation, the Muslim rejection of the eternal sonship of Christ is based on a serious misunderstanding of the Christian concept of what it means for Christ to be God’s Son. "Son" should be understood in a figurative sense (like the Arabic word, ibn), not in a physical sense (as in the Arabic word, walad).

Another text often distorted by Muslim scholars is this great passage proclaiming Christ’s deity: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Without any textual support in the thousands of Greek manuscripts, they render the last phrase: "and the Word was God’s." Muslim scholar Dawud declares, without any warrant whatsoever, "the Greek form of the genitive case ‘Theou,’ i.e., ‘God’s’ was corrupted into ‘Theos’; that is, ‘God,’ in the nominative form of the name!"7

This mistranslation is arbitrary and without any basis in fact, since in the nearly 5,700 manuscripts there is no authority for it whatsoever. Furthermore, it is contrary to the rest of the message of John’s Gospel where the claims that Christ is God are repeated over and over (John 8:58; 10:30; 12:41; 20:28).

When Jesus challenged Thomas to believe, after Thomas saw him in his physical resurrection body, Thomas confessed Jesus’ deity, declaring, "My Lord and My God" (John 20:28). Many Muslim writers diminish this proclamation of Christ’s deity by reducing it to a mere exclamation, "my God!" Deedat declares, "What? He was calling Jesus his Lord and his God? No. This is an exclamation people call out." He adds, "If I said to Anis, ‘my God,’ would I mean Anis is my God? No. This is a particular expression."8

However, there are several clear indications that this is a misunderstanding of Thomas’s proclamation. First, in an obvious reference to the content of Thomas’s confession of Jesus as "my Lord and my God," Jesus blessed him for what he had correctly "seen" and "believed" (John 20:29). Second, Thomas’s confession of Christ’s deity comes at the climax of the Gospel where Jesus’ disciples are said to gain increasing belief in Christ based on his miraculous signs (John 2:11; 12:37). Third, Thomas’s confession of Christ’s deity fits with the stated theme of the Gospel of John "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name" (John 20:31).

No doubt there was an exclamatory note in Thomas’s pronouncement of Christ’s deity, but to reduce it to a meaningless emotional ejaculation both misses the point of the passage and borders on claiming that Jesus blessed Thomas for profanity (i.e., using God’s Name in vain).

In Matthew 22:43, citing Psalm 110, Jesus says, "How then does David in the Spirit call Him [the Messiah] ‘Lord?’ " According to the Muslim scholar Dawud,

"By his expression that the ‘Lord,’ or the ‘Adon,’ could not be a son of David, Jesus excludes himself from that title."9

However, a careful look at the context of this passage reveals just the opposite. Jesus stumped his skeptical Jewish questioners by putting them in a dilemma. How could David call the Messiah "Lord" (as he did in Psalm 110:1), when the Scriptures also say the Messiah would be the "Son of David" (which they do in 2 Sam. 7:12f.)? The only answer to this is that the Messiah must be both man to be David’s son (offspring) and God to be David’s Lord. In other words, in affirming these two truths from Scripture, Jesus is claiming to be both God and man. The Islamic mind should have no more difficulty understanding how Jesus can unite in one person both divine and human natures than their own belief that human beings combine both spirit and flesh, the enduring and the transient in one person (89:27-30; cf. 3:185). For even according to Muslim belief, whatever Almighty God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, wills in his infinite Wisdom he is also able to accomplish for "He is the irresistable" (6:61).10

Many Islamic scholars claim that Jesus denied being God when he rebuked the rich young ruler, saying, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18). However, a careful look at this text in its context reveals that Jesus never denied his deity here. He simply rebuked this wealthy young man for making this careless appellation without thinking through its implication. Nowhere did Jesus say, "I am not God, as you claim." Nor did he say, "I am not good." Indeed, both the Bible and Qur’an teach that Jesus is sinless (John 8:46; Heb. 4:15). Rather, Jesus challenged him to examine what he was really saying when he called Jesus "Good Master." In essence, Jesus was saying, "Do you realize what you are saying when you call Me ‘Good Master’? Only God is good. Are you calling me God?" The fact that the young ruler refused to do what Jesus said, proves that he did not really consider Jesus his master. But nowhere did Jesus deny that he was either the Master or God of the rich young ruler. Indeed, elsewhere Jesus freely claimed to be both Lord and Master of all (Matt. 7:21-27; 28:18; John 12:40).

Jesus’ assertion that "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28) is also misunderstood by Muslims. It is taken out of its actual context to mean that the Father is greater in nature, but Jesus meant only that the Father is greater in office. This is evident from the fact that in this same Gospel of John Jesus claims to be the "I Am" or Yahweh of the Old Testament (Exod. 3:14). He also claimed to be "equal with God" (John 10:30, 33). In addition, he received worship on numerous occasions (John 9:38; cf. Matt. 2:11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52). He also said, "He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him" (John 5:23).

Further, when Jesus spoke of the Father being "greater" it was in the context of his "going to the Father" (John 14:28). Only a few chapters later Jesus speaks to the Father, saying, "I have finished the work which You have given me to do" (John 17:4). But this functional difference of his role as Son in the very next verse reveals that it was not to be used to diminish the fact that Jesus was equal to the Father in nature and glory. For Jesus said, "O, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5).

Another verse misunderstood by Muslim critics is John 17:21, where Jesus said of his disciples, "That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us." H. M. Baagil argues on the basis of this that if Jesus is God because he is in God, why are the disciples not God, as they are like Jesus also in God?11 The misunderstanding here is simple but basic: Jesus is speaking relationally not essentially. That is, we can have an intimate relationship with God as Jesus did. But we cannot be of the same essence of God as Jesus was, for he shared God’s eternal glory "before the world was" (v. 3). Jesus is in God because he is God. However, we are not in God because we are God, but only because we have a relationship with him.

This survey of some key biblical passages misinterpreted by Muslims illustrates an important point made by an Islamic scholar. He correctly noted that "Christian missionaries, or certain Orientalists who are either themselves theologians, or who are well disposed to Christian theology … overestimate the role of Jesus in the Koran. They are misled by the way of understanding Jesus which they retain from their Christian Tradition. It is no surprise that, under such circumstances, they arrive at false conclusions and evaluations."12 But this sword cuts both ways. For many Muslim scholars do the same with the Bible, reading their own misunderstanding into the text rather than seeking to understand what the text actually teaches. This is particularly true when it comes to understanding what the Bible claims about God and Christ as the Son of God. So just as Christians should allow Muslims to interpret their own Book (the Qur’an) on these matters, even so Muslims should allow Christians to interpret their own Book (the Bible). For example, just as it is wrong-headed for Christians to twist verses in the Qur’an to teach the deity of Christ, likewise it is misdirected for Muslims to distort verses of the Bible to deny the deity of Christ. For someone to read the New Testament and not see the deity of Christ is like a person looking up on a bright and cloudless day claiming that he cannot see the sun!

Muslim Misunderstanding of Philosophical Concepts

In addition to misunderstanding the biblical data, Islamic scholars also offer philosophical objections to the doctrine of the Trinity. These too must be cleared away before they will be able to understand the biblical teaching about a plurality of persons within the unity of God.

The emphasis on the oneness of God is fundamental to Islam. One Muslim scholar said, "In fact, Islam, like other religions before it in their original clarity and purity, is nothing other than the declaration of the Unity of God, and its message is a call to testify to this Unity."13 Another author adds, "The Unity of Allah is the distinguishing characteristic of Islam. This is the purest form of monotheism, i.e., the worship of Allah Who was neither begotten nor beget nor had any associates with Him in His Godhead. Islam teaches this in the most unequivocal terms."14

Because of this uncompromising emphasis on God’s absolute unity, in Islam the greatest of all sins is the sin of shirk, or assigning partners to God. The Qur’an sternly declares "God forgiveth not (The sin of) joining other gods With Him; but He forgiveth Whom He pleaseth other sins Than this: one who joins Other gods with God, Hath strayed far, far away (From the Right)" (4:116). However, as we will see, this is a misunderstanding of the unity of God.

Both Islam and Christianity proclaim that God is one in essence. What is in dispute is whether there can be any plurality of persons in this unity of nature. The inadequacies in the Muslim view of God arise in part out of their misunderstanding of Christian monotheism. Many Muslims misconstrue the Christian view of God as tritheism rather than as monotheism. This arises because of a misunderstanding of the very nature of trinitarianism. Christians do not confess three gods; they believe in only one God. This is evident from both the biblical base and the theological expression of the doctrine. The Bible declares emphatically: "The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" (Deut. 6:4). Both Jesus (Mark 12:29) and the apostles repeat this formula in the New Testament (1 Cor. 8:4, 6). And early Christian creeds speak of Christ being one in "substance" or "essence" with God. The Athenasian Creed, for example, reads: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Substance (Essence)." So Christianity is a form of monotheism in that it believes in one and only one God, not three gods.

Many Muslims complain that the Christian concept of the Trinity is too complex. They forget, however, that truth is not always simple. As C. S. Lewis aptly puts it, "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."15

The fact confronting Christians that led them to formulate this complex truth was, of course, the claim of Jesus of Nazareth to be God (see Chapter 11). This led them of necessity to posit a plurality within deity and thus the doctrine of the Trinity, since this Jesus was not the same as the one whom he addressed as Father. So Christians believe and Muslims deny that there are three persons in this one God. At this point the problem gets philosophical. One aspect of the problem can be expressed in mathematical terms.

Muslim scholars make a big point of computing the mathematical impossibility of the Trinity. After all, does not 1+1+1=3? It certainly does if you add them, but Christians insist that this is the wrong way to understand the Trinity. The triunity of God is more like 1x1x1=1. In other words, we multiply, not add, the one God in three persons. That is, God is triune, not triplex. His one essence has multiple personalities. Thus, there is no more mathematical problem in conceiving the Trinity than there is in understanding 1 to the third power (13).

At the heart of the Muslim inability to understand the Trinity is the Neo-Platonic concept of oneness. The second-century a.d. philosopher, Plotinus, who heavily influenced the thinking of the Middle Ages, viewed God (the Ultimate) as the One, an absolute unity in which is no multiplicity at all. This One was so absolutely simple that it could not even know itself, since self-knowledge implies a distinction between knower and known. It was not until it emanated one level down (in the Nous, or Mind) that it could reflect back on itself and therefore know itself. For Plotinus, the One itself was beyond knowing, beyond consciousness, and even beyond being. It was so undividedly simple that in itself it had no mind, thoughts, personality, or consciousness. In brief, it was void of everything, even being. Thus, it could not be known, except by its effects that, however, did not resemble itself.16

It is not difficult to see strong similarities between the Plotinian and Muslim views of God (see Chapters 1 and 7). Nor is it hard to see the difficulty with this view. It preserves a rigid unity in God but only at the expense of real personality. It clings to a rigid simplicity but only by sacrificing his relatability. In short, it leaves us with an empty and barren concept of deity. By reducing God to a bare unity we are left with a barren unity. As Joseph Ratzinger insightfully notes,

The unrelated, unrelatable, absolutely one could not be a person. There is no such thing as a person in the categorical singular. This is already apparent in the words in which the concept of person grew up; the Greek word "prosopon" means literally "(a) look towards"; with the prefix "pros" (toward) it includes the notion of relatedness as an integral part of itself.… To this extent the overstepping of the singular is implicit in the concept of person.17

For Muslims God not only has unity but he has singularity. But these are not the same. It is possible to have unity without singularity. For there could be plurality within the unity. Indeed, this is precisely what the Trinity is, namely, a plurality of persons within the unity of one essence. Human analogies help to illustrate the point. My mind, my thoughts, and my words have a unity, but they are not a singularity, since they are all different. Likewise, Christ can be an expression of the same nature as God without being the same person as the Father.

In this connection, Muslim monotheism sacrifices plurality in an attempt to avoid duality. In avoiding the one extreme of admitting any partners to God, Islam goes to the other extreme and denies any personal plurality in God. But, as Joseph Ratzinger observes, "the belief in the Trinity, which recognizes the plurality in the unity of God, is the only way to the final elimination of dualism as a means of expanding plurality alongside unity; only through this belief is the positive validation of plurality given a definite base. God stands above singular and plural. He bursts both categories."18

A Defense of the Biblical Concept of the Trinity

Since both Muslims and Christians agree that there is at least one person in God, the person Christians call Father, and since we have already given a defense of the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is God the Son (see Chapter 11), it remains only to say a word about the Holy Spirit of God.

The same revelation from God that declares Christ to be the Son of God also mentions another member of the triunity of God called the Spirit of God, or Holy Spirit. He too is equally God with the Father and the Son, and he too is a distinct person. The deity of the Holy Spirit is revealed in several ways. First, he is called "God" (Acts 5:3-4). Second, he possesses the attributes of deity such as omnipresence (cf. Ps. 139:7-12) and omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10-11). Third, he is associated with God the Father in the act of creation (Gen. 1:2). Fourth, he is involved with the other members of the Godhead in the work of redemption (John 3:5-6; Rom. 8:9f.; Titus 3:5-7). Fifth, he is associated with the other members of the Trinity under the one "name" of God (Matt. 28:18-20). Finally, the Holy Spirit appears along with the Father and Son in Christian benedictions (2 Cor. 13:14).

Not only does the Holy Spirit possess deity but he also has his own personality. He is one with God in essence but different in person. That he is a distinct person is clear from several basic facts. The Holy Spirit is addressed with the personal pronoun "he" (John 14:26; 16:13). He does things only persons can do, such as teach (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27), convict of sin (John 16:7-7), and be grieved by our sin (Eph. 4:30). Finally, the Holy Spirit has all the characteristics of personality, namely, intellect (1 Cor. 2:10-11), will (1 Cor. 12:11), and feeling (Eph. 4:30).

That the three members of the Trinity are distinct persons, and not one and the same person is clear from the fact that each person is mentioned in distinction from the other. For one thing, the Father and Son carried on conversations with each other. The Son prayed to the Father (John 17). The Father spoke from heaven about the Son at his baptism (Matt. 3:15-17). Indeed, the Holy Spirit was present at the same time, revealing that they are three distinct persons, coexisting simultaneously. Further, the fact that they have separate titles (Father, Son, and Spirit) indicate they are not one person. Also, each member of the Trinity has special functions that help us to identify them. For example, the Father planned salvation (John 3:16; Eph. 1:4); the Son accomplished it by the Cross (John 17:4; 19:30; Heb. 1:1-2) and resurrection (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:1-6), and the Holy Spirit applies it to the lives of the believers (John 3:5; Eph. 4:30; Titus 3:5-7). The Son submits to the Father (1 Cor. 11:3; 15:28), and the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son (John 16:14).

The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be proven by human reason; it is only known because it is revealed by special revelation (in the Bible). However, just because it is beyond reason does not mean that it goes against reason. It is not irrational or contradictory, as Muslim scholars believe.

The philosophical law of noncontradiction informs us that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. This is the fundamental law of all rational thought, and the doctrine of the Trinity does not violate it. This can be shown by stating first of all what the Trinity is not. The Trinity is not the belief that God is three persons and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. That would be a contradiction. Rather, it is the belief that there are three persons in one nature. This may be a mystery, but it is not a contradiction. That is, it may go beyond reason’s ability to comprehend completely, but it does not go against reason’s ability to apprehend consistently.

Further, the Trinity is not the belief that there are three natures in one nature or three essences in one essence. That would be a contradiction. Rather, Christians affirm that there are three persons in one essence. This is not contradictory because it makes a distinction between person and essence. Or, to put it in terms of the law of noncontradiction, while God is one and many at the same time, he is not one and many in the same sense. He is one in the sense of his essence but many in the sense of his persons. So there is no violation of the law of noncontradiction in the doctrine of the Trinity.

Perhaps a model of the Trinity will help to grasp its intelligibility. When we say God has one essence and three persons we mean he has one What and three Whos. Consider the following diagram:

The Trinity

Notice that the three Whos (persons) each share the same What (essence). So God is a unity of essence with a plurality of persons. Each person is different, yet they share a common nature.

God is one in his substance but three in his relationships. The unity is in his essence (what God is), and the plurality is in God’s persons (how he relates). This plurality of relationships is both internal and external. Within the Trinity each member relates to the other in a certain way. For example, the Father is related to the Son as Father, and the Son is related to the Father as Son. That is their external and internal relationship by the very makeup of the Trinity. Also, the Father sends the Spirit, and the Spirit testifies of the Son (John 14:26). These are their functions by their very participation in the unity of the Godhead. Each having a different relationship to the other, but all sharing the same essence.

No analogy of the Trinity is perfect, but some are better than others. First, some bad illustrations should be repudiated. The Trinity is not like a chain with three links. For these are three separate and separable parts, but God is neither separated or separable. Neither is God like the same actor playing three different parts in a play. For God is simulateously three persons, not one person playing three sucessive roles. Nor is God like the three states of water: solid, liquid, and gaseous. For normally water is not in all three of these states at the same time, but God is always three persons at the same time. Unlike other bad analogies, at least this one does not imply tritheism. However, it does reflect another heresy known as modalism.

Most erroneous illustrations of the Trinity tend to support the charge that trinitarianism is really tritheism, since they contain separable parts. The more helpful analogies retain unity while they show a simultaneous plurality. There are several that fit this description.

A Mathematical Illustration of the Trinity. As noted above, God is like 13 (1x1x1). Notice there are three ones but they equal only one, not three. This is precisely what there is in God, namely, three persons who are only one God. Of course, no illustration of the Trinity is perfect, but this does show how there can be both three and one at the same time in an indivisible reationship. Viewed in this way it is a good illustration of the Trinity.

A Geometric Illustration of the Trinity. Perhaps the most widely used illustration of the Trinity is the triangle. It is usually put in this form.

Trinity: An illustration

Notice that there is only one triangle, yet there are three corners. Observe also that, if there is to be a triangle, these corners must be inseparable and simultaneous. In this sense it is a good illustration of the Trinity. Of course, the triangle is finite and God is infinite, so it is not a perfect illustration. But for the point it is trying to make it serves its purpose well. Also, by adding a circle touching (but not overlapping) with the lower left corner of the triangle, some of the mystery can be taken from the way the two natures of Christ relate to his one person.


We must point out that Christ is one person (the lower left point of the triangle), yet he has two na-tures. His divine nature is the triangle and his human nature is the circle touching it. They unite at that point. That is, his two natures are cojoined in one person. Or, in terms of the above model, in Christ there are two Whats and one Who, whereas, in God there are three Whos and one What.

It should be pointed out in this connection that there are two ways not to diagram the relation between the two natures of Christ. Each is considered a heresy by orthodox Christians.

Errors in trying to understand the trinity

In the first diagram where the circle overlaps with the triangle we have the monophysite heresy that confuses the two natures of Christ. This is not only heresy but is also an absurdity, since the divine nature of Christ is infinite and the human nature is finite. And it is impossible to have an infinite finite, an unlimited limited.

The second diagram where the circle and triangle do not even touch is the Nestorian heresy, which posits two persons as well as two natures in Christ. If this were so, then when Christ sacrificed his life on the cross, it was not the person who is also divine, the Son of God, who died for us. In this case, the atoning sacrifice of Christ would have no divine value and could not be efficacious for our sins. Only if one and the same person, who is both God and man, dies on the cross for our sin can we be saved. For unless Jesus is both God and man he cannot reconcile God and man. But the Bible says clearly, "there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5).

Since Christ is one Who (person) with two Whats (natures), whenever one question is asked about him it must be separated into two questions, one applying to each nature. For example, did he get tired? Answer: as God, no; as man, yes. Did Christ get hungry? In his divine nature, no; in his human nature, yes. Did Christ die? In his human nature, he did die. But in his divine nature he did not die. The person who died was the God-man, but his Godness did not die.

When this same logic is applied to other theological questions raised by Muslims it yields the same kind of answer. Did Jesus know everything? As God he did, since God is omniscient. But as man Jesus said he did not know the time of his second coming (Matt. 24:36), and as a child he didn’t know everything, since "he increased in wisdom" (Luke 2:52).

Another often asked question is: Could Jesus sin? The answer is the same: as God he could not have sinned; as man he could have sinned (but he didn’t). God cannot sin. For example, the Bible says "it is impossible for God to lie" (Heb. 6:18; cf. Titus 1:2). Yet Jesus was "in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). That is to say, while he never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:19; 1 John

3:3), he was really tempted and therefore it was possible for him to sin. Otherwise, his temptation would have been a charade. Jesus possessed the power of free choice, which means that whatever moral choice he made, he could have done otherwise. This means that when he chose not to sin (which was always), he could have sinned (but did not) as man.

Dividing every question of Christ into two and referring them to each nature unlocks a lot of theological puzzles that otherwise remain shrouded in mystery. And it makes it possible to avoid alleged logical contradictions that are urged upon Christians by Muslims and by other nonbelievers.

A Moral Illustration of the Trinity. One illustration, suggested by St. Augustine, has value in illuminating the Trinity. The Bible informs us that "God is love" (1 John 4:16). But love is triune, since it involves a lover, the loved one (beloved), and a spirit of love between them. To apply this to the Trinity, the Father is the Lover; the Son is the Beloved (i.e., the One loved), and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love. Yet love is one-three in one. This illustration has the advantage of being personal, since it involves love, a characteristic that flows only from persons.

An Anthropological Illustration. Since man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), it should be no surprise that he bears some kind of similarity to the Trinity in human beings. First, we wish to disown trichotomy (that man is body, soul, and spirit) as an appropriate illustration of the Trinity. For even if true (and many Christians reject it for a dichotomy of just body and soul), it would be a bad illustration. Body and soul can be and are separated at death (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; Rev. 6:9), but the nature and persons of the Trinity cannot be separated.

A better illustration based in human nature would be, as suggested earlier, the relation between our mind, its ideas, and the expression of these ideas in words. There is obviously a unity among all three of these without there being an identity. In this sense, they illustrate the Trinity.

Islamic Illustrations of Plurality in Unity. Perhaps the best illustration of a plurality in deity for the Muslim mind is, as we mentioned earlier (in Chapter 11), the relation between the Qur’an and God. As one Islamic scholar stated it, the Qur’an "is an expression of Divine Will. If you want to compare it with anything in Christianity, you must compare it with Christ Himself. Christ was the expression of the Divine among men, the revelation of the Divine Will. That is what the Qur’an is."19 Orthodox Muslims believe the Qur’an is eternal and uncreated, yet it is not the same as God but is an expression of God’s mind as imperishable as God himself. Surely, there is here a plurality within unity, something that is other than God but is nonetheless one with God. Indeed, the very fact that Muslim scholars see an analogy with the Christian doctrine of the deity of Christ reveals the value of this illustration. For Muslims hold that there are two eternal and uncreated things but only one God. And Christians hold to three uncreated and eternal persons but only one God.

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. Within the Islamic system is the very proof that plurality within unity, as it relates to God, is not unintelligible. By the same token, then, there is no reason Muslims should reject the doctrine of the Trinity as nonsensical.


At the heart of the difference between Islam and Christianity stands the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Muslims protest that it is neither biblical nor intelligible. Yet we have seen that in order to maintain the former they have twisted scriptural texts out of context. And to hold the latter, to be consistent, they must reject not only clear logical distinctions but their own view of the relation of the Qur’an to God. In brief, there is no good reason to reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Furthermore, we provided evidence (in Chapter 11) that Christ is indeed the Son of God. Thus, Christian trinitarianism, with all its richness of interpersonal relations within the Godhead and with God’s creatures, is to be preferred over a barren and rigid Muslim monotheism.

Article Used by Permission of:
Norm Geisler
"Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross"
Chapter 12. Updated and Revised Edition.

Southern Evangelical Seminary (1-800-77-TRUTH, Southern Evangelical Seminary, 3000 Tilley Morris Rd., Charlotte, NC 28105,

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