Is God Jesus and the Third of Three? Pt. 1

What the Scholars have to Say

In this part I am going to cite a plethora of references to show that the Quran’s formulation of the core Christian doctrines regarding the Godhead is mistaken, proving that it cannot have originated from God who perfectly knows all things, and would have therefore been able to correctly articulate the belief of Christians.

Note what the Quran claims Christians believe:

They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Messiah, Mary’s son.’ Say: ‘Who then shall overrule God in any way if He desires to destroy the Messiah, Mary’s son, and his mother, and all those who are on earth?’ For to God belongs the kingdom of the heavens and of the earth, and all that is between them, creating what He will. God is powerful over everything.  S. 5:17 Arberry

They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Messiah, Mary’s son.’ For the Messiah said, ‘Children of Israel, serve God, my Lord and your Lord. Verily whoso associates with God anything, God shall prohibit him entrance to Paradise, and his refuge shall be the Fire; and wrongdoers shall have no helpers.’ They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Third of Three. No god is there but One God. If they refrain not from what they say, there shall afflict those of them that disbelieve a painful chastisement. S. 5:72-73

Suffice it to say, no informed Christian would ever claim that God is the Messiah or that God is the third of three, thereby implying three gods. The following scholar explains why the statement that God is the Messiah is an incorrect way of expressing what Christians truly believe: 

Third, to distinguish between person and nature, we must keep in mind two ways to use “is”–identity versus predication. Mark Twain is the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the 26-cigars-a-day smoker and author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Twain does not have characteristics that Clemens does not have. In other words, when we say, “Samuel Langhorne Clemens is Mark Twain,” we can just as easily reverse the names: “Mark Twain is Samuel Langhorne Clemens.” Each of those statements indicates identity: Mark Twain = Samuel Langhorne Clemens (and vice versa). The names, which refer to the same person, are fully interchangeable and thus identical.  

When it comes to the Trinity, to say “Jesus is God” isn’t identical to “God is Jesus.” Unlike the Mark Twain example, “Jesus” doesn’t exhaust what it means to speak of “God.” Jesus and God are not identical. According to the BibleFather and the Spirit are called divine, just as Jesus. In the statement “Jesus is God,” we use is to describe or predicate, not to identify or equate: Jesus is God in that He shares in the nature that only two other persons share; so there isn’t just one person who can properly be called God. (Paul Copan, “Is The Trinity A Logical Blunder? God As Three And One”, in Contending With Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists & Other Objectors, ed. Paul Copan & William Lane Craig [B&H Publishing Group, 2009], Part Three. The Coherence of Christian Doctrine, p. 212; bold emphasis ours)

Another authority writes:

“… The second way is to qualify the affirmation ‘Jesus is God’ by observing that this is a nonreciprocating proposition. While Jesus is God, it is not true that God is Jesus. There are others of whom the predicate ‘God’ may be rightfully used. The person we call Jesus does not exhaust the category of Deity.” (Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus [Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI, Paperback edition 1998], XIII. Conclusions: Theos as a Christological Title, K. “Jesus is God” as a Theological Formulation in English, p. 297; bold emphasis ours)

Again:

“To recognize that the godhood of the Son is indistinguishable from the godhood of the Father is not, of course, to jeopardize the personal distinction between Son and Father. Jesus is totus deus but not totum dei. He is all that God is without being all there is of God. There is a numerical unity of essence but not a numerical identity of person. Although Jesus shares the divine essence fully and personally, he does not exhaust the category of Deity of the being of God. To use the distinction made in the Johannine Prologue, ho logos was theos (1:1c) but ho theos was not ho logos (cf. 1:1b). (Ibid., J. The Significance of the Christological Use of Theos, 2. Theos is a Christological Title That Explicitly Affirms the Deity of Christ, p. 293; bold emphasis ours)

Finally:

“Once again the other two deities are said to be Jesus and Mary. The veneration of Mary has been a major article of Roman Catholic belief and the Ethiopian Church, in particular, has historically revered her as the mother of God. It seems, however, that their excesses and confusion have only resulted in the Qur’an compounding the confusion! No Christian Church, no matter how much it reveres or glorifies Mary as, for example, the Queen of Heaven, has ever confused the Trinity or made it out to be what the Qur’an represents it to be.” (Ibid.)

And this is what Harris states elsewhere:

Can we, therefore, say that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is “God”? Yes indeed, provided we constantly bear in mind several factors.

First, to say that “Jesus is God” is true to the New Testament thought, but it goes beyond actual New Testament diction. The nearest comparable statements are “the Word was God” (John 1:1), “the Only Son, who is God” (John 1:18), and “the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5). So we must remember that the theological proposition “Jesus is God” is an inference from the New Testament evidence – a necessary and true inference, but nonetheless an inference.

Second, if we make the statement “Jesus is God” without qualification, we are in danger of failing to do justice to the whole truth about Jesus – that he was the incarnate Word, a human being, and that in his present existence in heaven he retains his humanity, although now it is in a glorified form. Jesus is not simply “man” nor only “God,” but the God-man.

Third, given English usage of the word God, the simple affirmation “Jesus is God” may be easily misinterpreted. In common English usage God is a proper name, identifying a particular person, not a common noun designating a class. For us God is the God of the Judeo-Christian monotheistic tradition, or God the Father of Jesus and of the Christian, or the trinitarian Godhead. So when we make the equation in English, “Jesus is God,” we are in danger of suggesting that these two terms, “Jesus” and “God,” are interchangeable, that there is a numerical identity between the two. But while Jesus is God, it is not true that God is Jesus. There are others – the Father and the Spirit – of whom the predicate God may be rightfully used. Jesus is all that God is, without being all there is of God. The person of Jesus does not exhaust the category of deity. So then, when we say, “Jesus is God,” we must recognize that we are attaching a meaning to the term God – namely, “God in essence” or “God by nature” – that is not its predominate sense in English. (Harris, 3 Crucial Questions About Jesus [Baker Books; Grand Rapids, MI 1994], pp. 101-102; bold emphasis ours)

Harris also explains the reason the NT rarely applies the noun God to Jesus, and notes that in both the Christian Scriptures and Trinitarian theology God is used primarily of the Father since it functions as a proper name in relation to him:

“But you may ask, why are there so few examples of this usage in the New Testament? If Jesus really is God, why is he not called ‘God’ more often? After all, there are over 1,300 uses of the Greek theos in the New Testament. Several reasons may be given to explain this apparently strange usage.

First, in all strands of the New Testament the term theos usually refers to the Father. We often find the expression God the Father, which implies that God is the Father. Also, in trinitarian formulas ‘God’ ALWAYS denotes the Father, never the Son or the Spirit. For example, 2 Corinthians 13:14 reads, ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ What is more, in the salutations at the beginning of many New Testament letters, ‘God’ is distinguished from ‘the Lord Jesus Christ.’ So Paul’s letters regularly begin, ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ As a result of all this, in the New Testament the term theos in the singular has become virtually a proper name, referring to the trinitarian Father…” (Harris, p. 99; bold and capital emphasis ours)

This brings me to my next point. Muslims believe that the God that is mentioned all throughout the Quran is identical to the One that Christians identify as the Father, even though they object to using this specific title for their deity due to the Quran’s repeated emphasis that he is NOT a father to anyone, nor has he taken sons or daughters for himself (cf. Q. 2:116; 5:18; 6:101; 9:30; 19:88-93; 21:26; 39:4; 72:3). As such, an orthodox Christian would and could never say that God is the Messiah since this would mean that the Father became the man Christ Jesus, that Jesus is none other than God the Father!

The foregoing raises another major problem for Muslims since it shows that the Quran is again wrong in its articulation of Christian beliefs seeing that, in Christian theology, the Father is the first of the three divine Persons of the Godhead, with the Holy Spirit being the third Person.

Hence, when it comes to Christian theology the Quran is mistaken from every possible angle!

In fact, the claim that it is incorrect to say that God is Jesus or the Messiah is not a modern notion since Christians have been objecting to this formulation long before Muhammad was born, as even noted by Muslim author Neal Robinson, who mentions an ancient Nestorian Christian reference and says that:

“… The text which dates from around 550 CE. concludes a discussion of the Trinity with the words ‘The Messiah is God but God is not the Messiah’. The Qur’an echoes ONLY the latter half of the statement. C. Schedl, Muhammad and Jesus (Vienna: Herder, 1978), p. 531.” (Neal Robinson, Christ In Islam and Christianity[State University of New York Press, Albany 1991], p. 197; bold and capital emphasis mine)

And here is another source which records the reaction of Christians to the Quran’s gross misrepresentation of their beliefs in the early centuries of Islam, specifically the late tenth century AD:

‘Abd al-Jabbar focuses in particular on those Qur’anic statements THAT CHRISTIANS IN HIS DAY DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE, for example that they consider Jesus to be a separate God (Q 5:72), or consider God to be third of three (Q. 5:73), or even consider Mary to be a God (Q 5:116). ‘Abd al-Jabbar contends that Muhammad was right to attribute these statements to Christians: (Critique of Christian Origins, a parallel English-Arabic text, edited, translated, and annotated by Gabriel Said Reynolds & Samir Khalil Samir [Brigham Young University Press, Provo, Utah 2010], p. xlvi; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And:

“Thus [Muhammad] related their statement that Christ is God, and ‘God is the third of three.’ These are their essential teachings, but they barely express them clearly. Instead, THEY RESIST THE ESSENCE OF THEM AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, so that their principal authors and their writers who are devoted to this barely summarize their teachings. You will find that if you asked the disputants and debaters among them about their statement on Christ, they would say, ‘Our statement is that he is the Spirit of God and His Word, JUST LIKE THE STATEMENT OF MUSLIMS. We say, “God is one.”’…

“For the most part you will encounter among them who says: ‘We did not say God is Christ. We did not say “God is the third of three.” Whoever related this about us HAS ERRED AND LIED.’ Know, then, that Muhammad’s position on this… is from God, Mighty and Exalted, and that this is one of his signs.” (Ibid., pp. 2-3; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Finally:

“Now someone might say: ‘By my life it is demonstrated that the Christians have said that Jesus, the son of Mary, is neither a prophet nor a Messenger of God nor a righteous servant, but rather that he is a god, Lord, Creator, and Provider, that God is the third of three, and that he was killed and crucified. Yet your master has said in your book, “Did you say unto men, ‘Take me and my mother as two gods, apart from God?’” The Christians say, “This is a lie. For although we said about [Christ] that he is a god, we did not say about his mother that she is a god.”’” (Ibid., pp. 80-81; bold emphasis ours)

I have more quotations in the second part of my discussion (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/05/21/is-god-jesus-and-the-third-of-three-pt-2/).

5 thoughts on “Is God Jesus and the Third of Three? Pt. 1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s