What the Scholars have to Say
I continue (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/05/21/is-god-jesus-and-the-third-of-three-pt-1/) with my discussion regarding the Quran’s mistaken understanding of the core doctrines of the Christian faith.
The fact is that scholars and apologists have long recognized that the Quran is mistaken when it comes to the beliefs of the historic Christian faith:
“In many passages of the Qur’an Muhammad accuses the Christians of being Polytheists, on account of their holding to the doctrines of the Trinity… and the divine sonship of the Lord Jesus. It is evident that Muhammad was mistaken in his opinion of the doctrine of the Trinity held by Christians, which he represents as God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary and confounded it with Tritheism.” (F. A. Klein, The Religion of Islam (1906) [Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2009], p. 52; bold emphasis ours)
“Into the history and meaning of these controversies we need not enter further than to indicate their bearing on the situation at the time of the rise of Muhammad. In the Trinitarian disputes of the fourth century we are not much interested in this connection. They were bitter enough while they lasted, and were the occasion of the first manifestation within the Church of the persecuting spirit which ultimately wrought such havoc. But long before the rise of Islam the doctrine of the Trinity had been settled, and the dispute had passed to other subjects. Muhammad certainly misunderstood the doctrine and regarded it as tritheistic…” (Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment [Frank Cass, London, UK. 1968], p. 7; bold emphasis ours)
4. Objection: God cannot be “Christ, the son of Mary,” because then God would be a creature, in need of food and shelter, not the sovereign creator of heaven and earth, beyond all needs.
Response: Christians generally do not say that God was Christ; I know of no significant classical theologian who makes that claim. Instead, Christians say that “Christ was God” (or, to use New Testament phrases, “God was in Christ” [see 2 Cor. 5:19] or the eternal “Word became flesh” [John 1:14]). The two claims – that God was Christ, and Christ was God – seem similar, but are in fact very different. Christians believe that Christ was fully human, and therefore in need of food and shelter, as well as fully divine, and therefore of one undivided essence with God. (Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response [HarperOne, 2011], Part III: Critical Themes: The Trinity and Love, Chapter 7. The One God and the Holy Trinity, p. 134; bold emphasis ours)
Mistakes About the Trinity
The Quran contains many errors about what Christians believe and practice. One of the most significant is that the Quran misrepresents the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
Muhammad mistakenly thought that Christians worshiped three gods: the Father, the Mother (Mary), and the Son (Jesus), (Sura 5:73–75, 116).25
As Richard Bell pointed out:
[Muhammad] never understood the doctrine of the Trinity.26
Encyclopedia Britannica states:
[There are] mistaken concepts of the Trinity in the Quran.27
Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Quran tries to avoid this error by deliberately mistranslating Sura 5:73.
The Arabic text condemns those who say that “Allah is the third of three,” that is to say Allah is only one of three gods! Both Arberry and Pickthall translate this correctly.
Ali mistranslates Sura 5:73 to read:
They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity.
The words “in a Trinity” are not in the Arabic text. Ali puts it in his translation in an attempt to avoid the rather obvious error that Christians believe in three gods.
In reality, Christians believe only in one God who is in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They do not believe that Mary is a part of the Trinity.
Even the Concise Dictionary of Islam admits:
In some cases the “material” which forms the substance of Quranic narrative, details of the creeds of Christianity and Judaism for example, does not correspond to those religion’s own understanding of their beliefs. This could be said, for example, of the notion of the Trinity found in the Quran, the story of Satan’s refusal to bow down to Adam, the Docetist view of the crucifixion, all of which can be traced to the dogmas of Gnostic sects, which are heretical in relationship to orthodox Christianity and Judaism. The Trinity “seen” in the Quran is not the Trinity of the Apostles Creed, or of the Nicene Creed.28
The Quran is so clearly erroneous at this point that Muslims such as Yusuf Ali must mistranslate the Quran to get away from it!
Mistakes About the “Son” Of God
The Quran also makes the mistake of saying that Christians believe Jesus is the “Son” of God in the sense that God the “Father” has a male body and had sexual intercourse with Mary.
In Muhammad’s mind, to say that God had a son was to blaspheme because it meant that God had sex with a woman (Suras 2:116; 6:100, 101; 10:68; 16:57; 19:35; 23:91; 37:149, 157; 43:16-19).
Christians believe that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).
Thus Jesus is the “Son” of God, but not in the sexual sense that Muhammad understood. God the “Father” is not a man and hence does not have a male body and has not had sex with anyone. The Quran is 100 percent wrong on this issue.
25 Concise Dictionary of Islam, pp. 229ff.; H Becker, Christianity and Islam, pp. 21ff.
26 Richard Bell, Introduction to the Quran, p. 141.
27 Encyclopedia Britannica, 12:708.
28 Concise Dictionary of Islam, pp. 229–230. (Dr. Robert A. Morey, The Islamic Invasion: Confronting the World’s Fastest Religion [Published by Christian Scholars Press, Revised 1992], Part Five: The Sacred Book of Islam, Ten: A Scientific Examination of the Quran, pp. 175-177; underline emphasis ours)
At the heart of all Muslim misunderstandings of the Trinity is the Qur’anic misrepresentation of it as a triad of deities, being Jesus the Messiah, his mother Mary, and Allah – in that order. The word “Trinity” nowhere appears in the Qur’an either but it is clear that the book sets out to oppose Christian belief in a divine threesome, no matter what that belief ultimately may be. In three places we find this belief attacked. The first reads Wa laa taquuluu thalaathah – “And say not ‘three”‘ (Surah 4.171), an exhortation to Christians not to exaggerate in their beliefs. The word thalauthah is a common Qur’anic word appearing some nineteen times in the book and it ALWAYS means, quite simply, the number three…
I have deliberately quoted Professor Arberry’s translation here rather than Yusuf Ali’s for the latter appears to have purposefully mistranslated the text. His rendering of the first part reads “They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity”. It is in this conscious mistranslation that the author seeks to hide the Qur’anic misconception of the Trinity. The Arabic reads that the unbelievers say innallaaha thaalithu thalaathah which, correctly translated, can only mean what Arberry takes it to mean, namely that Allah is the third (thaalithu) of three (thalaathah), that is, that he is considered to be the third god in a tritheism. Hence the rebuke in the next sentence, “No god is there but the One God!” Who, then, are the other two gods? Two verses further down we find them named:
Christ the son of Mary was no more than an Apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They both had to eat their (daily) food. See how God cloth make his Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! Surah 5.78
The argument just cannot be missed or mistaken. The Messiah was only an apostle, his mother was only a chaste woman, and they both had to eat food to sustain themselves – how then can they be considered as two gods alongside Allah? The Qur’an, therefore, quite obviously takes the Christian belief in a divine threesome to be a tritheistic belief, an adoration of three gods being Jesus, Mary and God, and in that order, God clearly being said to be only the third of the three. How far the Qur’an is from the true Christian belief in the one true God who is triune, the personalities in order being the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…
The third passage of the Qur’an and the only other one which touches on Christian belief in this connection reads:
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’?” Surah 5.119
Once again we find the same thing – Jesus and Mary as gods alongside Allah. The verses following make it quite plain that it is the Christians, the followers of Jesus, who are charged with holding such a belief in three gods. Today Muslim writers resort to all sorts of expedients to get around the plain declaration of the Qur’an that Christians believe in a tritheism of Jesus, Mary and Allah. Yusuf Ali’s mistranslation of Surah 5.76 is a good example where he takes the simple words thaalithu thalaathah to mean “one of three in a Trinity” instead of what they can only mean, namely “the third of three”. The great Muslim commentators of earlier centuries, however, were in no doubt as to what was being opposed in the Qur’an in the verses we have quoted. They were quite convinced that Surah 5.78 and Surah 5.119 represented Jesus, Mary and Allah as the Christian threesome.
These verses are explained by the commentators Jalalu’ddin and Yahya as being the answer to the statement which Muhammad heard certain Christians make that there are three Gods, that is to say God the Father, Mary, and Jesus. (Tisdall, The Original Sources of the Qur’an, p. 180).
God, Mary and Jesus – these are quite obviously the persons Muhammad understood as forming the threesome of which he had obviously vaguely heard and could not fully understand. It is most significant that all three verses occur in some of the very last surahs of the Qur’an to be “revealed”, indicating that it was only late in his mission that he first heard of Christian belief in a divine threesome. Another great and famous commentator, Zamakhshari, says on the word thalaathah in Surah 4.171:
According to the evidence of the Qur’an, the Christians maintain that God, Christ, and Mary are three gods, and that Christ is the child of God by Mary, as God says (in the Qur’an): ‘O Jesus son of Mary, didst thou say unto men: “Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God”?’ (Surah 5.116), or: ‘The Christians say: “The Messiah is the Son of God”‘ (Surah 9.30). (Gatje, The Qur’an and its Exegesis, p. 126).
The learned Muslim scholar was in no doubt that the Qur’an was attacking a tritheism of Jesus, Mary and Allah – a concept indeed far closer to the pagan triads of old than the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity…
When all is said and done, however, we are left with a patent error in the Qur’an. Whatever Muslim apologists may say in their attempts to circumvent this error, it does not appear to us that an objective study of the three verses quoted can lead to any other conclusion than that Muhammad had a limited and defective knowledge of the doctrine of the Trinity and mistook it as a tritheism of Jesus, Mary and Allah.
It is clear from these passages that the whole argument of Muhammad was against a system of tritheism which he believed to be held by the Christian Church of his day. He nowhere says a word which leads us to suppose that he had ever heard of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. His whole attack on the Christian position was based on the supposition that the Church taught that God had entered into physical relations with Mary, and that the man Jesus and his mother were therefore associated with God in worship and adoration. (Gardner, The Qur’anic Doctrine of God, p. 11).
Nothing but the most profound ignorance of the Bible and of the true nature of Christianity can account for the fact that Muhammad evidently believed the Virgin to be one of the Persons in the Holy Trinity. (Tisdall, The Religion of the Crescent, p. 169).
From this misconception come all the Muslim arguments against the Trinity. I have yet to find a Muslim writing on the subject that allows the possibility that the doctrine is consistent with monotheism. Such an allowance would be perfectly consistent with the doctrine as it is set forth in the Bible, but would be inconsistent with the Qur’an’s insistence that the Christian belief is tritheistic rather than trinitarian, hence the allowance dare not be made.
There is ample evidence to show that the true doctrine was known in Arabia and that Muhammad could have ascertained its real nature. The Christian King of Yemen, Abraha, who lived and reigned shortly before the time of Muhammad, wrote an inscription at Marib describing certain events relating to his conquests in the region. The inscription began with a tribute to the Trinity.
Arabia was full of heresies, and yet we have epigraphic evidence that the real doctrine of the Trinity obtained in Arabia, instead of that which Mohammed asserts the Christians hold. In 1888 Edward Glaser, the explorer, brought from Mareb, the Sabean capital, a copy of an inscription, telling of the suppression of a revolt against the Ethiopic rule then established in Yemen. This inscription, which dates from 542 A. D., opens with the words: “In the Power of the All-Merciful, and his Messia and the Holy Ghost“. (Zwemer, Islam: A Challenge to Faith, p. 21).
The actual tribute, recorded in basic Arabic consonants only, reads Rhmnn w mshh w rh qds (Trimingham, Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times, p. 301) which clearly means that it was in the power of the “Merciful One” (ar-Rahmann) and his “Messiah” (wal-Mashih) and the “Holy Spirit” (war-Ruhul-Qudus). Thus there is clear evidence that the true doctrine of the Trinity was known in the Arabian Peninsula.
There is no evidence that any Christian sect actually believed that the Trinity consisted of God, Jesus and Mary, least of all that God was the third of these three, although there were a number of sects which venerated Mary almost to the point of deifying her, such as the Collyridians. The Nestorians, however, widely distributed in the regions of western Asia, believed that Mary was indeed no more than a woman “and that it was an abomination to style her, as was the custom of the church, the Mother of God” (Irving, The Life of Mahomet, p. 51).
Whatever confusion existed about her status among Christians only seems to have been compounded rather than corrected in the Qur’an.
No Christian should fear making a defence of the doctrine of the Trinity to Muslims and should always use the opportunity to witness to the manner in which God has redeemed us through the work of his Son and the presence of his Spirit in our lives. In fact, once a Muslim is himself put on to the defensive to explain the Qur’anic teaching on this subject, the Christian evangelist will find that the doctrine itself can be far more easily justified than the Qur’anic misconception of it. Our doctrine is the true doctrine, the true God is indeed the Triune God of the Bible – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and we need never fear standing on the rock of this revealed eternal truth. (John Gilchrist, The Christian Witness to the Muslim, 8. Objections to Fundamental Christian Doctrines, A. The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity; bold emphasis ours)
Christians do not say that “Allah is Christ, the son of Mary” as the Qur’an alleges they do (innallaaha huwal Masiihubnu Maryam – Sura al-Ma’ida 5:72), that is, that God is Jesus. We believe that God is a Supreme Being in a threefold unity of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that the Son alone took human form as the man Christ Jesus.
We do believe that the Son is subject to the authority of the Father (the very titles imply an equality in essence and nature between them on the one hand and the subjection of one to the other on the other hand). We do also believe that the Son was sent into the world according to the Father’s purpose and will, as Jesus himself said: “I came not of my own accord but he sent me” (John 8:42). Likewise we accept that he does nothing of his own accord but only what the Father wills and does and, because he is the eternal Son of God, has omnipotent power to put this divine will and activity into effect (John 5:19). These are basic Christian teachings…
Booklets like The God that Never Was which represent Jesus in Christian doctrine as God absolutely, with no reference to the Father and the Holy Spirit or to his subjection to the former in authority, misrepresent Christianity altogether. Such publications accordingly serve no useful purpose. If Muslims would only assess this doctrine for what it really is, they would find it not as far removed from their own as they generally suppose, and would perhaps come to a truer and closer knowledge of who Jesus really is – not a “god” who “never was” but the eternal Son from heaven who truly remains the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). (Gilchrist, Christ in Islam and Christianity: A comparative study of the Christian and Muslim attitudes to the person of Jesus Christ, The God That “Never Was”?; bold emphasis ours)
So much for the Quran being the perfect word of an omniscient God which is free from all contradictions.