This begins a series of posts to a pseudo-intellectual Muhammadan named Jake who calls himself Muslim “Metaphysician”. I am preparing this material since I am openly challenging him to debate me on the Quran’s view of the Trinity and whether Islamic tauhid is logically consistent.
I begin my series by refuting his assertion that the Quran rejects all forms of Trinitarianism when it warns folks to stop saying that Allah is three or the third of three.
The problem with Jake’s desperate spin is that the Quran defines “three” as Allah, Mary and Jesus, and condemns those who worship them as three gods:
They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three (inna Allaha thalithu thalathatin); when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve. Will they not rather turn unto Allah and seek forgiveness of Him? For Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And THEY BOTH used to eat (earthly) food. See how We make the revelations clear for them, and see how they are turned away! S. 5:73-75 Pickhtall
And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden? S. 5:116 Pickthall
Suffice it to say, this is NOT the belief and teachings of the historic Christian faith!
In fact, the Islamic scripture never says that they are disbelievers who say that Allah is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or that Allah, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one God. Nor does it even employ the technical language which Arabic speaking Christians had coined to denote the Trinity, i.e., the Quran never rebukes Christians for affirming that Allah/God is Al-Aqanim-Al-Thalatha (“The Three Hypostases”), or that God is jawhar wahid thalatha aqanim (“one substance, three hypostases”). The reason why it doesn’t is because the author(s) and/or editor(s) were ignorant of what Christians actually believed about the Trinity, and the language they used to express it.
This brings me to my next point. the Quran misrepresents the historic Christian understanding of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ since the author(s) was/were ignorant of what these doctrines entailed.
For instance, notice how the Quran formulates the Christian view of Jesus’ Deity:
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 Bible, Father 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 mine)
Another authority states:
“… 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 mine)
“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 mine)
“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 here 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 mine)
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 mine)
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.
In fact, there are several ways that the author(s) of the Quran could have expressed what Christians actually believed concerning God the Father’s relationship within the Godhead. S/he/they could have articulated the Christian understanding that God the Father is the first of three by employing any of the following expressions,
Allah huwa wahid min thalatha.
Allah huwa awwal min thalatha.
Allah awwal thalatha.
Since this is not what we find in the Muslim scripture, Jake’s so-called divinely revealed text’s assertion concerning God the Father’s position within the Godhead is blatantly wrong.
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)
As even one noted scholar of Islam stated:
“To say that God is Christ is a statement not found anywhere in the New Testament or in the Christian creeds. ‘God was in Christ’, said Paul, ‘reconciling the world to himself’. (2 Cor. 5, 19) But this reconciliation through Christ is quite different from saying that God is Christ. ‘You belong to Christ, and Christ to God’, said Paul again, putting the relationship into perspective. (1 Cor. 3:23)
“But in the early Church centuries there arose heresies, such as that of Patripassianism, which so identified Christ and God as to suggest that God the Father had suffered on the cross. About A.D. 200 Noetus had taught that Christ was God the Father, and therefore that the Father himself was born and suffered and died. These views were taken to Rome by Praxeas, of whom Tertullian said that ‘he drove out prophecy and brought in heresy, he put to flight the Comforter and crucified the Father’. The orthodox teaching of the Logos, the Word or ‘Son’ of God, was a defence against such heretical teaching, though it must be admitted that writers in later ages were not always careful enough in their use of these titles.” (Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’ān [OneWorld Publishers, Oxford England, Reprinted 1996], 14. Trinity, pp. 133-134; bold emphasis mine)
In fact, early Islamic writings testify that the Christians objected to the Quran’s gross misrepresentation of their beliefs as far back as 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 mine)
“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 mine)
“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 mine)
Hence, when it comes to Christian theology the Quran is mistaken from every possible angle!
WHAT DO MUSLIM SCHOLARS SAY
Lest Jake accuses me of misrepresenting the Quran’s teaching on the subject of the Trinity, note what the Muslim scholars responsible for producing the first major English study Quran have to say about this issue:
“In addition to reaffirming the full humanity of Jesus, the present verse commands Christians to say not ‘Three.’ This is understood as a command to abandon the doctrine of God as Trinity. Here they are merely told to refrain from asserting this doctrine, as it is better for them. In 5:73, Christians who call God ‘Three’ are more seriously criticized, but this verse is embedded in a larger discussion that seems to be addressing those Christians who took not only Jesus, but also his mother, Mary, to be divine (5:73c). In both the present verse and 5:73, however, the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as three ‘persons,’ or hypostases, ‘within’ the one God IS NOT EXPLICITLY REFERENCED, and the criticism seems directed at those who assert the existence of three distinct ‘gods,’ an idea that Christians themselves REJECT.” (The Study Quran, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr [HarperOne, 2015 First Edition], p. 267; bold and capital emphasis mine)
Here are other Muslim scholars that concur:
“It is now time to consider the Quranic and Biblical use of the word ‘Son’ as applied to Jesus. This seems to be one of the great points of difference between these holy books, yet perhaps the difference is not so great as appears at first sight. Some of ‘the sects have differed’, and the Qur’an seeks to correct them.
“There are many passages in the Qur’an denying that God has offspring, and only a few can be quoted. Perhaps the most famous is the short sura 112, al-Ikhlās, the Unity: ‘Say: “He is God, One; God, the eternal; he brought not forth, nor hath he been brought forth; Co-equal with him there hath never been any one”.’
“This short sura is one of the most popular, recited every day by most Muslims. It is a denial of God producing offspring in the human manner, and of God having any associates. It stresses the Unity of God and his difference from men. Since it is generally regarded as one of the earliest Meccan suras, this would mean that it was directed against the many gods of pagan Arabia, though later writers turned it also against Christian doctrine.
“The attack on the polytheism of Mecca is taken up by name in 53,19-21: ‘Have ye considered Al-Lāt, and Al-Uzzā and the third, Manāt, the other (goddess)? Have ye male (issue) and he female?’ This is a forceful rejection of the notion that God had either male or female offspring, and that the pagan gods or goddesses could be accommodated under this name. So constantly throughout the Qur’an such pagan deities are rejected. As W. M. Watt says, ‘in passages denying that God has offspring the presumption is that the primary reference is to paganism unless there is a clear mention of Jesus’.
“What then is said about Jesus in this respect? There are only three clear references, apart from those which deal specifically with semi-trinitarian ideas which will be considered in the next chapter. The first is at the conclusion of the Meccan narrative of the birth of Jesus… 19,35-36/34-35… This we saw earlier to be the declaration of the birth of Jesus by divine decree, rather than explaining it through vulgar biological speculation in the manner of the apocrypha. But for our present purpose the key words are ‘take to himself any offspring’. ‘Take to himself’ means literally to ‘acquire’ (yatta-khidha), and so this verse denies that God acquires a son in the course of time. This had been said by Adoptionist and Arian heretics in Christianity, who said that Jesus became or was adopted Son of God at his baptism or some other moment. But the orthodox rejected this in teaching that the Son is eternal… There are many other Quranic verses that reject this notion of ‘acquisition’ of a son, usually with little clear reference to Christian or semi-Christian belief… These may all be presumed to be directed primarily against pagan polytheism, or at the most against the Adoptionist heresy. But two other passages are more pointed. 4,169/171: ‘The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only the messenger of God … God is only one God; glory be to him (far from) his having a son.’ In the light of the above this can fairly be taken to mean that Jesus, as Messiah, was not added to God as a son… the objection to the use of the word ‘son’ remains against the background of Arabian paganism, to which it ‘could only mean one thing, namely, the son of God by cohabitation with a woman. That this is not what Christians meant by the term goes without saying.’ (Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’ān, 13. Son of God, pp. 126-128; bold emphasis mine)
“… Similarly, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity rigidly excludes all suggestion of physical generation, and any idea of polytheism or tritheism. God is one God, Paul said: ‘A false god has no existence in the real world. There is no God but one.’ (1 Cor. 8, 4)
“It is in the light of the above that other Quranic references to ‘three’ gods may be understood. One of the most commonly quoted is 4, 169/171…
“The interpretation, in light of previous passages, would be: ‘Do not say three gods.’ And, ‘Far from his acquiring a son’ (in time, or by physical process).
“Especially grave in Muslim eyes is shirk, ‘association’ of anyone with God, giving God a partner, and generally anything that is in opposition to Quranic monotheism. Shirk is denounced in many verses of the Qur’an. 5, 76/72… 9, 31… 7, 190… 16, 53/51… 17, 23/22… 17, 111… 19, 36/35… 23, 93/91… 25, 2…
“Most of this is clearly against Arabian polytheism, with an occasional warning to others against a similar error. In later writings the practisers of ‘association’ are often virtually identified with the unbeliever (kafir), but in the Qur’an shirk is used clearly of those who deny the unity of God.” (Parrinder, 14. Trinity, pp. 136-137)
“Another Christian concept that the Koran criticizes vehemently is that Jesus should be God’s son. The verse just cited that negates ‘three’ continues by saying, ‘Glory be to Him – that He should have a son!’ (4:171). Elsewhere the Koran says, ‘How should He have a son, seeing that He has no female companion, and He created all things, and He has knowledge of everything?’ (6:101).
“Koranic usage and the general Muslim understanding make clear that by son, Muslims understand not a symbol or a metaphor, but a physical son, born of a mother, God’s supposed female companion. It may be that some Christians have thought that God has taken a wife, or that he somehow impregnated the Virgin Mary, giving birth to his son. But no Christian theologian has ever imagined such a thing. For Christians, Jesus’ sonship is a reality, but it cannot be taken in a physical sense. The fact that Mary is often called the Mother of God does not help clear up the matter for the Muslims, who have only the Koranic text and popular misconceptions of an alien religion to go by.
“That the idea of sonship is understood by Muslims in a literal sense is obvious, for example, in the short text of Sura 112, often called Tawhid. Anyone who thinks about the implications of sonship and fatherhood will quickly understand that these are relative terms. Everyone who is a son is also (potentially at least) a father, and everyone who is a father is also a son, with the sole exception of Adam. Notice that in affirming tawhid, the Koran not only negates the idea that Jesus could have been God’s son, but also the necessary correlative, that God could have been someone else’s son, surely the ultimate absurdity in Muslim eyes:” (Sachiko Murata & William C. Chittick, The Vision of Islam [Paragon House Publishers, paperback 1995], Part II: Iman, Chapter 4. Islam and Other religions, p. 171; bold emphasis mine)
“To take a simple example, it is commonly said that the Koran rejects the Christian concept of the Trinity. Inasmuch as the Trinity is understood as negating tawhid, this is true. But not all Christians think that the Trinity negates tawhid. Quite the contrary, most formulations of the Trinitarian doctrine are careful to preserve God’s unity. If ‘threeness’ takes precedence over oneness, then the Koranic criticisms apply. But among Christians, the exact nature between the three and the one is a point of recurring debate. One of the actual Koranic verses that are taken as negating the Trinity says, ‘Those who say, “God is the third of three” have become truth-concealers’ (5:73). Even an elementary knowledge of any Christian catechism tells us that God is not ‘the third of three.’ Rather, God is one and three at the same time. Inasmuch as he is three, he presents himself to his creatures as three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
“Another Koranic verse says something similar, but now we have this first verse to help us understand what is being criticized… (4:171)
“Notice that this passage gives Jesus an extremely exalted position and recognizes that he has qualities possessed by no other prophet. However, it stresses once again that there is but a single God. If faith in Jesus leads to the affirmation of three gods, then the Koran rejects that. But again, the actual Christian position is highly subtle, and few if any Christians would hold that they have faith in other than a single God.” (Ibid., The Vision of Islam, Part II: Iman, Chapter 4. Islam and Other religions, p. 170; bold emphasis mine)
OPEN CHALLENGE TO JAKE
As it stands the Quran nowhere condemns the historic Christian understanding of Jesus’ Sonship, just as the following scholar of Islamic studies notes. I, therefore challenge the so-called Metaphysician to quote an unequivocal statement from the Quran where Muhammad accurately defines and expressly condemns belief in the historic understanding and formulation of the Trinity.
I challenge him to cite a verse which says the following:
They are disbelievers who say the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit are One!
They are disbelievers who say the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are One!
They are disbelievers who say Allah, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are One!
They are disbelievers who say that Allah is the Father, the Word/Son/Jesus and the Holy Spirit!
With the foregoing in view, we are ready to proceed to the next segment of my challenge: DEBATE CHALLENGE TO MUSLIM METAPHYSICIAN PT. 1B.