One of the most common points on which our Muslim friends question Christians is on the whole question of the nature of God: in short, is God uni-personal or multi-personal? Does the doctrine of Tawhid (God’s oneness in being and person) or Trinity (God’s oneness in being and pluralness in person) better describe who God is?
Of all the chapters of the Qur’an, there is one Muslim’s recite more frequently than any other. It is Surat-al-Ikhlaas, chapter 112, and its second verse contains the message: “God is not a Father, and He is not a Son.”. Above all doctrines, that is one of the teachings that is taught to a Muslim, the concept known as ‘Tawhid’, that God is absolutely one and cannot be Father or Son. Indeed, in Muslim-Christian engagement, it often becomes the central issue with Muslims painting the Christian as believing in three gods. Hence, a Muslim’s reaction to God’s pluralness is seen as nonsensical, polytheistic blasphemy; self contradictory, a nonsense doctrine in which God could be three and one at the same time.
Our Muslim friends often like to claim that the Islamic concept of God’s oneness is simple (more on this later), in contrast to the complex doctrine of the Trinity. However, simplicity does not equal truth. If it did, we’d have to reject higher mathematics, and quantum physics. Science shows us that there are things in this world so tiny that we can only view them through microscopes, and yet they are incomprehensibly complex. For example, light defies the minds of scientists, being both a particle and a wave, yet this apparent contradiction is demonstrably true. If the world is so complex that it baffles our minds, what about the One who created the world? Now if my Creator has to be simple so that I can understand Him, then I have made Him in my image.
Contrary to the assertion that ‘God is not a Father or He is not a Son‘, the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures had already referred to God as a Father, and a Son, long before Jesus the Messiah came.
“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” (Malchi 2:10)
“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. And he will be called… Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6).
Muslim friends (and others, you know who) say that the word Trinity is not in the Bible, therefore the concept or the doctrine must be wrong. But the word Tawhid is not found in the Quran either. So is the concept that it teaches wrong as well? Our Muslims friends will say the concept of Tawhid is there. Similarly, Christian’s claim about God’s oneness and pluraness is based on Scriptures. Hence, to discover whether tawhid is qur’anic or the Trinity is biblical, we can’t simply look for a magic word — we need to see what is actually said in each case about the nature of God.
Though the Bible does not use the word “Trinity”, the teachings are certainly there.
Jesus commands us to:
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (plural).” (Matthew 28:19-20)
When Jesus commands us to baptize people, it must be done in the ‘name,’ not ‘names,’ of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That’s because there is ONE name, ONE being, the Yahweh of Scriptures, who exists in three Persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).
The doctrine of Trinity teaches that God is ONE being and three persons. This is not a contradiction, because ‘being’ and ‘person’ are two different things. Your being is that which makes you what you are, your person is that which makes you who you are.
Plants have being, but they are not persons.
I am ONE being, a single human being, and ONE person, Stephen.
Yahweh is ONE being, a single divine being, with THREE persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Complex? Yes. Unique? Yes. Nonsensical? No.
If someone asks you who you are, you don’t reply, “I’m a human.” You respond by sharing your name, which identifies you as a person. Similarly, when we say God is One being, we are describing the what of God. When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are referring to the who of God.
God is more than able to exist like that because he is God. If we say God must be only one person, like humans, then we are making God in our image. Who are we to limit God? It is up to God to tell us who He is, and Jesus commands us to be baptized into “one divine name consisting of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. God of the Bible is absolutely indivisible in substance and nature (one) , but distinct in identity (plural).
- Does not teach that each persons are three individual gods; that is polytheism or tritheism
- Does not teach that each persons are three beings like the teachings of Ellen White of the Seventh day Adventists or the Mormons.
- Does not teach that the three persons are three parts of God.
- Does not teach that three persons are freakish-looking, three-headed gods
- Does not teach that three persons are different nature “gods” like in paganism
- Does not teach that the three persons are: Father, Jesus, and Mary.
- Does teach that there is only one God or one divine being
- Does not teach God is one and three in the same sense; which is self-contradictory. Instead, teaches that God is one in ‘being’, three in ‘persons’; being and persons are two different things.
Moreover, the Bible does not teach that the term Son of God applied to Jesus means anything related to biological sonship or physical offspring, as if one day God decided to create another god. The Sonship of Jesus is not physical, but one of role. This explains how Jesus can be inferior to the Father in one sense (His role as a servant), but still be equal to the Father in another (His nature and substance as God). As an illustration, my father is superior to me in terms of role within the family, but he and I are equally human. I am inferior in role, but equal in substance. So the Father can be greater in ‘role’ as seen when Jesus emptied himself and took the role of a servant (Matthew 20:28) when He came to the earth, yet equal in substance, since they are the same Being. Father and Son are equally divine.
Hence, the Bible teaches that the One God is tri-personal not uni-personal. These three persons are co-eternal, co-substantial, and co-existent with each other. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit never began to exist. One God of the Bible is eternal, the creator, the truth, omnipresent: that’s why the Father, Son, Holy Spirit are said to share in the same attributes only a Divine being has (see below).
|Father is||Son is||Spirit is|
|God is Eternal||“from everlasting” (Psalm 90:2)||“from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)||“Eternal Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14)|
|God Is Creator||“one father created us?” (Malachi 2:10)||“All things were made by Him (John 1:1)||“The Spirit of God has made me” (Job 33:4)|
|God is Truth||God’s word is truth (Psalms 25:5)||“I [Jesus] am the Truth” (John 14:6)||“The Spirit of truth” (John 15:26)|
|God is Omnipresent||“Who can hide in secret places” (Jeremiah 23:24)||Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20)||“Where can I run away from the Spirit of God” (Psalm 139:7-8)|
That’s why Jesus applies to himself, the same titles and attributes applied to Yahweh of the Old Testament. No prophet would do such a thing:
|Yahweh is the:||Jesus is the:|
|I AM (Exodus 3:13-14)||I AM (John 8:58-59)|
|First and Last (Isaiah 44:6)||First and Last (Revelation 1:17-18)|
|Truth (Psalm 31:5)||Truth (John 14:6)|
|Light (Psalm 27:1)||Light (John 8:12)|
|Lord of Lords (Deuteronomy 10:17)||Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16)|
|Resurrection (1 Samuel 2:6)||Resurrection (John 5:25-29)|
|Judge (Psalm 9:7-8)||Judge (Matthew 25:31-32)|
Our Muslim friends and others ask us where is this concept of God’s oneness and pluralness found in the Old Testament? Is it not just an after-the-fact justification? If the doctrine of the Trinity is true, then why don’t we find more explicit references in the Old Testament? We will show where in the Old Testament this concept is present. But remember, the culture in which God revealed His will and Scriptures. Israel was surrounded by nations who were all polytheistic – they believed in many gods. It was important for Israel to realize that the God of the Bible is the only God who existed. After this truth was firmly understood by Israel then the Lord revealed further truth about His basic nature: Father, Son and the Spirit. God revealed more of his nature with the coming of Messiah, and we would be foolish to ignore his revelation.
In the first book of Moses, Genesis, we have an indication for God’s oneness and pluralness:
In Genesis 1:26, the One God says, “Let Us make man in Our image”.
A common response is that such wording is a literary device to reflect the “Royal Plural” as in the Quran. Often times kings and rulers would speak in third person (i.e. the plural of majesty); however, the plural of majesty was not used among the Jews nor was it used in the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures, and so such explanation does not adequately address why it is used in Genesis 1:26 and in other places.
Even Genesis begins with the first verse that hints of God’s singularness in one sense and pluralness in another sense:
In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. Elohim is a plural noun but it is used here with a singular verb bara. In the remainder of the Old Testament, when Elohim is used of the true God, it is always used with a singular verb. The conclusion to be drawn is that in some sense God is singular and plural in another sense.
A number of Muslims point to the Shema as evidence for Tawhid. However, instead of supporting Tawhid, it in fact supports the concept of God’s pluralness (ECHAD).
“Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one (ECHAD).” (Deuteromy 6:4).
Unlike the Hebrew word YACHID, which corresponds to TAWHID from the Arabic, which is the Islamic notion of an abstract numerical oneness , the Bible uses the word ECHAD for God, a word that stands for unity, such as exists between a husband and wife, constituting them “one flesh” (Gen 2:24), or between morning and evening, constituting them “one day” (Gen 1:5), or such as Christians profess when they say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are “one being”, “one essence”, or “one God” or “one” or “echad”.
Moses shows that God is one yet plural in persons. There are two persons called Jehovah active in Genesis 19:24:
‘Then the LORD (Jehovah) rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD (Jehovah) out of the heavens’ (Genesis 19:24).
In Gen 19:24, there are two individuals called Jehovah, one on the earth who talked to Abraham and called fire down from the other Jehovah in the heavens.
Similarly, there are two persons active as per prophet Amos:
“I [Jehovah] overthrew you, as God [Jehovah] overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze; Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD (Amos 4:11)
Isaiah shows all three persons active in the following verse:
“Come near to Me [Christ], listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD [Father] has sent Me [Christ], and His Spirit [Holy Spirit].” (Isaiah 48:17)
Jesus himself confirmed in many places that there is one God, yet plural in persons, and then He confirmed it further through His apostles who spearheaded His teachings under the New Covenant.
Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name [Christ], will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)
‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Does God’s oneness in being and pluralness in person better describe who God is? The Scriptures and words of Jesus says so. It is neither illogical nor insane to assert that one God exists in three persons as there is a difference between person and being. Yahweh is one being who exists in three persons and this concept of the Trinity is clear in the Scriptures. It teaches that there is only one God (Deut 4:35), but He is somehow plural (Gen 1:1, Dt 6:4, Jn 1:1), and these three persons share the name of Yahweh (Mt 28:19; Phil 2:11 cf. Isaiah 45:22-23). Unique? Yes. Nonsensical? No. Contradiction? No. If the world is so complex that it baffles our minds, what about the One who created the world? If God can exist without a beginning, an idea that is nonsensial and unimaginable, yet God is eternal without a beginning or end, how much more unique is our creator? Now if my Creator has to be simple so that I can understand Him, then I have made Him in my image.
How simple is Tawhid?
Our Muslim friends (and others who insist the same) says Tawhid is a simple doctrine, yet the doctrine of tawhid does not resolve the complexity of God. Quite the contrary, it creates its own set of challenges. According to tawhid, God is absolutely one. This means that in eternity past, before he created anything, Allah was alone. It was not until he chose to create the universe that Allah had anything, or anyone, with whom to relate. This presents an enormous theological problem for Islam, which teaches that Allah is ar-Rahman and ar-Raheem, the Gracious and the Merciful. These qualities imply that Allah is relational in the way he interacts with his creatures.
So, in order for Allah to actually be gracious and merciful, he first has to create an object of his grace and mercy. Put another way, Allah’s attributes are contingent upon creation.
Allah may act graciously toward certain people, but he cannot be eternally gracious by nature, only by acts of the will.
On the other hand, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that One being have always existed in the three persons, agreed in purpose, and loved one another with a selfless love. Unlike Allah, Yahweh does not merely love; He is love (1 John 4:7). He does not merely extend mercy; He is merciful (Jeremiah 3:12). His grace and mercy are not contingent on creation because they are expressions of His eternal nature.
Because of tawhid, Allah depends on mankind in order to be Allah. Because of his triune nature, Yahweh is truly independent and self-sufficient. So the simplicity of tawhid proves to be a fatal flaw for orthodox Islam; it makes Allah contingent upon his creation.
There is a crucial difference between the monolithic oneness of Allah and the triune oneness of Yahweh. Only Yahweh is eternally loving and relational. His attributes are not contingent on creation. And He creates people with capacity for personality, selfless love, and relationships.