Last year I spent some time discussing The Trinity with my Muslim friend. These are some notes I made from our discussion.
- Christians Worship Three Gods
Christians do not believe in three Gods. Christians believe God is One
As Jesus said:
“The most important one (i.e commandment),” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a]”
The idea that Christians worship Three Gods is a misconception contained in the Qu’ran in Surah An-Nisa 4:171
O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion… do not say, “Three”;… Indeed, Allah is but one God.
The Qu’ran incorrectly describes Christian belief. This means that The Qu’ran is in error and hence does not come from God.
2. Jesus Was Born By God Having A Sexual Relationship With Mary
Christians do not believe that Jesus was born by God having a sexual relationship with Mary. Christians believe that Jesus was born by God’s Power acting through The Holy Spirit, in other words by a miracle of God. See Luke 1:31-35 where Gabriel converses with Mary.
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus…
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…
The idea that Jesus was born by God having a sexual relationship with Mary is a misconception found in The Qu’ran which also states that Christians believe that Mary is a God (see Qu’ran 5:116; 5:75; 6:101) Christians do not believe that Mary is a God.
Once again, The Qu’ran incorrectly describes Christian belief. This means that The Qu’ran is in error and hence does not come from God.
3. Son Of God Is Not a Divine Title
Muslims correctly state that Son Of God is used of several people in the Bible. As well as Jesus the term Son Of God is applied to Adam, Angels and the nation of Israel. Therefore, say Muslims, the Title Son Of God has no special significance and does not mean that Jesus is Divine.
In fact, the Bible teaches that Jesus has a unique kind of Sonship with the Father, which is Divine. In John 3:16 the Bible says;
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The Greek word translated one and only is monogenes which means ‘unique kind’. Jesus said that He had a unique kind of Sonship with God (Matt. 11:27) and the Jews stoned Jesus for Blasphemy when He said he was the Son Of God as he was claiming equality with God. As John 5:18 says:
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
For a modern-day equivalent of ‘Son’ being used in different ways between different people, consider a man with two sons, one adopted and one family-born. Both are properly and correctly called Son but they are different kinds of sons.
The Bible uses monogenes to differentiate in a similar way between the Sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac is a family-born, natural son, born by Abraham with his wife Sarah, whereas Ishmael is born to Abraham in a different and fractionally more distant family relationship, via Sarah’s maidservant The Bible calls therefore Isaac monogenes, Abraham’s only son via Sarah, whom Abraham especially loves and who was born through a direct promise by God and conceived miraculously when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 years old, well past the normal years of child-bearing or conception.
Ishmael, born through Sarah’s maidservant Hagar, and neither promised by God, nor conceived miraculously, has a different status in the family. See Hebrews 11:17
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son.
Isaac is called the one and only son (monogenes) even though Abraham had two sons because Isaac is the one and only son born through his wife Sarah.
So, Son Of God is applied to Jesus in a unique way in the Bible, indicating the Divinity of Jesus. Indeed this is the way that the Qu’ran understands the meaning of Son Of God, as a Divine Title (see Qu’ran 5:116)
4. Jesus Did What Only Humans Need To Do
Muslims correctly state that Jesus did what only humans need to do such as eat and sleep. Therefore, Muslims say, Jesus must be human and cannot be Divine.
In fact, the Bible presents two sets of proofs about Jesus:
- Jesus is a Human Being
- Jesus is Divine
The proofs that Jesus is Divine are many. Among them are these: Jesus forgave sins (Luke 7:48), answers prayer (John 14:13-14), accepts worship (John 9:38-39, John 20:28-29), claims eternal existence (Rev. 1:17-18), claimed to do miracles by His own power (Luke 8:40-46), claims to have ownership and command of God’s Angels (Matt. 25:31), claims to cause resurrection (John 11:25), claims to be Lord of The Holy Day (Luke 6:5), used God’s name as His own name (John 8:58, Exodus 3;14) and directly claimed to be Father God Himself (John 14:6-9).
All these attributes and powers belong to God alone. Since Jesus claimed the rights, name, power and attributes of God, then Jesus has claimed to be God.
5. Three Cannot be One, Therefore The Trinity is Illogical
Muslims correctly state that Three cannot be One. Therefore, Muslims state, the Trinity is illogical as The Father, The Son and The Holy spirit are Three and not One.
Christians do not believe that three can be one. Christians believe that three ones can be one. Expressed mathematically this is:
1 x 1 x 1 = 1
How many ones on the left hand side ? Three
How many ones on the right hand side ? One
Are these expressions equal ? Yes.
So three ones can be one.
Therefore the Trinity is logical.
6. One Thing Cannot be Three Things At Once, Therefore The Trinity Is Illogical
Muslims incorrectly believe that Christians think that one thing can be three things at once. Specifically Muslims state that Christians believe that Jesus is the same as the Father who is the same as The Holy Spirit, since they are all God. Since it is obvious that one thing cannot be three things at once, they say, therefore that the Trinity is illogical.
In fact, Christians believe that Jesus and The Father and The Holy Spirit are NOT the same as each other.
So, in this case the Muslim objection to the Trinity is based on a misunderstanding of what Christians believe about the Trinity.
Christians believe that the Trinity is three distinct persons that share the same Divine Life. This sharing of the Divine Life or Essence is what makes God One. There is only one Divine Life in the Universe. Hence God is One.
When Christians say that Jesus or the Holy Spirit is a person, we don’t mean that they are persons in exactly the same way that Human Beings are, though it is accurate to say that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are Divine Persons. The theological term for person is the Greek work Hypostasis which has the basic meaning of ‘individual reality’ or ‘particular instance of a general type’.
The theological definition of The Trinity is ‘three hypostases in one essence’.
The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit are One because they share the same Life or Essence.
Muslims will typically assert that this formulation is ridiculous and self-contradictory. How can three distinct things have a shared existence ?
There are many useful analogies of The Trinity in the Universe which can assist us to see that the Trinity is a reasonable and non-contradictory concept.
A strong analogy of The Trinity is provided by the phenonemon of Molecular Resonance.
The basic idea is that Resonating Molecules exist in multiple forms simultaneously, each form having the same Chemical Composition. In other words resonating molecules exists in multiple simultaneous hypostases of the same essence. This is identical in concept to The Trinity.
For example, Nitrate, NO3 has three resonance structures. It exists in all of these forms simultaneously.
As Wikipedia puts it, It is a common misconception that resonance structures are transient states of the molecule, with the molecule oscillating between them or existing as an equilibrium between them. However these individual contributors cannot be observed in the actual resonance-stabilized molecule. The molecule exists in only one form – the resonance hybrid.
In other words, resonating molecules exist in all three forms simultaneously and have exactly the same shared essence.
Here is how Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity describes how Molecular Resonance overcame his objections to reasonableness of The Trinity. This experience is also described in his book, ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus’
Essentially, the building block of every physical object is an atom, a positively charged nucleus orbited by tiny, negatively charged electrons. Atoms bond to one another by sharing their electrons, forming a molecule. Different arrangements of the electrons in certain molecules are called ‘resonance structures.’ Some molecules, like water, have no resonance while others have three resonance structures or more, like the nitrate on the board.
Although the concept was easy enough to grasp, the reality proved to be baffling. Mrs. Adamski concluded her lesson by commenting, ‘These drawings are just the best way to respresent resonance structures on paper, but it’s actually much more complicated. Technically, a molecule with resonance is every one of its structures at every point in time, yet no single one of its structures at any point in time…
How could something be many things at once? Many different things? We were not talking about the attributes of something like a steak, which can be hot, juicy, thick, and tender all at once. We were talking about separate spatial and electrical arrangements. What the professor said would be akin to saying that Nabeel is eating steak in Texas while simultaneously napping in a hammock in the Caribbean. As wonderful as each would be individually, it made no sense to say I might be doing both at once.
I was perplexed, and what made it even worse was that no one around me seemed bothered in the least. I looked around the room, agape at their blind acceptance.
But was it really blind? The professor was teaching rarefied science, describing the subatomic world. At that level, things happen that make no sense to those of us who conceptualize the world at only a human level. Even the apparently simply idea of atoms is baffling when we think about it. It means that the chair I am sitting on is not actually a solid object, innocently supporting my weight. It is almost entirely empty space, occupied only in small particles moving at incomprehensible speeds. When we think about it, it seems wrong, but it’s just the way things are in our universe. There’s no use arguing about it.
I turned my glance away from the other students, concluding they had not blindly accepted a nonsensical concept. They had just realized before I did that there are truths about our universe that do not fit easily into our minds.
My eyes rested on the three seperate structures of nitrate on the wall, my mind assembling the pieces. One molecule of nitrate is all three resonance structures all the time and never just one of them. The three are separate but all the same, and they are one. They are three in one.
Liquid Water has the chemical composition H2O.
Solid Water (Ice) also has the chemical composition H2O. In other words Ice and Water share the same essence.
Water is a hypostasis of the general essence H2O. Ice is a second hypostasis of the same essence. Gaseous Water (steam) is a third hypostasis of the same essence.
Water, Ice and Steam are not identical, but they have the same essence. They are three hypostases of the identical essence and may be composed of exactly the same identical molecules as anyone who has observed the melting, boiling and condensation of H2O starting from a block of ice can attest.
The analogy of the three Hypostases of Water is not a perfect anology of The Trinity but it demonstrates the basic reasonableness of The Trinity, that there can be three individual and distinct realities that have a shared existence.
Triple Point Of Water
The analogy is improved still further by the phenonemon of The Triple Point Of Water.
The triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which the three phases (gas, liquid, and solid) of that substance coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium. For example, the triple point of Mercury occurs at a temperature of −38.83440 °C and a pressure of 0.2 mPa.
1. Both the Triple Point and the Trinity possess a singular nature with three coequal but distinct hypostases.
The triple point and the trinity both have a singular essence and possess three hypostases which have real distinctions among them.
For example, the three states of water at the triple point are conjoined by a common molecular structure, yet ice, steam, and water are quite different in their physical properties such as density, compressibility, electrical conductivity, et cetera. Because the coexisting phases at the triple point possess a distinctive set of physical properties, the union of one into three occurs without loss of identity of the hypostases
The Trinity is also a single essence containing three hypostases which are able to merge without loss of identity. There is an infusion of three-into-one in both models.
2. Interdependence Between The Hypostases At The Triple Point Are Closely Analogous To Interdependence In Relationships in the Trinity.
The interdependence of hypostases at the triple point are analogous to the sense of relationship found between members of the trinity. Each hypostasis at triple point derives and sustains its character by mutual collaboration with the other two hypostases.
In other words, thermodynamic hypostases at the triple point cannot exist independently of one another, but are interlocked in a state thermodynamic equilibrium. This symphonic blending is similar to the relations between the persons of the Trinity.
The Trinity is defined by a self-contained mutuality of relations, and no one person of the trinity is or can be without the others. There is a coequal sharing of the singular divine essence without intrinsic subordination of any person.
The undivided essence belongs equally to each of the persons and each possesses all the substance and all the attributes of deity. The same could be said for the triple point phases, as no state of matter is more fundamental than another, nor is water any less itself because it exists in three coincident forms.
Molecular Resonance, The Triple Point and The State Phases Of Water all provide useful analogies of The Trinity which demonstrate that the Trinity is reasonable and without self-contradiction.
7. Jesus Has A God, Therefore He Cannot Be God
My material for this section is largely drawn from John Gill’s exposition of John 20:17
Muslims fairly draw attention to John 20:17 in which Jesus clearly says He has a God in order to prove that Jesus cannot be God. How, they ask, can God have a God ? Here is John 20:17
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The answer lies in recognising that Jesus is God in Human form. Jesus was truly human. Therefore He can have a God.
Can God come to Earth if He wants to ? Of course He can.
If God came to Earth could he have flesh and bones and choose to eat and sleep ? Of course He could.
But God would not stop being divine just because He came to Earth. He would still be God. But he would also be a Human who can eat and sleep and do all the things that Humans do.
God can control Himself in much the same way that I control myself, for example, when I play with my children. When I play with my children I choose to limit my strength so that I do not hurt them when I play with them. In a similar way, when Jesus came to Earth he decided to temporarily limit Himself in certain ways. Jesus still had divine attributes but he chose not to use most of them during His time on Earth while He walked with us as a truly human being.
During the period of His earthly life Jesus chose to make Himself dependent on The Father just as all of humanity is dependent on Father God. In this way, Jesus identified with humanity. He became one of us and shared our limitations and dependence on God while yet retaining His divine nature. For this reason it is possible for Jesus to say that He has a God. Jesus made Himself dependent on The Father.
The passage in question, John 20:17, contains a second reason why it is possible for Jesus to talk about ‘My God and Your God’ and this reason relates to the truth of Jesus’ identification with humanity which we mentioned above.
The reality of identification works two ways. Because Jesus shared our humanity, He identifies with us, but humanity also identifies with Jesus. This means that however The Father chooses to treat Jesus in relation to His humanity then you and I obtain the privilege of being treated by The Father in the same way and The Father treats Jesus.
This identification means that since the Father has declared Jesus Not Guilty of sin, then we also can be declared Not Guilty of sin if we identify with Jesus, i.e. choose in faith to accept Jesus as our representative before The Father. Furthermore, because Jesus was resurrected from the grave and from death by The Father, then we also can be, and will be, resurrected from death and the grave (Barzakh) if we choose to identify with Jesus. Again furthermore because Jesus ascends to The Father, those who identify with Jesus and become part of the Umma of Jesus will also obtain the privilege of ascending to heaven with Jesus to be in the presence of The Father.
This truth of how The Father rewards the Umma of Jesus with the same privileges as Jesus is reported in a truncated form In The Qu’ran Surah Al-Imran:3:55.
“O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you [in submission to Allah alone] superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection.
It was this third aspect of identification, that of Ascension, that Jesus was specifically referring to in this passage of scripture around John 20:17. Jesus had been declared Not Guilty by The Father after His ordeal on The Cross, consequently had been resurrected from death and the grave and was just about to ascend to The Father.
The woman wanted Jesus to stay behind on earth with them and clung on to Him but Jesus told them something greater was in store, namely His ascension, which all believers in Him, all His Umma would have the privilege of doing also. But He, Jesus, had to ascend first to make the way for them.
The statement of Jesus ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” teaches His Umma that His ascension makes our ascension possible because of His identification with humanity and our identification with Him.
Amen! Thanks to be to God an Our Lord Jesus Christ !
So, Jesus statement I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God is indeed, as Muslims state, a clear indication of Jesus’ humanity. This humanity came about because Jesus voluntarily chose to make Himself dependent on The Father (see Phillipians 2:5-8).
The statement my Father and your Father…my God and your God is also a powerful statement of truth regarding Jesus’ identification with humanity, by which humanity can be declared Not Guilty before God and obtain resurrection and ascension, which is entry to Paradise.
There is nothing illogical or contradictory about this because God exists as three persons who share a single divine life or essence. Since God exists as three persons, one (Jesus) may choose to go to Earth while the others remain in heaven. Additionally, the One who comes to Earth can choose to make Himself dependent on the One who remains in Heaven. In this way, Jesus can truly call The Father His God whilst yet retaining His own divine nature.
The self-limitation of Jesus does not diminish God because all the Divine Attributes remain fully active in The Father and The Holy Spirit, the other two Divine Persons who share the single Divine Life.
Because there is only one Divine Life, God is One.