A simple start to understanding the Trinity
This is the third in a series of articles contrasting Allah and Yahweh.
Previously: The oneness of God
The doctrine of the Trinity sets Christians and Muslims apart. In fact, to suggest to a follower of Allah that God has a Son, or that God exists in tri-unity, is to commit the unpardonable sin of shirk, which damns a soul to hell.
Islam is unwavering in its belief in Allah as a singular being — monolithic, distant, and unknowable. He only relates to people in acts of the will, not out of an eternal nature that is loving, merciful, and gracious.
What’s more, when engaging Muslims in conversation, it’s challenging to explain how one God exists in three co-equal, co-eternal persons. Some simplify the doctrine by employing analogies. For example, just as water from a single bucket can exist in three states — solid, liquid, and gas — so the Godhead is one essence in three persons.
But all analogies applied to the Trinity break down at some point. They simply cannot do justice to the magnificence of our Creator. So, maybe a better start is to lay out three biblical truths that offer a framework for the tri-unity of God.
Three biblical truths
(1) There is one God. Christians do not worship three gods; that’s polytheism. We do not worship a “freakish-looking, three-headed god,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses accuse us of doing. Nor do we exalt one God who shows up consecutively, but never simultaneously, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that’s modalism.
Rather, we worship one God who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons, sharing all the attributes of deity, agreeing completely in will and purpose, and existing eternally in divine, loving relationships with one another.
Scripture is clear that there is only one true and living God. The shema, the most important text for considering Jewish monotheism, reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4).
The Lord Himself declares in Isa. 43:10, “No god was formed before me, and there will be none after me.” And the apostle Paul writes, “there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Rom. 3:30).
Many other passages could be cited, but there is a clear and consistent theme throughout Scripture that there is one, and only one, God.
(2) The Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. In hundreds of Scripture passages, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each are declared to be the true God. Space allows for only a few examples:
Father. Paul writes, “yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist from him” (1 Cor. 8:6; see also 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3).
Son. In Hebrews 1:8, the Father, speaking to the Son, says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of justice.” Throughout the New Testament, we see that Jesus exhibits the attributes of God: He is eternal (John 1:1), has all authority (Matt. 28:18), and is unchanging (Heb. 13:8). Further, He is the Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16). He forgives sin, receives worship, and claims equality with the Father (John 10:30).
Holy Spirit. Called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11), the Holy Spirit is revealed as divine and personal. For example, when Ananias lies to the Holy Spirit, Peter points out, “You have not lied to people but to God” (Acts 5:4).
Time and time again, as we read through the Bible, particularly the New Testament, we see that the one true and living God (one being) exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
(3) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist simultaneously. The false doctrine of modalism teaches that God reveals Himself consecutively as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But Scripture paints a much different picture — a picture of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing simultaneously.
The Bible even shows the three persons of the Godhead as eternally distinct. The Father and Son love one another, speak to each other, and together send the Holy Spirit. Additionally, Jesus proclaims that He and the Father are two distinct witnesses and two distinct judges (John 8:14-18).
Such self-distinctions are amplified through the announcement of Christ’s birth (Luke 1:35); His baptism (Luke 3:22); and His commission to baptize believers “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
Common point of agreement
Muslims and Christians agree that there is one God. The Qur’an and the Bible also speak of the Holy Spirit and Jesus, but they disagree as to how these characters are defined. In Islam, Allah is singular and may not be called Father.
Jesus is a great prophet but only a man and may not be called the son of God.
The “holy spirit” is not divine; he is none other than the angel Gabriel, who brought the Qur’an to Muhammad.
As we explore in our next column, this view of Allah creates some difficulties for Muslims.
Next: The Islamic Inquisition