Trinity: Introduction

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Trinity: Introduction

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The purpose of this presentation is to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, so that Muslims may understand the doctrine the way that Christian scholars understand it.  This presentation should be helpful, because there are numerous misdirected and stereotypic critiques of the doctrine of the Trinity.  It is hoped that this presentation will lead to a better mutual understanding of this important Christian doctrine.

The doctrine of the Trinity is an ancient doctrine, and it finds its origin in both the Old and New Testament scriptures.  It has been taught and defended by Christian scholars for the last two thousand years.  Probably the most surprising thing about Muslim critiques of Trinitarianism is that those who critique the doctrine know almost nothing about Christian scholarship on this important subject.  Their critiques would be vastly more useful, if they had first studied the numerous Christian writings before arguing against this doctrine of Allah (God).  Even at this late day, this doctrine is often stereotyped after the manner of the ancient Greek pantheon of deities.  It is amazing that this is still being done since Christians for over the last two thousand years have ardently taught that this false impression is not the case.  The intellectually honest thing for a Muslim to do would be to read some orthodox Christian writers, for example,  Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, on the Trinity before critiquing the doctrine. 

In addition, understanding the Trinity has been made more difficult because Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, mischaracterized the doctrine in the Qur’an.  Since most Muslims are familiar with the Qur’an before they study Trinitarianism, they are disposed immediately to reject the doctrine out-of-hand before they understand even its most basic outlines.  I am aware that most modern-day Muslim apologists know that Christians believe the Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  So, they have had to offer reasons contending that Muhammad did not really teach that Allah (God), Christ Jesus, and Mary were the Trinity, in spite of the fact the Qur’an clearly gives this impression.

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity“: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. Surah 4:171 (Yusufali).

And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.” Surah 5:116 (Yusufali)

Still, even if some of their arguments on this ayah were granted, Muhammad demonstrated no basic understanding of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  Secondly, he presented no arguments that succeed against the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.  Thirdly, he did not distinguish adequately between the essence, nature, and personhood of Allah.  Fourthly, Muhammad did not present an adequate view of Allah’s knowledge and Allah’s love which are important aspects of the Lord of the Worlds.

Essentially the doctrine of the Trinity is the Christian doctrine of the personhood of Allah.  Before the creation of the universe, Allah was the only existent being.  Since Allah existed alone in eternity before the creation of the worlds, the personhood of Allah does not depend upon creation, time, or space.  The doctrine of the Trinity answers the question, What is the nature of the personhood of this one infinite, eternal, and immutable Being?  Since Allah is a being who is radically different from created beings, we should naturally anticipate that the doctrine of the personhood of Allah would be more difficult to understand.  The Qur’an affirms, likewise, that “nothing is like unto Allah.”

There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.”  Ash-Shûra 42:11. (The Noble Qur’an).

The first thing necessary to have a Christian understanding of the Trinity is to eliminate all materialistic ideas of Allah.  Secondly, it is important to recognize that the Qur’anic concepts of the Trinity are wrong and are not useful to understand the Christian conception of the Trinity.  Thirdly, the doctrine of the Trinity does solve the difficult question of the nature of the Qur’an (Al-Kalaam) itself.  How can the Qur’an be uncreated and eternal?  This was an important question in the early development of the religion of Muhammad. This conundrum arose because, if the Qur’an were uncreated and eternal, there would be two eternal and uncreated entities: Allah and Al-Qur’an.  This duality shatters the concept of One Eternal and Uncreated Being. The logic goes like this:

Is the Qur’an eternal or created?
If the Qur’an is created, then it is subject to corruption just like all of creation.
If the Qur’an is eternal, is it Allah or not-Allah?
If it is Allah, then God is a composite.
If it is not-Allah, then there are two Allahs.

Fourthly, as is true in any field of study, it is necessary to know the terms used to present the doctrine of the Trinity.  Terminology is vital to understand before the ramifications of a study are developed.  For example, in mathematics, it is imperative to know the difference between terms like axioms, theorems, calculus, variables, constants, and equations.  Likewise, it is equally important to know the terms used to define and explain the doctrine of the Trinity.  Sure, it would be easier to skip the terminology and be satisfied with false Muslim stereotypes, but this would defeat our learning and understanding the Trinity.  Maybe adding and subtracting are all we need to know for our day-to-day lives.  But, limiting ourselves to adding and subtracting would mean that we would never appreciate the realm of more abstract mathematics.

Last edited 02/26/2000

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