99 Truth Tracts

Tawhid: The Oneness of God in Three


Sura 5:73
"They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in trinity, for there is no God except one God."

* The Muslim View
* A Christian Response: Belief in One God
* Belief in Three in One
* The Definition of Trinity
* Conclusion

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* The Muslim View

According to Islam the first and greatest teaching is proclaimed by the Shahada: "La Ilaha illa-l-lah, Muhammadun rasulu-l-lah." ("There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the apostle of Allah.") To be a true Muslim one must sincerely confess this phrase, especially those who are newly converted to Islam.

Allah, for a Muslim, is one "Wahid," and has no partners, no equals. In the Qur'an, Sura 28:88, we read: "And cry not unto any other god along with Allah. There is no god save Him." Thus, Allah is totally other, totally distinct, totally unique. Since He is unique, no one else can share even an atom of His Divine power and authority. The Qur'an makes it clear that Allah has no son, no father, no relative, and no associates.

A survey administered amongst North American converts to Islam cited monotheism, in opposition to the doctrine of trinity, as their greatest attraction to Islam. Of great concern to the converts is the relationship of Jesus to God, because it associates a human with God. They ask, "How would God ever lower Himself by associating Himself with a human, how would He allow that human to be killed?"

Obviously, this kind of belief in the uniqueness of God, i.e. a totally transcendent God entails a rejection of Jesus as the Son of God.

* A Christian Response: Belief in One God

From the outset, the Islamic misconception that Christians believe in and worship three separate gods is blasphemous to Christians. Obviously, it is this "polytheism" ("shirk") which disturbs Muslims the most.

How can God be both THREE and ONE? Isn't this illogical? Yet God is beyond all human reason. Too often humans have tried to reduce God to their level of understanding. They try to make God like themselves. We must reject such thoughts as quite ungodly.

God is beyond all human understanding, therefore we should expect to find aspects of Him that seem strange to us. Any explanation of God which is fully clear to the human understanding must be wrong because He is far more than our little minds can grasp.

Christians and Muslims alike worship the God of Abraham. Furthermore, both are monotheistic, believing in only one righteous and transcendent creator God.

The key verse of the Torah of the Prophet Moses states that: "The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4) God is one and He commands us to love Him with all our heart.

In Genesis 11:7 and 1:26 we find a plural verb used to describe the action of the One God ("Let us go down", "Let us make"). One of the Hebrew words for God is ELOHIM (normally translated "God"). The significant thing about this word is that it is a plural word, although it is never translated "Gods". The Muslims say that this is a case of the royal "we", although linguists do not acknowledge the royal "we" in either Arabic or Hebrew. In Deuteronomy 6:4 we read that "the Lord ELOHIM, the Lord is One."

Jesus Christ, speaking more than one-thousand years after the Prophet Moses says: "The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12:28-30 and Matthew 22:37). Remember that it is Jesus, the man who claimed to have equality with God, who is speaking.

All Christians strongly believe that there is but ONE God, and he alone must be the object of our worship and service. The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly tells us that there is only ONE God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; Romans 3:30; 1 Timothy 1:17; James 2:19). Perhaps 1 Corinthians 8:4 says it best, "There is no God but ONE".

Thus, both the Torah and the Gospel (Injil) agree that God is one. We are commanded to love one God. Only He has the right to require our ultimate loyalty. All other gods which man invents are totally false (Hosea 13:2,3).

* Belief in Three in One

Possibly the greatest criticism against Christians by Muslims is the false view of the plurality of God. Christians have often been accused of worshipping 3 gods. They ask, "How can 1+1+1 equal 1?" assuming that 1 represents a separate god. Obviously this is not what Christians believe. God is not made up of three separate gods, but three characters simultaneously expressed in the one God. It would perhaps be more correct to ask, "Can 1x1x1 equal 1?"

The New Testament provides us with only small clues to the mystery of God as THREE in ONE. In John 1:18 we find that the only-born God who is Jesus Christ, is in the heart of God. God is in God!

Diagram illustrating the Trinity The Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-12) is also in God. So, God the Son, is in God the Father, and God the Spirit is in God the Father. As strange and mysterious as this is to the human mind, the Bible, as the very Word of God, tells us these things (the diagram on the left may help to envisage this).

* The Definition of Trinity

So what is the correct definition of the Trinity? To our Muslim friends we say that from the Scriptures we find revealed a divine unity of three Characters: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These make up the Trinity.

Muslims, ask where in the Scriptures the word trinity appears. We must say from the outset that the word "Trinity" never appears in the Bible. Not once! It is a word which did not even exist at that time.

The word trinity is in fact a theological term adopted later by Christians to define what the Bible teaches concerning God. The word "trinity" in the early church simply meant "three", but was always undergirded with the unity of God.

To correspond with Biblical revelation, the Christian must equally emphasize that God is one and three. Today the church has adapted the word to mean three in unity (or tri-unity). Though God is immensely complex, and cannot be exhaustively known, He has so revealed Himself in scripture that He can be truly known. The early church theologians wrestled with the difficulty of defining God from what is revealed in scripture with the limitations of the human language which had no word to express the reality of one God, who is three (even this definition in English seems illogical, and illustrates the point).

For centuries theologians adopted many words to try to express God's revelation of Himself as three in one (for instance, words such as three prosopon, hupostasis, and trias), yet they were all inadequate. As an example of the difficulty which concepts like these engendered, the early church theologian, Tertullian (145-220 A.D.) created 590 new nouns, 284 new adjectives, and 161 new verbs to help explain this and other theological ideas found in the Scriptures; ideas which because of their sophistication needed new terminology for us to understand them. It was Tertullian who came up with the word "trinity" over five hundred years before the writing of the Qur'an, where its validity is disputed. Over the years "trinity" became the accepted word for this concept.

It is impossible to fully define the mystery of God as "triune." That there is only one God, yet that the One God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the most basic Christian belief. All Christian beliefs depend upon the truth of that single statement.

The word trinity is simply used to express what the Scriptures delineates as God comprised of three, who are infinite, personal, in complete unity of will, purpose, action and love, yet cannot be separated though they have different functions.

The Scriptures speak of God the Father who is the co-Creator with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He blesses (Ephesians 1:3-4), initiates (John 17:2-9) and sends (John 17:3,18).

The Scriptures also speak about God the Son, who speaks-out the creation (John 1:1), and acts in history, both during the time of the prophets (Genesis 32:25-30; Exodus 3:2-5; 13:21; 33:9-11; Judges 2:1), and later when he was physically incarnated as the Saviour, the historical Jesus Christ (John 1:14).

And finally, the Scriptures speak of God the Holy Spirit, who is resident within the disciples of Jesus Christ, who guides, instructs and empowers them (John 14:16-17), and who mediates Jesus Christ and his atoning work (John 15:26).

Jesus referred to this 'Trinity in Unity' when He commanded His apostles to go everywhere and to persuade men to become His disciples, and to baptise them "...in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).

* Conclusion

Is it therefore correct to accuse Christians of polytheism ("shirk")? From the above study, it is clear that Christians have always believed in One God. Yet, the Bible tells us that this One God has acted in history, showing Himself to be God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

The challenge is: what is God Almighty like? Is He to be judged by mere human logic or is He to be free to reveal Himself as He is, beyond all human understanding or imagination?

As we mentioned earlier, the word Trinity is shorthand for the concept of three and one. It is God the Father who loves and saves the world by God the Son through God the Holy Spirit. If we say less than this we are guilty of unbelief in the words of the Bible. If we say more than this we are guilty of speculation, putting our own ideas into the Bible. "We must not only say 'no' where God has said 'no' but we must also say 'yes' where God has said 'yes'." (Barth)

Do not be misled by those who have not read or understood the Scriptures. Do not be confused by false accusations. Examine for yourself the historical birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, following the story on into the Acts of the Apostles. Only then will you be able to judge the biblical proclamation of ONE GOD: FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT.

"[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature (form) of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:6-11)

[99 Truth Tracts]

This pamphlet was compiled by an interdenominational group of evangelical Christians concerned with Muslim-Christian dialogue.

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