The Trinity: A puzzle to solve?

December 2020

God reveals Himself not that we should be presented with a puzzle to solve, a ‘mystery’ of Three Persons in One God, but that we might find salvation and become His new creation in Christ.

What do Muslims believe about The Holy Spirit?

When we are preaching to Muslims and say that “God is a Spirit’ they will regard it as the most terrible blasphemy. Why do they regard it as blasphemy? Is not the word spirit used in the Quran? It is, but when the Muslim thinks of a spirit he thinks of it as a created thing. The word ‘spirit’ is used in twenty places in the Quran, and in every case the Muslim believes that it is used of a “subtle body” which has the capacity to penetrate coarse bodies. The angels and Jinn are such subtle bodies, and to speak of Allah as a Spirit would, according to Muslim thought, imply that He is a created body. When we read in the Quran that Allah aided Jesus with His Holy Spirit, it means that He sent an angel.

> “We gave Jesus the son of Mary clear (signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit.” (Al-Baqarah 2:87)

The Holy Spirit then, in the Quran, is a subtle body, created by Allah, and sent by Him to men in certain cases. This angelic Holy Spirit is the angel Gabriel, the angel who announced the birth of Jesus to Mary and brought the Quran to the prophet Muhammad. There is therefore no place in the Quran for the Holy Spirit who is co-eternal with the Father and the Son in fact the promised (Holy Spirit) Paraclete of John 16:7 is identified with the prophet Muhammad, and Jesus is supposed to have foretold the coming of this Praised one (ahmad):

> “And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: “O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving glad tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.”(As-Saff 61:6)

The Christians are accused of having changed the supposed original Greek word Periklutos (‘Praised one’) to Parakletos (‘Comforter’). Such charges may, of course, easily be refuted by reference to Greek manuscripts of the New Treatment which were written over a hundred years before the birth of Muhammad (e.g., the Codex Alexandrinus in the British Museum).

What do Muslims believe about Jesus?

There is a good deal written in the Quran about ‘Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary). We are told that He performed miracles of healing, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead by the permission of Allah:

>”And (appoint him – Jesus) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): “‘I have come to you, with a sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses.” (Al Imran 3:49)

We can read the Quran’s version of His birth where we are informed that He was born of the Virgin Mary. (Mary was sinless according to Muslim tradition):

> “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah” (Al-Imran 3:45 ff)

Sura An Nisa 4:171 declares that ‘Isa is only an apostle of Allah and His Word, which He cast into Mary.

> “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 ….. “(An Nisa 4:171).

‘Isa was therefore a direct creation of Allah, like Adam:

> “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be.” And he was” (Al-Imran 3:59).

He is only a creature and the slave of Allah.

> “He was no more than a servant: We granted Our favour to him, and We made him an example to the Children of Israe”l (Az Zakhruf 43:59)

‘Isa is called “Spirit (ruh) from Allah”, and ‘Word (kalimat) of Allah’, but both these expressions imply that He was only a created being.

However exalted the titles given to Jesus in the Quran may appear to be, they really degrade Him. Moreover the Quran even revives an old Christian heresy, in that it states that He did not die on the cross, but was taken up to heaven and an ‘appearance’ was crucified in His place:

> “That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them,

……………………… for of a surety they killed him not” (An Nisa 4:157)

Tradition states that He will come again on the Last Day, will marry and beget children, slay the Antichrist and perform other wonders before dying and being buried beside Muhammad and Abu Bakr in Medina. If we receive Christ at the hands of Islam we receive Him degraded and deprived of His true nature, and must admit that some day He will die like any other mortal and be buried. The Jesus of Islam is neither the Son of Man of the Scriptures nor the Son of God, and despite the unusual titles which are given to Him in the Quran, He remains a mere mortal, only a prophet of Allah.

 Can we, in the light of the foregoing statements, expect Islam to understand the Christian doctrine of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?

 The whole truth about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity carries with it the assumption that Allah is the God of the Old and New Testaments. The Quran first taught Muslims to ask how Allah can have a son when

 He has not a wife.’ (Surah Al-Anam 6:101; Al-Jinn 72 v. 3). Similiar thinking continues when it considers the ‘People of the Book.

> “The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” (At-Taubah 9:30)

The word which is also used throughout the Quran to assert that Allah has no offspring, implies that He has no physically-begotten child. Some of these verses were originally levelled against the Arabs who ascribed offspring to Allah, but all are used by Muslims in refuting the supposed claims of the Christian Church concerning the Sonship of Christ. The Christians are supposed to believe that God became the Father of Jesus by physical procreation. The doctrine of the Trinity is expressly mentioned in :

> “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” (An Nisa 4:171)

> “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them” (Al-Ma’idah).

In Surah Al Ma’idah 5:116 Mary is declared to be one of the Persons of the Trinity :

> “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.”

Have Christians ever believed that God has a wife and physically begot His Son? We have never been guilty of such blasphemy, nor has the Christian Church ever believed in three gods or in the plurality of divine beings? The Quran places in the mouth of the Church blasphemy of which it has never been guilty, and then makes the doctrine of the Trinity incredible by putting Allah in the place of God. It is, on the other hand equally deplorable that Christians have attempted to make the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation acceptable to Islam by appealing to Muslim ideas about the ‘Word’ of Allah. Some have said ‘if speech, the eternal attribute of Allah, can become a Book (the Quran), is it not reasonable to suppose that God’s eternal Word could become man?’ This has been a common question proposed by Christians in order to suggest the feasibility of the Incarnation; but to speak of an impersonal attribute becoming man (and Muslim terminology can convey no other ideas to a Muslim) is itself to revive the Christian heresy of Adoptionism, and to deny the dignity of the eternal Son. It must be realised that the doctrine of the Person of the Christ can only be understood in its own light, and that it lacks meaning and relevance apart from the Biblical doctrine of God. Any attempt at transference of terms from Islam to Christianity in this field automatically robs them of their Christian significance.

The activity of a gracious, redeeming and sanctifying God is the source of the doctrine of the Trinity. God gave himself in his Son, and sanctifies us through His Spirit. God thus reveals Himself, His very self, not that we should be presented with a puzzle to solve, a ‘mystery’ of Three Persons in One God, but that we might find salvation and become His new creation in Christ. In the light of that gift of redemption and grace, man sees the true nature of sin, and also God’s nature, as He, in His Son, provides the means of redemption. These are the terms in which we should speak to Islam. This is the whole Gospel, the glad tidings of the truth of God and of His gift of grace ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.’

By Herbert Spencer