I’ve received a number of great questions from a Muslim reader who seems genuinely interested in finding out more about Christianity. I’m humbled to be asked these questions and I’ve taken my time to answer them the best I can. Here is the first one.
I don’t understand how God can consist of three gods.
I understand this is a very difficult concept to understand and as a Muslim it’s even more difficult. The Quran says:
Sura 5:72-73, 5:75 “They do blaspheme who say: “God is Christ the son of Mary.” They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a trinity: for there is no God except one God Allah. If they do not desist from their word of blasphemy, verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Christ the son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him.”
Sura 4:169 “Believe in God and his apostles and say not three..”
Qur’an Sura 4:171: “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) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles. 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.”
There is no real easy way to explain the Trinity except to say it’s how God described Himself in the New Testament.
1. God the Father
This is the commonest name for God in the New Testament – the Father – although it is rarely found as a description for God in any other religion — including Hebrew Scriptures– and never in Islam. Jesus always spoke of God in heaven as “my Father” (Matthew 18:11), “your Father” (Luke 12:32), “the Father” (John 14:12) and when praying simply addressed him as “Father” (John 11:41).
God is spoken of in relational terms. He is not just the sovereign ruler of the universe, he has a definite relationship within his divine being beyond his own individual personality.
2. God the Son
Jesus said: No one knows the Son but the Father and no one knows the Father but the Son (Matthew 11:27). Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him (John 4:23). He came from the Father into the world, he was to leave it and return to the Father (John 16:28). Jesus describes himself as the Son.
3. God the Holy Spirit
Throughout the New Testament a third personality constantly appears – the Holy Spirit – and he enjoys an obviously intimate relationship with both the Father and the Son at their divine level. He would be sent by the Son from the Father, he proceeds from the Father, and he bears witness to the Son (John 15:26). The Father would send him in the Son’s name and he would bring to remembrance all that the Son had taught his disciples (John 14:26).
All these quotations are from Jesus Christ himself, the great Word of the Father who was in the beginning, was with God, and is God (John 1:1). He is called the Son of God by the Father himself who twice spoke from heaven and declared “This is my beloved Son” (Matthew 4:17, 17:5).
Biblical Trinitarian Statements
There are a number of statements in the Bible which speak of all three persons of the Trinity in one breath.
1. Matthew 28:19: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit
In this passage Jesus Christ himself commands his disciples to make further disciples throughout the world, “baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.
2. 2 Corinthians 13:14: The Triune blessing
Paul concludes this letter by commending the Corinthian Christians to the grace of the Son, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
3. Ephesians 2:18: Access to the Eternal Father
Paul again mentions all three persons of the Trinity together in a statement of common purpose and divine union. In Jesus Christ the Son both Jewish and Gentile believers have access through the same Holy Spirit to the Father.
The Church did not invent the Trinity or adapt its belief about God to prevailing monotheistic or polytheistic beliefs, but obtained it directly from the teaching of its original scripture, the Bible.
The coming of Jesus Christ into the world that opened up the revelation of God as a triune being. Before him the Old Testament generally spoke of God as Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel, but when Jesus began to teach he frequently spoke of God as the Father, himself as the Son and of the coming of the Holy Spirit in such terms as to leave no doubt that all three shared the realm of the divine glory, that they shared a common nature, essence and purpose, and that there was an absolute unity between them.
The New Testament, in consequence, focuses consistently on each of the three persons in the divine Trinity as the sphere in which Christian believers can come to know God (the Father), be forgiven by him (through his Son Jesus Christ) and enjoy his divine presence (in the Holy Spirit). All references to Yahweh disappear in the light of the intimate unity which all believers enjoy with God now more fully revealed in his true nature and triune personality.
I don’t know if I did this question justice. It’s difficult to have a one-way conversation on theological topics. If you want me to try to explain it more fully, please drop me a line.