The Trinity: In several passages the Qur'an speaks out specifically against "some kind of trinity" [e.g. Sura 5:72-73 and 5:116-118] and believing in it is supposedly one of the worst sins you can commit [shirk = joining other gods with Allah] and it is so bad, that it leads with certainty to hell fire without escape [5:72].
Christians believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly based on the Biblical revelation only. Every reasonable Christian will agree that it took some time of theological reflection on this revelation until the Church came up with a clearly formulated doctrine, but this doctrine is based on the Bible and nothing else.
But even if it were a corruption and not Biblical revelation, - or a doctrine based on a corrupted Bible - the doctrine of the Trinity was finally and clearly formulated about 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea in the Nicean creed. Since then it has been well publicized and is still the same today. This means especially that doctrine of the Trinity was clearly spelled out about 300 years before Muhammad and the appearance of the Qur'an.
For any religion, it is obviously of utmost importance to be right on the nature of God. Therefore, if it is God's intention to correct the Christian corruptions and heretical abberations of the true understanding of Himself by this new revelation through the Qur'an, why does the Qur'an get it so woefully wrong? Why is the Qur'an so concerned to condemn a "tri-theism of God, Mary and Jesus", which no Christian believes in anyway, instead of clearifying the mistake in regard to the true Christian doctrine being the "Trinity of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit"? Why condemn something that is just as blasphemous to Christians as it is to Muslims? The Christian Church has never believed in that.
There seem to be some traces of the existance of a heretical group who did believe that Mary was divine which existed in Arabia in the 6th - 7th century. But they were a very small and insignificant group and it is very hard to get much detail about them at all. There is some information about them in the book "God is One in the Holy Trinity" by Zachariah Butros. But in the relationship to the total of Christianity which was the dominant religion this sectarian group was negligable and was to disappear soon.
The question we have to ask is: Why would God choose to speak out in his final and universal revelation against some absolutely insignificant heretical group while totally ignoring the related central doctrine of the largest religion on earth [in Muhammad's time and today] and at the same time give the impression that he speaks to correct the errors of the CHRISTIANS?
Why is the Qur'an putting in the effort to correct the heretical views of some small sect we really know very little about, and does not answer to the real doctrine of the Christian church?
This observation is particularly strange since those heresies have already been denounced and corrected by the Church herself. After all, the Qur'an DOES insist to be the last (final) and COMPLETE revelation - why is it not dealing with and answering to the very thing it supposedly was coming to correct?
Was God confused and ill-informed about the Christian faith he wanted to correct? I don't think the true God could plead ignorance after having looked at this Christian doctrine for 300 years prior to the giving of the Qur'an.
It appears to me, we again only have the choice between a Qur'an coming from a confused God or a confused Qur'an that is not coming from the true and all-knowing God.
The first option is obviously a blasphemous thought. God indeed is the All-knowing. I can only think of the following possible and (more or less) reasonable explanations to account for this seemingly "confused revelation":
But since the Qur'an seemingly is pretty well preserved and God is definitely not confused, the only sensible explanation seems to be that the author was just not well informed in regard to the true Christian doctrine of the Trinity and nature of Christ. This is (in my eyes) the most natural explanation. Muhammad has spoken out against a bad misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity (which might or might not be just his own misunderstanding.) He was justified to be appalled by it. He spoke out against this heretical understanding and was right to do so. But he has not answered to true Christianity. On this basis I can acknowledge Muhammad's sincerety in speaking out against idolatery, but I cannot accept him as speaking with a message from God. Muhammad had a good grasp of "what cannot be true", but he didn't understand what the Bible says "is true".
I tend to believe the last paragraph is the best explanation of those alternatives I can see and which have listed above, but since I heard another one just recently, I want to include it for completeness sake.
This other possibility is that Muhammad did indeed understand the Christian doctrine, but uses the time honored approach of building up a straw man which is so much easier to knock down than the true teaching of Christianity:
Riducule the other side and collect "the cheering crowd" as your followers. This is the successful method of politicians who say, that the effort needed to present good arguments is a waste of time, because most people wouldn't even be able to follow a deep argument [and therefore not vote for the one who is so clearly "not understanding 'the common man'"], and since the vote of an uncritical follower is worth just as much as the vote of a deeply thinking one [at least in a democracy], so let's go for the method that appeals to the masses. And that sadly is "knocking down straw men" as everybody can observe daily on TV. And strangly enough, also today many Muslims say their doctrine of God is true because it is easier than the "complicated" doctrine of the Trinity. But simplicity or complexity is not a criterion for truth in itself, or all the straw man arguments would be satisfactory.
Btw, using straw man arguments does not say that the one who uses a "stupid argument" is stupid himself [most politicians are intelligent], but it does show that he thinks the audience is stupid enough so that he can get away with it. But I will not fall for straw man arguments. Whether deliberately or out of ignorance, Islam has not answered to Christianity, but knocked down a self-built straw man and I am not impressed.
Nevertheless, as I said, I don't have that bad an impression of Muhammad's character and currently don't feel the straw man hypothesis to be as good an explanation as the one stated before it.
I still have to substantiate my claims that the Qur'an presents a not well-informed argument against Christian doctrine, which I will do in the following.
I will only state this in terse comparative statements. A more detailed discussion of this is important [and lots of material on this is already on my web site], but I don't want to make this article too long.
The Qur'an states:
It seems clear to me that (the author of) the Qur'an has or presents the understanding that the followers of Christ believe that Jesus and Mary are two other separate gods which are elevated to the level of God.
The Qur'an is wrong about the Christian doctrine in several points:
* The Qur'an accuses Christians of saying "God is one OF three" [5:73], but Christians say that "God is one IN three" [two letters making an extremely important difference].
* The Qur'an speaks out against "Tri-theism" [three gods - 5:116,72,73], but Christians believe in (and the Bible teaches) "the Trinity" - ONE God, who reveals Himself [not: themselves] in three persons. There is only ONE God and not "three gods".
* The Qur'an denounces the "tri-theistic" group of "God, Jesus and Mary" [5:116], but the Trinity consists of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
* The Qur'an gives the impression that Christians elevated Mary to a divine status, but no Christian has ever said that Mary is anything more than a human being. The Bible says no such thing. All true Christian doctrine is based on the Bible as the word of God.
* The Qur'an speaks out against "deification" which is "elevating a human being to the status of a god" which I think is the meaning of "take me as a god beside Allah" [5:116], but the Bible speaks about "incarnation" which is "God taking on human nature in Jesus", i.e. - The Qur'an speaks against: "Jesus taking on divine nature" [or better: "Ascribing divine nature to Jesus" since it is done to him by others and not his own doing according to the Qur'an] - The Bible teaches: "(Part of) God taking on human nature"
* According to the Qur'an Christians say "God is Jesus" [5:72], but we say "Jesus is God" [which is a subtle but very important difference]. More details on this.
Another tit-bit of Church history: Whether it was wise or not, the Church in the "Christian Roman Empire" did use political force to expell the groups teaching heresies and so these groups were pushed to the boundaries of the Roman Empire, and Arabia and the Middle East happened to be one place where quite a number of heretical groups "resettled". That could account for the fact that Muhammad has seen most of his life mainly heretically distorted Christianity and therefore did just respond to what he saw and not to what the vast majority of Christians believed. But this again is an explanation that would point to the human authorship of the Qur'an, since God would not have been limited by Muhammad's geographically limited experience.
One could say, that Islam is in contradiction to Bible and Christianity and just by stating the correct view is "indirectly" correcting the wrongs of Christianity, but the Qur'an is not directly addressing Christianity. Instead it chooses to address some weird heretical teaching of an absolutely insignificant sectarian group. In the least one can wonder about the Qur'anic "priorities" about the issues it decides to deal with. Not what one would expect in a final revelation with a claim to universal relevance.
Muslims have developed many reasons to attack and reject the Trinity. Most of these reasons are of some philosophical nature, many even try to disprove the Trinity from the Bible. Whether these reasons are valid or not will not be our concern at this time. Other web pages deal with the issue of the Trinityin detail. But it is obvious that all this reasoning is the reasoning of Muslims and not the reasoning of the Qur'an. The Qur'an only gives a number of statements negating certain false teachings but does not even offer any reasoning on the matter of the tri-theistic misunderstanding, and certainly nothing in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity. Denial is not the same as explanation and clarification.
In respect to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the Qur'an certainly has failed its own promise.
1. The web version of the book by Zacharian Butros does not have the footnotes, so here the references that can be found in the printed copy of it. His references to the Maryamiyya Sect are:
Awad Sim`an, "Allah Dhatuhu wa Naw`u Wahdaniyatihi" (God's Essence and the Nature of His Unity) p.127; Ahmad al Makrizi, "Kitab al Kawl al Ibrizi" (Book of Golden Sayings) p.26.
Copyright © 1997 Jochen Katz. All rights reserved.
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