(I) Subject of the Chapter

In this chapter Christian doctrine of the Trinity with its soteriological connection to Christian doctrine on Salvation is explored, with special reference to elements on related subjects in Islam. It is impossible to make a comprehensive comparative study on the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Salvation in the world’s two major religions adequately in such a short chapter, and so it will deal with only those aspects of the subjects concerned vis-à-vis the title of this chapter.

(II) What the Trinity Is Not

There is first of all the need to ward off some false concepts of the Trinity before defining its true content and significance. Some false concepts include:

(1)The idea that the Trinity is a union of the Father, Jesus, and Mary, as the Qur’an seems to imply in 5:116. It would indeed be blasphemous to speak of the Trinity in terms of God having sexual relation with Mary and thus conceiving and giving birth to Jesus. Some cult followers known as the Collyridians that seemed to “worship” Virgin Mary in the 4th century might have given rise to this misconception.

(2)Another false concept is to speak of the Trinity as three different Gods (or gods) bound in the unity of will and purpose; that would be Tritheism contradicting the Monotheism of the Christian faith. And so in this regard Christians certainly never say Allah is “one of three” as stated in Q. 5:73, as the phrase implies a plurality of Gods.

However, Yusuf Ali misleads when he translates the phrase “thaalithu thalatha” in the above verse as “one of three IN A TRINITY” (emphasis mine), because the words “IN A TRINITY” are not there in the Qur’an and these words are the translator’s own addition. Likewise while the Qur’an in 4:171 simply says “Do not say three” (thalatha), Yusuf Ali also translates the word “three” here as “Trinity”, thus jeopardizing Christian concept of the Trinity as if we worship three different Gods. The word for the Holy Trinity (al-Thaaluuth al-Aqdas) never appears in the Qur’an.[[1]]

(3)It is also wrong to say the Trinity means one God playing three different roles, like one and the same man who acts as a husband to his wife, a father to his children, and a boss to his workers. Neither is it like the one and same God that put on the “mask” (persona) of the Father in the OT era, then the “mask” of the Son in the Incarnation, followed by the “mask” of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That would be Modalistic Monarchianism (as taught by Noetus, Praxeas, and the Sabellians) which the Church countered and rejected since the third century CE.

Such a false concept will lead to the equally false idea of Patripassianism which implies that the Father was nailed to death on the cross. Also rejected in about the same period were some groups categorized as exponents of Dynamic Monarchianism (e.g. Cerinthus, Paul of Samosata, and the Ebionites), referring to those who believed in Jesus as the spirit-empowered Messiah but denied the essential Deity of Christ.

(III) Christians Are Definitely Monotheists

The oneness and unity of God is repeatedly taught and affirmed in both the Old and the New Testament of the Bible.

(1)In the Old Testament (OT), there are: Exodus 20:2-3, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Lots of other passages could be quoted in this regard, but there is no need for that, because it is universally accepted that Old Testament Judaism is effectively the “Mother” of world Monotheism.

(2)Coming to the New Testament (NT), Jesus Christ quotes the Deuteronomy passage affirming the oneness of God. (Mk 12:29-31) He also says in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” And Paul teaches in 1st Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people...”

Again in 1st Corinthians 8:5-6, “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” James also affirms in 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” And so it is clear the whole Bible teaches the oneness of God. Both Judaism and Christianity are definitely monotheistic faiths preceding Islam.

(3)In view of Biblical Monotheism, whatever the Christian concept or doctrine of the Trinity may mean, it should never be presented and construed as worship of three different gods. That is why Christians, in confessing that “I believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, often end with affirmation of “One God”. There is the need for such a practice especially in Muslim-majority countries, as Christians are often maligned as worshippers of three gods (shirk!). This truth is also implicit in Holy Baptism and Christian Benediction in which the invocation of blessing is done with the Holy Trinity expressed in the singular: “In the NAME of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Since Christianity is definitely Monotheistic, “How Come” the concept of Trinity? Doesn’t it contradict belief in the oneness of God?

(IV) A Contextual, Biblical-Theological Approach vis-à-vis the Trinity

Christians have sought to understand and explain the Trinity through various perspectives and approaches, such as, loosely speaking the systematic theology approach, the rational analogical approach, the psychological relational approach, the comparative religions approach, (and perhaps a ‘modern scientific’ approach?) and so on.

Personally this writer has adopted a Contextual (in dialogue with Islam), Biblical-Theological Approach (rooted in and theologizing based on progressive Biblical revelation from Genesis to Revelation), making use of the Islamic concept of Allahu Akbar, meaning “God is Greater” or “God is the Greatest” as the cut-in point.

This writer’s “approach” as deliberated in the present chapter is substantially his own, being worked over since over 30 years ago, with blessings of insights/inputs accumulated from various sources along the way, and beefed up with occasional personal “illumination” which are all so difficult to pin-point. However it should be acknowledged here that in the process the book by G.A.F. Knight titled A Biblical Approach to the Doctrine of the Trinity used to be of much help.[[2]]

Obviously none of the approaches could ever be adequate by any standard to really and effectively expound on the Trinity. In fact even the smartest combination of all the approaches would not be able to do the job, for the simple reason that God is eternal, almighty and holy Spirit; He is essentially Spirit (Jn. 4:24), whereas humans are such puny, temporal, earthly, and sinful creatures.

The present writer fully concurs with Irish scientist-theologian Alister McGrath in his quotation of Augustine of Hippo which says, “If you can understand it, it’s not God.” As McGrath puts it, “Augustine rightly pointed out that that no human mind could ever fully comprehend God, but we must at least try to understand who God is and what He is like. The Christian understanding of God, culminating in the doctrine of the Trinity, is remarkably deep and rich… ”[[3]] And it is true that the best that any human mind could deliberate of it is but “to scratch the surface”.

Indeed related historical discussion in the Graeco-Roman (Latin) context on philosophical/theological concepts such as “ousia”, “substantia”, “hypostasis”, “persona” (essence/substance/subsistence/mask/person), as well as terms such as “generation/eternal generation”, “filiation”, “spiration”, “perichoresis’” or “co-inherence”, “hypostatic union” and so on, would always be confusing to the general believers, and often be like “a poor reflection as in a mirror”, blurry, as mirror used to be in ancient time (1st Cor. 13:12), even to so-called “experts” in theology, in the past and even more so in modern time.

Therefore in Islamic theologizing especially on the essence, nature, and attributes of Allah, the maxim of Mukhalafa meaning “Nothing to compare”, and Bilakaifa meaning “Without asking how” would often come into play, as Allah is believed to be Cosmic Spirit totally different from and beyond anything and everything in the universe that human intellect could ever comprehend or imagine; and so for Him there is absolutely nothing to match or compare.

How much more preposterous and indeed ridiculous for puny human minds seeking a “dissection” into the “anatomy” of this Divine Spirit Being! And that implicitly is what Christian theologizing on the Trinity seems to attempt, as it seeks to pry into the in-most constitutional being of God, deliberating and rationalizing on divine Thought and Speech (Dabar/Logos/Kalimah), divine Breath and Spirit (Ruach/Roh/Pneuma), as well as the “intra/inter” divine “self-differentiation” and “mutual penetration” (perichoresis) vis-à-vis the Godhead/Divine Self in relation to the three distinctive Persons involved.

As such in this regard, even this present writer’s presentation is also at best a reflective, rationalized attempt towards an informed theological “grasping” of the subject, within the perimeters of the Biblical, historic, and orthodox faith in the Oneness of God, as well as the Triune Godhead and Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

However, as Christians believe that God has truly and graciously revealed Himself and His divine plans supremely through His Incarnate Son and the In-dwelling Spirit (as taught in the Scriptures), and since humans are being endowed with God’s own image, and invited to “know” Him, therefore unworthy and inadequate as we are, we still have the obligation to seek to know the Trinity rationally the best we could. This is also in view of His call for us not only to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (Jn. 4:24), but also to love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind (Mt. 22:37).

(V) The Trinity Reveals the God Who Is Greater, “Allahu Akbar”, in Relation to His Word That Became Incarnated (or Became Flesh) in the Person of Christ

God is indeed so great, that the divine Word (Dabar/Logos/Kalimah) in Him, of Him, with Him, and from Him could be so dynamic as to bring forth creation out from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). This is revealed in the opening chapter of the OT book of Genesis as follows:

Gen. 1: v.3, And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light; vs. 6-7, And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so; v.9, And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so; v.11, Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. Note, “God said,..And it was so.”

Such a dynamic and creative Word of God (Kalimah Allah), as per creation, also appears in the Qur’an, expressed in Arabic as Kun fayakun (be, and it is). Q. 2:117, “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: “Be,” and it is (read also 3:47). Historically speaking, both Christianity and Islam inherited such a dynamic concept of the Word of God from Judaism. Indeed all Jews, Christians, and Muslims (the three so-called “Abrahamic Faiths”) could say “Amen” to it.

However, in the OT, God’s Word also used to be “personified” and dispatched to do God’s work effectively, as stated in Isaiah 55:11, “So is my (Jehovah’s) word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. ” This part of it is not seen in the Qur’anic revelation.

Progressing to the NT, we read of something much more marvelous and monumental concerning the divine Word, as recorded in John 1:1-4, 14:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

And so according to the testimony of John, the creative Word/Logos of God is by nature personal and relational (with God), besides being inherently eternal (was already there in the beginning), and divine (was God). This Logos has taken a definite step in salvation history by its “Incarnation” in the Person of the Lord Jesus 2,000 over years ago among humans at the first Christmas! In comparison human words often carry no weight and mean nothing.

Unfortunately such a dynamic, living and divine Logos/Word is not there in Islam, except for a pale distortion of it, in which Christ is said to have been created out of “a word” from Allah (Q. 3:45). Islam is opposed to Jesus Christ as the Incarnation of the divine and eternal Logos Himself. The Incarnation is the major premise for Christian confession of Christ as “God”.  

However, it needs to be stressed here that when Christians say Jesus is God, it never ever means that He is “another — of a different kind” (in Greek heteros) God, nor a “second” or “smaller” god (as believed by the Jehovah Witnesses) “apart from” God the Father. The truth is He is God because He is the Incarnate Word (also known as the Unique Son as stated in Jn. 1:18) in God, of God, with God, and from God, bearing the fullness of divine personality/personhood and nature.

The Incarnation has presented Christ as a unique person. There is no doubt whatsoever regarding His absolutely unique personhood. However, it needs to be evidenced that in the personhood of Christ there indeed dwells within the fullness of divine nature, as declared in Colossians 1:19, and 2:9 which says: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

There are ample evidences in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament to show the Deity of Christ. A few are listed below for reference in this respect (The present writer finds Robert L. Reymond’s Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1990) as being most helpful in the deliberation concerning the Deity of Christ, and recommend it as a “must-read” in this regard:

(1)Biblical revelation of Christ’s pre-existence and absolute eternity, even as the Father/the OT Godhead Jehovah is (Isa. 44:6, 48:12; Jn. 1:1-2; 1 Jn. 1:1-2; Rev. 1:17-18, 22:12-13).

In fact when Christ declared Himself as “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13), it is as strong a statement, if not stronger, as the verbatim “I am God”. Apart from the self-existent, almighty and eternal Jehovah, who else could use such terms?

(2)Biblical revelation of Christ as Co-Creator and Co-Sustainer of the Universe with God the Father. In fact, God had created the whole Universe with Christ, through Christ and for Christ (Jn. 1:1-4; Col. 1:15-18; Hb. 1:10-12).

(3)Biblical revelation of Christ as co-source and co-giver of blessings with the Father (grace, peace and love) upon humankind (see greetings in Rom. 1:7; 1st Cor. 1:3; 2nd Cor. 1:2-3, 13:14; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:1-2, etc. Several epistles also conclude with blessing of grace in Christ’s name alone — 1st Cor. 16:23; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23, etc.)

(4)Biblical record of divine names ascribed to Christ (Isa. 9:6 — the “Mighty God and Everlasting Father”; Dan. 7:13, 22 — the “Ancient of Days”/see also Micah 5:2; Ps. 68:7, 18 — “God/Lord God”; cf. Eph. 4:7-8; Zech. 14:3-4, 9, 12-16 — the “Jehovah” revealed here is none other than Christ at His Second Coming with His feet standing on Mount Olives; 1st Tim. 6:15, Rev. 19:16 — “King of kings, Lord of lords”; Christ called “God” as noted in Jn. 1:1-2, 18; 20:28; Hb. 1:8; Rom. 9:5, etc.

(5)Biblical revelation of Christ essentially as divine Spirit as the Father,pre-Incarnation; post-Resurrection Christ is also divine Spirit, with/in a glorified body (Jn. 4:24; 1st Cor. 15:45; 2nd Cor. 3:17). In this regard Christ may also be seen as Spirit of God, as the Qur’an describes (Q. 21:91; 66:12, etc.).

(6)Biblical revelation of Christ as recipient of divine worship which is due to God alone (Mt. 2:14, 14:33, 28:16-17; Lk. 24:50-52; Jn. 5:23; Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 5:11-14). This is why Christians worship Christ as Unique Son in full union-oneness with the Father.

(7)Biblical revelation that the fullness of divine nature is in Christ — Col. 1:19, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” Also 2:9, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (In Christ dwells the fullness of divine grace and truth, wisdom and power, etc.) In this regard Jesus is essentially God in human form.

(8)Christ is One with God not just in nature, but also in salvific work (Jn. 14:8-11; 10:27-30). The following are just a few of lots of Triadic/Trinitarian passages exhibiting that all the three persons of the Trinity cooperate somehow in God’s salvific scheme for the human race. So for those who may find issues with ontological Trinity,there should be no doubt with regard to functional Trinity, at least.

Numerous Triadic passages manifesting oneness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at the very least “functionally”. However to us Christians such functional unity could not be realized without some sense of ontological unity:

Read for instance — Mk. 1:8-12; Jn. 1:32-34; Mt. 4:1-4; Lk. 10:21-22; Mt. 12:18, 28-32; 28:18-20; Jn. 3:34-36; 14:15-17, 26; 15:26; 16 :7-15; 20:21-22; Acts 1:4-8; 2:17-21, 32-33, 38-39; 5:3-9, 29-32; 7:55-56; 10:38, 44-48; 20:21-24, 27-28; Rm. 1:1-4; 5:1-5; 8:1-4, 9-11, 14-17, 22-34; 15:11-13, 15-16, 30; 1st Cor. 2:1-5, 7-16; 3:10-16; 6:9-11, 17-20; 12:4-6; 2nd Cor. 1:20-22; 13:14; Gal. 4:4-6; 5:19-25; Eph. 1:3-14, 17; 2:18-22; 3:14-19; 4:4-6, 30-32; 5:18-20; etc.[[4]]

(9)Numerous miracles and wonders performed by Christ, especially the “sign miracles” portrayed in John’s Gospel, pointing to His divine nature and glory. (Mk. 1:32-34; Mt. 15:29-30; Jn. 2:11; 4:54; 6:14, 26; 7:31; 9:16; 12:18; 20:30-31; 21:25, etc.)

Thus what God is — ontologically and essentially, Christ is. However, Christians must also be taught that by virtue of the Incarnation, Christ had also become truly human. He had a human body and had exhibited all aspects of human nature and living, except that He was without sin (Hb. 4:15). Knowledge in this respect is essential to ward off Muslim polemics emphasizing on the humanity of Christ at the expense of His divinity.

In His Incarnate state Christ had “emptied Himself”, and had taken upon Himself the self-imposed restriction of His divine prerogatives. (Phil. 2:5-8) That was why as human He had always submitted Himself to the Father, and had said: “...The Father is greater than I.” (Jn. 14:28) Unfortunately Islam denies the deity of Christ, and highlights only on His humanity. Orthodox Christology is to accept both the divinity and the humanity in the one Incarnate person of the Lord Jesus Christ, as indeed the unique God-Man and Savior.  

And so there is still just ONE GOD with His Incarnate Word/Son — the “Second Person” of the Trinity, so-called; who is, to put it “crudely”, “part and parcel” of God Himself (of course Christians realize God cannot be split into “parts and parcels” like material things!)

The Incarnate Son is also described in Hebrews 1:3 as “the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being.” Of course there could never be a time when God was without “radiance of His glory”, nor without “the exact representation (or image)” of Himself; just like the Sun in the sky could never be at any moment without the radiance of its light, nor a human to be at any moment without an “image” of oneself.

(VI) The Trinity Reveals the God Who Is Greater, Allahu Akbar, in Relation To His Holy Spirit (Roh Allah)

The Trinity consists of the Father, the Son/the Word, and the Holy Spirit. So what is the position of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Trinitarian faith? Similarly, the Holy Spirit comes into the scheme of the Trinity also due to the greatness of God (Allahu Akbar).

The Qur’an also mentions the spirit of Allah (70:4; 78:38; 97:4; 15:29; 17:85-86; 58:22) and the “holy spirit” (roh qudus; Q. 2:87, 253), which Muslims believe to be either the breath of Allah, or the angel Jibrail (Gabriel) – a created being, or some great angel.

In the Bible the term for the word “spirit” is ruach in Hebrew, and pneuma in Greek (spiritus in Latin). The word in both Hebrew and Greek could be understood as “breath”, “wind”, or whatever “spirit” being (as it is also for the word roh in Arabic). Usually the literally context will tell the meaning of the word.

Biblically speaking, God being “Allahu akbar”,the Holy Spirit is never just the “breath” or “wind” of Allah, nor an angelic creature, but the very “Personal” Spirit that is of God, in God, with God, and from God, inseparably linked to Him not just as His essential life force, but is also being “impregnated” (or “infused” — this writer fumbling for the right word to express) eternally with the fullness of divine personality and nature. The Islamic “spirit” is not like this. In comparison the human breath/spirit is by nature so transient and frail.

The Bible reveals that this Spirit has also been sent forth as God’s distinctive and “alternate-self” (alter-ego; like the Incarnate Word) to accomplish divine purposes, such as in Creation (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 33:6), Inspiration (Num. 11:25-26; 2nd Pt. 1:21), Judgment (Jn. 16:7-8), Regeneration (Jn. 3:5-6; Titus 3:5-7), Guidance (Jn. 16:12-13) etc. in synergic cooperation with the Father and the Son. It is the “intra-inter” personal greatness of the Divine-Self that has made it possible.  

Though not being incarnated, the personality (or personhood) of the Holy Spirit, that originated in and expirated/proceeded from the one Godhead or Divine-Self, is also clearly evidenced in the expression of His rational (Jn. 14:16-17,15:26; 1st Cor. 2:10-11), emotional (Isa. 63:10; Eph. 4:30), as well as volitional (Acts 13:1-2,16:7; 1st Cor. 12:11) Being.

The Spirit’s distinct personhood also stands out in John 14:16, where He is referred to as “another” Counselor (Greek: “allos — another” of the same kind, along with Christ), as well as in the fact that His name is also being associated with the personhood of the Father and the Son. (Mt. 28:18-20; 2nd Cor. 13:14)

As for His divine nature, the Holy Spirit is described as being Eternal (Hb. 9:14); Omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-10); Omniscient (1st Cor. 2:10-11); Omnipotent (Zech. 4:6), which are all divine attributes. His divine activities accomplished in conjunction with the Father and the Son in creation, inspiration, redemption etc. have already been noted.

Such are the premises for Christian belief in the personhood and Deity of the Holy Spirit, thus designating Him as the Third Person who is in God, of God, with God, from God, and in total union with the Father and the Son. And so when Christians call the Holy Spirit “God”, He is like in the case of the Incarnate Word/Son, never ever “another” (heteros) God (of a different kind) apart from God.

Putting in view the person and Deity of the Holy Spirit, together with the person and Deity of the Incarnate Word, with reference to progressive Biblical revelation, the Church has somehow been “forced” to deliberate on and formulate the doctrine of the Trinity, through centuries of intellectual and spiritual struggles; unfortunately also with some physical conflicts.

This writer describes the Trinitarian formulation as a “forced” endeavor, because the Trinity is indeed the most complex of any subject that human minds could have ever thought of. However, the Church has courageously, albeit somewhat painfully, responded to its challenge, and has done what it can in this regard, though never being fully satisfactory to all parties concerned, friends or foes alike. However thankfully, the hard work has paid off in the knowledge of the God who is truly Allahu Akbar, who is one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, as the Athanasian Creed puts it.[[5]]

Very often Muslims would challenge Christians, asking: “Where is the word “Trinity” in the Bible? Show it to me and I will believe.” We do admit that the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, just as the pivotal word Tauhid in Islamic theology which is also not found in the Qur’an, but as deliberated above, the concept of the oneness and unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead or Divine-Self is definitely there for all who have eyes to see (just as the concept of the Tauhid pervades the Qur’an in spite of absence of the word in it).

(VII) Controversies and Analogies/Illustrations

Muslims often seek to confound Christians by asking: “How can 1 + 1 + 1 = 1?” Our response shall be: In view of the infinite greatness of divine personhood and nature of Allah, it is in fact offensive to think of the oneness of Allah in terms of matter like a stone or a piece of wood, and thus always sticking to kindergarten-level counting such as 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, like in terms of 3 stones or 3 pieces of wood!

For Allah certainly is never so “wooden” — Mashaallah (how can it be!); and Mukhalafa (never like that!). Since Allah is Spirit, to be more respectful the oneness of Allah should at least be considered under the “multiplication” category of 1 × 1 × 1 = 1, if not the category of “Infinity × Infinity × Infinity = Infinity”!

In fact the word for “one” in the Jewish confession of faith — the “Shema”, as in Deuteronomy 6:4 is “ehadh” (composite oneness — as in Gen. 1:5, “one” day consisting of day and night; 2:24, “one” flesh consisting of man and woman), and not “yahidh” (solitary oneness — as in Gen. 22:2, 12; Jer. 6:26 etc., “one and only” son). In view of the oneness and unity in our Trinity, Christians may in fact also legitimately employ the word Tauhid for our doctrine of God, as being the “Christian (Trinitarian/Composite) Tauhid” versus the “Islamic (Unitarian/Solitary) Tauhid”.

Also it is well known that God (Elohim) in the OT book of Genesis is a “compound/composite” noun (singular — Eloah), and that He has used “WE” in self-reference as in Gen. 1:26, 11:6-7, Isa. 6:8 (in the Qur’an Allah almost always use the term “WE” for self-reference). Belief in the Trinity intimates that there could be greater significance to such usage other than treating it only as a majestic/honorific term (as Muslims and some scholars do; the notion of which could be true, but not necessarily confined to it).[[6]]

And thus, according to Michael Brown again: “(the composite WE in reference to God) These verses are certainly in harmony with Trinitarian beliefs, but they don’t prove them...On the other hand, even Zechariah 14:9 which is supposed to confirm absolute/solitary oneness does not mean that, as it also uses the word “ehadh”.[[7]]

However, let it be definitely affirmed that despite belief in the Trinity, Christians do not worship three different gods, but holding firm to the worship of the one and only true God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus, who has revealed Himself progressively, out of His infinite greatness, through the distinct personalities or personhood of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As God is Spirit, we are certain that in the physical universe there is nothing that may serve to illustrate, and even less to “prove” the Trinity. However, just for the sake of giving a cue to the possibility of the “three-in-one” idea, showing that it is after all not that preposterous to speak of a “three-in-one” God, a few illustrations/analogies could be mentioned.

The traffic light with its three bulbs: As the present writer stopped at a traffic light while driving for work one morning about thirty years ago, the idea dawned upon me that perhaps I could make use of it to illustrate the “three-in-one” God. The one set of traffic light manifests its existence and operates in unison through its three bulbs with their distinctive colors — red, amber, and green.

There are three distinctive bulbs but only one traffic light. Could it be used as a cue to illustrate the Trinity which consists of and operates through the three distinctive divine personalities/persons (or “Modes of existence” as some prefer), while in essence constitute only one God.

I suppose “water”, which is H2O in substance and could manifest itself in the forms of vapor, ice or liquid, with even the “triple-point” where all the three forms co-exist under certain physical conditions, may also be used for illustration. Is Allah even less than water in this respect?

And how about the three basic parts of an atom composing of neutrons (with no/neutral charge) and protons (with a positive charge) at its core, while leaving the electrons (with a negative charge) to fly about in their cloud-like orbitals (and subjected to push/pull forces from within/without)? Each basic atomic component has its distinctive characteristics, and yet the three always function as one. Is Allah even less than a tiny atom?

Moreover, how about taking for illustration the mode of operation of the three resonance structures of nitrate (NO3-), as Nabeel Qureishi MD put it in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: “One molecule of nitrate is all three resonance structures all the time and never just one of them. The three are separate but all the same, and they are one. They are three in one...if there are things in this world that can be three in one, even incomprehensively so, then why cannot God?”[[8]]

To pose the question most pointedly: In light of modern knowledge of E = mc2 as it regards constitution of the physical universe(that the whole visible universe is composition of invisible energy, and that matter and energy are inter-changeable)-knowledge which would have sounded most preposterous/ridiculous/fabulous to pre-modern mind, how can a sensible modern person just write off belief in the “Trinitarian Godhead” as being illogical and impossible, realizing that this divine Godhead is the eternal sovereign cosmic Spirit that brought all things visible and invisible into existence?

(VIII) The Trinity and the Glory of the Cross

Deliberation above has focused on the “WHAT” and “HOW COME” of the Trinity, the following parts shall address the “WHY” of the subject. The question is: Since the Trinity is rationally and logically so problematic and so hard to understand, WHY has God revealed Himself to the human race in such a manner, that is through His Incarnate Word/Son and the Personified Holy Spirit? Surely it was never meant only for our mental exercise!


It is only through the Incarnate Word and the In-dwelling Holy Spirit that such a divine love has been truly demonstrated and God’s redemptive purposes achieved. To elaborate on this subject one needs to survey on divine mercy and love for humankind, unveiling from the Old Testament to the New, and culminating in the Cross and the Pentecost.

(1)The Old Testament Reveals the God Who Grieves and Suffers for His People

Two OT passages could be cited here in this respect: Psalm 68:19, “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” It says God identifies with the hardship of His people, and daily bears them up. Isaiah 63:9-10, “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.” These verses combine to show the Cross of self-sacrificial and painful love of God for His rebellious people.

(2)The New Testament Reveals Further the Cross of the Self-Sacrificial and Suffering Love of God

(A) The Cross on Calvary Reveals the Self-Sacrificial Love of God

Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The meaning of these words is plain; however, there is a question to answer: How is it that it was Christ that suffered, but it is the love of God that is being demonstrated?

The answer could be read in 2nd Cor. 5:18 which says: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them...” The verse shows that the redemptive death of Christ was “from God”, and that God had somehow implicated Himself “in Christ” in the Cross.

But what does “all this is from God” mean? And how to explain the phrases “through Christ” and “God was in Christ”? The answer is contained in the Trinitarian relationship between God and his Incarnate Son. As Christ is the eternal Word/Son in God, of God, with God, and from God, bearing the fullness of divine personality and nature, linked to God inseparably as the Sun to its light, and as a person to his word, which is indeed a relationship that is closer than “flesh and blood”.

Therefore, although it was not the Father that was nailed to the cross, the suffering and death of Christ was in a very real sense also the suffering and self-sacrificial love of God, as John Stott describes in his book The Cross of Christ — the “Self-substitution of God”. The Calvary has indeed bared the Cross in the heart of God.[[9]]

(B) The In-dwelling Holy Spirit in Humans is Also a Form of the Cross

God is Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Personal Spirit of God. What says of the Word of God in John 1:1-4 could be predicated on the Holy Spirit except for the fact the latter had not incarnated as in the case of the Word. Instead, God has given the Holy Spirit to believers to dwell with them in their hearts. The Cross of the Incarnate Word on Calvary is familiar to all of us. But few seem to realize that the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit is also a form of burden-some Cross. Explanation to this effect is as follow:

(i)The Holy Spirit in-dwells a child of God with a job to perform, that is the really tough job to nourish, guide, and mold him or her unto Christ-likeness. Where the Cross of Christ’s atoning death ends on Calvary, the Holy Spirit carries it forward as the Cross for our sanctification. It took God six days to make the world and all that is in it, but it takes more than a lifetime to really make a person.

Romans 8:14, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” Also Romans 8:28-30, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (There is indeed much food for thought in these verses)

(ii)When a person disobeys, the Holy Spirit grieves and even groans for the person. Remember how the Israelites grieved the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament in Isaiah 63:9-10. Ephesians 4:30 applies the same to the New Testament saints: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Parents realize how grieving for an obstinate child can at times be more painful than death!

(iii)The Holy Spirit constantly upholds, intercedes, struggles along and even groans for believers in life’s journey. Romans 8:26-27, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Up-holding, interceding, struggling along with, sighing and groaning are certainly all signs of the Cross — of sanctification.

(IX) Redemptive Works of the Trinity

Thus the Cross in the heart of the Father has been revealed through both the Incarnate Son and the In-dwelling Holy Spirit, that is the second and the third person in the Trinity, without whom there would be no such realization, as it is in the case of the Unitarian and Solitary Allah. However, God has revealed His distinctive Triune personhood not just to show humans His suffering love, but more importantly to accomplish His ultimate purpose in the creation and redemption of the human race; as deliberated below:

(1)Without the Incarnate Word, there would be no “Immanuel — God With Us”, in and through the person of Christ. God came to dwell in the midst of humans in the incarnation of the Eternal Son/Word of God. (Our theme of Christmas)

(2)Through the Incarnate Word/Son, God has provided for our atonement the Sinless One to become sin for us, as our penal-substitute. 2nd Cor. 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Since all have sinned, who could have qualified for such an atoning task, that is apart from the Incarnate and perfect Son? Here lies the emphasis of soteriology of churches in the Medieval Roman West, with its deep concern for the solution of sin and guilt problem, somewhat reflecting a legal Latin mind-set. But of course, the penal-substitution death of Christ is for all people. (Our theme of Good Friday)

(3)The Word became Jesus Christ to face and overcome sin and death, by virtue of His atoning death and glorious resurrection, thus crushing the power of the Evil One, and liberating humankind from its bondage. Hebrews 2:14-15, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Likewise, there would be no victory in these regards without the Incarnate Christ. (Our theme of the Resurrection/Easter Sunday)

(4)The Incarnate Christ and the In-dwelling Holy Spirit brought eternal life from Heaven to earth, that all who repent and accept Christ may receive the Holy Spirit who brings about regeneration and renewal in a person’s life, thus enabling a person to partake in the eternal and spiritual life and nature of God.

1st John 5:11-12, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  2nd Peter 1:4, “Through these (Divine power and knowledge of Him) he (God) has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

Thus God has worked through His “alternate-selves”, i.e. the Second and the Third Person of the Trinity to share with us His divine life and nature. This is indeed something most mind-boggling that only the Triune God could fulfill. The second and this third point of divine redemption have been the soteriology emphases of Eastern Orthodox Churches, flavoring of the more philosophical and mystical Grecian mentality. Of course this is also Gospel blessing for all who believe. (Our theme of the Pentecost)

(5)Through the Incarnate Christ and the In-dwelling Spirit, God has personally entered the world and human lives, empowering His Church and engaging with humanity in its struggles against evils and injustice, not just for individual persons, but also for social and ecological renewal and shalom. This would be a major theme of contemporary “Kingdom” soteriology.

Romans 8:18-21, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Revelation 21:3-5 projects the definite prospect of God’s dwelling with His people in the New Heaven and New Earth, which is the ultimate faith and hope of Christians of all ages. (Our theme of the Feast of Tabernacle)

The multi-fold blessings of redemption mentioned above have all been made possible only by the Triune God. Prominent Greek Church Father Irenaeus (c. 130-202) had likened the Word and the Spirit as two mighty hands of God stretched down from Heaven to earth for the salvation and spiritual nurturing of humankind. A Unitarian God would not be able to really bridge the chasm between Heaven and earth, and between God and humanity. The type of God will produce the corresponding type of redemption and blessing. The doctrine of God determines the doctrine of salvation. So it is essential to know well the God that one worships, for it will surely determine one’s ultimate destiny.

One added note: Doctrine of the Trinity does not diminish on the primacy in order of the Father in the Triune relationship. As Paul put it in 1st Corinthians 15:24-28, “24 Then the end will come, when he (Christ) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet... 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”


However, such subjection will not diminish one bit on the co-eternal Deity and glory of the Son. If it is asked per se whether Christianity is God-centered or Christ-centered, the answer could be either “God-centered” or “Christ-centered”, depending on whether one speaks from a “up-down” (starting with God) or a “down-up” (starting with Christ) perspective. However there should be no dichotomy in this respect.

(X) The Theology That Denies the Trinity

As it regards theology that denies the Trinity, this writer has in mind the Unitarian Islamic concept of Tauhid as well as other Unitarian creeds. To orthodox Islam, Allah is one, both in essence and in person, transcendental and solitary. He is pervasive in His presence (omnipresent), but never immanent in any of His creation, whether it be human or angelic beings, animate or inanimate objects. The following could be said of the Unitarian and Solitary Allah in Islam:

(1)Its Allah may be most Almighty, but as deliberated in the former parts of this chapter, He has not been able to effect self-differentiation within His divine being in the person of the Son and the Holy Spirit, so as to send them forth as His “Alternate-Selves”, bearing the fullness of divine personhood and nature, and working in unison with the Godhead to accomplish creative and redemptive purposes as in Trinity.    

(2)Its Allah may be most merciful to humankind, but He offers no “self-sacrificial” love to anybody, even less for sinners. Being Almighty He could just do anything He wants without being self-condescending and self-sacrificing, which seems demeaning to Muslims. Therefore verses such as John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 could never be applied to Allah in Islam. In fact Muslims reject them outright. Its Allah is without the Cross in His being.

(3)Its Allah may be most forgiving, but without the Incarnate Word there would never be any authentic Savior or Mediator who could serve as “penal-substitution” for sinners, as in Christ Jesus. Hence each person would ultimately have to solve his own sin and guilt problem, and final salvation depends sorely on personal faith and deeds, as well as on Allah’s will and mercy, without real assurance to that end.

(4)Its Allah may be closer to a person than the jugular vein (Q. 2:186; 50:16), but due to lack of the personal divine Spirit, Allah could not and never takes up residency in the life of a person, and so there can be no authentic personal communion with God in the Spirit. And also because of this, human can never partake in the divine life and nature of God. Hence Muslims dare not call God “Father”. The great sufi Al-Hallaj who claimed to realize divine in-dwelling and immanence had been killed for such “blasphemy” by orthodox Muslims.

(5)Its Allah may be most generous, who could grant great success in this life and the next to whom He favors, but He has not been able to give out anything OF Himself, such as His Personal Word/Son and Spirit, as well as His divine life and nature, as in the Christian Gospel.

All that Allah seems able to offer are only blessings FROM Himself, that is from His great power and grace. Such blessings would include forgiveness of sins, success and abundance on earth, as well as more enduring ones created and reserved in Paradise above, supremely the pleasures of inexhaustible sumptuous food and non-intoxicating wine, and also the blissful company of ever young and fresh virgins (Q. 4:57; 37:40-49; 38:49-52; 52:17-20, 23; 55:56, 70-72; 56:10-38; etc).

Since Allah is without any form or image, it is debatable (as argued among Muslim scholars) whether the desire of some “more spiritual” Muslims to see the “Face” of Allah in Paradise could ever be realized. But as far as plain Qur’anic revelation is concerned, apparently Paradise bliss weighs more on the sensual side.

(6)Its Allah may be most perfect, but would logically be lacking in terms of an inherent “social” nature within His divine being, as there would be no other “personalities” of His nature with whom the Divine Self could commune and interact. Christian theology sees in the Trinity as the source of social nature in human, which is our basis for communion with God and with one another.

(7)Its Allah may be most glorious, but He is definitely lacking in the glory of Fatherhood in relation to His creation, particularly the human race. In Islam Allah has no “children”, even in spiritual sense, albeit some rare Muslim intellectuals may concede on “metaphorical” use of the term.

As such its Allah seems to be lacking also in terms of the glory of authentic “intra-personal” communion within Himself, as well as “inter-personal” communion with humans (seemingly and pitifully forever solitary in and with Himself, especially before creation!).

In this regard His people would also be deprived of the “Paradigm of unity in divine love” which unites humans to the Deity, and among humans to one another, as prayed for by the Lord Jesus in John 17:20-21, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” So Trinity is cosmic basis of unity in plurality and plurality in unity.

Above all and most significantly, its Allah is definitely lacking in the glory and beauty of self-sacrificial love for humans as gloriously manifested at the Cross, by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who is also God and Father of all Christians (Jn. 20:17), as it is supposed to be for all human race.

(XI) Conclusion: Implications and Applications

Our “Conclusion” answers to the “SO WHAT” part of the chapter. Granted that the belabored deliberation presented above is Biblically, theologically and apologetically sound and justified, some may ask: “So What?” As a response, the following implication and application points could be induced:

(1)The Christian faith is definitely Monotheist. So Muslims should never accuse Christians of polytheism or shirk.

(2)The Trinity in fact manifests the inherent greatness and infinite potentials of the authentic Allah, who in and through His personified Word and Spirit, that are both in Him, of Him, with Him, from Him, and in unity with His Divine-Self, has revealed Himself fully to humankind. It is NEVER worship of three different gods.

(3)Allah has revealed Himself as being Trinitarian out of His redemptive and “self-sacrificial” love for sinners, in order to accomplish ultimate divine purposes in the creation and redemption of humans and the world. He has not only come down to earth through his Incarnate Word, but has even gotten deep into human hearts through the In-dwelling Holy Spirit.

(4)The Trinity has revealed to the utmost the true glory of the Personhood and Deity of God, which culminates in the brilliance of His “Fatherly” suffering and redemptive love. In the perfected life, atoning death, as well as the resurrection and glorification of Christ Jesus the Unique Son, the glory of His power and love has indeed been most gloriously manifested. All these factors work out to the accomplishment of the great salvation for all humans, freely offered in Christ. And in this regard all Muslims are summoned to come to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ.


(6)This sixth point is specially contextual and relevant to the Malaysian situation. In view of the fact that Christians are Monotheists worshipping the one and only Allah as Muslims do, theologically-speaking Christians in Malaysia do have every right to use the word “Allah” for God. The Malaysian Government prohibited use of the term “Allah” by Christians for God in December 1986, which thus ignited decades of legal tussles between the Church and the State with regard to the issue, with much suppression upon the Church along the way, which however thankfully ended in vindication (at least partly) for the Church in March 2021 through a court verdict.

Historically Arabic-speaking Christians had used the term Allah for God even before the emergence of Islam. And it was most probably Arab Christians (Zayd ibn Hamad and his son Adi) who had invented the Arabic scripts about 200 years before the birth of Islam.[[10]] Notably no Arab Muslims have ever voiced objection in this regard, nor Indonesia – the country with the most numerous Muslims in the world.

In fact not even the Prophet of Islam Muhammad himself, who certainly knew that Christians were worshipping Allah; and even though in his perception at least some Christians had wrongly associated Mary and Jesus with Allah, and yet Muhammad was able to say in Q. 29:46:

“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better [than mere disputation], unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong [and injury]: but say, "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow [in Islam]."

Please note seriously the words “Our Allah and your Allah is one”. So in this regard Muhammad as well as the Qur’an acknowledges that the “Trinitarian Allah” (though wrongly conceived by some) should still be respected as much as his “Unitarian Allah”. Nabi Muhammad himself had never ever forbidden Christians from using the word “Allah”, as Muslims in Malaysia have tried to do. And so their attempt in this regard is indeed bida’ah (meaning “unjust innovation / heresy”) in contemporary Islam!

Indeed this present point (together with the overall deliberation of the present chapter) consists the “theological” premise in terms of argument for Christian right to use the term “Allah” in the Malaysian context. Related historical, linguistic, social-cultural, missiological, dialogical, as well as constitutional-judicial factors and so on would combine to reinforce Christian position in this respect. However, as such other points are plentiful and have been convincingly presented elsewhere, there is no need for any repeat here.[[11]]

(7)AND SO FINALLY, may all faithful disciples of Christ Jesus take up the Gospel mandate as entrusted in Matthew 28:18-20, which says:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

And — “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2nd Cor. 13:14) The Triune God be praised — Allahu Akbar!Cross references:Matthew 28:1 : 28:1-8pp — Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-10; Jn 20:1-8

[[1]]      This writer first came to know of the prejudiced translation of Yusuf Ali regarding “three” and the “Trinity” from reading of Samy Tanagho’s book titled Glad News! God Loves You My Muslim Friends (Colorado Spring: Authentic Publishing, 2006; Ch. 25). Later he found an article at https://www.answeringislam.org /Quran/Versions/ali.html, which also deliberates on the matter, exposing more of Yusuf Ali’s prejudices and ill-intents, which includes translating“disbelief” as “blasphemy” and so on.

[[2]]      The book was originally published as Scottish Journal of Theology Occasional Papers 1 (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1953), read pp. 1-59 in particular. It deliberates on Hebraic thinking about God, Hebraic psychology and categories of thought, etc., with expositions on the “solidified/objectified” and dynamic word/ Word, the “living extension” and alter ego of God and God as “organism/compound/composite Being”, the ehadh and yahidh (“diversity in unity”) concepts and so on, which really help in elucidating the subject.

[[3]]      Alister McGrath, Understanding the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 9.

[[4]]      Robert M. Bowman Jr., “Triadic New Testament Passages and the Doctrine of the Trinity”, The Journal for Trinitarian Studies and Apologetics, edited by Michael R. Burgos Jr., vol. 1, no. 1 (Biblical P, 2013), pp. 7-54.

[[5]]      The difficulty in theologizing on the Trinity is well summed up by Louis Berkhof in his Systemic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1939/1976; p. 89), as follows: “The many efforts that were made to explain the mystery were speculative rather than theological. They invariably resulted in the development of tritheistic or modalistic conception of God, in the denial of either the unity of the divine essence or the reality of the personal distinctions within the essence. The real difficulty lies in the relation in which the persons in the Godhead stand to the divine essence, and to one another; and this is a difficulty which the church cannot remove, but only tries to reduce to its proper proportion by a proper definition of terms. It has never tried to explain the mystery of the Trinity, but only sought to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity in such a manner that the errors which endangered it were warded off.”

[[6]]      Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 2000). Brown’s vol. 1 and 2 on “Theological Objections” are also somewhat akin to Islamic issues concerned and so worthy reading; pp. 9-11.

[[7]]      Brown, Answering Jewish Objections, pp. 10-11.

[[8]]      Nabeel Qureishi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), pp. 195-196.

[[9]]      John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 2nd ed. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity P, 1989), pp. 133-163.

[[10]]      Kenneth Cragg, The Arabic Christian (Westminster: John Knox P, 1991), p. 45.

[[11]]      The Bible Society of Malaysia, Lembaga Alkitab Indonesia, Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Sabah, the Roman Catholic publication The Herald, the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), and many Christian scholars/lawyers have contributed substantive defense for Christian rights to use the term Allah for God. Notably Dr. Ng Kam Weng, Director of Kairos Research Centre Malaysia, wrote 20 over scholarly articles covering various perspectives on the subject (refer to krisispraxis.com), and also a book on it.

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