December 18, 2017

Explaining the Trinity to Muslims


Thomas Overmiller


Inquisitive Muslims, curious about Bible Christianity, find the doctrine of the Trinity difficult to accept. How can one God be three distinct persons at once? Has a Muslim, whether friend or stranger, ever questioned you about this? How should you answer? Here is an approach that may help.

First, affirm that there is one God.

  • The prophet Moses, in the Old Testament, clearly teaches that there is one God, not several (Exo. 20:3, Deut. 6:4). Islam respects Moses as a prophet, so this is terrific place to start.

Exodus 20.3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Deuteronomy 6.4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

  • Next, Jesus and the New Testament prophets agree (Mk. 12:29, Jam. 2:19).

Mark 12.29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

James 2.19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

  • Furthermore, this God is not isolated to the Jewish people, but is the God whom all nations and all people must worship (Rom. 3:29-30).

Romans 3.29-30 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

So if we must worship this one true God, what does he say about himself?

Pause to clarify an important misconception.

Though the Quran denies the Trinity, it actually refutes a misconception of the Trinity: that the Trinity is God the Father, Mary the Mother and Jesus the Son, each a separate God.

This, of course, is entirely different than the Trinity of the Bible. In fact, Jesus flatly denies that Mary has anything to do with his spiritual relationship to God the Father (Mt. 12:46-50). So, you can assure any Muslim friend that you also reject this false trinity.

Matthew 12.46-50 While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

At this point, you can tell them that the Bible teaches a different kind of Trinity, one which affirms that there is only one God.

The Bible teaches a different kind of Trinity, one which affirms that there is only one God.

Take a look at the words of Jesus.

Though Muslims do not view Jesus as God, they accept him as a great prophet and generally respect his teaching. So, it is helpful to thoughtfully show them what Jesus, as a prophet and teacher, said about God and himself. If Jesus as a prophet taught something, then it must be true. If he said anything that is not true about God or about himself, then he would be teaching things that are false, making himself a false prophet instead.

  • The prophet John taught that Jesus, called ‘the Word’, was eternal, existing from the beginning of time.
  • He also taught that Jesus was with God, indicating that in some way, Jesus the Son and God the Father are different persons. At the same time, he also taught that Jesus actually was God (John 1:1-2).

John 1.1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

  • So, Jesus is a distinct person alongside God the Father (with God), but is also equal to God in nature (was God) at the same time. And it has always been this way.

Furthermore, John taught that Jesus was not always a human being, but rather became a human being in the first century AD. So, he did not come into existence at his birth. Instead, he was sent to earth by God the Father by means of human birth to a human mother [but not a human father] (Gal. 4:4).

Galatians 4.4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

He was equal in glory (in nature) to God the Father, even as a human being (Jn. 1:14). No other prophet, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, is described this way, distinct from God the Father as a separate person, but the same as God the Father in nature at the same time.

John 1.14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

During his earthly ministry as a prophet sent from God, Jesus claimed that he had been working throughout history and throughout his ministry the same way that God the Father had been working; there was no difference in what they were doing (Jn. 5:17).

John 5.17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

How did the Jewish rabbis interpret this teaching? They properly understood this to be an unmistakable claim of being equal with God in nature (Jn. 5:18). On this basis, they rejected him as a false teacher and attempted to execute him.

John 5.18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

Muslims do not reject Jesus in the same way, but like Christians, they must decide what to do about these claims. If Jesus was speaking the truth, then he was equal to God and deserved to be worshiped as God, not stoned (Jn. 20:28). He made a similar claim in John 10:25, 30.

John 20.28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

John 10.25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.

John 10.30 I and my Father are one.

If Jesus was not speaking the truth on this point, then he does not deserve to be called a prophet. He is a false teacher instead.

Beyond these claims of Jesus to be equal to God, what about the Holy Spirit? He also taught that the Holy Spirit had a similar identity. He used a single name to refer God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). This instance describes three persons, distinct in their own identity but equally the same in nature. Together, they share a name and authority as God.

Matthew 28.19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Ultimately, pray for spiritual understanding.

For a Muslim to accept the truth of the Trinity requires spiritual understanding, not just intellectual proofs (1 Cor. 1:22-24, 2:14). This is true for any person of any religious or nonreligious persuasion.

1 Corinthians 1.22-24 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 2.14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

A Muslim understandably questions the apparent quandary of how one God could exist in three distinct persons at the same time. So it is reasonable to ask them why we should expect God to make complete sense to us at all (Job 36:26).

Job 36.26 Behold, God is great, and we know him not, neither can the number of his years be searched out.

God is invisible, they will agree (1 Tim. 1:17). So to understand him, we must rely on what he tells us about himself. If what he tells us doesn’t make sense, we should accept it anyway, because he is God and we are not. He is infinite and we are finite (Rom. 11:33, Isa. 55:8-9). Is that not the right way to approach God?

1 Timothy 1.17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Romans 11.33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

Isaiah 55.8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

If what God tells us doesn’t make sense, we should accept it anyway, because he is God and we are not.

God is more complex than our human mind can comprehend. And we should expect this, because he is greater. And if the clear statements of Jesus, and the Old and New Testament prophets, teach that the one true God exists in three distinct persons at the same time, then it is true whether it makes sense or not.

Further Reading

  • For a helpful post by Joel Arnold about the glorious mystery of the Trinity and how we should respond, click here.
  • For a helpful study about how God can be incomprehensible and comprehensible at the same time, click here.

Thomas Overmiller serves as pastor for Faith Baptist Church in Corona, NY and blogs at Shepherd Thoughts. This article first appeared at Shepherd Thoughts. We use it with permission.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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