On the Trinity Error in the Quran

Posted: May 2, 2017 in Christianity, Islam

It is often posed in self defense by Christian apologists that the Trinity doctrine delineated and disposed by the Quran carries no connection to the notion held by vast majority or orthodox Christians, and thus it not only fails to falsify the established creed but also carries a gargantuan theological error. ‘The Quran got the Trinity wrong’, they say, when it describes the Trinity as consisting of the Father, Mother, and Son. And so is postulated the argument that since the Quran never actually confronts the orthodox Trinity Muslims hold no solid ground in founding their rejection and objection on the Quran. And since it could not even grasp the real thing this also brings into question the Quran’s claim to divine authority.

In answering this objection some Muslim respondents insist on denying the Quran ever speaks of a Trinity as such. They read the text as mere negation of Mariolatry or deification of mother Mary[p] some Christians might express in their invocations and eulogies. The Quranic text, however, hardly takes any deciphering and provides the reader its simple conclusion which may go lost to one who fails to appreciate the context;

لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلَاثَةٍ ۘ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَٰهٍ إِلَّا إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۚ وَإِن لَّمْ يَنتَهُوا عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ أَفَلَا يَتُوبُونَ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَهُ ۚ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ ۖ كَانَا يَأْكُلَانِ الطَّعَامَ ۗ انظُرْ كَيْفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الْآيَاتِ ثُمَّ انظُرْ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ

Indeed those who say: “Allah is the third of the Trinity” became unbelievers, for there is but One God. If they do not desist in what they say a painful punishment will afflict those of them that disbelieve. Will they not turn to Allah in repentance and ask His forgiveness? He is Forgiving, Merciful. The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger (just as) other messengers had gone before him, and his mother a siddeeqah[i]. They both ate food! See how We make Our signs plain to them, then observe how they turn away (Quran 5:73-75).

In its denunciation it is evident the Quran does describe Mary as the second person of the Trinity, albeit implicitly, inasmuch as Jesus[p] is being rejected as the ‘third of three’. Then immediately the intimation moves to remove Mary from the God mix. Having said that, what is worth deliberation here is many a times Quranic statements that deal in denunciation come as responses to questions posed or tenets held by contemporaries of the 7th century prophet Mohammad[p]. Here likewise the Quran appears to be addressing a prevalent situation and challenges a belief not uncommon to and perhaps even upheld by some among Christians of the time. Consider that if such a belief were not prevalent the need to encasket the notion would seem redundant. But the fact that the Quran does shows at least some fringe sect did indeed entertain this heresy.

Now the question arises as to whether the Quran deals with the Trinity proper. In truth there are two places where the Quran brings the Trinity under stricture. But before we proceed to the second of the two passages it would be expedient to reiterate the importance of realizing that primarily the Quranic address is to its immediate addressees; the people of Makkah and Arabia, and so it naturally must first deal with notions prevalent among them. And the Quran does exactly this; it deals with specific concerns and then moves on to address issues in a more general light. Take for instance the image of Jenna or paradise in the Quran which is presented in typical bedouin Arabian flavor with overflowing milk and honey and prolonged shades. Whereas, in general it assures everyone that therein ‘whatever ye wish shall have’. And so after having dealt with a local familial variant of the Christian Trinity in Surah 5 al-Maidah, the Quran moves on to tackle the traditional version in Surah 4 al-Nisaa;

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ ۖ وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ انتَهُوا خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا اللَّهُ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ ۘ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا لَّن يَسْتَنكِفَ الْمَسِيحُ أَن يَكُونَ عَبْدًا لِّلَّهِ وَلَا الْمَلَائِكَةُ الْمُقَرَّبُونَ ۚ وَمَن يَسْتَنكِفْ عَنْ عِبَادَتِهِ وَيَسْتَكْبِرْ فَسَيَحْشُرُهُمْ إِلَيْهِ جَمِيعًا

O People of the Book! Go not beyond bounds in your religion and speak not regarding God except the (revealed) truth. Verily the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, is only a messenger of God, and His command which He imparted unto to Mary as a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers (of old) and say not “Trinity”, refrain to your own welfare. Verily God is only One God. Glory be to Him – that He should have a son! To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth; God (alone) suffices as (its) guardian. The Messiah will not disdain to be a servant of God, nor the Angels of the Presence[ii]; for whosoever disdains to serve Him and waxes proud, He will assuredly muster them to Him, all of them (Quran 4:171-72).

In this second instant not only are the subjects of the Trinity not those of previous but their order is slightly but significantly altered. Here the persons unmistakably are: God, Messiah, and the Angels, in exact Christian creedal order. The addition to and allotment of ‘Angels’ to the third spot on the Trinity roster not only promotes Jesus to the second (mark the contrast from Surah 5) but crucially also identifies the Holy Spirit as the Archangel (presumably Gabriel or Michael or both [See: Q.2:98]). And I insist with good certainty the Bible also bears quite the same testimony [Read: Lk.12:8-10; 9:26, 34-35; Cf. Mat.28:19; Also: 2Ch.18:18-22].

So what we take out of this exposé is not to conflate two distinct critiques of the Trinity doctrine offered in all probability to two different denominations of Christians among the immediate addressees of the prophet Mohammad. In Surah 5 a particular group is called to account while Surah 4 targets a more universal form of Trinitarianism.

In conclusion I should add sort of a disclaimer in that whatever conclusion drawn here simply represents my limited study and scope and naturally it by no means is impervious to miscomprehension. But I feel very confident the issue as dealt herein is closer to the Quranic intent and the best opinion I have known. If something better pops up I will not be shy to amend my views.

[i] Admittedly I was unsure of the correct connotation the word “siddeeqah” carries. Translations I have come across show little harmony when contextualized. It seems to have been used here as a religious epithet as she was foremost and firm in ‘attesting’ Christ, perhaps in contradistinction to her Gospel portrayal where she appears ‘unsure’ to put softly [Mr.3:21]. Until a proper rendition comes up I prefer to leave it un-touched.

[ii] I have so rendered “al-malaaikatu’l-muqarraboon” (lit. angels brought near) for the purpose of explanatory identification [See: Ex.23:20-22; Isa.63:9; Lk.1:19].


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