Both Muslims and Christians agree that there is at least one person in God, the person Christians call Father, and since we have given a defense of the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is God, the Son of God, it remains only to say a word about the Person of God the Holy Spirit, knowing that our Muslims friends deride the Person and the Work of the Holy Spirit. So it is our desire to share with our Muslim friends as to just who is God the Holy Spirit so that misconception and misunderstanding will be cleared from the minds of those who have a wrong view of the Person of God the Holy Spirit.
The same revelation from God that declares Christ to be the Son of God also mentions another member of the triunity of God called the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit. He too is equally God just as are the Father and the Son, and he too is a distinct person. The deity of the Holy Spirit is revealed in several ways. Here I will outline it.
- First, he is called ‘God’ (Acts 5:3, 4).
- Second, he possesses the attributes of deity such as ‘omnipresence’ (cf. Ps. 139:7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12), omniscience, omnipotence.
- Third, he is associated with God the Father in the act of creation (Gen. 1:2).
- Fourth, he is involved with God the Father, with the Son in the work of redemption (John 3:5, 6, Rom. 8:8, 9, 11, 14, 16, Titus 3:5, 6, 7).
- Fifth, he is associated with other members of the Trinity under ‘one’ name of God (Matt 28:18, 19, 20).
- Finally, the Holy Spirit appears along with the Father and the Son in Christian benedictions (2 Cor. 13:14).
Not only does the Holy Spirit possess deity but He also has His own personality. He is one with God in ‘essence’ but different in person. That he is a distinct person is clear from several basic facts:
The Holy Spirit is referred to by the personal pronoun ‘he’ (John 14:26, 16:13). He does things only a person can do, such as ‘teach’ (John 14:26, 1 John 2:27), convict of sin (John 16:7, 8), and be grieved by our sin (Eph.4:30). He has all the characteristics of personality, namely ‘intellect’ (1 Cor. 2:10, 11), ‘will’ (1 Cor. 12:11), and ‘feelings’ (Eph. 4:30).
That the three members of the Trinity are distinct persons, and not one and the same person is clear from the fact that each person is mentioned in distinction from the other. For one thing, the Father and Son carried on conversation with each other. We call this ‘in the counsel of eternity’. The Son prayed to the Father (John 17:1). The Father spoke from heaven about the Son at his baptism (Matt. 3:15, 16, 17). Indeed the Holy Spirit was present at the same time, revealing that they are three distinct persons, coexisting simultaneously. Further, the fact that they have separate titles (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) has special functions that help us to identify them.
Some examples: The Father planned the salvation (John 3:16. Eph. 1:4), the Son accomplished it by the cross (John 17:4, 19:30, Heb. 1:1, 2) and resurrection (Rom. 4:25, 1 Cor. 15:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), and the Holy Spirit applies it to the lives of believers (John 3:3. Eph. 4:30, Titus 3:5, 6, 7). The Son submits to the Father (1 Cor. 11:3, 15:28) and the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son (John 16:14).
The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be proven by human reason alone (one has to be infinite). It is only known because it is revealed by special revelation in the Bible [there is no concept of special revelation in Quran]. However, just because it is beyond reason does not mean that it goes against reason. It is not irrational or contradictory as Muslim theologians believe.
The philosophical law of non-contradiction informs us that something cannot be both true and false at the same time in the same sense. This is the fundamental law of all rational thought, and the doctrine of the Trinity does not violate it. This can be shown by stating that of all what the Trinity is not. The Trinity is not the belief that God is three persons and only one at the same time and in the same sense. That would be a contradiction. Rather, it is the belief that there are three persons in one nature. That is, it may go beyond reason’s ability to comprehend completely, but it does not go against reasons’ ability to apprehend consistently.
The Trinity is not the belief that there are three natures in one nature or three essences in one essence. That would be a contradiction. Rather, Christians affirm that there are three persons in one essence. This is not contradictory as Muslims claim because it makes the distinction between person and essence, or to put it in terms of the law of non-contradiction, while God is one and many at the same time, he is not one and many in the same sense. He is one in the sense of his essence but many in the sense of his person. So there is no violation of the law of non-contradiction in the doctrine of the Trinity. So God is a unity of essence with a plurality of persons. Each person is different, yet they have a common nature.
God is one in his substance, but three in his relationship. The unity is in his essence [what God is], and the plurality is in God’s persons [how he relates]. This plurality of relationship is both natural and external. Within the Trinity, each member relates to the other in a certain way. For example, the Father is related to the Son as Father and the Son is related to the Father as Son. That is their external and internal relationship by the very makeup of the Trinity. Also, the Father sends the Spirit, and the Spirit testifies of the Son (John 15:26). These are their functions by their very participation in the unity of their Godhead, each having a different relationship to the other, but all the same essence.
No analogy of the Trinity is perfect, but some are better than others. First, some illustrations should be repudiated. The Trinity is not like a chain with three links. For these are three separate and separable parts, but God is neither separated or separable. Nor God is like the same actor playing three different parts in a play. For God is simultaneously three persons, not one person playing successive roles. Nor is God like the three states of water, solid liquid and gaseous. For normally water is not in all three of these states at the same time, but God is always three persons at the same time. Unlike other bad analogies, at least this one does not imply tritheism. However, it does reflect another heresy known as modalism [Hindus have their own triumvirate as well].
There are more false illustrations of the Trinity to support the charge that Trinitarianism is really tritheism since they contain separable parts. Since Christ is one Who (1 Tim 2:5, ‘there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’), and since Christ is one Who [person] with What [two natures], whenever one question is asked about him it must be separated into two questions, one applying to each nature. For example, did he get tired? The answer, as God ‘no’, as man ‘yes’. Did Christ get hungry? In his divine nature ‘No’ but in his human nature ‘Yes’. Did Christ die? In his human nature ‘Yes’ but in his divine ‘No’. The person who died was the God-man, but his Godness did not die.
When this same logic is applied to other theological questions raised by Muslims it yields the same kind of answer. Did Jesus know everything? As God He did, since God is omniscient. But as man Jesus said he did not know the time of his second coming (Matt 24:36) and as a child he didn’t know everything, since ‘he increased in wisdom’ (Luke 2:57).
Another question being asked by our Muslim friends is ‘Could Jesus sin?’. The answer is same as above, as God he could not have sinned: as a man he did not sin. God cannot sin. God cannot lie. It is impossible for God to sin (Heb. 6:18, Titus 1:2). Yet Jesus was ‘in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb. 4:15). That is to say, while he never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Pet. 1:19, 1 John 3:5) he was really tempted and therefore it was possible for him to sin. Otherwise, his temptation would have been a charade. Jesus possessed the power of free choice, which means that whatever moral choice he made, he could have done otherwise.
Dividing every question of Christ into two and referring them to each nature unlocked a lot of theological puzzles that otherwise remain shrouded in mystery. And it makes it possible to avoid alleged logical contradictions that are urged upon Christians by Muslims and by other nonbelievers.
- A Moral Illustration of the Trinity:
- One Illustration which is suggested by Augustine [the church father], has value in illuminating the Trinity. The Bible informs us that ‘God is love’ [1 John 4:16]. But love is triune since it involves a lover, the loved one [beloved] and a spirit of love between them. To apply this to the ‘Trinity’, the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved [i.e. The One Loved] and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love. Yet love is one—three in one. This illustration has the advantages of being personal since it involves love, a characteristic that follows only from persons. In the Quran, one does not see any love of this kind. Allah has never said ‘I loved my Muslims’.
- An Anthropological Illustration:
Since man is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), it should be no surprise that he bears some kind of similarity to the Trinity in human beginnings.
First, we disown trichotomy [that man is body, soul, and spirit] as an appropriate illustration of the Trinity. For even if true [and many Christians reject it for a dichotomy of just body and soul], it would be a bad illustration. Body and soul can be and are separated at death (2 Cor. 5:8, Phil. 1:23) but the nature and persons of the Trinity cannot be separated.
- Islamic Illustration of Plurality in Unity
- Some have pointed to the fact that Muhammad was simultaneously a prophet, a husband, and a leader. Why then should a Muslim reject the idea of a plurality of functions [persons] in God? Within the Islamic system the very proof that plurality within unity, as it relates to God, is not unintelligible. By the same token, then, there is no reason Muslims should reject the doctrine of the Trinity as nonsensical.
- Perhaps the best illustration of a plurality in deity for the Muslim mind is, as we can see as what is the relation between God [Bible] and Quran. As one Islamic Scholar stated it, the Quran ‘is an expression of divine Will. If you want to compare it with anything in Christianity, you must compare it with Christ himself. Christ was the expression of the divine among men, the revelation of the Divine Will. That is what the Quran is. Orthodox Muslims believe the Qur’an is eternal and uncreated, yet it is not the same as God but is an expression of God’s imperishableness as God himself. Surely, there is here the plurality within unity, something that is other than God but is nonetheless one with God. Indeed the very fact that Muslim scholars see an analogy with the Christian doctrine of the deity of Christ reveals the value of this illustration. For Muslims hold that there are two eternal and uncreated things, but only one God. And Christians hold to three uncreated and eternal persons but only one God.
At the heart of the difference between Islam and Christianity stands the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Muslims protest that it is neither biblical nor intelligible. Yet we have seen that in order to maintain the former they have twisted scriptural texts out of context. And to hold the latter, to be consistent, they must reject not only clear logical distinctions but their own view of the relation of the Qur’an to God. In brief, there is no good reason to reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Furthermore, we provided evidence that Christ is indeed the Son of God. Thus Christian Trinitarianism, with all its richness of interpersonal relations within the Godhead and with God’s creatures, is to be preferred over the barren and rigid Muslim-monotheism.
Surprisingly the Qur’an mentions the Holy Spirit. The question is asked if our Muslim friends do not believe in the Trinity then why is it in the Qur’an?
[Thank you to Vijay Chandra for writing this informative article and granting me permission to post it here.]