Say Not Three 


LogoThe unlettered Arabian prophet intones a solemn warning to Christians:



  • "O ye people of the Book! overstep not bounds in your religion; and of God, speak only truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and his Word which he conveyed into Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from himself. Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not, ‘Three:’ (there is a Trinity) — Forbear — it will be better for you. God is only one God! Far be it from His glory that He should have a son! His, whatever is in the Heavens, and whatever is in the Earth! And God is a sufficient Guardian."
  • (Sura 4:169).




LogoThe words "(there is a Trinity)" are supplied by the translator for clarity; what Mohammed dictated is, "say not, 'Three.'" The translator's inference would seem to be correct, however. What are the Three? The answer to this latter question is evidently 'gods,' because Mohammed rebuts the infidels' erroneous understanding by saying "God is only one God!" Trinitarians do not of course disagree that there is only one God, but he must be understanding them to assert three gods. Who are the Three?:


The Third of Three Two Gods
Dawa Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Angel Gabriel Collyridians


Thriceholy Radio


LogoThe Third of Three

At the outset, we are making rapid progress! We have the third of three:



  • “Infidels now are they who say, 'God is the Messiah, Son of Mary;' for the Messiah said, 'O children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord.' Whoever shall join other gods with God, God shall forbid him the Garden, and his abode shall be the Fire; and the wicked shall have no helpers. They surely are Infidels who say, 'God is the third of three:' for there is no God but one God: and if they refrain not from what they say, a grievous chastisement shall light on such of them as are Infidels. Will they not, therefore, be turned unto God, and ask pardon of Him? since God is Forgiving, Merciful! The Messiah, Son of Mary, is but an Apostle; other Apostles have flourished before him; and his mother was a just person: they both ate food. Behold! how we make clear to them the signs! then behold how they turn aside!"
  • (Sura 5:76-79).


LogoAnd so the third of Three is God, known in Arabic as 'Allah.' This troika seems a bit wobbly; can it really be that case that God = first blank + second blank + God? God = God! But perhaps he means, God the Father. So we have filled in our third blank. What about the first two? Does the Koran itself offer any viable candidates?

Two Gods

It seems like it does. Hey, I found two of the missing ones!:



  • “And when God shall say — 'O Jesus, Son of Mary: hast thou said unto mankind — "Take me and my mother as two Gods, beside God?
  • "He shall say — 'Glory be unto Thee! it is not for me to say that which I know to be not the truth; had I said that, verily thou wouldest have known it: Thou knowest what is in me, but I know not what is in Thee; for Thou well knowest things unseen! I spake not to them aught but that which thou didst bid me — "Worship God, my Lord and your Lord. . .”
  • (Sura 5:116-117).


Logo Unless God is just asking, it seems someone at some time might have taken Jesus and His mother as "two gods." Now we're cooking with gas! We have our three gods: Mary, Jesus and Allah, the third of three!

Many Muslims, of old times and of the present, leave it at that. Many Muslims today take this verse at face value and obligingly believe the Christian trinity is God, Mary, and Jesus: "Muslims believe Christians have three gods, namely, god the father, god the mother, and god the son. Their belief is derived from the Qur'an and the Hadith, which lucidly portray the alleged Christian trinity as tantamount to associating partners with Allah — the most heinous sin in Islam." (Hussein Hajji Wario, Cracks in the Crescent, p. 157).

Early Muslim biographer Ibn Ishaq shares this perspective, saying,

"They were Christians according to the Byzantine rite, though they differed among themselves in some points, saying He is God; and He is the son of God; and He is the third person of the Trinity, which is the doctrine of Christianity. . .They argue that he is the third of three in that God says: We have done, We have commanded, We have created and We have decreed, and they say, If He were one he would have said I have done, I have created, and so on, but He is He and Jesus and Mary." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's SIrat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, pp. 271-272)

As to where Mohammed might have gotten such an impression, if indeed this is what he thought, he had certainly seen pictures of Jesus and Mary; in fact, there were two such images installed in the Ka'ba:

"I.I. From Hakim b. Abbad b. Hanif and other traditionists: Quraysh had put pictures in the Ka'ba including two of Jesus son of Mary and Mary (on both of whom be peace!). I. Shihab said: Asma d. Shaqr said that a woman of Ghassan jointed in the pilgrimage of the Arabs and when she saw the picture of Mary in the Ka'ba she said, 'My father and my mother be your ransom! You are surely an Arab woman!' The apostle ordered that the pictures should be erased except those of Jesus and Mary." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 532)

Inasmuch as the Ka'ba, pre-cleansing, was filled with idolatrous images offered for worship, Mohammed may have simply assumed the familiar, popular imagery of Mary and her baby was intended in the same vein, and thus arrived at the conception of the Christian trinity as Jesus, Mary and God, the third of three. Pagan Egyptians worshipped a family grouping of Osiris, Isis and Horus. Since Mohammed seems to assume Christians believe Jesus to be the result of sexual relations between God and Mary, he may have envisioned a nuclear family like the Egyptian holy family.




LogoDawa

That is one way of looking at it. Or is it really so easy? Because there's a problem. While simple, sober, early Muslim commentators on the Koran came away from their reading with the conviction that Christians worship a trinity of Mary, Jesus and God, presenting this idea to flesh and blood Christians in calling them to Islam invites gales of derisive laughter. Therefore Muslim apologists are prone to back away from the idea, and deny that the Koran teaches the trinity is Mary, Jesus and God. One must concede to them that no such teaching is explicitly given. Rather, it is an inference. It may be an obvious, natural inference, but it is not an inescapable one, and those Muslims apologists who are aware that the Christian trinity is not Mary, Jesus and God, have good reason to avoid drawing any such inference, however inviting it would otherwise be.

Arabia in the seventh century was on the fringes of the civilized world. Muslims believe Mohammed's knowledge or ignorance is not relevant to the Koran, which is inscribed on heavenly tablets. But God cannot be ignorant of the definition of the trinity. Even if, God forbid, the Christians whose reading of the Bible convinced them that God is triune are in error, God, who is omniscient, cannot be mistaken as to what people mean when they talk about the trinity. Yet an "unlettered" man who lived in seventh century Arabia, still pagan although the rest of the world had already gone monotheist, might well be ignorant. If the Koran does reflect this level of mind-numbing ignorance, that Christians believe God is Mary, Jesus and God, then Muslim apologetics comes to a screeching halt. No one is still listening. This book is not of God if it reflects gross ignorance. What does it matter what misconceptions a man living in the backward, barbarous hinterlands of civilization cherished, about things he knew very little about? If so, the book is from man,— and not a very impressive specimen at that,— not God.

What, in fact, is the trinity?:



Henry Ossawa Turner, The Annunciation


LogoFather, Son and Holy Spirit

If Mohammed had had a copy of the New Testament, and had been able to read it, there would have been no mystery:

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:. . ." (Matthew 28:19).

Without delving into the legends of the ancients, here is a trusty and handy summary of Bible doctrine which has stood the test of time:



believe in one God
The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets;

And I believe in one catholic and apostolic church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

(Nicene Creed)





LogoAngel Gabriel

Is it possible that Mohammed actually understood that Christians worship the God who is, ever was, and ever will be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I think it is impossible. Why? Because he has the Holy Spirit confused with the Angel Gabriel. This confusion persists to this day. Muslims have a tendency to confuse the Holy Spirit with the angel Gabriel, a created being, as did their founder: "'Agreed. Tell us about the Spirit.' 'Do you not know that it is Gabriel, he who comes to me?'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 255).

When Christians talk about the Holy Spirit, they almost never mean to refer to the Angel Gabriel. It is true that Gabriel, like others in the angel choir, is a ministering spirit: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14). And he is arguably holy. But it is a simple misunderstanding to think that the Holy Spirit, who is God, is the angel Gabriel. This seems to have been Mohammed's idea, however: "SAY: The Holy Spirit hath brought it [the Koran] down with truth from thy Lord, that He may stablish those who have believed, and as guidance and glad tidings to the Muslims." (Sura 16:104). The "Holy Spirit" Mohammed here has in mind is the angel Gabriel; he it was who delivered the Koran.

Mohammed is sometimes rather vague on the Holy Spirit, sometimes clearly identifying the Holy Spirit who inspires the prophets with the angel Gabriel, a created being. And at no time does he offer a correct enumeration of the Trinity. The early Muslim believers followed his error, equating Gabriel with the Holy Spirit:

"Gabriel, God's messenger, is with us and
The holy spirit has no equal."
(The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 558).

When Mohammed heard this Christian formula, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he cannot have grasped that this is a name of God. The angel Gabriel is not God.

What, then, did he think the trinity actually was? I think this question is unanswerable, but probably the truth lies more in the direction of the Mary, Jesus and Allah equation. This is gross, barbarous ignorance. Still, one must concede to the Muslim apologists, that the Koran does not say this in so many words.


 Washington Irving 
Mohammed and
His Successors


LogoCollyridians

Muslim apologists, finding their listeners still leaning to the idea that Mohammed did, after all, believe the Christian trinity to be Mary, Jesus and God, will sometimes offer the Collyridians as evidence that some Christians did, in fact, believe just that. While substituting a tiny, obscure heretical sect for the Christian church as a whole would be itself a mistake, there was, in fact, a group by this name that held Mary in exaggerated esteem. There is, for that matter, a very large denomination of the present day, the Roman Catholics, who are prone to offer exaggerated devotion to Mary! What did the Collyridians believe?:


"For I have heard in turn that others, who are out of their minds on the subject of this holy Ever-virgin, have done their best and are doing their best, in the grip both of madness and of folly, to substitute her for God. For they say that certain Thracian women there in Arabia have introduced this nonsense, and that they bake a loaf in the name of the Ever-virgin, gather together, and both attempt an excess and undertake a forbidden, blasphemous act in the holy Virgin's name, and offer sacrifice in her name with woman officiants."

(The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III, Section VII, 23, 3-4, 58, 78 of series, p. 618)




LogoChristians do not normally make food offerings to God, as did the pagans and the Jews while the temple stood. Reza Aslan is a Muslim revert who is particularly grossed out by the idea of sacrifice, even though the Muslims still to this day offer a ram to commemorate Eid:


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LogoIn this case, Epiphanius understands these women's actions as implying divine worship. This may or may not have been the case; Augustine's mother, Monica, left offerings at the tombs of her relations, as did her North African neighbors, without necessarily being a polytheist. But Epiphanius perceives these practices as worship:


"For certain women decorate a barber's chair or a square seat, spread a cloth on it, set out bread and offer it in Mary's name on a certain day of the year, and all partake of the bread; I discussed parts of this right in my letter to Arabia."

(The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III, Section VII, 1.7, 59, 79 of Series, p. 620)



LogoOne can certainly agree with Epiphanius that what these women are doing is wrong, "Yes, of course Mary's body was holy, but she was not God. Yes, the virgin was indeed a virgin and honored as such, but she was not given us to worship; she worships Him who, though born of her flesh, has come from heaven, from the bosom of his Father." (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III, Section VII, 4.6, 59, 79 of Series, p. 624.) It's not clear how this meets the Muslims' need, though. These Thracian and Arabian women are not said to have redefined the trinity. Realize that if you go to Mexico while they are parading through the streets, venerating the virgin of Guadalupe, and you ask the crowd to tell you what the trinity is, they would reply, 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit.' Certainly they have gone to excess in their veneration of Mary, but the issue is not the definition of the trinity. They define the trinity just as other believers do. There is a problem to be sure, but it's a slightly different problem from what they need it to be.

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LogoBible difficulties are as much beloved of Muslims apologists as of atheists:







LogoMohammed ibn Abdallah, like many caring and intelligent people, was troubled that what should unite all people into one,— the worship of God, — is more likely to divide them. And so, like many of those troubled by this problem, he resolved it by making darn sure they would all see it his way, or at least say they did: