Is Islam right about Christians believing in three “gods”?
Let’s start off by addressing the question of whether or not Muslims and Christians actually believe in the same God.
I’m not talking about what people think their religion teaches. And I’m certainly not talking about what people think – irregardless of what their religion teaches. What I’m looking for is this: what do the scriptures of Islam and Christianity actually say?
Christianity says nothing about Islam at all. Nothing. Given that Muhammad wasn’t born until hundreds of years after the last book in the Christian Bible was written, that’s hardly surprising.
On the other hand, the Qur’an does talk about Christianity.
Here’s an excerpt from Sura 4.
88 What is with you that you are [divided into] two groups concerning the hypocrites, when God Himself has cast them back for that which they have earned? Do you seek to guide those whom God has led astray? Whomsoever God leads astray, thou wilt not find a way for him. 89 They wish that you should disbelieve, even as they disbelieve, that you may be on a level with them. So take them not as protectors till they migrate in the way of God. But if they turn their backs, then seize them and slay them wherever you find them, and take no protector or helper from among them, 90 save those who seek refuge with a people with whom you have a covenant, or those who come to you with hearts reluctant to fight you, or to fight their own people. Had God willed, He could have given them authority over you, and then surely they would have fought you. So if they withdraw from you, and do not fight you, and offer peace, God allows you no way against them. 91 You will find others who desire to be secure from you, and secure from their own people, yet whenever they are tempted back to hostility, they are plunged back into it. So if they withdraw not from you, nor offer you peace, nor restrain their hands, then seize them and slay them wheresoever you come upon them. Against these We have given you clear warrant. Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (p. 189). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
Let’s get real about this
There’s no way to get around what this says. Seize and slay means what it says. And while some would like to say these verses are misinterpreted when violence occurs, the perpetrator does what they say, when it’s done in the name of Allah. Further, this verse tells them to perform these seizures and slayings against the ones who don’t believe in the Allah of Islam.
There also no way to get around a conclusion that Islam is not talking about the same God that Christians believe in.
While it sounds nice to say that both have the same God, the truth is that there’s no basis to reach such a conclusion. We humans might say it – but would the “God” of each religion think so? Would the God of Christianity, who gave up His one and only Son for the salvation of His people, really even want to be considered the same as Allah of Islam, where it’s taught that His Son never existed?
On top of that, the Qur’an is considered to be a revelation from the angel Gabriel. Surely, Gabriel would not have gotten something like that wrong. After all, this is supposedly the same Gabriel who’s in the Christian Bible. On the other hand, Muhammad originally believed that the first revelation was from a Jinn. A devil. It was his first wife who convinced him it wasn’t from a devil.
Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of all religions but also a caricatured view of even the best-known ones.
 Powell, D. (2006). Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (p. 114). Nashville, TN: Holman Reference.
Along the lines of what Ravi Zacharias says, it’s important to have the correct view of any religions that we may try to compare.
Same “God”? I don’t think so. For a more detailed look at the difference between what people say and what their scriptures say, please check out Pope Francis signs peace declaration on ‘Human Fraternity’ with Grand Imam.
Monotheism vs. Polytheism
Before we proceed, let’s be sure we’re on the same page about what monotheism and polytheism are really about.
Let’s start with the most basic definition of monotheism:
The belief that there is but one God. Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 288). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
One God. Only one God. That brief definition comes with an equally concise example:
Christian-biblical monotheism teaches that the one true God subsists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the doctrine of Trinity in unity. Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 288). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
Notice the word Trinity. That’s where the three comes from. We’ll get to that shortly, but let’s first look at some other concepts related to monotheism.
Here’s an excerpt from an explanation of whether monotheism or something else came first.
Monotheism, Primitive. The Bible teaches that monotheism was the earliest conception of God. The very first verse of Genesis is monotheistic: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reflect an early monotheism. Job, the only other biblical book that is set in an ancient pre-Mosaic period, clearly has a monotheistic view of God (see, for example, Job 1:1, 6, 21). Romans 1:19–25 teaches that monotheism preceded animism and polytheism and that these forms of religion resulted as people sinfully exchanged the glory of God for “images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
Monotheism, Early or Late? Frazer’s Late Monotheism. Since James Frazer published The Golden Bough (1912) it has been widely believed that religions evolved from animism through polytheism to henotheism and finally monotheism. Even before this Charles Darwin set the stage for such an evolutionary scheme. Frazer alleged that Christianity copied pagan myths. In spite of its selective use of anecdotal data, that have been outdated by subsequent research, the book still holds wide influence, and its ideas are assumed true. Frazer’s evolutionary thesis of religion actually is without foundation, as is noted in the article on his work. Geisler, N. L. (1999). Monotheism, Primitive. In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 497). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
After looking at different arguments for and against monotheism being the first type of religion, the authors reach this conclusion:
Conclusion. There is no real reason to deny the biblical account of an early monotheism. On the contrary, there is every evidence that monotheism was the first religion, from which others devolved, just as Romans 1:19–25 declares. This better fits the evidence of the existence of a monotheistic God (see GOD, EVIDENCE FOR) and the proven tendency of human beings to distort the truth God reveals to them (see NOETIC EFFECTS OF SIN). Geisler, N. L. (1999). Monotheism, Primitive. In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 498). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
The reference to Romans is for this passage:
God’s Wrath Against Mankind
Ro 1:19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Ro 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Ro 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
What we see then is that monotheism – the concept of one God – was first. Over time, as people were enticed further and further from the truth about that One God by Satan, then other forms of worship came about. That included false gods – and multiple gods.
We’ll look at one more thing before getting back to look at what the Trinity is all about namely, what is polytheism?
Here’s an explanation, including a look at whether Judaism and Christianity are polytheistic.
polytheism, the belief in the existence of numerous gods. In the environment of the Bible most societies were polytheistic: there were ‘many gods and many lords’ (1 Cor. 8:5). Different deities had different functions, associations, characters, and mythologies. Some were male, some female, and they had individual personal names. They might be grouped in families and generations; the younger gods might overcome and displace the older. Theomachy, war among the gods, could have an important role, not least in creation stories: a younger god defeated an older, monstrous deity and from its body fashioned the world. The variety among the gods did not exclude elements of rank and leadership; but leadership did not always mean complete supremacy.
There may be some things like names (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and functions (Jesus as the Son, The Holy Spirit as the mind of Christ) where one can see shades of polytheism. However, it’s important to note that from Old Testament times until now, first Judaism and then Christianity, the God of the Bible has been referred to as One God.
Polytheistic religions are known in detail from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome; particularly relevant for the OT is the Canaanite polytheism of Ugarit (cf. also the later evidence of Philo of Byblos [ca. A.D. 63-141]), in which occur divine names known also from the Bible: El, Elyon, Baal, Anath, Athirat (cf. Heb. Asherah), Dagon. This Canaanite mythology stressed the elements of conflict, sexuality, fecundity, the mountain of the gods, and the building of the palace.
From the very first time that Abram was made aware of God, it was a single God. According to God Himself.
Ge 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
Ge 17:3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
Now, let’s be honest about what’s said in that passage. There are a whole lot of “l”‘s in there. However, most of them are implied. While the English translation says “I” – the original Hebrew does not. Most of them are implied from one word, which is translated as “me” and “my”. For instance:
2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.
As with the other verses in the passage, “I” is implied from “me” and “my”. The thing to pay attention to though, is that Hebrew word from which we get “me” and “my”.
589 אֲנִי [ʾaniy /an·ee/] pers pron. Contracted from 595; TWOT 129; GK 638; 13 occurrences; AV translates as “I”, “me”, “which”, “for I”, and “mine”. 1 I (first pers. sing.—usually used for emphasis). Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
First person singular. One God.
That’s fascinating. Maybe even surprising. Why? Because of what Genesis 1:1 says.
Ge 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
That’s fascinating and surprising, because here’s the Hebrew word that gets translated as God:
430 אֱלֹהִים [ʾelohiym /el·o·heem/] n m p. Plural of 433; TWOT 93c; GK 466; 2606 occurrences; AV translates as “God” 2346 times, “god” 244 times, “judge” five times, “GOD” once, “goddess” twice, “great” twice, “mighty” twice, “angels” once, “exceeding” once, “God-ward + 4136” once, and “godly” once. 1 (plural). 1A rulers, judges. 1B divine ones. 1C angels. 1D gods. 2 (plural intensive—singular meaning). 2A god, goddess. 2B godlike one. 2C works or special possessions of God. 2D the (true) God. 2E God. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Yes – it really does say plural. Somehow, God is both singular and plural. Think Trinity. And then hold that thought.
The next paragraph goes into the plural word for God.
The OT from early times opposed the entire ethos of polytheism and its mythologies. Certain echoes of it continue in the various names for God, perhaps in the plural form Elohim (Heb., ‘God’), in the concept of the ‘sons of God’ or court of heavenly beings, in the imagery of battles with hostile superhuman powers, in the occasional recognition that another land is the sphere of another god. But for Israel there was only one God (emphasis mine), and sole devotion to this one God was a paramount essential: to follow or serve ‘other gods’ was a cardinal offense, emphasized particularly in Deuteronomy and in Isaiah 40-55. It is repeatedly stated, however, that large groups of Israelites committed this offense; perhaps not so many really did so. Polemic against polytheism was partly an internal argument among the Israelites: it reinforced the theology and the ethical demands of the God of Israel. Finally hostility to polytheism tends to become caricature and ridicule: it ceases to include any real analysis of polytheism or any profound understanding of its workings or its attractions. Rejection of it became a standard constituent of Jewish life and it ceased to form a real temptation for many Jews.
So for the Hebrew / Jewish people, polytheism didn’t have anything to do with their God. They may not have understood why there was a difference between the plural word and the singular, but they believed and accepted that their God was One God.
And the next paragraph shows that Christians held the same belief. In addition, the Jewish people didn’t view Christianity as believing in polytheism.
The NT follows this tradition in taking for granted the established monotheism of Judaism. Its reserve in using the term ‘God’ or even ‘Son of God’ of Jesus is part of this; later sources and later text forms use ‘God’ of him rather more. The NT does not depict Jewish opponents as criticizing Christianity for reintroducing polytheism. In the Greco-Roman world Christianity largely followed the lines of established Jewish apologetic, dismissing the absurdities of polytheism, linking it with moral depravities, and affirming the oneness of true deity as background to the Christian affirmations. In all the ancient world the primary choice was not that between a God and no God, but that between one God and many gods. Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., pp. 806–807). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
The Trinity – monotheism or polytheism?
Now, let’s get back to The Trinity.
The self-revelation of God in Scripture that His indivisible, personal essence exists eternally and necessarily as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that these three are not merely nominal distinctions but personal subsistences in the divine essence.
OK – there’s that one or three thing.
Dr. South said that if you try to comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity, you may lose your mind, and if you deny it you will lose your soul. The finite mind of man cannot possibly comprehend the infinite God. So a complete understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is not attainable by us. However, we may obtain a knowledge of the Trinity from God’s revelation of Himself in His word, and although the knowledge so gained by our finite minds is incomplete, it is nonetheless true knowledge.
You know what? It’s not possible for us to comprehend anything that’s infinite. Like the universe. Or even simple math – as in the number line. Remember that one? How many points are there on the number line between 1 and 2? What about between 2 and 3? And then what about between 1 and 3?
No matter what else, “logic” says that the number of points between 1 and 3 has to be double the number between 1 and 2 – or between 2 and 3. Further, by adding up the number of points between 1 & 2 + the number of points between 2 & 3 – then it’s the same as the number of points between 1 & 3.
Guess what? They’re both wrong. The number of points between 1 & 2, 2 & 3, and 1 & 3 – they’re all the same. They all have an infinite number of points. And doubling infinity still is only infinity.
Trying to visualize that is enough to make someone dizzy. Trying to visualize an infinite God? Forget it. We just can’t.
As the original Hebrew people did, it’s better to just accept and believe.
God’s revelation of Himself lies at the heart of all He has revealed in His word. In a very real sense, our understanding of any part of the Scripture revelation is dependent upon our acceptance of God’s revelation of Himself, a revelation which is denoted by the term Trinity. It has been aptly said, “The Trinity is the point in which all Christian ideas and interests unite; at once the beginning and the end of all insight into Christianity.”
And that’s why we should just accept. Without the Trinity, none of Christianity really makes any sense. And if we’re so stuck on having to understand God – limit Him to what our little minds can comprehend – then we’re on an exercise of extreme futility.
Defining Our Terms
Trinity. “The word trinity is derived from Latin and Greek terms meaning three in one, or the one which is three, and the three which are one.… The word is not found in the Scriptures. Technical terms are, however, absolutely necessary in all sciences. In this case they have been made particularly essential because of the subtle perversions of the simple, untechnical Biblical statements by infidels and heretics. The term, as above defined, admirably expresses the central fact of the great doctrine of the one essence eternally subsisting as three Persons, all the elements of which are explicitly taught in the Scriptures” (A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology).
We’ll get back to that heretic thing in a moment.
Person. The original meaning of the Latin word persona is far removed from its present sense and it is an even larger step from the present sense of the word to the scriptural and theological meaning when applied to the Godhead. But despite its imperfection as a term, there is none better in man’s vocabulary. In everyday usage, the term person denotes an entirely separate and distinct rational individual. It does not have this meaning when referred to the persons in the Trinity. A divine person, to use John Calvin’s words, is “a subsistence in the divine essence—a subsistence which, while related to the other two, is distinguished from them by incommunicable properties.” Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (pp. 494–495). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
Again, it’s just something we cannot comprehend.
Monotheism in the Old Testament
This thought actually came to me when I was reading something the other night – The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy:
Monotheism The fundamental principle underlying Deuteronomy is monotheism. The Lord (YHVH), God of Israel, is not only “the God of gods and the Lord of lords” (10:17), but the only true God (the “living God,” 5:23). Of course, the preceding books of the Torah also recognize only Him as God, but they concentrate on prohibiting Israel from worshiping other gods, not on refuting belief in their existence (see Excursus 6). It is Deuteronomy that first states explicitly that no other god exists and demonstrates that point, showing that the Lord alone has performed deeds that prove divinity (4:32–40; cf. 3:24). Deuteronomy also gives one of the only explanations in the Torah for the prohibition of idols (4:9–20; see Comment to 4:15–18).
An aspect of Deuteronomy’s monotheism is its teaching that Israel’s God guides the history of all peoples. He defeated Israel’s enemies and overpowered mighty Egypt, which stood helplessly by as He removed Israel from its control. He gave Israel’s neighbors their lands, too, and enabled them to defeat the earlier inhabitants (2:20–23). It was He who determined that other peoples should worship other “gods” (4:19). Copyright 1996 The Jewish Publication Society. All Rights Reserved
As one of the first 5 book of the Bible, this again gives a clear indication that the God of Judaism and Christianity is One God.
Is Islam right about Christians believing in three “gods”? Monotheism vs. Polytheism. Where are we?
By now, we should have a pretty good understanding of monotheism and polytheism. We should also realize that, based on what we are told by the God of the Bible, Judaism and Christianity are both monotheistic. It’s not up to someone else to decide. It’s the God in our scriptures that tells us this. It’s not our own minds. And it’s not up to someone else to decide it either.
subtle perversions of the simple, untechnical Biblical statements by infidels and heretics
Finally, let’s return to our question: Is Islam right about Christians believing in three “gods”?
I believe we’ve seen that the answer is an unequivocal No. The God of Christianity and Judaism is One God. They are monotheistic religions.
Now, as we saw, Muhammad thought the first revelation in the Qur’an was given by a Jinn. An evil spirit. His wife convinced him it wasn’t true. Somehow, the thought is now that it was the angel Gabriel.
Here’s the next question. Did the angel Gabriel not know that his “leader” was One God? OK – a series of questions. Did Gabriel somehow get so confused that originally Jews and Christians believed the right thing – but only later realize that they were “wrong”? Did Gabriel really know so little about the God that created him, and from whom he took his orders?
Or were there perversions of the simple, untechnical Biblical statements by infidels and heretics?
Christians do not and never did believe in three “Gods”. The Jewish people knew that. Gabriel, who was involved with people in the Bible knew that. God knew that. But the Qur’an doesn’t say that.
When it comes to infidels and heretics, the Qur’an has many instances where it says People of the Book are exactly that, including for saying that Jesus is the Son of God. And yet – even Jesus, born a Jew – said He was the Son of God. In that case, where is the heretical thinking?
Draw your own conclusion.
|↑1||Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (p. 189). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.|
|↑2||Powell, D. (2006). Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (p. 114). Nashville, TN: Holman Reference.|
|↑3, ↑4||Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 288). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.|
|↑5||Geisler, N. L. (1999). Monotheism, Primitive. In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 497). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.|
|↑6||Geisler, N. L. (1999). Monotheism, Primitive. In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 498). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.|
|↑7, ↑8||Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.|
|↑9||Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., pp. 806–807). San Francisco: Harper & Row.|
|↑10||Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (pp. 494–495). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.|
|↑11||Copyright 1996 The Jewish Publication Society. All Rights Reserved|