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Trinity of God & the Holy Quran’s critical view about it-Part 1

Trinity of God, Emerging and evolution of Trinity belief and the Holy Quran’s critical view about it-Part 1

This article has two main parts. In the first part, the concept, the origin, the developments, the interpretation and the various explanations of the Trinity have been investigated briefly in different historical periods.

In the second part, the critical attitude of the Holy Quran has been studied in this regard. The holy Quran has explicitly mentioned the concept of “Trinity” twice   and has clearly criticized and negated this concept. In these verses of Quran, in addition to introduction of the Trinity as a blasphemous belief, its origin has been   mentioned too.

In some other verses, without explicitly mentioning of the Trinity, In addition to  presenting a monotheistic theology and Christology quite different from the theology of the Trinity, Quran strongly denies fundamentals of Trinity and its basic concepts, such as God having children, the divinity of Christ and being the Son of God.

The holy Quran acknowledges Jesus (PBUH) and the Gospel revealed to him; meanwhile, it has challenged some fundamental beliefs of the common Christianity such as the Trinity and its important principles and components. Christians accused the Holy Quran of false description of this concept and insisted on   their monotheistic beliefs.

Studying the historical process of emerging, evolution and final formation of this opinion referring to Christian theologians’ sources and votes can help everyone to understand the fakeness of Trinity belief   and have a better understanding of the Holy Quran’s attitude in this regard. This, in turn, provides a better base for perception and religious dialogue between Christian and Muslim scholars.

Knowing the Concept

“Trinity”, literally means making   three corners for something or dividing it into three parts [1] and in Christian theology, it means a fundamental doctrine which states the divinity of triad God, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit [2].

Trinity theory, represents the perception of some part of Christianity about God as a triad truth. According to this statement, the existence and nature of God is unique but it has appeared in three distinct persons or hypostasis, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

Although the three parts have distinctive characters, they have one essence and are not separate from each other.

In the works of Christian speakers and writers, with emphasis on the unity and the great importance of the God’s oneness perception in Christianity, any interpretation of the Trinity concept and trinity of the God’s essence is rejected in case of incompatibility with his unity .Trinity is Christian monotheism  and is an attempt to express the oneness of God [3].

Emphasizing the unity, yet having the trinity of God’s essence, makes the Trinity theory contradictory and very difficult to understand and accept.

The historic efforts done by Christian thinkers to give a clear interpretation in this regard is evaluated more unsuccessful and vague than before [4]. Accordingly, based on the remained definition in verbal and theoretical heritage of Christianity   the Trinity is finally defined as a holy closed secret and an inexplicable and beyond logical matter that due to the limited mind of human, it does not fit in his understanding [5].

The Trinity is also known as “three hypostasis” belief. “Hypostasis” has Greek root and Arab Christian writers have used it to convey the concept of the Trinity.

Note that, with the emergence of the Christ divinity idea and the imagination that his essence is the same as God, this question arose that whether he should be given a “character” and know him as a “separate identity” and at the same time, “in God”, or that this issue is an special expression of how God exists and appears in relation to human? Later in Christian theology, this mentioned identity was called “hypostasis”[6].

The word “Trinity” and its equivalent are not in the Bible, but the basic plan and the traditional form of this theory can be seen inside it. The current interpretations in Christianity have clearly three-part structures [7].

This point is more found in Paul the Apostle’s letters [8] and is more obvious in Baptism prayer than anywhere else. According to this prayer, Christian converts are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Trinity triad characters) [9]. The Concepts of wisdom, Son and the Word, are more important in the formation of Trinity teachings and the Salvation doctrine is the engine of Trinitarian thought [10].

The emergence and evolution of the Trinity theory

  1. a) Hellenistic Period: In the fourth century BC, following the conquest of Alexander the Great, a new era in the culture of the Western Hemisphere was formed which is called “Hellenistic Period”. Merging of Greek thoughts, Jewish, Persian, Babylonian and Egyptian religions formed the religious thought of this era in various forms.

The dominant religious movement in this period had a saving structure. Ancient Greek religion with the multi-god structure, mysticism, dualism and the theory of the Iranian savior, had special role in organizing this type of religion [11].

Since the beginning of this period, Palestine was under the rule of the Greeks and Romans. Written treatises of Torah in this period were impressed by the Hellenistic era. In these papers, the intellect or wisdom of God is very prominent and is imaged in a way in which a person has a separate and at the same time, related entity to God with an active participation in the work of creation.

[12] During this period, the belief in the Savior’s advent expanded and got greater depth and various understandings were emerged about the Jews promised Savior known as “Messiah” .As an example, in “Essenes” religious text, he was considered as God’s wisdom and his audience at the time of Adam creation (PBUH) [13] when God said, “We create man in our image” [14].

In the third century BC, the Old Testament was translated into Greek language, which had heavy philosophical meanings. Apocrypha books (Septuagint Translation) were emerged in this process of translation. These books, which were added in the Greek text of the Old Testament, didn’t exist in the Hebrew text. Hence, it was questioned later by some Christian sects. By Septuagint Translation, the first step of using the Greek philosophical tradition and rationality in understanding and interpreting Judaism was taken.

Later, Philo of Alexandria (25 BC- 50 AD) played a prominent role in this regard. He entered Logos concept as an intermediate between God and other creatures into Jewish theology. Philo knew Logos as a creature due to adherence to Jewish monotheism but he played an important role in forming the Trinity theory by influencing the Hellenistic Christians, especially John, the author of the fourth gospel [15].

  1. b) Gospel writing era: In the first century AD, long after the ascension of Jesus (PBUH), interpretations and many narratives of the character, mission, teachings and some important events of his life were presented in the form of Gospel, letters and acts of Apostles.

These interpretations often formed in the Judaism context, Hellenistic religions and kind of dualistic -Gnostic worldview. This difference which is related to intellectual – religious origins of commentators and narrators is clearly reflected in their writings.

Later, some parts of these writings were accepted and named “New Testament” and the other part with the title of “Apocrypha” was considered invalid [16].

The New Testament presents two entirely separate theological systems based on two different approaches to the character of Jesus (PBUH) .Epistles of Paul, the Gospel and the Epistles of John, are the basis of the theology based on the divinity of Jesus and other parts are the basis of theology based on his servitude and prophecy .Paul founded the first system and the other one was led by the apostles with the leadership of Peter [17].

Paul explained and propagandized the teachings, acts and missions of Jesus for Greeks in the context of world and human cognition concepts, salvation of religions and Hellenistic philosophies [18].

His letters are known as the oldest section of the New Testament. In these letters, he considered Jesus as the Word of God, eternal, uncreated, participant in the creation [19], incarnate God, and called him the son of God and someone with divine nature because of his resurrection [20].

Connecting the doctrine of salvation and the original sin, He considered the disobedience of Adam as the originator of sinful nature in the human race and the underlying of guilt and impurity and then the perdition of human. Accordingly, he believed that God sent down his son Jesus kindly to be sacrificed on the cross by which he clears human sin and impurity and people retrieve the rank of being God’s child and reconcile with God by having faith to Jesus [21].

Historically, the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God was first mentioned in the writings of Paul. Later in John’s Logos theory, it got a more philosophical form.

John obviously spoke of the divinity of Christ (PBUH). Because he knew Hellenistic philosophical ideas well, in an effort to explain his beliefs based on the contemporary philosophical concept, he proposed the concept of Logos the Creator explicitly and called Christ the Logos of God [22].He said that Jesus is eternal and the Son of God and has the same essence as God. He also talked about the creativity, incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus to save people [23].

Logos is a Greek word which means wisdom and in Greek philosophical ideas, especially the middle Stoics and Plato, it is the reason of the emergence and legitimacy of the universe.

To avoid distortion of the Old Testament monotheism, John used the Logos as the following meanings: “Word” and speaking of God, possibility of hearing that, existence of the Word of God before creation, being the intermediate in the world creation, its revelation to messengers and finally his incarnation in the virgin Mary as Jesus (PBUH) [24]. He considered Logos the follower of the Father and having lower existential dignity and he tried to eliminate inequality or lower its value [25].

Paul’s Christology faced serious criticism from the beginning and was called blasphemous. The Apostolic Age continued with hard intellectual dispute between Paul and the apostles and ended with partial victory of Paul [26]. Due to the intellectual and cultural harmony of “Paul’s Christology” with non-Jewish, it caused the adoption of Christianity by them. This made sectarian differences in the second and third centuries AD [27].

  1. c) Era of Apostolic Fathers: In the last years of the first century and the first half of the second century AD, “Apostolic Fathers”, who considered themselves as the students of the Apostles, founded the following theoretical thoughts about Trinity by asking and answering two basic questions about “The equality of Christ with the creator God” and “Existential essence and his position in the world and the divinity”.

The Christology of Some of them which was close to the Synoptic Gospels viewpoint about Jesus, was known as “low Christology” or “Adoptionism” by which the Holy Spirit is the true Son of God and Jesus Christ was accepted by God as the “adopted son” and is placed beside the real Son because of the purity, avoiding from sin and filth and the complete obedience to the Holy spirit in all missions.

The second group of Christology which is close to Paul and John’s viewpoint was called “High Christology”. This group considered less divine dignity for Christ compared to the other two and believed in the existence of one God as Creator, Father of the universe and Christ and believed that the Holy Spirit has lower divine dignity and existential rank than Christ [28].

  1. d) Era of Christian Gnosticism: In the middle of the second century AD, “Gnosticism” culminated as one of the major intellectual-religious flows and severely affected Christianity. Gnostics has different sects. They have something in common along with some differences in ideology.

Their most important philosophical thoughts were the followings: there are two gods in the world, good god and evil god, the physical world is evil and was created by god of evil. They also believed that the good god is superior to evil god and there are a group of good gods in his court. He has sent one of them to save mankind from domination of evil god and material world. By accepting the divinity of Jesus Christ (PBUH), Gnostics were faced with the problem of how to get rid of their basic idea that material is evil.

As a result, they denied that Christ has real body. Gnostic systems, as the most important world cognition systems of their age, were recognized as innovation in religion by the official Christian Church but it strongly influenced the Christianity and Trinity philosophical explanation in issues like getting familiar to the concept of multiplicity in God’s essence and that every divine being can have a specific duty [29].

  1. e) Era of Apologists: During the second half of the second century and the first half of the third century AD, in an effort to provide perceptible interpretation of Christianity, especially for the Greeks and the ones with Grecian thoughts, “the Apologists”, played an important role in evolution of Trinity doctrine with a focus on Philo’s Logos theory. The best known of them was Iustinus (165 AD).

In his effort to make the concept of the unique and creator God in the Bible closer to the concept of “unknowable and indescribable God” in the Middle Neo-Platonic philosophy, he said: the Creator God makes himself known to man by sending his son who is the Logos or Word and he is the same to God conceptually But different from him numerically and inherently.

He exemplified the existential relationship between father and son by the fire that lights another fire without anything of it to be diminished. According to Justin, the Holy Spirit is a power from God, revelator to prophets and supporter of church in its mission [30].

In the late second century, “the Logos Christology of the Apologists” faced serious criticism from “Monarchianists” who worried about the undermining of the divine unity [31].

Monarchianists rejected any statement inconsistent with the numerical unity of God and accepted two views about Jesus Christ (PBUH) to prevent undermining of God’s unity. Some of them continued the adoption theory of Apostolic Fathers and believed that Christ was a man, but because of being obedient and righteous, the spirit and the Word of God dwelt in him. They insisted so much on the unity of God that they rejected invoking Jesus and asking from him.

In an attempt to explain monistic statement of the Christ divinity, another group, known as “Modalistic Monarchianists” (180 -240 AD), considered that God the Father, himself, was embodied in the crucified Jesus, referring to parts of Bible.

According to this view which is known as “modes”, God is one, but has appeared in three modes. He appeared as “Father” in the old times, as “Son” in the time of Jesus and as “Holy Spirit” in the time of crucifixion. Therefore,   there are never three persons, but one person has appeared in three modes [32].

  1. f) Era of Sabellianism: At the beginning of the third century AD, Sabellius entered Holy Spirit into this theory by offering a more complete Modalism which later named “Sabellianism”.

He believed that God has been working in three successive prosopons or modes in history [33]. In the beginning he was as the creator, founder and the Father. After that he was as Son and was born of Mary in form of Jesus Christ (PBUH) and was crucified and then he acted as the Holy Spirit to give life and purify the believers [34].

The basic problem of Modalists was to find valid evidence from the Bible to support their views which resulted in the historical victory of Logos Christology. Their greatest theorists were Tertullianus and Origen in the third century AD. By rejecting Modalists’ view based on oneness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Tertullian (around 160-220 AD) proposed exportation of the Son from the Father and emphasized on God’s unity to escape from the illusion of dualism.

Based on the stoic concept of substance and defining it as the creatures’ material, He considered the substance of God as his existential unity factor. He used the Latin word “Persona “ as the translation of the Greek words “hypostasis” and “prosopon” to state this unity in Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. “Persona” in word means a mask that theater actors wear on their faces for the audience to know what role they’re playing.

This expression was gradually expanded and used with this meaning: “a role that a person is responsible for”. It seems that by using this expression, Tertullian wanted to interpret “One essence, three persons “idea as this meaning that in creation and human salvation process, the unique God played three separate but relative roles and behind the multiplicity of roles, there is one actor in the background.

Tertullian, who used the term Trinity for the first time, believed that God is three persons in one being. Son is the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit is his spirit. These three are one being and are not separated from each other. The beginning of Logos existence in the teachings of Tertullian and obedience of Son to the Father is expressed more prominently in the teachings of Origen [35].

  1. g) Council of Nicaea: Trinity Theological disputes continued in the third century. The divinity of Christ was a widely accepted principle and the main problem was to express how and how much he relates to God, the Father [36].Around 318 AD, Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, talked about “the great mystery of the Trinity in Unity ” with emphasis on the unity of the Triple hypostases.

A Priest named Arius accused Alexander to Sabellianism in protest against his words. By denying the eternity and divine essence of the Son, Arius brings up humanity of Christ again and by doing so, he jeopardized the theoretical unity of the Church. This conflict existed from the second century. But this time the intense contention between two factions of thought caused the church and empire an extreme chaos and crisis [37].

Constantine considered the unity of his empire as a result of Christian unity [38] so after the failure of his effort to make reconciliation, he ordered the formation a council consisted of 318 bishops at Nicaea in 325 AD [39]. In this council, Arius faction confirmed “similar nature” of Trinity persons by rejecting their essence unity [40].

On the other hand, one of the Alexander’s like-minded men and the staunch opponent of Arius was “Athanasius” who strongly insisted on essence unity of Son and Holy spirit with the Father. Although He admitted that depicting three separate persons in one God has problem but as a defense, he called it a secret that the mind should bow to it [41].

With The Council vote in favor of Athanasius, a creed was approved as the first official document of the Trinity which was later known as “Nicene Creed”  [42].It is written in the texts of this creed that:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty and maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God , begotten of the Father, the only-begotten Son of God; 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. Whatever is in the heaven and in the earth. He came down for us men and for our salvation and became incarnate and man. He suffered and rose on the third day. He ascended into heaven and He will also come to judge the living and the dead. And (we believe) in the Holy Spirit and apostolic Church. Cursed be to those who say there was a time when he was not and he was not before he was made and he was made out of nothing or he is of another substance or essence or the Son of God is created  or changeable or alterable [43].

At first, the five bishops and then, two bishops refused to sign the Nicene Creed. Those two, along with Arius was excommunicated  and exiled and  by the order of the Emperor, all of Arius’ books were burned and the death penalty was determined to keep it hidden[44].

To be continued ….

References

  • Al-Mufradat, Al-Raghib al-Isfahani, page 175 «third», Vol. 4, page 5626 «trinity»
  • Qāmūs-i Kitāb-i Muqaddas, james H. Hawkes,page 344-345; Robert Wilkon «The Triad God in Bible»
  • Thomas Michael; history of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 99
  • Thomas Michael; History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 98-100
  • Thomas Michael;La civilisation des Arabes (The World of Islamic Civilization), Gustave Le Bon, Vol. 3
  • Thomas Michael; «The Triad God in Bible
  • Qāmūs-i Kitāb-i Muqaddas, james H. Hawkes,page 345; Thomas Michael, An Introduction to Christian Theology, Alister McGrath,
  • Romans 15:16-19; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 ; 1 Corinthians 13:13 ; Ephesians 4:3-6 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
  • Matthew 28:19 ; 1 Peter 1:2
  • Thomas Michael ; «The Triad God in Bible»;An Introduction to Christian Theology: Alister McGrath
  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 12-14
  • Proverbs 9:1-6;Job 28 ; History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani ,page 13-14
  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 13
  • Genesis 26:1
  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 14-16
  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 16-17
  • A History of the World’s Religions, John Boyer Noss; History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 17-18
  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 9 , 18-20
  • John 1:1-3,14,18; Colossians 1:15-20
  • John 10:15,30 ; Philippians 2:5-7; Romans 1:3,9
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  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 21;
  • John 1:1-14;3:16
  • Mohammad Ilkhani, « Trinity from the beginning to the First Council of Constantinople»,
  • John 14:9,28,31
  • Early Christian Heresies, Joan O’Grady ; Christianity through the centuries, Earle Edwin Cairns
  • La civilisation des Arabes (The World of Islamic Civilization), Gustave Le Bon vol3; A History of the World’s Religions, John Boyer Noss;  Abdul Al-Rahim Suleimani Ardestani
  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani ,page 25-30; « Trinity from the beginning to the First Council of Constantinople»
  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 31-37; Mohammad Ilkhani , William Mc Elwee Miller, The History of Old Church, page 186-189.
  • History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 38,41-45;
  • Monarchia
  • Mohammad Ilkhani, « Trinity from the beginning to the First Council of Constantinople», page 88; Abdul Al-Rahim Suleimani Ardestani,  Christianity, page 111
  • Prosopon
  • Mohammad Ilkhani, « Trinity from the beginning to the First Council of Constantinople», page 89
  • Mohammad Ilkhani , « Trinity from the beginning to the First Council of Constantinople», page 88-90; History of Medieval philosophy, Mohammad Ilkhani, page 79-82; An Introduction to Christian Theology: , Alister McGrath.
  • « Trinity from the beginning to the First Council of Constantinople», Mohammad Ilkhani, page 94
  • La civilisation des Arabes (The World of Islamic Civilization), Gustave Le Bon vol3;  Early Christian Heresies, Joan O’Grady
  • La civilisation des Arabes (The World of Islamic Civilization), Gustave Le Bon vol3; Mohammad Ilkhani, « Trinity from the beginning to the First Council of Constantinople», page 98
  • Christianity through the centuries, Earle Edwin Cairns; Mohammad Ilkhani , « Trinity from the beginning to the First Council of Constantinople», page 98; La civilisation des Arabes (The World of Islamic Civilization), Gustave Le Bon vol3
  • Early Christian Heresies, Joan O’Grady, Abdul Al-Rahim Suleimani Ardestani,
  • La civilisation des Arabes (The World of Islamic Civilization), Gustave Le Bon vol3.
  • Abdul Al-Rahim Suleimani Ardestani,
  • La civilisation des Arabes (The World of Islamic Civilization), Vol. 3, Gustave Le Bon vol3; William McElwee Miller
  • La civilisation des Arabes (The World of Islamic Civilization), Gustave Le Bon vol3

The article is written by Ali Asadi, Faculty member of the Institute of Islamic Culture.

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