How to Explain the Trinity to Muslims

10

Many of those who desire to share the Gospel with Muslims struggle with how to explain the Trinity to them. Muslims are quick to argue against the concept, saying things like “you Christians worship three Gods,” or “God cannot have a son.” These difficulties have caused many to avoid the subject altogether, developing methods that ignore it, and even producing Bible translations that omit all references to God as the Father and Christ as the Son.

I hope that this article will be helpful to those who may not know where to begin when explaining the Trinity to Muslims.

A student from Saudi Arabia called me in mid-2010 with many questions. I invited “Faysal” to meet with me. He drove 50 miles. Faysal’s host family had been taking him to a church and had a very positive experience. But when he asked the pastor about the Trinity, he got a bunch of verses from the Bible. Nothing the pastor said made any sense to him. So the host family recommended he talk to me.

For two hours I explained everything I could explain, drawing from over 40 years of experience talking to Muslims. When he left, he thanked me and asked to meet with me again the following week. I was delighted and my staff and I prayed for his salvation.

Sure enough, he showed up at the appointed time and I was ready to move on from the Trinity to other basic issues. But he was not ready.

“How can a man be God? This is blasphemy.” Have you ever heard those words from the mouth of a Muslim? What do you say? How do you explain the divine trinity in a manner that makes sense?

Here is one of my approaches, expressed in a conversation between a Muslim (“M”) and a Christian (“C”), summarized from my conversations with Faysal, over the course of several weeks. The way that he acted and responded is accurately reflected below.

M. You Christians believe in three Gods; Father, Mother, and Son.

C. What makes you say that?

M. Everyone knows that. You call it the Trinity.

C. Yes, you are right that we believe in the Trinity, but it is not what you think. I know that this is what most Muslims understand.

M. So explain to me what you understand.

C. First of all I want to tell you that the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Secondly I’d like you to read this verse with me from the Bible. God told Moses in the Torah to tell God’s people these words:

M. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

C. Yes, that’s right. This is one of the books of the Torah. There is no question that the Bible teaches that there is one God. Read also Exodus 20:3.

M. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

C. What do you think?

M. Well, I did not know this is in the Bible. This sounds just like the Shahada.

C. Exactly. Where do you think the Shahada came from?

M. You mean the Shahada is from the Bible?

C. Well, which came first?

M. You have a point there. But isn’t this what the Jews believed? What about Christians? Did Jesus say that there is only one God?

C. Yes, sure, here it is: please read Mark 12:28-31. This is a story of a man who knows the Torah well. He came to Christ to ask him questions and Jesus answered him. Please read the whole story.

M. “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Optional: read Acts 17:22-31; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

C.What do you think?

M. This is interesting. It is good that your Bible teaches the truth. But why do Christians say there are three Gods?

C. Good question. Let me explain. What I know about God is a small fraction of who God really is. Do you agree that God is beyond our comprehension and he is greater than anything we can imagine?

M. I agree. It is true.

C. Let me draw you this picture. Here is God at the top of the paper. Let us draw a cloud around him because he is far away, unapproachable and mysterious.

M. OK.

C. Now let us draw down here at the bottom a man on earth. This line represents

earth. Notice the huge gap between God and man. God is in heaven, man is on earth. God can see us, we cannot see him. God belongs to the invisible world and we belong to the visible world. Is that right?

M. Sure. So far so good. Carry on.

C. Gladly. Now let us assume that God wants to talk to human beings and tell them something they do not know. How can he do it?

M. He sends prophets to speak for him.

C. Great. That is exactly what happened. Who are some of these prophets?

M. Adam. Noah. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

C. Now let us take one of them. How about Moses?

M. Sure. I know about Moses.

C. What do you know?

M. I know that God spoke to him in the desert and there was some fire.

C. Yes that is good. God spoke. Now isn’t this strange that God speaks? How does God speak? What is his language? What is the volume of his voice? Can Moses understand the language of God? Can his ears handle the power of God’s voice?

M. ???

C. God’s real voice is greater than the thunder. But God limited himself to the level of Moses. God spoke the language and even accent of Moses. He lowered his voice so low that Moses could hear it without hurting his ears. God used human language. Isn’t this truly amazing that God speaks to man? (Optional: Read parts of Exodus 3-4)

M. Yes, I agree, but what does this have to do with the Trinity?

C. The story of Moses teaches us about God and his nature. Because God loves us, he communicates with us. He spoke to Moses in the fire, through a voice in a human language. He spoke to Abraham through an Angel. (Optional: Read Genesis 18 and make note that one of the three men was called the Lord.) Now let us read an important verse from Hebrews 1:1-3. Can you read it please?

M. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

C. Thank you. As you can see God spoke through many different ways. But the main point is that every time God spoke he used a human means of communication. These are manifestations of God. Do you understand what I mean?

M. Manifestations are ways God appears, right?

C. Exactly. God is invisible. In order for people to understand him he uses not a heavenly language but human language and human means of communication. This shows his humility and love.

C. So M, if God has done this for many centuries, is it strange that God reveals himself in a more perfect way than a voice or book? He revealed himself through Jesus Christ. Notice verse 3 in Hebrews 1: Jesus is the exact representation of God, His image.

M. I think I understand it a little. It seems unreal.

C. Yes it is unreal. Let me explain something else. Is that OK?

M. Sure. I really want to know everything about God and Jesus.

C. Let us read John 1:1-3, 14. This is another of those amazing verses that are difficult for a human mind to grasp.

M. “In the beginning was the Word…” etc.

C. Let me explain something about the Word. Before you speak what happens in the brain?

M. I think about what I want to say.

C. Right. You think about it before you say anything. If you order food at a restaurant, the waiter can wait for a long time without knowing what you like to eat or drink until you open your mouth and speak. So in a way your words are children of your mind. In Arabic we have a saying: “Al kalimaat banatu eshifah.” (Words are daughters of the lips.) Here in John, the gospel is saying that before God created the world, he thought about it. That “thought” is the logos in Greek. In Hebrew it is “wisdom” and in Arabic it is “Al Kalima,” or “the Word.”

M. I see what you mean. But it is still hard to understand.

C. I totally agree. No one really fully understands it because we are earthly humans who are talking about heavenly things. In John 3:12-13 Jesus said something like this to a high ranking religious Jew who could not understand him. Will you read it please?

M. “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man.”

C. Exactly. We humans are limited in our understanding. But we try our best. It is basically this: as the word is a tangible (“Ma7sous” in Arabic) manifestation or the mind, Jesus is the physical, tangible manifestation of God who is the great mind and intelligent power. But what we need to understand is that Jesus is physically man, but in his Spirit he is God, just as when you pour water into a bucket, it is still water. The bucket is just like the body of Jesus, the water is the Spirit of God.

M. A lot to think about.

C. I want to give you one other example which I think will make things clear. Let us take the Sun as an example. Here are facts:

The Sun is 93 million miles away from us. We cannot ever go to the sun for two main reasons. One, we just cannot travel that far. Two, if we approach the Sun, we will burn up. In the same way, God is so far away that we cannot approach him. Read this verse from (Exodus 33:20) God said to Moses: “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (explain the context) But the Sun can come to us in some limited form. How does the sun come to us?

 

M. By its light, I guess.

C. Exactly. This is how God came down to us; through his Light, Jesus. Please read John 9:5.

M. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Wow. that is interesting. So Jesus is the light that came down from heaven.

C. You got it. As you can see, the light that is here with us came from the ball of fire that is far from us, and yet they are one. Can we say figuratively that the fire is the father of the light?

M. I see. In Arabic we have the word “waalid” and “walad.” So the “walad” is Jesus and the “waalid” is God?

C. Well, M. you seem to have grasped it. Exactly like the fire has light and they are not separated even though the light travels all these millions of miles, God the Father and Jesus the Son are inseparable. They possess the same nature. This is the only way we could experience God; by him coming down to our level. We cannot possibly go to him ourselves. He came down to us because he loves us and wants us to live in the light, not in darkness. (Here you can have a discussion on what “darkness” means, spiritually.)

M. This is really good. But what about the Holy Spirit?

C. I was just about to talk about that. Let me ask you: What does the Light bring with it? What do we experience other than being able to see everything around us?

M. Do you mean the heat? So the Holy Spirit is the heat?

C. Certainly. You can also call it the energy, the power, or “Dunamos” in Greek. It seems that you really have begun to understand.

M. Yes, I think I do understand the concepts that you have explained to me. But for some reason it still does not make sense to me. It seems impossible for God to be like that. I’d like to believe what you are saying, and what the Bible teaches, but I keep thinking about it and I’m stuck.

C. I think I know why you are stuck, and it’s not because you lack intelligence. You are very smart, but no matter how smart you are, you will never understand without one crucial element. Would you read 1 Corinthians 2:14 for me?

M. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

C. You see, God is much too vast for any human to fully understand. So God must reveal the truth to us, and enable us to understand it. If you truly want to understand this, you need to pray, and ask God to open your eyes. To encourage you, let us read this short story from Matthew 16:13-17. Jesus wanted to help the disciples understand who he was. So he asked them and this is what happened. Please read:

M. “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

C. I believe that as Peter understood by God’s revelation, you can too. Do you want God to reveal this to you?

M. Yes, I really do.

C. Then let’s pray together…

 

After we prayed together that God would reveal himself to Faysal, he went home, and when he returned he had moved past his objections about the Trinity. The next week we continued studying the Bible together, and moved on to other topics and areas of difficulty. God answered the prayer of a genuine seeker.

I hope that this conversation has given you some tools that will help you in your interactions with Muslims. But the most important lesson to learn from the story is this:

At its core, engaging Muslims is a spiritual endeavor, not an intellectual or cultural one. The battle must be won in the spiritual realm before a Muslim is able to see and hear the truth.

 

 

Share.

About Author

Georges Houssney was raised in the predominantly Muslim city of Tripoli, Lebanon. He came to faith in Jesus Christ as a teenager. Soon God grew a deep love for Muslims in his heart, and he began to sense God's call for full-time service among them. Well-known for his work supervising the translation and publication of the Bible into clear modern Arabic, Georges and his family moved from the Middle East to the United States in 1982 to minister to international students. Georges is passionate about reaching internationals here and abroad with the great news of salvation. He writes and lectures internationally about ministry to Muslims, and he strives to awaken a new generation who will proclaim the gospel boldly. Georges is founder and director of Horizons International and does Muslim evangelism training through his training Engaging Islam.

10 Comments

  1. Salaam Corniche on

    Dear Georges:
    Just to underscore your comment the convincing must come in the spiritual realm first is shown by the testimony of Bishop Subhan, a Sufi who came to embrace the Trinity:

    “I did not accept the doctrine of the Trinity as a result of some satisfactory explanation of it offered by some Christian teacher, but it was the doctrine which came to possess me. The belief in God as Tribune (sic) is inevitable as a result of Christian experience____The change in the life of a believer which is produced in consequence of accepting Christ as his Savior brings him to an entirely new relationship with God, wherein his experience of God’s redemptive love corresponds to the objective revelation of God as the Father, the Son and
    the Holy Spirit ” From,John A. Subhan “How a Sufi Found His Lord”,4th ed. (Lucknow,India: Lucknow Publishing House, 1952), page 60
    Shalom

  2. Saafir Jenkins on

    Georges, I am so very thankful for you! I am overjoyed that you decided to share this story. I can already tell that it will be a HUGE help when I discuss the Trinity at my next forum – style group meeting (with “adults who are young at heart”). I host the meeting monthly to address concerns that are often overlooked or never brought up in a normal Church setting. I prayed that God would give me some serious help with this topic and He has already begun to do so – through you!!

    I pray that God continue to bless, keep, and use you mightily for His glory!

    Peace and Blessings

    Elder Saafir

  3. Excellent! Thank you for your response. That was something of a question on my mind. As I’ve been given the red light from above in terms of studying at a proper language school I have very limited opportunity to learn it (Start talking Hebrew and Greek and we can “rumble” a little more), so I have to trust others’ explanations.

    So…for my education (and that of others), will you please list some verses from the Qur’an or passages from other Arabic writings I could use to demonstrate that, so that if I’m talking with some Muslims and/or Arab-speaking friends I can intelligently demonstrate that one need not see sexual relations between God and Mary just because Isa is ibn-allah (did I get that last wording right?)?

    (By the way…I hope I’m not coming off as pretending to be genuine here. I’ve been to the Common Ground conference before and found it enlightening, compelling and interesting, but I try not to swallow everything I hear lock, stock and barrel until I’ve had a chance to hear other sides. Have to admit I was, at first, more of a “fan boy”, but this blog is helping me to sift through things, so thanks for your help)

  4. Dear Markomus,
    I have never had to explain the difference between Ibn and Walad to Arabs. I find myself do that with Westerners who do not fully grasp what is natural for Arabs to grasp.
    But since you brought this up. The Quran uses the words Lam Yaled wa lam Youlad to mean he did not beget nor is he begotten. Ibn is used in the noun. You cannot use the word in the verb to express begetting. So walad is used instead.

    There is etymological difference between salad and ibn. Walad does stem from the root that indicates birth. But that word is also used as a metaphor often. Muwalled means generator (as in electricity). However Ibn does not have sexual connotations as some have claimed. It is implied but not explicit. Ibn is used in more metaphors than Walad.

    Either way if your question has anything to do with the current debate about translating son of God then be assured that my conviction is that any alternative to a literal translation of Son of God is wrong and diminishes the meaning and the function of the phrase. The rule of thumb is this: Ask a father of children in any language who his boys are. Whatever word he uses to express their sonship to him is the correct word to use in translating Son for Son of God. That simple.

  5. Thanks Georges, that was awesome reading – you had me on the edge of my seat at each line wondering how Faysal would respond! Praise God for this work of the Spirit to draw him, and for that family who knew enough to take him to you! One thing I would add is that when I speak about “the Word (kalam)” to very religious Muslims such as Saudis, I like to point out for them the Qur’anic title for Jesus “kalimatullah” and vest it with new, fuller meaning. I love the look on their faces when that happens!

  6. darrellwpackjr on

    To help clarify the non-physicality of the Trinity I often will ask an Arabic speaking Muslim if they know anyone who has gone to Mecca on the Hajj. Most do. Then I ask them what is visited during the hajj. eventually the expression DarAllah (house of God) comes up. Here, with a big smile I feign shock. I say but isn’t Dar the equivilent to Bait = Baitullah doesn’t that equal manzilullah? The place where God resides? Why does he have a house? Does it protect him from sun and rain? Does he need it when he sleeps. Where does he leave when he yanzil in his home? How can Muslims believe such ridiculous things. All this while they will likely be protesting that nothing of the sort is meant by the expression DarAllah. Finally, with a theatrical recongnition suddenly dawning I say; “So when you say DarAllah you mean nothing physcial and nothing that would lower God from his glory. And when the Bible uses the expression Son of God nothing physical that would lower God’s glory is ever intended.”

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is useful not only for Muslims, but your analogies can help anyone understand the Holy 3-in-1 better. I had thought of the analogy between the Holy Trinity and H20 (solid ice, liquid water and gaseous steam) before, but the analogy of the sun and its light is much better!

  8. Thank you for your post on such a difficult topic. I especially appreciated your conclusion. It was a helpful reminder to me, “At its core, engaging Muslims is a spiritual endeavor, not an intellectual or cultural one. The battle must be won in the spiritual realm before a Muslim is able to see and hear the truth.”

Leave A Reply