Trinity vs. Tawhid

David Wood vs. Mohammed Hajib – My Response to a Muslims 4 Questions

Trinity Tawhid debateOn November 7th, 2018, I attended a debate at York College between a Christian (David Wood) and a Muslim (Mohammed Hajib) on the topic of the Trinity (Christian Position) and Tawhid (Muslim Position). Among the various fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam, this one stands at the heart of our differences, and hence it was a good topic to debate since it strikes at the issue that divides us. First, let us define our terms for those who are not familiar with the Christian concept of the Trinity and the Muslim concept of Tawhid:

The Doctrine of the Trinity:

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is as follows: “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.”1

The important point to recognize is that trinitarian Christians are “monotheistic” through and through. We do not affirm that each person within the Godhead are three individual gods. Nor are we saying that the three persons are three parts of God or three manifestations of God. We are saying that there is one “being” who is God, and this one “being” exists as three “persons”. The one God is tri-personal. These three persons are coeternal, co-substantial, and coexistent with each other. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit never began to exist. They have always existed eternally. A more philosophical definition that has been given of the triune God is as follows: God is one being with three centers of consciousness, each of which have the characteristics of personhood, and are denominated: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Although the persons of the trinity are plural in their personhood, they are one in their essence and being. Trinitarians make an important distinction between “being” and “personhood”; a topic worth exploring in more depth elsewhere.

The Muslim Doctrine of Tawhid:

The Muslim doctrine of Tawhid is the concept of the complete and utter oneness of Allah. Tawhid understands Allah in a strictly “unitarian” sense; that is to say, for the Muslim, Allah is one being who is also one person. The important point to keep in mind is that for the Muslim, the doctrine of tawhid is the most foundational doctrine in all of Islam, and it is the doctrine upon which all else is built. To create a context for the Christian reader, so as to understand the vast importance of this doctrine for the Muslim, consider the words of Dr. James R. White:
“Ask any sincere follower what defines Islam, and they will answer quickly. Tawhid, the glorious monotheistic truth, the heart of the Islamic faith, is to the Muslim what the Trinity is to the Christian: The touchstone, the non-negotiable, the definitional.”1 Indeed, this foundational truth is expressed in the opening of the Shahada: “I profess that there is only one God worthy of worship.” The doctrine of Tawhid is so foundational to Islam that without it, there would be no Islam.
Now that definitions are in place, allow me to get back to a main point in the debate between the Christian David Wood, and the Muslim Mohammed Hajib. Mr. Hajib brought out 4 main questions that he strongly desired David Wood to respond to and that he thought were insurmountable difficulties for the Christian trinitarian position. I will try my best to reconstruct Mr. Hajib’s question and then respond to each question in turn.

The 4 Questions:

  1. Why Doesn’t the Old Testament mention the concept of the Trinity?
    There was great emphasis on the absence of the trinity within the Old Testament from the Muslim debater. From a debater’s perspective, I thought this was a weak point of argumentation. First, the word trinity need not be found in order for the concept to be biblical. Now, of course, Mr. Hijab did not ask why the “word” trinity does not appear in the Old Testament; rather he was concerned that the Old Testament does not teach the tri-personality of God. To make his point he quoted the Hebrew Shema: “Hear O Israel, the our Lord God, the Lord is One.” However, trinitarian Christians affirm the Shema and do not at all find the concept in conflict with the doctrine of the trinity. Furthermore, even if it were true that the Old Testament never speaks of a plurality within the one God, it does not logically follow that the trinity is false since Christians adhere to progressive revelation, at least until the closing of the Christian canon. Hence, if the Old Testament was silent on the issue, it does not refute or work against the Christian conception of the triune God since in this case, God reveals his tri-personal nature in the New Testament.

    This being said however, is the Old Testament silent in regards to the plurality within the One God? I do not think this is the case at all. The verse was mentioned in the debate but I don’t think there was any response. In Genesis 1:26, the One God says, “Let Us make man in Our image”. A common response is that such wording is a literary device to reflect the “Royal Plural”. Often times kings and rulers would speak in third person (i.e. the plural of majesty); however, the plural of majesty was not used among the Jews and so such explanation does not adequately address why it is used in Genesis 1:26 and in other places. Furthermore, all that is needed to support the doctrine of the trinity at a minimal level in the Old Testament is not to find trinitarian language or definitions within the text, but to find the concept that there exists one God, but within the one God, there is a plurality of persons. This point minimally entails that when the New Testament fleshes out in more detail the tri-personality of God, the New Testament is consistent with the picture of God in the Old Testament. Indeed, when we search the Old Testament, we do find within the teaching that there is one God, but within the one God there is the concept of plurality. Many scriptures can be used but let us consider Amos 4:10-11: God speaking: “I sent pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me declares the Lord. I (God) overthrew some of you as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,”.

    Notice the clear plurality within verse 11: The “I” speaking is God. “I” overthrew some of you, as when God over threw Sodom and Gomorrah. The “I” is God, and he is saying that “I” God, overthrew some of you as when “God” overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, does this verse teach the “trinity?” No. But it does teach that the One God is referred to in the plural, which is quite consistent with the trinity doctrine which comes to fuller fruition in the New Testament.

  2. Why is the trinity not inferred by the Church Fathers?
    Apart from the fact that the Church Fathers did teach a trinitarian view of God, again, from a debater’s perspective, this is irrelevant, given the fact that the real issue is whether scripture teaches the doctrine. The Christian who affirms the Bible as the ultimate authority concerning doctrine is not obligated to demonstrate that the Church Fathers taught the Trinity. Indeed, the fact that many did is important, but irrelevant to whether the doctrine itself is true. I suppose the Christian David Wood could have followed that rabbit trail and debate the details of what the Fathers taught, but this would have derailed the focus of the debate. Hence, the issue of whether the early Church Fathers taught the doctrine or not is logically disconnected from the “truth” of the doctrine of the trinity.
  3. Did the early Church Fathers teach the deity of the Holy Spirit?
    Again, irrelevant to the truth of the doctrine. I am not saying that the question is not important; It is, but in a debate about the truth or falsity of the doctrine of the trinity, the question remains as to whether the Bible teaches the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit and it most assuredly does. The Holy Spirit is called God in Acts 5:3-4. The Holy Spirit is also described as having a “will” (1 Corinthians 12:11), which seems to clearly suggest “personhood”. The Holy Spirit is even referred to with personal pronouns clearly demonstrating the Personhood of the Holy Spirit. Couple the fact that the Holy Spirit is referred to with personal pronouns and is called God, it seems to follow that the Holy Spirit is God and is a “person”; which is precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity entails.
  4. How can the Trinity be rationalized? (The claim was made that the trinity concept is illogical)
    Now I believe this is a better approach taken by the Muslim than the previous questions that were raised, since this question deals directly with the truth or falsity of the doctrine of the trinity. Indeed, if the doctrine of the trinity is “illogical”, then this means that the trinity doctrine violates one of the laws of logic and is by definition false. A statement or concept that violates the laws of logic must be false since contradictions cannot be true. I think David Wood adequately responded to this point in the debate, and the response of Mr. Hijab demonstrated that he does not understand A) What the trinity actually is, and 2) What constitutes a genuine contradiction. Let’s define the law of non-contradiction: A statement cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. Does the doctrine of the trinity make certain claims about the nature of God that violates this logical law? Absolutely not. The doctrine does not state that God is both “1” and “3” at the same time and in the same “sense”. God is “1” and “3” at the same time, but definitely not in precisely the same sense. There is a sense in which God is “1” and a sense in which God is “3”. God is “1” in being, but “3” in Persons. Trinitarians make a clear distinction between “being” and “personhood”. Mr. Hijab seemed surprised when Dr. Wood expressed precisely what I have just explained, as though Christians have always affirmed that God is “1” and “3” at the same time and in the same sense. This has never been the orthodox trinitarian position, since to affirm that statement would in fact be a genuine contradiction.

While the debate was informative at times, it did seem unfocused in places and often strayed from the main topic. This being said, it emphasized to me and should emphasize to other Christians the importance of knowing the biblical foundations for what we believe. The better we are at doing this, the better our defense will be against teachings that oppose biblical truth. Lastly, we need to remember another important element in debates and discussions like these; namely that we learn to speak the truth in love, not being arrogant or boastful in our approach. When we speak the truth in a well argued and respectful way, we honor God and we open up clear lines of communication.

1. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994. P. 226.
2. White, R. James. What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Quran. Bethany House: Bloomington, Minnesota, 2013. P. 59.

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