My difficulties with the trinity concept
I have been thinking on how best to carry this conversation forward. Bill was right about the futility of arguing over the validity and authority of different Scriptures. I accept that we do not regard each other’s scripture’ as wholly authoritative. So we have to find a way to discuss Scriptures and doctrine, whilst taking into account our disagreements.
I always try not to judge the authenticity and reliability of Bible passages on the basis of my own convictions, however, I think it is reasonable to draw on the opinion of learned, non-Muslim, prominent Biblical scholars. So, If I say a passage is probably not authentic, this would not be based on my perspective as a Muslim, but rather, on the judgement of some prominent Biblical scholars.
Let me start by defining some areas where I think there are fundamental differences, and allow each other to explain, robustly, why we think one position is more valid than the other.
The first such point is our knowledge about GOD. Leaving aside arguments about His name, Muslims understand GOD to be The One, Eternal, Living, indivisible Creator of everything. We do not accept the idea of a triune Godhead, whether it being as defined by the Nicaean Creed or your definition of distinct Persons in the Trinity.
The concept of the trinity, is an interpretation, and was developed/articulated -depending on you theological stance- a long time after Christ ministry. One of the problems I am finding with the concept, is that I think it raises so many questions and possibilities, that can not be answed except by applying a certain amount of “guesswork“.
The concept of The Father and The Son, somehow imply a chronological order, for its inconceivable for a father not to have existed Before his a son. If this is the case, then they can not be equal. If, as you say, the Son is subordinate to the Father, than that will will also negate his status as god, for a god is Omnipotent and can not be a subordinate. Frankly, I find the believe in a hierarchy of distinct persons that form a Godhead, closer to the beliefs of polytheists than what we know of the faith of Abraham and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.
To illustrate my point about the need of “guesswork” to explain the Trinity, I list of some of various understandings of the Trinity. All these thoughts were advocated by learned Christians in the first 7 centuries AD:
from : Synopsis of Ancient Heretics
- Monarchianism were people who overly stressed the unity of God in opposition to the teaching that the One God had three distinct personalities.
- Paul of Samosata. He taught Christ was not divine, but a good man, who achieved divinity at his baptism along with saviorhood.
- Sabellianism came to us from a man named Sabellius. He taught what is called Modal Monarchianism. To him the One God manifested Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, but were in reality just One God. God assumed various modes but was not really three-in-one
- Arianism Arius denied the full deity of the preexistent Son of God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He held that the Son, while divine and like God (“of like substance”), was created by God as the agent through whom he created the universe
- Nestorianism A 5th-century Christological heresy, Nestorianism takes its name from Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople (428-31), who argued against the Alexandrian use of the title Theotokos, meaning “God bearer,” or “Mother of God,” for the Virgin Mary. Nestorius believed Mary was the mother of Christ only in his humanity. Nestorius taught that Christ had two natures adivine and human nature. Nestorius was condemned by the Council of Ephesus (431; see EPHESUS, COUNCIL OF), which was convened specifically to settle the dispute.
- Monothelitism was a 7th-century Byzantine doctrine that accepted the teaching of two natures in JESUS CHRIST, as defined (451) at the Council of CHALCEDON, but declared that he had only one will or mode of activity (energeia). The Monothelitic formula was adopted (624) by Byzantine Emperor HERACLIUS as a compromise that might be acceptable to the Monophysites (see MONOPHYSITISM) of Egypt and Syria
- Adoptionism, was a theological doctrine propounded in the 8th century by a Spanish bishop, Elipandus of Toledo. Concerned to distinguish between the divine and human natures of Christ, Elipandus held that in his divinity Christ was the son of God by nature
This state of affairs is eloquently described in the Quran, where Allah says in Chapter 19 “Mary”:
[19:34] Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt.
[19:35] It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.
[19:36] And lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So serve Him. That is the right path.
[19:37] The sects among them differ: but woe unto the disbelievers from the meeting of an awful Day.
I acknowledge the fact that religious factions exist within Islam and Judaism too, but in both of these religions, there is near unanimity on their understanding of GOD, I do not know of any noticeable Muslim sect that disagreed on their understanding of Unity of God or his attributes. The major differences were between those who understood God’s attributes as literal and those who insisted they are figurative. Other disputes arose between sects who believed The Quran was created by God (Mu’tazilah) and others who insisted it was His Words.