Islams Mistaken Views of Basic Christian Doctrines
As the readers may already know, a cursory reading of the Islamic scripture shows that the author of the Quran distorted or was grossly mistaken about the beliefs of Jews and Christians. For example, the author accuses Christians of holding certain theological and christological beliefs that do not correspond to the facts. The Quran erroneously assumes and condemns Christians for believing in three gods consisting of the Father, Mary his wife, and Jesus their offspring. Thus, the Quran erroneously assumes that the implication of Christian beliefs is that God acquired a son through procreation, that God and Mary had sexual relations in order to have Jesus their Son (God forbid such horrendous blasphemy!).
These distortions of biblical teaching and historic Christian beliefs are well known and often commented on by Christian writers, evangelists, apologists, polemicists, scholars etc. They are even admitted by secular writers and sources.
One such writer was the late Christian scholar and Islamicist E.M. Wherry, who commented on the Qurans distortion of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in his A Comprehensive Commentary of the Quran. In reference to Sura 4:169 Wherry wrote:
Say not... three, "Namely, God, Jesus, Mary. For the Eastern writers mention a sect of Christians which held the Trinity to be composed of those three; but it is allowed that this heresy has been long since extinct (Elmacin, p. 227). The passage, however, is equally levelled against the Holy Trinity, according to the doctrine of the orthodox Christians, who, as Al Baidhawi acknowledges, believe the divine nature to consist of three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; by the Father, understanding God's essence; by the Son, his knowledge; and by the Holy Ghost, his life." - Sale.
See also Prelim. Disc., p. 64.
The commentators Baidhawi, Jalaluddin, and Yahya agree in interpreting the three to mean "God, Jesus, and Mary," in the relation of Father, Mother, and Son. This misrepresentation of the Scripture doctrine again stamps the Qur'an as a fabrication, and furnishes the evidence of its being such on the ground of its own claims. The history of the Church, as well as the Bible, proves the statement of the text, as interpreted by authoritative commentators, to be false; for even granting that some obscure Christian sect did hold such a doctrine of the Trinity (of which statement we have yet to learn the truth), yet the spirit of Muhammad's inspiration represents it as the faith of the Christians generally. In almost every case where the Qur'an refers to the Christian faith, it is to inveigh against the idea that God has a son. See chap. ix. 31, xix. 31, xliii. 59. (Source)
Christian author and apologist Dr. Robert A. Morey noted that:
The Quran contains many errors about what Christians believe and practice.
One of the most significant is that the Quran misrepresents the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
Muhammad mistakenly thought that Christians worshiped three gods: the Father, the Mother (Mary), and the Son (Jesus), (Sura 5:73-75,116).
As Richard Bell pointed out:
[Muhammad] never understood the doctrine of the Trinity.
Encyclopedia Britannica states:
[There are] mistaken concepts of the Trinity in the Quran.
In reality, Christians believe only in one God who is in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They do not believe that Mary is a part of the Trinity.
Even the Concise Dictionary of Islam admits:
In some cases the "material" which forms the substance of Quranic narrative, details of the creeds of Christianity and Judaism for example, does not correspond to those religions own understanding of their beliefs. This could be said, for example, of the notion of the Trinity found in the Quran, the story of Satans refusal to bow down to Adam, the Docetist view of the crucifixion, all of which can be traced to the dogmas of Gnostic sects, which are heretical in relationship to orthodox Christianity and Judaism. The Trinity "seen" in the Quran is not the Trinity of the Apostles Creed, or of the Nicene Creed. (Morey, The Islamic Invasion: Confronting the Worlds Fastest Growing Religion [Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 1992], pp. 152-153)
Noted Protestant Church historian and Patristic expert Philip Schaff wrote regarding Muhammads mistaken views:
In rude misconception or wilful perversion, Mohammed seems to have understood the Christian doctrine of the trinity to be a trinity of Father, Mary, and Jesus. The Holy Spirit is identified with Gabriel. "God is only one God! Far be it from his glory that he should have a son!" Sura 4, ver. 169; comp. 5, ver. 77. The designation and worship of Mary as "the mother of God" may have occasioned this strange mistake. There was in Arabia in the fourth century a sect of fanatical women called Collyridians (Kollurivde"), who rendered divine worship to Mary. Epiphanius, Haer. 79. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Chapter III, "Mohammedanism in its Relation to Christianity", fn. 188; source)
Another Christian Islamicist named Richard Bell stated:
On the other hand, there are considerable differences between the Quran and the New Testament. It should be noted, however, that so far as the actual statements of the Quran are concerned, the differences are not so great as they are sometimes supposed to be. Modern scholars, Christian and Muslim, tend to read later controversies into the wording of the Quran. Thus the rejection of the doctrine that 'God is one of three' [5.73/7] is usually taken to be a denial of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; yet strictly speaking what is rejected is a doctrine of tritheism which orthodox Christianity also rejects. Similarly the rejection of the fatherhood of God the Father and the sonship of God the Son is strictly speaking a rejection of fatherhood and sonship in a physical sense; and this Christianity would also reject. The Virgin Birth is taught [19.16-33/4], but is interpreted simply as a miracle. The denial that Jesus died on the cross [4.157/6-159/7] is primarily a denial that the crucifixion was a Jewish victory; but, in line with the absence of the conception of sacrifice, it means that the Quran never speaks of the atonement or saving work of Jesus. (Bells Introduction to the Quran, revised by Montgomery Watt, Chapter 9, "The Doctrines of the Quran"; source; underline emphasis ours)
Before we begin looking at what the Quran teaches regarding the Christian Trinity, it needs to be mentioned that the precise theological term used at the time by Arabic speaking Christians for the blessed Trinity was(is) Al-Aqanim-Al-Thalatha (lit., "the Hypostases, the Three", or "the Three Hypostases").
The Quran neither mentions this expression nor comes remotely close to accurately defining what Christians meant by it. As we shall now see, the Quran erroneously claims that Christians believe God is "the third of three," with Jesus and Mary comprising the other two:
O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Marium and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His apostles, and say not, Three (thalathatun). Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector. S. 4:171
They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. Say: Who then can do aught against Allah, if He had willed to destroy the Messiah son of Mary, and his mother and everyone on earth? Allah's is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. He createth what He will. And Allah is Able to do all things. S. 5:17
They are unbelievers who say, God is the Messiah, Marys son. For the Messiah said, Children of Israel, serve God, my Lord and your Lord. Verily whoso associates with God anything, God shall prohibit him entrance to Paradise, and his refuge shall be the Fire; and wrongdoers shall have no helpers. They are unbelievers who say, 'God is the Third of Three (thalithu thalathatin). No god is there but One God. If they refrain not from what they say, there shall afflict those of them that disbelieve a painful chastisement. Will they not turn to God and pray His forgiveness? God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger; Messengers before him passed away; his mother was a just woman; they both ate food. Behold, how We make clear the signs to them; then behold, how they perverted are! S. 5:70-75
The above passages presuppose that when Christians say God is three they meant God, Jesus and Mary. After all, why bother mentioning that Mary ate food and that Allah could destroy her if he wanted? Doesnt this assume that she cannot be a god or goddess if she had to eat and could be annihilated? The next passage should help erase any doubts that this is what the Quran means by all this:
And when God said, O Jesus son of Mary, didst thou say unto men, "Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God"? He said, To Thee be glory! It is not mine to say what I have no right to. If I indeed said it, Thou knowest it, knowing what is within my soul, and I know not what is within Thy soul; Thou knowest the things unseen I only said to them what Thou didst command me: "Serve God, my Lord and your Lord." And I was a witness over them, while I remained among them; but when Thou didst take me to Thyself, Thou wast Thyself the watcher over them; Thou Thyself art witness of everything. S. 5:116-117
In fact, according to the earliest Muslim biographer Ibn Ishaq the Quran was specifically correcting this erroneous belief in God, Mary and Jesus as three separate divinities. In his work, Sirat Rasulullah, Ishaq states that a Christian deputation from Najran came to debate Muhammad on the person of Jesus. Accordingly, these Christians allegedly believed that Jesus,
"is God; and He is the son of God; and He is the third Person of the Trinity, which is the doctrine of Christianity." (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaqs Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, tenth impression 1995], p. 271; bold emphasis ours)
He goes on to say that,
"They argue that he is the third of three in that God says: We have done, We have commanded, We have created and We have decreed, and they say, If He were one He would have said I have done, I have created, and so on, but He is He and Jesus and Mary. Concerning all these assertions the Quran came down." (Ibid., pp. 271-272; bold emphasis ours)
Another renowned Muslim commentator al-Zamakhshari candidly admitted that this passage was attacking the belief in Father, Mary and Jesus as three gods:
The (word) three is the predicate to an understood subject. If one accepts the Christian view that God exists in one nature (jauhar) with three divine persons, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and (if one accept) the opinion that the person of the Father represents (God's) being (dhat), the person of the Son represents (his) knowledge ('ilm), and the person of the Holy Spirit represents (his) life (hayat), then one must supply the subject as follows: 'God is three(fold).' Otherwise, one must supply (the subject) thus: 'The gods are three.' ACCORDING TO THE EVIDENCE OF THE QUR'AN, the Christians maintain that God, Christ, and Mary are three gods, and that Christ is the child of God by Mary, AS GOD SAYS (in the Qur'an): O Jesus son of Mary, didst thou say unto men: "Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God"? (Sura 5:116), or: The Christians say: "The Messiah is the Son of God" (Sura 9:30). Moreover, it is well known that the Christians maintain that in Jesus are (combined) a divine nature derived from the Father and a human nature derived from his mother At the same time these words [Sura 4:171] exclude (the Christian view) that Jesus had with God the usual relationship between sons and (their) fathers (Helmut Gätje, The Qur'an and its Exegesis [Oneworld Publications, 1996], pp. 126-127; bold, capital and underline emphasis and words within brackets ours)
The errors made by Ibn Ishaq and al-Zamakhshari regarding what Christians truly believe becomes apparent to anyone familiar with the basics of the Christian faith. In the first place, orthodox Christians have never taken Mary as a goddess alongside God. If the Quran were referring to a heretical group of Christians known as the Maryamites this would then serve to strengthen the position that these verses do not address Trinitarians, but apostates that deviated from the true faith. More on this shortly.
This also calls into question the whole episode of Ibn Ishaqs report on the Christians from Najran and their beliefs. These Christians were either heretics, and if so then Ibn Ishaq is wrong for claiming that their belief that Jesus was the third of three is the doctrine of Christianity since these Christians do not speak on behalf of all of Christendom. Or the whole story was fabricated in order to present Muhammad and the Muslims in a favorable light, as well as to present the Christians very negatively.
Second, we have already indicated that the historic Christian teaching has never been that God is three or the third of three, which would be tritheism (three separate gods forming a unity) as opposed to Trinity (Tri-unity), ONE God who exists in Three distinct yet inseparable Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).
Third, orthodox Christians have never taught as part of their doctrine that Jesus is the third Person of the Trinity. Rather, he is the Second Person, with the Holy Spirit being the third Person of the Godhead (cf. Matthew 28:19).
Fourth, Muslims believe that Allah of the Quran is the same as God the Father of the Holy Bible since they do not believe in God the Son, Jesus Christ, or in God the Holy Spirit (whom Muslims believe is the angel Gabriel). This again causes a problem since if Allah is indeed the same Person as God the Father then the Quran is wrong in saying that Christians believe that the Father is the third of three. Christians teach that the Father is the First Person of the One True Godhead, not the third deity of three gods.
These errors of the Quran are so egregious and embarrassing that some Muslims end up deliberately distorting the translation in order to hide them. The late Abdullah Yusuf Ali is a case in point:
Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for God is one God S. 4:171
They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God S. 5:73
As Dr. Morey noted regarding Alis deliberate distortion of these texts:
The Quran is so clearly erroneous at this point that Muslims such as Yusuf Ali must mistranslate the Quran to get away from it! (Ibid., p. 153)
The late Muhammad Asad followed this tradition of Quranic distortion:
FOLLOWERS of the Gospel! Do not overstep the bounds [of truth] in your religious beliefs, and do not say of God anything but the truth. The Christ Jesus, son of Mary, was but God's Apostle - [the fulfilment of] His promise which He had conveyed unto Mary - and a soul created by Him (wa ruhun minhu). Believe, then, in God and His apostles, and do not say, "[God is] a trinity". Desist [from this assertion] for your own good. God is but One God; utterly remote is He, in His glory, from having a son: unto Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and none is as worthy of trust as God. S. 4:171
Here, Asad distorts the text in two ways. First, he rendered the Arabic expression ruhin minhu as "a soul created by Him" in order to mask the fact that Jesus is said to be a Spirit which proceeded from Allah. The text says nothing about Jesus being created. Second he renders the Arabic word thalathatun as trinity, much like Ali had done. The translation of the next passage is even worse than the above:
Indeed, the truth deny they who say, "Behold, God is the third of a trinity" - seeing that there is no deity whatever save the One God. And unless they desist from this their assertion, grievous suffering is bound to befall such of them as are bent on denying the truth. S. 5:73
As we clearly proved, historic Christianity has never taught that God (in this case the Father) is the third of a trinity! God is one eternal Being, and the Father is the first Person of the Trinity.
Fifth, the Quran also distorts Christian beliefs regarding the Person of Christ when it accuses Christians of saying that God, or Allah, is the Christ. The historic Christian position is that Jesus is God, which is not the same as saying that God is Jesus. The former implies that Christ is fully God in essence; that he has the entire essential attributes of Deity and is all that God is, whereas the latter suggests that Christ is the only one that is God. In other words, saying that God is Jesus means that the entire Godhead is instantiated in Christ alone to the exclusion of the Father and the Holy Spirit, or that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are nothing more than manifestations of a single Divine Person. This latter understanding would imply that Christ is all three manifestations, which is a form of an ancient heresy known as Sabellianism which was condemned by the early Church.
This precision in theological language is not a modern invention or polemic, nor is it simply a matter of splitting hairs, but an essential difference and position held by orthodox Christians even before Muhammads time. As Muslim author Neal Robinson noted in reference to an ancient Nestorian reference:
The text which dates from around 550 CE. concludes a discussion of the Trinity with the words The Messiah is God but God is not the Messiah. The Quran echoes only the latter half of the statement. C. Schedl, Muhammad and Jesus (Vienna: Herder, 1978), p. 531. (Robinson, Christ In Islam and Christianity [State University of New York Press, Albany 1991], p. 197; bold emphasis ours)
Finally, the Quran assumes that Jesus could only be the offspring of God and Mary if God had physically sired him. The Qurans basic argument is that God cannot have a son since he has no wife, which means Jesus could only be his Son if Mary was Gods wife:
And they make the jinn associates with Allah, while He created them, and they falsely attribute to Him sons and daughters without knowledge; glory be to Him, and highly exalted is He above what they ascribe (to Him). Wonderful Originator of the heavens and the earth! How could He have a son when He has no consort, and He (Himself) created everything, and He is the Knower of all things. S. 6:100-101
The truth is that - exalted be the Majesty of our Lord - HE has taken unto Himself neither wife nor son, S. 72:3
Anyone reading the Holy Bible and who has studied Christian teaching already knows that this claim is just as blasphemous and insulting to Christians as it is to Muslims. Christs relationship with the Father has absolutely nothing to do with physical procreation, but refers to an eternal and purely eternal spiritual relationship between them.
Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb stated regarding this gross distortion of biblical teaching:
The Bible refers to Christ as the "only begotten" Son of God (John 1:18; cf. 3:16). However, Muslim scholars often misconstrue this in a fleshly, carnal sense of someone literally begetting children. For them, to beget implies a physical act. This they believe is absurd, since God is a Spirit with no body. As the noted Muslim apologist Deedat contends, "He [God] does not beget because begetting is an animal act. It belongs to the lower animal act of sex. We do not attribute such an act to God." For the Islamic mind begetting is creating and "God cannot create another God. He cannot create another uncreated." The foregoing statements reveal the degree to which the biblical concept of Christs sonship is misunderstood by Muslim scholars. For no orthodox Christian scholar believes that "begat" is to be equated with "made" or "create." No wonder Dawud concludes that from a "Muslim point of belief the Christian dogma concerning the eternal birth or generation of the Son is blasphemy."
However, this extreme reaction to Christs eternal Sonship is both unnecessary and unfounded. The phrase "only begotten" does not refer to physical generation but to a special relationship with the Father. Like the biblical phrase "Firstborn" (Col. 1:15), it means priority in rank, not in time (cf. vs. 16-17). It could be translated, as the New International Version does, Gods "One and Only" Son. It does not imply creation by the Father but unique relation to him. Just as an earthly father and son have a special filial relationship, even so the eternal Father and his eternal Son are uniquely related. It does not refer to any physical generation but to an eternal procession from the Father. Just as for Muslims the Word of God (Quran) is not identical to God but eternally proceeds from him, even so for Christians, Christ, as Gods "Word" (4:171) eternally proceeds from him. Words like "generation" and "procession" are used by Christians of Christ in a filial and relational sense, not in a carnal and physical sense.
Misunderstanding of Christs sonship reaches an apex when some Muslim scholars confuse it with the virgin Birth. Nazir-Ali notes that "in the Muslim mind the generation of the Son often means his birth of the Virgin Mary." With such a carnal misrepresentation of a spiritual reality, little wonder Muslims reject the Christian concept of eternal Father and Son. (Geisler & Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross [Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI; updated and revised, second edition 2002], pp. 263-264)
For more on why the Qurans reasoning regarding God needing a wife in order to have a son is simply fallacious please read this article.
As it stands, the Quran nowhere addresses or condemns the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity or the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, but badly distorts Christian beliefs. In light of these facts, why do Muslims bother attacking the Trinity when their own religious text gives them no warrant to do so?
The Quran and the Collyridian Connection
Some Muslims try to look for a Christian group that they can connect with the Qurans attacks so as to avoid having to admit that the Quran is in error. By appealing to certain Christian authors and sources, Muslims think that they have found such a group. Among the fourth century heretics there was one particular Arabian sect known as the Collyridians who were infamous for their worship of Mary as a goddess. Muslims feel that this may in fact be the sect which the Quran is addressing.
There are several immediate problems with this position. In the first place, this was an early sect which was already condemned by the Church at large. Second, there is no evidence that this group flourished till the time of Muhammad.
As Roman Catholic writer and apologist Patrick Madrid writes:
Most of the early heresies were Trinitarian and christological in nature, but there was, early on, a now obscure heresy that sought to deify the Blessed Virgin Mary. This movement was known as Collyridianism.
Little is known about Collyridian theology - few of the early Church Fathers mention the sect, even indirectly - and what little we do know is sketchy and very general. Not even the names of the group's leaders are mentioned by writers of the time. But one thing we do know for sure from the evidence that does exist: The early Church was horrified by the very idea of a Christian worshipping Mary or in any way rendering to her the adoration (Greek: latria) due to God alone. Such horror should be the reaction of any Catholic today when faced with a similar problem. An examination of the Collyridian heresy will serve as a reminder for us today the Catholic Churchs strenuous teaching that we should honor and venerate Mary, but never adore her (or any other creature).
The Collyridians were known for their excessive Marian devotion which developed into the outright idolatry of "Mary worship." This aberration grew out of the Church's rightful veneration of Mary as ever-virgin, Mother of God, and powerful heavenly intercessor, but it crossed the line of orthodoxy when certain Christians began to worship Mary as divine.
Details about the Collyridians are so scanty that one of the few specifics we know of them is that at their liturgical service bread was offered as a sacrifice to Mary. The historical evidence shows that a strong and widespread practice of orthodox devotion to Mary (described by the theologians of that day as hyper-dulia: a Greek term meaning the highest form of veneration that can be offered to a creature) by the 300s, but its remarkable that very few disputes arose on issues pertaining directly to her or her role in the Church... The Collyridians heresy was very simple: They worshiped Mary. This was in direct conflict with the Catholic Church's condemnation of idolatry, as well as the Lord's condemnation (Ex. 20:3-5). This proscription applied not just to statue worship but to the worship of anything besides God It's ironic that the most diligent opponent of the Collyridians was Epiphanius (315-403), the bishop of Salamis The vehemence of his opposition to the Collyridians idolatry was rivaled by his fanatical opposition to icons
Epiphanius wrote against the Collyridians in his apologetics work, Panarion (Greek: Medicine Box [A.D. 374-377]), a tour de force refutation of over eighty heresies he was aware of. Interestingly, he refuted the two extreme and diametrically opposed Marian heresies of his day, Collyridianism (which overly exalted Mary) and Antidicomarianitism, an Arabian movement that debased Mary's status and virtues, to the point of claiming "that holy Mary had intercourse with a man, that is to say, Joseph, after the birth of Christ."
The Collyridians were mainly women, who developed a syncretistic combination of Catholicism and pagan Goddess cults customs. After describing the "awful and blasphemous ceremony" in which these women would adorn a chair or a square throne and spread a linen cloth over it for their ritual, Epiphanius writes,
"Certain women there in Arabia have introduced this absurd teaching from Thracia: how they offer up a sacrifice of bread roles in the name of the Ever-Virgin Mary, and all partake of this bread."
He emphasizes the difference between Mary (the holiest, most perfect creature, but a creature nonetheless), and God:
"It is not right to honor the saints beyond their due Now the body of Mary was indeed holy, but it was not God; the Virgin was indeed virgin and revered, but she was not given to us [by God] for worship, but she herself worshipped Him who was born in the flesh from her . Honor Mary, but let the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be worshipped, but let no one worship Mary, even though Mary is most beautiful and holy and venerable, yet she is not to be worshipped."
The bottom line is this: Anyone who worships Mary or any other creature is committing idolatry and must be rebuked. We should look to Scripture, at the case of the angel who rebuked John for his temptation to idolatry, to see how to admonish modern-day Collyridians:
"At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" (Rev. 19:10).
Our Lady herself would say this to any who would seek to worship her. (Madrid, Any Friend of Gods Is a Friend of Mine: A biblical and historical explanation of the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of the Saints [Basilica Press, San Diego, CA 1996], pp. 108-113)
Philip Schaff wrote regarding this marginal sect:
Epiphanius, in his seventy-eighth Heresy, combats the advocates of the opposite view in Arabia toward the end of the fourth century (367), as heretics under the title of Antidikomarianites, opposers of the dignity of Mary, i.e., of her perpetual virginity. But, on the other hand, he condemns, in the seventy-ninth Heresy, the contemporaneous sect of the Collyridians in Arabia, a set of fanatical women, who, as priestesses, rendered divine worship to Mary, and, perhaps in imitation of the worship of Ceres, offered little cakes (kollurivde") to her; he claims adoration for God and Christ alone. Jerome wrote, about 383, with indignation and bitterness against Helvidius and Jovinian, who, citing Scripture passages and earlier church teachers, like Tertullian, maintained that Mary bore children to Joseph after the birth of Christ. He saw in this doctrine a desecration of the temple of the Holy Ghost, and he even compares Helvidius to Erostratus, the destroyer of the temple at Ephesus. The bishop Bonosus of Sardica was condemned for the same view by the Illyrican bishops, and the Roman bishop Siricius approved the sentence, a.d. 392
The first instance of the formal invocation of Mary occurs in the prayers of Ephraim Syrus ( 379), addressed to Mary and the saints, and attributed by the tradition of the Syrian church, though perhaps in part incorrectly, to that author. The first more certain example appears in Gregory Nazianzen ( 389), who, in his eulogy on Cyprian, relates of Justina that she besought the virgin Mary to protect her threatened virginity, and at the same time disfigured her beauty by ascetic self-tortures, and thus fortunately escaped the amours of a youthful lover (Cyprian before his conversion). But, on the other hand, the numerous writings of Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, and Augustine, furnish no example of an invocation of Mary. Epiphanius even condemned the adoration of Mary, and calls the practice of making offerings to her by the Collyridian women, blasphemous and dangerous to the soul. The entire silence of history respecting the worship of the Virgin down to the end of the fourth century, proves clearly that it was foreign to the original spirit of Christianity, and belongs among the many innovations of the post-Nicene age. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, Chapter VII, "PUBLIC WORSHIP AND RELIGIOUS CUSTOMS AND CEREMONIES."; source)
The Christians belonged mostly to the various heretical sects which were expelled from the Roman empire during the violent doctrinal controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. We find there traces of Arians, Sabellians, Ebionites, Nestorians, Eutychians, Monophysites, Marianites, and Collyridians or worshippers of Mary. Anchorets and monks settled in large numbers in Wady Feiran around Mount Serbal, and Justinian laid the foundation of the Convent of St. Catharine at the foot of Mount Sinai, which till the year 1859 harbored the oldest and most complete uncial manuscript of the Greek Scriptures of both Testaments from the age of Constantine. But it was a very superficial and corrupt Christianity which had found a home in those desert regions, where even the apostle Paul spent three years after his conversion in silent preparation for his great mission. (Schaff, Volume IV, Chapter III, "Mohammedanism in its Relation to Christianity": source)
More importantly, even if such a group did exist during Muhammads time this still provides no justification for the Quran spending most of its focus on such an insignificant, marginal sect that had already been condemned by the Church universal. This is especially problematic when we realize that the Quran nowhere defines and/or condemns what the official historic doctrine of the Trinity teaches, or at least acknowledge that this is what the majority of Christians believed at that time.
As Geisler and Saleeb put it:
Islamic misunderstanding of the Trinity is encouraged by the words of Muhammad who said, "O Jesus, son of Mary! didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?" (5:119).
Even Christians living hundreds of years before Muhammad condemned such a gross misunderstanding of the sonship of Christ. The Christian writer Lactantius, writing about A.D. 306, said: "He who hears the words Son of God spoken must not conceive in his mind such great wickedness as to fancy that God procreated through marriage and union with any female, - a thing which is not done except by an animal possessed of a body and subject to death." Furthermore, "since God is alone with whom could He unite? or [sic], since He was of such great might as to be able to accomplish whatever He wished, He certainly had no need for the comradeship of another for the purpose of creating." In summation, the Muslim rejection of the eternal sonship of Christ is based on a serious misunderstanding of the Christian concept of what it means for Christ to be Gods Son. "Son" should be understood in a figurative sense (like the Arabic word, ibn), not in a physical sense (as in the Arabic word, walad). (Answering Islam, pp. 264-265)
It is equivalent to a person today writing about Muslims and Islam and accusing them of believing that Allah is actually a black man that appeared as a white man named Master Fard Muhammad, with the whites being a devil race created by an evil scientist named Yakub (the official beliefs of the Nation of Islam) without ever addressing what orthodox Islam officially teaches.
Finally, if the Quran were in fact refuting such a marginalized group then this only proves that the Islamic scripture nowhere condemns the doctrine of the Blessed and Holy Trinity.
The Quran and the Adoptionist Heresy
Another Muslim gentleman tried to deny that the Quran erroneously teaches that Christians believe that God had relations with Mary in order to physically beget Jesus as his Son. One Muslim named Tiger Chan, in his response to Christian apologist and writer Matt Slicks paper on the Qurans understanding of Christian beliefs stated:
Does the Qur'an teach that Christians believe as such; that Jesus as "Son of God" in the literal and biological sense? Lets take a look at some verses of the Qur'an ...
Note that the Qur'an says:
wa qalu ittakhaza Ar-Rahmanu walad(an)
And they say "The Most Gracious had taken a son".
The Arabic verb form of the singular tense is "ittakhaza" which means, to take, adopt (according to Hans-Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary). There is no meaning that "ittakhaza" also mean "to beget".
The Arabic-Arabic Dictionary "Al-Mu'tamad" which is an adaptation of "Lisan-ul-Arab", an Arabic lexicon, has "ittakhaza" to mean as "ittakhaza fulan(an) Sadeeq(an)" i.e., he has taken so and so as a friend. That means "ittakhaza" in the Arabic usage is "has taken", not "has begotten".
What the Qur'an says is that Christians who believe in the doctrine of Trinity are saying that God "had taken a son". The doctrine of Trinity has it that the 3 Persons of the Godhead are..God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The 3 Persons of the Godhead are co-equal in essence and attributes. God the Father "takes" Jesus as "the Son", that's why Jesus is called the Son, God the Father is called the Father. This is a divine relationship calling (that "taking") the 3 Persons as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In the Qur'anic sense, the term "ittakhaza" is pointing out that there is no such thing as God taking anything as having the status of sonship. The verse Qur'an 19:88 negates such a doctrine as in the doctrine of Trinity. It rejects just any form of sonship. The Qur'an doesn't say that Christians believe Jesus is the literal biological son of God, it rejects just any inkling to relating sonship to God. Another verse in the Qur'an confirms this,
wa qaalat Al-Yahoud wa An-Nasara nahnu abna'ullahi wa ahibba'uh.
and the Jews and Christians say that "we are the sons of God and His beloved"
Does the verse Qur'an 5:18 mean to say that the Jews and Christrians[sic] believe that they are literal and biological sons of God? Surely not!! The Qur'an finds that such a claim attributing just any form of sonship to God is repugnant and erroneous. Just as saying that Jesus as "Son of God" is erroneous, which belies God's divine majesty. God has no need of any sonship. Except that He needs all his creatures to be his slaves/servants as we have "Abdullah" i.e., the slave/servant of God. The term "Ibnullah" i.e., son of God is not acceptable to God.
Mr. Chans argument only reinforces our earlier claim that the Quran nowhere condemns the historic Christian view of the Trinity. The author has basically proven that the Quran only condemns another Christian heresy known as adoptionism. This heresy and biblical perversion taught(teaches) that Christ only became Gods Son at some point in time by adoption. God basically adopted, or "took", Christ as a Son during his earthly life, with the most popular view teaching that this occurred during Jesus baptism by John.
There is a Quranic verse that seems to support Mr. Chans position:
What! has He taken daughters out of what He himself creates, and granted to you sons for choice? S. 43:16 Y. Ali
The text denies that Allah has taken female creatures to be his daughters, which presupposes that the verb "taken" refers to the act of God adopting persons from creation. The authors quote of Sura 5:18 further supports this view since Jews and Christians believed they were Gods children via adoption, through their covenant relationship with God. They do not believe that they are Gods children as a result of a sexual union between God and a wife.
This may be one reason why Allah is against Muslims adopting children:
God has not assigned to any man two hearts within his breast; nor has He made your wives, when you divorce, saying, 'Be as my mother's back,' truly your mothers, neither has He made your adopted sons your sons in fact. That is your own saying, the words of your mouths; but God speaks the truth, and guides on the way. Call them after their true fathers; that is more equitable in the sight of God. If you know not who their fathers were, then they are your brothers in religion, and your clients. There is no fault in you if you make mistakes, but only in what your hearts premeditate. God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. S. 33:4-5
It seems that the author is basing this on the position that since Allah doesnt adopt neither should Muslims!
But since historic Christianity does not teach that God took Jesus to be his Son via adoption, but that Christ has always been Gods Son, Mr. Chan has only managed to prove that the Quran is simply condemning Christian heretics who erroneously believed that Jesus was a human creature whom God had adopted at some point in time! Thus, if Chan is correct then there is nothing in the Quran that refutes or denies the historic Christian doctrine of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. It only condemns heretical views of this blessed truth.
Yet unfortunately for Mr. Chan, we shall now see that his assertion regarding the verb ittakhaza not referring to biological procreation doesnt bear out. He writes next:
Should the meaning of "ittakhaza" also mean "begotten", then in the Qur'an itself we have a verse like ...
wa annahu ta'alaa jaddu Rabbina ma ittakhaza sahibat(an) wa la walad(an)
Which when taking "ittakhaza" as "begotten", the verse above will be translated as "and exalted is the Majesty of our Lord! He has not begotten either a wife or a son" which in this sense, the Arabic "ittakhaza" translated as begotten is VERY ABSURD !!! The correct translation should be, "and exalted is the Majesty of our Lord! He has not taken either a wife or a son".
The bottom line is, the Qur'an does not teach that Christians believe that Jesus is literal biological Son of God. It rejects any form of sonship related to God. Sometimes its the problem with dubious translations and many Muslims make this kind of mistakes by relying too much on a translation without looking at the Arabic sense.
Mr. Chans argument backfires against him. He is essentially saying that it is nonsensical to assume that the verb "taken" means "begotten" since this would imply that Allah begot a wife as well. But Mr. Chan forgot to realize that it is equally nonsensical to assume that the verb refers to adoption since this would mean that Allah took a wife by adopting her!
In English one can say, "First I took my final exam, then I took a camera and took some pictures, then I took the bus to the court house where I took my highschool love to be my wife", or even use only one instance of the word "take" and say, "I took a wife and my final exam on the same day". This does not mean that the verb "to take" means the exact same thing each time it is used. It is a very general verb with a broad meaning, in both English and Arabic. The meaning is determined by the context and the object that "is taken".
Therefore, the example provided by Mr. Chan doesn't rule out the possibility that Allah acquired a son through sexual procreation. After all, we know that the only way that Allah could take a wife is by marrying a woman. Likewise, the Quran assumes that the only way Allah could take a son is by having a wife, which means that the verb shouldnt be understood as denying a sexual act occurred. Rather, the context of the Quran shows that the verb "taken" refers to Allah acquiring a son by sexual intercourse, i.e. that Allah could only take a son by sexual procreation with a consort. But since Allah has no wife and doesnt have sex he therefore could not have taken and can never take a son.
We do agree with Mr. Chan on one thing. The Quran does deny that Allah can have sons in any sense, whether in a biological or in a purely spiritual manner, since it erroneously assumes that Allah could only have a son if he has sex with a consort.
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page