Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Quranic understanding of historic Christian theology

A critical examination of Dr. Jerald F. Dirks’ arguments
In light of the express teachings of the Quran

Sam Shamoun

In light of the fact that Dr. Jerald F. Dirks raises a number of objections to the historic Christian position concerning God and Christ we have decided to examine the Quran in order to document what Dirks’ own scriptural authority says in respect to these issues. We will analyze the Muslim scripture to show that Dirks’ assertion that Islam rejects the orthodox Christian understanding of God, Christ, the Spirit etc., is not at all an accurate assessment of what the Quran itself actually teaches. We will then raise some objections of our own, specifically to his views concerning the nature of Islamic monotheism, e.g. belief in the Trinity or of God existing as a plurality of Divine Persons within a singular Being is somehow incompatible with Islamic theology.

Does the Quran reject the traditional understanding of Jesus’ essential Sonship?

What makes Dirk’s criticisms of Christianity rather interesting is that the Quran nowhere accurately defines or condemns historic orthodox Christian beliefs. It actually condemns the very position which Dirks has sought to prove is the earliest Christology taught by such NT books as Luke, namely adoptionism!

For instance, the Islamic text says that even though Allah could take an offspring from his creation if he so chooses,

Had Allah desired to take to Him (yattakhitha) a son, He would have chosen whatever He willed of that He has created. Glory be to Him! He is God, the One, the Omnipotent. S. 39:4

Or has He taken to Himself (ittakhatha), from that He creates, daughters, and favoured you with sons? S. 43:16

The fact is that he has not chosen to do so since this would be unbefitting to his majesty:

They say, ‘Allah has taken to Him (ittakhatha) a son. Glory be to Him! He is All-sufficient; to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth; you have no authority for this. What, do you say concerning Allah that you know not? S. 10:68

And say: 'Praise belongs to Allah, who has not taken to Him (yattakhith) a son, and who has not any associate in the Kingdom, nor any protector out of humbleness.' And magnify Him with repeated magnificats. S. 17:111

He said, ‘Lo, I am the servant of Allah; Allah has given me the Book, and made me a Prophet. He has made me blessed, wherever I may be; and He has enjoined me to pray, and to give the alms, so long as I live, and likewise to be dutiful to my mother; He has not made me arrogant, unprosperous. Peace be upon me, the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised up alive!' That is Jesus, son of Mary, a word of truth, concerning which they are doubting. It is not for Allah to take unto Him (yattakhitha) a son. Glory be to Him! When He decrees a thing, He but says to it 'Be,' and it is. S. 19:30-35

And they say, ‘The All-merciful has taken unto Himself (ittakhatha) a son.’ You have indeed advanced something hideous! The heavens are wellnigh rent of it and the earth split asunder, and the mountains wellnigh fall down crashing for that they have attributed to the All-merciful a son; and it behoves not the All-merciful to take a son. None is there in the heavens and earth but he comes to the All-merciful as a servant; He has indeed counted them, and He has numbered them exactly. Every one of them shall come to Him upon the Day of Resurrection, all alone. 19:88-95

Allah has not taken unto Himself (ittakhatha) any son, nor is there any other god along with Him; in that case each god would have taken away what he had created, and some of them would, surely, have sought domination over others. Glorified be Allah far above that which they allege; S. 23:91 – cf. 2:116; 18:4; 21:26; 25:2

That the verb used in the above passages can mean taking in the sense of adopting can be readily seen from the following citations:

The man in Egypt who bought him, said to his wife: “Make his stay (among us) honourable: may be he will bring us much good, or we shall adopt him (nattakhithahu) as a son.” Thus did We establish Joseph in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of stories (and events). And God hath full power and control over His affairs; but most among mankind know it not. S. 12:21

The wife of Pharaoh said: “(Here is) joy of the eye, for me and for thee: slay him not. It may be that he will be use to us, or we may adopt him (nattakhithahu) as a son.” And they perceived not (what they were doing)! S. 28:9

In these examples it is clear that the verb means that the couples wanted to adopt the individuals in question, i.e. Potiphar wanted to adopt Joseph whereas Pharaoh’s wife wanted to adopt Moses.  

Thus, what the Quran is rejecting is the notion of Allah adopting a son! Seeing that Biblical and orthodox Christianity does not hold the view that God took or adopted Jesus to be his Son at the baptism or resurrection (despite Dirks’ claims to the contrary), this means that the Muslim scripture is not rejecting the historic Christian understanding of Jesus’ eternal Sonship. It is actually condemning the erroneous heretical doctrine of adoptionism!(1)

The Quran further contends that Allah could only have a son if he has a consort, thereby insinuating that Allah could only acquire an offspring through sexual procreation! And since Allah isn’t a sexual being and doesn’t have a consort it is therefore impossible for him to have a son:  

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. 6:101

The rhetorical device used here by the author(s) rejects two things from ever possibly taking place. First, Allah cannot have or take a son without having a wife. Second, it is impossible for Allah to have a consort, which therefore means that he can never have a son.

The assertion that God can only have children through sexual intercourse or that Jesus is God’s Son through a sexual act between God and a consort (in this case Mary) is just as offensive and blasphemous to Christians as it is to Muslims: 

“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, 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 God’s 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).” (Geisler & Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross [Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI; updated and revised, second edition 2002], Part 3. A Positive Defense of the Christian Perspective, 12. A Defense of the Trinity, pp. 264-265)

However, to assume that this is the only way that God can have a son is simply erroneous. In fact, the author(s) seem(s) to not be buying his/her/their own logic since we saw earlier that Allah could simply take or adopt a son from his creation if he wanted to (Q. 39:4).

Moreover, after being told that she would have a son even though she was still a virgin Mary the mother of Christ basically employs the logic of Q. 6:101 in questioning whether this could be possible without sexual intercourse. And instead of agreeing with her Allah responds by saying that it is easy for him to cause her to conceive and bear a son without needing a man to impregnate her. All Allah needs to do is simply say, “Be,” and Mary will have an offspring (cf. Q. 3:47; 19:20-21).

Yet if Mary could have a child without having a husband why can’t the all-powerful creator and sustainer of the universe have a son without having a consort? If Allah is able to cause a virgin maiden to conceive a child without needing a man to get her pregnant then why is Allah incapable of having a son without having sex with a spouse?

As it stands the Quran nowhere condemns the historic Christian understanding of Jesus’ Sonship, just as the following scholar of Islamic studies notes:

“It is now time to consider the Quranic and Biblical use of the word ‘Son’ as applied to Jesus. This seems to be one of the great points of difference between these holy books, yet perhaps the difference is not so great as appears at first sight. Some of ‘the sects have differed’, and the Qur'an seeks to correct them.

“There are many passages in the Qur’an denying that God has offspring, and only a few can be quoted. Perhaps the most famous is the short sura 112, al-Ikhlās, the Unity: ‘Say: “He is God, One; God, the eternal; he brought not forth, nor hath he been brought forth; Co-equal with him there hath never been any one”.’

“This short sura is one of the most popular, recited every day by most Muslims. It is a denial of God producing offspring in the human manner, and of God having any associates. It stresses the Unity of God and his difference from men. Since it is generally regarded as one of the earliest Meccan suras, this would mean that it was directed against the many gods of pagan Arabia, though later writers turned it also against Christian doctrine.

“The attack on the polytheism of Mecca is taken up by name in 53,19-21: ‘Have ye considered Al-Lāt, and Al-Uzzā and the third, Manāt, the other (goddess)? Have ye male (issue) and he female?’ This is a forceful rejection of the notion that God had either male or female offspring, and that the pagan gods or goddesses could be accommodated under this name. So constantly throughout the Qur'an such pagan deities are rejected. As W. M. Watt says, ‘in passages denying that God has offspring the presumption is that the primary reference is to paganism unless there is a clear mention of Jesus’.

“What then is said about Jesus in this respect? There are only three clear references, apart from those which deal specifically with semi-trinitarian ideas which will be considered in the next chapter. The first is at the conclusion of the Meccan narrative of the birth of Jesus… 19,35-36/34-35… This we saw earlier to be the declaration of the birth of Jesus by divine decree, rather than explaining it through vulgar biological speculation in the manner of the apocrypha. But for our present purpose the key words are ‘take to himself any offspring’. ‘Take to himself’ means literally to ‘acquire’ (yatta-khidha), and so this verse denies that God acquires a son in the course of time. This had been said by Adoptionist and Arian heretics in Christianity, who said that Jesus became or was adopted Son of God at his baptism or some other moment. But the orthodox rejected this in teaching that the Son is eternal… There are many other Quranic verses that reject this notion of ‘acquisition’ of a son, usually with little clear reference to Christian or semi-Christian belief… These may all be presumed to be directed primarily against pagan polytheism, or at the most against the Adoptionist heresy. But two other passages are more pointed. 4,169/171: ‘The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only the messenger of God … God is only one God; glory be to him (far from) his having a son.’ In the light of the above this can fairly be taken to mean that Jesus, as Messiah, was not added to God as a son… the objection to the use of the word ‘son’ remains against the background of Arabian paganism, to which it ‘could only mean one thing, namely, the son of God by cohabitation with a woman. That this is not what Christians meant by the term goes without saying.’ (Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’ān [OneWorld Publishers, Oxford England, Reprinted 1996], 13. Son of God, pp. 126-128; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The following source concurs:

“Another Christian concept that the Koran criticizes vehemently is that Jesus should be God’s son. The verse just cited that negates ‘three’ continues by saying, ‘Glory be to Him - that He should have a son!’ (4:171). Elsewhere the Koran says, ‘How should He have a son, seeing that He has no female companion, and He created all things, and He has knowledge of everything?’ (6:101).

Koranic usage and the general Muslim understanding make clear that by son, Muslims understand not a symbol or a metaphor, but a physical son, born of a mother, God's supposed female companion. It may be that some Christians have thought that God has taken a wife, or that he somehow impregnated the Virgin Mary, giving birth to his son. But no Christian theologian has ever imagined such a thing. For Christians, Jesus’ sonship is a reality, but it cannot be taken in a physical sense. The fact that Mary is often called the Mother of God does not help clear up the matter for the Muslims, who have only the Koranic text and popular misconceptions of an alien religion to go by.

“That the idea of sonship is understood by Muslims in a literal sense is obvious, for example, in the short text of Sura 112, often called Tawhid. Anyone who thinks about the implications of sonship and fatherhood will quickly understand that these are relative terms. Everyone who is a son is also (potentially at least) a father, and everyone who is a father is also a son, with the sole exception of Adam. Notice that in affirming tawhid, the Koran not only negates the idea that Jesus could have been God’s son, but also the necessary correlative, that God could have been someone else’s son, surely the ultimate absurdity in Muslim eyes:” (Sachiko Murata & William C. Chittick, The Vision of Islam [Paragon House Publishers, paperback 1995], Part II: Iman, Chapter 4. Islam and Other religions, p. 171; bold emphasis ours)

This leads us to our next section.

Does the Quran reject the Trinity?

Amazingly, the Quran even gets the Trinity wrong! There is not a single statement in the entire Quran which accurately defines and rejects the orthodox Christian definition of God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What the Muslim scripture attacks is the belief that Allah is the third of three gods, something that historic Christianity outright rejects:  

They are unbelievers who say, ‘Allah is the third of three (thalithu thalathatin).’ No god is there but One Allah. If they refrain not from what they say, there shall afflict those of them that disbelieve a painful chastisement. Will they not turn to Allah and pray His forgiveness? Allah 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. 5:73-75

It is apparent from the context that the passage is attacking the belief in three gods consisting of Allah, Mary and Jesus, with Allah being the third of these three. After all, why bother to mention that Mary and Jesus ate food unless the intention is to show that they could not be divine since eating is something that Allah doesn’t do? 

This is further substantiated by the following verses:

And when Allah said, 'O Jesus son of Mary, didst thou say unto men, "Take me and my mother as gods, apart from Allah"?' 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 Allah, 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

Furthermore the Arabic word for third (thalith) is used in two other places of the Quran and in both instances it refers to someone or something that comes third in time, position or order:   

when We sent unto them two men, but they cried them lies, so We sent a third (thalithin) as reinforcement. They said, ‘We are assuredly Envoys unto you.’ S. 36:14

Here, thalith refers to an envoy that was chronologically the third one that Allah sent.

Have you considered al-Lat and al-'Uzza and Manat the third (al-thalithata), the other? S. 53:19-20

In this text Manat is mentioned third, which again shows that thalith in Quranic usage refers to someone or something that comes third in order, rank, position, time etc.

Thus, by saying that Allah is the third of three this means that Allah comes in third place and therefore holds the third order or position, i.e. Jesus and Mary are two gods with Allah coming in as the third god, much like Manat is third in respect to al-Lat and al-Uzza.

Lest a Muslim try to deny that the phrase “third of three” or “three” refers to three gods, namely Allah, Jesus and Mary, notice the following Muslim explanations.

Ibn ‘Abbas

Allah then revealed about the Nestorian Christians of Najran who claimed that Jesus was the son of Allah and that Jesus and the Lord are partners, saying: (O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate) do not be extreme (in your religion) for this is not the right course (nor utter aught concerning Allah save the Truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary) and through His word he became a created being, (and a spirit from Him) and through His command, Jesus became a son without a father. (So believe in Allah and His messengers) all the messengers including Jesus, (and say not “Three”) a son, father and wife. (Cease!) from making such a claim and repent ((it is) better for you!) than such a claim. (Allah is only One God) without a son or partner. (Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that he should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth) are His servants. (And Allah is sufficient as Defender) as Lord of all created beings and He is witness of what He says about Jesus. (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs, Q. 4:171; bold and underline emphasis ours)

(The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger) sent to people, (messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food) they were both servants who used to eat food. (See) O Muhammad (how we make the revelations) the signs that Jesus and his mother were not gods (clear for them, and see) O Muhammad (how they are turned away) through lies! (Q. 5:75; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Ibn Ishaq

The names of the fourteen principal men among the sixty riders were: ‘Abdu’l-Masih the ‘Aqib, al-Ayham the Sayyid; Abu Haritha b. ‘Alqama brother of B. Bakr b. Wa’il; Aus; al-Harith; Zayd; Qays; Yazid; Nubayh; Khuwaylid; ‘Amr; Khalid; ‘Amr; Khalid; ‘Abdullah; Johannes; of these the first three named above spoke to the apostle. They were Christians according to the Byzantine rite, though they differed among themselves in some points, saying He is God; and He is the son of God; and He is the third person of the Trinity, which is the doctrine of Christianity. They argue that he is God because he used to raise the dead, and heal the sick, and declare the unseen; and make clay birds and then breathe into them, so that they flew away; and all this was by the command of God Almighty, ‘We will make him a sign to men.’ They argue that he is son of God in that they say he had no known father; and he spoke in the cradle and this is something that no child of Adam has ever done. 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. (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], pp. 271-272; bold and underline emphasis ours)


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 saying in the understanding of His word: {they do blaspheme who say Allah is the third of three} and this is also news from Allah concerning another group of the Israelites whom (Allah) described their character in the forgoing verses when he (Allah) sent them a problem after they believed that they would not have problems and no harm when they blasphemed their Lord and associated (with him): Allah is the third of three. And this is a saying of many Christians before the splitting into Jacobites and Melkites and Nestorians, and they used to say as we have been told: The eternal God is one in essence who exists in three persons: Father begetter but is not begotten, and Son begotten but not begetter, and a wife following between them. And folks from among the interpreters said concerning our saying that he (Allah) intended with the verse the Christians. Reference to those who said that:

9596 – Muhammad bin al-Hussain told us, he said: Ahmad bin al-Mufaddal transmitted, he said: Isbat transmitted, from al-Suddi: {they do blaspheme who say Allah is the third of three} He said: The Christians said: He is the Messiah and his mother, just like the saying of Allah the exalted: {did you say to humanity take me and my mother as gods besides Allah?} (5:116)… (Q. 5:73; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir

<Say not: “Three!”> do not elevate `Isa and his mother to be gods with Allah. Allah is far holier than what they attribute to Him. In Surat Al-Ma'idah (chapter 5), Allah said…

<Surely, disbelievers are those who said: “Allah is the third of the three.” But there is none who has the right to be worshipped but One God.> Allah said by the end of the same Surah…

<And (remember) when Allah will say (on the Day of Resurrection): “O `Isa, son of Maryam! Did you say unto men: ‘Worship me’”> and in its beginning…

<Surely, in disbelief are they who say that Allah is the Messiah, son of Maryam.> The Christians, may Allah curse them, have no limit to their disbelief because of their ignorance, so their deviant statements and their misguidance grows. Some of them believe that `Isa is Allah, some believe that he is one in a trinity and some believe that he is the son of Allah. Their beliefs and creeds are numerous and contradict each other, prompting some people to say that if ten Christians meet, they would end up with eleven sects! (Q. 4:171; underline emphasis ours)

<Surely, they have disbelieved who say: “Allah is the third of three.”> Mujahid and several others said that this Ayah was revealed about the Christians in particular. As-Suddi and others said that this Ayah was revealed about taking `Isa and his mother as gods besides Allah, thus making Allah the third in a trinity. As-Suddi said, “This is similar to Allah's statement towards the end of the Surah…

<And (remember) when Allah will say: “O `Isa, son of Maryam! Did you say unto men: `Worship me and my mother as two gods besides Allah' He will say, "Glory be to You!”> [5:116]. Allah replied…

<But there is no god but One God.> meaning there are not many worthy of worship but there is only One God without partners, and He is the Lord of all creation and all that exists… (Q. 5:73; underline emphasis ours)

`Isa is Allah's Servant and His Mother is a Truthful Believer

Allah said…

<The Messiah, son of Maryam, was no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him.> `Isa is just like the previous Prophets, and he is one of the servants of Allah and one of His honorable Messengers. Allah said in another Ayah

<He [`Isa] was not more than a servant. We granted Our favor to him, and We made him an example for the Children of Israel.> Allah said next…

<His mother was a Siddiqah> for she believed in Allah with complete trust in Him. This is the highest rank she was given, which proves that she was not a Prophet. Allah said next…

<They both used to eat food> needing nourishment and to relieve the call of nature. Therefore, they are just servants like other servants, not gods as ignorant Christian sects claim, may Allah's continued curses cover them until the Day of Resurrection… (Q. 5:75; underline emphasis ours)


O People of the Scripture, the Gospel, do not go to extremes, do not go beyond the bounds, in your religion and do not say about God except, the saying of, the truth, such as exalting Him above any associations with a partner or a child: the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was only the Messenger of God, and His Word which He cast to, [which] He conveyed to, Mary, and a spirit, that is, one whose spirit is, from Him: he [Jesus] is here attached to God, exalted be He, as an honouring for him, and not as you claim, that he is the son of God, or a god alongside Him, or one of three, because one that possesses a spirit is compound, while God transcends being compound and the attribution of compounds to Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and do not say, that the gods are, ‘Three’, God, Jesus and his mother. Refrain, from this and say what, it is better for you, [to say], which is the profession of His Oneness. Verily, God is but One God. Glory be to Him, transcending [the possibility], that He should have a son! To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth, as possessions, creatures and servants, and such sovereignty is not compatible with [that] prophethood [of Jesus]. God suffices as a Guardian, a Witness to this. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Q. 4:171; bold and underline emphasis ours)

They are indeed disbelievers those who say, ‘God is the third of three’, gods, that is, He is one of them, the other two being Jesus and his mother, and they [who claim this] are a Christian sect; when there is no god but the One God. If they do not desist from what they say, when they declare a trinity, and profess His Oneness, those of them who disbelieve, that is, [those] who are fixed upon unbelief, shall suffer a painful chastisement, namely, the Fire. (Q. 5:73; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The errors of the Quran and the Islamic expositors regarding what historic Christianity teaches are obvious 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.

Secondly, the historic Christian position has never taught 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 eternally existing in Three distinct yet inseparable Persons (i.e., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). The Muslim scripture is therefore not addressing what Christians believe, just as the following authors noted:

“… Similarly, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity rigidly excludes all suggestion of physical generation, and any idea of polytheism or tritheism. God is one God, Paul said: ‘A false god has no existence in the real world. There is no God but one.’ (1 Cor. 8, 4)

“It is in the light of the above that other Quranic references to ‘three’ gods may be understood. One of the most commonly quoted is 4, 169/171… 

“The interpretation, in light of previous passages, would be: ‘Do not say three gods.’ And, ‘Far from his acquiring a son’ (in time, or by physical process).

“Especially grave in Muslim eyes is shirk, ‘association’ of anyone with God, giving God a partner, and generally anything that is in opposition to Quranic monotheism. Shirk is denounced in many verses of the Qur’an. 5, 76/72… 9, 31… 7, 190… 16, 53/51… 17, 23/22… 17, 111… 19, 36/35… 23, 93/91… 25, 2…

“Most of this is clearly against Arabian polytheism, with an occasional warning to others against a similar error. In later writings the practisers of ‘association’ are often virtually identified with the unbeliever (kafir), but in the Qur’an shirk is used clearly of those who deny the unity of God.” (Parrinder, 14. Trinity, pp. 136-137)


“To take a simple example, it is commonly said that the Koran rejects the Christian concept of the Trinity. Inasmuch as the Trinity is understood as negating tawhid, this is true. But not all Christians think that the Trinity negates tawhid. Quite the contrary, most formulations of the Trinitarian doctrine are careful to preserve God’s unity. If ‘threeness’ takes precedence over oneness, then the Koranic criticisms apply. But among Christians, the exact nature between the three and the one is a point of recurring debate. One of the actual Koranic verses that are taken as negating the Trinity says, ‘Those who say, “God is the third of three” have become truth-concealers’ (5:73). Even an elementary knowledge of any Christian catechism tells us that God is not ‘the third of three.’ Rather, God is one and three at the same time. Inasmuch as he is three, he presents himself to his creatures as three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

“Another Koranic verse says something similar, but now we have this first verse to help us understand what is being criticized… (4:171)

“Notice that this passage gives Jesus an extremely exalted position and recognizes that he has qualities possessed by no other prophet. However, it stresses once again that there is but a single God. If faith in Jesus leads to the affirmation of three gods, then the Koran rejects that. But again, the actual Christian position is highly subtle, and few if any Christians would hold that they have faith in other than a single God.” (Murata & Chittick, The Vision of Islam, Part II: Iman, Chapter 4. Islam and Other religions, p. 170; bold emphasis ours) 

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).

This also brings into question the entire episode of Ibn Ishaq’s where a group of Christians from Najran came to Muhammad. 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 in a favorable light, as well as to present the Christians very negatively.

Fourth, Muslims believe that Allah of the Quran is the same as the God who sent Jesus Christ, which identifies him with God the Father. 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. According to historic orthodox Christian beliefs the Father is the First Person of the One True Godhead, not the third deity of three gods.

Hence, the correct way of expressing what orthodox Christianity teaches concerning the order within the Godhead is to say that God is the first of the three  (Allaha awwalu thalathatin).

In fact, there are several ways that the author(s) of the Quran could have expressed what Christians actually believed concerning God the Father’s relationship within the Godhead. S/he/they could have articulated the Christian understanding that God the Father is the first of three by employing any of the following expressions,

Allah huwa wahid min thalatha.
Allah huwa awwal min thalatha.
Allah awwal thalatha.

As it stands the phrase used in the Muslim scripture concerning God the Father’s position within the Godhead is blatantly wrong.

Now if Dirks and others wish to contend the Quran is referring to a heretical group of Christians such as the Maryamites who were worshiping three gods, namely God Father, Mary the mother and Jesus their offspring, then this only strengthens our case that these verses do not address Trinitarians, but apostates that deviated from the true faith. More on this shortly.

The Quran on the Deity of Christ

The Islamic scripture also distorts the Christian understanding of the Person of Christ when it accuses Christians of saying that God, or Allah, is the Christ. The historic Christian view 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, having every essential attribute of Deity, being all that God is; the latter, however, suggests that Christ is the only Person of God, the only One who is God.

In other words, to say 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 on the basis of the explicit testimony of the Holy Scriptures which affirm that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are personally distinct from one another.

This precision in theological language is not a modern invention or polemic, nor is it simply a matter of splitting hairs, but a crucial distinction held by Trinitarians even before Muhammad’s time. As Muslim author Neal Robinson noted in relation 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 Qur’an 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)

And as another scholar writes,

“To say that God is Christ is a statement not found anywhere in the New Testament or in the Christian creeds. ‘God was in Christ’, said Paul, ‘reconciling the world to himself’. (2 Cor. 5, 19) But this reconciliation through Christ is quite different from saying that God is Christ. ‘You belong to Christ, and Christ to God’, said Paul again, putting the relationship into perspective. (1 Cor. 3:23)

“But in the early Church centuries there arose heresies, such as that of Patripassianism, which so identified Christ and God as to suggest that God the Father had suffered on the cross. About A.D. 200 Noetus had taught that Christ was God the Father, and therefore that the Father himself was born and suffered and died. These views were taken to Rome by Praxeas, of whom Tertullian said that ‘he drove out prophecy and brought in heresy, he put to flight the Comforter and crucified the Father’. The orthodox teaching of the Logos, the Word or ‘Son’ of God, was a defence against such heretical teaching, though it must be admitted that writers in later ages were not always careful enough in their use of these titles.” (Parrinder, 14. Trinity, pp. 133-134)

Hence, as it stands the Quran nowhere condemns the historic Christian understanding of the holy and blessed Trinity or the Divine Sonship of Christ. The Muslim scripture only speaks out against a mistaken view of orthodox teaching, which its author(s) erroneously attributed to Christians in general, as well as rejecting aberrant forms of historic Christian beliefs:

“It has often been thought that the Qur’an denies the Christian teaching of the Trinity, and commentators have taken its words to be a rejection of orthodox Christian doctrine. However, it seems more likely that it is heretical doctrines that are denied in the Qur’an, and orthodox Christians should agree with most of its statements… Sura 5, 77/73 then goes on to say: ‘Assuredly they have disbelieved who say: “God is one of three” [or “the third of three”]. There is not god but one God.’ The orthodox Christian must agree. God cannot be one of three. The notion of three gods is as offensive to Christianity as to Islam. Christianity claims to be monotheistic, to believe in one God only. The Nicene Creed begins, ‘I believe in one God’. The Articles of the Church of England start with the affirmation: ‘There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things visible and invisible’… The Qur’an denies Christian heresies of Adoption, Patripassianism, and Mariolatry. But it affirms the Unity, which is at the basis of trinitarian doctrine. The Qur’an, says, R. C. Zaehner, ‘does not explicitly deny any specific Christian doctrine except that Christ is the son of God, and this for obvious reasons that have already been pointed out. For, except to those who well coached in Christian theology, sonship implies physical procreation and this is unthinkable in God who is a pure Spirit.’” (Parrinder, pp. 133-134, 137) 

This concludes our rebuttal. Lord Jesus willing, the second part of this rebuttal to follow shortly.

Further Reading


(1) This may be one reason why Allah is against Muslims adopting children:

Allah 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 Allah speaks the truth, and guides on the way. Call them after their true fathers; that is more equitable in the sight of Allah. 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. Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. S. 33:4-5

It seems that the author(s) is/are basing his/her/their rejection of adoption on the fact that Allah himself doesn’t adopt children. Therefore, neither should Muslims adopt!