Trinity, Tawhid, and Monotheism

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Tawhid (توحيد ) and Trinity (الثالوث), and Monotheistic Belief in One God

If you’re anything like me you’ve struggled to understand Christian and Muslim differences about God. The doctrine of God is hard enough to grasp by itself let alone fathoming the differences between Christians and Muslims.

Maybe you’ve heard that Christians believe 1+1+1=1? Perhaps you aren’t sure about the meaning of tawhid, Shahada or shirk. Or maybe you’re so puzzled that you’ve given up trying to understand the differences and have concluded, “Christians and Muslims worship the same God” or “Allah knows best.”

If you’ve wrestled to understand the differences and why they matter, then read on. They matter eternally!

Christians and Muslims are Monotheists

At the core of Islam and Christianity is belief in One God. Christians and Muslims are monotheists.

The Muslim doctrine of monotheism is confessed in the shahada, the first pillar of Islam,

There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.
لا اله الا الله محمد رسول الله (lâ ilâha illallâh, Muḥammadur rasûlullâh)

Shahada written in Arabic calligraphy (lâ ilâha illallâh, Muḥammadur rasûlullâh)
The Shahada, written in Arabic calligraphy

Monotheism is explicitly mentioned more than 260 times in the Muhsin Khan Interpretation of the Meanings of the Quran.1For a list of every reference see, “Monotheism in the Quran

Like Islam, monotheism is a central Christian doctrine. It was taught by Moses:

Deuteronomy 6:4
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Jesus affirmed monotheism as part of the first and greatest commandment:

Mark 12:28-30
28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Tawhid and Trinity

So if Christians and Muslims are monotheists, what’s the difference? The difference is:

  • Christian monotheism is Trinitarian.
  • Muslim monotheism is Unitarian or Tawhid.

Many Muslims do not believe that Trinitarianism is monotheistic but shirk, the unpardonable sin of assigning partners or equals to God (Quran 5:17). The Quran contains strong warnings against shirk.2Quran 34:20-24,
20And indeed Iblis (Satan) did prove true his thought about them, and they followed him, all except a group of true believers (in the Oneness of Allah). 21And he (Iblis Satan) had no authority over them, except that We might test him, who believes in the Hereafter from him who is in doubt about it. And your Lord is a Hafiz over everything. (All Knower of everything i.e. He keeps record of each and every person as regards deeds, and then He will reward them accordingly). 22Say: (O Muhammad SAW to those polytheists, pagans, etc.) “Call upon those whom you assert (to be associate gods) besides Allah, they possess not even the weight of an atom (or a small ant), either in the heavens or on the earth, nor have they any share in either, nor there is for Him any supporter from among them. 23Intercession with Him profits not, except for him whom He permits. Until when fear is banished from their (angels’) hearts, they (angels) say: “What is it that your Lord has said?” They say: “The truth. And He is the Most High, the Most Great.” 24Say (O Muhammad SAW to these polytheists, pagans, etc.) “Who gives you provision from the heavens and the earth?” Say: “Allah, And verily, (either) we or you are rightly guided or in a plain error.” (Muhsin Khan) 
Quran 35:40,
Say (O Muhammad SAW): “Tell me or inform me (what) do you think about your (so called) partner gods to whom you call upon besides Allah, show me, what they have created of the earth? Or have they any share in the heavens? Or have We given them a Book, so that they act on clear proof there from? Nay, the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers, etc.) promise one another nothing but delusions.” (Muhsin Khan).
Quran 46:4,
Say (O Muhammad SAW to these pagans): “Think! All that you invoke besides Allah show me! What have they created of the earth? Or have they a share in (the creation of) the heavens? Bring me a Book (revealed before this), or some trace of knowledge (in support of your claims), if you are truthful!” (Muhsin Khan)

Curiously, the Quran’s formal rejection of “Trinity” is not the Trinitarian monotheism historically believed by Christians.3“[T]he Kur’an formally rejects any doctrine of the Trinity. It should however be pointed out that the Trinity as understood and rejected is not the same as that which is taught by Christian dogma, and defined by the councils which were held before the revelation of the Kur’an. The Kur’anic Trinity seems to be a triad composed of Allah, of Mary his consort and of Jesus their child (cf. V, 116); a concept which is reminiscent on the one hand of the stellar triads of the pre-Islamic Pantheon, and on the other hand of the cult of Mary verging on idolatry practised by certain Christian sects of Arabia, the Mariamites and the Collyridians. It is important to note that the formal denials of the Kur’an are directed towards these views, which are “heretical” from the point of view of Christian orthodoxy itself” (Anawati, G.C. “ʿĪsā.”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. P. Bearman et al. [Leiden: Brill, 1986-2004], CD-ROM version; available online at the Internet Archive). Nevertheless, the Quran’s rejection of “Trinity” and affirmation of Unitarian monotheism is problematic because Unitarian monotheism is foreign to the Christian Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.4see Do You Believe in the One True God?

How Can We Decide Between Trinitarian Monotheism and Unitarian Monotheism (Tawhid)? 

Christians are Trinitarian monotheists because of God’s work in history.5“The relationship between Christian beliefs in monotheism (doctrine) and history is found in theNicene Creed (AD 381),
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty (doctrine), Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible (history).
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father (doctrine); by whom all things were made (history); who for us men, and for our salvation (doctrine), came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. (history)
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified (doctrine), who spake by the prophets (history).
In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins (doctrine); we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. (history) Amen.
Trinitarian doctrine and God’s work in history are beautifully joined together in one of the most important titles for Jesus: Christ.

The meaning of “Christ”

The life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ are historical events and reasons Christians are Trinitarian monotheists. The Quran is confused–and probably contradictory–because:

  1. The Quran does not affirm Trinitarian monotheism (Quran 4:171; 5:73) and rejects Jesus Christ’s death on the cross (Quran 4:157), and therefore His resurrection from the dead.
  2. The Quran refers to Jesus as “Messiah/Christ” (Quran 3:45).

Messiah/Christ are key titles affirming (1) Jesus’ relationship to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity (see 1 Samuel 16:13; John 1:32-34; 20:22); (2) God’s relationship to His people through faith in Jesus (Acts 2:36-41); and (3) Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father.6Some Muslims may dismiss the more than 500 references in the New Testament to “Christ” and argue that the Christian Scriptures are corrupted and therefore ignore how the titles Messiah/Christ are used in the Bible. But this exposes one of Islam’s major deviations from the Abrahamic religions of Christianity and Judaism: Islam is unhitched from redemptive history. By this I mean that Islam rests entirely on the recitation and life of a single man and his claims to what supposedly happened centuries before him. Islam’s detachment from redemptive history is novel and a corruption of Abrahamic religion,”The Hebrew-Christian faith did not grow out of lofty philosophical speculation or profound mystical experiences. It arose out of the historical experiences of Israel, old and new, in which God made Himself known” (George Eldon Ladd).

  • Jesus’ disciple Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16:13-23 and Jesus explained this title in terms of His death and resurrection.
  • Jesus testified to the High Priest and Sanhedrin that He is the Christ and was condemned for blasphemy (Matthew 26:63-68).
  • Peter preached Jesus as the Christ in Acts 2:32-36, defining “Christ” in terms of Jesus’ death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven,

Acts 2:32–36 
32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.
33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
35until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Jesus left Christians two signs that affirm Trinitarian monotheism

Furthermore, two of the most important rites Jesus handed down to the church highlight both history and Trinitarian monotheism: (1) The Lord’s Supper highlights God’s work in history culminating in Jesus (Luke 22:14–20; see also 1 Corinthians 11:23-26),7“…in all churches in all lands, there exists a rite, performed, usually, on the first day of the week, in which, amid innumerable variation of detail, one point is fixed and central, viz, that bread is broken, and that the fruit of the vine is poured out and drunk; and that he who breaks the bread and pours forth the wine says that he does so in obedience to an express command given by the Saviour on the night before the day on which He died; for that He, on that night, Himself took bread, broke it, and gave it to be eaten, poured wine, and gave it to be drunk, saying, that the bread was His body broken, and that the fruit of the vine was His blood shed for man, concluding, “This do in remembrance of Me.” (William Henry Temple Gairdner, The Eucharist as Historical EvidenceThe Nile Mission Press, Cairo, Egypt). and (2) baptism highlights Jesus’ having fully revealed monotheism as Trinitarian (Matthew 28:18-20).8“Christian baptism is administered “in the name of” not three Gods, not two creatures plus one God, not three parts of God, and not three stages of God, but one God who is eternally Father, Son, and Spirit (Gregory of Nyssa, On Not Three Gods,” NPNF [A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. 1st Series, 14 vols. 2nd series, 14 vols. Edited by H. Wace and P. Schaff] 2 V, pp. 331–37)…Its liturgical importance, its strategic location in the Gospel of Matthew as the final command of the Lord, and the fact that it has been so frequently referred to by early Christian writers make this text the centerpiece of triune teaching. It implicitly affirms the divinity, the distinctness, the equality, and the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It assumes and calls for an act of adoration and profession of faith in the triune God (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures. XVI.4, NPNF 2 VII, p.116)” (Thomas Oden, The Living God: Systematic Theology, Vol. I:202).

Summary of Biblical Monotheism and the Trinity

Christian monotheistic belief is summarized by the following seven points:

1. The Father is God.
2.
The Son is God.
3.
The Holy Spirit is God.
4.
The Father is not the Son.
5.
The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
6.
The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
7.
There is only one God.

When Christians say: (1) The Father is God; (2) The Son is God; and (3) The Holy Spirit is God we are identifying Who God is.

When we say: (4) The Father is not the Son; (5) The Son is not the Holy Spirit; and (6) The Holy Spirit is not the Father we are distinguishing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The seventh and the final statement is the most challenging, “There is only one God”. The Greeks would say, “Zeus is god, “Apollos is god, and Dionysius is god” and there are three gods. Christianity says, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God and there is only one God.

To help clarify the above seven points, please consider the following diagram:

Diagram of the Trinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scutum Fidei, Shield of the Trinity

The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, and Belief in One God Involves Mystery

In church history Saint Augustine (354-430) probably thought more about the doctrine of the Trinity than any other uninspired writer, with the possible exception of John Calvin. There is a story about Augustine walking upon the ocean’s shore, greatly perplexed about the doctrine of the Trinity. As he meditated, he observed a little boy with a sea shell, running to the water, filling his shell, and then pouring it into a hole which he had made in the sand.

Painting of “The Vision of Saint Augustine” by Sandro Botticelli (c.1488). A little boy is explaining to St. Augustine that he is trying to put the Sea into a little hole that he dug.
“The Vision of Saint Augustine” by Sandro Botticelli (c.1488)

“What are you doing, my little man?” asked Augustine.

“Oh,” replied the boy, “I am trying to put the ocean in this hole.”

Augustine had learned his lesson, and as he passed on, exclaimed, “That is what I am trying to do; I see it now. Standing on the shores of time I am trying to get into this little finite mind things which are infinite.”9The story may be legendary, but is given to illustrate the greatness of God. A similar version is related by Alister McGrath who wrote, “For Augustine, the point was simple: Si comprehendis non est Deus. If you can get your mind around it, it cannot be God. Our thoughts about God are bound to seem illogical and muddled, precisely because what they refer to lies beyond our full knowledge and understanding” (Christian Theology: An Introduction, fifth edition [Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011], 235.).

It should come as no surprise that the Christian belief in the Triune God involves mysteries that transcend the human mind.

Can the Quran be the Word of God if it denies Trinitarian monotheism?

Is the Quran the Word of the One True God?

Please contact me if you have questions or would like to talk further.
Click here, if you have questions, or if you would like to talk more about the Bible or Qur’an.

The Christian answer must be an emphatic, “No!” The Quran cannot be the Word of the One True God because the Quran does not affirm the One True God revealed in the Bible.

Articles you may be interested in:

Do you believe in the Bible Jesus believed?

Trinitarian Monotheism or Unitarian Monotheism?

The Uncertainty of the Quran and Jesus’ Crucifixion

Watch: Trinity and Tawhid

References on the Trinity and Tawhid

Bavinck, Herman. The Doctrine of God.
_____________. The Divine Trinity.

Clark, Gordon. The Trinity.

Boettner, Loraine. The Person of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1943).

Bowman, Robert. The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity: An Outline Study

Fuller, Reginald. The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965).

Gibon, Margaret Dunlop (ed. and trans.), Fī tathlīth Allāh al-wāḥid, On the triune nature of God, in Studia sinaitica 7 (London, 1899), 2-36, 74-107.

Haddad, Rachid, La Trinité divine chez les théologiens arabes (750-1050) (Paris, 1985).

Hardy, Edward (editor), Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954).

Keller, Timothy. The Trinity and Monotheism.

Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004).

Madany, Bassam M., “The Trinity And Christian Missions To Muslims.” Reformation & Revival 10.3 (Summer 2001): 119-134.

Machen, Gresham, J. Is the Bible Right About Jesus? (Pamphlet)

Morris, Leon. The Lord From Heaven (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1958).

Packer, J.I. Trinity – God Is One and Three

Rowdon, Harold (editor), Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology presented to Donald Guthrie (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982).

Shahada, Wikipedia.

Sproul, RC. The Holy Trinity Part 1 “Monotheism” and Part 2 “The Biblical Witness to the Trinity.”

Tawhid, Wikipedia.

Thomas, David. Anti-Christian polemic in early Islam. Abū ʿĪsā al-Warrāq’s “Against the Trinity” (Cambridge, 1992).

Warfield, B.B. The Person and Work of Christ (Philadelphia: P&R Publishing Co., 1950).
__________. The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity

Wells, Tom. “The Doctrine of the Trinity: Is it Biblical?” Reformation & Revival 10.3 (Summer 2001): 41-52.

White, James. The Forgotten Trinity (Bethany House, 1998). He has a helpful video by the same name.

Zacharias, Ravi. The Law of Non-Contradiction and the Trinity.

References   [ + ]

1. For a list of every reference see, “Monotheism in the Quran
2. Quran 34:20-24,
20And indeed Iblis (Satan) did prove true his thought about them, and they followed him, all except a group of true believers (in the Oneness of Allah). 21And he (Iblis Satan) had no authority over them, except that We might test him, who believes in the Hereafter from him who is in doubt about it. And your Lord is a Hafiz over everything. (All Knower of everything i.e. He keeps record of each and every person as regards deeds, and then He will reward them accordingly). 22Say: (O Muhammad SAW to those polytheists, pagans, etc.) “Call upon those whom you assert (to be associate gods) besides Allah, they possess not even the weight of an atom (or a small ant), either in the heavens or on the earth, nor have they any share in either, nor there is for Him any supporter from among them. 23Intercession with Him profits not, except for him whom He permits. Until when fear is banished from their (angels’) hearts, they (angels) say: “What is it that your Lord has said?” They say: “The truth. And He is the Most High, the Most Great.” 24Say (O Muhammad SAW to these polytheists, pagans, etc.) “Who gives you provision from the heavens and the earth?” Say: “Allah, And verily, (either) we or you are rightly guided or in a plain error.” (Muhsin Khan) 
Quran 35:40,
Say (O Muhammad SAW): “Tell me or inform me (what) do you think about your (so called) partner gods to whom you call upon besides Allah, show me, what they have created of the earth? Or have they any share in the heavens? Or have We given them a Book, so that they act on clear proof there from? Nay, the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers, etc.) promise one another nothing but delusions.” (Muhsin Khan).
Quran 46:4,
Say (O Muhammad SAW to these pagans): “Think! All that you invoke besides Allah show me! What have they created of the earth? Or have they a share in (the creation of) the heavens? Bring me a Book (revealed before this), or some trace of knowledge (in support of your claims), if you are truthful!” (Muhsin Khan)
3. “[T]he Kur’an formally rejects any doctrine of the Trinity. It should however be pointed out that the Trinity as understood and rejected is not the same as that which is taught by Christian dogma, and defined by the councils which were held before the revelation of the Kur’an. The Kur’anic Trinity seems to be a triad composed of Allah, of Mary his consort and of Jesus their child (cf. V, 116); a concept which is reminiscent on the one hand of the stellar triads of the pre-Islamic Pantheon, and on the other hand of the cult of Mary verging on idolatry practised by certain Christian sects of Arabia, the Mariamites and the Collyridians. It is important to note that the formal denials of the Kur’an are directed towards these views, which are “heretical” from the point of view of Christian orthodoxy itself” (Anawati, G.C. “ʿĪsā.”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. P. Bearman et al. [Leiden: Brill, 1986-2004], CD-ROM version; available online at the Internet Archive).
4. see Do You Believe in the One True God?
5. “The relationship between Christian beliefs in monotheism (doctrine) and history is found in theNicene Creed (AD 381),
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty (doctrine), Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible (history).
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father (doctrine); by whom all things were made (history); who for us men, and for our salvation (doctrine), came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. (history)
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified (doctrine), who spake by the prophets (history).
In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins (doctrine); we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. (history) Amen.
6. Some Muslims may dismiss the more than 500 references in the New Testament to “Christ” and argue that the Christian Scriptures are corrupted and therefore ignore how the titles Messiah/Christ are used in the Bible. But this exposes one of Islam’s major deviations from the Abrahamic religions of Christianity and Judaism: Islam is unhitched from redemptive history. By this I mean that Islam rests entirely on the recitation and life of a single man and his claims to what supposedly happened centuries before him. Islam’s detachment from redemptive history is novel and a corruption of Abrahamic religion,”The Hebrew-Christian faith did not grow out of lofty philosophical speculation or profound mystical experiences. It arose out of the historical experiences of Israel, old and new, in which God made Himself known” (George Eldon Ladd).
7. “…in all churches in all lands, there exists a rite, performed, usually, on the first day of the week, in which, amid innumerable variation of detail, one point is fixed and central, viz, that bread is broken, and that the fruit of the vine is poured out and drunk; and that he who breaks the bread and pours forth the wine says that he does so in obedience to an express command given by the Saviour on the night before the day on which He died; for that He, on that night, Himself took bread, broke it, and gave it to be eaten, poured wine, and gave it to be drunk, saying, that the bread was His body broken, and that the fruit of the vine was His blood shed for man, concluding, “This do in remembrance of Me.” (William Henry Temple Gairdner, The Eucharist as Historical EvidenceThe Nile Mission Press, Cairo, Egypt).
8. “Christian baptism is administered “in the name of” not three Gods, not two creatures plus one God, not three parts of God, and not three stages of God, but one God who is eternally Father, Son, and Spirit (Gregory of Nyssa, On Not Three Gods,” NPNF [A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. 1st Series, 14 vols. 2nd series, 14 vols. Edited by H. Wace and P. Schaff] 2 V, pp. 331–37)…Its liturgical importance, its strategic location in the Gospel of Matthew as the final command of the Lord, and the fact that it has been so frequently referred to by early Christian writers make this text the centerpiece of triune teaching. It implicitly affirms the divinity, the distinctness, the equality, and the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It assumes and calls for an act of adoration and profession of faith in the triune God (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures. XVI.4, NPNF 2 VII, p.116)” (Thomas Oden, The Living God: Systematic Theology, Vol. I:202).
9. The story may be legendary, but is given to illustrate the greatness of God. A similar version is related by Alister McGrath who wrote, “For Augustine, the point was simple: Si comprehendis non est Deus. If you can get your mind around it, it cannot be God. Our thoughts about God are bound to seem illogical and muddled, precisely because what they refer to lies beyond our full knowledge and understanding” (Christian Theology: An Introduction, fifth edition [Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011], 235.).