Explaining the Trinity to Your Muslim Neighbors

Inquisitive Muslims, curious about Bible Christianity, find the doctrine of the Trinity difficult to accept. How can one God be three distinct persons at once? Has a Muslim, whether friend or stranger, ever questioned you about this? How should you answer? Here is an approach that may help.

First, affirm that there is one God.

  • The prophet Moses, in the Old Testament, clearly teaches that there is one God, not several (Exo. 20:3, Deut. 6:4). Islam respects Moses as a prophet, so this is terrific place to start.
  • Next, Jesus and the New Testament prophets agree (Mk. 12:29, Jam. 2:19).
  • Furthermore, this God is not isolated to the Jewish people, but is the God whom all nations and all people must worship (Rom. 3:29-30).

So if we must worship this one true God, what does he say about himself?

Pause to clarify an important misconception.

Though the Quran denies the Trinity, it actually refutes a misconception of the Trinity: that the Trinity is God the Father, Mary the Mother and Jesus the Son, each a separate God.

This, of course, is entirely different than the Trinity of the Bible. In fact, Jesus flatly denies that Mary has anything to do with his spiritual relationship to God the Father (Mt. 12:46-50). So, you can assure any Muslim friend that you also reject this false trinity.

At this point, you can tell them that the Bible teaches a different kind of Trinity, one which affirms that there is only one God.

The Bible teaches a different kind of Trinity, one which affirms that there is only one God.

Take a look at the words of Jesus.

Though Muslims do not view Jesus as God, they accept him as a great prophet and generally respect his teaching. So, it is helpful to thoughtfully show them what Jesus, as a prophet and teacher, said about God and himself. If Jesus as a prophet taught something, then it must be true. If he said anything that is not true about God or about himself, then he would be teaching things that are false, making himself a false prophet instead.

  • The prophet John taught that Jesus, called ‘the Word’, was eternal, existing from the beginning of time.
  • He also taught that Jesus was with God, indicating that in some way, Jesus the Son and God the Father are different persons. At the same time, he also taught that Jesus actually was God (John 1:1-2).
  • So, Jesus is a distinct person alongside God the Father (with God), but is also equal to God in nature (was God) at the same time. And it has always been this way.

Furthermore, John taught that Jesus was not always a human being, but rather became a human being in the first century AD. So, he did not come into existence at his birth. Instead, he was sent into existence by God the Father (Gal. 4:4).

He was equal in glory (in nature) to God the Father, even as a human being (Jn. 1:14). No other prophet, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, is described this way, distinct from God the Father as a separate person, but the same as God the Father in nature at the same time.

During his earthly ministry as a prophet sent from God, Jesus claimed that he had been working throughout history and throughout his ministry the same way that God the Father had been working; there was no difference in what they were doing (Jn. 5:17).

How did the Jewish rabbis interpret this teaching? They properly understood this to be an unmistakable claim of being equal with God in nature (Jn. 5:18). On this basis, they rejected him as a false teacher and attempted to execute him.

Muslims do not reject Jesus in the same way, but like Christians, they must decide what to do about these claims. If Jesus was speaking the truth, then he was equal to God and deserved to be worshiped as God, not stoned (Jn. 20:28). He made a similar claim in John 10:25, 30.

If Jesus was not speaking the truth on this point, then he does not deserve to be called a prophet. He is a false teacher instead.

Beyond these claims of Jesus to be equal to God, what about the Holy Spirit? He also taught that the Holy Spirit had a similar identity. He used a single name to refer God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). This instance describes three persons, distinct in their own identity but equally the same in nature. Together, they share a name and authority as God.

Ultimately, pray for spiritual understanding.

For a Muslim to accept the truth of the Trinity requires spiritual understanding, not just intellectual proofs (1 Cor. 1:22-24, 2:14). This is true for any person of any religious or nonreligious persuasion.

A Muslim understandably questions the apparent quandary of how one God could exist in three distinct persons at the same time. So it is reasonable to ask them why we should expect God to make complete sense to us at all (Job 36:26).

God is invisible, they will agree (1 Tim. 1:17). So to understand him, we must rely on what he tells us about himself. If what he tells us doesn’t make sense, we should accept it anyway, because he is God and we are not. He is infinite and we are finite (Rom. 11:33, Isa. 55:8-9). Is that not the right way to approach God?

If what God tells us doesn’t make sense, we should accept it anyway, because he is God and we are not.

God is more complex than our human mind can comprehend. And we should expect this, because he is greater. And if the clear statements of Jesus, and the Old and New Testament prophets, teach that the one true God exists in three distinct persons at the same time, then it is true whether it makes sense or not.

Further Reading

  • For a helpful post by Joel Arnold about the glorious mystery of the Trinity and how we should respond, click here.
  • For a helpful study about how God can be incomprehensible and comprehensible at the same time, click here.
Have comments? Reply below.
2 replies
  1. Bill Hardecker
    Bill Hardecker says:

    Spot on, Pastor Overmiller! Super helpful. I just want to add something off topic. When dealing with a Muslim, if you can help it, avoid using a “marked up” Bible. The idea is that a holy book must be treated with respect. Secondly, emphasize God’s love and forgiveness of sins. So important to leave them with the reality that God knows their name, knows all about them, and is willing to forgive them, and wants to fellowship with them.

  2. TOvermiller
    TOvermiller says:

    Bill, thank you for sharing these insightful recommendations. Our Muslim neighbors needs to know that while “God is beyond our comprehension”, he has revealed himself to us and desires to know us. “God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16).

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