Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trinity 101 - Trinitarian Heresies and Applicable Islamic Parallels

Friends, please forgive me for not getting back to the series of posts that I had wanted to do on the Trinitarian and Christological controversies from the Early Church that are relevant for the discussion with Islam today.  I've been way too busy.  So I figured that since I haven't had the time to deal with these issues as I wanted to just yet, I would do the next best thing.  Have a look below...

The following is a brief overview of some Trinitarian hereseis from Church History, and (where applicable), their relevance to Islam and Islamic theology.  The list is adapted from Monergism.  (Don't be surprised to see me borrow more of their excellent resources in the future!)

Trinitarian Heresies (and Applicable Islamic Parallels)
Modalism (i.e. Sabellianism, Noetianism and Patripassianism) 
...taught that the three persons of the Trinity as different “modes” of the Godhead. Adherants believed that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not distinct personalities, but different modes of God's self-revelation. A typical modalist approach is to regard God as the Father in creation, the Son in redemption, and the Spirit in sanctification. In other words, God exists as Father, Son and Spirit in different eras, but never as triune. Stemming from Modalism, Patripassianism believed that the Father suffered as the Son.
As it relates to Islam - I have already dealt with this heresy in an earlier post.

...Tritheism confessses the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three independent divine beings; three separate gods who share the 'same substance'. This is a common mistake because of misunderstanding of the use of the term 'persons' in defining the Trinity.
As it relates to Islam - Most Muslims believe that this is what Christians believe.  This, of course, is simply not true!  Let's be careful to understand  and communicate what we mean by "personhood" in the Trinity with our Muslim friends.

...taught that the preexistent Christ was the first and greatest of God’s creatures but denied his fully divine status. The Arian controversy was of major importance in the development of Christology during the fourth century and was addressed definitely in the Nicene Creed.
As it relates to Islam - Muslims may not say that Christ was God's first and greatest created creature, but they do believe that Jesus was a created being (and a very noble prophet at that!).  To make this claim is to ignore passages from Scripture such as Jesus' words in John 17:5, "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." 

...taught that Jesus Christ as a purely divine being who only had the “appearance” of being human. Regarding his suffering, some versions taught that Jesus’ divinity abandoned or left him upon the cross while other claimed that he only appeared to suffer (much like he only appeared to be human).
As it relates to Islam - The first part of the above definition doesn't really apply, since Muslims don't think Jesus is divine in the first place.  But the second part, which talks about the 'mere appearance' of Jesus' suffering on the Cross, sounds very Islamic.  In Islam this idea comes from Surah 4:157.  But as we will see in future posts, it doesn't really hold - even based solely on Qur'anic exegesis - not to mention Biblical or historical evidence!

...taught that while Jesus was endowed with particular charismatic gifts which distinguished him from other humans but nonetheless regarded Him as a purely human figure.
As it relates to Islam - This sounds quite Islamic, as in Islam Jesus is viewed as a (charismatically gifted) prophet.  Muslims are always quick to point out that whenever Jesus does a miracle, it is from the power of Allah.  In other words, they insist he doesn't have miraculous resources within himself to draw from - rather, his miraculous powers are solely from God.  Jesus is merely the 'slave of Allah', albeit a gifted slave.

...that that the Holy Spirit is a created being.
As it relates to Islam - Actually this is interesting, because Muslims would probably concur with a Christian view on this more than others.  The Spirit of God (one of Jesus' Qur'anic titles, incidentally) is certainly not a created being in Islam, because God's Spirit necessarily flows from him.  The Holy Spirit is, generally speaking, very difficult to understand in Islam.  But we have some common ground here.

...taught that Jesus was born totally human and only later was “adopted” – either at his baptism or at his resurrection – by God in a special (i.e. divine) way.
As it relates to Islam - Some Muslims might hold to a view of Jesus that is in accord with this heresy.  They might grant that Jesus was actually more special than the average Joe in first century Israel - perhaps approaching divinity given his amazing miracles - they won't allow for the fact that Jesus is necessarily divine by his nature.  Rather, they are more apt to adopt (no pun intended) an adoptionist view.

...taught that Father, Son and Holy Spirit together are components of the one God. This led them to believe that each of the persons of the Trinity is only part God, only becoming fully God when they come together.
As it relates to Islam - Muslims would never hold to this heresy, because it goes totally against their doctrine of Tawhid (the absolute oneness of God).  If you meet a Muslim who sounds Partialistic in his theology, please let me know so we can do a case study!


Tim Herald said...

It is worth noting that Khadija (Muhammad's first wife to whom he remained monogamous) was most likely Ebionite as her uncle (Waraqa bin Nawfal) was an Ebionite priest.


Abdul Asad عبد الأسد said...

Wow! Thanks Tim, I didn't know that. That explains a lot...

Warrick Farah said...

I just did some research on Ebionites. That was very enlightening. Thanks guys.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the enlightening summaries of various viewpoints of the Trinity. Thank you also for the link for further research. This is good stuff to know; however, I'm not a theologian. I fear that debating the Trinity with Muslims wouldn't be helpful. I would rather join the apostle Paul and preach nothing but the power of the cross.