By Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, President of the UN General Assembly, 1962–63
This Paper was read out at the International Conference on Deliverance of Jesus from the Cross, held at Commonwealth Institute, London, on 2nd, 3rd and 4th June, 1978.
Jesus was the last prophet in Israel. He was called the son of God, an expression that was in common use in scripture but was always employed metaphorically and in no single instance did it connote God. Nowhere in the Gospels or the Epistles is it said that Jesus referred to himself as God or implied that he was God. The expression, Lord, was applied to him but there is no evidence that those who made use of this expression with reference to him believed, or meant to convey, that he was God. It was used as a synonym for master.
It was long after his time that the expression son of God was transmuted into God, the Son, meaning thereby that Jesus was the second person in the Trinity. The entire concept of the Trinity was foreign to the thinking of Jesus.
Jesus a Prophet
Jesus always referred to himself as having been sent by God, meaning that he was a Divine messenger. For instance:
This is Eternal Life: to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3)
I can of my own self do nothing, as I hear I judge and my judgement is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me (John 5:30)
And the Father Himself, which has sent me, has borne witness of me. (John 5:37)
It is clear, therefore, that Jesus consistently put himself forward as one who had been sent by God, that is to say, as a messenger of God. In fact, his function as a messenger of God was defined even before his birth by Divine direction as set out both in the Gospel and in the Holy Quran. The angel that appeared to Mary and told her that she would bear a son whom she should name Jesus also informed her that God will give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob (Luke 1:32-33).
The Quran affirms that Mary was told that God would teach Jesus the book and the wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel and would make him a messenger to the children of Israel (3:49-50).
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Video: The most famous Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, accepts there is no Trinity in the Old Testament
Son of God – True Meaning
It is true that in Luke 1:32, he is called the son of the Highest and in 1:35, the son of God; but these expressions in Biblical idiom do not at all connote Divinity or partnership in Divinity. We read:
I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. (Psalms 82:6)
In numerous instances the expression son of God is applied to prophets, to the righteous and to believers. The following are only some examples out of many:
Israel is My son, even My first born. (Exodus 4:22)
Also I will make him (David) My first born, higher than the kings of the earth. (Psalms 89:27)
He (Solomon) shall be My son, and I will be his Father. (1. Chron 22:10)
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (Matt. 5:9)
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. (John 3:1)
More significant than all this is the explanation furnished by Jesus himself, which is as follows:
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of those works do you stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; because that thou, being man, makest thyself God. (John 10:31-33)
Now here the crucial question was directly posed to Jesus. Did he claim to be God, the second person in the Trinity, as he subsequently came to be represented? His answer must be accepted by all those who profess to believe in him and follow him.
Jesus answered them, is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods? If he called them gods unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, thou blasphemeth; because I said, I am the son of God (John 10:34-35)
This makes it quite clear that the expression, son of God, when applied to Jesus, by himself or by others, meant no more in his case than it means in its application to others in scripture, of which we have set out several instances above. He was son of God in that sense, but in no way at all God, the son, the second person in the Trinity as is now claimed.
The Father of All
It is contended, however, that in the same context Jesus had also said: I and my Father are one (John 10:30) and The Father is in me, and I in him (John 10:39); and that these affirmations lend support to the claim made on his behalf that he was not merely the son of God in the Biblical idiom, but had a relationship with God which elevated him to the Godhead and made him a partner and an associate of God on an equal footing. We shall now proceed to show that in the idiom of the Bible the expression relied upon does not carry the matter any further and does not furnish the least evidence of the divinity of Jesus. For instance:
At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)
That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: That the world may believe that Thou hast sent me. And the glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one: and that the world may know that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them as Thou hast loved me. (John 17:21-23)
One God and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:6)
Jesus Distinct from God
The distinction between Jesus and God was well understood among the disciples and the early Christians, as would be appreciated from the following:
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ, Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)
But to us there is but one God, the Father of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Cor. 8:6)
Jesus himself brought out the distinction clearly in attributing divinity to God alone, who was also his God, as for instance:
Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)
God is One
Jesus had not the slightest hesitation in affirming the Unity of God. For instance:
One of the scribes came.. and asked him, which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him , The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God, is One Lord: and thou shall love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: This is the first commandment.. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth; for there is One God; and there is none other but He. (Mark 12:29-30 & 32)
God alone is immortal: the blessed and only potentate, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach, whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. (1 Tim. 6:15-16)
Jesus not equal to God
The doctrine of Trinity necessarily imports the complete equality in all respects of the three persons of the Trinity, for if there were inequality in any respect between them that would mean the superiority of one over the other two in which case the one, or the two, that lacked equality could not be God; the one who has superiority over the other two would be God of the universe, including the other two. Even a cursory study of the Gospels and the Epistles reveals that in respect of the attributes of which there is a record the Father is supreme and there is a disclaimer by Jesus of those attributes.
For instance, God alone is the true source of honour, as is said:
How Can you believe when you accept honur from one another, and care nothing for the honour that comes from him who alone is God. (John 5:44)
This finds support in the Quran: Whoso seeks honour should realise that all honour belongs to God. (35:11 )
And, behold one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good things shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: But thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments (Matt. 19:16-17)
Jesus disclaimed absolute power. When Zebedee asked him to grant that her two sons may sit, the one on the right hand, and the other on his left hand in his kingdom, the reply given by him was:
To sit on my right hand, and on my left is not mine to give but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. (Matt: 20:23)
His knowledge was not co-extensive with knowledge of God concerning the day and hour of his second coming, after setting out certain signs, he said:
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the Father. (Mark 13:32)
Apparently, not only Jesus lacked equality with God he also lacked equality with the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, as he said:
Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoso ever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Matt. 12:31-32)
Jesus prays to God
Jesus had the habit of prayer. As for instance:
He withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed. (Luke 5:16)
He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. (Luke 9:28)
It came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples, and he said unto them, when ye pray, say,
Our Father which art in heaven. Hallowed by Thy name…….. (Luke 11:1-2)
Thus quite rightly all his supplications and those of his disciples were addressed to God. Obviously, therefore, there was not equality between the supplicant and Him to whom supplication was addressed. God had the power to respond to supplication and to grant it. Quite clearly Jesus lacked such power, for indeed if he had possessed that power his supplicating God would have been meaningless. Had he been the second person in the Trinity, he would have been in no need of supplication, as he would have had the power to do all that he wished. This is well illustrated in his repeated supplications in the garden of Gethsemane, when he fell on his face, and prayed, saying:
O my Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matt. 26:39)
The relationship between Jesus and God was that between a righteous servant and his gracious master. Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt; is a clear affirmation of the supremacy of Divine will over the will of Jesus which was subordinate to the will of God. As he himself affirmed, he had been sent not to do his own will but to do God’s will (John 6:38); which is an exact description of the relationship between God and a Prophet.
As a contrast, there is no mention of the Father ever supplicating the Son, which is clear proof that the Father is supreme and the son is subordinate to Him, as a servant is subordinate to his master.
Equality in Trinity?
Assuming that there had been complete equality between the three persons of the Trinity in every respect, status, knowledge, power and all the other attributes of the Divine, this would only have led to confusion and conflict of the type of which we read in the mythologies of certain creeds, for the situation would present an insoluble dilemma. If one of them had authority to control others, that would mean the subordination of the others to him, and thus equality would be negated.
If there were no control there would be conflict. If there were complete identity of wills between all three and of everything else, there would be redundance. As the Quran has said:
If there had been in the heavens and the earth other gods beside God then surely both would have gone to ruin. Then glorified be God, the Lord of the Throne, above that which they ascribe to Him. He cannot be questioned concerning what He does, but they will be questioned. (21:23-24)
Jesus called the attention of his opponents to the fact that Moses had prophesied about his coming. He said:
For had ye believed Moses ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (John 5:46-47)
It is claimed that there are several prophecies in the Torah and other books of the Bible concerning the advent of Jesus, and that the Jews were awaiting the advent of the Messiah when Jesus began his ministry. It is those prophecies to which Jesus was seeking to draw their attention when he referred to the writings of Moses. What is significant for our present purpose is that all those prophecies had reference to the advent of a prophet and not to the advent of God in the capacity of the second person of Trinity.
The truth of the matter is that Jesus was the last prophet in Israel, a believer in Moses and all the prophets of Israel who followed after Moses. He was bound by the Mosiac law and adhered to it. It is true that he often set forth its true import in contrast with its letter, but that was the exercise of his prophetic function. He did not mean, and had no authority, to abrogate the Mosiac law or any part of it. This he made quite clear in his emphatic declaration:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I did not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, not one letter, not a dot, will dissappear from the law until all that must happen has happened. Anyone therefore who sets aside even the least of the law’s demands and teaches others to do the same, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:1 7-19)
That is why he told the one who asked what good thing he should do that he may have eternal life, to keep the commandment; by which he clearly meant the commandments of the Mosiac law.
Prophet to the Children of Israel
His ministry as a prophet was confined to the children of Israel. He was the heir to the throne of David and was to reign over the house of Jacob. (Luke 1: 32-33). His own conception of the character of his ministry was manifested clearly in the following incident:
Behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts and cried unto him, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word, and his disciples came and besought him, saying, send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs. And she said. Truth, Lord: Yet the dogs eat out of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matt. 15:22-28)
This account sets forth clearly and positively that Jesus was a messenger of God sent unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel and that the scope of his ministry did not extend beyond the children of Israel. The woman of Canaan is said to have worshipped him at one stage, but her worship amounted to no more than an entreaty for help, so that the expression ‘worshipped’ has been used instead of beseeched.
The verse could well have run: Then came she and prayed him to help her. Be that as it may, the manifestation on her part of extreme reverence for Jesus did not invest Jesus with divinity, and his response to her entreaty was even more emphatic than his first response exhibiting an extreme degree of contempt for Gentiles. He did not consider it fitting to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs. The contempt apart, it leaves no room for speculating that his mission as a messenger could have included within its scope anyone outside the house of Israel. His yielding to her entreaties in the end was no indication that he had misconceived the scope of his mission and that now he had a better understanding of its extent. It meant only that he had been moved to compassion by the depth and sincerity of her faith in him. His mission was a beneficent one and even if a non-Israelite believed in him sincerely it would do him no harm, and nothing but good could proceed from it.
It is said that on another occasion he had exhorted his disciples to carry his message into all the towns and villages and to all the people, but there is nothing to indicate that by all the towns and villages and all the people he meant anything more than all the towns and villages of Israel and thew hole of the Jewish people.
He clearly directed his disciples to that effect, as would appear from: T
hese twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt. 10:5-6)
Trinity is a Myth
Thus, the concept of Trinity finds no support from anything that Jesus is reported to have said. It is a concept which bewilders reason, offends conscience, and affronts Divine Majesty. It is utterly inconsistent with the concept of Godhead.
A body of distinguished Anglican theologians have described it as a myth:
A story which is told but which is not literally true or an idea or an image which is applied to someone or something but which does not literally apply, but which invites a particular attribute in its hearer.. that Jesus was God, the Son Incarnate, is not literally true, since it has no literal meaning, but it is an application to Jesus of a mystical concept whose function is analogous to that of the notion of divine sonship ascribed in the ancient world to a king. (The Myth of God Incarnate, Preface, p. ix)
The writers of this book are convinced that another major theological development is called for in this last part of the twentieth century. The need arises from growing knowledge of Christian origins, and involves a recognition that Jesus was (as he is presented in Acts 2:22). ‘A man approved by God’ for a special role within the divine purpose, and that the later conception of him as God Incarnate, the second person of the Trinity, living in human life, is a mythological or poetic way of expressing his significance for us. This recognition is called for in the interest of truth; but it also has increasingly important practical implication for our relationship to the people of the other great world religions. (Ibid, p. 178)
The Holy Quran
God is not subject to contingencies of birth and death. He is Ever-living and neither begets, nor is begotten. The Quran sets forth a true concept of Him which does not in any way diminish, confine, or limit Him. The Quran utterly and emphatically rejects the concept of Trinity. For instance:
He is God, the Single; God the Self-Existing and Besought of all. He begets not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him. (112:2-5)
Put thy trust in the One Who is Ever-living and is the source of life, Who dies not, and glorify Him with His praise. (25:59)
They allege: The Gracious One has taken unto Himself a son. Assuredly, you have uttered a monstrous thing! The heavens might well nigh burst thereat, and the earth cleave asunder, and the mountains fall down in pieces, because they ascribe a son to the Gracious One; whereas it becomes not the Gracious One to take unto Himself a son. There is no one in the heaven and earth but he shall come to the Gracious One as a bondman. (19:89-94)
All praise belongs to God, Who has sent down the Book to His servant, free from all distortion, full of truth and guidance, that it may give warning of a greivous chastisement proceeding from Him, and that it may give the believers who work righteousness the glad tidings that they shall have a good reward which they shall enjoy forever. And that it may warn those who say: God has taken unto Himself a son. They have no knowledge whatever concerning it, nor had their fathers. Grievous is the assertion that they make. They only utter a falsehood. (18:2-6)
We sent no Messenger before thee but We directed him: There is no God but I; so worship Me alone. But they say: The Gracious One has taken to Himself a son. Holy is He. Those whom they so designate are only His honoured servants. They utter not a word more than he directs, and they only carry out His commands. He knows what lies ahead of them and what is left behind them, and they intercede not except only he whose intercession He permits, and they tremble with fear of Him. Whosoever of them should say: I am a god beside Him; We shall requite him with hell. Thus do We requite the wrongdoers. (21:26-30)
Keep in mind, When God will ask Jesus, son of Mary: Didst thou say to the people: Take me and my mother for two Gods besides Allah? And he will answer: Holy art Thou. It behoves me not to have said that to which I have no right. Had I said it, Thou wouldst surely have known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is only Thou who possessest full knowledge of all that is hidden. I said naught to them except that which Thou didst command me, that is: Worship God, my Lord and your Lord. I watched over them as long as I was present among them, but since Thou caused me to die, Thou hast been the One to watch over them. Indeed Thou dost watch over all things, if Thou decide to punish them they are Thy servants; and If Thou forgive them, then surely Tho u art the Mighty, Wise. (5:117-119)
People Of the Book! exceed not the bounds in the matter of your religion, and say not of God anything but the truth. Indeed, the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was but a Messenger Of God and the fulfilment of glad tidings which he conveyed to Mary and a mercy for Him. So believe in God and His Messengers and say not: There are three gods. Desist, it will be the better for you. Indeed, God is only One God. His Holiness brooks not that He should have a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Sufficient is God as a Guardian. Surely, the Messiah would never disdain to be accounted a servant of God, nor would the angels who are close to God. Those who disdain to worship Him and consider themselves above it will He gather all together berore Himself. (4:172-173)
Those certainly are disbelievers who say: God is none but the Messiah, son of Mary: whereas the Messiah himself taught: Children of Israel, worship God Who is my Lord and your Lord. Surely God has forbidden heaven to him who associates partners with God, and the fire will be his resort. The wrongdoers shall have no helpers. Those certainly are disbelievers who say: God is the third of the three. There is no one worthy of worship but the One God. If they desist not from that which they say, a grievous chastisement shall surely afflict those of them that disbelieve. Will they not then turn to God and beg His forgiveness, seeing that God is Most Forgiving. Ever Merciful. (5:73-75)
The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger; many Messengers have passed away berore him. His mother was a paragon of truth and they both were in need of and ate food. Observe how We explain the signs for their benefit, then observe how they are led away. Ask them: Do you worship beside God that which has no power to do you harm or good? It is God Who is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. Admonish them: People of the Book, exceed not the bounds in the matter of your religion unjustly, nor follow the vain desires of a people who themselves went astray before and caused many others to go astray, and who strayed away from the right path. (5:76-78)
The subject of God and His attributes, through which alone a true concept of Him may be formed, is vast and limitless. The Quran sets forth a wealth of instruction concerning divine attributes and their operation. It is not necessary for our present purpose to embark upon a detailed discussion of the subject. By way of illustration, however, attention might be drawn to the following passage which should be studied and pondered with great care:
God is He besides Whom there is no god, the Sovereign, the Most Holy, the Source of Peace, the Bestower of Security, the Protector, the Mighty, the Subduer, the Exalted, Holy is God far above that which they associate with Him. He is God, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner: His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him. He i s Mighty, the Wise. (59:23-25)
Man is desirous of righteous progeny to help him in his old age, to carry on his name and the family after his death, and to bring him posthumous honour. God is Ever-living, Self-subsisting and Self-sustaining. All that is in heavens and earth belongs to Him, obeys Him and glorifies Him. What need has He of a son? What can a son do for Him that He cannot do Himself? To attribute a son to Him, as a partner in the Godhead, would be to offer the gravest affront to Him.