Questions About the Nature of God.

By F. M. Perry, April 10, 2002.

In my first article in this series I reminded readers that the Qur'an refers to the Judeo-Christian Bible as "the Book," and affirms "the Book" to be the word of God. The following excerpts from an English language translation of the Qur'an illustrate this fact.

As in my first article, I make the suggestion again that such commendation for "the Book" by the Qur'an is incentive for Muslims to study "the Book" in order to be fully informed concerning the word of God. My purpose in this article is to help dispel, by closely examining the words of the Judeo-Christian Bible, some misunderstandings that Muslims might have concerning the nature of God as revealed in "the Book."

Both the Qur'an and "the Book" Affirm the Existence of Only One God.

The affirmation of the Qur'an is as follows:

The affirmation of the Judeo-Christian Bible is similar.

Since both the Qur'an and the Bible state that there is only one God, what are the misunderstandings to which I have referred? It is not that the Qur'an and the Bible disagree about the Oneness of God. I suggest that the problem is perhaps that some Muslims and some Christians have disagreed concerning the nature of God. We must be careful, indeed, in drawing conclusions about the nature of God.

Moses learned that we must not question God as to who He is. When Moses asked God His name, God replied, "I AM WHO I AM." God then told Moses to tell the Israelites that "I AM" was sending him to them as a prophet. (As revealed in Exodus 3:14). The lesson for us is that we can only know about the nature of God what He has revealed to us in His word. Let us look further into God's word. First, I will quote some additional passages from "the Book," the Bible, that expand our understanding of the One Almighty God. (All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.)

God Is Incomprehensible and Unsearchable.

God Is Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent.

  • "God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7).

  • "The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works." (Psalms 33:13-15).
  • "Your Father (God) knows what you need before you ask Him." (Words of Jesus in Matthew 6:8).
  • "The foolishness of God is wiser than men." (From the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:25).
  • "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." (From the Hebrew Letter 4:13).
  • "'Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?' declares the Lord." (From the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 23:23).
  • "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His offspring.'" (From the Apostle Paul's sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17:24-28).
  • "Trust in the Lord forever, for in God, the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock." (From the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 26:4).
  • "Jesus said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" (Words of Jesus in Matthew 19:26).

I have quoted these passages to remind us that we humans cannot make assumptions concerning the nature of Almighty God. God cannot be limited in any way except as He may limit Himself. Sadly, I believe many erroneous assumptions have been made in the past by both Christians and Muslims. Perhaps our most common mistake has been in assuming God's nature to be limited in ways similar to the limitations in the human nature of mankind. We must not jump to unsubstantiated conclusions concerning the person of God. On the other hand, we can know much about the nature of God from what He has revealed to us in His word. Let us further examine "the Book," the Judeo-Christian Bible, for revelations of God's nature. Further understanding may be crucial to the relationship that God desires to cultivate between Himself and us, His human creation.

God Reveals Himself to Have a Triune Personality.

In the earliest words of God penned by Moses, God revealed the multiple facets of His personality by referring to Himself in the plural. The very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, says,

  • "In the beginning 'God' created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1).

Here the word 'God' is translated from the Hebrew word ELOHIM which is the plural form of the singular, EL, also meaning 'God.' The multiple facets of personality are made very clear a few verses later in Genesis 1:26.
  • "Then God (ELOHIM) said, 'Let Us make man in Our image.'" (Genesis 1:26).

Here, the plural form of 'God' is supported by the use of the plural pronouns "Us" and "Our." This multiple nature of God's personality is revealed consistently throughout the Hebrew Old Testament by this use of the plural form ELOHIM where 'God' is identified in His fullness.

In the New Testament the multiple nature of God's personality is also translated from Greek plural forms into English in three places:
  • "We ought not to think that the 'Devine Nature' is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man." (Acts 17:29).
  • "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and 'divine nature,' have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made." (Romans 1:20).
  • "For in Him all the 'fullness of Deity' dwells in bodily form." (Colossians 2:9).

The words "Divine Nature" in the first two examples, and the words "fullness of Deity" in the third example, contain plural Greek words for God indicating that the nature of God includes multiple facets of personality. In each case God is first referred to by singular pronouns, His or Him, as antecedents of the plural words "Divine Nature" and "Deity," because there is, after all, only One God. The "Oneness" of Almighty God is not contradicted in these cases by the use of plural forms of the word "God." But the nature of the One Almighty God is intimated to include multiple facets of personality.

However, the multiple nature of God's personality is not established only by the mere intimation of the grammar God utilized to describe Himself. The multiple facets are established also by the actual naming of the personality facets and the revealing of how the Almighty God uses them in dealing with His human creation. Even in the Old Testament God spoke of Himself and His salvation for mankind in terms of the work of three different facets of His personality. Here are some examples from God's revelations to the prophet Isaiah in which God spoke of His actions throughout time in terms of the work of His three cooperative facets of personality.

  • "Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations." (Isaiah 42:1).

In this example a personality aspect of God spoke as in supervision of another aspect called "My Servant, My Chosen One," and still another aspect called "My Spirit." The action of the three personality aspects together is to "bring forth justice to the nations," truly an action that can only be accomplished by the Almighty God.
  • "Come near to Me, listen to this; from the first I have not spoken in secret, from the time it took place, I was there. And now, the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit." (Isaiah 48:16).
In this example the context indicates that a personality aspect of God, who had taken part in creation of the earth, spoke saying that He is being sent forth under the direction of a second supervising aspect called "the Lord God," and along with a third aspect called "His Spirit," to be the "Redeemer" and "Holy One of Israel." The action of three facets or aspects of personality working together is to bring about the redemption of mankind, again an action that can only be accomplished by the Almighty God.
  • "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners." (Isaiah 61:1).
In this example a personality aspect of God spoke indicating that He is being sent by another personality aspect of God, along with an aspect of personality called "the Spirit of the Lord God," " to bring good news to the afflicted," "to bind up the brokenhearted," and "to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners" from among mankind on earth. Again, we see foretold by the prophet Isaiah the action of three different aspects of God's personality working together in the One Almighty God to bring about the salvation of mankind.

The Gospel of Luke reveals to us the miraculous way in which God "became flesh and dwelt among us." The angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin girl Mary and told her:

  • "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God."

Let us notice that the personality aspect of God known as "the Holy Spirit" also had a part in "the Word" becoming flesh in that the Holy spirit "came upon" the virgin girl Mary and the power of the Most High "overshadowed her." All three of these aspects of God worked together through Mary, the willing human vessel, to place God in the flesh as Jesus, a fellow human with mankind. Thus we see that the personality aspect, known as "the Word," temporarily gave up His place in the "Divine Nature" of Almighty God to serve as "Jesus, the Son of Man." And thus came about the figurative names of the three personality aspects of God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

From the accounts in the Bible of these personality facets working together in unity of purpose we arrive at some understanding of their different functions. God the Father appears to be the central facet providing management over the Three. God the Son appears to be the outreaching personality facet, especially to fleshly mankind. And God the Holy Spirit appears to provide the spiritual communion among the Three.

  • "Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased'" (Luke 3:21-22).

The Three Personalities of God Work Together To Save Mankind.

  • "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20).

  • "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." 2 Corinthians 13:14).
  • "But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God." (Galatians 4:4-7).
  • "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
  • "And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness:
      He who was revealed in the flesh,
      Was vindicated in the Spirit,
      Beheld by angels,
      Proclaimed among the nations,
      Believed on in the world,
      Taken up in glory." (1 Timothy 3:16).
  • "Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to those ... who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure." (1 Peter 1:1-2).

What Does the Qur'an Say About the Nature of Allah?

In my brief study of the Qur'an in English language translation, I found no passages that give as thorough an explanation of God's nature as the Judeo-Christian Bible. There are many descriptive terms about God (Allah) in the Qur'an, terms known as the names of God. Ninety nine such terms or names may be seen on the jannah.org web site. (Please click here.)

  • "And Allah's are the best names, therefore call on Him thereby, and leave alone those who violate the sanctity of His names; they shall be recompensed for what they did." (Qur'an 7.180).
  • "He is Allah the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner; His are the Most excellent names; whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory; and He is Mighty, the Wise." (Qur'an 59.24).

I did not find in the Qur'an anything that revealed the triune personality facets of God that are revealed in the Bible.

Of course, the Qur'an denies that there is more than one God, as does the Bible. I notice that the Qur'an has a number of passages that deny specifically that there are three gods. The question arises, why does the Qur'an deal specifically with a question of three gods when it has already stated unequivocally that there is but one God. The answer seems to be that there was a corrupt teaching in the community that was especially troublesome for monotheistic believers of the seventh century when the Qur'an was being written. That problem is pretty well defined by the Qur'an itself in the following passages:
  • "Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three and there is no god but the One God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve." (Qur'an 5:73).
  • "And when Allah will say: O Isa (Jesus) son of Marium (Mary)! did you say to men, Take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah he will say: Glory be to Thee, it did not befit me that I should say what I had no right to (say); if I had said it, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I do not know what is in Thy mind, surely Thou art the great Knower of the unseen things." (Qur'an 5.116).
  • "Never did Allah take to Himself a son, and never was there with him any (other) god-in that case would each god have certainly taken away what he created, and some of them would certainly have overpowered others; glory be to Allah above what they describe!" (Qur'an 23.91).
  • "And that He-exalted be the majesty of our Lord-has not taken a consort, nor a son." (Qur'an 72.3).

The problem, to which these passages in the Qur'an are directed, seems to have been a false doctrine that had arisen and was threatening to make inroads upon the community of monotheistic believers of the seventh century. One such false doctrine was that God had taken a consort, the woman Mary; that God had produced a son, Jesus, through that consort; and that God had raised the woman and her son to God status equal with Himself. Apparently, this gave rise to the erroneous belief among some people that there were "three gods." This scenario is borne out, at least partially, by secular history from the seventh century when certain groups of so-called Christians were erroneously engaging in worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is a problem that continues in some areas of Christianity even today.

Apparently this is the type of problem referenced in at least twenty other passages throughout the Qur'an which deny that God could have a Son. Some people believe that these passages put the Qur'an in direct contradiction to the Judeo-Christian Bible because the term "Son of God" is so often used in the Bible. However, the Bible does not teach that God, in the manner of a human being, took a consort and produced a son, thereby producing two more gods. This is a doctrine as reprehensible to the Bible as it is to the Qur'an.

As I have been trying to make clear in this article, the terms "God the Father," "God the Son," and "Son of God" are figures of speech dictated by God Himself, apparently to give mankind an understanding of His completely unified Divine Nature. The Personality of God who came to earth and lived as "Son of Man" in the flesh was the one God, Himself, being able in His infinite personality to be "the Son of Man" while simultaneously being "God the Father" and "God the Holy Spirit."

This is the Almighty God who revealed to His writer of the Hebrew letter the following summary of His good news to mankind:

  • "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they." (Hebrews 1:1-4).

With love, F. M. Perry.

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© 2002, F. M. Perry