A Muslim friend of mine contends that the Triune God is not a necessary being as the Triune God is tripersonal, How do I understand this more? How do I explain this to my friend? I am quite new to this type of philosophical conversation.
The late Nabeel Qureshi was Muslim at one time and found that the discussion of the Trinity was very difficult. Many Christians he talked to found it difficult to say anything about it, much less explain it with clarity and conviction. He came to learn that the nature of God as one being, and yet three persons. Questions of hierarchy get explained by putting into view the fact that God the Father, Son, and Spirit are one being, but maintain separate personhood. (Not to be confused with Modalism.)
I admit it’s a very difficult topic, but here is a video of Nabeel explaining briefly in his own words that may help you in your conversations. Coming from someone who was Muslim it may also help to hit key points of concern.
Hi Jason, first off, I would really encourage your friend to ask these tough questions and to pursue them together. It will make your faith stronger as you help bring light into your friend’s life. Keep in mind that for a lot of people, I think perhaps Muslims especially, leaving Islam to follow Christ would cost them greatly. They might lose friends, family, and so on. So it is a huge ask of them to abandon their beliefs and follow Christ. Be patient, be kind. Earnestly pursue the conversation and be understanding of your friend.
There are also lots of great resources out there on this subject. As @andrew.bulin mentioned, pretty much anything by Nabeel Qureshi is a fantastic resource here. I’ve attached a link to a debate I found of his on the Trinity. I haven’t finished watching it yet, so I can’t be certain but it may be helpful for you.
I’ll take my best shot at an answer here and I may do a terrible job explaining this, since I am not a philosopher, but here goes. In both Islam and Christianity, God would be a Necessary Being, so your friend’s objection is the fairly common objection Muslim’s have in claiming that God as Triune is polytheism.
Some of the characteristics of Allah are very similar to that of Triune God. The names of Allah include the loving, the merciful, the just, the compassionate, and so on.
If God were truly singular as Muslims believe, he could not be loving, compassionate, merciful, etc. Those characteristics necessitate some form of relationship, some object of the love, compassion, mercy. Therefore, if God were one in the Muslim sense, his characteristics would be defined by the creation. In other words, Allah requires creation in order to define him.
On the flip side, Yahweh is also said to be loving, compassionate, merciful, but He does not require creation to be those things. In the perfect Triune fellowship, God loves himself, can have compassion on himself, and so on. He is defined on his own separate from creation.
Because of this, I would contend that the Triunity of God is essential to the Necessary Being that He is.
I highly recommend you read Nabeel Qureshi’s book No God but One. It is truly phenomenal and can answer these sorts of questions far better than I ever could.
Here is the link to the debate:
Let me add this link not so much as to answer your friend but it might give some food for thought. The video is funny but informative. You might poke the link as I recall quite a few folks contributed.
I would ask your friend to clarify what he means by necessary, and what he means by tri-personal. My sense is he probably doesn’t understand either of these terms, or is using them in a novel way.
I’m guessing also, especially if he is Muslim, that he probably thinks “tri-personal” means something like “tri-theistic”, i.e. that there are three gods in the Trinity. Of course, this is false, since orthodox Christianity fought against this very notion from the beginning.
The reason why early Christians began to develop the doctrine of the Trinity, is because the Scriptures themselves (and Jesus’ own words extracted from the Scriptures) seem to force this conclusion upon us.
For example, if Jesus acknowledged that there is only one God worthy of worship (see Matt 4:10), yet Himself accepted worship (Matt 14:33; 28:9; 28:17), then this is evidence of an identity relationship between Jesus and Yahweh. There is obviously much that could be said with regards to how the Gospel writers and Paul saw Jesus as identical to Yahweh in this way; and obviously in John’s Gospel you have the “I AM” statements, and the prologue, which make it abundantly clear that John is strictly equating Jesus with Yahweh in an identity relationship. Then, of course, there is also Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. That the events recorded in the Bible and the statements of the New Testament writers themselves identify Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, with Yahweh and vice-versa is easily verified.
I think the problem you will probably run into with your Muslim friend is that he is either going to claim that the biblical manuscripts were corrupted, and are therefore no longer trustworthy, or that Jesus’ deity was something that was invented over time; i.e. you can’t find it in Mark, but only in John. The latter claim has been thoroughly refuted, however, in Richard Hays’ book shown here:
Hays demonstrates clearly that Mark thought Jesus was Yahweh. Moreover, NT scholar Larry Hurtado has shown that there is early extra-biblical evidence that Jews were worshipping Jesus. So, if your friend doesn’t accept the New Testament itself as pointing to Jesus’ divinity (based on the groundless allegation of corruption of manuscripts), then you could produce this extra-biblical evidence that early Jews were worshipping Jesus.
However, with regards to the philosophical argument; I think the problem we might face with the argument for God being a necessary being, is that I don’t think we can say that if God is a necessary being then God is also Triune. As far as I know, although I may be wrong on this, the argument for God’s necessity, made famous by philosopher Alvin Plantinga, doesn’t take into consideration the Triunity of God. Nor do I think that Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for God take that into account either. I think I am right in saying, that from reason alone, we can at best infer that there is one God; it does take special revelation to _know_that God is Triune.
So, with regard to God’s necessity, I think you can happily agree with your friend on that. All orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims can unite over God’s necessity. With regard to the fact that God is Triune, I think you need to go to the Scriptures and reason with him from the Bible. Of course, there is always the evidence for the Resurrection, which might convince him of Jesus’ divinity.
Hope this helps; it’s not an easy question.
Hello, Jason (@GSama). Good question. I hope my answer helps. In philosophical discussions, there are two terms we need to understand. They are contingency, and necessity (or necessary). A contingent being is a being which is dependent on something else for its existence. I’m a contingent being because I depend on my parents for me to exist. My parents are contingent beings as well.
A necessary being is a being, which does not depend on anyone else for its existence. God is self-existent, He exists a se(aseity). Given this definition, if the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, then all the persons of the Trinity have this attribute. If one of the persons of the Trinity is not necessarily existing, then one of them depends on the other persons for Him to exist, which make one of them lesser, but they are co-equal and co-eternal. God’s Triunity does not preclude God being a necessary being. If your friend insists, then he has the burden of proof to show it.
I hope this helps. He might understand the terms differently since he’s a Muslim, but this is how the terms are understood generally in philosophical discourse about God.