Controversy rages between Christians and non-Christians, including Muslims and the followers of the other faiths, and among Christians themselves over the issues of monotheism and the Trinity.
Though the Trinity has become a prevalent Christian doctrine recently and the monotheists have become a minority compared to the other Christian denominations, history tells us that the doctrine of the Trinity was not the prevalent Christian doctrine in the past, but it was rather such a doctrine which found favor with the idolatrous Roman Empire which newly converted to Christianity.
Pure monotheism had been and remained the very basis of the Christian creed until it was overshadowed by the doctrine of the Trinity which was supported by the idolatrous authority. However, monotheism continued to exist and be professed by considerable fellowship until Prophet Muhammad came up with the final monotheistic message of Islam and asserted monotheism as the doctrine explicitly preached by Jesus, and disowned all forms of Trinity, polytheism, and paganism which were introduced into the genuine Christian faith.
Therefore, monotheistic Christians embraced Islam for they found out that it is exactly identical to the previous divine messages of both Moses and Jesus as well as the revelations sent down to them.
Monotheism during Jesus’ Prophetic Mission
The Qur’an often harmonizes with the Bible, especially the New Testament, over the reported statements and acts of Jesus, as well as the incidents which took place, the quotations which were cited and the controversy which broke out during the period of time Jesus was sent.
The Qur’an tells us that the disciples believed in God as the Deity, as well as in the revelation He sent down and in Jesus as the prophet and messenger of God. For example, God says:
But when Jesus felt [persistence in] disbelief from them, he said, “Who are my supporters for [the cause of] God?” The disciples said,” We are supporters for God. We have believed in God and testify that we are Muslims [submitting to Him].
Our Lord, we have believed in what You revealed and have followed the messenger [Jesus], so register us among the witnesses [to truth].”(Aal `Imran3:52-53)
God also says:
And [remember] when I inspired to the disciples, “Believe in Me and in My messenger [Jesus].” They said, “We have believed, so bear witness that indeed we are Muslims [in submission to God].” (Al-Ma’idah 5:111)
The verses of the New Testament concur with those of the Qur’an in this regard. Jesus is unequivocally described as “God’s messenger” in the New Testament. We read: “And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.” (Hebrews 3:1-2)
The Qur’an quotes Jesus as asserting that God is his lord and God and as commanding the worship of God alone. For example, we read:
They have certainly disbelieved who say, “God is the Messiah, the son of Mary” while the Messiah has said, “O Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” Indeed, he who associates others with God – God has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers. (Al-Ma’idah 5:72)
The verses of the New Testament also concur with those of the Qur’an in this regard. There are several positions in the New Testament quoting Jesus as asserting that God is his God and as commanding the worship of God alone.
For example, in the New Testament, we read: Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
We also read: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
We further read: “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:10)
According to the above verses from the Qur’an and the Bible, it becomes crystal clear that Jesus admitted that God is his God and he commanded His worship and that the followers of Jesus believed in God as the Lord and the Deity and in Jesus as a prophet and messenger of God.
That is the pure monotheism which Muslims have professed up to date. That is to say, the message of Jesus was preaching monotheism like all other messages conveyed by all other prophets and messengers of God.
Ascension of Jesus & Its Impact on Monotheism
Someone may wonder: Where have the divinity and worship of Jesus along with God come from? Where has the alleged Trinity come from? What are its historical origins?
It is quite safe to say that the Ascension of Jesus was not less controversial than his miraculous birth. Just as people disagreed over his birth, they also disagreed over his Ascension. The verses of both the Qur’an and the Bible indicate how considerable and bitter was the controversy over the Ascension of Jesus and consequently his very nature.
For example, in the Qur’an, we read:
That is Jesus, the son of Mary – the word of truth about which they are in dispute. It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When He decrees an affair, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is. [Jesus said], “And indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.” Then the factions differed [concerning Jesus] from among them, so woe to those who disbelieved – from the scene of a tremendous Day. (Maryam 19:34-37)
The Bible conveys to us the disagreement over the Ascension of Jesus and highlights the state of doubt and uncertainty which prevailed among even his disciples following his Ascension. In the Gospel of Mark, we read: “Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:14)
In the Gospel of Luke, we read: As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:36-41)
In the Gospel of John, we read: Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:24-27)
Thus, it has become quite evident now that the Ascension, not to mention the miraculous birth of Jesus, led to bitter controversy over his very nature. Therefore, history proves to us that the few centuries following the Ascension of Jesus marked an atmosphere of deep and sharp division in the Christian circles between monotheists who believed in God as the Only One God, polytheists who believed in Jesus as God and worshiped him along with God and other factions that were somewhere in between.
First Council of Nicaea & Establishment of the Doctrine of Trinity
The above-mentioned division lasted even after the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to and profession of Christianity as the official faith of the Roman Empire.
Such division impelled Emperor Constantine to convene the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. to discuss the disagreements within the Church of Alexandria, settle dogmatic differences and unify the Christian creed. This was the first ecumenical council.
This council was attended by about 318 bishops, including 16 bishops supporting Bishop Arius and 22 bishops supporting St. Alexander of Alexandria. The other bishops had not made up their mind yet.
Presbyter Arius argued for the supremacy of God, the Father, and maintained that the Son of God was created as an act of the Father’s will, and therefore, that the Son was a creature made by God.
It is noteworthy that when Arius got up to explain his belief, loud noise was made and a deaf ear was turned so that his argument would not be heard.
It is also reported that Emperor Constantine allowed Athanasius, the 25-year-old assistant of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, to speak, though he was not entitled to do. He was just a young deacon at the time.
It is also reported that reaching a resolution by the Council was not something easy, but rather required considerable effort. At the conclusion, the Council formulated the (Nicene) Creed from: “We believe in one God” to “and his kingdom will have no end”.
At the same council, the feast of Easter was set to a Sunday in the lunar month of Nisan. The Easter computation was separated from the Jewish calendar.
The attending bishops pronounced clerical judgment by excommunicating Arius and his followers from the Church. Seeing the threat of continued unrest, Constantine also pronounced civil judgment, banishing Arius and his followers into exile.
The works of Arius were ordered to be confiscated and consigned to the flames while all persons found possessing them were to be executed. Nevertheless, the controversy continued in various parts of the Empire.
Bishop Alexander had already convened a synod of about a hundred Egyptian and Libyan bishops at Alexandria, which excommunicated and defrocked Arius and his followers.
How did Emperor Constantine profess Christianity though he could not ascertain the nature of Jesus and if he was a just prophet or God? How can there be difference within a certain faith among the clergy over the nature of God Himself, Who He should be and if He is only one or three?
How can any such difference last without resolution for more than three centuries? If the Council of Nicaea was actually attended by 318 bishops, how could there be difference between 16 bishops on the one hand and 22 bishops on the other hand? How come “the other bishops had not made up their mind yet?”
Were they (numbering 318-38=280) ignorant of their faith and their God and if Jesus was a prophet or God? If the clergy were so ignorant like that, what about the public at the time?
Was there not a sort of equilibrium between the two sides: 16 vs 22 though the latter included the bishop of Alexandria himself? Is it not logical that the supporters of the bishop of Alexandria should have been much larger in the face of an ordinary bishop who was excommunicated and defrocked like Arius? Did the attending bishops wait to know the side which the Emperor would choose and then they joined it?
All of those questions need convincing answers!