The Trinity and the Question of True Worship

  In article <4h3263$> on the Islamic newsgroup, (Misha'al Al-Kadhi) wrote:
  I have a simple question regarding Christianity.  I hope that I might in 
  posing it be able to receive a simple and logical answer.  Although my 
  question is simple, still, my experience has shown me that 
  no one is willing to answer it.  No one is willing to answer this 
  question for me DIRECTLY.  All answers always have this tendancy 
  to answer AROUND the question, or to answer everything BUT what the 
  question askes, etc.
I am very willing, it always depends on whom you ask. :-)

  The question is simple:
  "Does the Bible *EXPLICITLY* say *ANYWHERE*, from cover to cover, 
  that Allah is *THREE* or that Allah is a *TRINITY*, or that Allah is 
  three gods merged into one God, etc.?

Painful "Ouch" in regard to "merged", never ever will you find any
such idea in Christian vocabulary.

  Further, did prophet Jesus 
  (peace be upon him) *EVER*, even *ONCE* in the whole Bible ever 
  *EXPLICITLY* say 'I am God' or 'Worship me'?"

God willing, I will deal with these first two question soon, actually,
they are intimately related and establishing the deity of Jesus is the 
major part of proving that the Trinity is the clear teaching of the 
Bible. For now I want to concentrate on your last question about worship.

                         True Worship

I think the main point is to realize that the "command to worship" is
something very different in the Bible than what your idea of it seems 
to be.

Let me try to communicate this with a little "fairy tale" story [we will
come to the Bible verses supporting this in a minute].

Suppose the absolute king and ruler of a country, falls in love with a
young [poor] woman. The kings word is the law and nobody would dare to
oppose him. Now, what could the king do to win the love of this woman?
He could easily command her to be his wife, but he has enough people 
around him, who obey him out of fear. How can he make sure that she 
will genuinely love him for who he is as a person and not act as if she 
loves him out of fear what he could do to her [negatively, because of 
his power], or out of greed  for what he can do for her [positively, 
because of his wealth]? 

In the same way, God does desire our love and worship, but he does
want this to be true, honest, genuine love and worship. He for sure
can command us to worship him and he can make sure that we do. He has
the power to do so. But what satisfaction would that bring to him?
The king in our above story isn't interested in another slave girl,
he desires her true love. God already has his angels which do his 
every bidding and who worship him day and night. Mankind he created 
because he seeks deep relationship based on free voluntary response. 

When a Samaritan woman asks Jesus about worship, we can listen in on
Jesus teaching about it in the Gospel as recorded by John, chapter 4:  

19   "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet.
20   Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim 
     that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
21   Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will
     worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
22   You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do
     know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23   Yet a time is coming and has now come when the 

 *    true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,   *
 *    for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.          *

24   God is spirit, 
     and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

25   The woman said, "I know that Messiah is coming. 
     When he comes, he will explain everything to us."
26   Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

Jesus says that true worship has not much to do with position, whether
it be position [place] where you worship, or direction you face while
praying, or position of your body that you use while praying...
It is not the position of your body, but the disposition of the heart. 
Are you worshipping in spirit and truth? God is not interested very much
that your worship "LOOKS right on the outside" [i.e. to your fellow men] 
but that it "IS right on the inside" [i.e. your relationship to God].

At another time Jesus teaches about prayer (and fasting and giving) 
[Matthew 6]:

1    "Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness' before men, 
     to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your 
     Father in heaven.
2    "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, 
     as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be 
     honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their 
     reward in full.
3    But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know 
     what your right hand is doing,
4    so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees 
     what is done in secret, will reward you.

5    "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, 
      for they love to pray standing in the synagogues 
      and on the street corners 
      to be seen by men. 
      I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

6     But when you pray, go into your room, 
      close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. 
      Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, 
      will reward you.

7     And when you pray, 
      do not keep on babbling like pagans, 
      for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

8     Do not be like them, 
      for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9    "This, then, is how you should pray: "`Our Father in heaven, 
      hallowed be your name,
10    your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11    Give us today our daily bread....

[You may want to look up the rest of the model prayer, 
it is worth meditating on]

Again, Jesus stresses that prayer is a thing of the heart, of a true
relationship to the good heavenly Father, who need not be convinced 
by many prayers so that he will do what we want, but who loves to give
good gifts to his children [see also Luke 11:13].

Side remark: There is a place for public worship. Jesus does not forbid
that. He only speaks out against worship that is directed to the attention
of men instead of to God.

And actually just today Shivani M Joshi posted a very similar hadith:

  Shaddad ibn Aws narrated that rasulullah[saw] said:
  Whoever does salaat to show off is guilty of shirk, 
  whoever fasts to show off is guilty of shirk, 
  and whoever gives charity to show off is also guilty of shirk.

I gladly affirm truth whereever it might be found. This is definitely a 
true and godly statement.
----  Back to the text.

There indeed is much "worship" out of fear and "worship" out of trying to 
twist God's arm as to make him do what we want him do do for us. But TRUE
worship is worship given freely out of love to our creator and all the 
good he has done for us. True love and worship can never be commanded, it 
only can be "earned" by God, or better, it comes out of our recognition
of God's worth which we then want to acknowledge to him and before man.
Since God does seek TRUE loving worship, he does hardly ever command 
worship [you will be surprised how few the commands of worship are in the 
Jewish scriptures too, there are hundreds of verses against false worship, 
there is description of true worship, but very few direct commands from 
God to worship him]. Should we then be surprised that Jesus does not 
command "Worship me!"?

Let me show you a few passages of God's disgust at false worship first,
before we proceed to see that Jesus is [rightly] worshiped.

In the book of the Prophet Amos, chapter 5, the prophet speaks out
against social injustice:

14   Seek good, not evil, that you may live. 
     Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, 
     just as you say he is.

15   Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. 
     Perhaps the LORD God Almighty 
     will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

and then delivers the direct word of God:

16   Therefore this is what the Lord, 
     the LORD God Almighty, says:


21   I hate, I despise your religious feasts; 
     I cannot stand your assemblies.

22   Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, 
     I will not accept them. 
     Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, 
     I will have no regard for them.

23   Away with the noise of your songs! 
     I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24   But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a
     never-failing stream!

[and many more prophets say clearly that unjust action to our fellow
men makes our worship unacceptable to God, e.g. Isaiah 58]

And the Prophet Malachi, chapter 1:

1    An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.


6    A son honors his father, and a servant his master. 
     If I am a father, where is the honor due me? 
     If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" 
     says the LORD Almighty. 
     It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. 
     But you ask, `How have we shown contempt for your name?'
7    "You place defiled food on my altar. "But you ask, 
     `How have we defiled you?' 
     "By saying that the LORD's table is contemptible.
     When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? 
     When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? 
     Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? 
     Would he accept you?" says the LORD Almighty.
9    "Now implore God to be gracious to us. 
     With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?"--
     says the LORD Almighty.

10   "Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, 
     so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! 
     I am not pleased with you," says the LORD Almighty, 
     "and I will accept no offering from your hands.

11   My name will be great among the nations,...
12   "But you profane it by saying of the Lord's table, 
     `It is defiled,' and of its food, `It is contemptible.'
13   And you say, `What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," 
     says the LORD Almighty. 
     "When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals 
     and offer them as sacrifices, 
     should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD.
14   "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock 
     and vows to give it, 
     but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. 
     For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, 
     "and my name is to be feared among the nations.

God is very concerned about his name and his glory. He rather have
the whole worship shut down [verse 10] than have false worship that
defiles his name and honor.

There is much much more in this respect in the Jewish Scriptures,
but let these two passages be enough now. We have seen that God seeks
true worshippers, but he is disgusted at false worship, and rather have
no worship than false worship. This is stressed by both the earlier 
prophets and by Jesus. 

Also we have seen that true worship can not be commanded but it is 
a voluntary reaction by those who recognize God's worth to receive 

On this background let us look at a few more passages in the Gospels 
and Revelation.

Both, Apostle and Angel, are Greek words for "messenger". Apostles are
human messengers from God, angels are spirit beings who are sent by 
God. But both are created beings and only God deserves worship and
there are many many commands in the Bible to only worship God and none
else. Jesus himself says so in many places. 

Revelation 19 [where the Apostle John gets a message through the angel,
and seemingly is overwhelmed by the sight of this angel and the message
he brings]

9    Then the angel said to me, "Write: 
     `Blessed are those who are invited 
     to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" 
     And he added, "These are the true words of God."

10   At this I fell at his feet to worship him. 
     But he said to me, 

    "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant 
     with you and with your brothers 
     who hold to the testimony of Jesus. 

     Worship God! 

And again in chapter 22:

8    I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. 
     And when I had heard and seen them, 
     I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel
     who had been showing them to me.
9    But he said to me, "Do not do it! 
     I am a fellow servant 
     with you and with your brothers the prophets
     and of all who keep the words of this book. 

     Worship God!"

In Acts 10, we are told about Cornelius, a God-fearing man, who one
day in his prayer time, is visited by an angel and told to send for
the Apostle Peter [who will tell him more about the true faith]. 

25   As Peter entered the house, 
     Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.
26   But Peter made him get up. 
     "Stand up," he said, 
     "I am only a man myself."

Falling postrate before a human being is absolutely improper in 
Jewish understanding. The same is confirmed in Acts 14:

8    In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, 
     who was lame from birth and had never walked.
9    He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him,
     saw that he had faith to be healed
10   and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" 
     At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
11   When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian
     language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!"
12   Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was
     the chief speaker.
13   The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought
     bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to
     offer sacrifices to them.

14   But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, 
     they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, 
15   "Men, why are you doing this? 
     We too are only men, human like you. 
     We are bringing you good news, 
     telling you to turn from these worthless things 
     to the living God, 
     who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.

The Apostles have power from God, and their message is confirmed with
many miracles, but they are shocked when they realize that these people
try to worship them and sacrifice to them. It is blasphemous to them
to worship mere man.

Clearly both the angels and the Apostles immediately refuse worship
when offered to them.

Now, let's summerize, God seeks true worship out of loving recognition
that he is worth to be whorshiped. The thought of worshipping created
beings, men or angels, is utterly abhorrend to a true Jew; ONLY God
deserves worship. The first command [of the Ten Commandmends] is to
not have anything besides God, that you worship and bow down to.

Up to here, many Muslims will probably affirm most of what has been said. 
But this is not all the Bible says; we now have to turn to what we 
definitely disagree on.

With all the above in mind, read the following passages (you might want 
to look up the context):

Matthew 1:

11   On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, 
                and they bowed down and worshiped him. 
     Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts 
     of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

Those three foreign wise men might not have fully understood how
appropriate their worship was and who they really were worshiping,
but the Apostle Matthew thought it significant enough to include it
in his Gospel report on the life of Jesus [without any disapproval].

Matthew 14:

33   Then those in the boat [the disciples] worshiped him [Jesus],
     saying "Truly you are the Son of God."
And Jesus does not forbid them to.

After the death Jesus on the Sunday morning a few women among the
followers of Jesus go to his grave, and they are shocked that the
body is gone. The grave is empty, but they meet angels there who 
tell them in Matthew 28:

7    ... Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 
    `He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. 
     There you will see him.' Now I have told you."
8    So the women hurried away from the tomb, 
     afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

9    Suddenly Jesus met them. 
     "Greetings," he said. 
     They came to him, clasped his feet 
     and worshiped him.
10   Then Jesus said to them, 
     "Do not be afraid. 
     Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; 
     there they will see me."

and Jesus did not forbid them to. 
Later ...

16   Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, 
     to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.

17   When they saw him, 
     they worshiped him; but some doubted.

18   Then Jesus came to them and said, 
     "All authority in heaven and on earth
     has been given to me....

19   Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, 
     baptizing them 

     in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20   and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. 
     And surely I am with you always, 
     to the very end of the age." 

And that is the end of the Gospel according to Matthew. Can anybody
be in doubt who the text says that Jesus is? 

He receives worship and not only accepts it [implying his deity]
but in these few verses makes several more claims to be divine.

* All authority in heaven and earth is his

[given to him, because he laid down the authority that was his from
eternity, when he became man, now after his resurrection, he has
the authority being given back to him by the Father.]

* There is ONE name only for Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are
  one in essence of Deity, though distinct in three persons of the

* teaching everyone all that HE has commanded them, not that he has
  passed on a word from God [which is also true] but it is HIS own
  teaching. No prophet has ever claimed anything the like. Only God
  can give commands. 

* Although in the ascension he is going back to his "invisible" 
  status in heaven, he claims that he will be with them (ALWAYS
  and everywhere). He claims omnipresence, which is an attribute
  only God has. Realize that he just told them to go into ALL 
  the world, so when he is with them, while they are spread over
  all the world, that is no easy thing for a finite human being. 
  But it is no problem for God. 

Yes, some still doubted [verse 17], but after all, this was a 
revolution of a paradigm shift these strict Jewish monotheist 
believers had to make in their life. 

[Note the importance of this half sentence "but some doubted"!
Doubted what? That they saw Jesus? Thinking that he might be a 
hallucination? No, there was no doubt about his "being there". 
The "but" is refering back to what is stated in the first part 
of the sentence, namely "they worshiped him". IF you want to 
interpret this word not as "worship" but as "showing respect to 
Jesus", then what was there to doubt? Is it wrong to show respect 
to God's Messiah? No, though most of them were finally convinced 
of Jesus' true identity, some still had a hard time accepting it 
and were not sure if it is right to worship him, since worship 
belongs only to God. Or even if they had "mentally" come to the
right conclusion, there body wasn't ready yet to perform in worship
of God in the form of a human body. So, even the doubt of some of 
the disciples shows that "worship" has to be "worship" and not just
"showing respect" as some Muslims would like to translatethe word. 
But as I said, Jesus claims so many of divine attributes in what 
he states about himself in these verses, that this should be clear 

These are only three instances from the Gospel according to Matthew,
there are quite a number of more instances where Jesus is worshiped 
and he NEVER refuses the worship of people. But can we fail to see,
how strategically Matthew places his few remarks on the worship of
Jesus? Jesus is worshiped at the beginning of his life as infant
[chapter 2], he is worshiped in the middle of the Gospel record
[chapter 14] in the time of his public teaching, and he is worshiped
at the end of the Gospel [chapter 28] after his crucifixion and 
resurrection. At all three major stages of earthly life, he receives 
worship. And Jesus receives worship in heaven after his ascension
recorded in the same book of Revelation that so vehemently denies
worship to anybody but God as we have seen above. 
See Revelation 4:11, 5:9-14.

The Gospel according to Luke ends with the verses [chapter 24]

50   When he [Jesus] had led them [disciples] out to the vicinity 
     of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
51   While he was blessing them, he left them 
     and was taken up into heaven.

52   Then they worshiped him [Jesus]
     and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

53   And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Note: This worship of Jesus can hardly be taken as a "respectful bow"
as some would have it, since Jesus is no longer visibly there to be
bowed to. This is worship just as the invisible God is worshiped.

In the Gospel according to John, chapter 9, we are informed about a 
healing of a man born blind. And the religious authorities refuse to 
believe the man. Later Jesus meets this man again [who has not seen 
him yet]. Let us start with the man's argument to the religious leaders:

32   Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.
33   If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
34   To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; 
     how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.
35   Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, 
     he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
36   "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. 
     "Tell me so that I may believe in him."
37   Jesus said, "You have now seen him; 
     in fact, he is the one speaking with you."

38   Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

How does Jesus react? Does he rebuke the man?

39   Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, 
     so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."

40   Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, 
     "What? Are we blind too?"
41   Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; 
     but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

Jesus affirms that the formerly blind man sees now, not only physically
but also spiritually. He has descerned what is really going and has
drawn the right consquence in worshiping Jesus out of his insight and
Jesus not only accepts it, he makes a comment that shows that he was
expecting more people would see the meaning of all he said and did.
But many refuse to see what is plainly before their eyes. And in refusing
to acknowledge who Jesus is, they speak their own judgment. 
They claim they know what is right, and reject Jesus, and Jesus says, 
that this rejection is the cause that they will not find forgiveness.

Can it be any clearer that Jesus consciously receives worship and 
affirms it as right? 

And the last passage from John 20, though there are quite a number of
more passages which prove the same, but all that John reports culminates 
in the climax of his whole Gospel (chapter 20) with the confession of 
Thomas [again Jesus affirms Thomas reaction, he gives no hint that this
could be an overreaction; rather he says, that he would have liked to
see that a bit earlier]:

27   Then he (Jesus) said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; 
     see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. 
     Stop doubting and believe."     [WHAT should he believe?]

28   Thomas said to him, 

    "My Lord and my God!"  

[THIS is the content of faith Jesus has been looking for all this time!]

29   Then Jesus told him, 
     "Because you have seen me, you have believed; 
     blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

[NOW Jesus says that "Thomas is believing"]

And with that, the Gospel account is at the point where John was leading
his readers, the point John wanted them all to understand. Finally, 
Thomas, the one with the MOST doubts, [so that he came down in history
as Thomas, the doubter] comes out with the confession / realization of 
the true nature of Jesus. 

Jesus is the Lord and God. What follows is just a short epilog (and a
few afterthoughts on what happened later). The case is proven, there is
not much more to say.

30   Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his 
     disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

31   But these are written SO THAT you may believe that 
     Jesus is the Christ (=Messiah), THE Son of God, 
     and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Having (eternal) LIFE is something that depends on this belief that 
Jesus is the Son of God. And in this whole Gospel, this means that He 
IS God the Son, God Himself, Lord and God, the Truth, the Way and the 
Life and there will be no other way to God than faith in Him.
NOBODY will come to (God,) the Father, except through Jesus (God, the Son) 
(John 14:6). 

Does Jesus say "Worship me!"? No, Mishaal, you have researched your
Bible well, you wouldn't have asked the question if this statement had
been found verbatim. But you seem to have overlooked the obvious, maybe
out of a misunderstanding what worship means. 

God [Jesus] seeks true, voluntary worship out of a loving response
and gratitude. True worship never comes out of a command to worship.

God in effect says:

   If you don't mean it, don't do it. 

God does not need our worship. 
We need to worship him, 
but false worship is worse than no worship. 

God seeks above all our honesty, our true heart.

Let us worship him, the true God, in spirit and truth. 

God seeking truth and honesty above anything else in those
who worship him, allows even prayers of [honest] doubt in
the Bible. There are several psalms, which in fact formulate
"God, I am no longer even sure if you exist" or "if you even
care about what is going on in my life" ... These are honest
prayers and therefore accepted by God and he made sure they are
included in the Psalms. We are invited to come to God with our
doubts, if we really want him to give HIS answers to our doubts.

God, who are you really? I am confused. Show me the truth about 
yourself. No matter the cost, I do want to know the truth.

That is a supremely acceptable prayer when it comes out of a 
sincere heart.

May your prayer be like it and your desire to know the truth.
This is my prayer for myself and for you.
All glory be to the only true God. 
All mistakes are mine.


For a good theology book on the topic, please consult:
L. W. Hurtado
One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism
Philadelphia and London: Fortress Press and SCM Press, 1988

Other articles on the web on this topic:

  • The Worship of Jesus

    The Trinity
    Answering Islam Home Page