Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Biblical Monotheism and God’s Heavenly Throne

Responding to a Muslim Dawagandist’s Objections to the Trinity Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

In this section we will address some of the objections raised by “Servetus the Evangelical” in the article which Zawadi derived his ideas from. “Servetus” writes:

The NT declares that Jesus was crucified, died, raised from the dead, and that he ascended into heaven and sat down with God the Father on his throne at his right hand. So, a prominent image Christians have always had is of Jesus sitting alongside God the Father on the Father’s throne in heaven, with angels surrounding them…

So, the book of Revelation reveals that Jesus Christ does not have his own throne in heaven, that is, one that is separate from the Father’s throne. There is only one throne that God the Father and Jesus Christ sit on in heaven, and they share it together

But if God is three co-equal Persons, as Trinitarians assert, shouldn’t we expect there to be three thrones in heaven, one for each of these three members of the Trinity? Yet the Bible never states this. Some Trinitarians have expressed disappointment if not dismay due to this silence—that the Bible does not say the Holy Spirit is enthroned in heaven…

That blessed act of exaltation—in which God the Father invited Jesus Christ to sit with him on his throne—does not suggest that Jesus is essentially equal with the Father and thus possesses deity. Rather, this exaltation magnifies Jesus’ dependence upon God and manifests his subordination to God. Otherwise, if Jesus is God, co-equal with the Father in essence, we would expect Jesus to have his own separate throne in heaven, perhaps alongside of the Father’s throne and at the same height. The Father’s throne is the highest of all other thrones in heaven. This is why he is often described in the Bible as “the Most High” (e.g., Daniel 7.9, 25; Luke 1.32, 35). The Father’s throne belonging to him, and it being high and lifted up (Isaiah 6.1; cf. 52.13), symbolizes his exalted rank, thus his superior dignity, over all, including Jesus Christ.

The existence of one throne in heaven for God, with Christ at his side, also affirms a strict monotheism, thus nullifying Binitarianism and Trinitarianism…

To conclude, the most formidable image which refutes the notion of the Trinity is God the Father literally sitting on his heavenly throne with Jesus sitting alongside him. If the Trinity was true, and it is not, one would expect all three of its members to either sit together on one throne or have their own thrones in heaven. Either way, no manner of mental gymnastics could escape the allegation that such an image presents three Gods [sic]. Yet the Bible repeatedly states the concept that there is only one true and living God. (Why Doesn't the Trinity Have Three Thrones in Heaven?; underline emphasis ours)

Anyone familiar with the Holy Bible can readily spot the mistakes and problems with “Servetus”’ reasoning.

In the first place, notice the inconsistency here. “Servetus” argues that if the Trinity were true then we would expect to see all three Persons sitting together on the throne. However, he himself acknowledges that Jesus and the Father sit on the same throne and yet he still rejects the Deity of Christ! According to his own logic wouldn’t this prove that at the very least the Bible teaches Binitarianism? And yet his denial of the Deity of Christ demonstrates that no amount evidence will ever be sufficient to convince “Servetus” that the Holy Bible does teach the Trinity since he will simply explain it away in order to cling to his unbiblical unitarian presuppositions.

Second, the Holy Bible does speak of more than one Divine throne shared by two Divine Persons. The prophet Daniel had a vision in which he clearly saw two distinct Divine figures:

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened… In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him (yipelachun). His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14

Daniel sees thrones being set in place, one of which belonged to the Ancient of Days, i.e., God (the Father). It is obvious from the context that the other throne belonged to the Son of Man since he reigns forever like God and receives the very worship which can only be appropriately given to God:

“Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship (yipelachun) and obey him.” Daniel 7:27

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.” Daniel 6:26 – cf. 4:2-3, 34-37

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve (pelachin) is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve (pelachin) your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’” … Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve (yipelachun) or worship any god except their own God.’” Daniel 3:16-18, 28 – cf. 3:12, 14; 6:16, 20

The Aramaic verb pelach, which is translated in the above texts as serve, refers to the cultic worship which is to be rendered to God alone. Moreover, the Greek translation of Daniel (e.g., the Septuagint [LXX]) uses the word latreuo for pelach. In fact, here is a quotation from the Greek version of Daniel 7:9-28 by second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr:

But if so great a power is shown to have followed and to be still following the dispensation of His suffering, how great shall that be which shall follow His glorious advent! For He shall come on the clouds as the Son of man, so Daniel foretold, and His angels shall come with Him. These are the words: 'I beheld till the thrones were set; and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool. His throne was like a fiery flame, His wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The books were opened, and the judgment was set. I beheld then the voice of the great words which the horn speaks: and the beast was beat down, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. And the rest of the beasts were taken away from their dominion, and a period of life was given to the beasts until a season and time. I saw in the vision of the night, and, behold, one like the Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven; and He came to the Ancient of days, and stood before Him. And they who stood by brought Him near; and there were given Him power and kingly honour, and all nations of the earth by their families, and all glory, serve Him (latreuousa). And His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not be taken away; and His kingdom shall not be destroyed. And my spirit was chilled within my frame, and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near unto one of them that stood by, and inquired the precise meaning of all these things. In answer he speaks to me, and showed me the judgment of the matters: These great beasts are four kingdoms, which shall perish from the earth, and shall not receive dominion for ever, even for ever and ever. Then I wished to know exactly about the fourth beast, which destroyed all [the others] and was very terrible, its teeth of iron, and its nails of brass; which devoured, made waste, and stamped the residue with its feet: also about the ten horns upon its head, and of the one which came up, by means of which three of the former fell. And that horn had eyes, and a mouth speaking great things; and its countenance excelled the rest. And I beheld that horn waging war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of days came; and He gave judgment for the saints of the Most High. And the time came, and the saints of the Most High possessed the kingdom. And it was told me concerning the fourth beast: There shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall prevail over all these kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall destroy and make it thoroughly waste. And the ten horns are ten kings that shall arise; and one shall arise after them; and he shall surpass the first in evil deeds, and he shall subdue three kings, and he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall overthrow the rest of the saints of the Most High, and shall expect to change the seasons and the times. And it shall be delivered into his hands for a time, and times, and half a time. And the judgment sat, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom, and the power, and the great places of the kingdoms under the heavens, were given to the holy people of the Most High, to reign in an everlasting kingdom: and all powers shall be subject to Him, and shall obey Him. Hitherto is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was possessed with a very great astonishment, and my speech was changed in me; yet I kept the matter in my heart.' (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 31. If Christ's power be now so great, how much greater at the second advent!; bold and italic emphasis ours)

According to the Lord Jesus Christ only God is to receive latreuo:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only (kai auto mono latreuseis).”’” Matthew 4:8-10 – cf. Luke 4:5-8

In light of this it is therefore apparent that the Son of Man is a fully Divine Person otherwise he could not receive pelach/latreuo since that would be idolatry, e.g., rendering to a creature the worship and service due only to the Creator! As the following Evangelical scholars explain:

“… The book of Daniel contains a vision in which people of all nations, tribes, and languages ‘serve’ someone who is ‘like a Son of Man’ (Dan. 7:13 NASB)… In the Septuagint version of Daniel the word translated ‘serve’ is latreuo, which is also used in the Rahlfs edition of the Septuagint and in other critical editions of the Greek Old Testament. In the Greek version of Daniel produced in the late second century A.D. by Theodotion, the word translated ‘serve’ is douloo, a far more common Greek word that has a broader range of meanings.

“Whichever Greek translation one chooses to follow, the underlying Aramaic word (Daniel 2:4-7:28 was originally written in Aramaic, not Hebrew) is pelach, a word that is always used to refer to rendering religious service or performing religious rituals in honor of a deity. In other words, latreuo is an excellent Greek translation of pelach. That is why all extant ancient Greek versions of Daniel usually use latreuo elsewhere in Daniel to translate pelach (Dan. 3:12, 14, 18; 6:16, 20 [6:17, 21 in Greek]). In the early chapters of the book, Daniel and his Jewish friends had refused to ‘serve’ the image of Nebuchadnezzar or to ‘serve’ Darius, identifying themselves as those who ‘serve’ only their God, the living God (3:12, 14, 17, 18, 28; 6:16, 20). In this setting, the vision of people from all nations ‘serving’ the Son of Man presents a startling contrast. The ‘service’ that Daniel and his friends refused to give to Nebuchadnezzar’s image or to Darius, Daniel envisions all nations giving to the heavenly Son of Man.

“Daniel’s reference to the Son of Man being ‘served’ implies a divine status for the Son of Man, not merely because of the use of that one word, but because of the context in which it is used. The universal sovereignty attributed to the Son of Man is earlier attributed to Daniel’s God by the Babylonian and Persian kings… This language of a kingdom that will not be destroyed and that will endure forever is then applied to the kingdom of the Son of Man… Within this larger context, the reference to all peoples ‘serving’ the Son of Man is confirmed as an expression of religious devotion. The One whom you regard as Ruler of your entire universe for all time is by definition your God, and it would be the height of folly not to render devotion or service to him.” (Robert M. Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Part 1: The Devotion Revolution – Jesus Shares the Honors Due to God, Chapter 5. The Ultimate Reverence Package, pp. 67-69; underline emphasis ours)

Moreover, Jesus is identified as this very same Son of Man that Daniel saw,

“Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Mark 14:61b-62 – cf. 13:26-27; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 7:55-56

“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen… I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’” Revelation 1:7, 12-18

“I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one ‘like a son of man’ with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.” Revelation 14:14-16

This means that Jesus must be God and all creation must therefore worship him as God! To put this logically,

  1. Only God is to receive latreuo/latreia.
  2. Jesus, the Son of Man, receives latreuo/latreia.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is God (yet not the Father or the Holy Spirit).

This explains why Apostolic Fathers such as Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, could write that every living creature renders latreuo to Jesus!

“Therefore prepare for action and serve (douleusate) God in fear” and truth, leaving behind the empty and meaningless talk and the error of the crowd, and “believing in him who raised” our Lord Jesus Christ “from the dead and gave him glory” and a throne at his right hand; to whom all things in heaven and on earth were subjected, WHOM EVERY BREATHING CREATURE SERVES (latreuei), who is coming as “Judge of the living and the dead,” for whose blood God will hold responsible those who disobey him. (The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Chapter 2, The Apostolic Fathers, Greek Texts And English Translations, edited and revised by Michael W. Holmes [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 1999], pp. 207, 209; bold and capital emphasis ours; to read another version of the text go here)

They knew both from their direct contact with the Apostles and the inspired Scriptures that this is the honor that Jesus deserves since he is God in the flesh.

Hence, Daniel’s vision of multiple thrones, one for the Ancient of Days (God the Father) and for the Son of Man (Jesus Christ), affirms that there is more than one Divine Person within the Godhead. On the other hand, John’s vision of one throne belonging to both God (the Father) and the Lamb (Jesus Christ) affirms their essential unity, e.g., although they are personally distinct they are still one, specifically in regards to their essence.

Thirdly, it is ironic that “Servetus” would cite Isaiah 52:13 along with Isaiah 6:1 to prove that God is the Most High when that passage actually refers to the exaltation of the Messianic Servant to the very heights of God!

Behold, my Servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up (yarum wa nissa), and shall be very high (gabah). As many were astonished at him – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men – so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.” Isaiah 52:13-15

According to Isaiah the Servant will be exalted and highly lifted up, language which he himself uses in reference to Yahweh’s throne:

“In the year that King Uzzi'ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up (ram wa nissa); and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!’” Isaiah 6:1-5

Further notice how the following Psalm connects God's throne with God's height or exaltation:

“Who is like Yahweh our God, who is seated on high (hammagebihi), who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?” Psalm 113:5-6

In fact, all throughout Isaiah it is Yahweh who is exalted and dwells on high, and it is his ways which are said to be higher than ours:

Yahweh is exalted, for he dwells on high (marom); he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.” Isaiah 33:5

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says Yahweh. For as the heavens are higher (gabahu) than the earth, so are my ways higher (gabahu) than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Yahweh has even an appointed day when he will come in judgement against all who are high and lift themselves up, since he alone is exalted:

“The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the pride of men shall be humbled; and Yahweh ALONE will be exalted in that day. For Yahweh of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty (ram), against all that is lifted up (nissa) and high; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up (ha ramim wa ha nissa’im)… And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the pride of men shall be brought low; and Yahweh ALONE will be exalted in that day.” Isaiah 2:11-13, 17

“Man is bowed down, and men are brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are humbled. But Yahweh of hosts is exalted (yyigabah) in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.” Isaiah 5:15-16

The fact that Isaiah uses the very same language to describe the exaltation of Yahweh’s Servant shows that the Servant shares in the Divine rule of Yahweh, being exalted to sit on Yahweh’s own throne, and must therefore be the Most High! Again, notice how this logically works out:

  1. Yahweh is the Most High who alone is exalted and lifted up.
  2. The Servant is exalted and lifted up to the heights of God.
  3. Therefore, the Servant is Yahweh God Most High (and yet distinct from Yahweh as well).

We are further told by Isaiah that not only does Yahweh dwell on high he also dwells with those who are crushed in spirit:

“For thus says the high and lofty One (ram wa-nissa) who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:I dwell in the high (marom) and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite/crushed (daka) and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” Isaiah 57:15

Interestingly, Isaiah tells us that before the Servant is highly exalted he will first be crushed in the place of the people in order to make atonement for their sins:

“Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the Arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed (maduka) for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush (daka) him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous Servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:1-12

Therefore, the Servant is not only like Yahweh in his exaltation he is also like him in his identification with those who are crushed and lowly! Richard Bauckham helps to put this in perspective:

“Isaiah 52:13 states, with emphasis, the exaltation of the Servant, presumably following the humiliation and death described in the following passage. There are two points to notice about it: (1) The words ‘exalted’ and ‘lifted up’ (‘my Servant shall be exalted and lifted up’) occur also in Isaiah 6:1, introducing Isaiah’s vision of God on his throne (where the throne is described as ‘exalted and lifted up’), and in Isaiah 57:15, which describes God, dwelling in the heights of heaven, as himself ‘exalted and lifted up’. The combination of the two Hebrew roots rum (‘to be high’, ‘to be exalted’) and nasa (‘to lift up’) is rare in the Hebrew Bible, and the verbal coincidence between these three verses is striking. Modern Old Testament scholars think the two later passages, Isaiah 52:13 and 57:15, must be dependent on Isaiah 6:1… So, in the light of the connections with Isaiah 6:1 and 57:15, the meaning of Isaiah 52:13 is that the Servant is exalted to the heavenly throne of God. This is why, in John 12:38-41, Isaiah 53 and 6 are brought together, and Isaiah is said to have seen Jesus’ glory, that is, when he saw the glory of the Lord in his vision in chapter 6 of his prophecy. (2) If Isaiah 52:13 means the Servant was exalted to share the heavenly throne from which God rules the universe, then it is readily connected with Psalm 110:1, which was, as we have seen in section 2, the central Old Testament text for the early Christian inclusion of Jesus in the identity of God. Therefore two New Testament references to the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God combine allusion to Psalm 110:1 with allusion to Isaiah 52:13 (Acts 2:33; 5:31) and combines allusion to Psalm 110:1 with allusion to Isaiah 57:15 (Heb. 1:3).

“The Servant, in both his humiliation and his exaltation, is therefore not merely a human figure distinguished from God, but, in both his humiliation and his exaltation, belongs to the identity of the unique God. This God is not only the high and lofty one who reigns from his throne in the high and holy place; he also abases himself to the condition of the crushed and lowly (Isa 57:15). And when the nations acknowledge his unique deity and turn to him for salvation, it is the Servant, humiliated and now exalted to sovereignty on the divine throne, whom they acknowledge.” (Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel – God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, U.K. 2008], 3.2. Christological monotheism: The early Christian reading of Isaiah 40 - 55, pp. 36-37; underline emphasis ours)

Therefore, if “Servetus” and Zawadi are to be consistent they must accept the fact that Jesus is God according to the Holy Bible, even though he is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, since this is the necessary outcome of “Servetus”’ own logic:

  1. To sit on the same throne or to have a separate throne alongside God in heaven implies that the occupant of that throne is God and co-equal with God.
  2. Jesus sits on the same throne as God the Father.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is God (in essence) and co-equal with God (the Father).

We now move on to the final section of our rebuttal where we will show that Zawadi and his fellow Muslims are actually pagans/polytheists who have deceived both themselves and others into thinking that they really are unitarians who hold to a very strict monotheism.