20 +1 Old Testament Passages Supporting the Trinity
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The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. Neither does the term omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, objectively moral etc etc. That does not mean it cannot be used to describe God for the word Trinity describes the biblical evidence on the Godhead.
The Trinity can be defined as God being one in being, three in person. Three whos one what. One in essence or nature (truly divine nature, united) three in person (centres of consciousness) . It is not a belief in three gods. Each person has the character of God in and of themselves, yet they are in perfect unity. Different roles yes but the same nature. It is not contradictory to have one in being, three in person although we are used to only seeing one and one (eg. Emma is a person or centre of consciousness and her nature is a human being which differs from the human being nature of other human beings) in day to day life. Difficult to grasp yes but so is the 11th dimension, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The question before us is if the Old Testament evidence is best explained by a multi personal God who is “One” or a Unitarian God.
Richard Feynman argued as quoted in Atoms in Motion, “it is important to realise that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what is energy.” Physicists refer to energy all the time that does not mean they fully understand it. Just because they do not fully understand it does not mean it is logically incoherent. Here we will argue a multi personal Godhead best explains the biblical evidence. Professor Richard Swinburne outlines philosophical arguments for the Trinity which we touch on briefly in the closing and in our 200 questions but that is not the main purpose of this article.
Many critics of Christianity including Muslims, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses will argue the Trinity was a Christian development well after the time of Jesus or a copy from pagan religions. Very rarely are any Old Testament passages discussed. Even more rarely is the historical context of binitarian Judaism during the time of Jesus discussed. For, there was a belief amongst quite a few Jews that the Godhead was multipersonal based on their understanding of Old Testament passages. This was not a Christian invention.
A common belief amongst sceptics of Christianity was that the idea of God being more than one person as part of a single Godhead had no foundation in the Jewish Scriptures, instead, established by a close vote at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD which Christians brought about for political reasons and oppressed those who disagreed soon after. Nothing could be further from the truth. The evidence from Jesus Himself, Jesus’ disciples and the early church considering Jesus as being divine is overwhelming (perhaps more on this in a future article). The Old Testament has texts which support a multi personal Godhead and here we will just cover a fraction of the evidence. Furthermore, the Council of Nicaea vote was 214–2 not a close vote, confirming what was already known and understood. People such as Athanasios, far from being some kind of political oppressor, actually faced subsequent persecution for their views behind voting for it as Athanasios was banished 5 times and spent 17 years in exile for his belief in the divinity of Jesus.
JEWISH BELIEF IN 2 PERSONS BEING GOD
Furthermore, I pointed out the following in question 167 of my article on 200 Questions for Sceptics and Truth Seekers. https://streettheologian.com/index.php/2022/04/30/200-questions-for-sceptics-and-truth-seekers/
“In the first and second centuries, there were Jewish non-Christians who firmly held theological doctrines of a second God, variously called Logos, Memra, Sophia, Metatron, or Yahoel; indeed, perhaps most of the Jews did so at the time.” Historian Dr. Daniel Boyarin, Borderlines, pg. 92.
Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria taught that the Logos, somewhat of a “second God” proceeded from God as somewhat of an intermediary between God and the cosmos and was a separate person. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philo/
The Babylonian Talmud in a legendary account refers to famous Rabbi Akiva (lived in 1st and 2nd century) in Chagigah 14a as taking on a binitarian view of the two thrones in Daniel 7 which would seem to suggest it was known he held such a view in real life. https://www.sefaria.org/Chagigah.14a.5?ven=William_Davidson_Edition_-_English&vhe=William_Davidson_Edition_-_Vocalized_Aramaic&lang=bi
It is important to note the Daniel 7 reference Akiva refers to is what Jesus referred to when He called Himself the Son of Man coming in the cloud and was charged with blasphemy for it in Mark 14:60-64.
With this historical context in mind, let’s have a look at the Old Testament to see if there were any good reasons for Jews to believe in a multipersonal God.
Please note Christians do not believe there are three gods although Surah 5:73 in the Quran reads, “Those who said: ‘Allah is one of the Three’, certainly they disbelieved, for there is no god save the One God. And if they do not give up this claim, all who have disbelieved among them shall be subjected to painful chastisement.” Christians also do not believe Mary is part of the Trinity or a deity. Surah 5:116 reads, “And imagine when thereafter Allah will say: ‘Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to people: “Take me and my mother for gods beside Allah?” and he will answer: “Glory to You! It was not for me to say what I had no right to. Had I said so, You would surely have known it. You know all what is within my mind whereas I do not know what is within Yours. You, indeed You, know fully all that is beyond the reach of human perception.” https://www.islamicstudies.info/tafheem.php?sura=5&verse=116&to=120
Many Muslims claim this was only referring to a Christian sect and their beliefs at the time. I am genuinely interested to know more on the Muslim view of this as I have not gotten many answers on this in my conversations with Muslims. Any Muslims reading this please tell me which sect it was, when they existed, which of their writings considered Mary one of three deities, why this sect got a mention and not the Christian view outlined in creeds well before the Quran of Father, Son, Holy Spirit being one in being, three in person (not 3 gods or 3 deities) , whether the existence of this sect is concurrent with the time described in the Quran and where does the Quran ever refer to the Holy Spirit being one of the Trinity (or even one of three deities) according to Christians given this was the prevalent Christian view (minus the deities part) at the time?
Back now to the Old Testament, given this was not written by “Christians” living after Jesus this will form an interesting part of our discussion. These texts provide cumulative evidence of a multipersonal Godhead in the Old Testament, they need to be viewed in combination with each other for a clearer picture. In the New Testament we have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all described as God while in the Old Testament we have the LORD, the angel/ word of the LORD and the Spirit of the LORD all described as LORD. Note the word here for angel is mal’ak which simply means messenger, not angel in the sense we would think of it or the Hebrews 1 sense which compares Jesus to angelic beings saying He is on a different level so there is nothing contradictory here on that front. Other “angels” or messengers in the Old Testament are not spoken of as being divine.
Genesis 16, Genesis 22, Exodus 3, Exodus 14, Numbers 22, Judges 2, Judges 6, Judges 13, Zechariah 3, Zechariah 12 all show the Angel of YHWH is a divine figure.
Genesis 21, Judges 5, 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21, 2 Kings 1, 2 Kings 19, Isaiah 37 and Zechariah 1 all make a distinction between the LORD and the angel of the LORD.
- Genesis 1:26– God said “Let us.. After our” God (elohim) said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God assigns a functional form to man, making humankind His representatives on earth. Who is “us” speaking as God and the “our” who is God? It is also interesting to note the word elohim is grammatically plural although this is by no means exhaustive evidence of the Trinity.
- Genesis 16:9-10, 13– the angel of the LORD speaks to Hagar yet is also called the LORD. “The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”.. So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
Why does the angel of the LORD say He will multiply her descendants? Why say the LORD spoke when the angel did?
- Genesis 22:1-2, 10-19- God tests Abraham and speaks to him yet the angel of the LORD does
God tests Abraham in v.1, yet in verse 11 the angel of the LORD calls to Abraham from heaven, in verse 13 says Abraham did not withhold his son from Him (the angel of the LORD) though this was test from God and in verse 15-16 the angel of the LORD makes a declaration for the LORD as if Abraham did not withhold his son from the LORD not the angel of the LORD. Thus, there seems to be an alternation from the LORD to the angel of the LORD to describe the same being.
- Genesis 31:11-13- the angel of God calls Himself the God of Bethel
Why would the angel of God call Himself the God of Bethel? Who is the God of Bethel? Reading Gen. 28:13, YHWH is the God of Bethel (LORD), “And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.” Why is the angel of God calling Himself YHWH, the one who holds the unique name of God?
- Genesis 32:24-30 – God is a man who wrestles Jacob
How did Jacob see God “face to face” if God is an immaterial mind who never takes on a human form? God is Spirit in John 4:24 so did He add humanity to His Spirit in this case? Describing this event Jacob says in verse 30, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” Hosea describes this event in Hosea 12:2-4 saying Jacob “strove with the angel and prevailed”, “He met God at Bethel.” Yet, as mentioned in Genesis 32 Jacob says he fought God, not the angel and in Genesis 31, the angel of the LORD calls Himself the God of Bethel. Again, the angel of the LORD and the LORD are referred to interchangeably while it is clear from the broader Old Testament in passages such as Genesis 21, Judges 5, 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21, 2 Kings 1, 2 Kings 19, Isaiah 37 and Zechariah 1 that the LORD and the angel of the LORD are distinct.
Why is Hosea confusing God with an angel or messenger?
- Genesis 48:14-16– God is called the angel
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” There is a clear parallel here between God and the angel as Jacob recalls the events in the previous verses.
- Exodus 3:1-4, 14-16– the angel of the LORD is the I AM which is the name of YHWH and what Jesus calls Himself in Matt. 14:27 (Greek) and John 8:58. Why is the angel of God in the bush and then the LORD said it was Him in the bush?
In verse 2 the angel of the LORD appears, in verse 4 God says it is him in the bush, in verse 14 the angel of the LORD who is in the bush from v.2 calls Himself the I AM.
- Zechariah 3:1-2 why does the angel of the LORD say the LORD rebuke you as if it was Him? “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Why does the angel of the LORD speak as the LORD to Satan?
- Psalm 45:6-7– how does God have a God? “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” This would make sense if the Son humbles Himself before the Father but is still divine.
- 1 Samuel 10:10 compared to Acts 2:17-21. In 1 Sam 10:10 the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul and he prophesied which is similar to how Acts 2:17-21 quotes Joel 2:28-32 except in that case LORD sends out His Spirit and people prophesy. Thus the Spirit of God is said to do what God does.
- Numbers 24:2 and Judges 3:10 describe the Spirit of God being upon people similar to how the New Testament describes the Holy Spirit. John 14:17 speaks of the Holy Spirit dwelling in and being with the disciples while Romans 8:9 echoes these words. Hence, this view of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament has parallels in the Old.
- Isaiah 63:11-12– Holy Spirit is distinct from God. The Holy Spirit is put by God in the “midst of them” the Israelites. Given the Holy Spirit is put there He cannot be the same as God and cannot be an impersonal force either as per the next point.
- Ezekiel 11:5– The Spirit speaks so cannot be an impersonal force. “And the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the LORD: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind.” The Spirit thus speaks and is also distinct from the LORD. Does this mean the Spirit of the LORD is not the LORD? No as per the next point.
- 2 Samuel 23:2-3- when the Spirit speaks God is speaking. “The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God.” Hence, when the Spirit of the LORD speaks God speaks, the Spirit is God!
- Isaiah 48:12, 16– the eternal Lord, the first and the last, was sent by the Lord God and His Spirit. This is perhaps the clearest Trinitarian passage in the Old Testament. “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last…Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.” We see from this the Lord who called Israel, the first and the last (what Jesus is described as in Revelation 1), is there from the beginning, uncreated, yet somehow sent by the Lord God and the Spirit. By implication there are three distinct uncreated timeless persons part of the Godhead which have different roles though the same nature.
- Psalm 110:1 – YHWH says to Adonai, the LORD said to my Lord, 2 names for God speak to each other! How is this so? Jesus raises this in Luke 20:41-44. Adonai refers to the “Lord” God throughout the OT while YHWH is the unique name for God.
- Daniel 7:13-14– the Son of Man comes in the clouds and has dominion when only God does that in the OT! Who is served, has dominion and honour? God alone! Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man in Mark 14:60-64 and is charged with blasphemy. Even highly critical agnostic and atheist scholars of the New Testament acknowledge Jesus called Himself the Son of Man due to enemy attestation (statement recorded as being made before enemies) and multiple attestation etc. What about the Word of God that Jesus is referred to in John 1 and ties with the idea of the Logos Philo of Alexandria wrote about? Dr. Michael Brown points out the angel (messenger) or the Lord and word of the Lord are synonymous.
- Genesis 15:1-2, 7- The word of the LORD comes to Abram yet is called the LORD by Abraham (v2) and Himself (v.7). “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue[a] childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”.. And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” How does the word of the LORD speak (not an impersonal force), seem distinct from the LORD, yet is also the LORD?
- 1 Samuel 3:19-21- the LORD reveals himself by the word of the LORD. Thus, again the word of the LORD is distinct from the LORD yet is a revelation of the LORD himself.
- Jeremiah 1:4-7– Jeremiah calls the word of the LORD the LORD. “Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me..” Again, much like the angel of the LORD, the word of the LORD is also called the LORD yet is distinct. We have only covered a fraction of the evidence. We haven’t touched on the cloud of the LORD and the angel of the LORD throughout the parts in Exodus post Exodus 3 or referred to the “Mighty God” Messianic reference in Isaiah 9:6 which Jews claim refers to Hezekiah whose name means Yahweh Strengthens in past tense rather than taking on a prophetic perfect tense as used elsewhere while Christian scholars disagree etc and many more references. We hope this has given you a taste of the evidence in the Old Testament but before we end here is one more you wouldn’t have expected.
+1 Deuteronomy 6:4, ““Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Surely I am not using this you might say, the evidence is clear this can’t be referring to a multipersonal Godhead. Does this contradict a Trinity? The word for one, ehad, is also used to describe two humans as one flesh Gen 2:25, many people using one language Genesis 11:6, one cluster of grapes Numbers 13:23, groups of people speaking with one accord in Josh 9:2 meaning there can be plurality or unity of multiple parts within the word ehad. A closer look at the context shows the Israelites were called to worship one true God as opposed to pagans who worshiped groups of gods Deut. 6:13-14. “Our God” eloheinu has a plural suffix. The same suffix is used in Numbers 20:15 to describe our fathers, Isaiah 53:5 to describe our iniquities and 1 Sam 12:19 to describe our sins. This has led some to translate the verse the “LORD, our Gods, is One.” Thus, we again see plurality within singularity from a Hebrew grammatical standpoint. While this verse does not prove the Trinity it is interesting to note in light of the other 20 passages referenced.
Notice here we have not used New Testament passages to support the Trinity. We also have not talked about how Jesus used Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 8:13–15 and Psalm 8:2 in Luke 20:18 and Matthew 21:16 which refer to YHWH to refer to Himself. In light of the historical information and the Old Testament passages presented let alone the New Testament and early church evidence, it is quite clear that the idea that a multipersonal Godhead in Christian or Jewish circles being an invention of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD by political oppressors is complete nonsense.
Isaiah 43:25 reminds us only God can blot out our transgressions. You are not perfect and have fallen short of God’s standards. What is the way forward? The word of the Lord as revealed in Jesus suffered and died for your sins. Isaiah 53:1-12 speaks of the suffering servant Christians believe was Jesus who was pierced for our iniquities and bruised for our transgressions. A loving God isn’t detached from human pain, He experiences it. An imperfect human cannot bridge the gap to a perfect God only the sacrifice of a perfect human can. How do we bridge these two ideas of a loving God and a perfect human? How can God be loving by necessity if He has no one to show love to before creation? Under the Trinitarian view God is love by necessity as the members of the Godhead exhibit love and unity without any need for humans. Yet, God created humans and shows love to them not out of necessity but by His will. In the person of Christ truly human and truly man similar to the man who wrestled Jacob in Genesis 32 who along with being a man was also described as the angel of the Lord and God as per Hosea 12. As an old gospel tract notes in a hypothetical scenario, all the world gathered together to kill God in anger for all the evil in the world, only to realise He had already paid the price.
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