Trinity in O.T. ~ 20151025 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
10/25 Trinity in the Old Testament; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151025_trinity-old-testament.mp3
We saw last time that the clear teaching of the New Testament is that the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct someones, that Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, yet there is only one true God. This is what we mean when we use the word 'trinity' or tri-unity. The one God eternally exists in three distinct someones in relationship with one another. One common accusation is that the trinity is an invention of the church councils. While the word 'trinity' is not found in Scripture, the understanding that there are three distinct persons who are each fully divine, yet there is only one God is the only thing that makes sense of a multitude of New Testament passages. Another accusation is that the doctrine of the trinity is a deviation of the New Testament authors from strict monotheism of the Old Testament.
What can we say to this? Does the understanding of God as triune contradict the teaching of the Old Testament? While there is much in the New Testament that unfolds things that were hidden and brings into focus things that were not clear in the Old Testament, if something taught by the apostles flat out contradicts what the Old Testament teaches, we must not accept it.
One thing we should make clear at the outset is that when the New Testament teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God, it does not ever teach that there are consequently three Gods. That would be a flat contradiction. Instead the fact that there is exactly and only one true God is affirmed right alongside the teaching that there are three distinct someones in relationship with one another who equally share the divine essence.
What we will look at today, we should not call proofs of the trinity in the Old Testament. Rather, the consistent teaching of the Old Testament leaves open the possibility of understanding the one God as a triune being. Throughout the Old Testament, there are clues, hints, foreshadowings, pointers that there is more to be said about God than merely that he is one solitary being. Some of these pointers are understood differently by different interpreters, but taken together we can at minimum say with confidence that the Old Testament makes good sense when read with a New Testament understanding of the triune God in mind, and indeed Jesus invites us to see him throughout the Old Testament.
We will begin at the beginning. The opening words of Scripture state:
Here in the creation narrative, we see the one God creating. But we also see the Spirit of God brooding over the formless deep. Is the Spirit of God another way of describing the divine essence, or is the Spirit spoken of as a distinct someone? We also see the Word of God. God spoke. “The Word spoken by God is not a mere sound but a power so great that the universe is thereby created and upheld” [H.Bavinck].
Psalm 33 tells us:
We see the LORD, his Word, and his breath or Spirit. John's gospel teaches that this Word was not mere sound but someone distinct who was both fully divine, and also in relationship with God.
The Word is a 'he, a 'him', a someone.
Notice what the text of Genesis 1:26 says.
This is a fascinating passage. The word translated 'God' is the Hebrew 'Elohim'. Elohim is the plural form of which Eloah is the singular. Eloah is used in some passages to refer to God. But violating the standard rules of grammar, the plural noun Elohim is most often used in the bible with a singular verb. Singular pronouns are most frequently used with this plural noun, also violating the rules of grammar, so our translators have chosen to use the singular 'God' rather than the plural 'Gods' to make it agree with the singular verbs and pronouns. It would be awkward to say that 'the LORD he is Gods; there is no other besides him' (Deut.4:35) or 'the LORD our Gods is one LORD' (Deut.6:4). Some scholars believe that the plural form is a plural of majesty, indicating the richness and fullness of the divine being. And this is probably correct. Although the use of the plural 'Elohim' with singular pronouns and verbs may not clearly teach the plurality of someones in the one divine essence, the awkward grammar seems to intentionally leave itself open to that possibility.
But the honorific plural is seen only with nouns, not with verbs or pronouns. Here in Genesis 1, and also in chapters 3 and 11 and Isaiah 6 we have the plural pronouns 'we' and 'us' used with 'Elohim'. The question is who is the 'we'? To whom does the 'us' refer?
One suggestion that has been proposed is that he refers to himself and the creation he has just made, but this would make man in the image of God and the earth, and it would include the earth in the creative process. Another is that God refers to the angels or the heavenly court, but this would leave man in the image of God and the angels, and employ the help of the angels in creation, when we are explicitly told that God alone by himself created (Is.44:24). Some have suggested that this is an inner deliberation of God, a kind of self talk, as one might say to himself 'now what am I going to do?' This may come closer to the truth. Developing this idea in the context of Genesis 1, we could envision this inner dialogue of God between himself and his Spirit, who in verse 2 was brooding over the face of the deep. It is interesting to note that where in Genesis 1:26 God says:
In verse 27 he switches to singular pronouns:
It is also interesting to note that 'man', 'adahm' is a collective singular, including both male and female, referring to both 'him' and 'them'. 'Let us make man …let them have dominion'. The image of God in man seems to include plurality within unity.
Chapter 2, which focuses on the relationship between man and woman, closes with this statement which forms the basis for marriage.
The man and his wife are said to become one flesh. The Hebrew word for 'one' is 'echad', which is the same word used in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4:
Could it be that 'YHWH our Elohim, YHWH is echad', YHWH is one in a similar sense that the man and his wife are said to be 'one', an essential unity within which there can be us and our?
Moving on from the creation narrative, there is a curious character in the Old Testament that appears on several different occasions. He is called the Mal'akh YHWH or Mal'akh Elohim; the angel of the LORD or the angel of God. The word 'mal'akh' translated 'angel' simply means a messenger or ambassador. Often this word refers to what we would think of as a created heavenly being who serves God, often in the role of a messenger. But what is said about the Angel of the LORD causes us to wonder if he might be something more. In Genesis 16, after Abraham allows Sarai to treat Hagar harshly, the servant girl who was pregnant with his son Ishmael, and she flees into the wilderness, we are told:
This seems like it could be a created angel, but listen closely to what he says:
The angel of the LORD does not say 'God will multiply your offspring'; he says 'I will multiply your offspring'. This seems to be claiming more than a mere created angel can claim. Yet he goes on to distinguish himself from the LORD.
He does not say 'I have listened to your affliction, but 'the LORD has listened. The angel of the LORD speaks of the LORD as a distinct person, yet takes credit for multiplying your offspring, something only God can do. What do we make of this? Listen to Hagar's response:
Hagar refers to the angel of the LORD as 'the LORD who spoke to her' and says 'You are a God of seeing'. She seems to identify the angel of the LORD with the LORD and with God.
In Judges 13, the angel of the LORD appeared to the wife of Manoah, to promise the birth of Samson. There seems to be distinction between the LORD and the angel of God
God listened to his prayer and sent the angel of God.
The angel of the Lord distinguished between himself and the LORD. But Manoah recognized that to see the angel of the LORD was to see God.
We see the angel of the LORD, the LORD and the Spirit of the LORD in this passage. In many Old Testament passages we see the angel or messenger of the LORD who seems to be differentiated from the LORD, yet who is identified as God and given the honor and worship due only to God.
God The Son
There are also passages in the Old Testament that indicate that God has a Son. A son shares the same nature as his father. Psalm 2 speaks of the LORD and his Anointed (or Messiah), the LORD's established King, who is YHWH's begotten Son.
In Psalm 45 we see the triumphant king spoken of.
The King is addressed as God, yet, God, the God of the king is seen as anointing the divine king. This is said to be speaking of the Son in Hebrews 1.
Micah 5 speaks of a coming ruler:
This is a ruler that is promised to come, but whose coming forth is from ancient days. This is an eternal one, but one who will come in time, and who will shepherd his people in the strength of the LORD. The coming one is eternal, yet distinguished from the LORD.
Isaiah 9:6 describes the coming king:
This king is a Son, who is called Mighty God and Everlasting Father.
The Divine Spirit
The Spirit is also seen to be a distinct someone.
The LORD is said to fill someone with the Spirit of God.
Isaiah 63 speaks of the LORD, the angel of his presence, and his Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit is said to be grieved by rebellious people, something that can be said only of a someone, not a something. The Spirit of the LORD is the one who is said to have given them rest.
Isaiah 11 speaks of the Spirit.
Here we see the sevenfold Spirit spoken of in Revelation. We see the branch, who is the Messiah who comes forth from David, and the Spirit of the LORD, and the LORD.
Divine Three in One
Isaiah 42 says:
Notice the three characters in this passage. My Spirit is distinct from both I and him. Matthew 12 tells us that this passage is fulfilled in Jesus. God the Father put the Holy Spirit on Jesus.
Look at Isaiah 48.
Notice again the three characters The Lord GOD, me, and his Spirit; or The LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One. If we as who is the 'me' who is speaking, verses 12-13 clear this up.
Me, the one the Lord GOD sent with his Spirit, I am the first and the last, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
Isaiah 61 says:
Again we see the three someones. The Spirit of the Lord GOD, me, and the LORD. Jesus applied this passage to himself in Luke 4.
This is a brief sampling of the many many passages in the Old Testament that seem to indicate that the one true God may eternally exist in more than one person. This one God eternally existed as Father, Son and Spirit, in community, in relationship, in conversation, in cooperation, in love. It is this God who says 'I will put my Spirit within you ...and you shall be be my people and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:27-28). 'Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ ...that our joy may be complete' (1 John 1:3-4)
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org