PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Trinity in the Old Testament

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.

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Creation

We will begin at the beginning. The opening words of Scripture state:

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

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:

Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

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.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Word is a ‘he, a ‘him’, a someone.

Elohim

Notice what the text of Genesis 1:26 says.

Genesis 1:26 Then God 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.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

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.

Let Us

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?

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.

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:

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. …

In verse 27 he switches to singular pronouns:

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Collective Singular

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.

Echad

Chapter 2, which focuses on the relationship between man and woman, closes with this statement which forms the basis for marriage.

Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

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:

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

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?

Mal’akh YHWH

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:

Genesis 16:7 The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”

This seems like it could be a created angel, but listen closely to what he says:

Genesis 16:10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”

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.

Genesis 16:11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. …

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:

Genesis 16:13 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.”

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

Judges 13:8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.” 9 And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field….

God listened to his prayer and sent the angel of God.

Judges 13:15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” 16 And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) 17 And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” 18 And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” 19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. 20 And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen 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.

Judges 13:24 And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. 25 And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

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.

Psalm 45:6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

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:

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

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:

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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.

Exodus 31:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, (cf. Ex.35:30-31)

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.

Isaiah 11:1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

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:

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

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.

Isaiah 48:16 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. 17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.

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.

Isaiah 48:12 “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. 13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.

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:

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

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

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October 25, 2015 - Posted by | Knowing God, podcast | , , , , , ,

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