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Christ in the Old Testament 5

This is basically a repost of 'The Trinitarian Old Testament' from November last year. I think it's worth laying out the same material in the context of this series. We are investigating the claim that the Hebrew Scriptures themselves reveal on their own terms and in their own context the eternal Son, our God from God, Jesus Christ. We are accustomed to thinking of trinitarian formulations growing out of the necessity to confess the deity of Jesus Christ. This is of course true. But we will see that this is not simply a New Testament necessity. Once we confess the deity of the Angel for instance we will also have to ensure that our confession of the OT doctrine of God is similarly trinitarian. It is not the New Testament that forces us to be trinitarian, it is Jesus. And Jesus, as this series is demonstrating, is not confined to the New Testament. This is why we now need to consider the trinity in the OT. In this post I will simply (and very briefly) draw attention to 24 passages in which we see plainly a multi-Personal revelation.

My point is not that the OT betrays hints, shapes and shadows of triune structure

My point is not that NT eyes can see trinitarian themes in the OT

My point is not that we go back as Christians and now retrospectively read the trinity into the OT

My point is not that the OT gives us partial suggestions of trinitarian life that are then developed by NT fulfillment

My point is that these texts read on their own terms and in their own context (as the Jewish, Hebrew Scriptures that they are) demand to be understood as the revelation of a multi-Personal God. The only proper way to understand these texts is as trinitarian revelation. These texts are either to be understood triunely or they are mis-understood - on their own terms or any others! What I am setting out to do is to simply open up the OT and show what is actually there. I have already acknowledged that I have a dogmatic commitment to christocentric revelation, but I hope to show that the OT texts themselves bear this out.

Just before we dive into the texts I would simply ask the reader to question their own dogmatic commitments. I may be expecting to see a multi-Personal God in the OT, but I assure you - you are expecting to see a certain kind of God also. What is it? Are you expecting to see a revelation of the one God? A uni-Personal God? Are you accustomed to thinking of the OT God as equivalent to the God of the modern Jew? Unitarian? Perhaps not, perhaps you recoil at the idea (I hope so). But it's worth all of us asking ourselves 'What are our pre-suppositions?' as we read 'In the Beginning.' The "God" of Genesis 1:1 is a certain kind of God. What do we assume about His being? What will we allow Him to be, do and say as we read chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3...? Do we think it's "obvious" that the God of Genesis 1 is the uncreated Creator? Do we assume that the God being revealed by Moses is basically the God of the modern Jew? The philosophical theist? Something like the Muslim 'God'? Perhaps we think (as so many Christians do) that "the One God" is a foundational doctrine to which trinitarian concepts are added? Perhaps then we see the OT as portraying this basic 'God' before trinitarian nuances are added?

I have often had the experience of being criticised for bringing trinitarian assumptions to the OT text when, at the same time, my Christian friend was bringing equally strong and equally controlling assumptions to bear themselves - assumptions that God (or His revelation) must progress from primitive unitarianism to developed trinitarianism. Pre-suppositions are inevitable. The issue is not 'Who has purged themselves of all dogmatic bias and is a pure biblical scholar!' The issue is 'Which pre-suppositions can actually handle what's on the page and which do damage to the text?' My contention is that the trinitarian pre-supposition is the only one that makes sense of the OT data.

Ok. Here we go - 24 Scriptures to consider:

  • Genesis 1. Verse 1: "In the beginning Elohiym... " Here is the God to Whom we're introduced. A plural noun! One that takes a singular verb. The grammatical oddity is meant to make us sit up and take notice. Our plural God acts as one. And His plural counsel (v26) "Let us..." gives rise to a united creation of a plural humanity - male and female to image His own life.
  • Genesis 3. The Voice of the LORD God (v8) who comes to walk with Adam and Eve is also the LORD God (v9)
  • Genesis 16. The Angel of the LORD (v9) is also LORD and God (v13)
  • Genesis 18&19. The LORD who appears to Abraham (18:1) is Judge of all the earth (18:25), yet He excercises His divine prerogative in union with "the LORD out of the heavens." (19:24)
  • Genesis 32. Jacob wrestles with the Man (v24) who is the Angel (Hosea 12:4) who is God (Gen 32:28,30)
  • Genesis 48. The God who is God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is Shepherd and the source of blessing (v15) is the Angel of God (v16).
  • Exodus 3. The God of the burning bush is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v6) and the great I AM (v14). He is also the Angel of the LORD (v2) and will bring the people to worship God on the mountain (v12).
  • Exodus 19. The LORD on the mountain (v10) warns Moses that in three days the LORD will come to the mountain (v11) and things will be very different then. Sure enough, three days later, the LORD descends on the mountain (v18) and then the LORD descends on the mountain (v20)!
  • Exodus 33. Moses meets face to face with the LORD in the tent of meeting (v11) but the LORD on the top of the mountain he must never see (v20-22).
  • Joshua 5&6. The Commander of the LORD's army (5:14) who fights for Israel to deliver her is also the LORD who is worthy of worship (5:15; 6:2)
  • Judges 2. The Angel of the LORD brought them out of Egypt and established His covenant with them. (v1-4)
  • Judges 6. The Angel of the LORD (v11-12) brings the LORD's blessing (one who is Sovereign LORD, v22). Yet the Angel, as another Person is Himself the LORD (v14) with the same divine majesty (v22-24).
  • Judges 13. God sends the Angel of the LORD (e.g. v9) who is Himself God (e.g. v22). And the Spirit fills Samson (v25)
  • Psalm 2. The Son Whom we are to kiss and find refuge in (v12) is the Anointed Son of the Father through Whom is exercised all divine rule and authority.
  • Psalm 45. The most excellent of men who rules the nations as Champion and King is called 'Lord' by His bride and 'God' by His God. (v6,7)
  • Psalm 110. David knows two Lords who converse in their rule of the nations. There is the LORD and there is the Kingly Priest who is David's Lord.
  • Proverbs. The Wisdom of God who creates (8:30) and gives new life (8:35) through granting the Spirit (1:23) is also possessed by the LORD (8:22)
  • Isaiah 9. The government of God's righteous kingdom will be on the shoulders of the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (v6). Yet He is One who is born and through Whom the zeal of the LORD will accomplish His work (v7)
  • Isaiah 48. The great I AM, the first and the last who created the heavens and the earth and who called Israel (v12,13) is One who is sent from the Lord GOD along with His Spirit (v16)
  • Isaiah 63. The Saviour sends the Angel to save, yet they grieve His Holy Spirit (v9-10)
  • Ezekiel 34. The Shepherd of Ezekiel's prophesy will be the LORD Himself (v12-22), yet this loving, kingly rule is exercised through the Prince, His Servant David (v23-24) who does all that the LORD is said to do as Shepherd and who rules for the LORD.
  • Daniel 7. The Possessor and rightful Ruler of the Kingdom that shall never pass away is the Son of Man (v13,14) who inherits the kingdom from the Ancient of Days (v9-12).
  • Micah 2. The Shepherd who will gather the remnant of Israel is the LORD (v12) who will set at their head a King who is also called 'LORD' (v13)
  • Zechariah 2. The One Sent from the LORD Almighty (v7,9,11) is the LORD Himself to live among the Israelites as the gentle, righteous, saving King of 9:9 (compare with 2:10)!

In all this my argument is not that these are hints of trinity but that they are texts that can only ever be understood from the perspective of a multi-Personal God. When two Persons called LORD are interacting in the text (when we see plainly "true God from true God") then an understanding of God as uni-Personal is just dead wrong. It must always have been dead wrong for it could never account for the Hebrew Scriptures as written.

The only God there is is trinitarian and His revelation has always been such.

Next post...

20 thoughts on “Christ in the Old Testament 5

  1. glenscriv

    Yes definitely 1 Kings 18-19. The Angel saves Elijah in the desert to bring him to Sinai (Exodus all over again) and there are (just like in Ex 19) two Persons called LORD on the mountain.

  2. Paul

    I've come round since we last talked about this (on Dan Hames blog comments). But explicitly trinitarian or just multi-personal God? In other words, does the OT by itself specifically teach trinity, or could there be two or four persons in the Godhead?

  3. Dan Hames

    1 Kings 19v11 is absolutely hilarious if you try and read it unitarianly. I just tried it and it made me laugh out loud hehe.

    Don't know if this is stretching it, but how about this parallel:

    In Exodus the Angel leads them in escape from Egypt through the desert to meet the Lord on the mountain, to be filled with the Spirit (Ex 35v31).

    In 1 Kings 19, Elijah escapes Israel/Ahab to meet the Angel who takes him into the desert to meet the Lord on the mountain, then he anoints Elisha.

    Both are fed by the Lord (1 Kings 19v6, Neh 9v20), both involve 40 (days, years)...

    What do you reckon?

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Paul,
    Good question. Here are a bunch of semi-linked points.

    * Perhaps you could ask Jacob, Moses, Isaiah or Zechariah to formulate their doctrine of God and see if it would match Nicea. But if you did that you should really ask the same question of Peter, Paul, Jude and James . And I think actually the answers of those two groups of men would be pretty similar. In fact the similarity of *their* language and conceptual tools to tackle this issue would probably be more similar to one another than either of them would be to Nicea.

    * 'Trinity' is not a NT doctrine any more than it is an OT one.

    * We don't come to any book of the bible with a clean slate and ask it afresh to teach us its doctrine of God. If you did Revelation might give you many more than four deities, as might Ezekiel. To be sure of Three requires deeper reflection on the Scriptures as a whole - but I think that Moses or Zechariah would tell you there are Three.

    * There is no lack of scholars who believe that no-one in the 1st century AD (including the Apostles) thought God was three-in-one. What do we say to them? We just point them to the 24 NT equivalents of the OT passages I've listed above. And we say, they may not say 'homoousios' but by golly they trust in the One Sent from the Father in the power of the Spirit. In just the same way we can point to Isaiah 11; 48; 61; 63 and see their trinitarian faith in action can we not?

    * Today it's not unusual for OT scholars to approach the Hebrew Scriptures with the assumption of a Jewish pantheon. This is an error - but is it a greater error than approaching it with the assumption of philosophical theism? I guess what I'm saying is that both are actually looking at an inherently trinitarian Scripture and misconstruing it due to prior commitments. The trinitarian pre-supposition is the only one that can actually make sense of those texts in their own contexts.

    * If you restricted the council of Nicea to the above 24 passages I don't think they'd come up with a different doctrine of God.

    * In fact in the ante-Nicene fathers verses like Genesis 19; Exodus 3; Proverbs 8; Isaiah 48 and 61 were at the very heart of their debates.

    * For Athanasius vs Arius Prov 8 was *hugely* important.

    * A true doctrine of the Spirit would be *very* difficult without Isaiah 11 and 61.

    Must go now but those are some thoughts that sprung to mind. What do you think?

  5. glenscriv

    Hi Dan, you're right it's not only impossible to read it unitarianly, it's downright hilarious. And yes, Exodus all over again, including mount Carmel (ch18) as the battle between Baal (Pharaoh) and his prophets (magicians) and the LORD and his servant Moses/Elijah. No wonder its those two who appear with the seen LORD on the mountain of transfiguration.

    So you have

    Sinai: Moses: Seen and Unseen LORD: listen to Law

    Sinai: Elijah: Seen and Unseen LORD: nothing to hear just go to anointed prophet-king combo

    Transfiguration: Moses & Elijah: Seen and Unseen LORD: 'Listen to my Son'

    Or something

  6. Martin Downes


    Loving it. Thanks for collecting all these passages together. My plan on 28th Dec is to do an overview of the Trinity in the OT. You've saved me some of the spadework.

    Every blessing


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  8. cassie

    Have you ever questioned the Trinitarian concept? Why is the Three in one concept so difficult to understand and there are so many Scriptures that seem to give a more simple explanation i.e. that there are 2 separate entities God Almighty, the Father and his son, Jesus, Holy Spirit being dynamic energy, a gift from God with which you can be filled.
    Jesus is described as 'the only begotten son of God' and through him all other things were made. In other words Jesus was indeed the first created spirit being (cf. Prov.8:23-31; Col 1:15,16), who came to be always alongside his father united, not in the same person, but in purpose and mind-set.
    The Bible puts things simply. At John 17:3 we are told that we can gain eternal life by knowing 'you the ONLY true God AND Jesus Christ whom you sent forth'
    Does it not make more sense, just by considering these 2 passages, that, although united in purpose God the Father and Jesus are 2 separate spirit entities?

    Genesis 1:26 still makes perfect sense. And, as a linguist I know that in Hebrew, the plural form of the noun 'Elohiym' can be used with sing.verb as an honorific. Compare the use of plural 'adhoneh' (Lord) with sing.verb in reference to Joseph at Gen 42:30

    Much of the confusion about who exactly God is comes from the fact that God the Father's personal name which appeared countless times in the OT originally has been omitted from many translations and substituted by LORD - but Lord is a title that can be given to anyone in authority so how does one know who exactly 'Lord' is referring to
    (cf. Ps.83:18 - 'you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are most high' some translations have this as 'you whose name is the LORD'; the name Jehovah still CAN be found also at Exodus 6:3, Isa 12:2, 26:4 in the Authorized version).

    There are many NT scriptures that belie the Trinitarian concept of three persons who are co-eternal, co-equal. See Mark 13:32; Matt 20:23; John 14:28; 1 Cor 8:5,6

    What's your view on these scriptures?

  9. Anonymous

    Hi Cassie,
    As I understand it bible translators often use the word LORD in capitals to translate the word YHWH (i.e. Yaweh, Jehovah), whereas Lord in lower case translates the word Adonai.

    There are plenty of instances which show that this is a completely appropriate name for Jesus.

    So, to take an example, in Matthew 21:15-17, the Chief Priests are indignant at children singing praise to Jesus. Jesus applies to himself Psalm 8, which is explicitly written about the LORD.

    Similarly, there are plenty of instances in the OT that make sense if there are multiple people who can correctly be called LORD. So Genesis 19:24 discloses two people - a LORD (YHWH) on earth and one in Heaven. And Exodus 33 shows one LORD (YHWH) that Moses talks to face to face and another LORD (YHWH) that he cannot see.

    I think - but hope somebody will correct me if I'm wrong (I don't know Hebrew) - YHWH is the third person version of "I AM" (in other words "HE IS"). I view it as significant that, in John 8, Jesus said "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am." That they picked up stones to stone him shows that they understood the claim he was making. (A Greek scholar also told me that what Jesus actually says in the Greek is I I AM - in other words, it reinforces that he is saying that He is the I AM.)

    I pray that we would all do as John 5:23 commands us to - honour the Son just as we honour the Father.

  10. cassie

    Anonymous -
    Thinking about your ref. to Matt:21:15-17 and the link to Psalm 8:2. I agree that in Psalms the reference is to Yaweh but this in no way implies, given the context of the Matthew verses, that Jesus was also saying the he himself was that person. He is saying rather that his listeners are surely familiar with that Psalm which says that strength came out of the mouths of young ones, and now here he also was receiving similar testimony from young ones.
    In Matthew 5 and 6 ' the Sermon on the Mount', Jesus constantly reminds the people of the OT scriptures that they would have all been familiar with, but he goes on to give them a clearer understanding (especially as he was to fulfil what the Mosaic Law had pointed to and they would be no longer constrained by the Law) - the church leaders were too interested in the detail - straining out the gnat' that they had missed the point. He constantly refers to the OT but, I believe, never once presumes to be the one called Jaweh, but rather called himself the Son of man and refers to Jaweh as his Father in heaven.

    John 8 is very interesting - Jesus tries to explain his relationship to the Father. v. 28 is particularly clear. Also in verses 16-18 he makes a useful reference to the old law in that 2 witnesses were required for a complaint to be valid - ergo he and his father are 2 separate beings! I cannot find your reference to his saying " I I am" unless you mean verse 23. You might in that case have left out a bit of the Greek - it reads in translation, word for word, "You out of the (things) below you are, I out of the (things) above I am" He is still trying to explain where he's from and where he will soon be going, and uses here one of his often used teaching techniques, making a contrast!

    I agree entirely with your final comment from John 5:23. Similarly John 17:3 and 14:6 emphasise Jesus' crucial role in our relationship with God.

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  12. Glen

    Hello Cassie, glad you've dropped by,

    I think about trinity all the time and question how best to read the Scriptures every day. And I've come to this conclusion - Trinity is not a difficult concept - anything other than Trinity is an impossible concept because it just can't handle the Scriptural witness to three divine Persons who are distinct, divine and united. Trinity is really very simple. It's not a philosophical word game, it's just the result of reading our bibles and seeing multiple Persons called Yahweh who are completely united in love and being. Their oneness is a complex one-ness - it's the oneness like we see in marriage (one flesh - Gen 2:24 - same word for "one" as Deut 6:4). Trinity is not the result of philosophers getting their hands on the pure doctrine of the bible. Really its the determination to get rid of all philosophical ideas of 'oneness' that are so poisonous to Christian faith. Greek philosophy thinks about the oneness of the divine as a mathematical singularity. The Christian *mustn't* think like that or else they cannot read their bibles properly or honour the Son - which, as Anonymous reminds us, is a matter of eternal significance.

    Trinity does not mean (as you say) that the Father and Son are one 'person'. And it doesn't mean (as you say) there are three 'beings'. The one being of God *is* the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each Person equally has claim to the divine names (e.g. of Yahweh).

    Mark 1:3 - who is John preparing the way for? The LORD right? That's who Jesus is. Yahweh/Jehovah/the LORD. And Jesus does not shrink back from such a divine self-identification.

    Jesus very definitely calls Himself I AM - and repeatedly so in John 8 - v24, 28 and stunningly in v58. He combines this with an assertion of His pre-existence. Who else is He claiming to be except the great I AM of Exodus 3?

    When you study Exodus 3:2 you will realise that He is there referred to as The Angel of Yahweh (literally the Sent One of Yahweh). He is OF Yahweh and yet, v4, He also takes the name Yahweh. He is (v6) God. And v14 - He is the great I AM. I hope you'll agree that there is only one person in the bush! Yet LORD's Sent One who is Himself the LORD - He is the Great I AM.

    In v12 He tells Moses that He will be with the Israelites and bring them back to the mountain to worship God. Clearly the Divine Angel is called I AM and He rescues the people to bring them to worship the Most High God.

    I urge you to consider the OT Scriptures I have listed above. I urge you to study the Angel of the Yahweh who is repeatedly referred to *as* Yahweh. He is from the LORD and yet also *is* the LORD. He is LORD from LORD, God from God. The Hebrew Scriptures (let alone the Greek) are very comfortable with multiple divine Persons interacting (take Zech 2 (esp v11) for instance).

    Many unitarians have commented on this site but none of them have been able to handle the Scriptures I've listed above. Multiple Persons called Lord is not a NT phenomenon and it's nothing that can be dismissed by speculation about the translations of 'yahweh' and 'adonai' in the NT. We don't even have to engage in those debates - it's all plainly there in the OT. Yahweh sending Yahweh is a Jewish idea - not a 4th century Christian one.

    It is the ancient Hebrew doctrine of God which forces us to be trinitarians - or else we haven't really honoured or understood the God of Scripture.

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