The Trinity – Old Testament Intimations

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. It says that God is one but exists as three persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is fully God. Thus it distinguishes Christianity from both polytheistic religions (religions that believe in more than one god) and from the other major monotheistic religions (religions that believe in one god), Judaism and Islam.

The word “trinity” (three-in-one) isn’t found in the Bible but best summarizes the Biblical picture of God’s being three persons and yet just one God. Sometimes people think that the doctrine can be found only in the New Testament, but actually several passages of the Old Testament intimate (suggest indirectly) that its one God exists as more than one person. Yesterday in our after breakfast Bible reading time my family and I began a study of the Trinity guided by Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), reading its section on the intimations that the Old Testament makes of the Trinity.

One intimation is the passages in which God uses a plural pronoun in referring to Himself. For example, in Genesis 1:26 He says, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV). Some have suggested that God was using the plural of majesty, a form of speech that kings sometimes used in referring to themselves, but the Old Testament doesn’t record any kings using the plural of majesty and so this suggestion doesn’t have any Biblical evidence to support it. Others suggest that God was speaking to angels, but angels didn’t participate in creating man and man wasn’t made in the likeness of angels and so this suggestion isn’t likely either. Thus the best suggestion is that the passage refers to a plurality (the state of being more than one) of persons in God. Some other passages in which God uses a plural pronoun to refer to Himself are:
– “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22).
– “Come, let us go down and confuse their language” (Genesis 11:7).
– “Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8).

Another intimation is the passages in which two people are referred to as God. One such passage is Psalm 45:6-7, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The sceptor of your kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions,” which addresses one person as “O God” and refers to another person as the first person’s “God, your God.” Hebrews 1:8 quotes the passage and identifies the first person as Jesus. Another such passage is Psalm 110:4, “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,'” in which David says that God speaks to David’s Lord, who surely would be God. Matthew 22:44 records Jesus as quoting the passage, identifying the person addressed as both the Christ and David’s Lord. Some other passages in which two people are addressed or referred to as God are:
– “The Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit” (Isaiah 48:16–“the Lord GOD,” “me” [the servant of the LORD, Isaiah 49:1-6], and “his Spirit”–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?).
– “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me” (Isaiah 61:1–“the Spirit” and “the Lord GOD”).
– “They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10–“his” and “Holy Spirit”).
– “I [the LORD] will save them by the LORD their God” (Hosea 1:7–“the LORD” and “the LORD their God”).
– “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1-2–“the Lord whom you seek” and “the LORD of hosts”).

Another intimation is the passages in which “the angel of the Lord” seems to be God Himself. The word “angel” means “messenger” and so “the angel of the Lord” would be a messenger from God. If he is also God Himself, a plurity of persons in God is suggested. Some passages in which “the angel of the Lord” seems to be God Himself, with the name of the person to whom the angel appeared given in brackets after the reference, are Genesis 16:7-13 (Hagar); Genesis 22:11-18 (Abraham); Genesis 31:11-13 (Jacob); Exodus 3:2-6 (Moses); Numbers 22:22-35,38 (Balaam); and Judges 6:11-23 (Gideon).

Another intimation is Proverbs 8:22-31, in which the speaker seems to go beyond personification of wisdom to a person, whom many Christians identify with Jesus. Here is the passage:

The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of men.


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