Saturday, June 14, 2008

Adumbrations of the Trinity in the Old Testament

Scripture speaks of God in both the singular and the plural; singular when the being or essence of the Godhead (or one of the persons in particular) is in view, and plural when more than one or all three persons of the Godhead are in view.

The Unity of God

While the Bible clearly and consistently sets forth one God to the exclusion of all others, the word used for the oneness of God also allows for an understanding that in His innermost being God exists in a trinal fashion, i.e. as one God in three persons.

Accordingly, rather than use the Hebrew word ‘Yachid,’ the word for a single, indivisible unit, which is the word preferred by post-Christian Jews (q.v., Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith), the Bible uses the word ‘echad’ (e.g., Deut. 6:4), a word that is most often used in the Bible to indicate a plurality subsisting in unity (q.v. Gen. 2:4, etc).

Plural Nouns

Furthermore, although there are perfectly good words in Hebrew to use for "God" and "Lord" that are singular, and although Scripture does sometimes use such words, it also uses and even favors words that indicate that God is also more than one in some sense. This practice makes sense on Trinitarian assumptions and is not at all the way unitarians or polytheists would naturally express their understanding of God. For example,

1. God: The most common noun for “God” in the OT takes a plural form. It is usually modified by singular words. For example, the first verse of the Bible says: “In the beginning God (Heb. Pl. Elohim) created (Heb. Sg. Bara; Lit. = He created) the heavens and the earth.”

2. Lord: The most common noun for “Lord” (Heb. Plur. Adonai) in the OT also takes a plural form. As with the above it is usually modified by singular verbs, adjectives, etc.

3. Creators: Even as Scripture insists that God created all things by Himself (Isa. 44:24), it also speaks of Him as our “creators”: “Remember also your Creator (Heb. Plur.) in the days of your youth…” (Ecc. 12:1)

Plural Pronouns

Not only plural nouns but plural pronouns are also used for God. The most famous examples follow; these passages show a remarkable interplay or alternation between singular and plural words.

Gen. 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…’”

Gen. 3:22 “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us,…’”

Gen. 11:7 “’Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language,…’”

Isa. 6:8 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’”

Nota Bene: 1) Certain translations, such as the NASB used above, capitalize words that refer to God. Us and Our are capitalized. 2) Only God can do what is spoken of in these verses (create, judge, and commission prophets), so God cannot be referring to any creatures here, whether angels or men. 3) Pre-Christian Jewish believers interpreted these verses along Trinitarian lines, as seen in the Aramaic Targums. 4) The New Testament provides its own inspired commentary of this Old Testament phenomenon of God speaking in the plural, as can be seen by a comparison of Isaiah 6:1-10 with John 12 (which speaks of the Son) and Acts 28 (which speaks of the Holy Spirit). 5) All extant post-apostolic sources see in these passages indications of the Trinity (e.g., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc.). 6) For a lot more on these passages, see here.

Plural Verbs

“And it came about, when God caused me to wander [Heb. Plur. Taw-law, “they caused me to wander”] from my father’s house…” (Gen. 20:13a)

“He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself [Heb. Plur. Gaw-law, “revealed themselves”] to him when he fled from his brother.” (Gen. 35:7)
“Surely there is a God who judges [Heb. Plur. ‘They judge’] on earth.” (Psalm 58:11)

Plural Adjectives

“…You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God [Heb. Plur. Elohim Kedoshim, ‘They are a holy God’].” (Josh. 24:19)

Concluding Comment

Many more examples could be given for the phenomenon of God speaking of Himself and being spoken of by others in terms that bespeak both the essential unity of God as well as His personal diversity.

Say what they will, this is decidedly not the way a unitarian or a polytheist would write or speak of God. Trinitarians alone are comfortable with such language, for Trinitarians alone believe that God is both one and many.

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