THE TRINITY: THE OLD TESTAMENT EVIDENCE: A MULTI-PERSONAL GOD
Trinitarians believe that while there is only one God, numerically speaking, yet, within this one God, there exists more than one person, ego, intellect or self. This is the fundamental principle underlying the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus it does not make much sense to discuss how many Persons there are in the Godhead and how They relate to each other until you have first established the multi-personal nature of God.
If the authors of the Bible believed that God was multi-personal, then we would expect to find that they would write about God in such a way as to indicate this idea to their readers. Thus, we must ask, "What would we expect to find in the Bible, if its authors believed that God was multi personal?"
On the other hand, if the authors of the Bible believed that God was only one person, i.e., they were classic Unitarians, then they would write about God in such a way as to indicate that idea. Thus, we are also warranted to ask, "What would we expect to find in the Bible, if Unitarians wrote it?"
We will at times use the term "Unitarian" in its generic sense of anyone who denies the Trinity because he believes that God is only one person. This would include Jews, Muslims, Arians, and Modalists.
Let us examine the Old Testament to see whose position is verified by the Hebrew text keeping in mind the basic question, "What must be in order for what is to be what it is?"
The first question is how did the biblical authors, under the inspiration of God, conceive of the oneness of God? There are nine different Hebrew Words which at times are translated as the word "one:"
While such words as ish (man) or ishah (woman) are sometimes translated "one," they are never applied to God. Since God is not a man or a woman (Num. 23:19), this is what we would expect to find. The same applies to the word nephesh (soul) which is never used to speak of the oneness of God.
The question that comes to mind at this point is, if Unitarians wrote the Bible, which word for oneness would they apply to God? Out of all the words above, there is only one word which would indicate that God is one solitary person. If this word is applied to God in the Bible, this would be quite damaging to the Trinitarian position.
The word is "yachid" and means an absolute or solitary oneness. It is even translated "solitary" in Psalm 68:6 and refers to someone who is absolutely alone. This is its general meaning throughout Scripture.
Unitarians should naturally expect to find that the word <yachid was applied to God in the Bible. On the other hand, Trinitarians would not expect to find yachid used of God because they believe that there are three Persons within the Godhead.
When we turn to the Bible, what do we find? The authors of Scripture never applied yachid to God. They never described God as a solitary person. This is quite damaging to the Unitarian position.
In the list of Hebrew words which speak of oneness, the word echad [often] refers to a compound oneness in which a number of things together are described as "one". The following sample passages illustrate this compound meaning of oneness:
2. Gen. 2:24: Adam and Eve became l-visar echad (one flesh). They were one, but two and two, but one.
3. Gen. 3:22: Adam and Eve became "one" (echad) with God. But they did not lose their personhood when they became "one" with God.
4. Gen. 11:6: The people were one (echad). They were, thus, "one" and "many" at the same time.
5. Gen. 34:16, 22: The Shechemites wanted to become "one people" (l-`am echad) with the Jews.
6. II Chron. 30:12: God gave the people "one heart" (lev echad). Obviously, the thousands of individual hearts were "one" in a compound or composite sense.
7. Ezra 2:64: The "congregation" (kol-haqahal) of forty two thousand, three hundred and sixty persons was described as "one" (k-echad).
8. Jer. 32:39: Under the New Covenant, God will give His people "one heart" (lev echad).
The passages above are just a small sample of the many times echad is used of compound oneness. But it is enough to demonstrate beyond all doubt that the Old Testament, from the Law to the Prophets, used echad to express a unified or compound oneness.
A Unitarian would never apply the Hebrew word echad to God because it means a compound or unified oneness. If the authors of the Bible were Unitarians, we would not expect to find echad applied to God.
On the other hand, if the writers of Scripture believed that God was multi-personal, then we would expect to find that they would apply echad to God because this would mean that God is "one" in a composite or compound sense. As a matter of fact, echad is the only available Hebrew word they could use to express this idea.
When we open the Bible, what do we find? We find that echad is applied to God. He is "one" in the sense of compound oneness. This is so central to the Old Testament concept of God that it is found in Israel's Great Confession:
"Hear, O Israel, [Yahweh] our God, Yahwehis one!" (Deut. 6:4)
The use of echad in Deut. 6:4 is exactly what Trinitarians expect to find in the Bible because it is the only way in the Hebrew language to indicate to the reader that God is a composite unity of several Persons and not just a solitary person. There are no other words in the Hebrew language by which such an idea could be expressed.
But how can this be the true understanding of echad when the Jews today reject the doctrine of the Trinity? The noted Hebrew scholar, David Cooper, explains:
Prior to the days of Moses Maimonides, the unity of God was expressed by echad which, as has been proved beyond a doubt, has as its primary meaning that of a compound unity. Maimonides, who drafted the thirteen articles of faith, in the second one sets forth the unity of God, using the word yachid which in the Tenach is never used to express God's unity. From these facts it is evident that a new idea was injected into this confession by substituting yachid which in every passage carries the primary idea of oneness in the absolute sense for echad which primarily means a compound unity. Hence from the days of Maimonides on, an interpretation different from the ancient one was placed upon this most important passage.
When you consider the use of echad in reference to God and the fact that yachid are never applied to God, the implication is obvious. God is a compound unity, i.e., multi-personal.
If the authors of Scripture believed there was only one God, how could they express this idea in the Hebrew language? The only way, in terms of Hebrew grammar, was to use singular nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs in reference to God. Thus, they would refer to God as "He," "Him," and "His" and describe God as saying, "I," "Myself," and "Me." Both Unitarians and Trinitarians would expect to find the authors of Scripture using such words in reference to God.
But, if they also believed that God was multi-personal, the only way this idea could be indicated in the Hebrew was to use plural nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. They would also refer to God as "They," "Them," and "Theirs" and describe God as saying, "We," "Us," and "Ours."
While both Trinitarians and Unitarians expect to find singular words applied to God, because they both believe there is only one God numerically speaking, only Trinitarians expect to find plural words used of God as well. We have yet to see a Unitarian book in which God is referred to as "They" or "Them." But this is standard practice in Trinitarian books.
An example of a singular name for God is found in Numbers 23:19:
"God (el) is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"
In this verse, God is given the name El which is a singular noun. All the verbs which modify El in this verse are singular as well. The divine name El is transliterated in such places as Gen. 33:20 (EL-Elohe-Israel).
God is called boreh (Creator) in Isaiah 40:28, which is the singular form of the verb bara. He is also called vyitsro (Maker) in Isaiah 45:11, which is the singular form of yatsar. Since there is only one God, we are not surprised to find singular nouns and verbs used of God.
But when it comes to plural nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs, this is not something which a Unitarian would expect to be applied to God in the Bible. We have yet to hear a Unitarian refer to God as "Them." But this would be exactly what a Trinitarian would expect to find in the Bible.
If God is multi-personal, then we would expect to find God saying, "We," "Us," or "Our" as well as "I," "Myself," or "Me" because God is One and Three at the same time. The doctrine of the Trinity requires the plural as well as the singular while Unitarianism only requires the singular.
Did the authors of the Bible use plural words for God? Yes, they did. The plural form of El is elohim which is the most frequently used word for "God" in the Bible (i.e., Gen. 1:1).
The word elohim is translated as "gods" over four hundred times in the Bible. That it is a true plural is seen from the fact that it has plural verbs and plural adjectives modifying it. Several examples will suffice to demonstrate this point:
And it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father's house...
The divine name is elohim and the verb which modifies it is hit`u (cause to wander) which is the plural form of ta`u. It can be translated, "When they, i.e., God, caused me to wander from my father's house."
The verb niglu (revealed) is the plural form of gla and modifies elohim (God)
4. In Deuteronomy 4:7 we read: ...
The word qrovim (coming near) in Deut. 4:7 is a plural form of the word qarav and modifies elohim.
6. David said in Psalm 58:11 (v.12 in Heb.):
Surely there is a God who judges on earth!
David used the verb shephmim "judges" in its plural form. A literal translation would be, "They, i.e., God, who judges the earth."
Besides the plural noun elohim and all its plural modifiers, the authors of the Bible used other plural nouns as well:
2. Job 35:10 refers to God as the "Makers" of mankind. The word `sa (Makers) is a plural participle of `asah.
3. In Psalm 149:2, we read:
Let Israel be glad in his Maker; Let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King.
David uses the masculine plural b`osay "Makers" to refer to the God of Israel. What Unitarian would ever speak of God as his "Makers"? Only Trinitarians do this.
5. Isaiah 54:5 speaks of God as the "Makers" of Israel. The word "Makers" in the Hebrew is ... which is a plural participle.
The Trinitarian has no problem whatsoever understanding how God can be described in the Bible as both the "Maker" and "Makers" of the universe at the same time because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were are involved in the work of creation. But the Unitarian is hard put to explain why the Bible speaks of a plurality of Creators.
Trinitarians are often accused of theological gobbledygook when they say that, since God is one and three at the same time, God is both "Creator" and "Creators" at the same time. But this is exactly what the Hebrew text does. The same words for "Creator" and "Maker" are used in both their singular and plural forms.
What about plural pronouns? Does God ever speak in the first person plural by using such terms as "Us," "We," and "Our"? If the authors of the Bible were Unitarian in belief, then we would not expect to find God speaking in the plural. But if Trinitarianism is true, then that is exactly what we would expect to find in the Bible.
The evidence is clear that plural pronouns are used in reference to God in the following passages:
Then God said, "LetUs make man Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:26- 27)
First, the word "make" (...) in the phrase "Let us make man" is a plural verb. The Hebrew grammar cannot be ignored. The main verb as well as the pronouns are all plural. This would indicate that God is the "Us" and "Our" who is speaking.
Second, that the plural pronouns refer to God and not to angels is clear from the singular nouns "image" and "likeness." Man is not created in the two images or two likenesses - God's and the angels. We are created in the image and likeness of God.
Third, this is also demonstrated by the repetition of the word "image" in verse 27. If the "image" in which man was created was reflective of angels as well as God, it would not have been rendered in the singular, but in the plural.
Fourth, some anti-Trinitarians have attempted to dismiss the passage as an example of the plural of majesty (pluralis majestaticus), much like Queen Victoria of England who is reported to have said, "We are not amused."
The only problem with this argument is that there was no plural of majesty in the Hebrew language during biblical times. Rabbi Tzvi Nassi, a lecturer in Hebrew at Oxford University, explains:
Every one who is acquainted with the rudiments of the Hebrew and Chaldee languages, must know that God, in the holy Writings, very often spoke of Himself in the plural. The passages are numerous, in which, instead of a grammatical agreement between the subject and predicate, we meet with a construction, which some modern grammarians, who possess more of the so-called philosophical than of the real knowledge of the Oriental languages, call a pluralis excellentiae. This helps them out of every apparent difficulty. Such a pluralis excellentiae was, however, a thing unknown to Moses and the prophets. Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, David, and all the other kings, throughout TeNaKh (the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa) speak in the singular, and not as modern kings in the plural. They do not say we, but I, command; as in Gen. xli. 41; Dan. iii. 29; Ezra i. 2, etc.
During the nineteenth century debates between Unitarians and Trinitarians, the principle of pluralis majestaticus was revealed to be a hoax popularized by the famous Jewish scholar Gesenius. It became clear that he used it as a ruse de guerre against Christianity.
The fundamental error resided in the attempt to take a modern monarchical idiosyncrasy and read it back into an ancient text when such an idiosyncrasy was unknown at that time. Richard Davies in 1891 pointed out, "Indeed, this royal style is unknown in Scripture."
What is astounding is that, one hundred years later, the anti-Trinitarians are still using this hoax to dodge the significance of the use of plural pronouns in reference to God. They seem to be totally ignorant of the fact that it is a recent grammatical invention and, thus, cannot be read back into ancient times or texts.
We must also point out that anti-Trinitarians now apply the principle of pluralis majestaticus to all plural words of God when the principle really only relates to direct discourse, i.e., "Us" and "Our" passages. It is even invoked as a way to explain away the significance of the plural word elohim in such places as Genesis 1:1. But since Genesis 1:1 is not a direct discourse, the appeal to a supposed "plurality of majesty" is nothing more than a ruse.
God said that men "has become one with Us." There is nothing in the context to indicate that God was speaking to angels. Thus the "Us" is God and reveals His multi-personal nature.
The words "come" and "confuse" are both plural verbs. This fact, when combined with the plural pronouns and the identification of the "Us" as none other than Yahweh in the subsequent verses, makes the attempt to introduce angels as the ones to whom God is speaking, highly unlikely. When angels do have a hand in punishing man, they are given due credit (Gen. 19:1-26, etc.). No credit is given to the angels because they were not involved.
Isaiah was called and sent by the Divine UUs." Nowhere are angels introduced in the context. The "Us" is Yahweh speaking as a multipersonal Being. There is not a single text in all of Scripture where a prophet is described as a spokesman of angels.
Another thing which Trinitarians expect to find in the Bible is that there will be places where it is clear that more than one person is God. This is decidedly not what Unitarians expect to find.
There are several passages where two divine persons are both called "God" in the sense of both being the one true God. The first passage is found in Genesis 19:24:
This passage is remarkable regardless of how you deal with it. It simply states that there are two divine Persons: One on the earth and One in the heavens. Each Person is called ... (Yahweh).
The first ... (Yahweh) who is on earth brings down brimstone and fire from the second ... (Yahweh) who is in the heavens. It is easy to see why this passage has irritated anti-Trinitarians for centuries.
What are we to make of it? The Council of Sirmium decreed, "the Son of God brought down the rain from God the Father." This was the clear interpretation of the Early Church.
The great German Reformer Martin Luther commented:
One alternate interpretation is that the second Yahweh is simply a repetition for emphasis sake. But this interpretation has several insurmountable problems.
First, is it not clear that Moses is contrasting heaven and earth? Yes! Can anyone deny that they are juxtaposed? The fire comes down from the heavens to the earth below.
Is it not also clear that the two Yahwehs are part of this contrast? Yes. Are not the two Yahwehs clearly juxtaposed in the text? Yes. Just as the heavens cannot be interpreted as a repetition of the earth, neither can the first Yahweh be interpreted as a repetition of the second Yahweh.
The second problem with this interpretation is that there are no other passages in the Pentateuch where a name is repeated once at the beginning and again at the end for emphasis sake. Thus there is no evidence that Moses ever used such a literary device.
Dr. Herbert Leupold, who wrote one of the best commentaries on the book of Genesis in the 20th century, stated:
This is exactly the kind of text that the Trinitarian expects to find in the Bible.
Psalm 45:6-7 is another passage which bears close attention:
David is clearly addressing the one true God when he says, "Thy throne, O God," because the throne of the person being addressed is "for ever and ever," i.e., eternal. Eternity is an attribute of deity.
Also, in other psalms, David identifies that throne as Yahweh's throne (Ps. 11:4) from which in heaven He rules over all things (Ps. 103:19) for eternity (Ps. 93:2). This cannot be applied to David or to Solomon or to any other earthly king.
If this is all the passage said, no one would have the least difficulty in identifying God as the One to whom David is praying. The problem for the anti-Trinitarian is that David goes on to speak of God as being anointed by God!
How can the God of Israel sitting on His throne ruling the universe be anointed by God? For the Trinitarian, this is no problem at all. But for the Unitarian, this text represents a huge problem.
The historic Christian interpretation is that "it is clear from this passage that there are at least two Divine Personalities who are eternal and omnipotent." This was the ancient Jewish view as well. The classic German commentator, Franz Delitzsch, explains:
The greatest of the classic commentaries on the Psalms was written by the German scholar Hengstenberg. He pointed out:
The anti-Trinitarians have attempted to escape this passage by translating kimacha elohim not as the vocative "Your throne O God," but as "God is your throne" in order to avoid the obvious truth that there are two persons in this passage who are both called elohim.
After surveying all the attempts to translate the words in some other way than "O God," Hengstenberg states that "they have not been able to bring forward anything grammatically tenable." He concludes that "the Construction of Elohim as vocative is the only one which can be grammatically justified." As Prof. Plumer pointed out in his classic commentary on the Psalms:
The underlying reason as to why anti-Trinitarians try so hard to escape the obvious meaning of the text is pointed out by Hengstenberg:
We are once again thrown back to the issue of a priori assumptions. The liberal and the cultist assume that the Bible cannot speak of God as multi-personal. Thus, they always end up in circular reasoning instead of being open to the evidence.
Another passage which should be noted is Isaiah 48:12-17:
The identity of the speaker is clearly the God of Israel because He calls Himself "the first and last" in verse 12. This title had already been used of Yahweh of Hosts in Isaiah 44:6:
The Hebrew for "I am the first and I am the last" is the same in Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12: .... This God is further identified as "the Yahweh of armies" in Isaiah 44:6.
The divine title "the first and the last" means that He is the first God and the last God because there are no other gods before or after Him. He alone is God.
The speaker in Isa. 48 is further identified by doing things which only God can do such as absolute foreknowledge (vs. 3,5,6), creation (v.13), sovereignty (v. 15), and omnipresence (v. 16).
Who else but the one true God could say:
No one should have the slightest difficulty in identifying the speaker as God. The context of the passage and the grammar of the text are both very clear. But prejudiced anti-Trinitarians must object because the God who is speaking says that He, along with the Holy Spirit, are sent by God.
If the passage is interpreted in its natural and normal meaning, there are three persons in this passage who are all God! But how can God be sent by God unless there are several Persons within the Godhead? Since the Father sent the Son and the Spirit in Trinitarian theology, this is exactly the kind of passage which we expect to find.
How can non-Trinitarians handle a passage like this? They can't. So they deny that the speaker is God and claim that it is actually Isaiah who is speaking in either verse 16b or the whole of verse 16!
The attempt to interject Isaiah into verse 16 falls before the following questions:
This passage is clear proof that the authors of the Bible believed that God was multi-personal. A Trinitarian would not have the least hesitation to write the text as it stands. But Unitarians, Arians, Modalists, and Muslims could never do so.
Isaiah is not the only prophet to depict God as the divine speaker and have Him refer to another person as God. The prophet Hosea recorded Yahweh (from verse 2) as saying:
If I as the first person promise to do something for you as the second person through a third person, am I not implying that I am not the same as the third person? If grammar means anything, the answer is, "Yes".
When Yahweh as the first person promised to deliver Israel as the second person by a third person called Yahweh, what other conclusion can we logically come to than that there are two persons each called Yahweh?
The "classic" commentary on the Minor Prophets was written by E.B. Pusey. He noted that the "Yahweh their God" through whom the deliverance came was none other than the Angel of Yahweh when he "smote in one night 185,000 in the camp of the Asyrians." How was the deliverance accomplished?
The "Yahweh their God" was clearly a different person from the "Yahweh" who was speaking. Yet, they each were YaHWeH. While this is what Trinitarians expect to find in the Bible, Unitarians are continually frustrated by such passages.
That the authors of Scripture believed that God was multi-personal can also be found in passages concerning the angel of Yahweh and the theophanies. This material is so vast that we must devote separate chapters to each subject.
The material presented in this chapter demonstrates that the one true God of Scripture was conceived of by the Patriarchs and the prophets as being multi-personal. The fundamental principle of the doctrine of the Trinity has been verified by the Old Testament.
1. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1966), 402. This book will be referred to as B.D.B. from now on.
2. It is found in Gen. 22:2,12,16; Jud. 11:34; Ps. 22:22 (21); 25:16; 35:17; 68:6 (7); Prov. 4:3; Jer. 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zech. 12:10.
3. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, 25f.
4. David L. Cooper, The Eternal God Revealing Himself (Harrisburg: Evangelical Press, 1928), 59-60.
5. Tzvi Nassi, The Great Mystery (Jerusalem: Yanetz, 1970), 6.
6. Richard Davies, Doctrine of the Trinity (New York: Cranston & Stowe, 1891), 227.
7. John Peter Lange, Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960), 1:438.
8. Martin Luther, Luther's Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), 354.
9. John Calvin, Calvin's Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 1:512.
10. Herbert Carl Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 570-571.
11. Cooper, 47.
12. Keil and Delitzsch, Psalms, 2:73-74.
13. E. W. Hengstenberg, The Works of Hengstenberg (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack, n.d.), 6:133.
14. Ibid., 133.
15. Ibid., 134.
16. W.S. Plumer, Psalms (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 516.
17. Hengstenberg, 124.
18. The issue of whether the Spirit is sent by God along with the Speaker or whether the Speaker is sent by God and the Spirit, is not germane at this point. The Hebrew text reads, "And now Yahweh has sent me and His Spirit."
19. E.B. Pusey's commentary book, The Minor Prophets, was republished in Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965), Minor Prophets, 1:23.
20. Ibid., 24.
The above chapter is an exerpt from Robert Morey, The Trinity: Evidences and Issues, World Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1996, ISBN 0-529-10692-2