TRINITY GOD – THE FATHER, THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
The idea of God’s nature being three-in-one is mind-boggling. Contemplation of the infinite is always confusing to finite beings. Nevertheless, certain illustrations can help people grapple with the issue of a complex unity. “I pronounce you husband and wife together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Those words of the christian marriage ceremony are heard often during the traditional wedding season. Before Jesus was parted from the disciples, and carried up into heave, he commanded to them, “Go ye therefore, and teach [make disciples] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” [Matthew 28:19].
The doctrine of the “Trinity” or “Tri-Unity of God” or “Triune God” is fundamental to the Christian faith. We who believe in Jesus affirm that there are three persons in one Godhead, so that all three are one God as to substance, but three persons as to individuality. But an unbeliever would find them irrelevant.
Most Jewish people think that the doctrine of the Trinity is a foreign, Gentile concept. While it is true that the Old Testament portion of Scripture does not present as clear a picture of the three-in-one/one-as-three Godhead, there are indications of the plurality of the Godhead in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Why is Trinity an important subject for Christians to consider? I believe that it is important for a few reasons. Firstly, the Gospel is fundamentally Trinitarian. God’s plan of salvation is a plan that was initiated by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and is applied by the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel can therefore not be divorced from the Triune nature of God. Secondly, various pseudo-Christian sects (e.g., Biblical Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.), as well as Muslims and Orthodox Jews, deny the Trinity and we need to share with them this concept which also exits in the Old Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures.
2.0 GOD IS A PLURALITY
In Genesis 18, we see the Lord come to Abraham and we see Abraham and Sarah interact with the Lord, plus the Lord promises Abraham that Sarah would conceive a child in twelve months. Genesis 18:1 says “the Lord appeared to him,” but then, in verse 2, it reads that “three men were standing by him.”
Abraham went to meet the men (plural), “bowed himself to the ground, and said, ‘My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant…wash your feet and rest yourselves (plural) under the tree” (vv.2-4). “Refresh your hearts” in verse 5 is plural.
We continue to see the mixed use of singular and plural pronouns and words to remind us that there is singularity and plurality to God.
When Abraham goes to cook food for the three men, whom he addresses as “My Lord,” he tells Sarah, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes” (Genesis 18:6). These three cakes are for the three men, but the three men are addressed by Abraham as “My Lord,” referring to God Himself.
Abraham sat the cakes, butter, milk, and the fatted calf that had been cooked and “set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate” (v.8). “They” (v.9), plural, asked him about Sarah, and “He” (singular) said in verse 10 that Sarah would have a son.
The Lord appeared as three men, three persons, which is interesting indeed. Even when the men proceed to Sodom, Abraham remains before the Lord and has a discussion about sparing the city if so many righteous individuals are there (v.22).
Notice the text says “But Abraham still stood before the Lord,” the word “still” showing that, despite the Lord’s appearance in Sodom, God is everywhere and never left Abraham in that moment.
2.1 The name Elohim
It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” The very word Elohim used of the true God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth,” is also used in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods (Elohim) before Me,” and in Deuteronomy 13:2, “…Let us go after other gods (Elohim)…”
While the use of the plural Elohim does not prove a Tri-unity, it certainly opens the door to a doctrine of plurality in the Godhead since it is the word that is used of the one true God as well as for the many false gods.
2.2 Plural verbs used with Elohim
Virtually all Hebrew scholars do recognize that the word Elohim, as it stands by itself, is a plural noun. Nevertheless, they wish to deny that it allows for any plurality in the Godhead whatsoever. Their line of reasoning usually goes like this: When “Elohim” is used of the true God, it is followed by a singular verb; when it is used of false gods, it is followed by the plural verb.
The point made, of course, is generally true because the Bible does teach that there is one God and, therefore, the general pattern is to have the plural noun followed by the singular verb when it speaks of the one true God. However, there are places where the word is used of the true God and yet it is followed by a plural verb:
Genesis 20:13: “And it came to pass, when God (Elohim) caused me to wander [literally: They caused me to wander] from my father’s house…Genesis 35:7: “…because there God (Elohim) appeared unto him…” [Literally: They appeared unto him.]
2 Samuel 7:23: “…God (Elohim) went…” [Literally: They went.]
Psalm 58:12: “Surely He is God (Elohim) who judges…[Literally: They judge.]
2.3 The name Eloah
If the plural form Elohim was the only form available for a reference to God, then conceivably the argument might be made that the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures had no other alternative but to use the word Elohim for both the one true God and the many false gods.
However, the singular form for Elohim (Eloah) exists and is used in such passages as Deuteronomy 32:15-17 and Habakkuk 3:3. This singular form could have easily been used consistently. Yet it is only used about 250 times, while the plural form is used about 2,500 times.
The far greater use of the plural form again turns the argument in favor of plurality in the Godhead rather than against it.
2.4 Plural pronouns for God
Another case in point regarding Hebrew grammar is that often when God speaks of himself, he clearly uses the plural pronoun:
Genesis 1:26: Then God (Elohim) said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.…” He could hardly have made reference to angels since man was created in the image of God and not of angels.
The use of the plural pronoun can also be seen in:
Genesis 3:22: Then the LORD God (YHVH Elohim) said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us…”Genesis 11:7: “Come, let Us go down, and there confuse their language…”
Isaiah 6:8: Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”
This last passage would appear contradictory with the singular “I” and the plural “us” except as viewed as a plurality (us) in a unity (I).
2.5 Plural descriptions of God
One point that also comes out of Hebrew is the fact that often nouns and adjectives used in speaking of God are plural. Some examples are as follows:
Ecclesiastes 12:1: “Remember now your Creator…” [Literally: creators.]
Psalm 149:2: “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker.” [Literally: makers.]
Joshua 24:19: “…holy God…” [Literally: holy Gods.]
Isaiah 54:5: “For your Maker is your husband…” [Literally: makers, husbands.]
Everything we have said so far rests firmly on the Hebrew language of the Scriptures. If we are to base our theology on the Scriptures alone, we have to say that on the one hand they affirm God’s unity, while at the same time they tend towards the concept of a compound unity allowing for a plurality in the Godhead.
2.6 The Great Sh’ma Prayer of Judaism
Deuteronomy 6:4 & Mark 12:29: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
It has always been Israel’s great confession. It is this verse more than any other that is used to affirm the fact that God is one and is often used to contradict the concept of plurality in the Godhead. But is it a valid use of this verse?
On one hand, it should be noted that the very words “our God” are in the plural in the Hebrew text and literally mean “our Gods.” However, the main argument lies in the word “one,” which is a Hebrew word, echad.
A glance through the Hebrew text where the word is used elsewhere can quickly show that the word echad does not mean an absolute “one” but a compound “one.” For instance, in Genesis 1:5, the combination of evening and morning comprise one (echad) day.
In Genesis 2:24, a man and a woman come together in marriage and the two “shall become one (echad) flesh.” In Ezra 2:64, we are told that the whole assembly was as one (echad), though of course, it was composed of numerous people.
Ezekiel 37:17 provides a rather striking example where two sticks are combined to become one (echad). The use of the word echad in Scripture shows it to be a compound and not an absolute unity.
There is a Hebrew word that does mean an absolute unity and that is yachid, which is found in many Scripture passages [Genesis 22:2,12; Judges 11:34; Psalm 22:21; 25:16; Proverbs 4:3; Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10], the emphasis being on the meaning of “only.”
If Moses intended to teach God’s absolute oneness as over against a compound unity, this would have been a far more appropriate word.
3.0 GOD IS AT LEAST TWO
3.1 Elohim [GOD] and YHVH [LORD] applied to two personalities
As if to even make the case for plurality stronger, there are situations in the Hebrew Scriptures where the term Elohim is applied to two personalities in the same verse. One example is in Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” In the very beginning of God’s revelation of himself we read of two Persons—God and the Spirit of God.
A second example is Psalm 45:6-7 & Hebrews 1:8-9:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
It should be noted that the first Elohim is being addressed and the second Elohim is the God of the first Elohim. And so God’s God has anointed Him with the oil of gladness.
A third example is Hosea 1:7:
“Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judahj, will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen.”
The speaker is Elohim who says He will have mercy on the house of Judah and will save them by the instrumentality of YHVH, their Elohim. So Elohim number one will save Israel by means of Elohim number two.
Not only is Elohim applied to two personalities in the same verse, but so is the very name of God. One example is Genesis 19:24 which reads:
“Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens.”
Clearly we have YHVH number one raining fire and brimstone from a second YHVH who is in heaven, the first one being on earth.
A second example is Zechariah 2:8-9:
For thus says the LORD of Hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he that touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me.”
Again, we have one YHVH sending another YHVH to perform a specific task.
There are also other passages that would seem to indicate the two personalities such as: Zechariah 4:6 refer to the Spirit of God; there are references to God’s son—in Job 2:7; Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 1:5 Hebrews 5:5; Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; Acts 13:33 and another Proverbs 30:1-4.
4.0 GOD IS THREE
4.1 How many persons are there?
If the Hebrew Scriptures truly do point to plurality, the question arises, how many personalities in the Godhead exist? We have already seen the names of God applied to at least two different personalities. Going through the Hebrew Scriptures, we find that, in fact, three and only three distinct personalities are ever considered divine.
First, there are the numerous times when there is a reference to the Lord YHVH. This usage is so frequent that there is no need to devote space to it.
A second personality is referred to as the Angel of YHVH. This individual is always considered distinct from all other angels and is unique. In almost every passage where He is found He is referred to as both the Angel of YHVH and YHVH Himself.
For instance, in Genesis 16:7 He is referred to as the Angel of YHVH, but then in Genesis 16:13 as YHVH Himself. In Genesis 22:11 He is the Angel of YHVH, but God Himself in Genesis 22:12. Other examples could be given in Genesis 31 he is the Angel of God in verse 11, but then he is the God of Bethel in verse 13.
In Exodus 3 he is the Angel of YHVH in verse 2 and he is both YHVH and God in verse 4. In Judges 6 he is the Angel of YHVH in verses 11, 12, 20, and 21 but is YHVH himself in verses 14, 16, 22 and 23. Then in Judges 13:3, 21 he is the Angel of YHVH but is referred to as God himself in verse 22.
A very interesting passage is Exodus 23:20-23 where this angel has the power to pardon sin because God’s own name YHVH is in him, and, therefore, he is to be obeyed without question. This can hardly be said of any ordinary angel. But the very fact that God’s own name is in this angel shows His divine status.
A third major personality that comes through is the Spirit of God, often referred to as simply the Ruach Ha-kodesh. There are a good number of references to the Spirit of God among which are Genesis 1:2, 6:3; Job 33:4; Psalm 51:11; Psalm 139:7; Isaiah 11:2, etc.
The Holy Spirit cannot be a mere emanation because He contains all the characteristics of personality (intellect, emotion and will) and is considered divine.
So then, from various sections of the Hebrew Scriptures there is a clear showing that three personalities are referred to as divine and as being God: the Lord YHVH, the Angel of YHVH and the Spirit of God.
4.2 The Three Personalities in the Same Passage
Nor have the Hebrew Scriptures neglected to put all three personalities of the Godhead together in one passage. Two examples are Isaiah 48:12-16; Isaiah 61:1-11 and Isaiah 63:7-14.
Because of the significance of the first passage, it will be quoted:
“Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand also has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together.
All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD has loved him; he shall do His pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him,
I have brought him, and his way will prosper. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent me.”
It should be noted that the speaker refers to himself as the one who is responsible for the creation of the heavens and the earth. It is clear that he cannot be speaking of anyone other than God.
But then in verse 16, the speaker refers to himself using the pronouns of I and me and then distinguishes himself from two other personalities. He distinguishes himself from the Lord YHVH and then from the Spirit of God.
Here is the Tri-unity as clearly defined as the Hebrew Scriptures make it. The “Me” speaker here calls Himself “The Lord, your Redeemer” in the next verse (Isaiah 48:17).
The second passage itself is in the Book of Isaiah, which presumes that Isaiah [61:1-11] has been anointed to preach the gospel. In its immediate context, that is true. However, this passage, Isaiah 61, is a Messianic passage, referring not only to the prophet Isaiah (who, as a prophet, was anointed to preach the gospel), but also Jesus Christ, as He says so in the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus read from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 61, verses 1-2a. Then, He told the congregation, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), a way of telling them that Isaiah 61 was about Him. It was Messianic, not merely about Isaiah in its immediate context.
He was saying in so many words as well that, since Isaiah 61 was about him, was about Messianic fulfillment, that He was the Messiah, the Promised Messiah who was to come and was here before their very eyes.
So, when we look at Isaiah 61 with Christ speaking it, we see the entire Trinity represented: the Father, called “the Lord,” the Spirit, called “the Spirit of the Lord God,” and Jesus, the Son, who was reading and speaking about Himself. With Jesus speaking, all three members of the Triune Godhead are represented there in Isaiah 61.
In the third passage [Isaiah 63], there is a reflection back to the time of the Exodus where all three personalities were present and active. The Lord YHVH is referred to in verse 7, the Angel of YHVH in verse 9 and the Spirit of God in verses 10, 11 and 14.
While often throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God refers to Himself as being the one solely responsible for Israel’s redemption from Egypt, in this passage three personalities are given credit for it. Yet, no contradiction is seen since all three comprise the unity of the one Godhead.
Moreover, in 1 John 5:7 we read: “For there are three who bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.”
4.3 Decoding the Three Personalities in the Bible
In Exodus 3:13-14, Moses says to God, “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?”
God’s answer to Moses is, “I AM THAT I AM…Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” Here God, when asked to identify himself, says, in effect, “I AM, I AM, I AM”. Tell the children of Israel that the Triune God has sent you. Not Isis, not Moloch, not Baal, not Ishtar, but the unique Triune God of Israel has sent you.”
Then there is the blessing of Numbers 6:22-27: “And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, In this way ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The LORD bless thee, and keep thee; The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” Here God says three times that his name is THE LORD, and he promises to bless those who call upon him as THE LORD, THE LORD, THE LORD. This also seems to hint at the triune nature of God.
In Deuteronomy 6:4, the great Sh’ma prayer of Judaism, God says, “Hear, O Israel, Adonai [LORD] Eloheinu [GOD] Adonai [LORD] is one. Again we see the three in one, The LORD, God, the LORD—one. It appears that God revealed himself in his Triune nature whenever he was about to make some drastic change in his dealings with his people or when he was about to act in judgment.
Moving on to the historical books, in I Samuel 3 we find the beautiful story of God’s call to Samuel. Israel was far gone in apostasy and immorality, but the child Samuel ministered faithfully in the Temple. One night, when all was quiet and old Eli and Samuel were asleep, the Lord called Samuel.
The passage in verses 4-9 begins, “…the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. And the LORD called yet again, Samuel.
And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.…And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me.
And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.” When the LORD called Samuel the third time, Eli knew that this surely was God calling Samuel, and not a dream. Could it not be that Eli and other godly Jews believed in a triune God?
In Isaiah 6:3 & Revelation 4:8 we see that the Lord of hosts is not merely holy, but “Holy, holy, holy.” Again one Lord, but three times holy.
Another hint that godly Jews believed in a triune God may be seen in Jeremiah 7:4: “Trust not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The Temple of the LORD, The Temple of the Lord, are these.” There was only one temple and only one Lord, but belief in a trinity might be expressed by saying three times, “The temple of the Lord.”
In this chapter we see that the Lord was chiding those who were careful to keep up with their religious obligations, and to hold true doctrine, but who did not carry their religion into the streets and into their own lives. He was telling them that their worship was correct and their beliefs were true, but their deeds did not match their worship or their beliefs.
In Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34 when Jesus was on cross and about the ninth hour He cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, la’ma sa-bach-tha’ ni? That is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Again one God, but two time “My God”. The third one is himself.
The chapters of Revelation 4 & 5 explicitly identify the three persons of the Trinity, it also explicitly mentions the three foundational moments of God’s unfolding kingdom. It speaks of God’s work of creation. It speaks of God’s work of redemption. And it speaks of God’s work of sanctification.
Revelation 4-5’s triadic pattern of identifying the three persons of the Trinity and of appropriating to them the three foundational moments of God’s unfolding kingdom.
Many think the Doctrine of the Trinity as just a New Testament concept, but the Old Testament has some mentions of the Triune Godhead here and there, though not as prevalent as the New Testament. God has always been one God and three persons.
The teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures [Old Testament], then, is that there is a plurality of the Godhead. The first person is consistently called YHVH while the second person is given the names of YHVH, the Angel of YHVH and the Servant of YHVH. Consistently and without fail, the second person is sent by the first person.
The third person is referred to as the Spirit of YHVH or the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit. He, too, is sent by the first person but is continually related to the ministry of the second person.
Genesis 1:1 says “God [Hebrew, elohim] created the heavens and the earth,” with the very first verse of Scripture implying the existence of God as three persons.
The Father is referred to as “the Lord God,” the Spirit referred to as “the Spirit of the Lord” or “His Spirit” at times, and Jesus is called “the Son,” “the Anointed One,” and so on, though the Son’s name, Jesus, isn’t unveiled until the New Testament Gospels.
This goes to show us that “Immanuel” is as close as we get to what Jesus will be in the New Testament, but it shows us that, as opposed to God being in heaven and the Holy Spirit doing His work, there would be one who’d come in the flesh (“God with us”), One who’d actually come to earth, take on flesh, and dwell among us.
In keeping with the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament clearly recognizes that there are three persons in the Godhead, although it becomes quite a bit more specific. The first person is called the Father while the second person is called the Son.
The New Testament answers the question of Proverbs 30:4: “What is His name, and what is his Son’s name, if you know?” His son’s name is Yeshua (Jesus). In accordance with the Hebrew Scriptures, he is sent by God to be the Messiah, but this time as a man instead of as an angel.
Furthermore, He is sent for a specific purpose: to die for our sins. In essence, what happened is that God became a man in order to accomplish the work of atonement.
The New Testament calls the third person of the Godhead the Holy Spirit. Throughout the New Testament he is related to the work of the second person, in keeping with the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures. We see, then, that there is a continuous body of teaching in both the Old and New Testaments relating to the Tri-unity of God.