“Trinity” is a term used to describe the idea of one God existing in three distinct Persons, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is not a 4th Century invention, its roots are found in the Old Testament.
Plural Words Are Used To Describe God Throughout The Old Testament
The Bible begins with these words:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)The word ‘God’ is the Hebrew word ‘elohiym’. Elohiym is the plural form of the word God. It implies unity in plurality.
While modern scholars argue back and forth about this word usage the ancient rabbis understood that the plural usage was a legitimate point as this passage from Genesis Rabbah shows:
Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman said in Rabbi Jonathan’s name: “When Moses was engaged in writing the Torah, he had to write the work of each day. When he came to the verse, AND GOD SAID; LET US MAKE MAN, etc., he said: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Why dost Thou furnish an excuse to heretics?’ [for maintaining a plurality of deity]. ‘Write,’ replied He; ‘whoever wishes to err may err.'”
And while we don’t endorse the theology found in the Zohar, their commentary on the Shema, the declaration that the Lord is one from Deuteronomy 6:4, is interesting:
“Hear, O Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai is one. These three are one. How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of faith; in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eye alone.…So it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by Adonai Eloheinu Adonai—three modes which yet form one unity
Some Subtle Examples Of The Trinity
In the Old Testament we find that God has organized many biblical ideas in trinitarian ways.
The Old Testament itself is a “trinity” being made up of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. The same is true for the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel is also a trinity, being made up of priests, Levites, and Israelites. The Jews pray three times a day in the morning, afternoon, and evenings.
In Numbers 6:24-26 the Lord gives a three-fold blessing and in Isaiah 6:3 the angels give God three-fold praise crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Does all this prove the Trinity? No, but it does open the door to the possibility, and should encourage us to continue our study. Ultimately the issue has to be decided by Scripture, which is where we’ll now turn our attention.
God Mentioned As Two Distinct Personalities
The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
God anoints God in Psalm 45:7:
You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
God is speaking and says He’ll save Israel by the Lord, their God in Hosea 1:7:
“Yet I [God] will have mercy on the house of Judah, 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 Lord rains fire from the Lord in Genesis 19:24:
“Then he LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD out of the heavens.”
God is sent by God in Zechariah 2:8-9:
“For thus says the LORD of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who 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.”
God sends His messenger, the Lord, who will come to His temple in Malachi 3:1:
“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts.”
We find God and His Son in Proverb 30:4:
Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?
God gives the nations to His Son in Psalm 2:7-8:
The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.
From God will come a Ruler who is eternal, of old, from everlasting in Micah 5:2:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
God Is Mentioned As Three Distinct Personalities
There are a couple of wonderful examples of the Trinity in Isaiah:
In this passage the speaker is God who has been sent by the Lord God and the Holy Spirit. This passage is very clearly shows the Trinity. Isaiah 48:12,16-17:
Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand 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.
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.
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, The Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.”
The Lord became the Savior but it wasn’t the Father, but the Angel of His Presence (A term referring to the physical manifestation of God), and we also have the Holy Spirit who was grieved when the people rebelled. Isaiah 63:7-10:
I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD And the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has bestowed on them according to His mercies, according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses.
For He said, “Surely they are My people, Children who will not lie.” So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted,
And the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; And He bore them and carried them All the days of old.
But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; So He turned Himself against them as an enemy, And He fought against them.
The Memra, The Word Of The Lord
It’s interesting to see the way the ancient rabbis handled verses like the ones above. In the Targums, which are Aramaic translations of the Old Testament, the Aramaic word ‘Memra’, which means the ‘Word’ or ‘The Word of the Lord’, is used when physical manifestations of God appear or when God is mentioned more than once in the same verse. Here are a few examples from the Targums:
The Memra acts as a mediator between the Father and Creation:
And I will establish my covenant between My Word [Memra} and between you (Targum Onkelos Gen. 17:7)
And YHWH said to Noah, “This is the token of the covenant which I have established between My Word [Memra] and between all flesh that is upon the earth. (Targum Onkelos Gen. 9:17)
The Memra is God and is worshiped as such:
And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If the Word [Memra] of YHWH will be my support, and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Word [Memra] of Lord be my God. (Targum Onkelos on Gen. 28:20-21)
And Abraham worshipped and prayed in the name of the Word [Memra] of YHWH, and said, “You are Lord who does see, but You cannot be seen.” (Jerusalem Targum Gen. 22:14)
The Memra is God, yet is a separate personality from the Father and Holy Spirit:
And the Word [Memra] of the Lord caused to descend upon the peoples of Sodom and Gommorah, brimstone and fire from the Lord in heaven. (Targum Jonathan on Gen. 19:24)
And Israel saw the great strong hand of God, what He did to the Egyptians. They feared God and believed in His Word [Memra] and in His servant Moses. (Onkeles Targum on Exodus 14:31)
The Memra is Jesus:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)
The Greek word for Memra is Logos, which in English translates to “The Word”. So what John 1 is saying that Jesus is the Memra, the Word. He is fully God yet distinct from the Father and is the mediator between the Father and Creation. “No one comes to the Father except by Me.”
The concept of the Trinity has biblical support in the Old Testament. We see one God yet we also see clearly separate personalities. We see plurality in unity.
Some people want a God who is simpler than His creation. But that isn’t the God of the Bible. The Trinity is a concept we can’t truly understand, but can only get a faint idea of. C.S. Lewis summed it up well in Mere Christianity when he said:
“On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures.
On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.
Of course, we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint of something super-personal – something more than a person.”