The Trinity in the Old Testament
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 Anglican marriage ceremony will be heard often during the month of June, the traditional wedding season. Whether they are spoken in a small, intimate ceremony or at the very large wedding of important personages like Prince Charles and Lady Diana a few years ago, all who personally attend the ceremony or see it through the modern “miracle” of television hear an affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity 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, particularly an unbelieving Jewish person hearing those closing words at an Anglican wedding service, 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.
In Genesis 1:1-2 we read, “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.
Again, 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: The LORD our God is one LORD.” 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 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.
There are also other passages that would seem to indicate the triune nature of God. Isaiah 48:16 and Zechariah 4:6 refer to the Spirit of God; there are two references to God’s son—one in Psalm 2 and another in Proverbs 30:1-4. Thus, we see that God, the Son of God, and the Spirit of God were known to ancient Israel. Could it not be that the Lord’s ancient people, those who knew God in truth, did hold to a belief in the triune nature of God?
Editor’s Note: Catherine Damato is a freelance writer and a friend of our ministry. She and her husband Harry live in Southern California.