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Particulars of Christianity:
302 The Trinity


The Trinity: Ancient Jewish
Recognition of Trinitarian Facts


Introductions
The Angel of YHWH as YHWH God
The Angel of YHWH as Distinct from YHWH God
Immediate Interactive Dialogue
A Consistent Expectation about Seeing God's Face
Survey Examining Eternal Past Existence
Establishing Eternal Past Existence
Distinction of the Spirit of YHWH
Ancient Jewish Recognition of Trinitarian Facts
The Trinity in the New Testament
Addendum 1 & 2
Addendum 3


Up to this point we have focused on the Old Testament demonstrating the facts of scripture, which assert the defining components of the Trinity in numerous passages, including accounts that are very early and prominent in Jewish theology. But perhaps the question still lingers as to whether or not this is just Christian revisionism superimposed onto the Old Testament. However, these facts are not merely illusions created by Christian fantasizing. Ancient non-Christian Jews recognized these facts in the Old Testament scriptures as well. We have already seen this partially during our discussion of Old Testament distinction between the figures known as the angel of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH. But now we will discuss the Jewish recognition of these Trinitarian facts in more detail. Moreover, the Jews not only recognized the raw facts, but they also recognized the issues these facts raised concerning the nature of the Godhead in the Old Testament. And they wrestled with these facts in the effort to reconcile their implications with Jewish monotheism. After we discuss the Jewish recognition of these scriptural facts and their implications for the Godhead, we will conclude this very important section by showing that the doctrine of the Trinity is superior to the alternative Jewish explanations of these Old Testament facts. Not only is the Trinity superior in terms of its simplicity but also in terms of preserving the integrity of Jewish monotheism.

We begin with a summary reference concerning Judaism as stated in Microsoft Encarta’s article on God.

God, I INTRODUCTION, II CONCEPTIONS OF GOD, III JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, AND ISLAM, A The Jewish Idea of God – To say the world is created means that it is not independent of God or an emanation of God, but external to him, a product of his will, so that he is Lord of all the earth. This explains the Jewish concern over idolatry – no creature can represent the Creator, so it is forbidden to make any material image of him….The Hebrew God was unique, and his command was, "You shall have no other gods beside me!" (although in some biblical passages the Spirit of the Lord and the angel of the Lord and, in later Jewish speculation, the divine wisdom appear to be almost secondary divine beings).” – "God," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Notice that the quote recognizes a dynamic between two components of Old Testament Judaism. First, that “no creature can represent the Creator” resulting in the prohibition, “You shall have no other gods besides me.” And second, that not only in “later Jewish speculation” but also in “some biblical passages” themselves “the Spirit of the Lord and the angel of the Lord” would “appear to be almost secondary divine beings.” Here Encarta is recognizing the Old Testament scriptural facts that we’ve outlined up to this point as well as affirming the Jewish recognition of these facts and the alternative attempts to explain them. Consequently, these assertions are known historical facts concerning Judaism, not just wishful thinking on the part of Christians.

And concerning the specific facts identified by Encarta, the simplest way to reconcile these competing facts is the Trinitarian model. Since regarding any creature as a representation of the Creator is idolatry, the simplest explanation for why the angel of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH were regarded as and worshipped as the Creator is that, although distinct figures, they were indeed YHWH.

But perhaps more importantly, we don’t have to rely on mere summaries from reference sources. Encarta describes a general trend in which some ancient Jewish sources attempted to reconcile certain Old Testament facts by regarding the angel of YHWH as at least some sort of secondary divine being. However, on this topic we can get more specific.

We have claimed that the Old Testament upheld the defining five components of the Trinity. First, a figure, known as the angel of YHWH, was no ordinary angel but was instead himself identified at times as being YHWH God. Second, we have asserted that although he is himself identified as YHWH, the angel of YHWH is at other times regarded as distinct from another figure known as YHWH. Third, we asserted that to see the angel of YHWH was considered seeing YHWH God. Fourth, we have asserted that the figure known as the Spirit of YHWH is also regarded as being a distinct yet equal figure within the Godhead of YHWH in similar fashion to the angel of YHWH. And fifth, we have asserted that each of these figures of YHWH is described in the primary ways that establish God’s uncreated, eternal status. How many of these assertions does ancient Judaism also recognize as true in the same terms?

First, ancient Judaism recognizes that the figure known as the angel of YHWH was no ordinary angel but was instead himself identified at times as being YHWH. This can be seen prominently in the ancient Jewish concept of the Metatron. Britannica Encyclopedia explains.

Metatrongreatest of angels in Jewish myths and legends, variously identified as the Prince (or Angel) of the Presence, as Michael the archangel, or as Enoch after his ascent into heaven. He is likewise described as a celestial scribe recording the sins and merits of men, as a guardian of heavenly secrets, as God's mediator with men, as the “lesser Yahweh,” as the archetype of man, and as one “whose name is like that of his master.” The latter appellation is based on Hebrew numerology; i.e., when the consonants that comprise the names Metatron and Shaddai (Almighty) are analyzed according to preassigned numerical values, each name totals 314.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004 Deluxe Edition

As we can see from Britannica, due to the Old Testament facts that we’ve been examining, ancient non-Christian Jews derived the idea that there was a being (called “the Metatron”) who shared the name “YHWH,” could be described as the “lesser YHWH,” and who was the greatest of the angels. As the “archetype of man,” it was this “less YHWH” who was the “God” in whose image man was created.

In volume 2 of his book, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Dr. Michael L. Brown documents the rabbinical Jewish understanding of this figure identified as the Metatron. Once again, we note that Dr. Brown is not referencing Christian Jewish understanding but non-Christian, rabbinical Jewish understanding.

“According to a story in the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 38b), a man identified as a schismatic – here a clear reference to a Jewish follower of Jesus – was talking to a rabbi about Exodus 24:1, the beginning of the passage we are looking at, in which God said to Moses, “come up to the LORD [Hebrew, YHWH].” …The Jewish believer was trying to argue that it seemed odd that God said to Moses, “Come up to YHWH,” rather than, “come up to me.” Didn’t this seem to indicate more than one divine Person? …Now, the rabbi could have simply replied, “Such usage is not that unusual in the Hebrew Bible.” Instead, because he too sensed that there were some theological issues to be addressed, the rabbi answered that God was not speaking here of himself but rather of Metatron, the most powerful angel in Rabbinic literature, “whose name is as his Master.” In other words, when God said, “Come upon to YHWH,” he did not mean, “Come up to me” but “come up to Metatron whose name is YHWH.” So according to this Talmudic interpretation, Metatron was called YHWH!” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 26

In this quote, Dr. Brown cites specific ancient Jewish sources, particularly the Talmud, which assert the concept of the Metatron and that the Metatron shares the name YHWH in the Old Testament. Consequently, both Britannica and the Talmud confirm our claim that even non-Christian Jews affirmed that title “YHWH” was applied in scripture to the figure alternately known as “the angel of YHWH,” and that non-Christian Jews likewise understood that this figure was no ordinary angel.

Second, modern Jewish scholars also confirm that while the angel of YHWH is identified as YHWH on some occasions, on other occasions he is distinguished from YHWH. On this point, Dr. Brown quotes Jewish biblical scholar Nahum Sarna.

“According to the Jewish biblical scholar Nahum Sarna, ‘From several texts it is clear that the demarcation between God and his angel is often blurred [citing examples from Gen. 16:7-9, 11; 22:11-12, 15-18; Exod. 3:2, 4; Judg. 6:11-23]. At the Exodus from Egypt it is now God (Exod. 13:21), now his angel (14:9) who goes ahead of the Israelite camp.’ 45” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 27 [Footnote 45: Nahum Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 383 (Excursus 10, Angelology).]

As we can see, Sarna cites examples of occasions when the text identifies the angel of YHWH as YHWH and then identifies him as distinct from YHWH. As Sarna writes with regard to Exodus “it is now God, now his angel who goes ahead of the Israelite camp.” Here Sarna is referring Exodus 13:21 and 14:9, which were two of the very passages that we looked at earlier to establish the Trinity in the Old Testament. And what is Sarna’s conclusion from these passages? His conclusion is that “the demarcation between God and his angel” is blurred. Consequently, this demonstrates that non-Christian Jews recognize the fact that the Old Testament describes the angel of YHWH as YHWH and also as distinct from YHWH, which is an essential fact that most logically and naturally leads to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Third, ancient Judaism recognized that on some occasions, Old Testament persons understood seeing the angel of YHWH as seeing YHWH God. This is yet another fact, which confirms that non-Christian Jews, particularly those who wrote the Old Testament, understood that the angel of YHWH was YHWH God, not an angel. In his book, Dr. Brown explains that ancient Jewish sources recognize the problem that arises if people were to have actually seen YHWH God, particularly how this conflicts with the understanding that no man could see God and live. But Dr. Brown also goes on to explain the insufficiency of the attempts made to avoid or solve the dilemma.

(NOTE: As noted in an earlier section, the term “Targum,” mentioned in the quote below, is a reference to “the translations, and paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures that were read in the synagogues before, during, and after the time of Jesus.” See, Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 19.)

What were some of the Rabbinic answers to the question of how a human being could see the Lord and live? According to Exodus 33:20, God said to Moses, ‘You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ Yet in Exodus 24:9-11, less than ten chapters earlier, we read, ‘Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up [Mount Sinai] and saw the God of Israel…But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israrelites…How can this be explained? Abraham Ibn Ezra interpreted the text to mean that they saw God in a prophetic vision. Then why did God tell them in 24:1 to actually go up the mountain to the Lord, remaining at a distance from him while Moses alone drew near? And why does the text point out that God did not life his hand against them, as would have been expected? Obviously, this was more than a prophetic vision….The Targum also had a problem with these verses and could not translate them directly, rendering instead, ‘They saw the glory of the God of Israel…they saw the glory of the Lord.’ 42 Yet the text says, ‘They saw the God of Israel…they saw God.’” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 28-29

As Dr. Brown explains, in order to avoid the conflict created by scripture’s declaration that certain figures actually saw YHWH, some ancient Jewish sources simply denied and then altered the plain meaning of the texts. This demonstrates that these ancient sources recognized that the standard reading of the text did indeed describe individuals seeing God. After all, if they didn’t perceive that the text taught that men had seen God, they would not have seen the need to alter the texts to avoid that very prospect.

Commenting specifically on Exodus 3 as another example in which Moses is recorded as seeing God, Dr. Brown goes on to say the following.

“‘Well,’ you might say, ‘what about Exodus 3. Doesn’t that chapter equate seeing the angel of the Lord with seeing God?’ You’re getting very close!…How does the Targum Onkelos translated the end of verse 6? Moses ‘was afraid to look beside the glory of the LORD.’ Once again, the Targum found it impossible to say what the Scripture said. It was too direct, too clear. Another Targum, called Pseudo-Jonathan, took this even further, translating that Moses was afraid to look at ‘the glory of the Shekhina of the LORD.’” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 30

From the quote above, we can once again clearly see that the ancient Jewish Targums recognized that for men to see YHWH God and live was problematic. But rather than coming to the conclusion that Moses’ reached when he faced this same problem, the Targums came up with alternate explanations. As we saw earlier in Exodus 33-34, Moses reconciled the fact that men saw God with the axiom that seeing God would bring death by concluding that men were seeing God in a humbler form, not his fully glorified form, which would be lethal to them. But what do the Targums conclude instead?

The Targum Onkelos apparently altered the meaning of the text to suggest that Moses merely looked “beside” the glory of God rather than looking directly. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan adopted its own explanation, asserting instead that Moses didn’t look at YHWH God himself but at a being, emissary, or aspect of God designated by the title “the Shekhina.” However, it is worth noting that in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan the term “Shekhina” is simply being used as an interchangeably title for the figure known as “the angel of YHWH.” But by identifying the figure that Moses saw as “the Shekhina,” this solution actually acknowledges that the text is identifying “the angel of YHWH” or “the Shekhina” by the name “YHWH God.” Rather than avoiding or providing an alternative to the Trinitarian conclusion, this solution ends up affirming it.

And ultimately, as we can see, the ancient Jews recognized the fact that according to the Old Testament, to see the angel of YHWH is to see YHWH God. Ancient Jewish sources recognized the issues raised by these facts. But their attempts to explain it either alter the text, don’t differentiate significantly in form from the Trinity, or raise the specter of sub-deities as the God of the Exodus.

Commenting still further, Dr. Brown cites additional examples and summarizes both the predicament and the attempted solution, which was simply to alter the wording.

According to Exodus 33:20, no one can see God or his face and live. Yet the Hebrew Bible preserves numerous instances of people ‘seeing God.’…Exodus 24:9-11 states that Moses and a select group of Israelites saw God, who did not strike them down. The Targum says that they saw the glory of God…Jacob, who wrestled with the angel of the LORD, said that he had seen God face to face (Gen. 32:30). The Targum changed this to, “I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” The exact same change is made in Judges 13:22. In Exodus 3:1-6, the angel of the Lord, equated with the Lord himself in the text, appeared to Moses in flaming fire in a bush, and Moses looked away because he was afraid to look at God. The Targum says that he was afraid to look near the glory of the LORD.” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 29-30

Fourth, ancient Judaism recognizes that the figure known as the Spirit of YHWH is also regarded as being a distinct yet equal figure within the Godhead of YHWH in similar fashion to the angel of YHWH. This can be seen in the following two quotes. The first quote, which we have seen earlier, comes from Microsoft Encarta and in it Encarta describes how the Word and the Spirit of God were regarded as “secondary divine beings.” Specifically, Britannica uses the plural “beings,” indicating that the Word and the Spirit were regarded as distinct rather than being regarded as different titles for the same being or figure.

God, I INTRODUCTION, II CONCEPTIONS OF GOD, III JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, AND ISLAM, A The Jewish Idea of GodThe Hebrew God was unique, and his command was, "You shall have no other gods beside me!" (although in some biblical passages the Spirit of the Lord and the angel of the Lord and, in later Jewish speculation, the divine wisdom appear to be almost secondary divine beings).” – "God," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The second quote also demonstrates that the ancient Jews regarded the figure known as the Spirit of YHWH is also regarded as being a distinct yet equal figure within the Godhead of YHWH in similar fashion to the angel of YHWH. This is indicated by the fact that ancient Jews recognized passages in which the Spirit of YHWH speaks with another figure known also as YHWH, as explained in the following quote.

Lamentations Rabbah 3:60, 9 relates that after the Roman emperor Hadrian indiscriminately executed two Jews, the Holy Spirit kept crying out, “You have seen, O LORD, the wrong done to me. Uphold my cause! You have seen the depth of their vengeance, all their plots against me” (Lam. 3:59-60) This provides and example of the Spirit making intercession. 80 According to Leviticus Rabbah 6:1, the Holy Spirit is a defense counsel who speaks to Israel on behalf of the Lord and then speaks to the Lord on behalf of Israel. To Israel the Spirit says, “Do not testify against your neighbor without cause” (Prov. 24:28), and to the Lord the Spirit, “Do not say, ‘I’ll do to him as he has done to me’” (Prov. 24:29). 81 In all these citations, which can be easily multiplied (see, e.g., Genesis Rabbah 84:11; Song of Songs Rabbah 8:16; Lamentations Rabbah 1:48), there can be no question that we are dealing with a “who” and not just with a “what,” with a personal dimension of God and not just with an impersonal power, with God himself and yet with a “separate” entity who can mediate between God and man. 82 And these citations closely parallel some of the New Testament descriptions of the Holy Spirit, although virtually all the Rabbinic texts cited were written many years later. 83” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 55-56

The quotes above from Rabbinical sources establish that the ancient Jews recognized these specific four Trinitarian facts as present in the Old Testament. But it is also important to emphasize the extent to which ancient Judaism recognized these facts. Specifically, the ancient Jews very much understood the Word of YHWH to be both distinct from YHWH in some sense and also as the very YHWH who appeared to Abraham and Moses, etc. As Dr. Brown comments below, the ancient rabbis had already established the understanding that it was a figure known as the Word of YHWH that was at work in Genesis and Exodus. The Aramaic term for “the Word of YHWH” was “the Memra.”

The rabbis took this one step further. Since God was often perceived as somehow “untouchable,” it was necessary to provide some kind of link between the Lord and his earthly creation. One of the important links in Rabbinic thought was “the Word,” called memra’ in Aramaic (from the Hebrew and Aramaic root, “to say” [‘mr], the root used throughout the creation account in Genesis 1, when God said and the material world came into existence). We find this memra’ concept hundreds of times in the Aramaic Targums, the translations, and paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures that were read in the synagogues before, during, and after the time of Jesus. These Targums arose because, in some locations, many of the Jewish people no longer understood Hebrew. Instead, they grew up speaking and reading Aramaic, so they could follow the public reading of the Scriptures only with Aramaic translation. – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 19

To demonstrate the pervasiveness of the Targum’s references to the Word of YHWH, Dr. Brown provides the following chart.

Memra Chart (from Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 19-20.)

Genesis 1:27

God created man.

 

The Word of the Lord created man. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)

Genesis 6:6-7

And it repented the Lord that he made man on the earth.

And it repented the Lord through his Word that he made man on the earth.

Genesis 9:12

And God said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between me and you.”

And the Lord said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between my Word and you.”

Genesis 15:6

And Abraham believed in the Lord.

And Abraham believed in the Word of the Lord.

Genesis 20:3

And God came to Abimelech.

And the Word from before the Lord came to Abimelech.

Genesis 31:49

May the Lord keep watch between you and me.

May the Word of the Lord keep watch between you and me.

Exodus 14:31

And they believed in the Lord.

And they believed in the Word of the Lord.

Exodux 20:1

And the Lord spoke all these words.

And the Word of the Lord spoke all these words.

Exodux 25:22

And I will meet with you there.

And I will appoint my Word for you there. 31

Leviticus 26:9

And I will turn to you.

And I will turn through my Word to do good to you.

Numbers 10:35

Rise up, O Lord!

Rise up, O Word of the Lord!

Numbers 10:36

Return, O Lord!

Return, O Word of the Lord!

Numbers 11:23

Is the hand of the Lord shortened?

Is the Word of the Lord detained?

Numbers 14:35

I the Lord have spoken.

I the Lord decreed through my Word.

Deuteronomy 1:30

The Lord your God who goes before you, he himself will fight for you.

The Lord your God who leads before you, his Word will fight for you.

Deuteronomy 18:19

I myself will require it of him.

My Word will require it of him.

Deuteronomy 31:3

The Lord your God will pass before you.

The Lord your God, his Word will pass before you.

Joshua 1:5

As I was with Moses I will be with you.

As my Word was in support of Moses, so my Word will be in your support.

Judges 11:10

The Lord will be witness between us.

The Word of the Lord will be witness between us.

Isaiah 45:17

Israel will be saved by the Lord.

Israel will be saved by the Word of the Lord.

Commenting on this chart, Dr. Brown emphasizes the significance of the fact that the Targum so readily recognized the Word of YHWH as a distinct figure.

“Now, I want you to look carefully at the following verses. The translation of the Hebrew text is followed immediately by the translation of the Aramaic Targum. Keepin in mind when reading that these Targums were the official translations used in the synagogues. Therefore, the Targums took on great significance in the religious life of the people, just as English versions of the Bible take on great significance for English speakers today. Here are several examples:…” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 19-20

Furthermore, Dr. Brown follows this chart with another prominent example in which the Jewish Targum identified the figure known as the Word of YHWH interchangeably with YHWH God.

As if these examples aren’t enough (and there are many more), just consider Genesis 28:20-21, Jacob’s vow. In Hebrew, it reads, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then  the Lord will be my God.The Targum says, ‘If the Word of the Lord will be with me…then the Word of the Lord will be my God.’ The Word of the Lord will be Jacob’s God! And this was read in the synagogues for decades, if not centuries. Week in and week out, the people heard about this walking, talking, creating, saving, delivering Word, this Word who was Jacob’s God.” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 21

Consequently, it is very clear that the identification of a figure known as the Word of God, who is both distinct from and yet himself YHWH God, is not a unique or new idea of the New Testament or Christianity. This defining component of Trinitarianism is present within the Old Testament and ancient Judaism.

Adding a footnote to this chart, Dr. Brown explains that the ancient Jews understood the figure known as the Memra or Word of YHWH in terms of the concept that YHWH God was operating in a more personal or personified and interactive form.

Footnote 31: CF. Yeyn HaTob, 1:351, which simply notes here (as it does elsewhere in similar contexts), “to remove personification [hagshamah],” i.e., of the Deity; cf. the discussion of Ezra Zion Melammed, Bible Commentators (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1978), cited below, n. 42.” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 269

Given that Trinitarianism recognizes all three Persons of the Godhead as personal, this Jewish explanation is not identical to Trinitarianism. However, it comes very close. So close, in fact, that there remains little basis for rejecting the Trinitarian explanation. And more importantly, it acknowledges the basic fact of our assertion that the angel of YHWH was YHWH God in a humbler, visiting form. As we have said, the purpose of this humbler guise of an angel or man was because in this form YHWH could better interact with men, particularly since no man could see his fully glorified from and live.

As a result of these Jewish reflections, it is clear that ancient and modern non-Christian Jews recognize the that Old Testament identifies the angel of YHWH (or “the Word of YHWH”) not as an angel but as YHWH and at the same time as distinct from a simultaneously existing figure also known as YHWH. Consequently, these doctrines cannot be regarded as a New Testament or Christian invention. Neither is recognizing the figure known as the Spirit of YHWH as a similar, simultaneously existing figure of YHWH a Christian invention. The Old Testament and rabbinical Jews recognized these facts also.

In fact, there is only one of the five defining Trinitarian components that we have not seen affirmed in the Old Testament from non-Christian Jewish sources. Specifically, we have not seen affirmation for the claim that the angel (or Word) of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH are uncreated. Consequently, this fifth point is clearly seen to be the critical issue, which determines who whether the Trinitarian model or some alternate model is correct. However, we have already demonstrated in detail earlier that all of the proofs for God’s eternal, uncreated status are applied to the angel (or Word) of YHWH and to the Spirit as well. Those proofs are sufficient and we will not be repeating them here. But we can address this critical difference from another important angle.

Typically, alternatives to the Trinity are preferred because the Trinity is seen as polytheistic rather than monotheistic. The Trinity is perceived as affirming the existence of three different Gods rather than just one God. Consequently, one way to settle the debate is to determine whether or not the Trinity is actually polytheistic. And more specifically, are the suggested alternatives any less polytheistic? Or, do the alternatives themselves violate their own definition of polytheism as they apply it to the Trinity? And, as indicate earlier, the alternative Jewish attempts to explain these recognized Old Testament facts with Jewish monotheism are problematic.

Essentially, they fall into one of two categories, which might be generally called Modalism and Henotheism or Arianism. It is important to recognize that Modalism and Arianism are names that arise in the first few centuries AD. In other words, these terms and post-dates the Jewish understandings we’ve outlined above. Consequently, such categories as Modalism and Arianism are traditionally understood to refer to Christian heresies and are not applied Judaism. In part, however, the failure to at least broadly apply such categories to the Old Testament results from the common misperception that Old Testament Judaism is devoid of any hints of Trinitarian issues. But, as we have seen, both ancient and modern Jewish scholars have recognized the defining components of the Trinity as part of the Old Testament. And they have struggled to resolve those facts. Since Modalism and Arianism are really just alternate (and ultimately less successful) attempts to explain the same set of scriptural facts concerning differing figures associated with YHWH God, in that sense these terms can also be applied to Jewish explanations of these same facts.

Modalism, as defined earlier, refers to the idea that there aren’t really three eternally distinct consciousnesses within the Godhead but instead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simple different forms or modes that the single Person of YHWH switches between.

Trinity – An alternative solution was to interpret Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three modes of the self-disclosure of the one God but not as distinct within the being of God itself…came to terms with their unity, but at the cost of their distinctness as “persons” (modalism).” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Some Jewish rabbinical explanations of Old Testament Trinitarian facts can be considered forms of proto-Modalism since they view figures such as the Word and the Spirit as temporary extensions of the Supreme God that can be retracted at some point when the original singular form of God returns. And the quote below reflects this perception that the Word and the Spirit were temporary extensions of a single divine Person and, as such, that one day they might even be reabsorbed into the singularity of God.

The rabbis spoke much about the Shekhina, the Divine Presence, corresponding also the feminine, motherly aspects of God. 24 They taught that the Shekhina went into exile with the Jewish people…According to this concept, God cannot be “whole” again until his people return…The rabbis based this idea on verses that spoke of God being with his people (corporately or individually) in their trouble, distress, and exile (see Mekhilta deRabbi Yishmael, Massekhta dePishha, 14). In fact, Rabbi Akiva went as far as saying that, according to the Scriptures, when God redeemed his people, he had, as it were, redeemed himself (ibid.). Some Hasidic Jews, joining the concept of the Shekhina with the mystical concept of the Sefirot, took this one step further. They believed and still believe that ‘the purpose of the performance of the mitzvot [commandments] is to help the Shekhinah to unite with the Teferet [the Sefira of glory or beauty], the male principle. The sins of Israel hinder this union and prevent the “reunification of worlds” …The hasidim, in accordance with this belief, adopted the formula (much deplored by their opponents), “For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, blessed be he, and his Shekhinah.”’” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 12

So, as we can see, both ancient and modern rabbis have conceived of the figures of YHWH in terms of temporary extensions of a higher, singular Person, extensions that might one day cease to exist as they retract back into that single Person in a return to an absolute kind of “oneness.”

As a consequence of such Modalism or perhaps proto-Modalism, the three figures known as the Father, the Word, and the Spirit are temporary.  In other words, since God is by nature only one, these three distinct figures were not always present within the Godhead and may eventually cease, returning to a state in which God manifests only as his original, singular form. Within this general scheme, the Father may even be regarded as the original, singular eternal Person and the Word and the Spirit regarded as mere modes that he has taken on throughout time. Overall, this explanation emphasizes the illusionary nature of the figures of YHWH. Ultimately, any “additional” figures besides the original Person do not really exist as entities any more than different disguises or costumes that someone might put on.

An alternative explanation is Henotheism or more specifically Arianism, both of which are defined below. Notice specifically that Britannica’s definition of “henotheism” is inclusive of certain forms of ancient Jewish views of YHWH.

Polytheism, The nature of polytheism – The term henotheism is also used to cover this case, or more generally to mean belief in the supremacy of a single god without denying others. This seems to have been the situation for a period in ancient Israel in regard to the cult of Yahweh.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Semi-Arianism – Arius held that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three separate essences (ousiai) or substances (hypostaseis) and that the Son and Spirit derived their divinity from the Father, were created in time, and were inferior to the Godhead.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

As mentioned briefly above, Arianism was asserted by Arius, a fourth-century figure who post-dates Jewish understandings we’ve outlined above. However, Jewish explanations of Old Testament Trinitarian facts can be considered proto-Arianism in the simple sense that they viewed the Word and the Spirit as sub-deities created by the Supreme YHWH. This is reflected in the quote below.

God, I INTRODUCTION, II CONCEPTIONS OF GOD, III JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, AND ISLAM, A The Jewish Idea of God – To say the world is created means that it is not independent of God or an emanation of God, but external to him, a product of his will, so that he is Lord of all the earth. This explains the Jewish concern over idolatry – no creature can represent the Creator, so it is forbidden to make any material image of him….The Hebrew God was unique, and his command was, "You shall have no other gods beside me!" (although in some biblical passages the Spirit of the Lord and the angel of the Lord and, in later Jewish speculation, the divine wisdom appear to be almost secondary divine beings).” – "God," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Such proto-Arian concepts are also expressed in the writings of the ancient Jewish philosopher Philo. This is reflected in the two quotes below.

Philo calls the Logos “the second god” (ton deuteron theon) and states that the “God” in whose image Adam was created in Gen 1:27 is actually the Logos, which the rational part of the soul resembles. It is impossible (according to Philo) to think of anything earthly being a direct image of God himself…[and] Philo also calls the Logos “mediator” (mesites). 34” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 22

Philo also refers to the logos as “firstborn” (protogonon), “archangel,” “Name of God,” and “governor and administrator of all things,” stating that the “divine Word” (theios logos) is the “chief” of God’s powers. 35” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 22

In contrast to Modalism, this Arian or proto-Arian view recognizes the additional figures of YHWH as real and permanent entities, not just illusions or disguises dawned by a single Person of God. However, this view regards the angel (or Word) of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH as creations (although among all creations, they are the first created, the highest-ranking, and the most similar in ability or quality to the Creator). Effectively, the Word and the Spirit become sub-deities directly below the Supreme God and his aids in creating, guiding, and relating to the rest of the universe.

As we stated early on, although offered by some ancient Jewish sources, these types of explanations are problematic for Jewish monotheism. This becomes clear in light of the definitions of polytheism.

Polytheism – Sometimes above the many gods a polytheistic religion will have a supreme creator and focus of devotion, as in certain phases of Hinduism (there is also the tendency to identify the many gods as so many aspects of the Supreme Being)…” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Polytheism – There are three main gods in Hinduism and traditionally 33 million other deities as well. But most Hindus accept the idea that behind them all lies a single spiritual entity, often called Brahman.” – World Book, Contributor: Mark Juergensmeyer, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.

PolytheismThe assumption of human forms and characteristics by divine beings (anthropomorphism), as in the emphatically human passions and behavior of the Greek and Roman gods, is virtually a universal feature of polytheism.” – "Polytheism," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The above definitions of polytheism are very relevant to any Jewish form of proto-Modalism. Specifically, polytheistic religions such as Hinduism have the tendency to view all their gods as “aspects” of a single Supreme Being (such as Hindu’s Brahman) and the idea of divine beings assuming human or otherwise anthropomorphic forms is “virtually a universal feature of polytheism.” Consequently, Modalism’s assertion of the angel of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH as more anthropomorphized manifestations of a single Divine Personage is really no different than polytheism’s view that its many gods are more anthropomorphized manifestations of a single Divine Personage.

For comparison, in the quote below, Encyclopedia Britannica defines Modalism in terms of the doctrine that the Supreme God is the single Personage known as the Father and that the Son is merely the title for when the Father became human. This is virtually synonymous with the universal polytheistic feature in which divine beings assumed human form and the human form was merely a mode of that divine person.

MonarchianismModalistic Monarchianism took exception to the “subordinationism” of some of the Church Fathers and maintained that the names Father and Son were only different designations of the same subject, the one God, who ‘with reference to the relations in which He had previously stood to the world is called the Father, but in reference to Hisappearance in humanity is called the Son.’” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

The only difference between polytheism and Modalism becomes the quantity of such manifestations. Jewish Modalism would limit the number of anthropomorphized manifestations to perhaps 2 or 3 while other forms of polytheism would perhaps have no limits on the number of such manifestations. But, is this the kind of distinction that is required from polytheism? Is it a mere matter of numbers? Is having only 2 manifestations of the Divine Personage sufficiently monotheistic while 4 or more becomes polytheistic? If so, then Trinitarianism would also escape the criticism of polytheism. After all, even if Trinitarianism’s three divine persons were deemed three gods, then Trinitarianism would fall under the same limits as proto-Modalism and would escape polytheism just as much as proto-Modalism does. In short, under such criteria, Modalism’s view of the Word and the Spirit as more anthropomorphized modes of a single Supreme Personage becomes just as much of a limited  form of polytheism as Modalists would claim about Trinitarianism.

And we will see the same problem is true for proto-Arianism as well. For reference, here again is the definition of Arianism.

Semi-Arianism – Arius held that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three separate essences (ousiai) or substances (hypostaseis) and that the Son and Spirit derived their divinity from the Father, were created in time, and were inferior to the Godhead.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

And for comparison to Arianism, here again is one of the definitions of polytheism.

PolytheismSometimes above the many gods a polytheistic religion will have a supreme creator and focus of devotion, as in certain phases of Hinduism (there is also the tendency to identify the many gods as so many aspects of the Supreme Being)…” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

From the very first line of the definition of polytheism, we notice that polytheistic religions often have a single Divine Being that they label as supreme and creator even over other divine beings. Consequently, Arianism’s assertion that the angel of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH are created, inferior divine beings is really no different than polytheism’s view that its many gods are really inferior created sub-deities under a single, supreme Creator. Several questions illuminate the problems that arise on this point.

First, since the ancient Jews recognized that the name “YHWH” was applied to the figure known as the angel of YHWH, what proof is there that the God of the Old Testament isn’t merely this allegedly created sub-deity who calls himself “YHWH”? And additionally, what proof would there be that this supposed secondary divine being represents the true Supreme being at all rather than perhaps just his own finite purposes? (This is certainly how some of the Gnostic cults of the late post-New Testament era erroneously viewed the God of the Old Testament.) In effect, this explanation removes any links that necessarily connect the being who spoke to Abraham and Moses to the Supreme God. And subsequently, Jewish monotheism literally melts away. Monotheism might be maintained on as a mere matter of preference, but once the angel of YHWH is regarded as a created sub-deity, the scriptural evidence for Jewish monotheism no longer exists.

Once again, the only difference between the two views becomes a matter of mere numbers. Proto-Arianism would limit the number of created sub-deities to two, while polytheism would place no limitation on the number of sub-deities. And again we must ask if this is the kind of distinction that monotheism requires a mere matter of limited numbers? After all, even if Trinitarianism’s three divine persons were deemed three gods, then Trinitarianism would fall under the same limits as proto-Arianism and would escape polytheism just as much as proto-Arianism does. In short, under such criteria, Arianism’s view of the Word and the Spirit as created sub-deities becomes just as much of a limited form of polytheism as Arians would claim about Trinitarianism.

Lastly, the problems for both Jewish proto-Modalist and Jewish proto-Arian interpretations can be seen in light of the Shema. On this note, we return to a topic that we discussed very early in this study. As we stated, the Shema is the common name for Deuteronomy 6:4.

Trinity – Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

As can be seen in the quotes above, in Deuteronomy 6:4, YHWH God declares to his people, “Hear, O Israel: The YHWH our God is one YHWH.” It is this passage and this statement which form the basis of modern Jewish criticism that Trinitarianism is polytheistic. According to the basic argument, to assert that YHWH God is three persons and yet one YHWH, violates the meaning of the Shema’s essential statement “YHWH is one YHWH.” But how can Jewish proto-Modalist or Jewish proto-Arianism excape the same criticism?

The Modalists have YHWH taking multiple forms and even more than one form at the same time. How is a YHWH with multiple forms and even multiple forms simultaneously still “one” in the way that this interpretation of the Shema demands? It would have to be argued that the Shema doesn’t speak to YHWH’s ability to take different forms or YHWH’s ability to be different figures simultaneously. But once such a delineation is suggested, how can anyone object to Trinitarianism’s delineation that the Shema doesn’t speak to YHWH’s existence as three Persons simultaneously for all time or to his internal nature in any fashion, only to his uniqueness outwardly in contrast to so-called other gods or idols?

Or, consider the proto-Arianist interpretation. The proto-Arianist view would identify the angel of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH as sub-deities? How does having sub-deities not a violation of the Shema’s instruction of One YHWH? This problem becomes especially clear in light of the fact that even Jewish theologians have recognized that the angel of YHWH is at times called by the name YHWH. If there are two figures named YHWH, one that is the Supreme God and another that is merely a created sub-deity, how is the Shema’s “One YHWH” still true?

Effectively, the fact that proponents of non-Trinitarian views (whether Rabbinic Jews or Christian heretics) violate their own interpretation of the Shema demonstrates that their interpretation of the Shema is incorrect, just as we outlined in detail at the start of this study. The Shema simply does not comment on issues internal to the Godhead, such as how many forms YHWH can take or whether there are multiple consciousnesses within YHWH. The Shema simply declares that YHWH, whatever his internal nature, is unique among all those whom are called gods by men. It is a reiteration of the first commandment to have no other gods because YHWH is one in the sense of his uniqueness, not in the sense of his internal composition. So, as we can see, Trinitarianism is no more a violation of the Shema then the alternative interpretations, which non-Trinitarians Jews are forced to adopt.

Our point in this section is not to whittle away any distinction between monotheism and polytheism so that no distinction remains between the two views. The two views are indeed definably distinct. But, our point here is to demonstrate that the definition of polytheism that Modalism and Arianism impose against Trinitarianism is not definably distinct enough from Modalism and Arianism’s own view of God. In other words, if you loosen the definition of polytheism to include Trinitarianism then your loosened definition also ends up including proto-Modalism and proto-Arianism as well.

So, what is the proper line of distinction that makes a religion polytheistic or monotheistic? It is the profession that there is only one, uncreated Divine Being and that a great gulf exists between that uncreated Divine Being and all of his creations. No matter how powerful they might be, as in the case of angels, creations are not gods. And on this note, it must be admitted that Trinitarians do profess and believe that the three Persons of YHWH are a single being, not three separate beings. They have never described Trinitarianism as worship of three Gods, but have always uniformly described the three divine Persons as a single Being. This is indicated by the quote immediately below. Consequently, at least in terms of belief and profession, Trinitarianism is not polytheistic.

TrinityNeither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Consequently, Trinitarianism maintains that there is only one uncreated Being, not many, and it permanently divides all other beings into the category of “non-god” except for this single Being. This stands in direct contrast to polytheism, which asserts that there many gods, that even created beings are gods (e.g. Greek, Roman, Norse), and that the multiple gods are anthropomorphic manifestations of the supreme being (Hinduism). All such defining components of polytheism things are utterly rejected by Trinitarianism.

Likewise, Modalism also affirms that there is only one Divine Being, as reflected in the quote below.

Trinity – An alternative solution was to interpret Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three modes of the self-disclosure of the one God but not as distinct within the being of God itself…came to terms with their unity, but at the cost of their distinctness as “persons” (modalism).” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Consequently on these grounds, Trinitarians and Modalists would both escape the criticism of polytheism, because both affirm that there is only one Divine Being. Arianism, however, would be disqualified because of its suggestion that the Word and the Spirit are secondary, divine beings. But, with both Trinitarianism and Modalism qualifying as monotheism, the question would remain as to which model was correct in light of the facts of the Old Testament (and ultimately the New Testament as well).

This is where the proofs for uncreated, eternal past existence become most significant. Earlier we listed this as the fifth claim that we made concerning the Old Testament facts about the Trinity. Since the Old Testament applies the same factors that prove God’s uncreated status to the figures known as the angel or Word of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH, it is impossible to conclude that either of these figures was a mere recent creation or manifestation. Instead, they must be regarded as having always existed. Several important consequences result from these facts.

First, neither proto-Modalism nor proto-Arianism can be true. The uncreated, eternal existence of the Word and the Spirit proves that they are not mere temporary guises or modes of a single Person that might be retracted at some point in the future. (This is also proven by their expression of conscious distinction from one another in the Old and New Testaments, which we have seen in detail earlier). And likewise, the uncreated, eternal existence of the Word and the Spirit proves that they are not mere created sub-deities.

Second, the full Trinitarian doctrine emerges in tact from the Old Testament, only to be carried over and reaffirmed in greater detail in the New Testament.

Third, concerning our present focus, because the only existing proofs in scripture for YHWH’s uncreated, eternal status are applied to the Word and the Spirit as well, by denying scriptures’ declarations for the uncreated, eternal status of the Word and the Spirit, Modalism inherently undermines any scriptural evidence that any aspect of YHWH is uncreated and eternal. After all, what other proofs for YHWH’s eternal status remain, which are not applied to the Word and the Spirit? And if the scriptural proofs for YHWH’s uncreated status are removed, then YHWH’s uniqueness as the First Cause and the Supreme Being necessarily also disappears. Consequently, although Modalism is inherently monotheistic in concept, it necessarily undermines the very basis of monotheism, namely YHWH’s unique status as the sole uncreated Being.

So, as we can see, Trinitarianism is no more polytheistic than Modalism or Arianism. When proper interpretations of the Shema are applied and proper definitions of polytheism are applied, Trinitarianism is inherently monotheistic. It asserts only one uncreated Divine Being, recognizes only that Divine being as worthy of worship, and recognizes no sub-deities. In fact, Trinitarianism is revealed to be the superior model of monotheism in light of the universally recognized scriptural facts about the Godhead. Arianism’s recognition of created sub-deities, who are co-creators and co-gods over the universe is clearly polytheistic, not monotheistic. Modalism is inferior because, in having to deny the eternal existence of the Word and the Spirit, it has to disable all proofs for God’s eternal, uncreated status, which is the very basis of monotheism in the first place. And both Modalism and Arianism have to deny or deprive of meaning the many other scriptural facts about the Godhead presented in scripture’s statements concerning the angel (or Word) of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH. For all these reasons, Trinitarianism alone emerges as the uniquely superior model of monotheism of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Trinitarianism alone faithfully maintains both the concept and the evidence for monotheism.

However, having established the superiority of Trinitarianism, there is still one last criticism of Trinitarianism that needs to be addressed. While Trinitarianism may be the best reconciliation of all the Old Testament (and New Testament) facts concerning the Godhead, does Trinitarianism actually make any sense? Does it make sense to assert that there are three eternally distinct consciousnesses or persons within one Being? Or, is that simply an unfair and untenable solution to issues raised by the scripture?

On this point, we would like to offer some comments that should shed light on the fact that Trinitarianism does indeed makes sense.

First, the question of whether or not there could be multiple, distinct consciousnesses in a single being can be addressed through the following real-world example. In real life, there is this phenomenon known as “conjoined twins” (a phenomenon formerly known by the title “Siamese twins”).

Conjoined twin – formerly called Siamese twin, one of a pair of twins who are physically joined and often share some organs. Fusion is typically along the trunk of the body or at the front, side, or back of the head.”

This analogy might invoke some unfortunate impressions, but nevertheless, it will offer insight into this issue. As we can see from the definition, conjoined twins are physically joined and “often share some organs.” It is not hard to imaging that the sharing of the organs would be so vital that effectively the twins share one and the same functioning body. Yet they have two distinct consciousnesses? Are they one being because they are inseparable, even functionally and physically inseparable, from one another? Or are they two beings because they have two distinct consciousnesses?

Now, concerning this analogy, some might offer the rebuttal that these twins are really two separate beings because although they are physically inseparable, they are not inseparable in terms of their spirits. The basis of this counterargument is that it is the spirit that defines one’s being, not physical conjoining. However, this objection really helps the Trinitarian position rather than hurting it. After all, in the Trinitarian view the three, eternally distinct Consciousnesses (Persons) of God are viewed as one Being precisely because they are one in spirit; they are all eternally comprised of the same, indivisible substance called spirit. The earliest Christians simply quoted scriptural facts that demonstrated the defining components of what later acquired the title “the Trinity.” But later on, when heretical arguments finally forced Christians to articulate the Trinitarian formula in technical terms, the Council of Nicea specifically used the definition “of the same substance” to define the oneness of the Divine Persons.

TrinityThe Council of Nicaea in 325 stated the crucial formula for that doctrine in its confession that the Son is ‘of the same substance [homoousios] as the Father,’ even though it said very little about the Holy Spirit.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004 Deluxe Edition

Thus, in the Trinitarian view, the oneness of being is due to an inseparable spiritual unity, not just an inseparable physical unity as in the case of conjoined twins. However, the case of the conjoined twins still demonstrates that the concept of multiple consciousnesses inseparably joined in substance as one Being is neither nonsensical nor even foreign to human experience.

Second, we must ask the question whether or not being eternally comprised of the same, individual substance is sufficient grounds for deeming these three as one Being rather than three beings. On this point, consider the following. Imagine just for a moment that before creation, before anything else existed, there were three distinct consciousnesses. Imagine they share all the same abilities and all the same intentions and judgments. They are aware of their own distinction from the others, but they are also fully aware of everything about the others, including each others thoughts. And they have all three always existed. There was no time that one was alone or existed without the other two. And they are also all composed of the same, indivisible substance (called “spirit”). Consequently, they know they’ve always existed. They know the others have always existed with them. They know they’ve all always been indivisibly joined in substance and in existence as well as in abilities and intentions.

Having always existed in such a state and having never known a time when they were divided, is it inaccurate for them to think of themselves as one Being? Would it be inaccurate for them to describe themselves to us as one Being? Would it be inaccurate for us to consider them one Being? Is it really more accurate to consider these three consciousnesses who are so indivisibly joined in substance and existence to be three separate Beings?

Our point here is not to suggest that someone should accept the Trinity simply because we can conceptualize it in this fashion. Instead, the point of this conceptualizing is to demonstrate that it is entirely reasonable to consider these three consciousnesses as One Being. The premises that explain why the three are considered one are presented in the description of how the three are one. They are one in substance and existence. It is not simply a baseless, nonsensical fantasy. The assertion of their oneness of Being is a justifiable and logical one. Consequently, Trinitarianism cannot be rejected on the grounds that it doesn’t make sense. It does make sense and it is the superior model of monotheism based upon the universally recognized scriptural facts about the Godhead.

And so in conclusion, the Jewish rabbis recognized not only the scriptural facts concerning the angel of YHWH but they also recognized their implications. Moreover, the solutions they suggested to these come remarkably close to Trinitarianism. And more importantly, their conclusions are so close to Trinitarianism that it becomes impossible for them to object to Trinitarianism. In short, the very objections they offer to Trinitarianism contradict their own conclusions as well. Additionally, as we have seen their conclusions are not equal to Trinitarianism. Instead, their conclusions actually make less sense, are more convoluted, and raise more problems for monotheism than Trinitarianism. Thus, Trinitarianism becomes the most straightforward, sensible, and faithfully monotheism available for the Old Testament, recognizing and reconciling all the facts while maintaining the integrity of monotheism.

(For even more documentation and evidence concerning ancient Judaism’s recognition of defining Trinitarian facts in the Old Testament, please see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus by Dr. Michael L. Brown, Baker Books, copyright 2003.)

 

Old Testament Trinity Conclusions

As we have examined the Old Testament, we have covered passages that were both early including at many accounts from Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers as well as prominent involving patriarchal figures such as Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. And we followed those threads into even the later books of the Old Testament, including Isaiah and Zechariah. And from those passages, we saw all the components that define the doctrine of the Trinity and refute non-Trinitarian views, such as Modalism.

We saw from Genesis 16, Genesis 22, Exodus 3, Exodus 14, Numbers 22, Judges 6, Judges 13, Zechariah 3, and Zechariah 12 that the figure known as the angel of YHWH is identified as YHWH. We also saw how seeing the angel of YHWH was regarded as seeing YHWH. And in Exodus 33-34, we saw how Moses had come to realize that the angel of YHWH, who’d been speaking with him from the time of the initial encounter of the burning bush, had a more glorious form, the face of which no man could see and live. Similarly, in Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with a figure who he regarded as God, yet who the text describes as looking like a “man.” And Jacob overcame this figure as they wrestled, showing that despite being God, Jacob’s visitor was not operating in his full omnipotence. These early, prominent passages would have left their mark on the faithful Israelites of the Old Testament and their understanding of the Godhead. Clearly, the angel of YHWH was understood to be YHWH, visiting in a humbler form rather than his fully glorified form.

In addition, from Genesis 21, Genesis 22, Numbers 22, Judges 5, Judges 6, Judges 13, 2 Samuel 24/1 Chronicles 21, 2 Kings 19/2 Chronicles 32/Isaiah 37, Zechariah 1, and Zechariah 3 we saw a distinction made between a figure known as YHWH and the figure known as the angel of YHWH. In some of those passages, YHWH and the angel of YHWH are depicted simultaneously, indicating that God does not simply switch back and forth between different forms. In other passages, YHWH and the angel of YHWH are seen interacting and speaking to and about one another. They express their own conscious distinction from one another. Furthermore, as we saw, all the statements pointing to God’s uncreated, eternal existence are applied to the figure known as the angel of YHWH, the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. The angel of YHWH is “the I AM,” “the existing one,” “the first and the last,” the one who swears by his own existence, the Almighty or All-Powerful, the Creator rather than a creation, who exists before “the day” and is already present at the very threshold of “the beginning” and is not awaiting being created. These passages, too, would have left their mark upon the faithful Israelites of the Old Testament and their understanding of the Godhead. Clearly, the angel of YHWH was not some created, finite, recent extension of God’s being with only a limited history. Clearly, the angel of YHWH was understood to be one of multiple, distinct, simultaneously existing consciousnesses within YHWH, to be eternal, uncreated, and unlimited in power, to be the Creator not a creation.

And as we have seen, the Jewish rabbis recognized not only the scriptural facts concerning the angel of YHWH but they also recognized their implications. So, these are not just New Testament or Christian concepts or revisionist superimpositions. Moreover, we have also seen that their interpretations of these facts come remarkably close to Trinitarianism, so close in fact that it becomes impossible for them to object to Trinitarianism. In short, the very objections they offer to Trinitarianism contradict their own conclusions as well. Additionally, as we have seen their conclusions are not equal to Trinitarianism. Instead, their conclusions actually make less sense, are more convoluted, and raise more problems for monotheism than Trinitarianism. Thus, Trinitarianism becomes the most straightforward, sensible, and faithfully monotheism available for the Old Testament, recognizing and reconciling all the facts while maintaining the integrity of monotheism.

Consequently, the Trinitarian formula is not only clearly present but also clearly prominent in the Old Testament for any Israelite of that age who contemplated these accounts. There were multiple distinctly conscious persons in YHWH. All these persons were eternal and uncreated rather than recent extensions or creations. And at least one such person was the one who came down to men, disguising his fully glorious divine form, exchanged it for the convenient appearance of a man or fiery angel, speaking with men, and making God’s ways known to them. For this interactive role, he was designated as the angel or messenger of YHWH or the related title, “Word of YHWH,” which likewise denotes his operation as the one who spoke to men. And in this Old Testament theme, the New Testament incarnation of the Word into actual human form (a full human nature) is a natural and anticipated course of action based upon the course of his Old Testament actions and history. In the Old Testament, he interacted with Abraham and Isaac, appearing to them as a man and inaugurating a covenant. And he interacted with Moses while hiding his glory as God and also inaugurating a covenant. Likewise, in the New Testament, this very same figure of YHWH actually becomes a man, is described as coming without glory, and inaugurates the New Covenant, which he himself had promised in the writings of Moses and the Prophets.

Here again we would take note of certain prominent Old Testament passages, such as the visitation to Abraham, to Jacob, and to Moses in which through coyness, God is clearly trying to prompt these patriarchs to contemplate and conclude a very peculiar set of facts, which these righteous, believing men do indeed conclude. First, that there would be resurrection of the dead in order to inherit the land forever as God had promised. (This is seen in the testing of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac – Hebrews 11:19.) Second, that God came disguised as a man as he did to Abraham and Jacob. Third, that God came as a fiery angel as he did throughout the Exodus. Yet this was still not God in his fully glorious form. And fourth, that ultimately God had a fully glorious form, which he would reveal to righteous men, such as Moses, but that seeing the face of this form would kill them in their mortal state. Every component of these facts, which God prompted the great patriarchs to contemplate and conclude, are the key components revealed in the New Testament. This includes the concepts that result from combining these facts, such as the hint that men would one day be able to see God’s glorious face after the resurrection to immortality and the hint that God would come first as a man, then with fire as an immortal angel and then ultimately in his fully glorious form.

(In Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:36, Jesus declares that resurrected men are equal to immortal angels. Philippians 3:20-21 and 1 John 3:1-3 declare that when the saints are resurrected their bodies will be like the resurrected body of Jesus Christ, thereby equating Jesus Christ’s resurrected body to that of an immortal angel. 1 Corinthians 15:12-22 and 42-54 also confirm that the resurrected body of saints is patterned after the resurrected body of Jesus Christ and that resurrected body is immortal. 2 Peter 3:4-12 describes that when Jesus Christ returns – with his humanity now resurrected equal to an angel – it will be with great fire. And Revelation 20:11-12, Revelation 21:1-3, 22-23, and Revelation 22:1-5 all describe that God the Father ultimately comes to earth in his fully glorified form to live with men – now made capable of dwelling with God because they are immortal as angels and will not die upon seeing his glorious face.)

This is no strange coincidence that these central New Testament concepts are the ones that God incites the patriarchs to consider and conclude. It is part of God’s progressive revelation, gradually preparing men to understand his plan and to receive him as he is.

And while the Old Testament quantitatively may have fewer definitive passages about the person known as the Spirit of YHWH, ultimately the Old Testament is clear that the Spirit of YHWH is distinct from the angel of YHWH. And many of the descriptions that convey the uncreated status of the angel of YHWH are also applied to the Spirit of YHWH as well. This includes a similarly patterned title incorporating the name “YHWH” and his existence at the very threshold of the beginning where he is depicted as the already-present Creator rather than as a creation. Although less numerous and perhaps less detailed than the passages concerning the angel of YHWH, these basic facts establish the defining Trinitarian views of the Spirit of God, while leaving open room for additional clarifying details to be revealed in the New Testament, as the angel of YHWH arrives in incarnate form with God’s ultimate revelation to men.

In the end, nothing is lacking concerning the Trinitarian doctrine in the Old Testament. The Old Testament demands this doctrine, allows no room for competing doctrines, and refutes any possibility of Modalism or Arianism. And while we have only briefly touched on how the titles (“the Word of YHWH,” “the angel of YHWH,” and “the Spirit of YHWH”) compare and relate to one another, we will return and discuss the reasons behind these Old Testament titles in more detail later on after our focus on the New Testament proofs for the Trinitarian view of YHWH.