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Particulars of Christianity:
302 The Trinity

The Trinity: Distinction of the Spirit of YHWH

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

Since the terms “the angel of YHWH” and “the Word of YHWH” are used interchangeably to refer to YHWH God coming to men in a humbler form to communicate with them, an important question is raised concerning the Spirit of YHWH. Does the Old Testament use this title interchangeably for the same figure elsewhere known as “the angel of YHWH” and “the Word of YHWH?” Or, does the title “Spirit of YHWH” in the Old Testament denote another, distinct figure within the Godhead? After all, the terms “angel” and “spirit” are largely interchangeable when used generally.

The first indication that the Spirit of YHWH was distinct from the figure known as the angel of YHWH comes in Genesis 1:2-3. This passage identifies the Spirit of YHWH hovering over the face of the waters. Then, verse 3 begins with a description of God speaking.

Genesis 1:2 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. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

While the passage itself is not explicit, what is important is how the ancient Israelites understood this passage. Did they understand Genesis 1 to refer to two distinct individuals, YHWH who is speaking and the Spirit of YHWH? Or did they understand Genesis 1 to refer to only one figure of YHWH?

In volume 2 of his book, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Messianic Christian scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown explains that there were “expansive Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible” known as the Targum, which literally means “translation.” Dr. Brown describes the Targums in the following quote. There are two items worth noting from this quote. First, we should note that Dr. Brown’s references are not to what Christians believed but to what the rabbis, the ancient Jewish people, believed. And second, we should note that Dr. Brown here specifically refers to what the ancient Jewish rabbis understood was meant from the phrase “God spoke” throughout Genesis 1.

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

Most significantly, from the Targums we can see from the ancient Jewish that non-Christian Jews identified the references to “God spoke” in Genesis 1 to be a reference to a figure they called “the Memra,” which means “the Word” and is derived from the Aramaic root “mr” meaning “to say.” And the Aramaic Targums are not an isolated case of this understanding in ancient Judaism. This perception can be seen in the writing of Philo, a pre-Christian, Greek-speaking Jewish philosopher who lived between 13 BC – 45 AD. In volume 2 of his book, Dr. Brown explains that Philo understood “the Logos” or “the Word of God” to be the creator of Adam and in whose image Adam was made in Genesis 1:27.

“Although Philo spoke of the logos more than fourteen hundred times in his writings, there are a few examples that are especially important. To quote New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado: ‘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

And the Targums likewise agree that it was the Memra who created man and in whose image man was created.

“In fact, according to Targum Neofiti, representing important, early traditions, man was created in the image of the Memra’ of the Lord!” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 21

For comparison, below is the text of Genesis 1:26-27.

Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

As we can see, the actual text of Genesis 1:26-27 only states “And God said, Let us make man in our image” and “So God created man in his own image.” The text does not say “And the Memra of God said” or “So the Logos of God created man in his own image.” Consequently, both Philo and the Targums, two separate sources of ancient, non-Christian Jewish beliefs, understood that it was the figure known as the Memra (Aramaic), the Logos (Greek), the Word of YHWH (English) that was being designate by the phrase “God spoke” throughout Genesis 1.

And Genesis 1 is not unique in this regard. In Genesis 3:8, the ancient Jews also understood the phrase “the sound (or voice) of YHWH walking in the midst of the garden” as a reference to this figure known as the Memra or Word of YHWH. Here is the quote from Genesis 3.

Genesis 3:8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. 9 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? 10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

Below, Dr. Brown explains that the ancient Jews understood these verses to refer to the figure known as the Memra or Word of YHWH.

To use Genesis 3:8 as an example, most of the people who were listening to the public reading of the Scriptures would not have understood the Hebrew, which said, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden.” Rather, they would have understood the Targum, which said, “And they heard the sound of the Word of the LORD God walking in the midst of the garden.” What a difference and extra “word” makes! To speak of the Lord walking in the garden seemed too familiar, too down to earth. So the Targum made an adjustment: It was not the Lord who was walking in the garden, it was the Memra’ (the Word) of the Lord! This Word was not just an “it”; this Word was a him. 30” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 19

Consequently, in the understanding of ancient non-Christian Jews, Genesis 1 described two figures of God working side by side with two distinct identifications, the Memra or Word of God, who was doing the speaking, and also the Spirit of God. As such, this understanding of YHWH cannot be dismissed as a Christian construct retroactively superimposed on the Old Testament. Rather, although they did not call it by the name “Trinity,” the defining components of the Trinity are an Old Testament, pre-Christian Jewish view of the Godhead.

Moving forward a few chapters in Genesis, we come to another passage in which YHWH is speaking and in which he expresses a conscious distinction with the Spirit of YHWH. Since the previous occurrences of the phrase “And God said” in Genesis 1 were understood by the ancient Jews to be references to the figure known as the Word of YHWH, God’s Word in Genesis 6 become quite significant. As we have already established, in Genesis 1 the phrase “God said” was understood by the ancient Jews as a reference to a figure known as the Word of YHWH. Consequently, the phrase “And YHWH said,” in Genesis 6:3 would also be a reference to this same figure, the Word of YHWH. As a result, Genesis 6 is most likely an extremely early occasion on which the Word of YHWH expresses awareness of his own conscious distinction from the figure who was working beside him in Genesis 1, the figure identified in Genesis 1 by the title “the Spirit of YHWH.”

Genesis 6:3 And the LORD 03068 said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

In light of the facts outlined above, Genesis 6:3 would be a description of the figure known as the Word of YHWH referring to the Spirit of YHWH in third-party terminology, distinguishing the Spirit from himself. So, very early on in Jewish scripture, we find these indications that there were multiple, simultaneously existing, intercommunicating, interacting, and consciously distinct Persons within the Godhead of YHWH. And this fact was understood by the Jews before Christianity, as indicated by Philo and the Targums.

The book of Zechariah also provides additional demonstrations that the Spirit of YHWH is distinct from the angel of YHWH rather than another title for the same figure. Earlier we established in detail that the angel of YHWH is the speaker identified by the title YHWH in Zechariah 3. The narrative from chapter 3 continues uninterrupted into chapter 4. This is indicated clearly when Zechariah 4:1 denotes that the same angel who originally came and conversed with him in chapter 2:1 and who showed him the vision of the angel of YHWH in chapter 3:1, comes near to Zechariah again to continue to speak with him.

Zechariah 2:1 I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand…3 And, behold, the angel that talked with me went forth, and another angel went out to meet him… 3:1 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him… 4:1 And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep,

Consequently, since the narrative from chapter 3 continues in chapter 4, we can assume that it the speaker identified as YHWH in chapter 4 is the same as in chapter 3. It is the angel of YHWH, as we have established earlier. And in chapter 4, the angel of YHWH makes a references to his spirit, just like in Genesis 6:3.

Zechariah 4:6 Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD 03068 unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD 03068 of hosts.

And in Isaiah 11, we also find further evidence that the angel of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH were understood to be distinct figures. Although it requires the additional connection that the angel of YHWH is the Messiah, Isaiah 11:1-2 clearly demonstrates such a distinction between the Messiah and the Spirit of YHWH.

Isaiah 11:1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the LORD 03068 shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD 03068.

In this text, the Messiah is referred to by the poetic title, “stem of Jesse” and “the Branch,” which are references to his Davidic ancestry. And specifically, verse 2 states that the Spirit of YHWH will rest upon the Messiah, which clearly indicates that the Spirit of YHWH is distinct from the Messiah. And once the Messiah is identified as the angel of YHWH, who visited mankind in the humble guise of a man throughout the Old Testament, then this passage further demonstrates that the Spirit and the angel of YHWH are distinct within YHWH.

In addition, striking statements distinguishing between the angel of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH can also be found in Isaiah 61 and 48.

In verse 1 of Isaiah 61, the speaker states that the Spirit of YHWH is upon him. As we continue reading, the same speaker continues into verses 2-8. In verse 1, the speaker states that YHWH has anointed him to preach. In verse 2, the same speaker continues to list the actions he has been anointed to perform, stating that he has been anointed to proclaim the acceptable year of YHWH and to comfort them that mourn. In verse 3, the same speaker continues to further describe his actions toward those who mourn, stating that he has been anointed to appoint certain blessings to the mourners. In verses 4-7, this same speaker continues to list those blessings upon the mourners. And finally, in verse 8, this speaker is identifies himself as YHWH. So, here we have YHWH referring to the Spirit of YHWH being upon him.

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD 03068 hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. 4 And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. 5 And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. 6 But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves. 7 For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them. 8 For I the LORD love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

And more generally speaking, we have already seen from Isaiah 43 that in Isaiah the phrase “thus saith the LORD” refers to statements from “the angel of YHWH,” the figure of YHWH who led the Israelites out of Egypt. Consequently, as has been the case since the angel of YHWH first appeared to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, YHWH speaking to Isaiah is the angel of YHWH. Therefore, since YHWH speaking in Isaiah is the angel of YHWH, this passage from Isaiah 61 constitutes a clear example in which the angel of YHWH expresses conscious self-distinction from the figure known as the Spirit of YHWH.

Finally, we arrive at Isaiah 48, which is an explicitly clear passage distinguishing not only the angel of YHWH from the Spirit of YHWH but also distinguishing both the angel of YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH from another figure simply known as YHWH. In other words, all 3 persons of the Trinity are plainly distinguished from one another and it is God who is speaking and making the distinction. Consequently, the distinctions cannot be regarded as mere illusions resulting from limited human perception.

Isaiah 48:12 Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. 13 Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together. 14 All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans. 15 I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous. 16 Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me. 17 Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.

Here in Isaiah 48, the speaker begins in verses 12-13 by identifying himself as “the first and the last” and as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Then in verse 15, YHWH then describes himself as the one who has spoken to man from the beginning. In verse 16, the speaker states he was there from the beginning. This once again affirms that as late as the first half of verse 16, it is still YHWH, the first and the last, the Creator, who is speaking. Then in the second half of verse 16, YHWH then states “now YHWH God and his Spirit have sent me.” And verse 17 begins by further affirming that it is still YHWH who is speaking, with the phrases “Thus saith YHWH” and “I am YHWH thy God.” And not only that, but verse 17 offers further proof that YHWH has been the speaker throughout verses 15-16. Specifically, in verse 17 YHWH restates how he has taught men the way to live profitably just as in verses 15-16 YHWH describes how he has told men how to live prosperously from the beginning. Clearly it has been the same speaker throughout verses 15-17. The speaker is YHWH and in verse 16, the figure of YHWH that is speaking clearly distinguishes between himself and two other figures that are also known as YHWH.

And once again, since it is YHWH who is making these statements, the statements cannot be discarded mere illusions resulting from limited human perception. This is clear proof of that YHWH expresses his own self-awareness of 3 simultaneously existing, distinct consciousnesses within the Being of YHWH. Furthermore, this passage also proves that the Spirit of YHWH is indeed a distinct consciousness, not a mere synonym for the angel of YHWH, who by virtue of precedent (even as recently as Isaiah 43) is the speaker here in Isaiah 48.

And finally, Isaiah’s comments here in chapters 61 and 48 demonstrate that he himself was aware of and held to an understanding similar to what was recorded in the Aramaic Targums. Therefore, on this point, the Targums cannot be dismissed as inaccurate or divergent alterations of Old Testament Jewish understanding. Isaiah’s own distinguish between the angel of YHWH, the Spirit of YHWH, and another figure known simply as YHWH. Therefore, the scripture itself codified the following understandings. First, it codified that the descriptions of God speaking in Genesis 1 and the descriptions of the voice of God in Genesis 3 were references to the figure known as the Word (or angel) of YHWH. Second, it codified that the adjacent references to the Spirit of YHWH in Genesis 1 were understood to be a distinct figure of YHWH from the Word. And third, it codified that phrase such as “let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26) were understood as accurate reflections of multiple personhood within the Godhead. When the faithful Israelites, even the very prophets of YHWH, wrote and expressed their understanding of these distinctions, the distinctions became codified in the scriptures themselves.