The word Trinity is not used in the Bible. We see plenty of references to the Father, Son and Spirit in the New Testament, but is there any similar support for the doctrine of Trinity in the Old Testament?
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is at the heart of all revelation given to man. Although the word itself is never used in Scripture, anyone who reads Scripture seriously will find it to be an inescapable concept. The word ‘Trinity’, which means “tri-unity” or “three-in-oneness”, best expresses the mystery of God — One God who eternally exists as three Persons.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a progressive revelation. The Old Testament gives fragmentary but definite hints about it, whereas the New Testament gives a fuller and more explicit presentation of the concept.
What are some of the intimations that the Old Testament gives about the tri-unity of God that the later revelation makes concrete?
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is at the heart of all revelation given to man
Throughout the Old Testament, we see a noteworthy figure called “the angel of the Lord”, who sometimes spoke as if he were God himself, and at other times appears to be an envoy sent by the Lord. The following passages may be considered:
The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”… So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:10, 13).
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:11-12).
Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? (Judges 2:1-2).
In light of the New Testament, many recognise the angel of the Lord to be a figure who is with God and who is Himself God. For reasons that are beyond the scope of this article, it is safe to conclude that the angel of the Lord is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ (Christophany), who has been active in salvation and judgment throughout Israel’s history.
Several passages in the Old Testament indicate the doctrine of the Trinity by distinguishing between two Persons of the divine, both of whom are called “God” or “the Lord.”
Consider the following passage: Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions (Psalm 45:6-7).
In describing the king, the psalmist uses language that goes far beyond the scope of what can be appropriately attributed to an earthly king. He calls the king “God”, whose throne is “forever and ever.” He goes on to say that the person he called God “…has anointed you (the king) with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” So the psalmist refers to two separate individuals as “God”.
The readers of the Old Testament do not have to strain their eyes to see glimpses of the Trinity
In the New Testament, the writer to the Hebrews quotes this passage and applies it to the Lord Jesus Christ: But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom” (Hebrews 1:8).
Here is another example: The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).
Jesus, in His explanation of this passage, points out to the Pharisees that David was calling two separate persons as “Lord” (Matthew 22:41–46). Who could sit at the right hand of God unless he is someone equal to God? The New Testament makes it clear that David was speaking about God the Father saying to God the Son, “Sit at my right hand…”
In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God is both distinguished from and identified with God. The following passages prove useful:
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Psalm 51:11-13).
But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned to be their enemy, and Himself fought against them (Isaiah 63:10).
Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord God has sent me, and His Spirit (Isaiah 48:16).
In the New Testament, Jesus promises His disciples the Holy Spirit, who came on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In light of this, it’s only right to reframe our understanding of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.
Passages like these, from the Old Testament, could be multiplied to make a case that there is a definite indication of plurality of persons in one God. Suffice it to say, the readers of the Old Testament do not have to strain their eyes to see glimpses of the Trinity.
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