A lot of those who disagree with the Christian narrative argue that the concept of the trinity is a borrowed idea which was never demonstrated within the original Hebrew Tanakh. To a certain extent this argument seems truthful. However it doesn't take into account that knowledge gained over time is both influenced by and adds perspective to knowledge previously held. I think this is the nature of what we call wisdom. The beauty of the Bible is that it contains wisdom beyond its years. It is true that the Hebrew people didn't seem to indicate a clear doctrine of the trinity within the Tanakh. It's also true that when you read the Old Testament using a Christian lense, there are clear indications that there seems to have been some kind of subconscious acknowledgement of a more complex idea for God. It may not have been realized before, but considering it with newly attained knowledge it's hard to miss. Considering the fact that scripture is divinely inspired, it would seem to make sense that there could be ideas embedded in the fabric that are overlooked until they can be seen in hindsight to an experience that adds the appropriate context.
We Jews have no theological right to reject the trinity. – Dr Benjamin Sommer
Originally, I was going to focus on natural theology and how we can see God's triune nature in the universe, but after some discussion with friends I decided it would also be useful to take a few minutes to demonstrate that God's trinity can arguably be seen within the Tanakh all the way back to Genesis. It's doubtful I'll be providing anything new to the discussion on where God can be seen as a trinity within the Old Testament, but hopefully I can consolidate enough evidence here that the argument can be appreciated. Inspiring Philosophy has put together a playlist called The Trinity Defended which goes into greater detail on many of the points I'll be making below. This series proved to be a great collection of resources for the scriptural precedent for a triune God before Christianity was born.
Defining the Trinity
Before I go too far, let's pause and define what it means when we say God is a trinity. This is a term used to conceptualize God in a way that rationally explains what we've observed through scripture, history, and natural reason. The idea is that God is comprised of 3 persons in 1 Being. At first glance, this may seem more like a polytheistic idea than an idea describing a form of monotheism. But the key thing to remember is that these "persons" are distinct, but not separate from one another. They are entangled in a sense. They work together for a single purpose or will. As I will show later this is actually not too far off from how the human mind works, and we consider self to be a singular being while we do admit that there are clearly multiple elements to our psyche. I don't mean to say that any part of God is equal to that of our own, but I do think we can draw analogies, especially since we are made in his image.
This video from Inspiring Philosophy shows quite clearly that the concept of the trinity didn't come from pagan traditions. The only real similarities that exist between the Christian concept of the trinity and the pagan traditions seems to be that in some cases there situations where 3 gods are commonly associated. This anomaly plays into something I will discuss a bit later in the post.
Angel of the Lord
Throughout the Old Testament, numerous references are made to the Angel of the Lord. These seem to be a physical appearance which in some places is worthy of the praise and worship reserved only for God. Check out this quick list of instances where "the angel of the Lord" is referenced in the Old Testament.
- Genesis 16:7-9,21:17,22:11,31:11
- Exodus 3:2,14:19
- Numbers 22:22-35
- Judges 2:1,5:23,6:11-18,13:9
- 2 Samuel 24:16-17
- 2 Kings 1:3,19:35
- 1 Chronicles 21:15-16
- 2 Chronicles 32:21
- Isaiah 37:36
- Zechariah 1:1,3:1,12:8
Now some of these are kind of vague, but I want to take a moment to go through some of the key passages I think support the "angel of the LORD" in these passages being an equal to GOD. We'll start with the famous story of the burning bush where Moses received his first revelation. Keep in mind that in many places where LORD is capitalized instead of just the first letter, this is replacing the original text which was the tetragrammaton or God's "proper" name which translates to "I am". This is actually incredibly revealing of God's character, but that's for another time. The main reason I point this out is because I recently heard a Jewish apologist (Rabbi Tovia Singer) using a defense out to show that Elohim or Adonay was sometimes used to reference people to suggest these are not saying it's necessarily referring to God, but I have yet to see any support for use of "יהוה" when describing a person in the Old Testament.
Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. – Exodus 3:1-2
What's significant about this verse is just a short while later we can see the angel appears to be God himself.
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses, Moses!". "Here I am," he answered. – Exodus 3:4
If this still isn't clear enough, Moses asks what he is to call God after some discussion, and this "angel of the LORD" makes it quite clear.
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation. – Exodus 3:14,15
We see a similar pattern emerge in Numbers 22 When Balaam is attempting to go against the wishes of God, and the angel of the LORD stands in his path.
Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the path with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam knelt low and bowed in worship on his face. – Numbers 22:31
Again in Judges when Gideon is first called by God to judge Israel, he is met under a tree by the angel of the LORD
The angel of the LORD came, and he sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites. Then the angel of the LORD appeard to him and said: "The LORD is with you, valiant warrior."
In this passage the narrator seems to interchange the angel of the LORD with just simply the LORD a few times which suggests they're describing the same person. If that weren't enough, Gideon asks if he can bring the visitor a gift.
So Gideon went and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from a half a bushel of flour. He placed the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot. He brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The angel of God said to him, "Take the meat with the unleavened bread, put it on this stone, and pour the broth on it." So he did that. The angel of the LORD extended the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire came up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. When Gideon realized that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, "Oh no, Lord GOD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!" – Judges 6:19-22
Gideon feared face to face interaction with the angel of the LORD which is interesting since it's God's face which mankind is not meant to look upon. If this were some other angel I can't see him having such a reaction. His fear suggests he considered the angel of the LORD to be equal to the LORD. The last Judges reference is also suggestive since yet again an offering is presented which indicates to the future parents of Samson that the angel of the LORD is God himself. In this verse, the angel goes a step further to tell them your offering will be to GOD.
The angel of the LORD said to him, "If I stay, I won't eat your food. But if you want to prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the LORD." (Manoah did not know he was the angel of the LORD). – Judges 13:16
Manoah took a young goat and a grain offering and offered them on a rock to the LORD, who did something miraculous while Manoah and his wife were watching. When the flame went up from the alter to the sky, the angel of the LORD went up in its flame. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell facedown on the ground. – Judges 13:19,20
As you can see there is plenty of evidence that the angel of the LORD was revered as the LORD himself early in Israel. I just want to hit on 1 more from Zechariah before we move on to reference to the third part of the trinity.
On that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that on that day the one who is weakest among them will be like David on that day, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD, before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem – Zechariah 12:8-9
Now what's interesting here that we haven't seen in the other verses is that it's actually comparing the house of David to both God and the angel of the LORD. As you may know the messiah is meant to come out of the house of David, and according to the Gospel of Matthew that's exactly what we saw with Jesus. There are other passages throughout the old testament that use the word or the voice to describe a figure which seems to behave much like the angel of the LORD. I should also point out that there are occasions where the term "an angel" instead of "the angel" is used which may not indicate the same thing, but in areas where "the angel" is referenced it appears to be a being with the God like properties who is worthy of worship.
Spirit of the Lord
Now that I've demonstrated that God seems to have been present in a corporeal form throughout the Old Testament using a different language than when referring to the Father, let's dive into where we can find examples of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. In this case, we can clearly argue that the spirit of the LORD is clearly present as early as Genesis 1.
- Genesis 1:2
- Numbers 11
- 1 Samuel 11,16
- 2 Samuel 23:2,3
- Job 33:4
- Psalm 51:11
- Joel 2:28
- Isaiah 32:15,44,48,63:10-11
The spirit of God is mentioned within the first few sentences of the Bible!
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. – Genesis 1:1-2
This is a minor mention and little else is said regarding the role of the Spirit in Genesis. The next time we see reference to this aspect of God is near the end of the Torah in the book of Numbers.
So Moses asked the LORD, "Why have you brought such trouble on your servant? Why are you angry with me, and why do you burden me with all these people? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so you should tell me, 'Carry them at your breast, as a nanny carries a baby,' to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are weeping to me, 'Give us meat to eat!' I can't carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now if I have found favor with you, and don't let me see my misery anymore."
The LORD answered Moses, "Bring me seventy men from Israel known to you as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the tent of meeting and have them stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there. I will take some of the Spirit who is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you bear the burden of the people, so that you do not have to bear it by yourself – Numbers 11:11-17
These 70 elders end up with the Spirit "resting on them" and enabling them to prophecy in the name of the LORD. Acts 2 is reminiscent of this story with the idea of the spirit "resting" on each of the apostles. It's interesting too because when Joshua noticed these men prophesying he was alarmed and told Moses he should stop them. His answer is quite telling.
But Moses asked him, "Are you jealous on my account? If only all the LORD's people were prophets and the LORD would place his Spirit on them!" – Numbers 11:29
Now nothing says this is a prophecy, but it shows that God's mouthpiece to the people of Israel desired a time when the holy spirit could be shared with all believers. This is something we believe was accomplished through Jesus Christ. Next, in 1 Samuel 11 we can see the Spirit take another form.
When Saul heard these words, the Spirit of God suddenly came powerfully on him, and his anger burned ferociously. – 1 Samuel 11:6
This post is starting to get a little long in the tooth, so I'm not going to go any further to pull out specific examples in scripture, but you can see there are a numerous verses scattered throughout the Old Testament. This doesn't mean the Hebrew understanding of God had these ideas fully integrated, but here is a summary of what we see using the above scriptures. God visited the world in the visage of an angel referred to as the word, voice, or angel of the LORD. We also see that he has used something referred to as the Spirit of God to influence people to do his will, and in one case shortly after the exodus, there was an event that reads a lot like the Pentecost event experienced by the apostles.
Jewish support for Trinity
You might be surprised to hear that there are also Jews who support a more complex concept of God than the simplistic one dimensional version many Jews believe in today. This isn't some new idea that's emerged through Christianity and permeated the Jewish culture or anything like that.
Philo was a 1st century Hellenized Jewish philosopher who integrated Plato's ideas of consciousness with the idea of God from the Tanakh. He believed God had a logos which similarly to the human logos was thought to be the logical conscious aspect of God. He reasoned that God was unreachable by man, and so there was a need for intermediaries between us. He proposed that the Logos was the "first born" and "high priest" of God. Both of these attributes line up with descriptions of Jesus. He also still considered the Logos to be part of God in a fully integrated Being. This is in alignment with the scriptural references I pointed out above.
Dr Benjamin Sommer
Dr Sommer is a Professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He wrote a book named The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel in which he discusses a concept he calls "the fluidity tradition". In this concept he argues for something that sounds like superposition for divine beings. He points out that ancient Jewish mystical thought (Kabbalah) actually goes further than Christianity with the concept of the sefirot. There are 10 sefirot each representative of an element of God. It goes further in that each sefirot is also its own self contained tree of life with its own 10 internal sefirot.
Moshe (Moses) is a scholar of the Kabbalah who has written extensively on the subject. In fact Dr Sommer considers his work a footnote to the larger work done by Moshe Idel. He shows in his book Kabbalah in Italy that Christians actually picked up the "science of Kabbalah" and associated the sefirot with Christ. He talks about a person named Giovanni Pico della Mirandola who found the Kabbalah was a useful took for converting Jews to Christianity.
Every Hebrew Kabbalist following the principles and sayings of the science of Kabbalah is inevitably forced to concede, without addition, omission, or variation, precisely what the Catholic faith of Christians maintains concerning the Trinity and every divine Person: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. – Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in Kabbalah in Italy
I could go on and on, but for the sake of time we'll say these few examples are sufficient to show that unlike what is often espoused by hard line Jewish apologists, the concept of a more fluid nature for God is not a new innovation within the Christian belief structure. It originated within the context of Hebrew faith, and it can be found in the Tanakh, Kabbalistic teachings, and even in the Talmud, and honestly I haven't even scratched the surface. I was going to show natural examples of how the trinity can be witnessed in the universe as well in this post, but it seems like that might be good to save for another day. I believe God resonates throughout the universe, and the world shows us his likeness in numerous ways. I will end this post with another video from Inspiring Philosophy on Jewish support for the Trinity.