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Don Stewart :: Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Found in the Old Testament?

Don Stewart

The doctrine of the Trinity was not clearly formulated until after the New Testament was written. However there are anticipations of the doctrine in the Old Testament.

The Doctrine Is Not Plainly Revealed

The doctrine of the Trinity is not plainly revealed in the Old Testament. Without the teaching of the New Testament we would not be aware of this truth. Although not explicitly mentioned, the basis of the doctrine can be detected when exploring the Old Testament.

There Is A Plural Noun Used With A Singular Verb

A hint of the doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the first verse of the Bible.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. Elohim is a plural noun but it is used here with a singular verb bara. In the remainder of the Old Testament, when Elohim speaks of the true God, it is always used with a singular verb. The conclusion to be drawn is that in some sense God is both singular and plural. The doctrine of the Trinity states this - within the nature of the one God there are three eternal persons.

God Says "Let Us"

We find a further hint of the Trinity in Genesis 1.

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth" (Genesis 1:26).

The phrase "let us" again gives the idea of plurality. The word "us" cannot refer to angels because angels do not create.

Therefore, in the first chapter of the Bible we have a hint of the Trinity with the plural title Elohim used with a singular verb and God speaking and saying, "Let us."

More References To God Being Referred To As "Us"

The words "let us" is used elsewhere of God speaking in Genesis. After Adam and Eve sinned the Bible records.

Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever (Genesis 3:22).

At the incident at the Tower of Babel we read God saying.

Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech (Genesis 11:7).

Isaiah the prophet recorded God saying.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me" (Isaiah 6:8).

Another Plural Name For God - Maker

There is another instance in the Isaiah where there is a second plural name for God.

For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called (Isaiah 54:5).

The word translated, "Maker" is plural in Hebrew. Therefore we have a second Hebrew word that is plural that is used of God.

The Clearest Old Testament Statement

There is one statement in the Old Testament that gives a fairly clear indication of the Trinity.

Come near me and listen to this: "From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there. "And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit. This is what the LORD says - your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go (Isaiah 48:16,17).

In verse sixteen, God the Son is speaking. He identifies the Father [the Sovereign Lord] and His Spirit as having sent Him. In the next verse, the Son is clearly spoken of as the Lord. Consequently these verses identify three distinct Persons who are God without denying the fact there is only one God.

There Is A Distinction Between The Lord In Heaven And The One On Earth

The Old Testament also makes a distinction between the Lord who is in heaven and the one on earth.

Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah - from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus He overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities - and also the vegetation in the land (Genesis 19:24).

Each Member Is Specifically Mentioned In The Old Testament

In addition, each member of the Trinity is mentioned in the Old Testament.

God The Father

There are Old Testament passages that refer to God the Father.

For you are our father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our father; our Redeemer from of old is your name (Isaiah 63:16).

Malachi wrote.

Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors? (Malachi 2:10).

The Son Is Found In The Old Testament

The Son finds mention in the Old Testament. The Psalmist wrote.

Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions (Psalm 45:6,7).

In the Second Psalm we read.

I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill. I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you (Psalm 2:6,7)

Later, in that same Psalm, it says.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in him (Psalm 2:12)

In the Book of Proverbs it says.

Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know! (Proverbs 30:4).

The Messiah Has Divine Titles

God's Son, the Messiah is described with divine titles.

"The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David Or up from David's line} a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land" (Jeremiah 23:5,6).

Isaiah wrote.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

The Angel Of The Lord

The Angel of the Lord has the power to forgive sins

"See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him (Exodus 23:20,21).

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, or the "Spirit of the Lord," is also mentioned in the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis we read.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2).

Isaiah recorded the following.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears (Isaiah 11:2,3).

Isaiah also wrote.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1).

Later Isaiah wrote.

Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them (Isaiah 63:10).

The Spirit of God is distinguished from the Lord in the account leading up to the Flood.

Then the LORD said, "My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years" (Genesis 6:3)

The Trinity Is Foreshadowed In Benedictions

The Trinity is also foreshadowed in the triple benediction of Numbers 6:24-27.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

The doxology of Isaiah 6:3 also gives hint of the Trinity.

And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3).

Jacob Blessed Joseph Three Times

When Jacob blessed his son Joseph, he used the name of God three times. Each time God's name was identified differently.

Then he blessed Joseph and said, "May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth (Genesis 48:15,16).

While this is not conclusive, the triple benedictions are consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity.

Why Is There Not More Said?

If the doctrine of the Trinity is true, then why don't we find more explicit references in the Old Testament? Part of the answer may lie in the culture in which the Old Testament was written. Israel was surrounded by nations who were all polytheistic - they believed in many gods. It was important for Israel to realize that the God of the Bible is the only God who existed. Consequently the oneness of God was stressed. After this truth was firmly understood by Israel then the Lord revealed further truth about His basic nature - that He is a Trinity.

Summary

Although the Trinity is not explicitly taught in the Old Testament, the basis of this doctrine is certainly found there. First there is the use of the plural noun for God Elohim that is used with a singular verb. This gives a hint of the Trinity. The Hebrew word for Maker, which describes God, is also in the plural.

There are also passages where God speaks of himself with the words, "Let us." This is another possible reference to the Trinity.

There are also specific passages where the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are mentioned. Add to this passages that foreshadow the Trinity with the triple benediction. These passages, however, do not reveal the doctrine of the Trinity. This was left for the New Testament to accomplish. The Old Testament does not have a developed doctrine of the Trinity. However truths about the Trinity are foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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