The Trinity: What Does the Old Testament Say?

The inner life of God is rich and plural within unity or oneness.

The revelation of the Trinity is progressive. It is hinted at in the Old Testament and revealed more clearly in the New.

In these two major biblical divisions (Old and New), God did not inspire the biblical authors to write a formal doctrinal section of the Triunity, but he reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit as he dealt and interacted with men: in his creation of them, in their worship of him, his promises to them, in his prophetic pronouncements, and in his redemption of them.

Translation: God reveals his Triunity in his activity.

Let’s see how he does this, with one example after another.

If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.

 Plural unity

The key point is that the following verses speak of a “plural unity.”

Let’s begin at the beginning, at creation.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness (Gen. 1:26)

The plural verb let us and the plural pronoun our does not mean the so-called plural of majesty, as we read in Shakespeare, who often depicts human monarchs (e.g. Henry V) as saying “we” or “us.” Grudem says that in his extensive search of the Talmudic and other interpretive texts, which develop the plural of majesty much later, there is no evidence for this plural of majesty in the Old Testament: “However, in the Old Testament Hebrew there are no other examples of a monarch using the plural verbs or plural pronouns of himself in such a ‘plural of majesty,” so this suggestion has no evidence to support it (p. 227).

See also the plural pronouns in Gen. 3:22: “Behold the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil”; Gen. 11:7 says, “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language”;

Is. 6:8 says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us”. In that verse the singular (I) and plural (us) appears.

Thus these passages hint at the plurality of God, though not explicitly expressing the Trinity.

Further, Ex. 33:11 the word face or presence is plural, indicating plurality.

Elohim is Hebrew for God and is plural (-im) masculine, and it usually takes a plural verb, but in some cases it takes singular verbs: Gen. 20:13, 35:7; Ex. 32:4; Neh. 9:18. This plurality of persons or aspects at least.

In Is. 54:5 the “Maker” in Hebrew is plural:

For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth. (Is. 54:5)

In the above passages, the exact number of the person is not clear (except two), but God in his Oneness entails multifaceted plurality.

Distinct Persons Called by Divine Names

Ps. 45:6-7:

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy. (Psalm 45:6-7)

Here the Lord God is clear, but also the earthly king is called God, as he is anointed with oil. This king can reasonably be interpreted as being a divine figure (Jesus). The author of Hebrews applies it to him: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Heb. 1:8).

Psalm 110:1

The Lord says to my Lord:

“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” (Ps. 110:1)

Jesus interpreted this passage as referring to two distinct persons as Lord and applies it to himself (Matt. 22:41-46). David, not having the New Testament, saw the plurality of God.

The clearest passage is Is. 48:16. To set the context, Is. 48:12 says that God called Israel. “I am he; I am the first and the last.” Note the first personal pronoun I. And me is used in the target verse:

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,
endowed with his Spirit. (Is. 48:16)

We have a big Trinitarian hint, if we interpret the verse in light of the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament), meaning “me” can refer ultimately to the Messiah, who was endowed with the Spirit. Thus three persons of the Triunity are named here.

Is. 59:20 distinguishes the Redeemer, who is divine, from the Lord.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the Lord. (Is. 59:20)

Is. 61:1 distinguished the Spirit of the Lord from “the LORD.”

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim 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. (Is. 61:1)

Jesus applies this verse to himself and God’s call on his life (Luke 4:18)

Is. 63:10 says: “They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” This implies that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the LORD or God and can be “grieved.” Which suggests emotion is a distinct person (cf. Eph. 4:30).  The Holy Spirit reappears in v. 11, where God set his Holy Spirit among the Exodus generation (Is. 63:11), suggesting again a person from the Lord God.

In Is. 63:9-10 the Spirit is personal and active.

In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.
Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit. (Is. 63:9-10)

In Mal. 3:1, the prophet, inspired by the Spirit, writes that the Lord Almighty is speaking and will send the Lord, the messenger of the covenant.

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. (Mal. 3:1)

This distinguishes two different persons.

Messiah

The word means anointed one, and he is a human deliverer, a son of David. But he is also God. He is the servant who suffers to bear the sins of his people (Is. 52:13-53:12). No mere human can save Israel from its sins; only God can do that (Is. 59:15-20; cf. 43:4, 11; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 60:16; 63:8). Salvation comes only from the Lord.

Finally recall Ps. 110:1, a Messianic psalm, which Jesus applies to himself.

See this Post:

3. Titles of Jesus: The Son of David and the Messiah

The Angel of the Lord

The Hebrew for angel simply means “messenger.” However, in many verses the Angel of Lord is identified within the Godhead, by his being called God or Lord.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” … 13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen. 16:9-10, 13)

In the next passage, the angle of the Lord is identified as the LORD and God:

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” (Ex. 3:2-4)

Other verses identifying the angle of the Lord with God and the Lord: Ex. 23:20-22; Num. 22:35-38; Judges 2:1-2 and 6:11-14; 2 Sam. 24:16.

After the Incarnation (God becoming man), the appearance of the Angel of the Lord ceases in Scripture.

See this post for more information:

8. Titles of Jesus: The ‘I Am’

The Wisdom of God

Here are verses describing wisdom that are so elevated that it is easy to proclaim that Jesus is the Wisdom of God:

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,

    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly[c] at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind. (Prov. 8:22-31)

Verse 23 seems to say that the Lord created (“formed”) wisdom, but is that the right translation? The common Hebrew word for create (bārā’), which is not used in that verse. Instead, qānāh is used. It is translated eighty-four times as “get” or “acquired” (cf. Gen. 39:1; Ex. 21:2; Prov. 4:5, 7, 23:23; Eccl. 2:7; and Is. 1:3). This better translation opens the door to our interpreting Wisdom as the Son of God.

Wayne Grudem summarizes the significance of Wisdom = Christ:

… God the Father began to direct and make use of the powerful creative work of God the Son at the time creation began: the Father summoned the Son to work with him in the activity of creation … the Father began to direct and make use of the powerful creative work of the Son in creation of the universe (p. 230)

So the Old Testament only hints at the Trinity, but the verses are remarkable and anticipate the clearer teaching in the New Covenant Scriptures.

Here is a table of attributes for further study:

ATTRIBUTES OF THE TRIUNE GOD

Attribute Father Son Holy Spirit
Life Jos. 3:10 John 1:4 Rom. 8:2
Omniscience Ps. 139:1-6 John 4:17-18 1 Cor. 2:10-12
Omnipotence Gen. 1:1 John 1:3 Job. 33:4
Omnipresence Jer. 23:23-24 Matt. 28:20 Ps. 139:7-10
Eternity Ps. 90:2 John 1:1 Heb. 9:4
Holiness Lev. 11:44 Acts 3:14 Matt. 12:32
Love 1 John 4:8 Rom. 8:37-39 Gal. 5:22
Truth John 3:33 John 14:6 John 14:17
Glory Ex. 16:7 1 Cor. 2:8 1 Pet. 4:14
Wisdom Job 9:4 Col. 2:2b-3 Eph. 1:17
Graciousness Is. 30:18 Eph. 2:4-9 Heb. 10:29
Peacefulness Rom. 15:13 Eph. 2:14 Rom. 6:6
Goodness Exod. 33:19 John 10:11, 14 Gal. 5:22-23
Patience Rom. 2:4 1 Tim. 1:16 Gal. 5:22-23
Faithfulness 1 Cor. 1:9 Rev. 19:11 Gal. 5:22-23
Righteousness Rom. 3:21-26 Acts 7:52 Rom. 14:17
Joy Neh. 8:10 John 17:13 Rom. 14:17

In the right column, Gal. 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit. The main point is that if the Spirit produces those fruits, then he must have them in his person.

Elmer Towns came up with this table, which shows that each person of the Trinity shares the same attributes as one God:

SOME COMMON ATTRIBUTES OF THE TRINITY

Attributes Father Son Holy Spirit
Omnipresence

(Everywhere)

Jer 23:24 Matt 28:20 Ps. 139:7-12
Omnipotence

(All Powerful)

Rom 1:16 Matt 28:18 Rom 15:19
Omniscience

(All Knowing)

Rom 11:33 John 21:17 John 14:26
Immutability (Unchanging) Mal 3:6 Heb 13:8 Hag 2:5
Eternality Ps 90:2 John 1:1 Heb 9:14
Holiness Lev 19:2 Heb 4:15 Name “Holy”
Love 1 John 3:1 Matt 9:36 Name “Comforter”
This list is far from exhaustive. Careful! Christ in his human nature was limited, but not in his divine nature (Towns p. 100)

Elmer Towns came up with this table too, which shows all three persons doing works that only God can:

THE WORK OF THE HOLY TRINITY

Work Father Son Holy Spirit
Creation of World Ps 102:25 John 1:3 Gen 1:2
Creation of Man Gen 2:7 Col. 1:16 Job 33:4
Death of Christ Is 53:10 John 10:18 Heb 9:14
Resurrection of Christ Acts 2:32 John 2:19 1 Pet 3:18
Inspiration Heb 1:1-2 1 Pet 1:10-11 2 Pet 1:21
Indwelling of Believers Eph 4:6 Col 1:7 1 Cor 6:19
Authority of Ministry 2 Cor 3:4-6 1 Tim 1:12 Acts 20:28
Security of Believer John 10:29 Phil 1:6 Eph 1:13-14
This shows the unity of the Trinity. Each person of the Trinity contributed to each of these wonderful works, to God’s glory and for our salvation and redemption (Towns p. 100)

So how does knowing about the Trinity help me know God better?

There is an entire ten-point post that answers that question, here:

The Trinity: What Does He Mean to Me?

Written by James Malcolm

ARTICLES IN THE TRIUNITY SERIES

The Trinity: What Are the Basics?

The Trinity: What Are Key Terms?

The Trinity: What Are Some Illustrations?

The Trinity: What Does the Old Testament Say?

The Trinity: Three Persons Together in the New Testament

The Trinity: What Do Theologians Say?

The Trinity: What Are His Roles in Creation and Redemption?

The Trinity: What Does ‘Only Begotten Son’ Mean in John 3:16?

The Trinity: What Do Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses Teach?

The Trinity: What Are Defective Ideas?

The Trinity: What Are Replies to Objections?

The Trinity: Why Would God Seem So Complicated?

The Trinity: What Does He Mean to Me?

RELATED

The Spirit’s Deity and Divine Attributes (It includes a table of attributes that all three persons share in common)

SOURCES

Works Cited at Renewal Theology

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