God is Triune (Theology Proper) Part One
Our previous articles have demonstrated that God has used various means to reveal the reality of His existence and other knowledge concerning Himself to mankind. One aspect of that other knowledge is the fact that God is triune.
The Basis of the Doctrine of the Triunity
The terms triune, triunity, and trinity do not appear in the Bible; but the concept of the Triunity of God is found there. The basis of that concept is threefold. First, the Bible calls three persons God. Second, the Bible presents those three persons as separate, or distinct, from one another. Third, the Bible declares that there is only one God.
The Triunity in the Old Testament
The Unity of God in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:4 states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” This passage, the Shema, clearly asserts the existence of only one God. It thereby rejects all forms of polytheism.
The Plurality of God in the Old Testament.Several elements in the Old Testament indicate that a plurality exists within the one God.
1. The name Elohim, one of God’s primary names, appears more than 2,000 times in the plural form. The im ending makes a Hebrew noun plural instead of singular. Some scholars claim that when Elohim refers to God, its plural ending is not to be regarded as a true plural but as a plural of majesty, emphasizing God’s majestic nature. However, Jack C. Scott states that a better reason for the plural ending of Elohim
can be seen in Scripture itself where, in the very first chapter of Genesis, the necessity of a term conveying both the unity of the one God and yet allowing for a plurality of persons is found (Gen. 1:2, 26). This is further borne out by the fact that the form elohim occurs only in Hebrew and in no other Semitic language, not even in Biblical Aramaic.
Thus it is probable that Elohim“is a unique development of the Hebrew Scriptures and represents chiefly the plurality of persons in the Trinity of the godhead.”
2. Plural pronouns are used with reference to God. Genesis 1:26 states, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness [italics added].” Genesis 1:27 states, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” This and other passages (Gen. 5:1; 9:6; Jas. 3:9) indicate that mankind was created exclusively in the image of God, not in a combination image of God and other beings, such as angels. Thus, in Genesis 1:26, God used the plural pronouns exclusively for the Godhead.
In Genesis 3:22, after the fall of mankind, “the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (cf. Gen. 3:4–5).
In Genesis 11:7, in response to mankind’s building of the city and tower of Babel, God said, “Come, let us go down, and there confound their language.” Genesis 11:9 indicates that it was God, not God and angels, who confused the languages. Here again God used a plural pronoun exclusively for the Godhead.
3. Plural verbs are used for God. For example, Genesis 35:7 states, “God appeared unto” Jacob. The Hebrew verb translated “appeared” is plural.
4. Primary names of God are applied to more than one person in the same passage. There are at least three instances of such application.
First, Psalm 45:6–7 states,
Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; the scepter of thy kingdom is a right scepter. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
The Hebrew text uses Elohim(a primary name of God) for all three references to God in this passage. But a normal reading indicates that two distinct persons are Elohim. The statement, “therefore God [Elohim], thy God [Elohim], hath anointed thee,” especially signifies this fact. The fact that the word Messiah means “anointed one” prompts the conclusion that the Elohim who is anointed by the other Elohim is the Messiah. Hebrews 1:5, 8–9 indicates that the Elohim who speaks and anoints in Psalm 45:6–7 is God the Father, and the Elohim who is anointed is His Son.
Second, Psalm 110:1 declares, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” Two distinct persons are involved in this passage because one is speaking to the other. In the Hebrew text, the speaker is Jehovah (God’s personal and one of His primary names); and the person to whom He speaks is Adonai (another primary name of God).
Jesus asked the Pharisees a question concerning the Messiah: “Whose son is he?” They replied, “The son of David” (Mt. 22:42). They correctly identified the Messiah as David’s biological descendant. Jesus then asked them,
How, then, doth David, in the Spirit, call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David, then, call him Lord, how is he his son? (Mt. 22:43–45).
Jesus thereby indicated two truths: (1) When David wrote Psalm 110:1 through the influence of the Holy Spirit, the person he called “my Lord” (my Adonai) was the Messiah. Thus David applied one of God’s primary names (Adonai) to the Messiah. (2) The fact that David called the Messiah “my Adonai” signified that the Messiah would be far more than a human descendant of David.
Peter also indicated that in Psalm 110:1, David referred to the Messiah as “my Adonai.” Peter further asserted that the resurrected, ascended, exalted Jesus is the Messiah, David’s Adonai (Acts 2:32–36).
Third, Jeremiah 23:5–6 states,
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Two distinct persons are involved in this passage because one is speaking about the other. In the Hebrew text, the speaker is Jehovah (the personal name of God and deity); and the person about whom Jehovah speaks is assigned the name Jehovah our righteousness.
Three facts should be noted here: (1) The passage applies God’s personal name, which is also a primary name of God (Jehovah) to two distinct persons. (2) According to Hans Bietenhard,
Throughout the Old Testament there is a sense of the significance of the proper name. The name denotes the person, establishes its identity, and is a part of it. It can often be said: “As a man is named, so is he.”
A person’s name “discloses his nature.” In light of this significance of names in the Old Testament, Jeremiah 23:5–6 identifies two distinct persons who are Jehovah and have the same divine nature. (3) The person assigned the name Jehovah our righteousness is the Messiah. The description of the person indicates that fact.
5. The Old Testament ascribes deity to the Messiah. Isaiah 9:6 foretold that the Messiah’s name would include “The Mighty God” and “The Everlasting Father.” Isaiah 10:20–21 indicates that “The Mighty God” is “the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.” Edward J. Young suggests that “The Everlasting Father” signifies that the Messiah “is One who eternally is a Father to His people.” Since a person’s name discloses his nature, this name signified that the Messiah would have the nature of eternal deity.
Daniel 7:13–14 describes the Messiah as coming “with the clouds of heaven.” It thereby ascribes deity to the Messiah because Psalm 104:1–3 and Isaiah 19:1 indicate that it is God who uses the clouds as His vehicle of travel. The fact that the high priest, elders, and scribes of Israel accused Jesus of blasphemy when He claimed that the Son of man would come in the clouds of heaven reveals they understood that only God travels on the clouds of heaven (Mt. 26:63–66).
Proverbs 30:4 and Psalm 2:7 indicate that Jehovah, the Creator, has a Son. Psalm 2:2 signifies that God’s Son is “his anointed” (the Messiah). The language of these verses prompts the conclusion that God the Father and His Son are distinct persons. According to Eduard Lohse, in the Old Testament and the writings of postbiblical Judaism, the Hebrew words for son were “often used to denote the relationship which determines the nature of a man.” Thus the term son signifies that a son has the same nature as his father. Therefore, Proverbs 30:4 and Psalm 2:2, 7 indicate that God’s Son, the Messiah, as a distinct person, has the same divine nature as God the Father.
Ancient Jews recognized the absolute deity inherent in the title the Son of God. Because Jesus called God “My Father” (Jn. 5:17) and thereby implied that He was God’s Son, His enemies “sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18). Another time His enemies said, “For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (Jn. 10:33). In reply, Jesus asked, “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (Jn. 10:36). This reply reveals that it was Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God that prompted His enemies to accuse Him of making Himself equal with God.
6. The word translated “one” in “The LORD our God is one LORD” (Dt. 6:4) emphasizes unity but recognizes “diversity within that oneness.” The same word is used in Genesis 2:24 for two persons (husband and wife) being one and in Genesis 1:5 for several parts making one day.
7. Some Old Testament passages suggest three persons in the Godhead. Isaiah 48:16 refers to “the Lord GOD,” “His Spirit,” and another person sent by God, indicating three distinct beings. Old Testament scholar Franz Delitzsch indicated that the person sent is God’s ultimate servant, who will restore Israel and be a light to the Gentiles (see Isa. 49:5–6). In other words, the one sent is the Messiah.
Isaiah 61:1 refers to three distinct persons. The person who speaks has been anointed and sent by Jehovah and, therefore, is distinct from Jehovah. The fact that the word Messiah means “anointed one” prompts the conclusion that the speaker is the Messiah. The speaker claims that, because Jehovah anointed Him and sent Him to minister, “the Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon” Him. This claim signifies that the Spirit is distinct from both the speaker and Jehovah. Concerning these distinctions, Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young stated, “This is a Trinitarian shade that should not be overlooked.”
The next article will examine the Triunity of God in the New Testament.