Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Trinity in the OT

There are different views regarding the revelation of the Trinity in the OT:

1. At one extreme are Catholics and unitarians who don't think the Trinity is in the OT because they don't think the Trinity is NT. If it's not even in the NT, it can hardly be in the OT! Rather, they think the Nicene Fathers and Nicene/post-Nicene councils invented the Trinity.

2. At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who suppose you can directly prooftext the Trinity from passages like Gen 1:26 and Isa 6:3. I think traditional prooftexts like that should be retired. On the other hand, some traditional prooftexts are strong, as far as they go. 

3. Retiring a few traditional prooftexts doesn't mean we have less to work with. A problem with bad prooftexts is how they get in the way of developing better exegetical arguments. Some Christians just park on those prooftexts. That's where they stop.

Retiring a few traditional prooftexts frees up room to bring in neglected lines of evidence. The traditional methodology appealed to pinpoint prooftexts. While some individual texts are strong, modern evangelical scholars often take a diachronic approach where they trace messianic motifs as they unfold through a series of OT books. 

Other important developments involve the two-Yahweh doctrine in Second Temple Judaism and the phenomenon  of illeism in the OT and its NT counterparts. 

4. There's also some ambiguity in what it means to say we can find the Trinity in the OT. Does that mean we can find individual texts where it's all put together? Or does that mean the OT has the parts without the instruction sheet, and the NT provides the instructions on how to assemble the parts?

5. To take another example, some Christians think the Angel of the Lord is a theophany while others think that's a Christophany. Those aren't mutually exclusive interpretations: it could be a theophanic Christophany. The point, though, is that the Christophanic identification is more specific than the merely theophanic identification. 

5. Another issue is whether it's illicit to interpret OT statements in light of NT revelation. Here's another way to frame the issue? Is the Trinity recognizable in the OT if that's all you have to go by? Or does the NT create the shock of recognition? 

6. Apropos (5), let's take a comparison: 

i) In many stories (plays, novels, movies, TV dramas), some characters are related to each other while others are not. In some of these stories, the related characters are explicitly identified, viz. mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. 

ii) In real life, there are certain clues that people are related, even if the relationship isn't explicitly identified. That includes visual clues. The most obvious is family resemblance in the case of close blood relatives. Or there can be subtler clues, like having the same idiosyncratic accent. 

Or, when you see two people together, there's a particular dynamic if they're related. That's not something you could discern in isolation.

iii) But in plays, movies, and TV dramas, actors who play blood relatives are usually unrelated in real life. Yet the audience is expected to suspend disbelief. It's a necessary convention. 

iv) In some cases the relationships are explicitly stated. It is, however, possible to have a story in which their identity is left unstated. Where it's up to the reader or audience to tease that out.

And that's more dramatically interesting. You start out knowing nothing about the characters. But as the story unfolds, especially in extended narratives like novels and TV dramas, the attentive viewer or reader will pick up on certain suggestive clues that particular characters are relatives, even if they're never explicitly identified as such. They behave around each other in ways typical of family members. They take certain liberties with each other, freely entering one another's personal space. 

That may be inconclusive, but there's a sorting process where it dawns on the audience that the characters interact with each other in ways that make a lot of sense if they belong to the same family, but make less sense if they're unrelated. 

And if, as the story progresses, the relationships are made explicit, that confirms what the audience suspected. The characters were recognizably related to each other, and when the relationships are named, everything falls into place. The story began as a riddle in that regard, but a telltale pattern emerges as the narration continues. 


  1. In my opinion some of the best videos on YouTube in defense of the doctrine of the Trinity are by Anthony Rogers. He takes the position that the Trinity is explicitly revealed in the OT. He does so knowing that many Trinitarians since Warfield have argued that it it wasn't. He summarizes why they have argued that way and why he disagrees. I'm not fully convinced, but he makes that argument in a number of his videos.

    For example Here:

    In the video Rogers quotes the famous statement by Warfield:

    //The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before. The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view. Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but only perfected, extended and enlarged. //

    EXCELLENT Articles by Anthony Rogers on the Trinity and Islam:

    Debate: Anthony Rogers vs. Ijaz Ahmad: Trinity in the Old Testament?

    Rogers has many more videos on the topic on YouTube.

    1. I benefited greatly from his book co-authored with many contributors, which I got a PDF copy of via direct Paypal transfer.

  2. Anthony Rogers has done good work on this as has Michael Heister (search for "Jewish Trinity"). I have some articles patterned after Heiser on

    I tend to think of theology like a scientific theory. You get data and you have to construct a paradigm. When you construct a good paradigm that fits the data, you should say something to yourself "It was there all the time. How didn't I see that?"

    That's what I believe is the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament. All the pieces were there.

    As can be seen in Heiser's lectures, there were plenty of Jews who figured that out prior to the coming of Christ.

    Here's a quote from a Jewish scholar.

    No Jew sensitive to Judaism’s own classical sources, however, can fault the theological model Christianity employs when it avows belief in a God who has an earthly body as well as a Holy Spirit and heavenly manifestation, for that model, we have seen, is a perfectly Jewish one. A religion whose scripture contains the fluidity traditions, whose teachings emphasize the multiplicity of the shekhinah, and whose thinkers speak of the sephirot does not differ in its theological essentials from a religion that adores a triune God. 61 Note that the Christian beliefs that Judaism rejects are not specifically theological in nature. The only significant theological difference between Judaism and Christianity lies not in the trinity or in the incarnation but in Christianity’s revival of the notion of a dying and rising God, a category ancient Israel clearly rejects. 62 – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 135-136

    1. Thanks for the Sommer quote! I shall include it into my upcoming presentation on the Old Testament basis of the Trinity, whereby I intend to include as many of the examples as I can recall in an orderly manner.

      I shall share the link when I've completed and uploaded it for free usage.

  3. Here is an article of mine dealing some on the Trinity and the Old Testament:

  4. Whenever I hear people say "So-and-so Trinitarian scholar agrees that the Trinity isn't found in the Old Testament", I just want to shout: "Tertullian! Irenaeus! Justin Martyr! Luther! Calvin! John Owen! Jonathan Edwards!"