This, together with my next post on One-ness and Three-ness, is a detour from my series on mission, evangelism and social action.
The point I'm seeking to secure in this detour is that God is known only in the Gospel. He is a Gospel-Alone God and thus His church has a Gospel-Alone mission. There is not a God to be known apart from Jesus - not "God the Creator", not "The one God", not "The Unmoved Mover", not "The First Cause" - if we do not know the Father in the Son and by the Spirit we do not know God full-stop. (This being the case it makes no sense to honour "God" apart from the Gospel - that is to take upon ourselves a mission that is not itself the gospel).
Now very quickly the question will come: Isn't the Old Testament just such a revelation? That is, don't the Law, Prophets and Writings reveal the living God yet not in this trinitarian (gospel) way? My answer is no. The Hebrew Scriptures do reveal the very deepest things of God because they are themselves a trinitarian revelation of the trinitarian God.
In asserting this people may accuse me of being driven simply by systematic (christocentric) concerns. These are strongly present I cannot deny it. But my purpose in this post is to show that the Hebrew Scriptures on their own terms and in their own context must be understood from a trinitarian framework.
My point is not that the OT betrays hints, shapes and shadows of triune structure
My point is not that NT eyes can see trinitarian themes in the OT
My point is not that we go back as Christians and now retrospectively read the trinity into the OT
My point is not that the OT gives us partial suggestions of trinitarian life that are then developed by NT fulfillment
My point is that these texts read on their own terms and in their own context (as the Jewish, Hebrew Scriptures that they are) demand to be understood as the revelation of a multi-Personal God. The only proper way to understand these texts is as trinitarian revelation. These texts are either to be understood triunely or they are mis-understood - on their own terms or any others! What I am setting out to do is to simply open up the OT and show what is actually there. I have already acknowledged that I have a dogmatic commitment to christocentric revelation, but I hope to show that the OT texts themselves bear this out.
Just before we dive into the texts I would simply ask the reader to question their own dogmatic commitments. I may be expecting to see a multi-Personal God in the OT, but I assure you - you are expecting to see a certain kind of God also. What is it? Are you expecting to see a revelation of the one God? A uni-Personal God? Are you accustomed to thinking of the OT God as equivalent to the God of the modern Jew? Unitarian? Perhaps not, perhaps you recoil at the idea (I hope so). But it's worth all of us asking ourselves 'What are our pre-suppositions?' as we read 'In the Beginning.' The "God" of Genesis 1:1 is a certain kind of God. What do we assume about His being? What will we allow Him to be, do and say as we read chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3...? Do we think it's "obvious" that the God of Genesis 1 is the uncreated Creator? Do we assume that the God being revealed by Moses is basically the God of the modern Jew? The philosophical theist? Something like the Muslim 'God'? Perhaps we think (as so many Christians do) that "the One God" is a foundational doctrine to which trinitarian concepts are added? Perhaps then we see the OT as portraying this basic 'God' before trinitarian nuances are added?
I have often had the experience of being criticised for bringing trinitarian assumptions to the OT text when, at the same time, my Christian friend was bringing equally strong and equally controlling assumptions to bear themselves - assumptions that God (or His revelation) must progress from primitive unitarianism to developed trinitarianism. Pre-suppositions are inevitable. The issue is not 'Who has purged themselves of all dogmatic bias and is a pure biblical scholar!' The issue is 'Which pre-suppositions can actually handle what's on the page and which do damage to the text?' My contention is that the trinitarian pre-supposition is the only one that makes sense of the OT data.
Ok. Here we go - 24 Scriptures to consider:
- Genesis 1. Verse 1: "In the beginning Elohiym... " Here is the God to Whom we're introduced. A plural noun! One that takes a singular verb. The grammatical oddity is meant to make us sit up and take notice. Our plural God acts as one. And His plural counsel (v26) "Let us..." gives rise to a united creation of a plural humanity - male and female to image His own life.
- Genesis 3. The Voice of the LORD God (v8) who comes to walk with Adam and Eve is also the LORD God (v9)
- Genesis 16. The Angel of the LORD (v9) is also LORD and God (v13)
- Genesis 18&19. The LORD who appears to Abraham (18:1) is Judge of all the earth (18:25), yet He excercises His divine prerogative in union with "the LORD out of the heavens." (19:24)
- Genesis 32. Jacob wrestles with the Man (v24) who is the Angel (Hosea 12:4) who is God (Gen 32:28,30)
- Genesis 48. The God who is God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is Shepherd and the source of blessing (v15) is the Angel of God (v16).
- Exodus 3. The God of the burning bush is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v6) and the great I AM (v14). He is also the Angel of the LORD (v2) and will bring the people to worship God on the mountain (v12).
- Exodus 19. The LORD on the mountain (v10) warns Moses that in three days the LORD will come to the mountain (v11) and things will be very different then. Sure enough, three days later, the LORD descends on the mountain (v18) and then the LORD descends on the mountain (v20)!
- Exodus 33. Moses meets face to face with the LORD in the tent of meeting (v11) but the LORD on the top of the mountain he must never see (v20-22).
- Joshua 5&6. The Commander of the LORD's army (5:14) who fights for Israel to deliver her is also the LORD who is worthy of worship (5:15; 6:2)
- Judges 2. The Angel of the LORD brought them out of Egypt and established His covenant with them. (v1-4)
- Judges 6. The Angel of the LORD (v11-12) brings the LORD's blessing (one who is Sovereign LORD, v22). Yet the Angel, as another Person is Himself the LORD (v14) with the same divine majesty (v22-24).
- Judges 13. God sends the Angel of the LORD (e.g. v9) who is Himself God (e.g. v22). And the Spirit fills Samson (v25)
- Psalm 2. The Son Whom we are to kiss and find refuge in (v12) is the Anointed Son of the Father through Whom is exercised all divine rule and authority.
- Psalm 45. The most excellent of men who rules the nations as Champion and King is called 'Lord' by His bride and 'God' by His God. (v6,7)
- Psalm 110. David knows two Lords who converse in their rule of the nations. There is the LORD and there is the Kingly Priest who is David's Lord.
- Proverbs. The Wisdom of God who creates (8:30) and gives new life (8:35) through granting the Spirit (1:23) is also possessed by the LORD (8:22)
- Isaiah 9. The government of God's righteous kingdom will be on the shoulders of the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (v6). Yet He is One who is born and through Whom the zeal of the LORD will accomplish His work (v7)
- Isaiah 48. The great I AM, the first and the last who created the heavens and the earth and who called Israel (v12,13) is One who is sent from the Lord GOD along with His Spirit (v16)
- Isaiah 63. The Saviour sends the Angel to save, yet they grieve His Holy Spirit (v9-10)
- Ezekiel 34. The Shepherd of Ezekiel's prophesy will be the LORD Himself (v12-22), yet this loving, kingly rule is exercised through the Prince, His Servant David (v23-24) who does all that the LORD is said to do as Shepherd and who rules for the LORD.
- Daniel 7. The Possessor and rightful Ruler of the Kingdom that shall never pass away is the Son of Man (v13,14) who inherits the kingdom from the Ancient of Days (v9-12).
- Micah 2. The Shepherd who will gather the remnant of Israel is the LORD (v12) who will set at their head a King who is also called 'LORD' (v13)
- Zechariah 2. The One Sent from the LORD Almighty (v7,9,11) is the LORD Himself to live among the Israelites as the gentle, righteous, saving King of 9:9 (compare with 2:10)!
In all this my argument is not that these are hints of trinity but that they are texts that can only ever be understood from the perspective of a multi-Personal God. When two Persons called LORD are interacting in the text (when we see plainly "true God from true God") then an understanding of God as uni-Personal is just dead wrong. It must always have been dead wrong for it could never account for the Hebrew Scriptures as written.
The only God there is is trinitarian and His revelation has always been such.